By: Capt. Tony Young
The winter months in the Florida Keys have always been my favorite time to spearfish. We get our best push of wahoo, African Pompano, Yellow Jacks, and all the other bluewater and wreck going fish in large numbers. I’ve seen hundreds of wahoo staged up together and what seems to be thousands of yellow jacks schooling with one another. These memories will never fade and always keep me longing for the winter/spring months of the Florida Keys. However so far this year, we have had some difficult diving conditions. There have been more cold fronts, rain, wind, you name it we are getting it. This all leaves the water dirty and difficult to dive, we have had to improvise daily and many of our spearfishing charters have become fishing trips. Each day I wake up feeling blessed to fish and dive in a place as special as the Florida Keys. Every weather condition is different and while it may not be good for one thing, it will fire off another fishery!
With the first few weeks of the new year bringing in dirty water conditions, we transferred our efforts to reef fishing. If the water is too dirty to dive, this is your opportunity to capitalize on some great reef fishing conditions. A friend once told me you now need a PHD in fishing to catch a full-size yellowtail snapper in the Florida Keys, I would agree they can be a smart fish at times. But with a little current, cloudy water, and good fluorocarbon leader, you are in for some great action. These conditions make it easier to catch the larger fish and we usually cap our bag limit at five fish per person, instead of ten. This also allows time in the day to focus on other fish and introduce some new species to out of town anglers.
If the seas are rough or the wind is blowing from the North, you need to be ready to catch kingfish. Hooking into a large kingfish on live bait is a fight you will never forget, and you can usually catch them right on the reef when you are yellowtail fishing at. As a diver, I can’t resist the urge to hop in the water after we have been Yellowtail fishing. You will be amazed at the amount of mackerel swimming underneath your boat, all shapes and sizes! Toss a live bait on wire for Kingfish anytime you are on the reef fishing. You can run the bait on kits, a balloon, cast it back, or just let it drift. Do the same on the wrecks and enjoy a great fighting fish that will add some great value to your fish box! When you’re flying kits for sailfish, do not be afraid to run a shot of wire. Sailfish might not like the wire, but it does open you up to catch kingfish, wahoo, and other pelagics with sharp teeth.
As winter progresses and spring approaches, we will focus more and more of our efforts on the wrecks. One part of wreck fishing in the cooler months I truly enjoy is not dealing with as many sharks. Hooking a mutton snapper off the bottom still needs to be brought up quickly, but you can relax a bit knowing that there is not an aggregate of sharks sitting below your boat. When wreck fishing in the winter, I always run a small shot of light wire. There are too many wahoo, kingfish, and other mackerel species running through to not try and take advantage. Last year, around this time, I cubed up a few bonita tunas and chummed up a wreck over a long drift. It did not take long until a pack of Wahoo found us. A nearby group of divers also swam over and got a few shots off at the school. Needless to say, putting in the work and being prepared will usually pay off.
Although we can’t always predict the weather, you can always take advantage of the shifting conditions. We hope to have a great spring of calm and clear water for diving, however if our current seasonal trends continue then we will enjoy the beautiful top side fishery we have in the Florida Keys. From sailfish, wahoo, kingfish, tuna, to yellowtail snapper; the Florida Keys never lets us down! Tight lines and safe diving!