Big Winter Kingfish on the Run

The early days of January saw some mild winter weather that had resident adult Tarpon laying up in the basins and channels on the Key West Flats. A few lucky fishermen with the necessary timing and skill got the unusual privilege of fighting Tarpon in January. There were also numerous Permit making an appearance on the Backcountry Flats, along with some big Barracuda. The Barracuda hunt the Flats during the winter months, and they provide some hot fishing with high-speed runs and big jumps. When the baitfish seek out the warmer waters of the Flats during the winter, the Barracuda follow and provide great targets for some fun sight fishing. One of the most common baits for Barracuda is a simple piece of brightly-colored surgical tubing threaded over a piece of wire leader with two hooks on it. All it takes it an accurate cast and a high-speed retrieve and you can be into some of the most exciting Key West Flats Fishing there is. Sight-fishing Barracuda is a good way for new Flats Fishermen to hone their casting skills while having a great time.

The Crevalle Jack is another winter fun fish. There were some massive schools inshore this month churning the top-water as they blasted baitfish along the edge of the Flats. When a big school of Jacks is in a feeding frenzy, they will hit top-water lures so aggressively that multiple fish are sometimes caught on the same lure. The Sharks were also hitting well this January, with Black Tip Reef Sharks and Spinner Sharks of nearly 100 lbs. being brought to boatside. Out on the open waters of the Atlantic, the light winds and low temperatures of the first week of the month made for some great fishing, and Captain Chris Garcia on Coolwater II reported a lot of action with Cero Mackerel on light tackle. These good-eating fish were being taken on jigs and plugs as well as live bait.

In the later part of the month, offshore fishing was still producing good action on Blackfin Tuna, Wahoo, and plenty of Kingfish. Captain Damon Santelli on Coolwater got one of his regular customers onto 16 Blackfin Tunas and a 35 lb. Wahoo. The Bottom Fishing was good as well, and anglers were able to take home some big Mutton Snapper, along with Yellowtail Snapper, Amberjack, and Bonito. There were a few Groupers being caught, but these had to be released as they are currently out of season. On another fun trip on Coolwater, Captain Bill Wallace was showing MLB player Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels around one the Gulf Wrecks about 25 miles off Key West. After baiting up with a big Cero Mackerel and dropping it to the bottom, Trout connected with a 500+ lb. Goliath Grouper for a 40-minute battle and one of the most amazing catches of his life.

As January winds down, the closest thing there is to winter in the Keys comes in. The winds pick up from the north-northeast and bring in cooler, drier air. As temperatures drop, the baitfish head south toward warmer waters and congregate around the reef. The schools of game fish follow, and Crevalle Jacks, Kingfish, and Cero Mackerel join their prey on the reef and feed actively. Cobia, Grouper, Mutton Snapper and Yellowtail Snapper also come in from the cold deep water to the warmer shallows, where the reef offers protection from the stronger currents and wave action of winter.

A highlight of Key West winter fishing is the arrival of migrating King Mackerel, or Kingfish, to the local waters. These are big, fast open-water game fish that pack a lot of sport fishing excitement along with them. This January, the 17th annual Key West Harbor King Mackerel Tournament was the first competition stop on the Southern Kingfish Association Professional Kingfish Tour. With 8 tournaments scheduled for 2013, this is the largest competition tour in saltwater game fishing. The Key West event ran from January 25th – 27th, and 59 boats and their angler teams were in town and on the hunt for big Kingfish.

On the first day of the competition, 6 fish were weighed in at 50 lbs. or more, and by the end of the second day, that number had climbed to 8. Big, hard-fighting fish like this test an angler’s mettle, and the first prize in the Open Class division was a fitting reward for the team that proved up to the challenge – an 18′ Wellcraft Boat package featuring an Evinrude Outboard and a Continental Trailer. First place in the Open Class was claimed by North Carolina Team Unreel anglers Steve Squires and Lynwood Riggs, who weighed in a 56.44 pound Kingfish. The Small Boat 1st prize of $2500 was taken by Sammy R. Papia and Steve Papia on Bada Bing with a 43.62 pound fish.

January was really good for fishermen who like to catch a variety of different species in large numbers. Even the shorter half-day trips were generating some big catches and a lot of satisfied anglers. It is looking like February will be more of the same, so contact Fish Key West Charters now to reserve your piece of the action.