Middle Keys Fishing

SS The Gazett group had a great day of snapper fishing with Capt. Wayne Burri and SeaSquared Charters.

By Capt. Chris Johnson

All venues have provided excellent fishing this winter, even with a surprise appearance by mahi offshore. We expect more of the same for March as our wintertime visitors begin heading north.

The sailfish are the exception. They will begin migrating to the west for their annual spawning run off Mexico.

These fish are hungry and, as they move down the reef line, they’re constantly on the lookout for food. They tend not to be overly particular about what they eat, so your best strategy for success is to carry a wide variety of baits. Goggle eyes, pilchards, ballyhoo and cigar minnows all make fine sailfish baits.

We tend to put a couple different baits out in our spread to see if the sails show a preference. If so, we switch all the baits to their favorite of the day.

The key to finding sailfish this time of year is not so much the depth of the water as the color of the water. You want to fish a blue edge, whether it’s a powder blue-to-blue or a green-to-blue. You want to be set up wherever that edge is and whatever color combo it may be.

Nice kingfish for the Doug Richards group.

In the same area as the sails, there are also plenty of blackfin tuna in the 10- to 20-pound class plus king mackerel and a more common occurrence of dolphin.

Moving inshore to the wrecks, March is typically very good for mutton snappers, kingfish and very large amberjacks.

The amberjacks are beginning their spawn this month, and it’s now that we catch some of the biggest ones that we catch all year. Fish in the 60- to 80-pound class are not unusual, with plenty of 20- to 40-pounders to wear you out.

Sam Williamson, from PA, caught a hefty mutton snapper.

The best baits to attract the attention of the AJs are bluerunners, grunts and large pilchards. Jigging also produces excellent results.

For the muttons and kings, live pinfish, pilchards or ballyhoo all work, fished down near the bottom.

On the reef, the yellowtail action picks up tempo at this point in the spring. With the warming waters, the fish become more active and need to feed more, which makes it a bit easier to coerce them into taking your bait. Using plenty of chum is important. SnapperUp or Mojo Oats will bring them in right behind your boat.

All you need for successful yellowtail catching are 15-lb fluoro leaders and small hooks, such as the Owner #4 Mutu Light hooks we use.

The reef edge will have good numbers of king and cero mackerel. And, of course, plenty of grouper that must be released as the season is closed until May 1.

The Gouveia group caught a big margate, among many other species.

In Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, there are loads of cobia, large king mackerel, Spanish mackerel and mangrove snappers.

Pinfish is the go-to bait for all but the kings, which love small bluerunners fished either under a balloon or, preferably, hanging from a kite. We use #7 wire, as these kings are quite large and can bite through smaller wire. For everything else in the bay and gulf, it’s all about pinfish on a jighead.

You’ll most likely catch some Goliath grouper. Be sure to release them quickly and unharmed as they are protected.

March is a good time of year to target sharks around the flats and banks. It’s primarily blacktips, spinners, bulls and a few hammerheads to start but, as we get toward the end of the month and the waters warm up, we begin to see more lemons.

Any kind of fresh dead bait or live bait works, such as jacks, bluerunners, ladyfish and the like. Be sure to use circle hooks. We always use Owner 9/0 SSW circles for fishing for all shark species, with #7 to #8 wire and 20-lb class tackle rounding out your setup.

Free fishing seminars

In partnership with the Hyatt Place/Faro Blanco Marina, we are hosting monthly fishing seminars. The topic for March is Yellowtailing 101, and the seminar takes place on March 5 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at Faro Blanco. 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 Facebook.com/MarathonFishing.

305-743-5305 | SeaSquaredCharters.com