Red Snapper Price Per Pound

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Member,Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute Thanks for visiting!Your host, owner, and fishing expertAlaska Tim Contact us:Great Alaska Seafood Visit us, or write to:Peninsula Processing & Smokehouse720 Kalifornsky Beach RoadSoldotna, Alaska, 99669 Local Phone: 907-262-8846

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Feb. 15, 2012:  We just got back from our annual vacation and I'm looking forward to getting back on the water. Tomorrow is my first day of three booked this week. I will get back to how the fishing is. My friends say there have been some sailfish around, the kingfish are biting, amberjacks are showing up, and snappers on the reef are biting. So there is plenty to do, what my clients want to do I'll find out tomorrow.

Then we have a couple days flats fishing. December 6, 2011: MASSIVE BOAT PROJECT: Oh my gosh, the time does fly. Just finished 5+ weeks of work on the 23' Sea Craft. The last day of the summer season the fuel tank started to leak due to pitting. It took me one week just to get the tank out of the boat. First I had to remove t-top, console, and hatches just to get at the tank. The console was tricky.

I did it in a way not to remove whole wire harness, so it had to be propped to one side and with enough room for the tank to be pulled out. By not removing whole wire harness saved me 2 or 3 days overall, but that took the better part of one day to figure out. It barely gave me enough room to slide the tank out after cutting the foam down the sides and popping it free with a jack and chains to the fuel gauge port with a 4x4 above with jack on it.

I literally had to jack it up and jack it out sideways (aft) due to the great resistance by the foam down the sides. This was very tricky.     It took three weeks to get the tank in, shimmed and screwed down, console down, t-top down (and weld repairs), and all the rigging back. There were a number of other repairs or work I accomplished while the tank and console were up which added a lot of extra time to the project.

It was not just replacing the tank. I'm glad I did it but it was a definite bitch of a job, especially at 49 years old. The last 3 weeks were 12 to 18 hours a day, just to get the boat in the water for my charter on 11/28. I finished the night before at 9:30 pm, washing the boat. Three nights I worked as late as 2 am, 1 am, and 12:30 am. And that was all starting at around 6:30 am - 7:30 am. I'd like to figure how many months of work I have on both the boats I fish.

Initially the 23'er took 5 1/2 months, 7 days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day, and numerous days working after 12 am to get it in the water 11 years ago This is the glamorous life of a charter captain, every year we have maintenance during the off-season. Some years are worse than others. It was really miserable not being able to go out fun fishing for 2.5 months, which is the only time I get to go with my wife and friends.

BACK COUNTRY FISHING: I still had some charters back in the Everglades and the fishing was pretty darn good. Scott Long and his 10 year old son caught some great fish in 3 days. Last day Scott caught a 130 pound tarpon. We also caught numerous snook 8 - 10 lbs., and large slot sized redfish. The boy wanted to catch a shark, so after catching snook and redfish during the day, right before we left I sliced up a ladyfish and within 5 min we hooked up and caught a 100 lb.

bull shark. I had another group of guys that came down for 3 days of back county fishing. They too caught 8 - 10 lb. snook, large slot size redfish, and nice sea trout back in the Everglades National Park. We also fished the bridges one day when the wind was too strong for the long run back to the Everglades. They hooked a few nice small tarpon, and caught a few nice mangrove snapper up to 3 lb. These guys ate their fresh fish every night, which they said was a great added bonus to their trip.

I cannot remember their names right now, but when I upload the photos I will put in their names. There were other trips this fall where we caught small tarpon in the creeks, redfish in the channels, and some snook. Of course we catch plenty of sea trout, ladyfish and jacks too when you really want to bend a rod. Sharks are always plentiful too. It's all in the typical day of back country fishing during the fall in the Everglades National Park.

Gruesome shark attack on 135 lb. tarpon August 14th, 2011: Damn it, I wish I had the time to do these reports with photos every month. If you could only understand the work it requires just to keep the boats and equipment running 5 to 6 days a week. Or how about 8 full day trips in a 6 day period. That's right, two of the days I fished from 7:30 am to 3:30 pm, then second trip from 4 pm  to 12 am.

That means I got up at 5:30 am and to bed around 3 am, twice in one week, and fishing full days all the other days. You got to love it, but it's not getting any easier at 49 years old. I still haven't figured it out, if it's keeping me young or making me older. TARPON FISHING:  Tarpon fishing was great once again this year. Had some great nights out there. This was the first year we did not catch a tarpon in the 180 pound class.

We caught a few around 150 lbs., but if they are very tired or a shark is in the area I do not measure them to confirm my estimates. We get pictures though of all the tarpon if the clients want to, and that is more important than the measurement unless the measurement is more important to the client. The tarpon are still around, all the way through the fall. Catching a big one just is not as likely, until the fall mullet run happens in late Sept to early Oct.

By a big one I mean a tarpon of 70 to 150 lbs. The smaller ones are 20 to 40 lbs. which are a lot of fun on lighter tackle. Just a week and half ago Gale Porter (Jr., Jr.) caught a 65 pound tarpon on #20 test around the bridge pilings, that was fun. On the hook-up it jumped wildly running down the bridge a hundred feet or so before turning to go through the bridge. Normal this is not a problem, but we were fishing 3 lines for 3 teenagers to keep all interested.

One line got on top of the line of the tarpon, so I had to clear it instead of starting the motor and throwing the anchor line float into the water first. So there was a nerve racking delay, and I had to punch the boat to chase the tarpon before that light #20 test would hit the pilings. Thank God we made it through after this tarpon. Once we got through, he did all the great classic tarpon moves: powerful runs, jumps in the sunset, and dogging it under the boat.

We usually use #30 test just to give us that extra chaff protection if the line gets into the pilings, so this was a significant tarpon to catch around the bridge.           If I ever get the chance, I love shark wrestling. Just tie a big bait on the end of a boat line and hang on. These big 500 - 700 lb. hammerhead sharks come right up to the boat. They thrash it, soaking everyone. Like my long time client John Wiedemann says: "It's better than the Chicago Aquarium!"   OFFSHORE FISHING: The dolphin fishing has been consistent like always, but this year the big 20 to 30 lb.

"slammer" dolphin did not show up in any consistent numbers. But you could always fill the box with fish. There were lots of "gaffer" and "heavy lifter" size dolphin, and the larger blackfin tuna were consistent along with triple tail and wahoo.           Chris and Hope Dorsey came back, but this time instead of trying to best their 10 tarpon released one July 14th they wanted to go offshore to fill the cooler.

As we ran out we found a floating pallet, and we caught a couple nice gaffers on it. There were a couple nice triple tail, but we could not keep our baits from the jacks and trigger fish. We gave it a good try, but I knew Chris wanted to catch bigger fish too not just good eating fish so we started trolling again. We caught enough dolphin for the box, but it was slow for the fleet on the radio - lots of undersized fish - same for us.

I started my way back in after getting over 20 miles offshore Trolling a weed line the left rigger gets knocked down, I turn expecting a dolphin and a billfish comes out of water shaking and jumping all over. I could not see it's dorsal, just it's belly as it charged the boat. I punched the boat to keep the line tight. Then it made a nice run. Chris had the rod, and I got him up to the bow so we could follow it.

It was not more than 50 pounds. It could be a white marlin or even a small blue this time of year, the suspense was gnawing at me. Then it jumped up again, tail-walking right at the boat 150 yards out. I had to floor it in reverse to help keep the line tight. What was it I couldn't see clearly, a white marlin? Then it jumped again now just 50 yards out and I see the sail, sailfish, a great fish to catch while dolphin fishing.

I decide to run in to hit a wreck for snapper or amberjacks, because the dolphin fishing was spotty for keepers. That was a good decision. First drop Chris hooks and catches a nice mutton snapper around 14 pounds. Then we dropped a second time for Hope, and she catches another mutton snapper around 12 lbs. In two drops we catch two big mutton snapper at the end of the day. Now a day that started out tough for dolphin just became a GREAT DAY: one sailfish released, two big mutton snappers, and a good box of dolphin.

Photos will be up this week. It could not happen to a better couple. Chris serves on the front lines in the "War on Terror" in the "Special Forces" for around the last 10 years. Thank you so much Chris and Hope for your all's sacrifice for "our safety and freedom" keeping our enemies at bay a long way away from our country. I am so happy you all had another great day fishing down here with me. You all really deserve it, and you all are a pleasure to fish with.

By the way Chris bragged about Hope's oven fried fish, which she told me how to do. It's great! I'm back to enjoying fried fish because it uses so much less oil. And the clean up is so much easier too. Gino Alessio, Mike, and another friend got out for a day of dolphin fishing. We found the dolphin and filled the box with enough of them, then decided to go out to try for black fin tuna. The black fin were not biting that week which I told him, but you never know when they can show back upon the local humps.

It was blowing around 20 knots that day but there was very little current so it was not rough in 500' but as we ran offshore we got into the current. The 409 hump looked like aminiature "Most Deadly Catch" scene, the waves were steep 6 - 8 foot with the crests blowing over and crashing down the face of the waves. I slowed the trolling speed down, and searched with the depth sounder for any tuna under the surface.

On one of the passes we had a rigger get hit and as I turned around I saw another strike but it was long and skinny not a tuna. Then we another crash on the marlin lure, and I saw a 25 pound wahoo thrashing wildly on the #50. I backed the drag off, and let the wahoo run. Mike was closest, so I handed him the rod. It was not easy for Mike, that heavy rod and tossing seas. But he got it up to the side of the boat and I gaffed it.

The big blackfin tunas have been biting quite well all year too. Blackfin tunas in the 20 to 25 pound range too. When you chum them up with pilchards, and get them exploding and jumping out of the water all around the boat - talk about exciting! Catch a few of these on # 20 or #30 test and they will test your metal. We catch nice sharks offshore while fishing for amberjacks and tuna on the wrecks and humps.

That sandbar shark is about 300 lbs. Permit over the wrecks can almost always be consistent action.                  SPEAR FISHING TRIPS: We've had some good trips this year. Tony Morrelo came down with his girl friend and had a good couple dives. They shot hogfish, muttons and a nice yellow jack. I caught a couple cero mackerel to add to their fish cooler while I followed their buoy while they made the drift dives.

That is the best way to spear fish and very few people do it because not many people will follow the spear fishermen in the water with the boat. We catch a few fish on hook and line too while we are spear fishing. Like between dives I'll anchor up and put out a chum bag for ballyhoo or other bait. Then we'll use that for cero mackerel, yellowtail or mutton snapper, grouper, dolphin, and nice kingfish like the one I caught while we were eating lunch when a friend and I went out diving one day.

                 Getting ready for stone crab season. Talk about the best, cooking your own. I got my own simple boil that is awesome, better than any fish house - period!   April 19th, 2011: Oh my gosh, I got to keep on these reports. The fishing has been great! I wish I had the time to write about it all every day or every week. I have not even had time to keep up on everything else to run this business: I have 4 cast nets to repair (today I'll do 2), drags to smooth up (2 FinNor Lights and 1 Penn 50 TW), finish re-greasing last new Penn Slammer, change oils in 250 four stroke today, fix bait pens, catch more bait, make 3 more bait pens, fix freezer tops, rebuild spare rods, research and buy couple jigging rods and reels and rig with braid, rig up 50 Tiagra for day time swordfishing with electric drill and handle chuck with 110 converter to retrieve bait and lead from 2000' deep if no bite, fishing rigs.

.. - that's it, I cannot list anymore or I'll get frustrated. Like friend says, "Quit Yer Bitchin'," or I got to keep living up to my boat's name, "Crank It Up!" TARPON FISHING: Tarpon are here, and have been here. Last week we caught 12 tarpon in three days of fishing, out of having 20 hooked up and on. Joe Conroy and his friend caught 10 out of 14 on in two of the days - that is good catching, above the average.

On half day trips we've been catching a couple tarpon for a few or more on. The tarpon have been that average size of 70 - 130 pounds. No monsters yet, which is unusual for March and early April. From today on, I'm looking at almost 100% tarpon fishing booked, along with a few offshore days mixed in. I still have a few days and half days open, so do not hesitate to call. For the past month and a half, I've been doing a variety of fishing due to what the client wants to do from offshore fishing to flats fishing.

OFFSHORE FISHING: The offshore fishing has been pretty good. The big black fin tuna fishing has been very good. We have caught tuna up to 25 lbs. which is a great fight on #20 test. Some of my friends have caught tunas up to 30 lbs. These tunas are on the local humps, so you can always drop down for a big amberjack. While tuna fishing, you should always be ready for a big dolphin or a sailfish to come up in your live bait chum.

The dolphin are showing up too. Mostly small ones, but within the last two weeks the 20 to 30 lbs. slammers are coming in. The vermillion snapper and lane snapper have been biting, and are a blast on light tackle. They make for great table fair, and all the local restaurants will cook your catch. The mutton snappers have been biting on the wrecks, and before that up on the reefs too. We caught a nice 5 pound mutton inshore on a patch reef one day while we were fishing for barracudas to go shark fishing.

The cero mackerel have been biting well too, while we have been fishing for sailfish. Unfortunately the sailfish fishing has been very slow for our area, and that is why most of the guys have been fishing for black fin tuna, dolphin, and amberjacks offshore. FLATS FISHING: The permit fishing has been excellent. One day we saw over 1000 permit, and we finally caught one. Mostly because it was flat calm which is the toughest conditions to cast crabs at them.

I also took a few casts with the fly rod, and I actually got a nip from one. I stripped too soon, not allowing it enough time to get the fly in its mouth. Damn, I have not cast a fly at a permit in maybe 5 years, so I was rusty. We have found some tailing bonefish, close to home, but have not connected. The tarpon are now migrating into the Keys. One afternoon after permit fishing in the morning, we probably cast at 300 - 400 tarpon and had one make a swing and miss at our crab we were casting.

Sight casting is what the clients wanted to do. The snook have been good around the bridges and the back country. While tarpon fishing one day with Paul English's son had wanted to catch a snook, so we went to one of my spots close by and caught a nice 30" snook. They missed a few other. Then we went shark fishing. Paul's son once again had wanted to catch a big shark. We had a couple big spinner sharks on up to +100 lbs.

which made blistering runs and spinning jumps only to break the leader. They caught a 85 lbs. spinner shark, and a couple smaller ones. Then we saw a big, black, bull shark lurking in the back of the chum line. We sent out a bait, had to pull it away from a couple big nurse sharks then finally the bull shark eat it. We were off to the races. What a great shark. It took about a 200 yard run by the time I got off the anchor.

By the time we got up to it, it was 500 yards from where we hooked it. A 40 minute fight ensued until it was subdued next to the boat for nice pictures. I think it was around a 250 pound bull shark. I got to call Paul to get the photos.   Feb. 22nd, 2011: Wow, it's been 3 months from my last report and it's good to be back and fishing. Once again I return from an epic surf trip in Costa Rica of 2 months, the only break we get a year.

A lot of my friends steam with envy I take 2 months off, but I dream of weekends off, national three day weekend holidays, and two or three paid vacations a year during the 10 month blitz we trudge through working 7 days a week. That's right, we work 7 days a week the rest of the year. I'll try to write a little about my surf trip at a later date. TARPON FISHING: Tarpon fishing is just starting. They have already arrived according to one of my dear friends who guts it out every winter, instead of going down to visit me in CR to surf, spear fish, and drink while camping out on the beach with "old Capt.

Killgore" (we had a great trip a few year ago, and he almost made it down this year but couldn't - so I called him a few time to twist his arm!). He told me the first few tarpon arrived the week before I returned on the first good warm spell of the winter. That is what usually happens in mid - Feb. So as the water gets over 70* F the tarpon will start biting. OFFSHORE FISHING: Oh my God, I thought the amberjack we caught on Fri.

was "big" which it was, until 2 days later - sorry Pat. I did not realize the significance of this amberjack, until my good friend who used to commercially fish amberjacks told me. He had caught 25,000 lbs. a season for 15 years (do the math). He was impressed with the amberjack we just caught, because he had only caught 6 amberjacks over 100 lbs. My friend said I should have killed it because so few over 100 pounds are caught.

Yesterday, Casey McDermitt (age 15) fought this amberjack for 45 min. on # 50 test stand-up tackle. This amberjack measured 68" to the fork and 38" girth. Before I measured it, I estimated this amberjack to be at least 110 lbs. The "fish formula" measurement puts it at 123 pounds, but they inflate a little as they come up out of the deep. If you take off 2" from the girth (which I think is too much to reduce it by) it comes out to 110lbs.

I think it was a 115 lbs. amberjack. That's Casey (left-center). He is 6' 6" and is a 260 lb. lineman on his JV football team (I feel sorry for the kids across from him). He had great patience and persistence while fighting this amberjack, never frustrated and always impressed with each run.                                    Two days earlier my first day back on the ocean with my Sea Craft, we catch the largest amberjack ever on my boat, until yesterday.

Pat Dowling from New Jersey wrestles up a 91 lbs. amberjack with no less than my big spinning rod with # 80 test braid. Now we typically catch 30 to 40 lb. amber jacks on this rod with a metal jig, and we catch the bigger 65 to 75 lb. amberjacks on live bait and my big # 130 test stand-up rod. That's what makes this a hell of a catch, with 15 pounds of drag for 25 minutes at least, holding on for dear life on the brutal runs and pumping her up in between the runs with no stand-up harness to hold the rod, that's what makes this an impressive catch.

Pat is a big boy, and loved every minute of it. It is one of the toughest fights in the ocean around here, not just because they are 75 - 115 pound jacks (if you've ever caught a small jack, just imagine it). But it is a sprint of a fight. You can not let up for one second and rest, because you're trying to get the fish to the boat before a +900 pound tiger shark eats it up to its head or just swallows a 40 lb.

amberjack whole and cuts the mono leader. How do I know there are some +900 pound tiger sharks out there, my commercial fishing buddy caught one one day after he could not get an amberjack into the boat. When we go for the big boys, I strap the angler in to a kidney harness and a big stand-up fighting belt which holds the # 130 boat rod so we can get these big amberjacks up as quick as possible. But the day before Casey caught his 115 pound amberjack, my # 130 drag slipped a couple times so since we caught that 91 pound amberjack on that big spinner with 15 pounds of drag I decided to used my # 50 test stand up rod with 15 pound test maximum drag setting.

We were lucky we got it up before the sharks got it. Later we lost a nice tuna to a shark. INSHORE FISHING: Just as I got back, and was getting ready to start installing my new autopilot on the 23' Sea Craft, I get a call for half day flats fishing on my 17" skiff. So I realize during the call, hey I've fished this boat for 10 years without an autopilot so I can fish next weeks trips without it. I take the trip, and had a great afternoon on the water three days after returning from CR.

We wanted to find some bonefish, but the water was 63* on the ocean side flats coming out of the bay. I found an area that was 69* and there were some bonnet head sharks and box fish around but no bonefish. We tried some chumming for bonefish in some deep water to no avail, so I decided to do some barracuda fishing. We headed out to a small patch reef to cast some tube lures. Dave and his wife Cathy from Connecticut had a great afternoon.

Dave hooked a nice barracuda, that ripped the line through the water then did a 180 and cut the tube lure off. Cathy started whacking the fish on the bottom with a shrimp. She caught 7 keeper porgies, a just too small mutton snapper, a number of small grouper, and small mangrove snapper. Dave had another big barracuda charge the lure. He didn't hook the fish, but it sure got him excited. Dave started fishing the bottom with his wife, and started banging away at those fish his wife was - pretty fun on #10 test.

The water is warming so all the flats fish will be coming back to the flats now. March is a great month for: tarpon, permit, bonefish, snook, big sharks, big barracudas, big jacks, mangrove snapper, Spanish mackerel, big sea trout, and even cobia. What else can you ask for? More than you can fish for in a day. Nov. 20th, 2010: Wow, how time flies. In the last 2 1/2 months I did not realize it's been so long since I did an update.

We have been doing a little bit of everything: offshore and inshore. It has been the typical fall fishing, except this year has been a real struggle for the backcountry snook fishing. The redfish fishing has been very good though. We have been catching tarpon around the bridges and in the backcountry. One half day we caught 3 bonefish. Caught some big Spanish mackerels the other day, along with some nice trout, and one spot it was every cast for a jack.

It was a great half day, because one of the guys just wanted action for his first fishing trip. The dolphin and tunas were biting all fall real good. Some big ones up to 25 lbs. showed up about a month ago. The sailfish have started to show up in the last 2 weeks, but I have pulled my boat to do the annual work on it before a few trips around Thanksgiving. Sept. 4th, 2010: Same story, different day: I have not been able to get to my regular fish reports.

Thank God, I've been too busy. We have been doing a little bit of everything, from offshore to the backcountry, and I cannot forget the diving too. OFFSHORE FISHING: I have wanted to catch a big wahoo in Islamorada for years, say over 40 lbs is respectable; but I never imagined we would even hook one the size we caught Aug. 16th. Kemp Mosley from Mississippi caught this 67 lbs. "monster wahoo" first thing in the morning.

We weighed it 7 hours later, so it would have lost 5 - 10% weight which would have put it over 70 lbs. This is a very large wahoo for Islamorada and even for the Florida Keys. When this wahoo first came up behind the boat, I thought it was a small blue, but in a second I saw it was a huge wahoo. I jumped into action, quickly tying on a kingfish rig for a big live pilchard on a #30 trolling rod. He did not want that.

So I had to rig a bigger bait, which meant a new leader and bigger hook. Rigs and boxes started flying around, but I got it done quickly and slapped a big bait out there.   First time this big wahoo ate it, I let him eat it a good time then reeled down and struck as hard as I could, the bait pull - too much line stretch. I cranked it back up and he followed it up. I fed him again, but this time I put the rod in the rod holder and punched the boat to stretch the line to set the big hook.

"Damn," he coughed it up again. "Stupid Killgore," I said to myself because I just remembered I use light drags in general, and the strike was to light to set the big bait and hook. I cranked it up again, and here comes that wahoo. I feed him again: a good drop back, set it in the rod holder, put the drag up to full (about 15 lbs. of drag I know), and punch the boat for 50 yards. Hooked up, finally.

What a nice run it made and a long fight. We played him conservatively, but I was worried about sharks. So I had the drag up a bit, but when it would run I'd back it off again. After a while, Kemp and his family were wondering, where is it? "Patience," I said. "This is a big fish and you do not want to force it. You got to go with the drag settings." Ten minutes later we could see the wahoo down about 100 feet.

After another ten minutes of working the wahoo up, I was not going to wait till it got to the surface for a perfect gaff shot. Instead, I reached down as far as the 8' gaff would go while the boat was in forward. I did the the same thing in 1988 with a 542 lbs. blue marlin down in St. Thomas, because so many things can go wrong that last 6 - 8 feet up. That story will follow this one. As I slowly moved it right behind the head for a great shot, the wahoo turned and came right toward the boat! I rushed a shot at it, got him a little, then the gaff's butt got stuck in my t- shirt under my under arm.

I couldn't keep good pressure on it. The ladies were up my side of the gunwale taking pictures - "GET OUT OF THE WAY!" I ran up the side of the boat, keeping pressure on the fish with the gaff. I finally unwrapped it from my loose shirt, and worked down towards the middle of the gaff with the wahoo at the surface. He was barely gaffed, right through the lower jaw, up and out of the front of the mouth.

I feared, "is it enough to lift this monster wahoo over this part of my gunwale that is 3.5 feet up?" I was half way up the side of my boat in front of my consul. Well, I'm not going to risk loosing it by re-gaffing it. Now the women are behind me on the other side of the boat in front of the console - "GET OUT OF THE WAY!" I had no time to explain myself. And as I heaved it into the boat one big motion, I knew I had to jump out of the way of those razor sharp teeth, and also have no one else in it's path.

When the wahoo hit the deck, the hook fell right out of its mouth! That is why you gaff a fish at the first opportunity. There is saying, "if a wahoo just gets close to you on the deck, he can slice you up!" There have been more mates and fisherman sliced up like that, and that I explained, I was very concerned about when boating this big wahoo. The ladies and their husbands understood. That is the story of this great big wahoo, which took about 40 minutes to land.

Here is that 542 lbs. blue marlin story and about gaffing it deep at the first opportunity. Dr. Imhoff took his boat to St. Thomas to catch a blue marlin more than 500 pounds, and this was it. We knew it when we saw it grey hounding across the rough St. Thomas sea. I knew this was going to be "a money shot" on the gaff, and I was not going to wait till it got to a comfortable distance. I was going to reach out and hit it as soon as I could.

By the way, I got a $700 tip that night on top of my $125 daily fee. That's a great pay day for 1988. As this fish came up on the leader, it was down deep and digging hard as the boat was in forward. As far down as I could put the flying gaff , I held it against the current around six feet down with the big gaff point trailing in the current, parallel to the fish. Once I felt the back of the fish with the bend of the gaff hook, I pivoted the gaff and went down further until the point was making good contact.

I sunk it in, but not to hard to alarm the blue marlin. Almost like a live bait for a kite, right behind the dorsal fin you can see the mark in the photo. I released the pole and I took a wrap on the flying gaff rope. The 1st mate, Steve, was on the leader, and we started pulling the big blue marlin up simultaneously. I had told Steve earlier, "once we gaff the blue marlin we got to grab the bill and get at least one half hitch on it with the flying gaff rope, preferably two if not three.

" When the blue marlin broke the surface, I could see the bill was just "sitting in the bend of the hook with the barb backed into the bill" just holding the hook there! As Steve grabbed the bill so I could half hitch the bill with the rope, the hook fell out! I hitched it twice, gave the rope to Steve, and I then gaffed the blue marlin again with the second flying gaff, mid-torso. You can see both hole marks by the gaffs in the photo.

Again, gaff every fish on the first opportunity. If we had horsed this fish and alarmed it, or if I had not gaffed it deep, it could have come to the surface, shook its bill, and thrown the hook. Game over, and that 542 lbs. blue marlin Dr. Imhoff had fished a month for would have been gone at the boat. Dolphin and blackfin tuna have been very good offshore. Every day we go out, not a problem catching some nice summer tuna an some dolphin.

I got my wife out the other day for a long half day. I caught 600 pilchards, then made a scuba dive down the reef, before heading offshore to the hump. We got to the hump, and as soon as we started throwing pilchards out we were hooking up two at a time. Three we could not stop and they got eaten by something big. We caught two ten pound tunas, one was a small yellowfin tuna. Then I rigged up my fly rod for tuna, and when I stood up there were some nice gaffer size dolphin around the boat.

I through out a scoop of pilchards, and hooked a nice 12 lbs. bull dolphin on my fly rod. He made some nice 6 ' jumps and after he settled down, I gave the rod to Elena so I could hook another one up for her. I hooked one up for her, then switch rods again. When she got hers up to the boat for gaffing, we switched again so I could gaff the fish and put it in the box. She gave me back the fly rod, and I brought the dolphin to the boat for her to net it.

Now she had a little trouble getting it in the net, but she got it.    As I was putting more ice in the fish box, Elena looks over the side of the boat and sees three 20 lbs. wahoo. I throw over another scoop of pilchards and those wahoo start darting everywhere. By the time I get a wire rig on and a bait out they disappeared. They did not stick around like the other wahoo. Later we caught a couple triple tail under a huge tree and its roots.

I actually got in the water to see if there were any wahoo or dolphin hanging down deep under the tree. I dove down a few times 30 - 40 feet, but all I saw was one 4' shark, trigger fish, and bar jacks. Coming up to the tree and all the fish around it and the triple tails was very cool. INSHORE FISHING: Tarpon fishing this past Aug. has been better than I expected around the bridges. Typically, we are catching smaller 30 pound tarpon, but this year every time we went out we caught a 75 to 85 pounder and hooked another or two.

  Scott Lewis from Hendersonville, NC went out for a half day trip fly fishing for bonefish and baby tarpon. I caught a very nice 10 lbs. tarpon on fly along the mangrove shoreline of one of the islands out in Florida Bay. These are great fish for one of your first saltwater fish on fly. They eat the fly readily, and jump all around the boat. Sea trout and mangrove snappers were biting very good back in the backcountry mangrove creeks, which make for a fun action packed trip for those who do not want to frustrate themselves with the challenge of sight fishing for bonefish, permit, and tarpon.

We incidentally released the biggest trout I have ever seen. I'd say it was around 30," but my client who fishes Indian River a lot said he'd say it was over 30" and go around 6 - 7lbs. I might go with what he said. I saw it briefly, then turned to get the landing net out. We had just moved and I had stowed the net. His nephew, an avid bass fisherman, had it right at the boat and his uncle had a great look at it.

    June 21st, 2010: I'm sorry it has been two months since I did a fishing report. Thank the Lord I've been fishing 6 days a week, and that one day off I'm actually working harder on boats, tackle, bait, etc. I'm not going to post any photos right now because I've detected problems in the resolution of finished photos after resizing from my new digital camera.   TARPON: Tarpon fishing has been great! We have caught as many as 6 tarpon for 9 hooked up and 14 tarpon striking the baits one full day trip.

The largest tarpon we've caught measured 84" to the fork and 42" girth which comes out to 186 lbs. using the "fish weight formula." That's a big tarpon. Maybe 90" over all length, imagine that! We have been probably averaging 4 tarpon per full day trip. Quite a few days we've caught 5 tarpon. If we spent less time fighting tarpon, we would be catching more tarpon per trip. Everyone want a photo with their tarpon, so we have to fight them another 10 to 20 minutes until they are docile enough to safely handle them around the boat for pictures.

  BIG TARPON on FLY at NIGHT: The perfect scenario for your first big tarpon on fly! We have even been catching tarpon on fly at night! I may have designed a great night tarpon fly. The first time we used it, James Ovelman hooked 3 tarpon out of 4 strikes in 15 minutes of fishing. The third one he hooked he fought for 1:36 hours and had the leader in the rod tip many times for a technical release, but we never got a lip gaff in it for a photo.

This was an epic battle up and down the bridge weaving through the pilings. He put out standing pressure on this fish, his first big tarpon on fly, but by no means did he play it conservatively. He has been fishing with me for years and caught big tarpon on bait and knows the pressure we got to put on them. This tarpon was BIG, maybe 130 lbs. and it dragged us through the bridge pilings at least 1.

5 miles, then turned back to go maybe 1/4 mile back the other way until it finally broke us off in the pilings - Wow! This is what James has dreamed about for years, and has fish with some of the best fly fishing guides of S. FL. He was stoked even though we did not get it up for a photo. The next night we bait fished until dark catching a couple tarpon and jumping a few, then we broke out the fly again.

The tarpon were not as active as the night before, but in 40 minutes of fly fishing James hooked two tarpon and caught the perfect size tarpon on fly, a 70 pounder. It made some great jumps and runs, and we got it up to the boat for some nice photos which I will be posting soon. Sean Borgenson came down for 2 days fly fishing. The second day we did a half day night trip, and he hooked a nice tarpon up on fly which jumped greatly and ran deep into his backing before it broke the shock tippet - bizarre.

Sometimes leaders can get in the deep corner of the hinge of the jaws where it can get bit off like a pair of dikes which are not sharp. I am very excited about this fishing for the novice tarpon fly fisherman. This could be one of the greatest ways to catch "big tarpon on fly" down here in the FL Keys. Fly fishing for tarpon here in the Keys has been getting harder and harder over the last decade due to the pressure during the day - they have seen every fly in the book.

Over the years my anglers have expressed their frustration. It is one reason I moved into "live bait fishing," I love catching tarpon. Now I know a couple guys that "fun fish" at night with fly for tarpon down here, but most of their tarpon are small (under 50 lbs. and mostly 30 lbs.). The tarpon we were hooking on my fly were all big tarpon, 70 pounds and larger. I'm looking forward to targeting this "night time tarpon fly fishing," especially this July.

I have typically had good night tarpon fishing in July, and even during the day sight fishing with fly can be more productive because less fly fishermen are fishing and the tarpon can be more hungry. There are less tarpon moving along the flats, but they can be more aggressive to the fly.   OFFSHORE FISHING: fishing has been good for dolphin (Mahi Mahi), black fin tuna, permit, and billfish are around offshore.

This time of year 99.9% of my trips are tarpon fishing. That is what my clients want to do. I get a few trips of variety during tarpon season, but until tarpon starts to wind down I will not start to fishing for the other fish we have here, even though I love our diverse fishery and fishing for them. The dolphin fishing (Mahi Mahi) has been very good also, and we have caught some nice fish this last April through June.

One memorable catch was with Dave Hamilton and his wife on their honeymoon, and they caught "a double header" of big dolphin, "slammers," that measured 61" and 54" which was a good fire drill. With a mess of small dolphin they took home around 80 pounds of fillets.             Susan Haight caught her first permit, a big, 43 pounder, off one of the local wrecks last week. It fought with every ounce of its body in that 100 foot water.

It took every bit of 25 minutes, maybe even 30. Most days I've been offshore we have seen 2 billfish each day free jumping including two blue marlin, one around 350 lbs. and another around 125 lbs. So I'm looking forward to hooking up that illusive blue marlin every day I go offshore. Black fin tuna and Skipjacks have been plentiful offshore and on the humps. It is exciting to chase the schools offshore and hook up to one of these very powerful fish.

Sometimes yellow fin tuna can mix in with them, and we're always hoping to hook one of them. Also fishing one or two of these tunas live is a good idea for a shot at a blue marlin or mako shark. Black fin tuna are an excellent fish to add to the fish box, and the skipjack is a close second in food quality. Both fish have to have the blood line removed, just like yellow fin tuna, and any other fish before cooking and freezing.

  INSHORE FISHING: Fishing has been good for bonefish, trout, mangrove snapper, snook, and big sharks. We have gone bonefish fishing once for half day and boy did we chum up the bonefish that morning. We lost one bonefish and probably chummed up 2 dozen fish in a 1.5 hour period while the tide was peak. The toughest thing is to get the bait in front of the moving bonefish. They come in and leave quick.

They were coming in as singles, doubles and even once 6 bonefish came in that morning. The other backcountry trips I've had, we've fished the Everglades and had some great sea trout and snapper fishing. These were rod bending trips, and the fish were biting. Almost every cast we were hooking a trout and up to 20" which is a nice trout. Just the other day we were into the nice snapper for the Everglades which I was just flipping into the boat; then Jesse, Brian Connolly's nephew, cranked up a trout that I would say was 27' - 28" and 5 plus pounds.

I've honestly never seen one that big. Brian said it was bigger, because he's caught trout that size in Mosquito Lagoon. He said it could have been 30 inches. When I saw it I screamed, "keep its head in the water, don't lift it up!" I turned and wrestled with the landing net to get it out from under my poling platform where I store it. I finally got it, turned and it was gone! With a shocked face, young Jesse then smiled and said, "that was the biggest saltwater fish he'd ever caught!" He was a very good bait caster, which he expertly fished all morning this old Ambassador bait caster I brought to try.

He is an avid bass fisherman from Orlando area, and could cast that old reel quite well. I've been wanting to try bait casters to drift live bait for snook and baby tarpon so the clients do not twist the line when they are fighting the fish. Later the twisted line will tangle in the reel or rod tip and get chaffed up or snap. If I like it I will add a few nice bait casters to my arsenal of tackle.

I'm also thinking about the same principle for offshore, but logically they would be nice lever drag conventional reels. By the way, one of my clients fished with one of my friends for snook and had a great day. They caught 7 - 8 snook up to 12 lbs. and lost just as many or more. So I'm looking forward to getting out snook fishing soon.   April 14th, 2010: Wow! I have been getting slammed with some last minute bookings and some great fishing! It could be a great year for tarpon! The first tarpon we caught was spectacular! It jumped at least 15 times, and was a big tarpon (at least 135 lbs.

). It jumped all around the boat, almost hit the boat, even after over an hour of fighting it on #20 test. The tarpon are about one and a half months over due. Where they start showing up in late Feb, they just started showing up first week of April. So it might be a later season where we could have great tarpon fishing all the way into late July. One year we caught 10 tarpon on July 14th, and many days that year we released 6 - 8 tarpon all the way till last few days of July.

Fishing along the reef has been great this past month. We have caught sailfish, big kingfish (up to 46"), nice black fin tuna, big cero mackerel (up to 10 lbs.), groupers, nice vermillion snapper and lane snapper for fun filled full days and half day trips. Her first day offshore fishing she catches a sailfish and numerous king and cero mackerel.   "Half day snapper and mackerel fishing" That is a mess of vermillion snapper and lane snapper for David Nix, Kelly, and their son, Devin.

Jeff Gurski catches a nice king, and friends caught around ten others while fishing for sailfish. Steve Williams and friend catch ten big cero mackerel up to 10 lbs. while fishing for sailfish.   The big kings were biting. We kept 3 of the 6 to the boat and missed twice as many. Repeat client, Joe McKinley and his son were stoked. No shots at sailfish that day, but the kings kept us busy.

Joe McKinely's son catches a 46" kingfish while fishing for sailfish.   Offshore fishing has been great too. We have caught numerous amberjack in the 60 - 70 pound range. While we are fishing for them, I like to have another angler on the bow jigging for black fin tuna where we have caught some nice tunas up to 15 lbs. They fight well on #30 test, and it is fun getting the bite yourself. We have also caught nice amberjacks on these jigs too, but they are in the 30 - 40 pound range, which is perfect for #30 test.

The dolphin have started to show up too, but I have not fished for them because they are typically small this time of year. Shane McDermott says these 70 pound amberjacks are good workouts while on spring break from UM's spring football camp. He is their freshman center. Best of luck buddy! Randy McDermott, loves jigging for those tunas on the hump while we are fishing for amberjacks. They are a fun fight on spin, and great little steaks for the grill too.

  Brandon Wilson,  veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, says these 65 lbs. amberjacks are tough!  Thank you for fighting for our freedom buddy! Rebecca Kravetz, sixteen year old, came to catch offshore fish. Black fin tuna will teach you about "persistence!" She also caught numerous other king and cero mackerel. They were tearing us up for a while, as fast as I could put a bait in the water. Tom Pennekamp takes the kids fishing.

Nice lane and vermillion snappers. They caught many more kings and snapper, but we let them go. Bay fishing has been very good too. Spanish mackerel were hot and heavy during our colder March where we were catching them as fast as we could put a bait in the water. Catching them on fly rod is great fun for the beginning saltwater fly fishermen. Big ladyfish, sea trout, pompano, bluefish, jacks, and snapper all come into the chum line for fun action on light tackle.

Big sharks on the flats are the big game of the bay before the tarpon show up, and we were ripping their lips (and removing other lost hooks when I find them) this past March. We've had some great days catching more than a dozen sharks and loosing just as many. Having numerous sharks swimming all around the boat trying to find our baits, either live bait or cut bait. We've been catching lemon sharks up to 200 pounds on #30 test, black tip sharks up to 100 pounds, and smaller sharp nosed sharks up to 30 pounds on #20 test.

The flats fishing has been very tough in March because of the cold March we've had, but it is just going to get red hot as the weather warms. Bonefish have been slim, but one half day charter for fly fishing I chummed up some nice 5 - 7 pound bonefish in low 70 degree water in 1.25 hours chumming. Then the current stopped so we went poling for bonefish, permit, baby tarpon, and small sharks. I've also gotten reports from my friends that they have been catching some nice snook in the back country, so hopefully they have not been as hurt from the cold water "fish kills" of past January as some have feared.

My wife, Elena, and I go out to catch a little mess of nice lane and vermillion snapper after my half day trip in the morning. Can you believe what these black fin tunas are eating: sea horses, squid, and a baby "Mola Mola?"   Feb. 20th, 2010 For those of you who have noticed, I have not posted any fishing reports for awhile. I was on my annual vacation down in Costa Rica, which I take every year this time for a good reason too.

The weather is so adverse this time of year, we get lots of cancellations. One of my friends was lamenting he had to cancel 75% of his bookings which were not much anyway. He swore he is going to be visiting me next year down in CR. Just a little dig at all my guide buddies here in the Keys suffering the winter chill, my wife and I were down in CR surfing, spear fishing, and drinking for weeks on end.

I'll post some photos soon. I got some cool photos of the fish I speared, mussels we got, dog we adopted, and some good times with friends. Boy was it good to get out fishing, the boat under my feet, salt spray on my face, and wind in my hair. We returned last week and within a week I was out fishing and catching fish even in these tough, cold, windy conditions. I had a couple "Irish Blokes," John Gleeson and Ferdinand Heyerman,  fishing two days this week offshore and backcountry.

Offshore was a little slow, but they had 2 shots at sailfish that just could not catch our live ballyhoo. The current was very slow and the kingfish were not cooperating. We got a couple nice bites on the bottom rod on a wreck but failed to hook'em. We wrap it up fishing the edge of the reef for sailfish, kingfish, and cero mackerels which they caught a few cero mackerels. The next day we ran back to Flamingo and East Cape to fish for black drum, and that paid off even though the water temperature was very cold.

They caught around 20 nice black drum on #10 spin, a few nice trout, and a redfish. Hey, could we call it the "Back country, Poor Man's, Rock Bottom, Channel SLAM!" Why not, everyone else is creating all these other versions of "fishing slams!" Sorry, I do not think so. FISHING GRAND SLAMS should be something very hard to accomplish, like the original slams: tarpon, bonefish, and permit; or sailfish, blue marlin and white marlin all caught in "one day" - not caught over a two or three day tournament! This also has bastardized the true significance of a "Grand Slam.

" It's just sad to know there are people that believe they caught a "Grand Slam" in these tournaments. You got to feel sorry for them, they're victims of shrewd marketing. Anyway, these guys had a great time back in the mangroves, and they even saw a "bald eagle" on the way out on a stake in "Tin Can Channel." (John Gleeson with one of many Black Drums on light tackle)   Sept. 2009: Sept. has been a great month for me this year for both business and fishing offshore and inshore.

Offshore fishing: We have caught dolphin, black fin tuna, sailfish, kingfish, grouper, and triple tail. I took out local Will Kennedy owner of Chillie Willie's Restaurant and his two sons Cullen and Cody, 10 and 6 yrs old. They had entered the kids tournament at World Wide Sportsman, which is a fun tourney of half a day fishing for as many kids as possible. I was told usually barracudas and amberjacks win biggest fish, and there is an outstanding catch award for sport fish.

So I told Will I know where there are some big barracudas out on the reef, and we could also catch a sailfish too, because I've seen a few around since late Aug. We could not have planned it better. While every one else headed out to the humps for tuna and amberjacks, Cullen caught his first sailfish winning the outstanding catch in the offshore division. They also caught 3 big barracudas, and one out of two kingfish all in a short half day (running time back to dock was part of the 4 hours of fishing).

Cody won 3rd place big fish with his 23.8 lbs. barracuda on #20 test, which put up a great fight. Will got the whole sailfish battle on video, because Cody was bringing to gaff a kingfish when the sailfish ate one of the rigger baits that was out. I still had three live ballyhoo out while we were catching the kingfish, I cannot tell you how many sailfish we have caught while fighting another fish like a kingfish or a grouper.

Chillie Willie's Restaurant in Islamorada is our favorite lunch spot. They have the "best bacon cheddar cheese burger" in Islamorada. I have tried them all. Most important is how they cook it. I like it "medium rare," and they never miss! It is a big burger, black angus, and at least 4 slices of thick smoky bacon. Along with a great fried calamari, my wife and I split both and I'm stuffed. Of course they have lots of other great comfort food, and it's a great "family friendly" sports bar not catering to "hardcore drinkers" but to families.

They have a nice game room for the kids. It's a locals place where captains, mates, contractors, school teachers, electric coop workers, and cops all frequent Chillie Willie's which adds to our enjoyment there, and testifies to the quality of their food. Will, his wife Victoria, and the waitresses are very nice and make you feel like part of their family. Black fin tuna have been numerous and of good size for this time of year.

With the live pilchards, we get them busting and jumping clean out of the air right behind the boat chasing the "freebies" (the live pilchards I throw out as chum). I even caught 2 out of 3 on fly in casting just 15 minutes after catching about 20 black fins up to 15 pounds. I caught those 2 tuna while my two other friends were each catching tuna, making for fun triple header action, and a little chaotic handling the boat and landing tuna because it was just the three of us.

One day my wife and I went out scuba diving and spear fishing for a half day, leaving at 12pm.. On the way out we ran over a large school of pilchards and filled the live well with 700 pilchards, so I knew we were going for tunas after my dive. I jump in the water and as I descend I come across a big rock with a big black Margate. I resist the urge to go after it, then I see him - a nice black grouper.

He slowly hides in the rock, my heart jumps a little, I now know I have a good chance to spear it. As I approach a 15 lb. mutton snapper swims around the corner then turns to go back around. Stay on target I tell myself. As I come up to the rock, my heart is thumping! Gun out in front of me ready to shoot, going around where he entered, I see his tail and then his back side. I take a gamble! I turn the tip of the gun around that corner to take a blind/ estimated shot at him, instead of actually seeing where I was shooting.

I did not want him to see me, and spook out. Bam! - he did not move! Did I miss? I grab the shaft, and it's solid in him! It is a kill shot, right behind the gill plate. "Yeah!" I yell in my regulator. I had yet to shoot a grouper in two years. They are very smart. They know how to blend in to the rocks, and bolt at the right time keeping plenty of distance from you. After lunch we ran out to the hump, and chummed up the tunas where Elena caught 15 tunas, hooking double headers.

She caught one 15 lb. black fin tuna, and lost a couple others that size. We kept 7 black fin tuna and two skipjacks and let the others go. On the way home we stopped off at a lobster spot and got 6 lobsters - what a great half day! I canned most of the tuna (20lbs.) had two dinners of grilled tuna, two dinners of grouper, one of lobster, made a huge grilled tuna fish salad for the week, and froze the rest for my parents.

Had a few days where I took clients out dolphin fishing, and caught all the heavy lifters and gaffers that we wanted along with a  few black fin tuna to start the day. One day I chummed along side of two of my friends, and those tuna never left our boats. We did a power drift up to 1.25 miles from the hump and those tunas stayed with us for over an hour of fishing. Usually, you got to keep moving up current of the hump and go past the fish getting them fired up to eat the livies on the surface.

I guess we just had so many pilchards going into the water the followed us. When  one of my friends took off to go dolphin fishing, they started to dissipate.       Inshore fishing: has been just as good for snook, tarpon, bonefish, permit, and mangrove snapper too. Dave Dekker and Jeff Maron of Palm Coast, FL had a great couple days fishing. They came down for one day offshore, which they caught all the dolphin they wanted - they actually said "we've had enough!" But they really wanted to fish for bonefish and permit, and did we also have a great day bonefish fishing.

We started out chumming, and caught three bonefish on jigs: 5, 2, 2 lbs. We then went looking for permit but had no luck, but it was raining and cloudy with poor visibility. That was disappointing because the week before in the same spots I saw over one hundred permit from singles to triples, to schools of 15 to 30 permit in 2.5 hours fishing. My clients had one bite, and missed it by "Bill Dance'ing the strike.

" Unfortunately they never saw any of the permit they were casting at, so no other bite occurred. So I told Dave and Jeff lets go look for some tailing bonefish, and did we find the tailing bonefish. They caught 3 more bonefish sight casting to 5 different schools of tailing bonefish up to a dozen or so in each school. They were from 4 - 8 lbs. The big one did not even make the longest run, but fought closer to the boat staying with the other bonefish that had spooked but not gone far.

One of the smaller bones made a 130 yard run across the flat which really impressed these two "bull redfish" fisherman. Jeff Dahl from Wyoming had a great first 2 days saltwater flay fishing the back country for tarpon and snook. He did not catch any of them, but he hooked some nice fish and had plenty of bites. The first fish he hooked was about a 5+ pound tarpon and he got two jumps before it got off.

He jumped another one off that day, and jumped a snook off too. He had numerous other bites from snook and tarpon, then at the end of the day he want to see how it was done, so I caught one and brought it to the boat so he could see it and take a picture. They next day we fished 3/4 day the same thing before his wrist gave out from the casting. Again he had numerous bites, including one big snook that just exploded on his popper coming almost half way out of the water.

All these fish were eating poppers or surface streamers, so every bite was on the surface. First day there were a lot of baby tarpon, and the second day was mostly snook bites. The last two hours we fished mudding rays to catch jacks or redfish, but the rays had lots of small snapper on them. He caught a couple snapper and missed a couple jacks, but at least he got the experience in sight fishing and saw how different it really is from his trout fishing.

On the way home I convinced him to stop and fish for small sharks, even though he was very tired with the heat and casting for two days. We had a few shots at lemon and bonnet head sharks, which he missed a bite by using the old trout strike of lifting the rod tip. This is one of the biggest handicaps all trout fishermen have, and also dealing with a moving target. To cap it off as we were polling off the flat we came across a tailing permit up on the flat.

What a classic sight! He said he cannot wait till next year. Rick and James Ovelman from Miami came down for a couple days of snook and tarpon in the back country. Both days Rick caught a tarpon on fly and thoroughly enjoyed it. We talked old stories about fishing with legendary Bill Curtis, which was the last time he caught a tarpon on fly many years ago. Now he would rather catch smaller fish. James had numerous shots at some big tarpon in the 40 - 80 pounds for about 2 hours the first morning.

We found them laid up and rolling in one of the basins back there. James and Rick caught numerous snook back there, and the last day they may have caught close to 15 and missed just as may bites. James was on it for a while, almost every cast he was hooking a snook. All of them were just under the slot, but we lost one at the boat that was definitely a keeper. Once again we had a great couple days fishing together, they have been fishing with me for years now, always for the big spring tarpon with live bait.

But they have always talked about back country fishing, and I'm glad they finally got down here for this Sept. fishing. Next James talked about canoe trip, but Rick still seems a little concerned, especially after the 10' crocodile that was hanging around while we caught snook.               MONTHLY FISHING FORECAST   MARCH March is a transition month. The spring fishing starts up on mild days and yet we can still have strong cold fronts making for winter conditions.

It can be frustrating for some; you just got to be ready to go to a plan “B” or “C.” INSHORE FISHING: "The big tarpon" start to show up in enough numbers that you can fish for them on a daily basis, as long as the water temperature is over 70 and better yet mid 70’s. We catch most of our largest tarpon in March (140 – 200 lbs.), which is a great counterpoint to the fact that we typically do not catch as many tarpon per day as during the peak tarpon season.

However a couple years ago we caught 54 tarpon in the first ten days of March. Tarpon fishing is totally dependent on the immediate weather we have. If we get a warm spell, keeping the water in the 70’s, we will have excellent tarpon fishing. Once a cold front comes through, and drops the water temperature the tarpon will move out to deeper warmer water or just hunker down on the bottom in a slumber of slower metabolism due to the cooler water.

This is when you go to plan “B” or “C.” Permit and bonefish fishing is excellent this month on the flats. You can find big schools of permit on the edges of the flats and in the channels. This is an excellent time of year to fly fish for permit too. With the typical windy days, you can get closer to them for a more accurate cast, and they can be more aggressive too. The bonefish will be in mudding and tailing vigorously if the water stays above 70 degrees.

Snook, redfish, and trout will all be very good in the backcountry too. “Plan B” can be a couple different options. First preference for me would be to go sailfish fishing along the reef. While sailfish fishing we can catch other great pelagic fish like kingfish, wahoo, black fin tuna, cobia, and dolphin, or stop along the reef or one of the local wrecks for grouper and snapper. However, some anglers do not take well to the offshore seas, so plan “B - 2” might be fishing the patch reefs for snapper, grouper, hogfish, porgies, mackerel, barracudas, and small sharks.

Or we could go fishing Gulf of Mexico for Spanish mackerel, snappers, groupers, cobia, bluefish, and big sharks. Another option “Plan C” I’ve been enjoying more the last couple years, has been fishing for big sharks in the channels through the flats in crystal clear waters. One of the draws to tarpon fishing is that you can catch big fish pushing 200 lb., and not have to go offshore in rough seas.

So when the tarpon are not cooperating, big sharks (up to 300lbs.) is an exciting option. Often we can see three or more of these brutes swimming around behind the boat searching for our baits in water as shallow as three feet deep. Talk about “edge of your seat” thrill. Sporty black tip sharks up to 125 lb. can charge in across the surface throwing water everywhere attacking a live bait on the surface suspended from a kite, followed by blistering runs and frantic spinning jumps clear out of the water.

Even bull sharks up to 300lb. like to attack those live baits, but also take cut baits on the bottom. If we got the wind going with the current, I’ll put up the kite with live baits along with a couple cut baits on the bottom. The big lemon sharks, up to 300lb., typically go for the cut baits on the bottom, and it is fun watching them swimming around dialing in on the sent of the bait, sometimes 3 or more behind the boat simultaneously.

Last year a father and his sons were fighting a 70 lb. lemon shark and just as we got it close to the boat a 500 lb. hammerhead shark charges across a 2’ shallow flat with half it’s back out of water and large tail thrashing water 15 – 20 feet side to side. The lemon shark spooks running from the boat 30 yards, and the hammerhead shark pounces on the lemon shark like a tiger on a pig. In a few big swirls in 5’ of water, it’s all over! You should have heard the screams by those young kids and their dad.

They said they are definitely coming back.  First we catch a few big barracudas, which a lot of anglers really enjoy more than they anticipate. While slow trolling live baits on the surface, you get a pretty exciting bite from these barracudas. They fight well and often make a few good jumps, sometimes almost hitting the boat. We have actually caught mutton snapper doing this and once I had about a 50 lbs.

jewfish blast one of our baits coming completely out of water and flipping upside down on the strike. That was a jaw dropper! Unfortunately it was a one time strike. It missed the bait completely, and never came back for a second hit. Boy, did I want to get another hit like that and catch that fish. Then we head out back to go shark fishing. We butterfly fillet the barracudas down to their tail and hang them over the side one at a time for chum.

We cut a couple strip baits from the fillets and put them in the chum line. I will also fish a couple live baits too which also makes for an exciting strike on the surface. A lot of times within 10 minutes you get a strike. If it’s a nice shark (80lbs. lemon, 50 lbs. black tip, or 50 lbs. bull shark) it will make a nice 100 yard or more run, and fight hard around the boat. If you hook one bigger than that, you got to chase them with the boat.

Black tip sharks make spectacular spinning jumps and fight very hard for their size. A 100 pounder will kick your butt for 45 minutes or more. Once you get them up to the boat to release them, they will impress you with their tenacity in their last effort for freedom. I hold the leader and the dorsal so you can get a good picture with them while they are in the water. I use to lift them up the side of the boat with a gaff, but they just really hurt themselves by struggling so much and spinning around.

Typically we catch them in 15 to 30 minute fights. It is not typically long drawn out battles because we are fishing in shallow water and can get right over them and apply maximum direct pressure. OFFSHORE FISHING:  Sailfish are coming toward the end of the season, but that does not mean it will becoming slow. Actually we can have some of the year's best fishing now, especially if there are “tailing sailfish” on the “powder line.

” An unusual condition in the spring, where we “sight fish” for sailfish (and cobia) as they are surfing the waves from the East into a strong North current with a definitive “powder-blue current line” from the shallows that gets pushed out into the blue water. Here the sailfish surf the waves until they hit the “powder line” then the sailfish follow it. We search the line waiting to cast baits right to a sailfish or more as they come down the “powder line.

” It is incredible. This is when some of the most sailfish are caught in a single day. Some charter boat greats have caught over 20 sailfish in a day, awesome!  Black fin tuna of 15 to 30 lbs. will start showing up on the local humps. Grouper and big muttons snapper are on the areas wrecks and reefs. Yellowtail snapper can always be found on the reef, and the big mangrove snappers (3 – 5 lbs.) will be migrating out from the bay through the bridges out to the patch reefs and finally to the outer reefs.

I just started seeing them under my boat at the slip, so they are on the move. If we get some summer type days for a week or so, even some early dolphin will be coming through. Mostly small schoolies, but you could luck into a nice “gaffer” sized fish or even a “slammer.”   FEBRUARY February is the middle of sailfish season here in Islamorada offshore, and the rougher it is – the better it can be, so do not get discouraged.

The sailfish is the primary target this time of year, but we have a lot of other great offshore fish to fish for too. This time of year we catch wahoo, black fin tuna, kingfish, dolphin, and cobia offshore. On the reefs, wrecks, and the patch reefs the bottom fishing can be very good this time of year too. There are some hard fighting, good eating fish on the reef like mutton snapper, yellowtail snapper, mangrove snapper, lane snapper, hogfish, porgies, black grouper, red grouper, and cero mackerel.

Last month’s offshore forecast applies to this month’s forecast, so I will include that later if you missed it last month because it is quite detailed on the way we fish and for what we fish this time of year.   INSHORE FISHING:   In February as spring approaches, we can get some very nice warm days out there. This makes the first waves of big tarpon show up in the Everglades and even out along the bridges and channels.

We all wait for the big tarpon to show, so if it is warm for a few days, we give it a shot. Every year I am catching our first tarpon in the third or fourth week of February. Tarpon has become my favorite sport fish. They are the largest sport fish here in the Florida Keys, that you can catch on a daily basis. Aside from the occasional blue marlin or if you go out to catch a swordfish, the tarpon is our biggest fish.

They range from 30 to over 200 pounds, and average around 70 to 125 pounds.   Tarpon are also a huge challenge to hook and catch. Most people have heard about how hard it is to hook one, because they have a very boney mouth. They also are notorious for throwing the hook or breaking you off as they make their first jumps. We like to have the clients bow the rod to the fish as it jumps to keep it from spitting the hook or breaking the line.

  Then they make their first long run with a few good jumps and “we’re off to the races!” We literally race after the tarpon with the boat, weaving through pilings and lobster trap floats, keeping close to the fish so as not to allow the line to get cut by an obstruction. This is very interesting twist to our tarpon fishing here in Islamorada, and it is one of the things I really love about tarpon fishing here.

Once we get away from the bridge and any other obstructions, we fight it like any other fish: follow it and allow the angler to apply maximum pressure.   We try to get the tarpon up to the boat for a quick picture of it in the water along the side of the boat with the angler along the gunwale admiring his tarpon in the upper corner of the photo. This way we do not have to lift the tarpon up out of the water, which is illegal to do now.

I have been doing this for years before the new law of last year. The main reason was so I would not hurt my back, and put me out of work. The purpose of the law was so as to not hurt the tarpon, which is most likely true because the bigger they are the harder it is to handle them gently for a good release after the picture. Bringing in a big fish most times gets dragged across the gunwale, taking a lot of protective slime off the fish.

They also might drop into the boat after the picture, then slap around hurting themselves more and prolonging their time out of water because it is so hard to get a hold of them to get them back in the water. The law was initially formed because the scientists say it is very harmful to a big fish’s inners and its skeleton, but I have to disagree from my years of observation of thousands of fish after release.

Sometimes I have followed tarpon for more than 30 minutes after a release, because I was using the boat to fend off a big hammerhead shark. Most of the time the tarpon will resuscitate within 15 minutes to a point that the shark can not get it. I know when the tarpon gets away, because it is very obvious when it does not, even if it takes 15 minutes for the shark to track down that tarpon and it is a mile or more away.

Later I will go over some good pointers on releasing all fish.   These early spring conditions can also make the permit school up in big numbers on the edges of the flats. I’ve had numerous days where we have seen a few hundred permit in numerous schools. I’ve also had two different days where we have seen around a thousand permit moving along the flats. One of those days there was a school of more than 300 permit, and numerous schools from 50 to 100.

These were all different schools because the were migrating to the north along the flats. At times I could see 3 schools at a time coming towards us.   Same goes for the bonefish. They can get into some big schools mudding along the deeper edges of the flats waiting to move up onto the crowns to feed and tail. I have seen schools of 100 bonefish, but that is rare. They are mostly 50 and less, and more common one to two dozen bonefish to a school of “mudders.

” This is a great time to cast at and hook bonefish because they are aggressively feeding and in deeper water (2 to 5 feet) which makes them not as spooky - easier to get a bait to!    The same goes for redfish back in the back country of Flamingo, Everglades National Park. They will start to flood the flats as the water warms. They can sometimes move in schools of 50 or more fish, but most of the time they are spread out in small groups or pairs or singles.

Snook fishing is also very good this month, whether it is cold or warm. When it is colder they will be in the deeper water and as it warms they will come out onto the flats and along the shorelines.   February is the last good month of Spanish mackerel fishing out just west of Florida Bay. That is once March comes they get sporadic, unless we get a cold spell for a few days. This is fun rod bending action, and you can catch big mangrove snappers in the chum line and even a cobia or nice size sharks too.

    How I like to release fish:   First, do not remove the “protective slime.” Make sure your hands are wet before you grab the fish. Then, do not bear hug the fish against your dry clothing, hold it away from you a little.   Second, do not let it fall onto the deck. If you can not keep a good hold of its lip with your hand, use one of those lip holding devises. If the fish shakes violently, it will not fall to the deck.

Also holding it over the water can be a good picture with you looking at it and your buddy taking a shot of it from behind your shoulder to the side. If it shakes from your grip it falls into the water, just keep the hook in its mouth. If it is barely hooked, you can re-hook it in a secure place of its mouth, if it is a real nice fish you definitely need a picture of. Just remove the hook after.   Third, If the fish is to big to handle in this manner, leave it in the water along side the boat.

Get the boat moving forward at a good speed for the fish so that it is being ventilated while you are taking the pictures. It will also keep the whole fish up along the surface for a picture of its complete length and size. Do not bring a big fish into the boat and put it across two or three people’s laps. This is a big “de-sliming event.”   Fourth, get water moving over their gills. The easy way is with the boat moving forward, or anchored in current.

Other wise the back and forth motion works most of the time and when you let go of them shake their tail which wakes them up and makes them dart off thinking something bit them, making them swim and ventilate more. For a tarpon, or long fish, I tap them hard near the base of the tail, which also makes them dart off.   Fifth, for the last 15 years I have been holding my fish upside down while reviving them (except billfish).

This immobilizes the fish, almost putting them to sleep, putting them in a technical state of "tonic immobility." This I learned back in the late 70's while conducting TI experiments on lemon sharks for Dr. Samuel Gruber at the UM. I have applied this to releasing our fish. The fish will not struggle or fight against you, instead they will relax and their jaw will open wide open allowing maximum ventilation.

While doing this I always move the fish left and right in a swimming motion. I think this help their blood circulation and also gets their gill plates opening from side to side. As they get more oxygen and revive, their fins will start to flick and they will start to swim and struggle. That is when I roll them over, and I keep the swimming motion (left and right). When they start to resist your swimming motion, that is when I let them go and give them a shake or strong taps at the base of the tail.

You should see them dart off with real energy. It is very satisfying!   When reviving billfish, I hold the bill and the front stiff section of the dorsal keeping the fish upright. I will continue a swimming motion (left and right), until the fish starts to resist my efforts. That is when you push the fish down with your hand that was holding the dorsal. Try to tap the base of the tail or aft part of the fish as it goes down.

It is important to push the billfish down to deeper cooler water. There is more oxygen in cooler water especially if it is calm.   Sometimes, I’ll lift a sailfish up by the bill and the sail and rest its mid section on the gunwale, without dragging it across the gunwale. I do not let the angler hug it or get it on his lap. I try to get the angler on the inboard side of the fish so I am up against the gunwale with the fish.

After two quick shots I lift it straight up, so as not to slide the fish across the gunwale, and put it back in the water as the boat has been going forward the whole time. This way the fish is being ventilated immediately, and we can get some more picture with the angler watching his fish being released. I would not try this with a marlin of over a hundred pounds. Its weight would not be good on its gut, and I have not lifted fish over 60 pounds in a long time so I do not strain my back.

Fish of this size should be left in the water for a picture.     OFFSHORE FISHING:   The following is exactly what I wrote for January’s forecast, and it applies to February. So hear it is if you missed it last month.   February is peak sailfish season, which runs from late November until late April, depending on the weather conditions. Most of the local Islamorada charter boats love pitching frisky ballyhoo or cigar minnows at sailfish that are chasing the schools of ballyhoo on the reef.

They also sight fishing for cruising sailfish over the sand inside of the reef or on the reef itself. These sailfish are looking for a school of ballyhoo, and will often take a well cast, frisky bait. However, kite fishing with live bait is also very effective when the conditions dictate. I have seen more local boats fishing the kite in the last few years too. It really is a more popular technique from Miami north up to Palm Beach, mostly due to the fact that they do not have the schools of ballyhoo over a shallow barrier reef like we have down here in the Florida Keys.

  I grew up sailfish fishing with the kite with my Dad since I was eight years old up off of Key Biscayne, and it has a special spot in my heart. I still have his oversized kite reel he built out of plywood and a long dowel. It cranks in over three feet per turn. I had to fiberglass it up a few years ago, because the spool started to split under the stretch of the mono. It’s a classic that usually draws a comment or two.

It’s not the high tech electric reel setups of today, but it does not fail. Like a friend of mine lamented a couple of years ago. His electric reel failed while the kite was out in 20 knots of wind. He had a hell of a time getting the kite back in by hand, especially since it had Spectron as the main line. A lot of guys fish two kites with three baits suspended from each kite. That is six baits out down wind.

These kites are flown left and right by putting a large split shot on the corner you want it to fly to. It takes a bit of adjustment. Try to get them to fly low too, so there is less slack after the bite when the line is released from the clip. I’ve seen excellent crews fish a third kite down the middle. Combine these kite baits with chumming with live pilchards, and you got a fishing machine! While we are kite fishing for sailfish we can catch other pelagic fish like black fin tuna, kingfish, dolphin, cobia, and wahoo.

  One of the bonuses to kite fishing is we can fish the bottom for big groupers and snappers simultaneously. Typically, we are drifting while kite fishing. Some guys use a big sea anchor to slow the drift and keep the bow into the sea. Others drift beam to with flat lines and bottom lines out on the windward side of the boat. There are some deeper reefs, drops, ledges, and wrecks that hold these fish.

We will plan our drift and maneuver the boat so as to go over them to make a good pass with the bottom baits. A lot of these spots hold bait on top like runners which also attract sailfish and the other pelagic fish. Sometimes you can simultaneously hook up a snapper or grouper on the bottom and a sailfish on the surface.   Another popular way to kite fish, which a lot of local charter boats in Islamorada do, is to anchor on the edge of the reef.

They are primarily chumming for reef fish like yellowtail snapper, mutton snapper, big grouper, and cero mackerels. They then put out the kite to catch a sailfish, big kingfish, cobia, or whatever other pelagic comes up the chum line.   More detail on the techniques and description of sailfish fishing is in my web site under the link in the right column: SAILFISH     “Wahoo are found by mostly fast trolling with lures, plugs, or rigged ballyhoo behind big cigar leads just outside the reef line from 180 to 300 feet deep.

If you know spots where they concentrate, you can fish for them with big speedos or blue runners by slow trolling. Wahoo up to 50 plus pounds are caught every year, but most of the wahoo are 25 to 35 lbs.”   “The patch reefs come alive this time of year too. You could make a living fishing these spots during the winter season. What a variety of fish you can catch there. The targets are decent size mutton snapper from 5 to 15 lbs.

and keeper size groupers: blacks, gags, and red groupers. We also catch hog fish, mackerel (cero and Spanish), snappers (yellowtail, mangroves, and lane snappers), jacks, barracudas, and sharks for a fun rod bending experience. You can also get a nice cooler of fish fillets to take home or to a local restaurant for a smorgasbord of a meal. Usually they will prepare the fish three different ways.”   “Trolling for grouper is also a good way to catch them in the winter if the water is clear.

Big lipped magnum plugs, bonita lures, heavy skirted lures, and rigged de-boned ballyhoos are favorite rigs. They are trolled with wire lines or heavy braided lines with either heavy cigar leads or big planners to get the bait down to where the grouper will dare to leave their lair to eat a bait trolled by.”   JANUARY “Offshore Fishing” and our “sailfish season” is by far the highlight of Islamorada, Florida Keys fishing this month.

January is typically the coldest month of the year, and these cold fronts push the sailfish down the reef following the schools of bait fish. While we are sailfish fishing, we catch a lot of other great sport fish that run along the reef which would be wahoo, black fin tuna, kingfish, dolphin, and cobia. The reef, wrecks, and the patch reefs are great this time of year too, and can be a fun filled day of rod bending and taking a cooler of fish home.

There are some hard fighting, good eating fish on the reef like mutton snapper, cero mackerel, yellowtail snapper, mangrove snapper, lane snapper, hogfish, porgies, and the “big super stud” of the reef - the black grouper.   However, once again the grouper harvest has been prohibited by the “tyrants” at NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE (NMFS of NOAA). I’m still going to include it anyway so you all can see how it negatively impacts our fishing and business here in the Florida Keys.

Some charter fishermen primarily focus on the winter bottom fishing for grouper and snapper. Their clients book them for a fun filled day of serious rod bending on the reefs, and to take some great eating fish home too. For many other charter boats, a big grouper or two is a great bonus while we are fishing the reefs and wrecks for a multitude of other sport fish down here in Islamorada. What makes this a “particularly offensive outrage,” is that this “blanket grouper prohibition” is designed specifically to protect the “gag grouper,” which has never been a prominent grouper down here.

Even though that point was stressed at the public hearings and further concessions of limiting our catches were offered, the “NMFS TYRANTS” apparently just turned their backs on the citizens they are supposed to be working for. That’s right folks, just another encroachment on our freedoms and our “life, liberty, and pursuit of prosperity” (for our families!) by appointed bureaucrats! I’ve even seen publications stating other Florida university scientists contradicting the NMFS scientist’s data on gag grouper populations as being way underestimated due to their methods of estimating.

What the hell is this? A regulatory crap shot with our livelihood and wellbeing. I find this especially heinous in the face of a serious economic down turn!   Anyway, as I started on the inshore fishing and the exciting “sight casting” to big barracudas on the flats, I remembered a funny story while I was a mate 20 years ago. It starts with: It’s one of my greatest memories as a young man – saving a “really hot chic!” I think veteran and novice anglers will enjoy this brief story.

Since inshore fishing is considered at its most difficult due to the cold weather, I did not want the reader to miss a good laugh by glancing over that section, expecting the typical winter inshore forecast. Even though inshore fishing can be tough this month on those cold days, we know how to change tactics to catch fish. Sometimes we can have some action packed days as the fish stack in the deeper, warmer water in the creeks, channels, canals, motes, and basins.

It’s just not the conditions for the classic sight fishing on the flats, unless you get a warm spell for a few days with 70 degree water which will bring the fish back up on the flats.     OFFSHORE FISHING:   January is getting into peak sailfish season, which runs from late November until late April, depending on the weather conditions. Most of the local Islamorada charter boats love pitching frisky ballyhoo or cigar minnows at sailfish that are chasing the schools of ballyhoo on the reef.

They also sight fishing for cruising sailfish over the sand inside of the reef or on the reef itself. These sailfish are looking for a school of ballyhoo, and will often take a well cast, frisky bait. However, kite fishing with live bait is also very effective when the conditions dictate. I have seen more local boats fishing the kite in the last few years too. It really is a more popular technique from Miami north up to Palm Beach, mostly due to the fact that they do not have the schools of ballyhoo over a shallow barrier reef like we have down here in the Florida Keys.

  I grew up sailfish fishing with the kite with my Dad since I was eight years old up off of Key Biscayne, and it has a special spot in my heart. I still have his oversized kite reel he built out of plywood and a long dowel. It cranks in over three feet per turn. I had to fiberglass it up a few years ago, because the spool started to split under the stretch of the mono. It’s a classic that usually draws a comment or two.

It’s not the high tech electric reel setups of today, but it does not fail. Like a friend of mine lamented a couple of years ago. His electric reel failed while the kite was out in 20 knots of wind. He had a hell of a time getting the kite back in by hand, especially since it had Spectron as the main line.   A lot of guys fish two kites with three baits suspended from each kite. That is six baits out down wind.

These kites are flown left and right by putting a large split shot on the corner you want it to fly to. It takes a bit of adjustment. Try to get them to fly low too, so there is less slack after the bite when the line is released from the clip. I’ve seen excellent crews fish a third kite down the middle. Combine these kite baits with chumming with live pilchards, and you got a fishing machine! While we are kite fishing for sailfish we can catch other pelagic fish like black fin tuna, kingfish, dolphin, cobia, and wahoo.

  One of the bonuses to kite fishing is we can fish the bottom for big groupers and snappers simultaneously. Typically, we are drifting while kite fishing. Some guys use a big sea anchor to slow the drift and keep the bow into the sea. Others drift beam to with flat lines and bottom lines out on the windward side of the boat. There are some deeper reefs, drops, ledges, and wrecks that hold these fish.

We will plan our drift and maneuver the boat so as to go over them to make a good pass with the bottom baits. A lot of these spots hold bait on top like runners which also attract sailfish and the other pelagic fish. Sometimes you can simultaneously hook up a snapper or grouper on the bottom and a sailfish on the surface.   Another popular way to kite fish, which a lot of local charter boats in Islamorada do, is to anchor on the edge of the reef.

They are primarily chumming for reef fish like yellowtail snapper, mutton snapper, big grouper, and cero mackerels. They then put out the kite to catch a sailfish, big kingfish, cobia, or whatever other pelagic comes up the chum line.   More detail on the techniques and description of sailfish fishing is in my web site under the link in the right column: SAILFISH   Do not forget about the wahoo fishing and patch reef fishing I wrote about last month which is winter fishing in the FL Keys.

I’ll even include “trolling for grouper” from last month, because before the “NMFS TYRANTS” outlawed grouper, it was a fun way to spend an hour or so if the sailfish fishing was slow and the charter did not want to fish for yellowtail snappers because they wanted to catch something “big!”   “Wahoo are found by mostly fast trolling with lures, plugs, or rigged ballyhoo behind big cigar leads just outside the reef line from 180 to 300 feet deep.

If you know spots where they concentrate, you can fish for them with big speedos or blue runners by slow trolling. Wahoo up to 50 plus pounds are caught every year, but most of the wahoo are 25 to 35 lbs.”   “The patch reefs come alive this time of year too. You could make a living fishing these spots during the winter season. What a variety of fish you can catch there. The targets are decent size mutton snapper from 5 to 15 lbs.

and keeper size groupers: blacks, gags, and red groupers. We also catch hog fish, mackerel (cero and Spanish), snappers (yellowtail, mangroves, and lane snappers), jacks, barracudas, and sharks for a fun rod bending experience. You can also get a nice cooler of fish fillets to take home or to a local restaurant for a smorgasbord of a meal. Usually they will prepare the fish three different ways.”   “Trolling for grouper is also a good way to catch them in the winter if the water is clear.

Big lipped magnum plugs, bonita lures, heavy skirted lures, and rigged de-boned ballyhoos are favorite rigs. They are trolled with wire lines or heavy braided lines with either heavy cigar leads or big planners to get the bait down to where the grouper will dare to leave their lair to eat a bait trolled by.”     INSHORE FISHING   When it is too cold for bonefish, and permit on the flats, one of my favorite fish to sight cast too is the “great barracuda.

”  As we pole the edges of the flats looking for a bonefish or permit during borderline temperatures, we typically will see plenty of barracudas. The bigger barracudas in the 20 to 25 pound class are generally solitary fish or in pairs. They will be laid up on the white spots or hanging down current of sea fans, gorgonians, or Sargasso weed strings attached to the bottom. They can also be cruising down the edges of the flats too.

We will also encounter schools of a dozen barracudas or more, but they are typically smaller in size, say 3 to 15 pounds.   Barracuda attack the lures with startling aggression, and can make a few strong runs with some good jumps sometimes over 6 feet high or 20 feet across the water – great action when things are slow on the flats. Tube lures are my favorite lure. They are erratic and resilient to many bites.

Surface plugs are good too, but try to find the ones that are solid foam or wood. The hollow plastic ones will get punctured and ruined.   Casting to and hooking these fish is not a sure thing! You have to have an accurate cast. If you cast too close you’ll spook them. Too far away and they will never see it. As you are casting, do not let them see the shadow of the lure, or you casting at them.

The first cast or two really has to count.   I like to cast beyond their area of detection (20 plus feet) then bring it into their field of view (10 – 15 feet) at a moderate speed. When they make a move at it, this is when you work it a little faster. If they don’t hit it then, go faster. If they don’t hit that, go faster yet and more erratic. I like to explain it as gears in a car, first through fourth.

Start out in first. Sometimes they won’t give you a chance to get into second gear. Or they attack it right at the boat, just as you are reeling as fast as you can!   Hold your rod to the side though. Often they explode on a fast moving bait, and you would not want their follow through to come right at you. I’ve never had one come in the boat like this, but I did have one come in the boat while we were yellowtail snapper fishing off Cat Cay, Bahamas.

  It’s one of my greatest memories as a young man – saving a “really hot chic!” I was the second mate on the “Knightlines,” and we were taking a break from slow blue fin tuna fishing off of Cat Cay, Bahamas. The yellowtails were chummed up, and I was unhooking fish and baiting hooks – BAM!  There’s a big crash behind us. Wheeling around I find a four foot barracuda snaking wildly across the cockpit right towards the boss’s utterly “drop dead gorgeous” girl friend, dressed in a very tight string bikini, fully endowed.

She is screaming hysterically as she gets cornered by this big barracuda. Now’s my chance!   I hop over the barracuda, pick her up, and hop back over the barracuda! From total panic to total elation, she whips around and jumps on top of me, scissoring my waste and hugging me. She buries my face in her bikini top and suntan oil screaming “thank you, thank you, thank you!” Shocked, I withdraw my face “first excited, then panicked” thinking of the boss’s disapproval.

She kisses me several times on each cheek. Stoked, with a big grin I fearfully peek up to the bridge and see the boss and captain having a big laugh. What a relief. They probably are still laughing over the look on my face. Needless to say, she never got too close to me again, though I always saw a twinkle in her eye for the rest of that trip and dreamed of the possibilities!   Now the flats fishing scenarios for January are the same as for December, and this is what I wrote about pursuing all of our fish during the different types of conditions we have during the winter months.

  We can still have some spring like days in between the cold fronts. These days are good for flats fishing for bonefish, permit, barracudas, and sharks on the ocean side flats. And back in the back country the redfish, snook, sea trout, jacks, and sharks will be on the flats too. But after a cold front we have to change our strategy, and fish deeper water where these fish will be seeking warmer water.

The water temperature changes quickly on the shallow flats where the strong, cold wind cools the water fast, like a radiator. So all the flats fish will be in the channels, creeks, deeper basins, or deep water edges of these flats.   In these conditions bonefish will be mudding and cruising in areas three to five feet deep. We can pole the edges of the flats looking into the deeper areas for schools of bonefish mudding or schools cruising by, then pole out to intercept them with a cast.

Some guides like to soak shrimp on three to five rods in areas where they are known to cruise by. This can be very effective in catching winter bonefish and a multitude of other flats fish for a rod bending fun day. Other guides like to throw handfuls of chop shrimp in the area then bind cast a shrimp tipped jig through the area. This is also a great way to catch cold water bonefish along with the other rod benders.

  The redfish, snook, baby tarpon, sea trout, ladyfish, jacks, and sharks will congregate in the deep channels and creeks when the water gets chilled by a cold front. There can be some bang up fishing when the fish pack it in there. Sometimes it can be as fast as you can put a bait in the water. Pilchards, pinfish, and shrimp tipped jigs are used. Keep in mind that snook season is closed Dec. – Feb.

  Sea trout, ladyfish, and jacks will school up in the mullet muds in numerous basins around Flamingo. This is always a fun rod bending time. Kids love to do this. Remember, trout season is closed until the first of the year.   The Spanish mackerel will be hot and heavy just west of the inter-coastal waterway within 5 miles out. Take a few blocks of chum, live shrimp, pompano jigs, pilchards, spoons, lures, and flies – they will eat it all once you got them chummed up behind the boat.

Often you will get mangrove snapper chummed up to, along with the sharks, blue fish, and be ready for a cobia to show up too.   Also please take note of what I said last month on the weather conditions during the winter here in the Keys and dress accordingly.   Winter will have with strong cold fronts. Temperatures can drop in to the low fifties and the winds can be more than 25 knots for a couple days or more.

  Offshore these winds are N.N.W. to E.N.E which are essentially an offshore wind and the chop will be 1 to 3 feet on the deep side of the reef (70’ to 200’) where we are sailfish fishing. When the wind pulls around to the E. to S.E. that is when it becomes an onshore wind and the seas build to 4’ to 6’ with a 20 knot wind. It is sporty, but still very fishable depending on your experience.

These are the winds that drive the bait down the E. coast and up against the reef. Right behind the bait are the sailfish, “late-late season” dolphin, black fin tuna, kingfish, and wahoo. When it lays down to 10 knots out of the S.E., it is nice fishing the edge of the reef. Big grouper and mutton snapper fishing is very good on the wrecks and along the reef. Calmer conditions are needed to get the baits down on the wrecks.

The fishing on the patch reefs starts to really turn on too.   Inshore, if we get one of these cold fronts with strong winds do not let it detour you. Getting to the fish in the back country is no real problem with the waves. We just run the lee side of the flats and islands to get to areas that are sheltered by the trees on the islands or mainland shoreline. I’ve been out there catching fish with 30 knot winds blowing over the tops of the trees and virtually no wind affecting us, while fishing!   If I decide to make a run for it, I will have a full ski mask and gloves on over my heavy foul weather gear.

We have no protection from the wind in our skiffs and often we are running right into it at 30 to 40 knots. That is more than 55 knots of wind. I do not know what the wind chill factor is, but it is damn cold especially after running 45 minutes into the back country. Then you take a shot of spray a couple times - burr! Do not forget to dress appropriately is my point, because the fish are still biting.

  Capt. Rick Killgore  (For all fish reports, click on All Florida Keys Fishing Reports)   DECEMBER December is the month all the offshore fishermen are waiting for. “It is sailfish season!” Winter has arrived with strong cold fronts. Temperatures can drop in to the low fifties and the winds can be more than 25 knots for a couple days or more. Conversely, this is not the season the flats fishermen are looking forward to.

If I decide to make a run for it, I will have a full ski mask and gloves on over my heavy foul weather gear. We have no protection from the wind in our skiffs and often we are running right into it at 30 to 40 knots. That is more than 55 knots of wind. I do not know what the wind chill factor is, but it is damn cold especially after running 45 minutes into the back country. Then you take a shot of spray a couple times - burr! Do not forget to dress appropriately is my point, because the fish are still biting.

About the foul weather conditions on the water, I’m going to paraphrase a little what I wrote last month: Offshore these winds are N.N.W. to E.N.E which are essentially an offshore wind and the chop will be 1 to 3 feet on the deep side of the reef (70’ to 200’) where we are sailfish fishing. When the wind pulls around to the E. to S.E. that is when it becomes an onshore wind and the seas build to 4’ to 6’ with a 20 knot wind.

It is sporty, but still very fishable depending on your experience. These are the winds that drive the bait down the E. coast and up against the reef. Right behind the bait are the sailfish, “late-late season” dolphin, black fin tuna, kingfish, and wahoo. When it lays down to 10 knots out of the S.E., it is nice fishing the edge of the reef. Big grouper and mutton snapper fishing is very good on the wrecks and along the reef.

Calmer conditions are needed to get the baits down on the wrecks. The fishing on the patch reefs starts to really turn on too. In between the cold fronts we can have beautiful “spring like” days. If we get one of these cold fronts with strong winds do not let it detour you. Getting to the fish in the back country is no real problem with the waves. We just run the lee side of the flats and islands to get to areas that are sheltered by the trees on the islands or mainland shoreline.

I’ve been out there catching fish with 30 knot winds blowing over the tops of the trees and virtually no wind affecting us, while fishing!   OFFSHORE FISHING: This is it, sailfish season is here! This is when the sailfish are ambushing the ballyhoo on the reef into 20 feet of water. You can see over 500 ballyhoo fleeing across the water as sailfish are chasing them down, numerous times a day. They call it “showers” of ballyhoo, and it is a sight to see.

We will run up to 300 yards with live ballyhoo, cigar minnows, or pilchards ready to throw at the slashing sailfish. Hopefully there are more than 6 sailfish in the melee where we have a good chance to get multiple hook-ups and rack up the releases. This is a very exciting way to fish for sailfish, and everyone has to be on their toes to get it done. An accurate cast with a very fresh bait is often the rule.

Sailfish will refuse a perfect cast with a tired bait, or a perfect bait cast off target. Then by the time you’re ready for the second cast, the sailfish might have sensed the boat. They’ll settle down a little, stop chasing the bait, and definitely refuse your bait. This is why you have to monopolize your chances while the sailfish are in the heat of the moment. Believe me this is the “Heat of the Moment” in the boat too.

There can be “overly excited directions” being vocalized by the “captain in the tower” to the mates and anglers in the cockpit, that can be heard over a hundred yards away. This can make for some great bar stool stories for years to come, and I’ve got some classics. One of my favorites is the “Reel Circles, not Squares!” story which happened while I was a mate for one of Islamorada’s great captains.

The Islamorada charter boats are experts in fishing the “ballyhoo showers” and can catch up to 20 sailfish in a day, and a few have even caught more than 20 sailfish. Now do not be intimidated by my extreme portrayal of “the heat of the moment” coaching by the captain to the team in the cockpit. Typically everyone is very professional, it’s just at times we got to yell over the wind and roar of the engines so all can hear exactly where the fish are to cast at.

If it seems “a little over the top” let me give you a tip, refrain from making comparisons to Nick Saban down here in S. Florida.  ;-) If the sailfish are not pushing the ballyhoo schools, we will be slow trolling live baits or flying a fishing kite and drifting. While we are fishing for sailfish we can catch black fin tuna, kingfish, dolphin, cobia, wahoo, cero mackerel, and even big barracudas while we are slow trolling or kite fishing with live baits.

What I like about kite fishing is we are fishing for sailfish and the other fish on the surface with the kite and flat lines, and fishing for snapper and grouper on the bottom with a bottom rod or a deep jig or both. If the sailfish are showering the ballyhoo we will be slow trolling live baits so we can quickly charge over to the melee of sailfish without having to bring the kite in. The cero mackerel also shower the ballyhoo and are quite fun to catch while waiting for the next group of sailfish.

They slash and boil on the live bait we are trolling on the surface. If we get in a good school of them we can cast lures on #10 spinners or fly rods and have some sporty fun. They can be over 10 lbs. and are great eating. More detail on the techniques and description of sailfish fishing is in my web site under the link: SAILFISH Wahoo show up strong in December. Wahoo are found by mostly fast trolling with lures, plugs, or rigged ballyhoo behind big cigar leads just outside the reef line from 180 to 300 feet deep.

If you know spots where they concentrate, you can fish for them with big speedos or blue runners by slow trolling. Wahoo up to 50 plus pounds are caught every year, but most of the wahoo are 25 to 35 lbs. Trolling for grouper is also a good way to catch them in the winter if the water is clear. Big lipped magnum plugs, bonita lures, heavy skirted lures, and rigged de-boned ballyhoos are favorite riggs.

They are trolled with wire lines or heavy braided lines with either heavy cigar leads or big planners to get the bait down to where the grouper will dare to leave their lair to eat a bait trolled by. The patch reefs come alive this time of year too. You could make a living fishing these spots during the winter season. What a variety of fish you can catch there. The targets are decent size mutton snapper from 5 to 15 lbs.

and keeper size groupers: blacks, gags, and red groupers. We also catch hog fish, mackerel (cero and Spanish), snappers (yellowtail, mangroves, and lane snappers), jacks, barracudas, and sharks for a fun rod bending experience. You can also get a nice cooler of fish fillets to take home or to a local restaurant for a smorgasbord of a meal. Usually they will prepared the fish three different ways.   INSHORE FISHING We can still have some spring like days in between the cold fronts.

These days are good for flats fishing for bonefish, permit, barracudas, and sharks on the ocean side flats. And back in the back country the redfish, snook, sea trout, jacks, and sharks will be on the flats too. But after a cold front we have to change our strategy, and fish deeper water where these fish will be seeking warmer water. The water temperature changes quickly on the shallow flats where the strong, cold wind cools the water fast, like a radiator.

So all the flats fish will be in the channels, creeks, deeper basins, or deep water edges of these flats. In these conditions bonefish will be mudding and cruising in areas three to five feet deep. We can pole the edges of the flats looking into the deeper areas for schools of bonefish mudding or schools cruising by, then pole out to intercept them with a cast. Some guides like to soak shrimp on three to five rods in areas where they are known to cruise by.

This can be very effective in catching winter bonefish and a multitude of other flats fish for a rod bending fun day. Other guides like to throw handfuls of chop shrimp in the area then bind cast a shrimp tipped jig through the area. This is also a great way to catch cold water bonefish along with the other rod benders. A great fish to sight cast to on the flats in the winter when the bonefish and permit are looking for warmer water are the barracuda.

They often will be laid up on the white spots or hanging down current of sea fans, gorgonians, or Sargasso weed strings attached to the bottom. Cast a tube lure or a lure close by and crank it back fast. Hold on for a spectacular bite if you can fool them. Get ready for a couple short burning runs and a few nice jumps.   The redfish, snook, baby tarpon, sea trout, ladyfish, jacks, and sharks will congregate in the deep channels and creeks when the water gets chilled by a cold front.

There can be some bang up fishing when the fish pack it in there. Sometimes it can be as fast as you can put a bait in the water. Pilchards, pinfish, and shrimp tipped jigs are used. Keep in mind that snook season is closed Dec. – Feb. Sea trout, ladyfish, and jacks will school up in the mullet muds in numerous basins around Flamingo. This is always a fun rod bending time. Kids love to do this. Remember, trout season is closed until the first of the year.

The Spanish mackerel will be hot and heavy just west of the inter-coastal waterway within 5 miles out. Take a few blocks of chum, live shrimp, pompano jigs, pilchards, spoons, lures, and flies – they will eat it all once you got them chummed up behind the boat. Often you will get mangrove snapper chummed up to, along with the sharks, blue fish, and be ready for a cobia to show up too.   NOVEMBER November is a great time to get out fishing here in Islamorada, both inshore and offshore.

In between the early season cold fronts we have beautiful “spring like” days. If we get one of those early season cold fronts with strong winds and overcast “drizzly” rainy days, do not let it detour you. These conditions can turn certain species on. Getting to the fish in the back country is no problem. We just run the lee side of the flats and islands to get to areas that are sheltered by the trees on the islands or mainland shoreline.

I’ve been out there catching fish with 30 knot winds blowing over the tops of the trees and virtually no wind affecting us. Offshore these winds are N.N.W. to E.N.E which are essentially an offshore wind and the chop will be 1 to 3 feet on the deep side of the reef (70’ to 200’) where we are sailfish fishing. When the wind pulls around to the E. to S.E. that is when it becomes an onshore wind and the seas build to 4’ to 6’ with a 20 knot wind.

It is sporty, but still very fishable depending on your experience. These are the winds that drive the bait down the E. coast and up against the reef. Right behind the bait are the “early season” sailfish, “late season” dolphin, black fin tuna, kingfish, and wahoo. When it lays down to 10 knots out of the S.E., it is nice fishing the edge of the reef. Big grouper and mutton snapper fishing is very good on the wrecks and along the reef.

Calmer conditions are needed to get the baits down on the wrecks. INSHORE FISHING SNOOK: The "fall" is my favorite time to fish for snook, and my favorite place is the back country of the Everglades National Park in the "dense mangrove creeks", island motes, shorelines, and points. I have had days were we have caught more than 20 snook of all sizes. A good day is catching 8 to 10 snook, along with a few tarpon and mixed bag of other sporty fish like redfish, jacks, sea trout, jewfish, snapper, ladyfish, and maybe even a big shark which can account to catching more than 25 to 50 fish for the day.

Typically we use live bait to bang away at them and have a good "rod bending blast". My favorite live baits are pilchards, finger mullet, shrimp, and pinfish. We look for terns or pelicans diving on pilchards and mullet then catch them with a cast net. We can also cast lures and flies at these snook, tarpon, and other fish if that is what you like to do. They will eat top water lures and flies which is always a blast.

On those overcast days they can hit top water lures like it’s dawn, sometimes all day. However, I do not recommend this for the novice, the action often is not as good as using live bait and we will miss more fish on top water too. For top water I like Zara Spooks (large and Jr. size), Bagley’s finger mullet, and Storm’s Chug Bug. Good colors are red and white; white, silver or copper and black back; and chartreuse.

Any plug that “walks the dog,” and is in the size range of the others will work. For flies I like a deer hair sliders or small poppers in the same colors as the plugs, but I do have yellow and brown back sliders too. A little red is always good to have in the fly at the throat or nose. They will eat all types of hard crank baits, soft baits, and jigs typically more readily than top water lures.

We can also fish for snook on the flats as we are fishing for redfish in the back country. Often they will be hanging in the white pot holes, and will attack top water flies or lures - sometimes two at a time! There can be nice snook up to 12 lbs. They can also be cruising the flats and are also quite spooky, but if you get your lure in front of them before they spook, they will eat it. And what a nice run they make in shallow water, sometimes up to 75 yards.

Then they come up shaking their head and you pray: “don’t shake that hook, please just don’t shake that hook.” TARPON: The big tarpon have moved on, but the juveniles stay to grow. We catch lots of tarpon in the 5 – 30 lbs. range with the occasional 50 – 80 lbs. tarpon. Again, the Everglades National Park is one of my favorite places to fish for baby tarpon back in the mangrove creeks, island motes, shorelines, and points.

Quite often you can see these tarpon rolling and busting on bait a hundred yards away. Typically we catch a few mixed in with the snook we a fishing for. If you just want to target tarpon, we could do that all day and really bang away at them. We also fish around the bridges for baby tarpon, especially if we are going to do a little bonefish and permit fishing that day. This can be hot fishing. We can catch up to 6 or more tarpon in a half day.

We'll do about half a day each so the angler can experience both 1) the hunt for very challenging fish of the bonefish and permit, and 2) bend a rod at a bridge on tarpon, snook, jacks, barracudas, snapper, grouper, and cero mackerel with live bait. Typically we'll fish the bridges after catching bait first thing in the morning. Almost every time we're having so much fun fishing the bridges, the anglers do not want to leave.

Then we'll take an hour or two to fish the flats for bonefish and permit. I cannot do the reverse because it's very hard to pole with my bait wells filled with 30 gallons of water and bait. BONEFISH: Some of the biggest bonefish are caught this time of year too, because there is a minor fall spawn. Our average bonefish is 8 – 10 lbs. with fish getting into the 13 lbs. range. Record size bones of 14 plus lbs.

can be caught. In November we can still find lots of “tailing and mudding bonefish” as long as the water temperature does not have a significant drop by a cold front. Do not get frustrated by overcast days, this is when we can chase tailing bonefish all day. The low light is like early morning which they like for tailing in very shallow water. We also focus on tailing bonefish in this low light because it is very hard to see them in the deeper water.

If it is windy, this is an advantage if you are a good caster. It allows us to get closer to the bonefish with the bait or the fly. I have had excellent days with 20 knots out of the E. One memorable day a friend and I caught 6 bonefish on fly on the ocean side flats in 20 knot winds. If you really want to do something very exciting – that will put you on the edge of anticipation – try hunting these tailing bonefish with a fishing rod.

(A couple of years ago, a client confessed that he had fished 5 days in the Bahamas and never saw a tailing bonefish, only cruising and mudding fish. What a shame.)  We have some high tides this time of year so we fish our shallowest flats to get into tailing fish. If it is overcast and we have to fish cruising and mudding bonefish, I look for areas that will have dark clouds in the background. This cuts the glare of diffused light from an overcast day allowing us to see the cruising fish.

Also I look for areas that have lighter bottom or small white spots where you can see the bonefish crossing these light areas. PERMIT: There is very good fishing for permit into November, as long as we have good weather with high sun and good visibility. We find them right on the edges of the flats in schools of 10 to 20 permit. We can see 50 permit in a day while we are bonefish fishing. If we strictly permit fish all day, we could see a 100 permit or more on a good day.

These fish average 15 – 30 lbs., and the largest we have caught was 39 ½ lbs.  Every year I see some very big permit in that +40 lbs. size. Any permit over 25 pounds is a big permit. I have caught quite a few permit on fly too, 5 here in Islamorada (9 total). If you want to catch a permit on fly, I can help you with the “nuances” of hooking a permit on fly. Redfish: It is a good time of the year for “sight casting” to redfish.

As the waters start to cool off, big schools of redfish are found up on the middle of the flats in north Florida Bay. Schools of 6 to 50 plus fish can be found and they average between 5 – 8 lbs, and we have caught them up to 12 lbs.   As we “sight cast” to these redfish on the flats, I like to use artificial lures like jigs, soft baits, or plugs. Bait can be used, like shrimp or a shrimp tipped jig, but I do not find it necessary.

Redfish are very aggressive once they see your lure, and will quite often hit your lure more than once if you do not get the hooks in him the first time. Keep your eye on the fish and lure, and strike him when he eats it, not when you feel him. A redfish can eat your lure with out you feeling it, by lunging forward and creating a moment of slack line then spitting it out. Barracudas:  The big barracudas start to show up on the flats in November.

As the run of fall mullet arrive on our ocean side flats, the big barracudas are right behind them, literally. When that big barracuda attacks your lure 20 feet from the boat as you’re cranking it in, it’s a real jaw dropper! In shallow water, they fight hard and jump well. These barracudas are 15 to 30 pounds. I always keep a barracuda rod rigged up while we are fishing the flats for bonefish and permit.

When we see a barracuda, we are ready to cast at it if we want. If we come across a school of them we can rig another rod so both anglers can cast to them, sometimes getting a double header on. Catching barracudas on live bait is a lot of fun too. It's a surface bite - an attack! We do this mostly to catch bait for shark fishing, but often we spend a little more time because the clients are really enjoying the barracuda fishing.

sharks: Big lemon sharks, black tips, and bull sharks are plentiful this time of year. We usually fish for them by chumming with big barracudas, which are fun to catch on the way out on light tackle. Once we anchor and start chumming we can get up to six or more sharks (up to 300 lbs.) cruising around right behind the boat in the chum line looking for our baits. It does not take long for them to find it, and they will take you for a good fight.

Their size, power, aggression, and snapping jaws at the boat when releasing them, is impressive. I also like using a fishing kite and live baits, if we have enough wind. Watching a shark chase down a live bait on the surface is awesome - they often explode on it. We caught a 230 lbs. bull shark this year off the kite. That was exciting, and it attacked the boat three times. At first I thought it felt trapped up on the flat and we just happened to be in the way of it trying to get off the flat.

But the third time, we were in a channel about 7' deep. It was pulling on us at a perpendicular direction, like circling. Then it turned straight at us and charged, hitting us with its head or back and lifting the boat out of water a little! I got it on video! That's how I can see the boat jump up, and everyone is yelling and laughing, "he hit the boat!... he hit the boat!" That will be one of the videos I put up this year in my web site.

While we are fishing the flats for bonefish, permit, or redfish, we can cast plugs or bait to a passing shark. They are fun to cast to and they fight very hard. Fooling them on a big plug can be exciting. We can catch big ones on 30 lbs. spin (from 50 to 200 lbs.), or small ones on 10lbs. spin. SPANISH MACKEREL: Look for the first waves of Spanish mackerel to come down the gulf coast with the first cold fronts of the year.

These fish are good family fun. The kids really have fun catching them.   OFFSHORE FISHING: SAILFISH: With the first cold fronts of November the sailfish start to push down the coast, and catching a few sails or more is possible. Sailfish fishing on the edge of the reef just 3 ½ miles offshore with live baits is a very pleasant way to fish. If we are drifting and fishing with a kite, we can fish for sailfish on the surface with the kite and flat lines, and fish for snapper and grouper on the bottom with a bottom rod or a deep jig or both.

Also we can catch black fin tuna, kingfish, dolphin, cobia, wahoo, cero mackerel, and even big barracudas while we are drifting or even slow trolling. If the sailfish are showering the ballyhoo we will be slow trolling live baits so we can quickly charge over to the melee of sailfish without having to bring the kite in. More detail on the techniques and description of sailfish fishing is in my web site under the link: SAILFISH SNAPPERS and GROUPERS: Snapper and grouper fishing on the Atlantic wrecks and reefs starts to get very good in the fall.

Big mutton snapper, and nice gag and black groupers move back into these areas now. As we get to the end of fall they will start to move into shallower spots along the reef and even into the patch reefs. While we are sailfish fishing we can fish for big mutton snappers and grouper by dropping a live bait down to the bottom or deep jigging. If you want to just catch big muttons and grouper, we’ll drop baits down on specific wrecks can catch some nice fish.

KINGFISH, WAHOO, and CERO MACKEREL: This is the time of year that that fishing gets good for them too. We catch them while we are sailfish fishing along the edge of the reef. Kingfish can be constant action and fish up to 30 pounds. They are mostly 10 to 20 lbs., but great fighters. When you find the cero mackerel (a great eating fish), the action can be so good you can cast out lures and get surface strikes right around the boat.

Most of the time we locate them by trolling live ballyhoo on top of the reef in quite shallow, and we still catch sailfish in there too. Wahoo are found by mostly fast trolling just outside the reef line with lure, plugs, or rigged ballyhoo. If you know spots where they concentrate, you can fish for them with big speedos or blue runners by slow trolling. BLACK FIN TUNA: There can be good numbers of them out on the humps, with the typical good tuna being 10 to maybe 20 pounds.

As winter approaches, they will start to run just outside the reef line along with the big bonitas. We will occasionally catch them on the deep wrecks too. These are great fighting fish and excellent table fare for taking to the local restaurants or even sushi bars for a discount on the meal. DOLPHIN "the fish" (Mahi Mahi): There can be some dolphin in November with fish in the 10 to 20 pound range, coming down the reef line following the bait down the coast.

It is more of an incidental catch this late in the fall while we are fishing for sailfish, but always a welcomed sport fish.   OCTOBER INSHORE FISHING: in October is the peak of the fall season for excellent back country fishing. The water starts to cool because of cooler and shorter days, giving a break to those hot days of August and September. Any cold fronts that come through will typically not be cold enough chase the fish off the flats, like in November if we get an early strong front.

The crowns of the flats will see more bonefish and redfish throughout the day. Permit are back on the flats, and on those high fall tides they also will get up on the crowns of the flats depending on the size of the permit and depth of the water. Also keep an eye on the edges of the flats for their black sickle tail as you are bonefish fishing. Sharks and nice size barracudas will start to show up on the flats anticipating the fall mullet run and approaching cold fronts of winter.

They make for some fun sight casting and fish fighting on the flats too. The fall mullet run will be here now, so big tarpon fishing back in the main channels, canals, and river mouths can be great. Tarpon up to 150 pounds can be caught, and you can see them blasting mullet some times up to 300 yards away. Talk about exciting fishing. I love when big tarpon are blasting live mullet. There can be big snook and sharks in there too.

Around the bridges there will also be some nice schools of baby tarpon 10 - 30 pounders with occasional 50 plus pounders around. This can be an action packed day too, often catching half dozen tarpon, missing just as many, and catching a bunch of other fish like jacks, snappers, mackerel, and even snook. The snook fishing is now in full swing, back in the Everglades National Park. They are also around the bridges and main creeks between the Keys down A1A, but these guys are tougher to fool than those back in the park.

Most likely, because there are more people fishing the bridges, but also probably because there are less fish and the water is clear most of the time. To maximize your catch rate, I prefer fishing live baits. The techniques and aspects of snook fishing I wrote about last month, so I’ll paraphrase that here if you missed it. Be ready for some big fish. If you are fishing some tight creeks, tight drags and #12 to #15 test are best.

A lot of guides use braided line, but I still use a hard finished monofilament. We do not loose many fish if you play your cards right, and I like to be able to easily see if the line is chaffed by the snags. Pilchards, shrimp, pinfish, and small finger mullet are the standard baits of choice. If you see them hitting bait on the surface, I like throwing top water plugs or flies to get a strike – real fun surface strikes! However, typically you will not hook as many snook on artificials as with bait.

Even if you do not see them working bait on the surface, you can still get lots of shots on top water if you are persistent and confident. Also while snook fishing there is a good variety of other fish we catch which can make for an action packed day. Baby tarpon most always will be around and readily take live baits. You got to be lucky because their jumps might take you right up into the mangrove branches breaking you off.

Redfish can also be mixed in which can make for that “back county slam.” Jacks are hard hitting and hard fighting sport fish, and always get the blood pumping. Little goliath groupers up to 15 lb. are also tough brutes digging hard for those mangrove roots. Big sea trout might also show up, along with lady fish, and sometimes some decent “keeper” sized mangrove snapper. I’ve had some days where we have caught over 20 snook and up to 50 fish including tarpon and redfish.

 In addition, shark fishing back in the flats is also a very fun adventure. There can be some very big sharks up to 250 lb, and often we can get a half dozen swimming around in the chum line in 3 – 5 feet of water right behind the boat. Hooking up two at a time is common. Catching big lemons, black tips, and bull sharks are what we are targeting. Catching the barracudas for chum and bait is also more fun than most people expect.

They attack the bait ferociously and fight good, jumping occasionally. Kids really enjoy this day of fishing too.   Offshore fishing: October is the middle period of fall fishing, and a transition to winter fishing. You can still have some calm September like conditions, but we might get a weak cold front sending cooler, long awaited, north winds. These conditions will push the fall bait down the coasts and they might arrive in the Keys, and the fall fish might respond.

Also a weak front can also push dolphin back south, catching nice size fish in the 20 pound range. The sailfish will start to show up a little more, especially after a cold front or two, but it will not really start to get reliable until mid to late November when the cold fronts start to come through every week or so. The Florida Keys and especially Islamorada area has a good little small sailfish season in late fall, so be ready for some sailfish in the 10 – 20 pound range.

These sailfish have a hard time eating big baits, so try to get a bunch of pilchards or small ballyhoo. Light rods are the ticket for casting these light baits, 12 – 15 test is ideal where 20 pound spinners might be too heavy for a long cast especially into the wind. Kingfish will start to show up too, and they are always fun to catch while you are fishing the edge of the reef for sailfish. I like to put a bait or two down below the surface while I am fishing for sailfish for hopefully a big kingfish.

Some of the time the weather will be calm and like in September, so I amended some of what I wrote for the September forecast. The indented text is what I wrote for last month’s forecast, but it is applicable to October.  Dolphin are still around if we got those calm August type days or a good S.E wind especially a few days after a cold front comes through. Catching those “slammers” (dolphin over 25 lbs.

), and the “gaffers” (12 – 20 lbs.) is not as likely as the spring. But if a front comes through it can push the dolphin back down our way, and when the wind goes to E., S.E., or S, the dolphin will start to ride the waves looking for bait like in the spring. There can be some nice catches of dolphin up to 20 pound range. This can be a hit or miss deal though. The conditions might be right, but the fish are not moving through.

If the wind is calm finding debris and big carpets of Sargasso weed might have some bigger fish down deep under the smaller fish. During these calm conditions, most of the dolphin are “heavy lifters” (5 – 10 lbs.), “schoolies” (3 – 5 lbs.) and “shakers” (do I have too describe?), but keep a big live bait or two ready for that big dolphin or two that shows up. Small wahoo will also be down under these floating habitats too.

If the wind picks up and if there are any bigger dolphin around, they will go back to tailing and chasing flying fish while surfing the waves going down sea. Look for the birds trying to snatch the fliers out of the air, and you will find the dolphin.   Be ready for the triple tail under the floating debris. This is an added bonus to a cooler of dolphin, because they taste like a snapper. Do not gaff them! You have to net them.

It is illegal to gaff them because years ago it was a common practice to gaff them when they would not take a bait. If you get stopped by law enforcement, and there is a gaff hole in a triple tail you are going to have a lot of explaining to do.  During the calm days you can get out swordfish fishing on a consistent basis for night time and day time fishing. Swordfish fishing can be a nice interlude during the day while looking for dolphin.

You must be out in the 1500 to 2000 feet of water during the day, which might take you out beyond where the dolphin are. But if you find yourself having to go out 25 to 30 miles offshore looking for dolphin, you might as well be rigged up for making a few drifts for swordfish. You can also fish till just before dark for dolphin and blue marlin, then switch over to swordfish on the surface as sunset approaches.

A lot of guys feel there is a good bite right at dark, and many have hooked swordfish right at sunset before dark. They feel the best action is the first few hours after dark, so doing a half day of trolling and a half day of swordfish fishing is a good trip. Getting back at the dock around midnight does not mess with your internal clock that much, which is nice.  Wreck fishing just offshore of the reef line gets good for black and gag grouper, big mutton snapper, yellow jacks, almaco jacks, and even small amber jacks.

Hitting a few wrecks then spending some time fishing the reef is a fun day of fishing. Sailfish might even start to show up, especially if a front or two move through, so always keep a surface bait or two out while you are fishing a wreck or the edge of the reef. Yellowtail snapper are also good if you have good current along with cero mackerel, kingfish, mutton snapper, and grouper that will come up into your chum line.

    DIVING AND SPEAR FISHING: October is also great on the reef, and we still have many days with gin clear water. The groupers are starting to migrate back to the wrecks and also to the reefs. So seeing more of them will be getting better every day as we get into fall. Big yellow jacks are a great target too. Typically a long shot is required, and boy do they fight well if you do not stone them right away.

Of course there are hogfish, mangrove, and mutton snappers to spear too.   Yellow jacks are good eating of course, but a lot of people never heard of them. I like them better than dolphin. They have a clear white meat that is firm with finer grain and flakier than dolphin, and better tasting in my opinion. We cook it anyway you want: bake, broil, fry, or sauté.  In between dives I’ll anchor up on the reef and chum up some fish.

We’ll catch some ballyhoo and use them for yellowtail, mangrove, and mutton snapper, cero and king mackerel, and grouper. At the end of the day after the second dive, we’ll slow troll live ballyhoo for cero mackerel, yellow jacks, kingfish, even nice dolphin, and hopefully a sailfish. We have also caught big yellowtails (3 - 4 lbs.) while trolling like this, and lost other fish to the reef after eating a live ballyhoo on the surface on the troll.

I’d like to know what they were.   This makes for a fun all around day out on the reef. If you want to do a day of spear fishing, whether we’re scuba diving or free diving, we can mix it up a little by fishing on the reef. I’m doing these trips too. I have A.B. Biller spear guns and Hawaiian slings if you do not have that gear. All you need is your skin diving or scuba diving gear. Capt. Rick Killgore   SEPTEMBER INSHORE FISHING: September is one of the back country fishermen’s favorite months.

Snook season opens. We are waiting for exciting fishing back in the mangroves and putting sweet tasting snook fillets on our dinner plates. Be ready for some big fish. If you are fishing some tight creeks, tight drags and #12 to #15 test are best. A lot of guides use braided line, but I still use a hard finished monofilament. We do not loose many fish if you play your cards right, and I like to be able to easily see if the line is chaffed by the snags.

Pilchards, shrimp, pinfish, and small finger mullet are the standard baits of choice. If you see them hitting bait on the surface, I like throwing top water plugs or flies to get a strike – real fun surface strikes! However, typically you will not hook as many snook on artificials as with bait. Even if you do not see them working bait on the surface, you can still get lots of shots on top water if you are persistent and confident.

Also while snook fishing there is a good variety of other fish we catch which can make for an action packed day. Baby tarpon most always will be around and readily take live baits. You got to be lucky because their jumps might take you right up into the mangrove branches breaking you off. Redfish can also be mixed in which can make for that “back county slam.” Jacks are hard hitting and hard fighting sport fish, and always get the blood pumping.

Little goliath groupers up to 15 lb. are also tough brutes digging hard for those mangrove roots. Big sea trout might also show up, along with lady fish, and sometimes some decent “keeper” sized mangrove snapper. I’ve had some days where we have caught over 20 snook and up to 50 fish including tarpon and redfish. Now keep in mind the fall mullet run can show up as early as late September. Right with them are the big tarpon (up to +100 pounds), and this is real fun fishing.

Of course, the bonefish and permit fishing will be getting into full fall stride as the water starts to cool. This will bring the bonefish back up onto the crowns of the flats, after those dog days of summer subside to the progressively shorter days of September. Take advantage of this fishing because it is going to be the last two months of consistent fishing for bonefish and permit, because once we get into November the greater chance of having a early cold front push these fish off the flats and into deep water for a day or two which can spoil a weekend for you weekend warriors.

Shark fishing back in the flats is also a very fun adventure. There can be some very big sharks up to 250 lb, and often we can get a half dozen swimming around in the chum line in 3 – 5 feet of water right behind the boat. Hooking up two at a time is common. Catching big lemons, black tips, and bull sharks are what we are targeting. Catching the barracudas for chum and bait is also more fun than most people expect.

They attack the bait ferociously and fight good, jumping occasionally. Kids really enjoy this day of fishing too.   Offshore fishing: September starts to get to the transitional period of fall fishing. You can still have some calm August like conditions, but we might get a weak cold front sending cooler, long awaited, north winds. These conditions will start to push the fall bait down the coasts and they might arrive in the Keys, and the fall fish might respond.

Also an early front can also push dolphin back south, catching nice size fish in the 20 pound range. However, most of the time the weather will be calm and hot like August, so I amended some of what I wrote for the August forecast. The indented text is what I wrote for last month’s forecast, but it is applicable to September. Dolphin are still around if we got those calm August type days or if a cold front comes through.

Catching those “slammers” (dolphin over 25 lbs.), and the “gaffers” (12 – 20 lbs.) is not as likely as the spring. But if a front comes through, it can push the dolphin back down our way and there can be some nice catches of dolphin in the 20 pound range. This can be a hit or miss deal though. The conditions might be right, but the fish are not moving through. If the wind is calm and the surface water heats up, the dolphin stay deep.

Finding debris and big carpets of Sargasso weed might have some bigger fish down deep under the smaller fish. During these calm conditions, most of the dolphin are “heavy lifters” (5 – 10 lbs.), “schoolies” (3 – 5 lbs.) and “shakers” (do I have too describe?), but keep a big live bait or two ready for that big dolphin or two that shows up. Small wahoo will also be down under these floating habitats too.

If the wind picks up and if there are any bigger dolphin around, they will go back to tailing and chasing flying fish while surfing the waves going down sea. Look for the birds trying to snatch the fliers out of the air, and you will find the dolphin. Black fin tuna are in good numbers on the local humps, but they are not as big as in the late spring. They average 5 - 15 pounds, and a big one would be 20 pounds.

Stopping off to fish them early in the morning on the way out to dolphin fishing or later in the afternoon on the way in is the typical plan. Catching a few of these are great fun, especially if you have a load of pilchards. It is awesome! They start busting and jumping out of the water often within casting distance chasing the "freebee pilchards" that we throw overboard. Often we can hook double and triple headers.

Just this past week we had two triple headers while I threw the fly and hooked 3 and caught 2 while my two friends were hooked up too. That is tricky especially when we just got three of us in the boat. We did this in the afternoon after spear fishing all day. A great way to finish off the day and load the cooler after spearing hogfish and spooking grouper. Be ready for the triple tail under the floating debris.

This is an added bonus to a cooler of dolphin, because they taste like a snapper. Do not gaff them! You have to net them. It is illegal to gaff them because years ago it was a common practice to gaff them when they would not take a bait. If you get stopped by law enforcement, and there is a gaff hole in a triple tail you are going to have a lot of explaining to do. Blue marlin can still be around.

It’s the end of summer season, so it pays to be ready. If you are trolling, put out a rod or two rigged for blue marlin. If you get into the schoolies, throw a couple over live and slow troll around the school or use one to keep the school at the boat while you are catching them. If a blue marlin shows up, you will be ready. Give the blue a good drop back, but not enough to gut hook it. Typically wait for a hesitation, then a second run and after a count of three, throw it in strike and reel fast to come tight.

The hesitation is when the billfish turns the bait around in its mouth to swallow it head first, when it starts swimming again and with a short count you will most likely hook it in the mouth. If you see the blue swallow the bait immediately on the take, do not wait for the hesitation, count to three and reel. If you pull the hook and the bait is still on the hook, sometimes the blue will come back and eat the bait, give it a little longer drop back after the hesitation or the inhalation of the bait.

But be very cautious not to drop back too long. If you count more than 5 seconds, you have a greater percentage of hooking the fish deep like in the gills, throat, or stomach. There is nothing worse than bringing in a hurt billfish for release, it takes the excitement right out of the significance of the catch. That is why most sailfish tournaments have gone to circle hooks, to keep overeager anglers from gut hooking or “gigging” as we used to call it criticizing that type of angling decades ago.

This was seen as an inexperienced maneuver to do anything to catch a billfish, really looked down on then. But as money prizes got bigger, this practice became more accepted, so the use of circle hooks came into being in tournament. Good for them, “gigging” is despicable. During the calm days you can get out swordfish fishing on a consistent basis for night time and day time fishing. Swordfish fishing can be a nice interlude during the day while looking for dolphin.

You must be out in the 1500 to 2000 feet of water during the day, which might take you out beyond where the dolphin are. But if you find yourself having to go out 25 to 30 miles offshore looking for dolphin, you might as well be rigged up for making a few drifts for swordfish. You can also fish till just before dark for dolphin and blue marlin, then switch over to swordfish on the surface as sunset approaches.

A lot of guys feel there is a good bite right at dark, and many have hooked swordfish right at sunset before dark. They feel the best action is the first few hours after dark, so doing a half day of trolling and a half day of swordfish fishing is a good trip. Getting back at the dock around midnight does not mess with your internal clock that much, which is nice. Wreck fishing just offshore of the reef line gets good for black and gag grouper, big mutton snapper, yellow jacks, almaco jacks, and even small amber jacks.

Hitting a few wrecks then spending some time fishing the reef is a fun day of fishing. Sailfish might even start to show up, especially if a front or two move through, so always keep a surface bait or two out while you are fishing a wreck or the edge of the reef. Yellowtail snapper are also good if you have good current along with cero mackerel, kingfish, mutton snapper, and grouper that will come up into your chum line.

  DIVING AND SPEAR FISHING in September is also great on the reef, and we still have many days with gin clear water. The groupers are starting to migrate back to the wrecks and also to the reefs. So seeing more of them will be getting better every day as we approach the fall. Big yellow jacks are a great target too. Typically a long shot is required, and boy do they fight well if you do not stone them right away.

Of course there are hogfish, mangrove, and mutton snappers to spear too. I shot about a 15 lb. yellow jack last weekend along with 4 nice hogfish. I had to chase the jack down the mono line and grab hold the throat latch. Pinning it to the reef to kill it with my knife - kicking and burying the knife into it's spine to paralyze it. Now that is a thrill, at 90', all alone, sucking compressed air, and looking over your shoulder.

I was pumped with adrenaline! Yellow jacks are good eating of course, but a lot of people never heard of them. I like them better than dolphin. They have a clear white meat that is firm with finer grain and flakier than dolphin, and better tasting in my opinion. We cook it anyway you want: bake, broil, fry, or sauté. In between dives I’ll anchor up on the reef and chum up some fish. We’ll catch some ballyhoo and use them for yellowtail, mangrove, and mutton snapper, cero and king mackerel, and grouper.

At the end of the day after the second dive, we’ll slow troll live ballyhoo for cero mackerel, yellow jacks, kingfish, even nice dolphin, and hopefully a sailfish. We have also caught big yellowtails (3 - 4 lbs.) while trolling like this, and lost other fish to the reef after eating a live ballyhoo on the surface on the troll. I’d like to know what they were. This makes for a fun all around day out on the reef.

If you want to do a day of spear fishing, whether we’re scuba diving or free diving, we can mix it up a little by fishing on the reef. I’m doing these trips too. I have A.B. Biller spear guns and Hawaiian slings if you do not have that gear. All you need is your skin diving gear. AUGUST August is one of my favorite months. I dream of crystal clear waters on the reef, drifting down to the drop off ledges, sipping compressed air, losing myself in the maze of fish and corals, hunting for hidden groupers and snappers with my spear gun in hand.

Just the other day we had 110’ visibility. I’m not exaggerating, because I jumped in to look for a wreck I fish and see exactly what it is, a small sailboat. Now diving on days like this is spectacular, and August calm days bring lots of clear calm water. It is just what we need for finding those big lobsters under the ledges on the patch reefs. In between dives I’ll anchor up on the reef and chum up some fish.

We’ll catch some ballyhoo and use them for yellowtail, mangrove, and mutton snapper, cero and king mackerel, and grouper. At the end of the day after the second dive, we’ll slow troll live ballyhoo for cero mackerel, yellow jacks, kingfish, even nice dolphin, and hopefully a sailfish. We have also caught big yellowtails (3 - 4 lbs.) while trolling like this, and lost other fish to the reef after eating a live ballyhoo on the surface on the troll.

I’d like to know what they were. This makes for a fun all around day out on the reef. If you want to do a day of spear fishing, whether we’re scuba diving or free diving, we can mix it up a little by fishing on the reef.   OFFSHORE FISHING: August has much calmer weather, so you can get out swordfish fishing on a consistent basis for night time and day time fishing. Swordfish fishing can be a nice interlude during the day while looking for dolphin.

You must be out in the 1500 to 2000 feet of water during the day, which might take you out beyond where the dolphin are. But if you find yourself having to go out 25 to 30 miles offshore looking for dolphin, you might as well be rigged up for making a few drifts for swordfish. You can also fish till just before dark for dolphin and blue marlin, then switch over to swordfish on the surface as sunset approaches.

A lot of guys feel there is a good bite right at dark, and many have hooked swordfish right at sunset before dark. They feel the best action is the first few hours after dark, so doing a half day of trolling and a half day of swordfish fishing is a good trip. Getting back at the dock around midnight does not mess with your internal clock that much, which is nice. Also the wreck fishing just offshore of the reef line gets good for big muttons, yellow jacks, almaco jacks, and the grouper will start to show up anticipating the fall move into the wrecks.

Hitting a few wrecks then spending some time fishing the reef is a fun day of fishing. The mangrove snapper are out on the reef spawning into August, so it is one of the best months to catch big mangroves at night and during the day. Yellowtail snapper are also good if you have good current along with cero mackerel, kingfish, mutton snapper and grouper that will come up into your chum line. Offshore fishing is pretty much the same as the July forecast, so here is a slightly abridged edition of what I wrote last month DOLPHIN are still the go to fish for August offshore.

Catching those “slammers” (dolphin over 25 lbs.), and the “gaffers” (12 – 20 lbs.) is tougher. As the wind calms and the surfaces water heats up the dolphin stay deep. Finding debris and big carpets of Sargasso weed might have some bigger fish down deep under the smaller fish. During these calm conditions, most of the dolphin are “heavy lifters” (5 – 10 lbs.), “schoolies” (3 – 5 lbs.

) and “shakers” (do I have too describe?), but keep a big live bait or two ready for that big dolphin or two that shows up. Small wahoo will also be down under these floating habitats too. If the wind picks up and if there are any bigger dolphin around, they will go back to tailing and chasing flying fish while surfing the waves going down sea. Look for the birds trying to snatch the fliers out of the air, and you will find the dolphin.

BLUE MARLIN are around. It’s the middle of summer season, so it pays to be ready. If you are trolling, put out a rod or two rigged for blue marlin. If you get into the schoolies, throw a couple over live and slow troll around the school or use one to keep the school at the boat while you are catching them. If a blue marlin shows up, you will be ready. Give the blue a good drop back, but not enough to gut hook it.

Typically wait for a hesitation, then a second run and after a count of three, that is when to throw it in strike and reel fast to come tight. The hesitation is when the billfish turns the bait around in its mouth to swallow it head first, when it starts swimming again and with a short count you will most likely hook it in the mouth. If you see the blue swallow the bait immediately on the take, do not wait for the hesitation, count to three and reel.

If you pull the hook and the bait is still on the hook, sometimes the blue will come back and eat the bait, give it a little longer drop back after the hesitation or the inhalation of the bait. But be very cautious not to drop back too long.  If you count more than 5 seconds, you have a greater percentage of hooking the fish deep like in the gills, throat, or stomach. There is nothing worse than bringing in a hurt billfish for release, it takes the excitement right out of the significance of the catch.

That is why most sailfish tournaments have gone to circle hooks, to keep overeager anglers from gut hooking or “gigging” as we used to call it criticizing that type of angling decades ago. This was seen as an inexperienced maneuver to do anything to catch a billfish, really looked down on then. But as money prizes got bigger, this practice became more accepted, so the use of circle hooks came into being in tournament.

Good for them, “gigging” is despicable. Be ready for the triple tail under the floating debris. This is an added bonus to a cooler of dolphin, because they taste like a snapper. Do not gaff them! You have to net them. It is illegal to gaff them because years ago it was a common practice to gaff them when they would not take a bait. If you get stopped by law enforcement, and there is a gaff hole in a triple tail you are going to have a lot of explaining to do.

  INSHORE FISHING: The flats around Islamorada can be good for bonefish and permit, and even a straggler tarpon cruising up the edge of the flats. If there is minimal wind, do your fishing early and late in the day for cooler water temperatures on the flats. It can get too hot for these fish, 92 degrees is around the threshold for tailing bonefish. Permit can tolerate a little warmer temperature, but not much.

They will be on the edges of the flats too, accessing deeper cooler water with a couple kicks of the tail. But look for them tailing on the shallow edges if the current is rolling good. That big, black, sickle tail is a dead give away. Redfish and snook fishing in the backcountry of Flamingo can be “red hot,” in more ways than one. I like to make sure there is going to be a breeze if I’m going there.

The snook fishing can be good in the creeks, if we do not have a stretch of very hot, windless days heating up the water a lot. However, if it is raining in the glades and pushing cool fresh water out, that can counter that situation. Pilchards, shrimp, and small pinfish work great. Do not forget the bug spray. Even a head net can keep you from breathing them in - I just spit them out! As you get closer to the end of August more anglers will be out in all the popular spots honing up for opening of snook season.

So be courteous! Idle by if someone is fishing the shore of a big creek. If you’re going up a small creek, ask them if it’s ok to pass by. Or if someone is fishing the spot you want to fish, but it can hold another boat, ask them if it’s OK to fish but in a way not to encroach. It’s better to ask instead of assume. An ugly encounter just spoils the day for both boats, believe me. Even I’m still learning that as I mellow with age.

However, my wife and some friends still say I got a lot to learn in that department. Shark fishing back in the flats is also a very fun adventure. There can be some very big sharks up to 250 lb, and often we can get a half dozen swimming around in the chum line in 3 – 5 feet of water right behind the boat. Hooking up two at a time is common. Catching big lemons, black tips, and bull sharks are what we are targeting.

Catching the barracudas for chum and bait is also more fun than most people expect. They attack the bait ferociously and fight good, jumping occasionally. Kids really enjoy this day of fishing too.   JULY   Been thinking about a little vacation, and I just decided I’m going to stay here and enjoy all the things we take clients out to do. My wife and I will be fishing and diving for a week. I’m thinking about tarpon fishing with the fly rod, a little bonefish fishing, snook fishing, wreck fishing, reef fishing and spear fishing.

That is what I’m looking forward to, spear fishing down the reef – nice cool water and hopefully some shots at some good fish: groupers, hogs, and muttons. But it is just nice to get in the water too, and make a dive. What comes our way is a bonus.     OFFSHORE FISHING:   In July, BLUE MARLIN are around. It’s the middle of summer season, so it pays to be ready. If you are trolling, put out a rod or two rigged for blue marlin.

If you get into the schoolies, throw a couple over live and slow troll around the school or use one to keep the school at the boat while you are catching them. If a blue marlin shows up, you will be ready. Give the blue a good drop back, but not enough to gut hook it. Typically wait for a hesitation, then a second run and after a count of three, that is when to throw it in strike and reel fast to come tight.

The hesitation is when the billfish turns the bait around in its mouth to swallow it head first, when it starts swimming again and with a short count you will most likely hook it in the mouth. If you see the blue swallow the bait immediately on the take, do not wait for the hesitation, count to three and reel. If you pull the hook and the bait is still on the hook, sometimes the blue will come back and eat the bait, give it a little longer drop back after the hesitation or the inhalation of the bait.

But be very cautious not to drop back too long.   If you count more than 5 seconds, you have a greater percentage of hooking the fish deep like in the gills, throat, or stomach. There is nothing worse than bringing in a hurt billfish for release, it takes the excitement right out of the significance of the catch. That is why most sailfish tournaments have gone to circle hooks, to keep overeager anglers from gut hooking or “gigging” as we used to call it criticizing that type of angling decades ago.

This was seen as an inexperienced maneuver to do anything to catch a billfish, really looked down on then. But as money prizes got bigger, this practice became more accepted, so the use of circle hooks came into being in tournament. Good for them, “gigging” is despicable.   DOLPHIN are still the go to fish for July. Catching those “slammers” (dolphin over 25 lbs.), and the “gaffers” (12 – 20 lbs.

) can get a little tougher. As the wind calms and the surfaces water heats up the dolphin stay deep. Finding debris and big carpets of Sargasso weed might have some bigger fish down deep under the smaller fish. During these calm conditions, most of the dolphin are “heavy lifters” (5 – 10 lbs.), “schoolies” (3 – 5 lbs.) and “shakers” (do I have too describe?), but keep a big live bait or two ready for that big dolphin or two that shows up.

Small wahoo will also be down under these floating habitats too. If the wind picks up, the bigger dolphin will go back to tailing and chasing flying fish while surfing the waves going down sea. Look for the birds trying to snatch the fliers out of the air, and you will find the dolphin.   Be ready for the triple tail under the floating debris. This is an added bonus to a cooler of dolphin, because they taste like a snapper.

Do not gaff them! You have to net them. It is illegal to gaff them because years ago it was a common practice to gaff them when they would not take a bait. If you get stopped by law enforcement, and there is a gaff hole in a triple tail you are going to have a lot of explaining to do.   The mangrove snapper are out on the reef spawning, so July is one of the best months to catch big mangroves at night.

The mutton snapper can be good on the wrecks too this time of year.     INSHORE FISHING:   The TARPON are still around. Some years are better than other as far as how many tarpon are around. A few years ago on July 14th we release 10 tarpon that day, one of three double digit release days on tarpon we’ve had here in Islamorada. If you want to catch a tarpon, give me a call. This can also be a good time to catch a big one on fly.

You will not see as many, but those you do cast at will be more interested in eating the fly.   Of course the bonefish, redfish, and snook (snook are closed for harvest) are still biting excellent on the flats and in the back country creeks, along with all the other rod bender critters like jacks, trout, ladyfish, little goliath grouper and big sharks.   The PERMIT are moving back to the flats after their spawn out on the wrecks.

They tolerate hotter water than bonefish, so after bonefish fishing in the morning you can fish for permit in the late morning before you head back to the AC for lunch.   You can still find permit out on the wrecks too. This is when you can still hook double and maybe triple headers, and at least catch a couple or a few between the break offs in the wrecks or to the sharks.     SPEAR FISHING:   This is a great time of year for spear fishing.

The winds start to calm, and water clears for a beautiful dive. Anyone wanting to do a spear fishing trip, I am doing these charters. This is free diving spear fishing for hog fish, groupers, snappers, black margates, yellow jacks, and cero mackerels.   JUNE We wait all year long for tarpon season, now we can not wait until it is over. My hands hurt from all the line cuts, mullet spine infections, and fatigue from lifting heavy cast nets, handling big fish and hauling anchors.

These are long days of full day trips (8.5 hours), and then going out for your “sunset tarpon trip” (4.5 hours). When you account for preparing for fishing and then washing down tackle and boat at end of the day, it is almost a 16 hour day for me on the boat. At the end of the week on my one day off, every muscle, every tendon, every joint, and every bone ache from tarpon.   Every year I wonder, can I keep going… and going, and going? “You betchya,” after days like yesterday.

We had 14 tarpon crashing our mullets some four and five times before getting hooked up. We hooked up 7 tarpon and released 4 big tarpon all between 120 to 100 pounds. We also hand fed two big hammerhead sharks that were 650 – 800 pounds. Unfortunately, the first shark got one of the tarpon.   After the shark ate off the tarpon’s tail, I quickly gaffed the mortally injured tarpon. “Now let’s have some fun!” I told my clients.

They weren’t really sure what I was talking about, still dazed from the horror. But when the big S.O.B. came right back and grabbed hold of the 100 lb. tarpon again, heaved and thrashed me, about pulling the gaff out of my hand, then hitting the side of the boat with its huge tail and soaking all of us – now those boys came back to life! Yee haw, awesome!  So we did this another 15 minutes letting that hammerhead eat about half that tarpon.

He was almost lazy about coming back each time to have a bite. Then he faded away. Well we were about to go back fish after waiting another 5 minutes in the current, when another hot, very “amped up,” hammerhead of equal size but much blacker came charging up the scent trail. It hit that remaining half tarpon right up along side the boat, rolling on its side with half its hammer and eye out of the water looking at all four of us down the side of the boat.

Then it buried down pulling hard on me, and with a big kick of its tail, soaked us all and felt like it almost pulled my arms out of my sockets.  He came back a few more times and got the better part of the tarpon just leaving us with the head before he had enough to eat and enough of us pulling on him. It was a debate on which one was bigger. As I remembered when he first came up and rolled on his side, it’s girth which was about 3 feet from base of it’s dorsal down its side to its belly in a straight line.

Then you got to think about the width of the belly, I’d say it would have to be at least close to an 8‘ girth if not more. It was probably at least 14’ long. I have never personally seen a big hammerhead out of the water, but I have just seen giant blue marlin on the scales down in St. Thomas (1004, 918, and 910 pounders). I gaffed a few blue marlin too, one that weighed 542 lb., and along with catching 104 blue marlin there in three seasons, we released one that was estimated 800 lb.

So I have seen some big fish in the water and on the dirt, but I can not give you a very accurate estimate of big sharks.  One of my clients summed it up pretty good yesterday, “the Chicago Aquarium will never be the same!”  A quick note on helping tarpon get away from sharks: some of us use our boats to distract the shark allowing time for the tarpon to recover and escape. I would say close to 90% of the tarpon that are chased by these big sharks get away when I do this with the boat.

Some times I will follow the tarpon for 30 minutes, using the prop wash to disperse the scent trail by doing figure eights or circles between the tarpon and shark. The tarpon will come up to the surface periodically to gulp air, and that is when you can see them and stay behind them. Or the shark will come up to the surface chasing down the scent trail, run out in front of him and do a circle. Stay behind the tarpon or in front of the shark doing circles or zig zags.

The wash and the noise confuse the shark and often the tarpon will get away. Also it is very important to release the tarpon immediately when that “hot” shark comes in hard. I brief the client, I run down fast on the tarpon to get the leader in the reel. Then hold the spool and point the rod at the fish. The leader will break easily, and the tarpon will not be dragging around a long length of line that will eventually kill them I believe.

Once I found a very tired 120 pound tarpon with a short leader and a regular size float. I easily motored up to him and grabbed it. The fish broke the leader when he darted off in panic.   Next month I’ll tell you how I think is the best way to release tarpon and most all fish. I always try to get the hook out if it is easily done and will not interfere with resuscitation.   What to expect for fishing this June is about just what I wrote for May.

Because I got into this fishing story and I got to go now for my charter (I’ll be taking my #50 test stand up rod. I have a couple big barracudas on ice, because my client today mentioned last week he would like to try some shark fishing – if the tarpon are not cooperating.) I’ll be ready today to play!    INSHORE FISHING: In June the TARPON are here in mass. This is when we can release more than 10 tarpon in a day, and if we did not have to take pictures of most of the tarpon (in the water along the boat side), we would be able to catch over 20 in a day.

That is if we fought them like we were in a sailfish tournament, by catching them as quick as possible by running down on them for the release then cutting the leader, I swear I have had days were the tarpon are biting so good we could have caught over 20 tarpon and maybe even 30. Instead, we fight the tarpon for 15 to 45 minutes so as to tire it out sufficiently so as to handle it safely (for the tarpon) along the side of the boat for photos, then to remove the hook, and finally to resuscitate it.

  Now the big mangrove snapper are migrating from the bay out to the reef to spawn, and this is when we can catch 2 – 6 lbs. snappers. This is a nice bonus to tarpon fishing, because all of the local restaurants will cook your catch, for a discount too.  Of course the bonefish, redfish, and snook (snook are now closed to harvest) are still biting excellent on the flats and in the back country creeks, along with all the other rod bender critters like jacks, trout, ladyfish, little goliath grouper and big sharks.

    OFFSHORE FISHING: The PERMIT have moved out to the wrecks to spawn and this is when you can hook double and triple headers, and at least catch a couple or a few between the break offs in the wrecks or to the sharks. They get schooled up to 500 permit in a big ball. You can almost not miss, unless they got lock jaw which most likely is because there was another boat in there busting their butts a half an hour before you arrived.

  The mutton snapper can be good on the wrecks too this time of year. So it is always good to give the permit a rest by dropping a live bait down for dinner.  The black fin tuna of good size (10 – 20 lbs.) can also still be on the humps, and when it is calm I have actually run out to hit them in the morning, then run back inshore to tarpon fish. Now that is a lot of running, and I have to ask the clients to pay for the extra gas over what I would normally burn in a day which is 20 gallons.

That equates to about an extra 10 gallons, which the fuel meter is very accurate. It does make for an interesting day, as you can see in the photo of Lad Farian and friends a couple years ago. They caught four tarpon and those black fins.  DOLPHIN are the go to fish for the offshore fishing, and May is when you will start catching those “slammers” (dolphin over 25 lbs.) on a regular basis, along with all the “gaffers” (12 – 20 lbs.

), “heavy lifters” (5 – 10 lbs.), “schoolies” (3 – 5 lbs.) and “shakers” (do I have too describe?). This is when most of the BLUE MARLIN are caught while dolphin fishing, so it pays to be ready. Also some good size wahoo are still caught while dolphin fishing and many guys troll a wahoo rig out and back from dolphin fishing offshore.  Be ready for the triple tail under the floating debris.

This is an added bonus to a cooler of dolphin, because they taste like a snapper. Do not gaff them! You have to net them. It is illegal to gaff them because years ago it was a common practice to gaff them when they would not take a bait. If you get stopped by law enforcement, and there is a gaff hole in a triple tail you are going to have a lot of explaining to do.    MAY Wow! This is the time of year we all have been waiting for.

It is: fish, eat, and sleep – every day. I am writing this now at 4:30 am before another charter, so it will be short. I’m not sure if keeping a schedule like this will keep me young, or make me old. Thank God though; business has been good for me in spite of the recession everyone is talking about. One thing is sure, the fishing is still good!   INSHORE FISHING: In May the TARPON are here in mass.

This is when we can release more than 10 tarpon in a day, and if we did not have to take pictures of most of the tarpon (in the water along the boat side), we would be able to catch over 20 in a day. That is if we fought them like we were in a sailfish tournament, by catching them as quick as possible by running down on them for the release then cutting the leader, I swear I have had days were the tarpon are biting so good we could have caught over 20 tarpon and maybe even 30.

Instead, we fight the tarpon for 15 to 45 minutes so as to tire it out sufficiently so as to handle it safely (for the tarpon) along the side of the boat for photos, then remove the hook, and finally resuscitate it.   Now the big mangrove snapper are migrating from the bay out to the reef to spawn, and this is when we can catch 2 – 6 lbs. snappers. This is a nice bonus to tarpon fishing, because all of the local restaurants will cook your catch, for a discount too.

Of course the bonefish, redfish, and snook (now closed for harvesting them) are still biting excellent on the flats and in the back country creeks, along with all the other rod bender critters like jacks, trout, ladyfish, little goliath grouper and big sharks. OFFSHORE FISHING: The PERMIT have moved out to the wrecks to spawn and this is when you can hook double and triple headers, and at least catch a couple or a few between the break offs in the wrecks or to the sharks.

They get schooled up over the wrecks, sometimes 500 permit in a big ball. You can almost not miss, unless they got lock jaw which most likely is because there was another boat in there busting their butts a half an hour before you arrived. The mutton snapper can be good on the wrecks too this time of year. So it is always good to give the permit a rest by dropping a live bait down for dinner. The black fin tuna of good size (10 – 20 lbs.

) can also still be on the humps, and when it is calm I have actually run out to hit them in the morning, then run back inshore to tarpon fish. Now that is a lot of running, and I have to ask the clients to pay for the extra gas over what I would normally burn in a day which is 20 gallons. That equates to about an extra 10 gallons, which the fuel meter is very accurate. It does make for an interesting day, as you can see in the photo of Lad Farian and friends a couple years ago.

They caught four tarpon and those black fins.  DOLPHIN are the go to fish for the offshore fishing, and May is when you will start catching those “slammers” (dolphin over 25 lbs.) on a regular basis, along with all the “gaffers” (12 – 20 lbs.), “heavy lifters” (5 – 10 lbs.), “schoolies” (3 – 5 lbs.) and “shakers” (do I have too describe?). This is when most of the BLUE MARLIN are caught while dolphin fishing, so it pays to be ready.

Also some good size wahoo are still caught while dolphin fishing and many guys troll a wahoo rig out and back from dolphin fishing offshore.  Be ready for the triple tail under the floating debris. This is an added bonus to a cooler of dolphin, because they taste like a snapper. Do not gaff them! You have to net them. It is illegal to gaff them because years ago it was a common practice to gaff them when they would not take a bait.

If you get stopped by law enforcement, and there is a gaff hole in a triple tail you are going to have a lot of explaining to do.  That’s it. It’s 6:30 am and I got to go.   APRIL INSHORE FISHING: April is the beginning of “peak tarpon season,” and this is when we can catch more than ten tarpon in a day. Oh boy do I look forward to those big tarpon smashing surface baits, launching “line ripping” aerial assaults, and dodging around bridge pilings chasing these behemoths pushing 200 lbs.

as they try their best to break us off. After catching 112 blue marlin, over 800 sailfish, and hundreds of bonefish there is nothing that compares to catching big tarpon in the labyrinth of concrete bridge pilings with heavy current and at times rough water. Almost every tarpon we have to charge off chasing them on plane with the boat, often doing 360’s around pilings and running down through them like a slalom course with the angler bracing themselves with their feet jammed against the inner liner while sitting on a bow cooler that is lashed to the deck.

Hang on, at times the angler will roll off the cooler with the pitching boat from having to go hard right then hard left. “Reel, reel, reel,” even if the angler is on his back – a tight line is a must. It does not get any better! During late March, April, and May the big mangrove snapper are hard fighters on light tackle, and we catch them while tarpon fishing around the bridges, channels, and out on the patch reefs in Hawks channel.

These guys migrate out to the reefs anticipating their spawn typically during the full moon of June or July. They are excellent eating too, probably my favorite. April is also excellent fishing for bonefish, permit, snook, and redfish on the flats. Towards the end of April the permit will start to migrate off the flats out to the wrecks offshore of the reefs to spawn. This can happen from mid-April to mid-May, so we will start to see less permit every day during this time.

But, the great bonus is they get stacked up on the wrecks in the hundreds and we can hook two to three at a time sometimes. This fishing is weather dependent. Calmer weather is needed so we can see them just under the surface or on the surface so we can cast the crabs in front of them. Snook season closes May first, so keep that in mind if you want to do a snook trip and keep some snook to eat. We can still fish for snook after it closes though; we just have to release them all However the sailfish this past March has been terrible down here in the Islamorada area, upper to middle Keys; so it will be very interesting to see if we get a final push of sailfish this year.

  Inversely, the dolphin showed up in March. Some of my friends had some great catches while I was fishing back country. Typically early season dolphin are small, mostly “schoolies” with some “heavy lifters” (5 – 10 lbs.) and possibly some gaffers (10 – 20 lbs.) mixed in. But this year the heavy lifters, gaffers, and even some “slammers” (20 – 40 lbs.) have been being caught on regular basis.

So maybe it will be a great dolphin season!  Big black fin tuna will be showing up on the humps, and these tackle busters are a great fight. Lots of guys have been using the metal jigs for them last year. I like live bait and chumming with pilchards is always fun to see the big surface explosions on the “freebies” we throw out around our baits with the hooks. Talk about “baited breath” while waiting for your bait to get smashed with all these explosions popping around.

It is tantalizing!  Tip of the Month:  When considering tarpon fishing, there are a few things to consider once the fish is hooked up. Now my pointers will start after the hook up, because hooking a tarpon requires different techniques for the different baits, lures, or flies one can use to catch a tarpon. Now the most important thing you have to remember is: you can do every thing right and lose the fish, or you can do everything wrong and catch it.

What the hell, why even care? Because if you stick to the technique, over time you will catch more fish than if you do not.   First, once the tarpon has your bait in its closed mouth, reel as fast as you can until it is taking line. Be ready to reel 50’ of line before you come tight (if he still is holding on to the bait), because he might charge the boat after eating the bait and feeling the resistance if the line.

Most of the time it is just a crank or few of the handle before you come tight to the fish and he is screaming line, but be ready for that fish that charges the boat. Now once you come tight, I like to slip in a few quick strikes with the rod tip, but I do not like to see my clients doing the “Bill Dance hook set” because one of the first things the tarpon does is jump, clear out of the water mostly! If you’re pulling back on a huge strike, you are doing the absolute opposite of what you should be doing!   When a tarpon jumps, or any fish, you should bow to it! That is drop the rod tip in the direction of the line going down into the water.

It is possible that the fish is screaming off yards of line creating a belly in the water where the line is going directly in front of you but the fish is off to the side at a ninety degree angle to the line and jumping – drop the rod quickly and even extend as far as possible in the direction of the line (without creating slack) for every jump the fish makes. This is extreme speed with extreme line stretch in the water which demands an extreme “bow” to the fish for every jump.

  Conversely, if the fish jumps close to the boat and is not screaming off line, be gentle with the dropping of the rod tip. Be careful not to create any slack. Many times when a fish jumps close to the boat the line can come out of water, now this is a delicate matter. It is very easy to get slack in the line, especially if the fish comes at the boat.  Never allow the fish to create slack, especially with the line out of water during a jump.

You have to be able to move the rod tip and crank if needed to keep a little tension on the line during a close jump. If the tarpon jumps shaking his head to and from the boat, you should move the rod tip in unison with his movements: up and down, always keeping a little tension on the line, and if the jump is coming at you, crank to keep pressure on the line.  This is one of the greatest aspects about tarpon fishing.

It is the great skill that is required to aptly play the fish. It is like leading a dance partner: power is achieved through timing and subtle technique.    Annual Tarpon Season Stats I have decided not to post the season stats anymore. It has become too time consuming. Fact is, we catch tarpon! There will be banner days every season, and slow days. If it is a cool weather season, there will be less banner days.

Check the past seasonal stats to see what a hot season and cool season can be like. The stats are pretty much the same from hot season to hot season, and cool season to cool season.    Tarpon Fishing Starts Feb. 15th – Aug.1 For example, starting March 4th the 2003 season had some incredible fishing days. We caught 54 tarpon in 10 days of fishing, and three of them were over 140 pounds (one was 175 lbs.

and another 160 lbs.).  The tarpon start to show up here in mid-January. By mid-February we start to get a break from the cold fronts and the tarpon fishing can be good. The only thing that shuts down the tarpon fishing early in the season, are the cold fronts. But that sparks up the sailfish fishing, reef fishing, and Florida Bay fishing (calm leeward waters). What great alternatives for those of you who must travel this time of year.

There is always something to fish for. My 23’ Sea Craft was originally designed for this type of fishing especially kite fishing for sailfish. Now I have caught quite a few sailfish off Islamorada when I ran a charter boat out of Bud-n-Mary’s almost ten years ago, before I started working for myself. I have caught at least 725 sailfish for clients and quite a few myself while kite fishing off Key Biscayne down to Ocean Reef, slow trolling live baits off of Islamorada, and trolling dead baits off Isla Mujeres and Costa Rica.

Check out my fishing log highlights for the details. While you are sailfish fishing, the grouper, snapper and kingfish can be very good on the outer reef. If it is rough, and one is prone to seasickness the patch reefs have nice mutton snappers, med-size groupers, small yellowtail snapper, some mackerel, and big barracudas. And if one definitely does not want to take a chance on getting sick, fishing the lee of the flats of Florida Bay in 10 feet of water for big sharks, Spanish mackerel, mangrove snapper, small grouper, and sea trout is very fun because there is a lot of action.

So if you’re planning a trip early in the season, we have a good chance of having some great tarpon fishing. But if we get hit by a cold front, we got some great options too. So do not delay, the season will be booking up fast. Call me or e-mail. Capt. Rick Killgore   Interesting Stories from Past Fishing Reports AN EXCERPT FROM MY JANUARY '08 COLUMN IN "OUTDOOR FLORIDA" MAGAZINE:  It’s one of my greatest memories as a young man saving a “hot woman!” I was the second mate on the “Knightlines,” and we were taking a break from slow blue fin tuna fishing.

The yellowtails were chummed up, and I was unhooking fish and baiting hooks – BAM!  There’s a big crash behind us. Wheeling around I find a 4 foot barracuda snaking wildly across the cockpit right towards the boss’s utterly gorgeous girl friend, dressed in a very tight string bikini, fully endowed. She is screaming as she gets cornered by this big barracuda. Now’s my chance! I hop over the barracuda, pick her up, and hop back over the barracuda! From total panic to total elation, she whips around and jumps on top of me scissoring my waste and hugging me.

She buries my face in her bikini top, and screams “thank you, thank you, thank you…” As I withdraw my face “first with elation, then panic” thinking of the boss’s disapproval, she kisses me several times on each cheek. Shocked and stoked, I peek up to the bridge and see the boss and captain having a good laugh. Needless to say, she never got too close to me again, though I always saw a twinkle in her eye for the rest of that trip.

AN EXCERPT FROM MY JUNE '08 COLUMN IN "OUTDOOR FLORIDA" MAGAZINE: We wait all year long for tarpon season, now we can not wait until it is over. My hands hurt from all the line cuts, mullet spine infections, and fatigue from lifting heavy cast nets, handling big fish and hauling anchors. These are long days of full day trips (8.5 hours), and then going out for your “sunset tarpon trip” (4.5 hours).

When you account for preparing for fishing and then washing down tackle and boat at end of the day, it is almost a 16 hour day for me on the boat. At the end of the week on my one day off, every muscle, every tendon, every joint, and every bone ache from tarpon. Every year I wonder, can I keep going… and going, and going? You “betchya,” after days like yesterday. We had 14 tarpon crashing our mullets some four and five times before getting hooked up.

We hooked up 7 tarpon and released 4 big tarpon all between 120 to 100 pounds. We also hand fed two big hammerhead sharks that were 650 – 800 pounds. Unfortunately, the first shark got one of the tarpon. After the shark ate off the tarpon’s tail, I quickly gaffed the mortally injured tarpon. “Now let’s have some fun!” I told my clients. They weren’t really sure what I was talking about, still dazed from the horror.

But when the big S.O.B. came right back and grabbed hold of the 100 lb. tarpon again, heaved and thrashed me, about pulling the gaff out of my hand, then hitting the side of the boat with its huge tail and soaking all of us – now those boys came back to life! Yaaaaah, awesome! So we did this another 15 minutes letting that hammerhead eat about half that tarpon. He was almost lazy about coming back each time to have a bite.

Then he faded away. Well we were about to go back fish after waiting another 5 minutes in the current, when another hot, very “amped up,” hammerhead of equal size but much blacker came charging up the scent trail. It hit that remaining half tarpon right up along side the boat, rolling on its side with half its hammer and eye out of the water looking at all four of us down the side of the boat.

Then it buried down pulling hard on me, and with a big kick of its tail, soaked us all and felt like it almost pulled my arms out of my sockets.  He came back a few more times and got the better part of the tarpon just leaving us with the head before he had enough to eat and enough of us pulling on him. It was a debate on which one was bigger. As I remembered when he first came up and rolled on his side, it’s girth which was about 3 feet from base of it’s dorsal down its side to its belly in a straight line.

Then you got to think about the width of the belly, I’d say it would have to be at least close to an 8‘ girth if not more. It was probably at least 14’ long. I have never personally seen a big hammerhead out of the water, but I have just seen giant blue marlin on the scales down in St. Thomas (1004, 918, and 910 pounders). I gaffed a few blue marlin too, one that weighed 542 lb., and along with catching 104 blue marlin there in three seasons, we released one that was estimated 800 lb.

So I have seen some big fish in the water and on the dirt, but I can not give you a very accurate estimate of big sharks One of my clients summed it up pretty good yesterday, “the Chicago Aquarium will never be the same. AN EXCERPT FROM MY DECEMBER '07 COLUMN IN "OUTDOOR FLORIDA" MAGAZINE: This is a very exciting way to fish for sailfish, and everyone has to be on their toes to get it done. An accurate cast with a very fresh bait is often the rule.

Sailfish will refuse a perfect cast with a tired bait, or a perfect bait cast off target. Then by the time you’re ready for the second cast, the sailfish might have sensed the boat. They’ll settle down a little, stop chasing the bait, and definitely refuse your bait. This is why you have to monopolize your chances while the sailfish are in the heat of the moment. Believe me this is the “Heat of the Moment” in the boat too.

There can be “overly excited directions” being vocalized by the “captain in the tower” to the mates and anglers in the cockpit, that can be heard over a hundred yards away. This can make for some great bar stool stories for years to come, and I’ve got some classics. One of my favorites is the “Reel Circles, not Squares!” story which happened while I was a mate for one of Islamorada’s great captains.

The Islamorada charter boats are experts in fishing the “ballyhoo showers” and can catch up to 20 sailfish in a day, and a few have even caught more than 20 sailfish. Now do not be intimidated by my extreme portrayal of “the heat of the moment” coaching by the captain to the team in the cockpit. Typically everyone is very professional, it’s just at times we got to yell over the wind and roar of the engines so all can hear exactly where the fish are to cast at.

If it seems “a little over the top” let me give you a tip, refrain from making comparisons to Nick Saban down here in S. Florida.  ;-)   HURRICANE "WILMA" FISH STORY: I could go on and on about this past fall, but I'll wrap it up with a hurricane Wilma fish story. I was getting sick of all the news hype. Same crap all the time! Wilma was approaching Cancun at barely 2 mph at Cat 5, but the forecast was it was going to turn with a cold front (which will weaken it) and come right at us.

Hey it had not even turned yet and it was hundreds of miles away and barely moving, and they started evacuating tourist and mobile home residents on Wednesday! Remember it hit on Monday morning! Thursday they started evacuation of lower keys, and it had not even left Cancun area and was drifting North. Again Friday morning still drifting North and just north of Cancun, hey screw these "jack asses" this thing is not going to hit till Sunday night Monday morning - I'm going fishing!!!! And what a day of fishing I had! Hey I did the math on when this storm would hit: number of miles away and even if it increases speed I still got Sat.

to get ready if it was going to speed up and hit on Sunday. On Friday I told my wife its going to hit Sunday night Monday morning. And every day the forecasters kept pushing back the track 10 to 12 hours. First forecast it was supposed to hit us on Friday night Saturday morning and at that time it was still 100 plus miles southeast of Cancun and moving at 4 mph to the NNW. All of us captains go through this crap every storm, ignore the hype, do your own math, call each other, come to a reasonable consensus, prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

  So I load up the fly rods and a couple spinners, a few beers, lunch, and a block of ice because I'm putting one of those snook in the box. I run back to Flamingo, and pole into this spot and the snook were going crazy! They were blasting bait so hard I could see them almost a hundred yards away. I fished my way in and caught one on a top water plug on the spinning rod. Then I got my fly rod out, tied on a deer hair popper and poled in to these fish.

I caught another one just short of the slot. I catch another one just short. Then I finally hooked this nice fish that was just blasting the bait along the shore line. What a great strike on that popper! What a tug-a-war! I had to keep him out of the roots. He pulled the boat this way and that way. I finally got him up and netted that 30" snook (29 3/4"). Nice snook on top water fly, and dinner! I got a couple self portraits too.

So I keep fishing this stretch of water for 5 hours. It was awesome! the snook keep blasting bait, and tarpon are rolling. I get a couple short strike by the tarpon, and just cannot hook one. I was having so much fun. It was beautiful. The Everglades at its best, and I got it all to myself. I get home at dark. I fuel up, and ask Linda at the Marlin gas station if they are still evacuating. Yep, they have issued total evacuation of all keys residents - Bah Humbug! Saturday morning, same forecast crap!!!! Going to hit Sunday night maybe Monday morning - now finally they concede.

The Florida Keys are now in "total mandatory evacuation." Bull crap I tell my wife. We got all of Sunday to get ready - LET'S GO FISHING! We pack the cooler and take off to the same spot. The fish are not blasting like they were the day before. She hooks a nice snook on a plug. She has to tease it. It takes her three strikes on the same cast to finally hook it. It's a nice one but just short. Her first snook on an artificial.

A little later she hooks a nice tarpon on the same plug. What a jumper. Strong short runs to the mangrove roots. She stops it numerous times. She gets it up along side of the boat, I get a few photos, and it flips off before I have to get down to unhook it. We move spots, and I get back into this creek. The snook are blasting the bait, but I just can not get a strike from one. I catch a couple lady fish.

We pole deep into this creek, its getting dark, she hooks a tarpon, snook are blasting, and two owls start hooting at each other - spectacular these Everglades and it is just an hour boat ride from my house. We get back at dark. That night at the the Marlin gas station Linda confirms what I believe, Wilma is hitting Monday morning. Roads are vacant. I see the famous painter Milard Wells and his wife.

I give him the fish report, he cracks a big smile, whispers good job. I know that must have touched his heart. He is famous for his dramatic water colors of fishing the flats with these great big Everglades thunderstorms in the background. I just gave him an Everglades fish report while the whole Florida Keys are in a "total mandatory evacuation." Hey there are a lot of us down here still holding the torch.

Only 20% of the residents evacuated. We had 110 mph gusts, and 5.5 feet of surge in my neighborhood, but most houses are above this level. Only one house got water in it, an older house on the canal. My house is 22' above flood, 12' above at the garage. Houses facing the water got most damage. The further south the higher the flood, 6 - 8' I think. Flamingo had 13' surge, I talked to a ranger. We are protected from the huge network of flats which act as flood gates on a hurricane coming from the west.

We will be totally exposed to the full surge on a storm coming from the east. BIG SHARK ON FLY, (TOP WATER POPPER): A week after the storm, we went fishing again mostly to see the effects of the storm. Slagle ditch had an incredible amount of trees ripped out and aground at the mouth of it extending out maybe 100 yards. The next ditch west the sand bars were 2 - 3 times as big as before. East cape beach looked the same.

You can see how high the water got. As we headed to Snake Bite, I came across lot of sharks feeding in the shallows, black tip sharks and lemon sharks. So shallow their backs were out of water. I rigged my #12 fly rod with a shark fly popper. I got three bites before I finally hooked one. Now if you never have seen a shark take a top water fly or plug, it is great. They stick their whole head out of water, jaws wide open, just 30' or less from the boat, trying to eat the fly.

It is tricky to hook them, but worth the effort. This lemon shark I hooked was about 105 lbs., and he took off like a scolded dog, because it was so shallow, at least a 100 yards. I could barely motor out of there. I ran the boat and fought the fish. Elena got video. We chased it around a grounded tree. I got it up to the boat in about 20 minutes. I put the lip gaff in it. Pulled it up on the boat and got some good photos.

I'll post them soon along with the snook shots. Lets Go Fishing, Rick   Swordfish! Two swordfish in one night:  180 lbs. and 100 lbs. on #50 test stand-up tackle Awesome! What a fight on a "full moon" night.  (I'm all geared up now for swordfish trips: four #50 stand-ups, L.P. lights, Hydro-glow light, belts and harnesses, flying gaffs, terminal tackle, proven technique and know how.) (Swordfish fishing is good all year, weather permitting.

That is the key, as we approach winter the calm days will be limited. If we get weathered out by cold fronts, we can fish the edge of the reef for sailfish, tuna, wahoo, kingfish, cobia, snapper and grouper.) The big swordfish hit first. It burned off a 200 yard run down. I fought it up to the surface and 30 yards away (we could see the L.P. light just under the surface) in about 30 minutes. Then it took off another 150 - 200 yards, dragging the light just under the surface for the first 50 yards before sounding.

It stayed down till the end of the fight.  Fighting this big swordfish while standing up, I paced myself by applying constant pressure on the Braid kidney harness and fighting belt. I had not caught a big billfish on standup tackle since charter fishing in Costa Rica 15 years ago, which was a 200 lbs. Pacific blue marlin. (I can assist you on the finesse of using stand-up tackle on big fish with my extensive experience as an angler and as a captain/ mate on charter boats.

While charter fishing, I have landed 112 Atlantic and Pacific blue and black marlin up to +800 pounds, many on stand-up tackle. As an angler I've caught 6 blue marlin, the largest blue was 396 lbs. and it was also on stand-up tackle which took 2:20 hours. This blue marlin was hooked in the mouth, but died after it's second blistering run that almost stripped the #50 test Penn reel a second time. After both runs I could see the shaft of the spool through the line - wow! It sounded, then died down below.

It took another 1:30 hours to plane it up. Coincidentally, I caught it on the same type of boat I have now, my friend Rick Stiener's 23' Sea Craft in St. Thomas).  As I fought the swordfish up, the closer it got to the boat the more stubborn it got. It really dogged it, made short little runs this way and that way. We had to really maneuver the boat to stay in position to the swordfish. It covered a lot of ocean.

I was a little worried about how I would do, but it was no sweat! I fought the big fish for 1:15 hours, and never got fatigued. Once I got the braid harness on, of coarse it was quite a bit easier. But I fought it for about the first 15 minutes with out it. After the first 200 yard run, I just held on to the rod as we chased it down to recover line. If it was a small fish, no need to get all geared up, but as it started to bare down after we got over it I got my kidney harness on.

When it came up, we were ready! I had brought my flying gaff, and my friend Jim Mulcahy had his 2 straight gaffs (we were fishing his open fisherman out of Key Largo, just the two of us). As the swordfish came up off the port stern corner as we were going forward, it turned to it's right crossing our transom about 10' down and 15' out. The small spreader lights lit up the side of the fish and we could see it was a nice size swordfish.

As it came up the starboard side, Jim put his boat in neutral and gaffed the swordfish in the head with a straight gaff. I put the rod in a rod holder, and ran up to the bow, grabbed the flying gaff, and gaffed the swordfish in the head again.  What a swordfish! It was big, for a swordfish down in Florida, now. We estimate it was +180 lbs. (we called the second swordfish 90 lbs. which actually weighed 98 lbs.

at the dock 2 hours later). We had to core the fish out to get it in the fish box.  We got some great pictures which I will post as soon as I get my software form my scanner reloaded. The second swordfish hit about an hour later. I fought it for 30 minutes. This swordfish again made two nice runs: one about 200 yards, the second about 100 yards. We got on the swordfish quickly after the second run.

As it came up to the surface it waved its broadbill out of water. What I sight in the "full moon!" We backed down to the swordfish and gaffed it, right away. A respectable swordfish, about 100lbs.    Congratulations to Bob Stephens of Rutherford, NJ Who caught a 13 ¾ lbs. Bonefish on Feb. 23, 2003 Largest Bonefish We Have Ever Released What a great fight it was. He hooked it up on the edge of the flat and fought it through the sea fans, getting hung up once.

I thought it was over then, but the line pulled free and we still had him on. The fish took a while to get to the boat even though I was chasing him down with the boat, it was too deep to poll after it and keep up with it, plus you got to be close to them when they are in an area of sea fans (bottom obstructions). Not only was this a very large bonefish, but it was a very significant catch for S. Florida and the world of bonefish.

This fish had a relatively old tag in it, full of algae. I was very excited, because of the useful info we could get from it. I thought it had been longer period of time because of the algae, but it had just been about one year since being tagged. What is very interesting is it was the exact same weight as last year. March 19, 2002 Jim Bokar (known bonefish tournament fisherman) tagged this fish and weighed it at 13lbs.

and 12 oz. (at least my “de-lying tool”, the chattilion scale, is confirmed accurate by someone else’s scale. I calibrate it every year any way with known weights here at the house.). It might still have grown a little because in March they should be bigger do to the spawn and they will be heavier with row. Tight lines, Capt. Rick Killgore

Hazel Gordon

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