By Capt. Nate Wheeler
Watching the news and seeing the New England states getting pounded by “noreasters” made me realize how great it is to be in the Florida Keys right now. Shoveling my vehicle out of multiple feet of snow just to go to work is just simply not a fun activity. Great time to put away the ice fishing gear and make a trip down to the Florida Keys!
It has been a great month of fishing. With the 20+kt winds I spent a lot of time inshore. Weather did not slow down a great bite. Permit have begun to show up on the flats in good numbers. Shallow water on the edges of deep channels with fast moving current is always the best place to look. Permit are incredibly weary, so if possible I prefer to stake out and wait. Positioning yourself so the sun, wind, and current are at your back will provide the best opportunity for success. Small live crabs on a sharp 2/0 hook attached with 20lb fluorocarbon should do the trick. A large live shrimp on a small jig head works too. If you do not have a shallow water skiff but still want catch a permit, try drifting a crab 4 feet under a cork and drift down the channel. Don’t be surprised if a tarpon jumps on your hook.
Even though we did not receive any snow in the Lower Keys, we have had some pretty fresh North winds, providing great sailfish action. Making drifts along the edges of the reef with live bait is the preferred method. On windy days, it’s very important to have large, hardy baits such as a bluerunner, goggle eye, or live mullet. Having an assortment of baits is always a good idea. Smaller baits don’t last very long while drifting, but are necessary to fit into the mouth of a small mahi, tuna, or whatever else may swim into your spread. Definitely keeping some wire leader close by is a good idea. You never know when a big kingfish or wahoo wants to swim by.
March is looking up to be a great month of fishing. The problem is figuring out what major gamefish to target. The best bet is always to just play the weather. Spring is on its way, so a lot depends on whether you have winter or summertime conditions. My theory is if the winds blowing out of the south go north. If the winds blowing out of the north, go south. This way you are always fishing on the leeward side of the islands, avoiding large choppy swells. Both sides provide great, yet opposite styles of fishing. Being flexible is the key.
Offshore begins to really heat up. Strong east winds will provide great color changes. Current rips along these color changes funnel schools of migrating fish. Following the birds will take you to the action. Strong east current with an east wind will provide “tailing” conditions for the sailfish. Sighting a school of fish and casting live bait in front of them should produce a bite. If trolling is your game, move just a little further out into the blue water and you should find decent size mahi mahi and nice wahoo moving through. Cobia always manage to find themselves in the mix.
Inshore fishing is looking real good right now. Of course I’m talking about tarpon. The big ones are moving in and should begin to appear in good numbers. The most effective method of capturing a silver king this time of year is definitely night fishing. The bridges over major channels should begin to hold nice concentrations of fish. Being persistent drifting pinfish and live mullet works quite well.
If edible fish is your fancy, there is no better time of year to catch large mangrove snapper in the shallow water. Most mangrove islands and creeks with deep edges will hold very nice fish. Placing a chum block out in a grassy channel with good current should produce nice fish. Ballyhoo will show up, and drifting large chunks of fresh “hoo” in the chum will entice nice fish. Good time to load the freezer with fresh bait.