It’s Time for Live Bait Fishing Offshore!

By: Capt. Bruce Andersen 

Winter is here and in the Florida Keys that means it’s time to fish some live baits just offshore of the reef. One of the great things about offshore fishing this time of year is that rather than head all the way out to the gulf stream to find top water pelagics like we do in the summer, most of these fish can be caught close to home, right outside the edge of the reef often in water ranging from 60 to 200 feet deep. When live bait fishing in the winter you can expect a wide variety of action. Sailfish, tuna, wahoo, king mackerel, dolphin, false albacore, and cobia can all be part of the catch. You never know just what you’ll run into when live bait fishing. One day you might get covered up by a pack of sailfish, another you’ll have large blackfin tuna exploding on live baits right behind the boat and another time you could even encounter a pack of wahoo or a school of dolphin.

The key to catching these offshore species this time of year is the bait. Whether you’re fishing these baits from kites or just slow trolling them, ballyhoo, pilchards, cigar minnows, sardines, threadfin herring, goggle eyes, or even larger baits like speedos will all do the trick. You can chum most of these baits up on the patches in Hawks channel just inside the edge of the reef and you can catch most of them with either a cast net or a sabiki rig.

Depending on the size of bait I’m fishing with I’ll usually use light wire circle hooks anywhere from a size 2/0 to a 6/0 on 30- or 40-pound fluorocarbon leaders. If there are any toothy critters around like king mackerel or wahoo you’ll want to switch out to some wire leaders. In that case, I’ll fish about 18 inches of #4 wire at the end of my rig usually with a #2 treble hook or possibly bigger depending on the bait.

There’s nothing like watching a sailfish chase a live ballyhoo down right behind the boat. It’s one of the most exciting sights I can think of when I think about offshore fishing in the keys and it never gets old. Get out there and soak some live baits this month and see what you can come up with. I’ll see you out there!

You can reach Captain Bruce Andersen at Capt. Easy Charters,
MM 85, call 305.360.2120 or email at: