The Key West Fishing Charters Report: Cold Snappers

With the serious freeze on in the northeast and midwest, we may very well have hit our own lows for the winter here in the Keys last week. The barometric pressure bottomed out on Tuesday and by the next day the temperature was down almost 10 degrees and falling with the wind cranking out of the northeast and gusting to the 30 mph range. A morning low of 48 on Friday notched up the coldest day of the year and it was still pretty windy offshore. However, unlike the poor folks up north, we only have to handle the cold for about 3-4 days before things get back up into the more reasonable mid-70s range.

But even though we don’t have to deal with treacherous roads and frozen pipes down here, there are still some consequences for Key West fishing charters. For one thing, the drop in water temps from their formerly unseasonable 77 degrees to 5 or 6 degrees lower put a damper on what was looking like an early start to Tarpon season. Offshore, the Mahi bite is off until south winds kick back in, and the Snappers are not eating as well either. On the upside, the number of anglers hooking Black Grouper has been on the rise. It is catch and release only because Grouper are out of season until May, but the fight is what it is all about and you can believe that a 30 lb. Black will give any angler a run for their money.

Fish Key West Charters

Sailfishing has also been a pretty steady offshore game, with wind and current creating some definite color change lines between the inshore dirty water and the blue offshore Gulf Stream waters. The fish use the color change zone to hide and ambush hunt schools of ballyhoo and other bait, and you can usually get a hookup by casting bait or kite fishing along the color change. The calm days leading up to a cold front are prime time to go out sight-casting to packs of hunting Sailfish.

Other offshore fishing charters options for the cooler temps include Blackfin Tuna and King Mackerel. Blackfin running up to 30 lbs. can be found over wrecks and other bottom structure when the temperature and wind is right and a good batch of live bait chum will bring the school in and get them eating. The Kings are migratory, heading north as waters warm in the spring, and this time of year both the Atlantic and Gulf populations mingle together as they winter in the warm waters off Key West. These fast, high-jumping fish will be around in good numbers until mid-March or so depending on the weather. Back on the last weekend in January, the 19th running of the Southern Kingfish Association spring kick-off tournament out of Stock Island Marina on Key West produced a 78 pound King, a 67-pounder, and several in the 50-pound range, so it is clear that there are some big fish out there.

When it is breezy and choppy offshore, the Backcountry is the place to seek shelter because the many scattered mangrove islands make great windbreaks. Backcountry fishing charters has been running hot all winter, and the cold snap will add more Cobia and Bluefish to the mix, along with all-you-can-eat Cero Mackerel and Snappers. This is also the time of year when the shallow water Flats come alive with big predators like the Great Barracuda and numerous species of Shark. The cold offshore waters drive baitfish to seek warmth in the shallows and hungry mouths are not far behind.

Many people do not think about Barracuda when they think Key West gamefish, but any Flats guide will tell you that these sharp-toothed silver torpedoes can bring the action on in a big way. Hunting Barracuda is a lot of fun because it often involves targeted casting along the edges of flats and the shorelines of mangrove islands – anywhere the current forces baitfish into the ambush zones used by Cudas and other gamefish. Barracuda have very sharp eye sight, and they will often follow a lure then turn away at the last instant. The secret is to keep cranking as fast as possible to override the fish’s desire to investigate and make it strike out of sheer hunting instinct. In the shallow water, it is often possible to see the devastating hit as a Cuda takes the bait. Then you have a big, fast fish on your line in 2-3 feet of water and the fight is seriously on. Barracuda are not considered to be good food fish because they may carry ciguatera toxin, a natural poison that accumulates in predators that feed on reef fish. Catch-and-release after a few pictures is the way it is done around Key West, and with pressure from commercial harvesting hitting this unregulated species hard lately, it is more important than ever to preserve the Barracuda as a gamefish resource.

Winter in Florida is also known as Shark season because when the water temps drop to the low 70s and the northeast winds blow, the Sharks migrate inshore. Lemon Sharks show up in large numbers to mate in January and February. Spinner Sharks, American Sharpnose, Bull Sharks, and Blacktips are all common. Shark fishermen also encounter big Hammerheads and even the occasional Tiger Shark. The deep channels off the edges of Flats hold plenty of Sharks, and the shallow water of the Backcountry makes it easy to watch as a hungry Shark grabs onto a big chunk of Mackerel, a Ladyfish or other large bait. Wreck fishing in the deeper waters offshore is the way to hook up with some real monsters. You never know what is going to be swimming around down there. Key West Shark fishing charters has really gained in popularity over the last few years. While these magnificent animals are still plentiful in local waters, catch and release is the way to go because the Shark population as a whole is under pressure worldwide from overfishing and loss of habitat.

The variety of fishing opportunities available in Key West waters at this time of year is truly incredible. Considering the type of weather that has been the norm in the northern states this winter, it would be a really good time to treat yourself to an early spring with some sunny 70-degree weather and legendary Key West fishing charters. Be sure to book early because with Tarpon season coming up in March, the charter boats fill up fast.