‘Double header of dolphin caught by two lady anglers recently off of the Joker II. Layne Zeller and Emily Hughs had fun with the family while showing the boys how to catch dinner”
March Fishing Forecast
March will present anglers a variety of offshore fishing opportunities this month with the start of spring. From the beach to the gulfstream many different species can be caught as warmer weather finally becomes more consistent. Directly off the beach, bluefish will be the first to be found, followed by spanish mackerel and jack crevalle that pursue the bait pods north. Once the surface temperatures along the beach hit the 67-69 degree temperature range, the mackerels can be located south of the inlet past the last condos. Trolling small Clark spoons or feathers with 30-40’ of 20# mono leaders at 5-7 knots around the edges of bait pods can produce the most strikes. Use a bottom machine to find schools of bait from 20’ to 50’ if the diving birds are not aloft to mark the pods.
The northern migration of manta rays should become better during March, letting anglers enjoy incredible sight casting opportunities. In the same areas off the beach where the bait pods frequent, the rays will be found. Cobia will first be encountered near the bait pods before the beach migration of “host” manta rays appear. While searching for bait pods or rays, proceed slowly and be ready for the “free swimming” cobia that can appear without warning and disappear just as fast. Cast jigs tipped with shrimp, Hogey eel lures or live bait are all good choices when casting a medium weight spinning combo to a fish that may exceed 70 pounds. Remember to be courteous to other anglers fishing in close proximity and the run and gun approach usually misses fish that would have been spotted by going slow.
Further off the beach, trolling and bottom fishing offshore has been good on the intermediate reefs. The Party Grounds continue to provide steady action with king mackerels by trolling with planners and spoons. The larger macs can be caught on pogy or mullet strips in place of the spoon on the deeper rigs. Sinker plunking has been producing cobia, triggerfish, redeyes and sea bass in the reefs from 90’-110’ by anglers using small pieces of cut bait. Unfortunately the grouper and red snapper captured still have to be released so carefully use a venting tool while releasing these species.
The longer boat ride to the blue water will reward anglers trolling for pelagic near the gulfstream. Action kicked off to a great start last month with fat wahoo and nice sized blackfin tuna taken along the edge of the continental shelf NE of the inlet. SE off the inlet, temperature breaks and rips with weedlines will hold dolphin, billfish and wahoo from inshore of the continental shelf to the gulfstream itself. Dolphin strikes will become more frequent with “gaffers” in the 12-20# range and an occasional bigger fish being the caught. Trolling a mix of skirted and naked swimming ballyhoo along with a few bigger baits is the most effective way to draw a strike. If no visible signs of edges or weedlines appear that day, troll the known bottom structures like the ledge or steeples for strikes. If abundant flying fish are seen in an area, work that area for the predators which should not be far behind.
Capt. Jon Zeller
New Smyrna Beach Billfish Invitational