Holiday Fishing Lights Up

December and the beginning of the winter fishing season started out with mild weather and calm seas – a relief from the heavy winds of late November. While the wind was good for Sailfishing, it made for uncomfortable charter fishing trips. With the slacking winds, the Kingfish, Tuna, and Wahoo started biting, and the bottom fishing along the reefs and over the wrecks got a lot easier. Various Grouper species, along with Barracuda, Cobia, Permit, Mutton Snapper, and Yellowtail Snapper were all plentiful. The milder winds also made the Key West Flats more accessible to fly fisherman, and there were some good catches of Barracuda and Sea Trout being brought into the dock by the second week of the month. The shallow water Shark fishing was also hot.

There were still quite a few Mahi-Mahi being caught offshore in December. These are generally summer fish, but there was a lot of bait on the offshore reefs early in the month, and no strong cold fronts passing through, so the dolphin fishing stayed good through the first couple weeks of December. As the Ballyhoo and other bait fish swarmed to the reefs in search of warmer water, the Fish Key West Charter captains began reporting Sailfish being taken along the edge of the reef. The Kingfish and Blackfin Tuna also moved in from the deeper water for a baitfish feast, and continued biting well through the month.

The third week in the month saw Key West Fishermen still enjoying beautiful sunny weather with light southeast winds. The fishing was excellent off both the Atlantic and Gulf sides of Key West. The Atlantic offshore charter boats were getting Blackfin Tuna, Sailfish, and Wahoo on live bait, with Pilchards and Thread-fin Herring working well in about 120 to 220 feet of water. The bottom fishing was also good for some big Mutton Snapper. Out in the Gulf of Mexico anywhere from 8 to 20 miles, Kingfish from 20-40 pounds were being caught regularly on live Blue Runners and Herring, and anglers on one mid-December Coolwater charter reported boating a 43-pound Kingfish.

On another Coolwater trip, fishermen bagged limits of good-size Yellowtail Snapper and did battle with 3 Lemon Sharks in the 250-pound plus range. They finished the trip in deep water with two Amberjacks, 7 big Mutton Snappers, and a rare African Pompano that ran to 40 lbs. Needless to say, the end of the Mayan calendar on 12/21/12 passed with nothing more eventful than an incoming winter cold front that picked the winds up to 27 knots and pushed up 4-6 ft. seas. When the winds died a couple of days later, the fishing got hot again as is typical after a cold front passes through.

The month ended strong with some solid game fishing action logged by the Fish Key West Charter Captains. One Key West Fishing first-timer got out on Coolwater II for a half-day charter with the boat all to himself and immediately got into 2 big Mutton Snappers in 240 feet of water. He then boated 5 of 8 Blackfin Tuna hook-ups and headed home 45 minutes early with aching arms and a fine introduction to Key West Sport Fishing under his belt. Another notable trip report came from the Outcast on a Backcountry Sunset Shark Fishing trip. After fighting a couple of big Lemon Sharks, something big hit the bait. Ninety minutes later, the tired Shark fishermen brought a 350 lb. Bull Shark to the boat.

The Christmas season heralds the big winter tourist rush along the Keys, and the Schooner Wharf Bar lighted boat parade is a fun annual Key West December highlight enjoyed by large crowds of visitors and locals alike. For this year’s 22nd edition of this family-friendly event, vessels of all types, decorated and lighted in their holiday finest, motored in line around the historic Key West seaport and harbor area. Of course, many of the Fish Key West Captains deck out their boats in holiday style and join in the festivities. Captains and crews enjoyed a leisurely motor around the harbor, waving to the crowds and tossing candy and beads to the children on the dock. Meanwhile, thousands of spectators enjoyed watching the parade from shore after catching a performance of holiday music by The Steel Your Heart Band from Gerald Adams Elementary School, followed by more seasonal favorites from The Doerfels family singers.

Captains and crews spent a lot of creative energy putting together inventive themes and stringing thousands of lights and other seasonal decorations from bow to stern and masthead to keel of crafts ranging from ocean-going yachts to kayaks. Along with bragging rights, the sailors were going after more than $20,500 in prize money. First prize was taken by the Schooner Appledore II, with Captain Dylan Salzman going all out to turn the vessel’s twin masts into towering lighted palm trees.