Middle Keys Fishing

Great day offshore for the Mead group, from Deltona FL, with Capt. Jason Bell on the SeaSquared. Ended up with 17 dolphin, including a 34lb bull.

By Capt. Chris Johnson

Our focus returns to the reef and wreck areas during July.

Love is in the water, as the yellowtail, mangrove and mutton snapper are all in their spawning mode for the next month or two. This causes them to be aggressive eaters.

The most consistent action tends to be the 30- to 60-foot depths plus the deeper wrecks. The yellowtails are in the 15- to 18-inch class, and the mangroves weigh anywhere from two pounds all the way up to eight to ten pounds.

Goliath grouper make for catch-and-release fun.

For the yellowtails and mangroves, large amounts of chum are required. This time of year, we begin using 25-pound blocks in chum nets with large holes, allowing large amounts of chum to escape, which holds their interest. Pair the frozen chum with a slop mixture of YellowtailUp and oats or chum balls made from ChumDrop, and you should have non-stop action.

To attract the yellowtails, we drift small cut baits, such as ballyhoo, silversides or shrimp, back in the slick with 15-pound fluoro leaders and small, light wire hooks.

Nice yellowtail haul for the Suarez family, from Miami, with Capt. Wayne Burri and SeaSquared.

The mangroves tend to hug the bottom more than the yellowtails. So, it’s imperative your baits are on or near the bottom to get bit by the largest mangs.

Chum balls with large chunks of ballyhoo or pinfish will get even the most finicky of the mangroves and muttons to eat. We like to use Owner 2/0 SSW hooks hidden inside the chum balls. We also use live pinfish or ballyhoo fished on a jighead when the fish are more aggressive.

This technique may also result in grouper hookups, so be prepared to use slightly heavier tackle than you would for yellowtails, specifically 15-pound main line and 20-pound fluorocarbon leaders.We’re still getting good-size mutton snappers on the wrecks. These fish average 12 to 15 pounds. You’ll need live pinfish or ballyhoo. Pilchards are ideal if you can get them.

Pretty mutton snapper for the Adan group, who fished with Capt. Wayne Burri and SeaSquared Charters.

If you decide to head offshore for dolphin (mahi) and tuna, your best bet is to leave the dock early in the day as the bite quite often shuts down by mid- to late-morning.

Mahi slam for the Jennings group, from Saint Petersburg, with Capt. Alex Bell and SeaSquared Charters.

We typically have plenty of dolphin during July, but they tend to be on the small side. So, be sure you have a quality measuring stick onboard and remember the legal size is 20 inches to the fork of the tail (not the tip).

There has been a lot of Sargasso in the area, so when you find a good-size grass mat, drive right up to it and throw chunks or put down live baits. You’ll know in short order if there are dolphin under the mat. If not, move on to the next one.

You can also break out your electric setup and drop for snowy grouper, tilefish and rosefish. This is especially productive in the middle of the day when the dolphin bite slows down.

The two-day Sport Lobster Season (known locally as lobster mini season) is July 24 and 25 this year. We encourage all to join us for great fun with tasty rewards.

At the same time, we ask you to exercise caution, as our waters will be congested with boats and snorkelers, and please adhere to the regulations specific to Monroe County.

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 Facebook.com/MarathonFishing.

305-743-5305 | SeaSquaredCharters.com

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