Beat the Polar Vortex – Break the Ice with Key West January Fishing

While everyone on the mainland freezes, Key West anglers have been breaking a serious sweat with hot Key West January Fishing going off in the Backcountry, the Gulf, and the Atlantic. The first days of the month were good out in the Gulf, with the wrecks and reefs producing Cobia, Kingfish, and Spanish Mackerel in about 30 to 40 feet of water on live Pilchards and Threadfins. Slack current conditions on the Atlantic side made the wrecks and deep reefs off that shore great spots to hit plenty of Amberjacks and some big Grouper, out of season now but fighting as hard as ever to stay off the boat. The Mutton Snapper are not, though, and many of those good-eating fish were seen on the docks.

The second week of January did bring on a big cold front, with heavy winds out of the northwest to signal the Key West “cold” season, and lows all the way down to 55 degrees. While the chilly winds can make for a bit of a sporty ride out on the reef, on the days boats could get out there, anglers found the Snapper bite going off, as Snappers like the cooler water, and big Yellowtails and Mutton Snapper alike were coming onboard at a good clip.

When the winds were too stiff to head offshore, the Backcountry was working well, offering a wide range of holes where a captain could tuck in to calm water, get a chum slick going, and bring the Snapper, Jacks, Mackerel, and Cobia running. Live bait is key in this setup, and a pilchard, pinfish, or shrimp on a small circle hook, with a quarter-ounce egg sinker rigged to slide freely, will get the bites going. Sea Trout were also hungry in the Backcountry basins. A good way to find them when there is a bit of a breeze is to drift while working the water with a small jig head and a Trigger X shrimp on a light spinning rod. Once you get some hits, circle back and cover the same area. When the winds were out of the northeast, savvy Key West captains were also working the patch reefs and ledges in the calm wind shadows of the Keys for steady production on the Mangrove, Yellowtail, and Mutton Snapper, along with some Cobia and Mackerel as well.

As the second full week of the month wound up, temperatures climbed back into the 80s and 70s, the current picked up out of the east, and the reef lit up with ballyhoo and Cero Mackerel on the move. A bit farther out to the southwest of Key West, the Gulf Stream is running in close to the drop off, and in anywhere from 100 to 300 feet of water the Blackfin Tuna and Wahoo bites were turning on for the big schools of Flying Fish brought in by the east bound current. A few boats were also finding a Mahi-Mahi or two responding to the warm water and Flying Fish feast. Trolling and live bait alike were working out in these deeper waters.

As usual for January, the Flats have been producing plenty of action on some classic game fish: Permit, Sharks, and Barracuda. If you have not done it before, it’s a great time to try your hand at a Barracuda on a fly rod, as these toothy beasts will gladly eat a fly as well as just about any other bait. The annual Key West CUDA BOWL tournament is just a few days away on January 31st and February 1st, with the Captains’ Meeting on the 30th at the Angling Company. Two days of great fishing with 5:30 p.m. daily weigh-ins at Hurricane Hole Marina, and just another perfectly good excuse for a post-vortex warm-up session in sunny Key West, Florida.