Mid December Fishing Report
With a new year ahead, I look back through my Key West fishing logs and photo albums and recall all the great catches with my clients. Each year, even every season, is different in the Keys. With so many things constantly changing in our environment, you never really know exactly what the new seasons may bring. Depending on our mild cold fronts and water temperatures we experience here in the winter months will decide on what’s next
So far, our Key West winter has been a little cooler. With cold fronts coming in on our waters, we see temperature drops that can really affect the fishery. The water temperatures have been in the upper 60s to the lower 70s. This doesn’t affect the fishing too much, it can just affect the activity level of the fish if there is a quick drop. The sun does a good job at heating up the waters again, making everything a bit more lively. We are seeing trout, ladyfish, jacks, barracuda, juvenile tarpon, snappers, cobia, sharks, and groupers.
The one fish that amazes many anglers who come to Key West this time of year has to be the tarpon. They can be pretty tricky when they aren’t in their springtime patterns, but they will scoop up some form of bait on most occasions throughout the year. These resident tarpon most likely don’t leave with the rest of the tarpon at the tail end of June. They thrive in the channels throughout the backcountry while making their way to different areas on the edges of flats and mangrove lines. These fish love to scoop up live pinfish drifted in the lower water column and on the bottom ranging from 5-40 pounds. I use 30 lb. ANDE Fluorocarbon with an Owner 3/0 or 4/0 Mutu-Light Circle Hook. I have found that the smaller the tarpon, the harder it is to get a solid hookup. “Matching the hatch” is critical to a solid hookup on these resident tarpon. The little ones are so frisky, and sometimes spit the hook out on their first jump or even before breaking the surface. Using what the tarpon are eating is critical. For my live baits, I place my bait traps in areas where I’ll get a good variety of bait species. For example, if you aren’t having luck with pinfish, try using something else you find in your traps like a baby grunt or a sand perch. They’ll sometimes do the trick.
Barracudas are a big time Key West winter species that my clients love targeting. Even though they don’t satisfy most of my clients’ taste buds, they still rip some drag and give a nice long fight. Cudas live in all of our environments down here. From the shallow flats, to the near shore wrecks, and hovering over the reef line, barracudas are ever present. And they like shiny things, so I typically use lures with a little bling. Bomber Badonk-a-Donks or WindCheaters work best. The blue iridescent lures with some silver on the sides are my personal favorite. Throwing something streamlined like a hard plastic lure or a spoon will also help your accuracy and approach.
On the slightly calmer days this time of year, I also enjoy giving my clients the option to fish the reef, and sometimes beyond. Dropping quickly past 100 ft., the reef edge makes for an excellent chance at our pelagic species. Dolphin (mahi), black fin tuna, sailfish, bonito, and mackerel are enjoying the amount of bait that comes off the reef in the winter months. I usually start out fishing for some tasty yellow tail snappers in about 60-70 feet, which gets me close enough to the reef drop and allows me to keep my eye on the deep-water activity. If things look promising, I’ll load up on some live ballyhoo and pilchards and work the reef edge making several drifts. Sailfish seem to get the most aggressive, and usually travel with a couple buddies. Tuna require a little bit more work since you’ll have to lure them to the boat with a chum slick. Regardless of the reef species, stinky bait will always get the party started.
Key West fishing in the wintertime is a great time to visit Key West and take in a day of fishing in our beautiful and ever changing waters. There’s no better way to make a New Year’s resolution than to include working less, fishing more, and enjoying the Florida Keys!