Middle Keys Fishing

The large Evans group fished on three of the SeaSquared boats. They caught snappers, Jacks, bluefish, ladyfish and sharks bayside.

by Capt. Chris Johnson

Santa listened and brought us multiple cold fronts during December.

These drops in water temperature push the migratory pelagic fish down to our neck of the woods. Coupled with the influx of copious amounts of bait fish, we have the ideal environment for stellar wintertime fishing.

This time of year, sailfish reign supreme on the reef edge in 100 to 180 feet of water. They’re feasting on the abundance of baitfish – pilchards, ballyhoo, sardines, cigar minnows and goggle eyes – present for the taking.

All variety of techniques are successful for sailfishing but, by far, live-baiting with a kite is your top producer. We use 40-pound leader with 4/0 or 5/0 Owner Inline Circle hooks to handle the larger baits required.

Mixed in with the sails are plenty of nice size blackfin tuna in the 10- to 20-pound category.

Bob wanted his grandsons to have a good first fishing experience so Capt. Jason stuck to the bridge and they brought back a nice mixed bag on the SeaSquared.

The tuna tend to prefer smaller baits on a lighter leader than typically used for the sailfish. We use live pilchards fished on 25- or 30-pound leader with 3/0 Owner Inline Circle hooks.

You may also encounter dolphin (mahi), wahoo, king mackerel and even cobia all in the same zone along the reef edge.

Between cold fronts and when the weather is conducive, we catch yellowtail snappers on the reef proper. Most of the time, they’re found in the shallower regions of 30 to 50 feet.

Six-year-old Jackson had a great time helping his dad, Jeff Rabe, reel in some nice blackfin tuna with Capt. Alex and Steve on SeaSquared.

However, certainly the most consistent action during January occurs in Hawk Channel.

This area is loaded with snappers of all kinds – muttons, yellowtails, mangroves, lanes – as well as porgies (a great substitute for hogfish) plus king, cero and Spanish mackerel. All these fun-fighting, good-eating fish bite aggressively in the wintertime.

Fresh shrimp or small pilchards fished on a jighead is the key to success here. All the mackerel respond well to chumming with live bait. Throw a scoop full of pilchards out in your chum slick and then one pilchard with a hook in it and hang on. Don’t forget to include a small trace of wire to prevent bite-offs.

You’re also likely to catch groupers and hogfish, which must be released immediately, as the season for each is closed. At least you can say you caught one!

SS Mark landed a nice sailfish with SeaSquared Charters and Capt. Alex and Steve.

Another excellent venue this time of year is the Seven Mile Bridge.

Here too, small live pilchards or shrimp fished on a jighead around the pilings at the old bridge should produce lots of snappers and yellowjacks for dinner.

Florida Bay still holds mangroves around the banks and nearshore wrecks plus loads of Spanish mackerel to fill your smoker. Those shrimp or small live pilchards on a jighead work here as well.

Free fishing seminars: In partnership with the Hyatt Place/Faro Blanco Marina and The Tackle Box, we are hosting monthly fishing seminars once again this year. The topic for January is Backcountry and Bay, with special guest appearances by Capt. George Clark Jr. and Capt. Lain Goodwin from Fishguyz TV. The seminar takes place on January 8th from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the Hyatt Place. Check our Facebook page for the complete schedule.

Capt. Chris Johnson specializes in offshore, reef/wreck, gulf/bay, saifish, shark, tarpon and lobster fishing with SeaSquared Charters. For daily fishing reports with pictures, please click over to http://Facebook.com/MarathonFishing.

305-743-5305 | SeaSquaredCharters.com