March Madness

By: Capt. Chris Johnson 

The month of March, and sometimes even into April, can be the windiest time of year in the Florida Keys.  If you want quality fishing, go with an open mind and listen to your captain’s recommendations for what your best target species is.  Both the Atlantic and the Gulf waters have quality fisheries happening but, again, the wind will dictate which direction you can go.

In the Atlantic waters, we have plenty of pelagics, including blackfin tuna, kingfish and some big cobia.  But the star attraction is the abundance of sailfish.  March and April will be prime time to target sails, but take your iron stomach with you because conditions can be quite sporty.

In the Gulf and Florida Bay venues, we’ve seen some of the best fishing in ten years, with loads of Florida pompano, cobia and large kings.  Goliath groupers and sharks keep the game interesting.

On the deep side of the reef in 150 to 250 feet of water, there are good numbers of blackfin tuna in the 10- to 20-pound class plus king mackerel and a more common occurrence of dolphin as well as sailfish.  Live baits are key with live pilchards providing the most consistent action.  Live ballyhoo, if you can find them, also work well.  Cigar minnows and sardines will also put fish in the box.

Moving inshore to the wrecks, March is typically very good for mutton snappers, kingfish and very large amberjacks. The amberjacks are beginning their spawn this month, and it’s now that we catch some of the biggest ones of the year.  Fish in the 60- to 80-pound class are not unusual, with plenty of 20- to 40-pounders to wear you out.

The best baits to attract the attention of the AJs are bluerunners, grunts and large pilchards.  Jigging also produces excellent results. For the muttons and kings, live pinfish, pilchards or ballyhoo all work, fished down near the bottom.

On the reef, the yellowtail action picks up tempo at this point in the spring.  With the warming waters, the fish become more active and need to feed more, which makes it a bit easier to coerce them into taking your bait.  Using plenty of chum is important. SnapperUp or Mojo Oats will bring them in right behind your boat. All you need for successful yellowtail catching are 15-lb fluoro leaders and small hooks, such as the Owner #4 Mutu Light hooks we use.

The reef edge will have good numbers of king and cero mackerel.  And, of course, plenty of grouper that must be released as the season is closed until May 1. In Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, there are loads of cobia, large king mackerel, spanish mackerel and mangrove snappers.

Pinfish is the go-to bait for all but the kings, which love small bluerunners fished either under a balloon or, preferably, hanging from a kite.  We use #7 wire, as these kings are quite large and can bite through smaller wire.  For everything else in the bay and gulf, it’s all about pinfish on a jighead.  You’ll most likely catch some Goliath grouper.  Be sure to release them quickly and unharmed as they are protected.

March is a good time of year to target sharks around the flats and banks.  It’s primarily blacktips, spinners, bulls and a few hammerheads to start but, as we get toward the end of the month and the waters warm up, we begin to see more lemons.

Any kind of fresh dead bait or live bait works, such as jacks, bluerunners, ladyfish and the like.  Be sure to use circle hooks.  We always use Owner 9/0 SSW circles for fishing for all shark species, with #7 to #8 wire and 20-lb class tackle rounding out your setup.

— Capt. Chris Johnson | | 305-393-2929  | Marathon Florida Keys