Keys captains reporting active dolphin season so far

Summer is definitely here in the Upper Keys, and the signs are everywhere — from the mosquito trucks spraying residential neighborhoods in the evening to the daily afternoon thunderstorms.

It may be hot in the afternoons, but quite comfortable as compared to many areas of our country experiencing triple digit temperatures. This means getting an early start to help avoid the afternoon heat, or venturing out during the evening hours to fish in more comfortable conditions. Either way, this past week saw great catches both offshore and in the backcountry with lots of rod bending action for happy anglers.

It is dolphin season offshore with most boats searching for some color in their coolers, and Upper Keys Fishing Club President Capt. Mike Casale has been doing exactly that. He is reporting good numbers of fish 20-30 miles out on the calmer days, catching a 20-pound cow and several “lifters” (10- to 15-pounders) along with several schoolies in a day. Capt. Mike stated that we need a couple of days of a stiff east or southeast wind in order to bring the dolphin in closer to the reef line.

Another captain having a fantastic dolphin season is Capt. Dana Banks aboard the War Bird out of the Ocean Reef Club in northern Key Largo. Dana is reporting a slower dolphin bite this past week due to the full moon phase we are currently experiencing. Capt. Dana has had his hands full with lots of bonito, skipjack, blackfin tuna, and even a few wahoo found around the deeper wrecks and sea mounts, in addition to the big schools of dolphin found while trolling through these areas.

Always keeping a keen eye out for that magical piece of debris that will turn an average day into a memorable one is key. This can appear at any time while offshore. Capt. Dana stated that finding the dolphin has not been a problem, but you may have to put in some time in order to find the larger fish. When the dolphin bite slows, Capt. Dana has had great success dropping baits into the deep for mutton snapper, amberjack and grouper around good structure.

July typically means the start of the mangrove snapper spawn. Already several boats are reporting great catches while fishing at night off the Upper Keys. This can be a great option in order to beat the heat where as nighttime conditions can be a lot more comfortable. It takes a good amount of chum and a good bottom recorder to help you find the schools of fish, but once found the action can be non-stop. Cut bait like fresh ballyhoo, squid and glass minnows are great to have, but live baits like pilchards and small pinfish will help bring in the larger snappers.

Except for dodging a few storms here and there, the fishing has been stellar this past week in the backcountry of Florida Bay. The outflows from the mainland have been hot with lots of snook, redfish, and smaller tarpon feeding on the bait being swept through on their way into the bay.

If you plan to fish these areas, bring plenty of mosquito repellant and light long sleeve shirts and pants as the horse and deer flies are hungry and waiting. The flats around Flamingo are teeming with redfish, snook, seatrout, black drum, and a good number of sharks. All of which can be caught either by poling and sight casting lures like spoons and jerk baits rigged weed less, or with live shrimp on the bottom around the run offs of the flats.

If you are looking for some meat in your cooler, try fishing the mullet muds in and around Florida Bay. Good numbers of legal seatrout are being caught all over the backcountry. The rig of choice remains the Paradise Popper with a gulp tipped jig suspended about 6 inches above the bottom. When popped aggressively, it will produce a lot of action.

Those of you who know me, know that to me, fishing is more than just a game, it is a way of life. So fish hard and fish often!

Capt. Mike Makowski is a backcountry fishing guide and owner of Blackfoot Charters in Key Largo. His column appears biweekly. To send him fishing reports or photos, e-mail or call (305) 481-0111.