Middle Keys Fishing – April

April starts the good times here in Marathon.  From trophy fish to loads of filets for the freezer, we enjoy a revitalization of many of our fisheries.

This typically is the peak of our sailfish run as the fish head west toward Mexico to spawn.  With multiple shots at cruising sails, double-digit catches are a distinct possibility.

We get some fairly hard easterly winds during April, which pull the sailfish to the surface of the water and they begin tailing, or surfing down the face of the waves with their tails nearly sticking out of the water.

Tailing sailfish are aggressive eaters and take just about any properly presented bait in their path.  Pilchards, ballyhoo and goggle eyes are the primary baits this time of year, but don’t overlook small, live mullet as these fish are quite hungry.

You may also find cobia and dolphin tailing as well.  Again, a live bait pitched right in front of their face will do the trick.

Once you locate the depth at which these fish are cruising, there’s no need to go any further, as you will encounter fish after fish as they continue to push to the west. Our sailfish setup consists of a Star Stellar Boat Rod with a Penn Slammer III 7500 spooled with Berkley Big Game 20lb test, Seaguar Blue Label 30-40lb fluoro leader and an Owner 5/0 or 6/0 Circle Hook.

Offshore, we should have plenty of blackfin tuna at the humps and, as the month progresses, increasing numbers of dolphin (mahi mahi).  Trolling, live baits and jigging all work well for the tuna and dolphin.

The Atlantic wrecks, including the Seven Mile Bridge rubble and the Thunderbolt, will see the annual congregation of permit during April.  Fish up to 30 pounds and more will be anxious to gobble up your crab offerings.  Most of the time, they can be seen from the surface shining in the sunlight.

These same wrecks hold some of the largest amberjack we see all year.  We even get the AJ’s up on the reef edge as shallow as 50 feet during April.  They can be a real nuisance when they eat your yellowtails.

On the reef, the mutton and yellowtail snapper begin to chew in earnest in preparation for their upcoming spawn in May and June.  And, large mangrove snapper – fish over three and four pounds – arrive on the reef in ever increasing numbers to spice the catches.

Our typical yellowtail setup is a Star Rods Stellar Lite (12lb or 15lb) with a Penn Slammer III 5500 spooled with Berkley Big Game 12lb test.  For leader, we use Seaguar Blue Label 15lb with an Owner #4 Mutu Light hook.

Copious amounts of chum are essential to get and keep the yellowtails’ attention.  For best results, use a slop mixture of a couple pounds of oats and YellowtailUp from Aquatic Nutrition in combination with your frozen block chum.  And, the best baits are shrimp or small pieces of ballyhoo, silversides or glass minnows.

Mark your calendar as we’re now less than a month away from the opening of grouper season on May 1.  If it’s anything like past years, the grouper will be off the chain and on the hook.

As the daytime temperatures increase, be sure to have your YETI well-iced so as to maintain these high-quality fish at their prime until you get back to the dock to clean and prepare them for freezing.

The annual tarpon run at the bridges begins this month as well.  Schools of the silver king thicken from Long Key Bridge, through Seven Mile Bridge and on to Bahia Honda Bridge.  We count on this bite to become consistent around tax time when the water temps get into the high-70’s.  Baits vary depending on which bridge you’re fishing, but live mullet and live crabs produce best.

For tarpon, we use the same Star rods and Penn reels as we do for sailfish, but we up the Seaguar to 50lb with an Owner 6/0 Circle Hook.

Each year, anglers from around the globe swarm to Marathon to get in on this exciting catch-and-release fishery, and there are multiple tournaments to join if you’re so inclined.

Along with the tarpon, there are loads of sharks.  SeaSquared’s shallow-water shark fishing comes into its own in April.  Big bulls and hammerheads plus the usual assortment of blacktip, spinners and lemons typically take our baits this time of year.  So when your tarpon bite slows, hook up with big, toothy critters and they’ll keep you in action all day.

Elsewhere in the Bay and Gulf, expect to find cobia, loads of permit and large mangrove snapper on the wrecks and hard bottom areas anywhere from 15 to 50 miles out.

Capt. Chris Johnson specializes in offshore, reef/wreck, gulf/bay, sailfish, shark and tarpon fishing with SeaSquared Charters, docked at Faro Blanco Resort and Yacht Club in Marathon.

Capt. Chris Johnson

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