Upper Keys Fishing

by Capt. Dallas Hopper

With so many ballyhoo on the reef this time of year it’s important to “match the hatch”. We begin each morning by anchoring up on the shallow patch reefs chumming the waters and waiting for these baitfish to school up behind the boat in swarms. Catching these guys can be tricky, using a #12 hairhook tipped with small piece of shrimp under a bobber will usually do the trick. A couple throws with the cast net will top the well off, we go through A LOT of bait when the bite is on.

There has been quite a few sailfish showing up in the shallows along the edge of the reef chasing large schools of ballyhoo, so be prepared with multiple baits ready to cast as there are usually more the one fish in the area. Most of this action will take place on the edge in water from twenty to sixty feet. Mahi, cero mackerel and yellow jack will get in the mix as well. Keep an eye out for frigate birds hanging on the edge as they will point you to this full throttle action.

Grouper season closes on the first of the year, so make sure you get your fill of these delicious bottom fish. With the water temps in the mid seventies a lot grouper make there way into the shallow water for the winter, so there are so many ways to target them. From soaking whole live ballyhoo on the bottom to trolling for them. Trolling large lipped plugs over the patch reefs is an exciting way to find a couple for dinner, when they smash a lure there’s no doubt whether or not you have one on. You’ll find a mix of blacks, gags and reds on the reef.

The patch reefs are providing plenty of rod bending and cooler filling action this month. Aside from the grouper, there are plenty of mutton snapper, yellowtail snapper, mangrove snapper, lane snapper, yellow jack, cero mackerel. All of this action takes place from eight to forty feet of water. When the weather is too uncomfortable to venture further offshore finding patches well inside of the outer barrier reefs is a solid go to plan. With much of the best fishing is when the water is the murkiest.

There are a good number of wahoo making there way back to the dock, as well as some blackfin tuna and mahi. Trolling skirted ballyhoo at speeds of seven to twelve knots is the go to when targeting these speedsters. Hanging around depths anywhere from 120-300 feet of water will have you fishing in the middle of “wahoo country”. You want to cover as much water as possible so carving zig-zags up and down the edge will usually result in bites.

Hope everyone enjoys themselves over the holidays, we still have some days available. If you’re looking to get out on the water and catch some fish give us a call.

Capt. Dallas Hopper

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

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