Try Some Key West Fishing Tackle in Winter

There is no question that the Keys cooled off fast this year, just like the upper 47. November kicked off with a sharp blast out of the north, and over the last two weeks, we have seen midweek cold fronts roll through like clockwork. When these waves of cold air drop down across the Keys, some dramatic weather gyrations take place. Within a 24-hour span, temperatures drop to the 60’s and hold there and the mild westerly winds that precede these fronts clock to the north-northeast at 15-20 mph, with gusts up to 30. On days like this, many boats don’t leave the dock, much less head out past the reef. But a little weather does not cool the Key West winter fishing tackle for long.

In the couple of days immediately before and after a front hits, constant changes in wind direction set up a confused mess of mixed-direction swell and chop that captains refer to as a sloppy sea. For most people, not good conditions to be miles out looking for fish. But once the front blows through, over the next few days the barometric pressure climbs back up, the wind gradually lays down, and the temperature heads back into the 70’s. When the wind comes back to east-southeast off the Florida Straits and the Caribbean, the offshore bite has been turning on in a big way this year. In the gaps between cold snaps there has been some great multi-species sportfishing action to be had by those ready to handle a bit of sporty water. The hits have been coming early and often on the offshore trips, and having multiple fish on at the same time is a common theme.

Mahi-mahi, Sailfish, lots of Wahoo, and tons of Blackfin Tuna have been caught and released, and many nice dinner catches have been brought into Charterboat Row. Captains report some lucky anglers scoring the Key West triple double – two Sailfish, two Mahi-Mahi, and two of any other pelagic species. Speaking of multiple hookups, the Blackfin bite has been real good in the late afternoons. Trolling lures or bait works, and with the fish gorging on all the Ballyhoo and other baitfish out there right now, the strikes are repetitive and nearly constant once a school has been located. Blackfin are strong, fast fish that give a great fight on light tackle; they are also excellent on the table grilled, broiled, seared, or as sashimi. With some Skipjack Tuna and a few Mahi-mahi mixed in to the fun, a daily sight the past few weeks has been tired but happy fishermen laying some nice catches out on the dock for the afternoon photos.

Up shallower on the reef, the baitfish are still thick and the feeding frenzy is going strong. Predators like Kingfish, Tuna, and Cero Mackerel slash though the bait schools, forcing the small fish to run for the surface and leap from the water in showers. Birds wheel and dive for their piece of the action while chopped and wounded baitfish create a natural chum shower, bringing the Yellowtail and Mutton Snapper, aggressive Groupers, Sharks, and other species in for the feast. Anglers willing to work the reef on a bit of a swell have been slaughtering big Yellowtail and Muttons, and doing very well on Cero and Grouper. The reef fishing has been especially good in the evenings after an afternoon rain shower brings the air and water temperatures into the perfect range to ignite the bite.

The Black Grouper bite in particular has been good this month. The water temps over the reef have been staying in the mid to high 70’s for the most part, and this seems to be keeping the Blacks around and feeding in good numbers. The Black Grouper is one of the most common of the Grouper species caught around Key West, and its normal high season is from May to August. This year, many November anglers are being rewarded with catches of this hard fighting favorite among the table fish species. Blacks have been pretty common in the 20-30 pound range lately, and some of our visiting anglers have been taken by surprise by this Grouper’s hard hit and run for its hole. On medium weight tackle, it is a fight that is often lost but never forgotten by the lucky fisherman.

November was a great month, and everyone has been more than thankful for the extreme fishing action that came in between relatively brief weather lay-ups. All signs are pointing to great Key West winter fishing tackle in the months to come, and there are plenty of good reasons to get down here for your dream fishing tackle trip. Don’t worry about the weather – the Backcountry has been outstanding as a retreat from the wind, and the Shark fishing has been solid out there. Everything else is biting in the Backcountry too, with the daily catch ranging from Cobia, Mackerel, and Redfish to Sea Trout, Pompano, Snook, and some nice messes of Mangrove Snapper for the freezer. The Backcountry fishing will only get better as the winter goes on, and if you have ever wanted to run out to the Marquesas Keys and experience the amazing fishing there, now is the time to do it. Drop the snow shovel and grab a fishing rod for some legendary Key West sport fishing with Fish Key West.