In my region, we get a lot of king and Spanish mackerel, although we don’t see the cero mackerel that the guys in South Florida and the Keys have. That being said, mackerel fishing is the staple of our region.
May through October is the best time of the year to target marlin in my region. That’s when the water in the Gulf Stream is warmest and the fish come to the top to feed.
We target the fish along weed lines, color changes and temperature breaks, as well as around the deep water structure like the canyons and oil rigs. The shallowest I’ve ever caught a marlin was in 350 feet of water, but the majority of fish we find in a lot deeper water. As a rule, I don’t like to fish for them in water less than 600 feet deep, and a lot of times I’m fishing in over 1,000 feet of water.
The majority of our amberjack are in more than 160 feet of water, with the 12 Fathom Ridge which runs from 180- to 250-feet holding the largest fish. You’ll find them along the reefs, ledges and wrecks in those areas. In that deep water our fish run in size from 25-90 pounds.
They’re pretty much here all year, but have become a staple of the winter charter fleet because they’re one of the few reef species that isn’t closed during the winter months.
Late summer is a great time to target spotted seatrout in my region because the mullet are starting to come out of the marshes in Georgia and South Carolina and migrate into Florida waters. When that happens, the seatrout really key in on the mullet run, and these fish are almost exclusively feeding on mullet.
Mangrove snapper are the staple of bottom fishermen in my region. You can catch them inshore and you can catch them offshore, with the larger fish coming from the offshore ledges and reefs.
Mangrove snapper are structure oriented fish—they really like to be around the gnarliest, rockiest, nastiest stuff they can hide in. That means everything from broken down seawalls to downed trees, reefs, wrecks, ledges, bridge pilings and docks. And the best of those areas have lots of current associated with them as well.
Kids are the future of the sport of fishing and in the long term the people who as adults will eventually be the ones to protect our outdoor environment for the future of others. Unfortunately, children don’t see the merit in fishing like those that have caught the bug and fished all their lives. Developing a passion for fishing takes time, experience, knowledge and a wealth of memories.
I call them the “slimy bones” because they’re very elusive right now in Islamorada. It’s interesting that Islamorada was once the premier destination in America to target bonefish, but those fish in the last few years have become very difficult to catch in Islamorada, while the bonefish action has gotten better in the Lower Keys.
One of the things you want to remember about bass fishing in Florida is that the fish are always going to be cover oriented, meaning that they will be associated with some form of cover, whether that’s peppergrass, mud tussocks, rock or shell bars or even bridges and culverts. Bass are ambush feeders that like to hold close to cover where they can get shade and safety while lashing out at any food that swims close by.
The two main grouper species we target in my region are red grouper and gag grouper. We’re very fortunate when it comes to grouper fishing, we’ve got fish in the inshore waters around the channels of St. Pete, and as shallow as 8 feet of water off Bayport. When it comes to gag grouper, the Bayport shallow water fishing is probably the best in the world.
There are even days when we see the grouper on the flats—I caught one the other day in two feet of water that was 32 inches long. We also see them around the docks and bridges, so you can actually target the fish from land.
In my region there are three main baitfish that we use a lot; threadfin herring, pilchards and pinfish. You can catch all of these baits yourself if you’re willing to put in a little time and maybe even sacrifice some sleep. The payoff is worth the effort, because they really do produce a lot of fish.