Key West Fishing

By Capt. Mike Weinhofer

December is a special month here in Key West for fishing. It is the beginning of the winter fishery with each cold front the fishing gets better and better. Cold fronts here are normally a three to four day event with the wind swinging to the northeast and the temperature dropping. It concentrates the bait on top of the reef and predators come to feed. The ballyhoo drift off the south side of the reef on the north wind and the sailfish are waiting for the easy meal. Often you will see the Sailfish racing up in to 10 to 20 feet of water to ball the ballyhoo and eat as many as they can before they race back off the reef. The sailfish won’t spend much time up on top because they are terrified of barracudas.

The sailfish is not the only threat for the ballyhoo, the cero mackerel are also sky rocking ballyhoo eating them as they land. It is an awesome sight to watch the mackerel jump into the schools of ballyhoo. You are best to fish them with a very light short trace of wire or sometimes just a long shank j-hook. While on top of the reef don’t forget the mutton snapper and yellowtail. The mutton love a live ballyhoo on a jig head dropped to the bottom just sitting there. You will also catch the occasional grouper as well. On the outside edge of the reef the King mackerel will show up, they are a lot of fun a light tackle some weight up to 40 lbs. The reef comes alive as the winter waters cool. But so does the offshore waters with sailfish, tuna and dolphin. Yes I said dolphin, in-between the cold fronts often we will get three or four days of southeast wind and the dolphin will chew.

In the back country as the water cools the fish will look for warm pockets of water. Whether that is dropping off the flats in the warmer deeper water or coming up onto the flats as the sunny day warms the shallow flats, water temperature is everything. The tarpon will be the first to disappear out of the flats as the water cools but the permit and bonefish will be more tolerant. But as the water cools the barracuda jacks and trout will move in.

In the gulf the Spanish mackerel will fill the near shore gulf edge. The sharks will settle back in on the wrecks. Whether you’re looking for bull sharks, hammerheads, black tips lemons or other sharks they are all hanging around the wrecks waiting to feed. Quite often where you find the sharks you will find large numbers of cobia. Be ready with a live pinfish or grunt for cobia often they come up quickly and disappear just as fast. If you don’t have the live bait it is always a good idea to have a storm swimming shad on a rod. The swimming artificial will give you loads of time to tease the cobia till he eats.

It is a transition time of year. The water is cooling but watch your winds they will dictate what type of fishing you should be doing. Don’t run north on a north wind and don’t run way south on a north wind. An old timer told me that years ago and he was very right. Thanks Eddie

Well get out and go fishing just being on the water is a blast.

Capt Mike Weinhofer

Compass Rose Charters, 305-395-3474