Fall Fishing Season 

By: Capt. Joel Brandenburg 

As we enter into the fall fishing season, I start getting excited. Fall fishing season is one of my favorite seasons in the Florida Keys for offshore and inshore fishing as well as lobster diving and spearfishing. One of the biggest changes were seeing right now is that the mahi bite seems to be getting a lot better.

This summer most anglers would agree, the mahi bite was slow with poorer quantity and quality than usual. Some anglers blame it on our near record heat wave, and some blame it on the increase of commercial mahi fisherman in the Bahamas, cutting our mahi off at the pass and some blame it on our increased fishing pressure here at home. Many anglers were expecting a banner mahi season since the daily mahi bag limit was reduced by FWC recently. We have seen better quality and quantity mahi caught the past couple of months and expect October to be an awesome mahi bite as well. Another theory about why the mahi bites been slow and now picking up in dramatic fashion is that they simply had a late migration this year into the Florida Keys. With the fall season comes tropical storms and hurricane with the fall season comes tropical storms and hurricanes.

When it comes to mahi fishing, we have a love-hate relationship with tropical storms and hurricanes. Needless to say, we hate when the tropical storms and hurricanes come close enough to keep us off the water, but we love the debris we find floating offshore after the storms. We find a lot of things floating caused by the high wind and waves. One of my favorite times to fish for mahi is right after a tropical storm or hurricane passes us. The black fin tuna bite gets better at the Marathon Humps too. Not to mention wahoo start showing up. Fall is also great for post spawn snapper fishing. We like to anchor in the back country near East Bahia in Honda Key in 4 to 6 feet of water on grass flats with swiss cheese shaped sand pockets. We chum them up really good with our green tournament chum, chum blocks in floating chum rings and fish for them with live pilchards or small pinfish.

On days when we can’t find live bait, we do well with chunks of ballyhoo on a jig head. Also, the mutton snapper come in closer and are caught in much shallower water inside the reefs. The yellow tail snapper bite picks up at the reef due to off-season decreased pressure. The larger schoolmaster snapper start showing up around the bridges too. Another fish we like to target in early fall is yellow jacks. When I tell clients, we’re going to go to target yellow jacks many times they say Captain, we’ve already caught jack crevalle’s before and although they’re fun, they’re not good table fare. Then I explain to them that a yellow jack is a jack that is yellow not to be mistaken for a jack crevalle which is also a jack that is yellow.

These yellow jacks aren’t indigenous to this area they showed up a two or three decades ago, and they fight like a jack crevalle, but they taste like a permit or pompano excellent table fare.

We also like to slow troll for grouper inside the reefs and under and beside bridges. We use stretch 30’s and also occasionally use planers with jigs and plastic. Once the water cools down bigger, Gamefish move closer in which makes the spearfishing better in the fall than the summer. We also like to lobster dive in early fall. This year the commercial lobster fishermen say, it’s one of the best lobster years they’ve seen in decades. Most of the commercial lobster fishermen have been getting their lobster in deeper water, and mostly on the Atlantic side. Another sign that the lobster have not migrated into the shallow waters of the Gulf in big numbers is the commercial bully netters have had a real tough time catching lobster up to now. Some commercial lobster fishermen say that the lobster are hanging in deeper water because of our heat wave some commercial lobster fisherman are also saying that part of the reason they’ve had such a banner lobster start is because we had terrible weather both days of mini season, and the tourist didn’t put a dent in the lobster migration.

We tell our lobster clients not to come down during mini season or even opening week. We tell them to come down lobster diving in September and October when we seem to catch better quality and quantity lobster. Another good thing about fishing and diving in the fall is that the kids have gone back to school, the tourist off-season is here hotels, motels, and vacation rental homes are easier to reserve and at a reduced off-season price. We hope to dodge all direct hits from tropical storms and hurricanes this fall and hope to fish, dive, and spear with you in our beautiful Florida Keys!