The Shifting Weather

By: Capt. Tony Young

One of my favorite parts about fishing and diving in the Florida Keys is that we always have different fish to chase as the seasons change throughout the year. We all can agree that this year’s winter has brought some frustrating weather. Cooler than average temps, high winds, poor water clarity, and many times lack of live bait. But with all that being said, it has been a very fun year to predict which winter fish to target. As much as we can’t control what mother nature is going to throw at us, we can certainly adjust and take advantage of the fish that come along with her shifting mood. You all know that kingfish, wahoo, and sailfish are the most targeted winter species. I hope this article helps you predict which fish to target and when to target them.
Kingfish has become one of my favorite species to catch and finding a large one to shoot with a speargun seems to be more difficult to hunt than Wahoo. You rarely see divers holding up big kingfish in their photos and there is a reason for that. We’ve been having a blast catching big kingfish off the wrecks and reefs this winter. The cold days that you want to stay at home, getting house projects done, are the days you should be out targeting kingfish. Even if you want to go setup and yellowtail fish, always be prepared for some mackerel swimming through. When you are anchored up, fly a kite or cast back some live baits in your chum slick. These fish will be swimming though, and you will get bit, for me nothing is more fun than seeing that line peel off and listening to the reel scream. Rough seas and cold weather seem to really get a good kingfish bite going. Despite what people say, they taste great and, in my opinion, should be treated more as a table fish than just a smoker fish. Needless to say, smoked kingfish is phenomenal. I brine my fish for 12-48 hours, pack it with brown sugar, then smoke the fish with apple and cherry wood. We call it fish candy and it’s a crowd pleaser.
We all know wahoo migrate through in the winter months and luckily this year they have been fairly predictable. With all the changing temperatures, cold fronts, calm days, windy days, and cloudy days it is easy to look at the week’s forecast and see which day the Wahoo will be targetable. I have not focused as much on the moon phases this winter as normal, more its been about timing weather, this seems to be working for us. Live baiting, running planers, or trolling lures all to the job. It’s been a lot of fun running lures this year, the market is flooded with new designs, and it has been a blast figuring out which ones are performing best on certain conditions. We have also been running lures in between dive spots, this is a great way to maximize your time on the water in between dives! Still to this day, freediving for Wahoo is my greatest passion on the water. The time watching the ocean and waiting for a Wahoo is priceless. We have been blessed with some great fish and some beautiful encounters. Bluefin tuna, marlin, sailfish, you name it we have seen it. It’s truly remarkable watching the ocean and what lives within. One aspect of Wahoo spearing that cannot be stressed enough, is how important it is to wait for the right shot. Once you pull that trigger you are committed, waiting is so critical to secure a good shot and land the fish. I like to saltwater brine my wahoo for a day or two before fileting it up. The filets never touch freshwater and are patted dry before vacuum sealing. This will keep the meat sashimi grade all year long, our favorite dish by far is wahoo carpaccio.
There are thousands of articles on sailfish, they truly are a spectacular winter fish to chase. This year in particular we have seen a good number of sails while freediving, they are beautiful to watch swim in a natural motion, without a hook in their mouth. I’ll never forget the moment I watched a sailfish swim right to me, pushing ballyhoo. The bait showered right over my head as the sail whacked away at them, collecting his meal. It was a remarkable moment that has stuck with me ever since, the fish acted like I was not even there. Overall, it seems like more sails have been caught this year than the years past. Our local “Fish For Holly” sailfish tournament in January, brought in a record number of releases! Overall, it has been a great year for sailfish and winter species.
As spring approaches, enjoy your time chasing the winter species. Before we know it, summer will be here and it will be back to catching mahi and other summertime species. Pay close attention to the shifting weather patterns and make the most of your days on the water! Kingfish, wahoo, and sailfish are only here for a few more months. It is time to get after it, be respectful to other anglers, and dive safe!

— Capt. Tony Young can be reached at
Forever Young Spearfishing in Islamorada, FL at 305-680-8879