Upper Keys Fishing

by Capt. Dallas Hopper

Grouper season finally opens this month after what seemed like a long four months, with as many grouper that we’ve released during the closure were expecting the fishing to be good. There are so many ways to target grouper this month, from drifting the deep wrecks to trolling the shallow patches with lipped plugs. When drifting the deep wrecks our rig consists of a heavy duty three way swivel, 30 feet of 80-200lb monofilament and an 8/0-14/0 circle hook depending on the size of the bait. Live grunts, pinfish, bluerunner or speedos are the go to baits when targeting grouper. Make sure you have plenty of drag and hang on, these grouper will try anything to make it back to their house.

For trolling around the shallow patch reefs I like the Rapala magnum cd-18 in red/white or firetiger, be careful not to hang bottom with these lures as it can get a little pricey. We’ll use a 50 class setup for this fishing and for leader we use 20 feet of 100lb mono, look for the rocky bottom of patch reefs in 14-20 feet of water it seems like the perfect depth for the plugs.

The Mahi fishing will start to pick up this month, we’ll begin seeing large schools of fish migrating through offshore in depths of 200-1200 feet of water. On any given day you’ll have to cover a lot of water to find schools of Mahi, always be on the lookout for birds working, large pieces of debris, weed lines and even free swimming Mahi. It’s crucial to invest in a quality pair of binoculars, the difference can mean having a box full of fish or not.

Our typical trolling spread for Mahi consists of four rods, two rigged ballyhoo and two artificial lures. We’ll run the ballyhoos on 125lb monofilament leader rigged up with a blue/white, black/purple or a black/red Iland lures Iland express. Whenever we encounter schools of Mahi we’ll clear the trolling spread and make a switch over to spinning rods. Our spinning rods are spooled up with 20lb mono, topped with 6 feet of 60lb leader and finished with a 6/0 longshank mustad hook. Drifting squid, ballyhoo and bonita chunks into the schools of fish will give you plenty of bites. There’s still plenty of tuna and wahoo around as well, so if you’re getting cutoffs don’t be afraid to run some wire on lures for the wahoo, but it’s not uncommon to catch Mahi and tunas on the wire also.

The yellowtail bite is great in the 65-100 feet of water, but on the rocky bottom out a little deeper in the 115-150 foot range can be really productive. Fishing on the rocky bottom out a little deeper will produce a mix of fish, yellowtail, mutton, porgies and grouper are a few. Out here when the current is light you can catch yellowtail and mutton by sandballing, by balling up the oat, chum and sand mixture around cutbait and drifting it back into the chum slick. The more current you have the more sand you should add, the weight helps bring your bait down to the fish. Keep a rod rigged up for grouper down on the bottom all the chum and sandballs can really get them fired up. Give us a call if you want to get out there in the upper keys, good luck fishing this month

Capt. Dallas Hopper

Fantastic II Charters “guaranteed fish”
305-451-2890 • www.charterkeylargo.com