By: Randy Morrow
As the weather in the Keys cools down, the water temps drop as well. Some of the tropical species are quite sensitive to water temps (they are, after all, cold-blooded, right?). Bonefish are probably the most persnickety, and the other famous flats species (permit, tarpon) will also thin out on the flats when the water gets into the lower 70s and below. But there are other opportunities available to the kayak angler in the cooler weather – several snapper species, yellow jacks, cero mackerel and even the occasional legal grouper move into shallow water.
I generally like to fish the bottom dwellers (snapper and grouper) with 4500 reels and 12-20lb rods with 4’ of 20lb or 30lb leader. Anchoring with sinker rigs and bait seem to work best for these fish. The best bait choice can vary amazingly from day to day and location to location, so it pays to have options. My preferences are live shrimp, cut ballyhoo, and butterflied mullet with just enough lead to hold it in the prevailing current. Chumming isn’t always necessary, but it’s nice to have the option if things are slow. However, you don’t have to deal with the standard 7lb, incredibly messy frozen chum block. Simply dicing up some of your shrimp, mullet, ‘hoo, etc., and hanging it in a bag over the side of your yak can help to get the bite going. Bridge areas, channel bends and patch reefs can hold nice fish, but if a spot isn’t producing after 20 minutes or so, have a plan to move on to other spots.
A few thoughts on anchoring for the bottom dwellers. A 5.5 lb grapple-style anchor with 40’ of line will handle most situations, but I carry another, separate 25’ line that I can add for deeper water or windier conditions. There are some good videos online discussing kayak anchoring, and I advise doing some research. The overarching thing to remember is don’t anchor in heavy current or wind. Experience will teach you how much is too much, but when in doubt, err on the side of caution and fish a calmer area.
Mackerel respond well to quickly retrieved spoons, so I have one 15lb rig devoted to that in cooler weather. This same setup will get large barracuda and jacks as well. Since a spoon cast so far, it’s easy to cover a lot of water quickly. And the spoon trolls well behind the yak when you’re moving from spot to spot.
One other species deserves mention, though their edibility can be debatable. BIG barracuda – up to 5’ long – come into the shallows during cooler weather. With a good presentation, they pursue your lure like a heat-seeking missile! Once hooked, they deliver blistering runs and greyhounding jumps before eventually landing boat side with an impressive maw full of razorblades. The standard tube lure available in the local tackle shops works quite well. (I prefer the green ones.)
Let me know if I can help you with your pictorial pursuits!
— Randy Morrow, Kayak Fishing Guide | LowerKeysKayakFishing.com
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