Warmer weather bringing diverse catches on reef and backcountry

This past week was great weather coupled with fantastic fishing all over the place; from the backcountry to the deep, there has been lots of action for everyone.

Capt. Jon Reynolds and his crew aboard the Drop Back out of the Post Card Inn in Islamorada have had their hands full with happy clients and lots of rod bending action. Reynolds is reporting lots of great opportunities just off the reef edge, catching a mixed bag of species like schoolie-size dolphin, nice sized kingfish, a few sailfish, blackfin tuna averaging around 7-10 pounds, and bonitos. Capt. Jon stated that most of his bites were taking place around that magical depth of 150 feet off the reef with live baits like ballyhoo and big pilchards. When the action off the reef slows, Capt Jon has been dropping baits on the Hump off Islamorada for bruiser amberjack that test tackle and anglers’ abilities.

In Key Largo Capt. Justin Hopper aboard the Fantastic II out of the Holiday Inn Marina has been very busy catching big kingfish on light tackle. While catching his bait has been a little work this past week, Capt. Justin says that it was totally worth it. Kingfish around 40 pounds have been producing drag-screaming runs on 30-pound tackle. His bait of choice has been ballahoo and blue runners fished around the local wrecks and ledges. In addition to the kings there has also been a few wahoo caught. When targeting dolphin, the best bite Capt. Justin has encountered has been centered in 100-250 feet of water near weed lines and current rips mostly caught while trolling.

Capt. Chan Warner aboard the party boat Gulfstream based out of the Key Largo Fisheries has been on the hunt for the mutton snapper in 110-150 feet of water. So far the average fish caught is around 10-12 pounds with larger ones caught daily on cut bait like squid and fresh bonito strips. In addition to the muttons, Capt. Chan reported catching lots of groupers, that all have to be released, but provide great action. He also reports an improving bite of yellowtail and mangrove snappers, all as the water temperatures begin to increase.

Out back, the redfish and seatrout bite has been the most consistent thing going in most portions of the bay. Many captains have been catching good amounts of sheepshead, redfish, black drum and snook around the Capes, Lake Ingram and East Cape Canal. Live shrimp on a 2/0 Owner Mutu Light circle hook with some weight fished on the bottom have been catching a fair amount of the species.

Scented baits like Trigger-X shrimp and paddle tail minnows colors “new penny” and “root beer/gold flake” are the go-to baits when throwing tipped jigs into dirty water. Tarpon have been showing up around the outer banks of Florida Bay and some of the local bridges at night. Again Large Trigger-X paddle tail minnows rigged with a jig head and jigged across the bottom are a great way of hooking into a silver king when fishing dirty waters. Live baits like mullet, pinfish or large pilchards also work when the artificial lures do not produce.

Attention! Attention!! Everglades National Park wants to close one-third of Florida Bay, making it pole and troll zones! If you enjoy fishing, boating or just sight seeing in your park, everything is about to change unless we make our voices heard. A series of public meetings are taking place over the next few weeks — the next one in our area will be held on April 10 in the Murray Nelson Government Center and will run from 5:30-8:30 p.m. If you have any questions or just want to see what the proposed changes are to your park, this will be your best opportunity. The Park is also taking comments about the proposed changes due to take place 2014. We have until Sunday, May 12, to make our voices heard. To do so just check out the site http://parkplanning.nps.gov/ and click on the Open for Comment link to voice your concerns.

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 captmikemakowski@yahoo.com or call (305) 481-0111.