Wreckin in the Fall

Fishing Report of Fall Wrecks and Reefs


Fishing Key West in the fall and winter time fishery often blows the minds of visiting anglers to our cooler tropical waters. The mild cold fronts that move in cause many of our winter time species to show up on the flats, wrecks and back country waters. The shallow wreck and reef fishing near the Marquesas Keys are one of my favorite places to fish in the fall and winter because of the abundance of larger game fish. Dropping water temperatures provide a great opportunity for cobia, permit and barracudas over these structures.

Capt. Kyles with their cobia

While the cobia in big numbers are a little late to show up this year, it won’t take long until these big brown slobs are all schooled up over the wrecks. I usually choose a 3/0 or 4/0 Owner live bait hook rigged with a medium/large pinfish hooked through the mouth or a little in front of the dorsal. Don’t hesitate to throw fairly close to the cobia, as they get very aggressive towards your bait because they are competing with the rest of the school. If there aren’t many fish together I’d be a little more conservative with your cast while you ease the bait into their path. Don’t make the day out of the spot as these fish will eventually catch on to what you are doing when they see pinfish repeatedly falling from the sky. Get your fish and move on to what’s next. Cobia give an amazing fight along with making a nice meal at the end of the day.

Permit are sometimes a little more of a challenge on the cooler days over these wrecks, but usually cannot resist a live crab or a buck tail jig. The best wait to approach these areas for permit is to idle in nice and slow. Figuring your drift is crucial, as turning your engine off is a must in order to sneak up on the school of fish. I know many guys who drift right up near the wrecks with their engines on and hook up to maybe one fish, but that may be the only shot they get. Staying out from the wreck a little bit and playing it safe is the way to go. If it’s calm enough, I’ll even rip out my trolling motor to stay back from the wreck, as I do not want my presence being known. This way I can always go back and hook up to another permit after we are done fighting the first one. You can throw your crab right in front of school and usually one will peel off from the rest and engulf it. Do not treat your crab as if it is a plug or some other artificial lure. Crabs are delicate. Get a good cast without whipping the crab out there.

Capt. Kelso with a nice Marquesas Keys permit A far as getting “wrecked up” or wrapped around the wreck, permit don’t usually do it to me unless there is a big shark around. I typically go with 15lb ANDE Flurocarbon leader because of our gin clear waters. If I have a little bit of murk to the water I’ll try and go as high as 25lb leader just to be on the safe side. With gummy lips and silky smooth skin, I usually feel pretty comfortable during hookps that they will not come unbuttoned. I tie on a 1/0 Owner live bait hook and use a snell knot to my leader. I do not have luck using circle hooks with permit. 90% of the permit that I have hooked up to with circle hooks have all came off. I don’t know if it’s the shape of their mouth or what, so I continue to use j-hooks.

Barracudas, the year long rulers of these reefs and wrecks, give my anglers a great time. When fishing these areas, I usually go after the barracuda last, targeting the more spooky species first. Cudas usually are not bothered by us ripping on fish they can’t take out in one bite anyways. For throwing plugs on the wrecks, I choose Bomber Wind-Cheater lipped plugs or the Badonk-a-donk SS stick shads. The silver/blue color is irresistible to the barracudas. Fast retrieves are definitely the way to go, as you don’t want the barracuda to know what that lure is. I personally think they get irritated that there is a shiny bait fish swimming that fast past their face, and they just have to go up to it and bite it. Try and throw your plugs far out in front of the cudas and rip them fast back a couple feet out in front of them. I have done better on murky days with these fish as they cannot inspect the bait as much.

Hooked up to a barracuda on a tower

Hooked up at a tower in the Atlantic, just off of the Marquesas Keys.

Do not set the hook on barracudas when plug fishing. I have taken out way too many hooks from people who get antsy on the hook up. Barracudas can move up to 40mph on a flash. If you’re constantly ripping the plug back, the cuda will throw enough energy into the treble hooks to give you a nice hookup. Just come tight on the rod and keep good tension. Do not stop working the plug back if you see them chasing it. Stopping the plug will do nothing but let the barracuda know that the bait is not real and immidiately result in a turn off. Every once in a while snappers or jacks will come steal your plug in front of the barracudas, if they are brave enough. This can turn into quite the fight getting those brave fellas back to the boat in one piece. Needless to say, plug fishing over these wrecks is a blast and can really add to your day. Fishing Key West in the fall is epic, there are so many types of fish to go after. Each and every one of my anglers enjoy the times we have when the cooler weather sets in!