Yellow Jack

Yellow Jack is a common fish on the Atlantic side of the Florida Keys and Key West.  They often run in schools and can grow over 20#. They can be caught all over the reef in all different sizes.

Finicky Eaters

They put up a great fight on light tackle and can be a blast to catch. However, they are strangely finicky and often will look at baits without eating them. Sometimes when chumming for yellow tail they will swim around in the chum slick but will not bite.

When they are in the mood to eat though, they can be very aggressive and smash large live baits and artificials like poppers. Sometimes they eat baits drifted back for yellow tails but can be difficult to land on too light tackle.

They are often found on wrecks on the Atlantic side and large reef structures.

Certain times of the year they will run around in large schools on the inshore patch reefs terrorizing the small fish that live there.

Great to Eat!

Unlike Jack Crevelles and amber jack, Yellow Jacks are great to eat with little preparation. They can be fried, blackened and cooked any way you would cook any other white fish.

They are delicious smoked as well, and make great sashmi and ceviche.

Barracuda Fishing

Barracuda are very common in the Florida Keys and Key West. They are a long thin kind of fish, similar to pike or pickerel.

Aggressive

They have rows of huge teeth can be very aggressive, attacking fish almost the same size as them. They make a habit out of stealing fish from anglers on popular fishing spots and can be a full blown nuisance when targeting other fish.

Their razor sharp teeth can actually cut most smaller fish in half in the blink of the eye. Some places you will have to horse your fish to the boat and get them out of the water as quick as you can to keep them from being cut in half.

Good to Eat

They are actually very good to eat and are very popular with local Cubans as a food fish. They have a bad reputation for having ciguatera and very few non-Cubans eat them. There is actually are not much more of a ciguatera risk than with any large reef fish, but the stigma remains.

key-west-barracuda-fishing

They are Everywhere!

Barracuda live pretty much everywhere based on the water temperature. They will live inshore under docks and in canals, in the back country around mangrove islands, on the flats, and almost any large reef structure will hold at least a few of them. They also absolutely love any large wreck or artificial reef.  It is common to see people trolling over wrecks like the Vandenburg in Key West, trying to catch cudas.

They can be Targeted Many Ways

Popular ways to fish for barracuda on purpose is trolling and sight fishing them on the flats. They tend to be a favorite of fisherman that aren’t catching anything else. They can be a day-saver when nothing else is biting.

If you are using live bait sometimes you will be catching a lot of cudas you don’t want to be catching.

They also make impressive mounts and it is common to have them mounted.

Mangrove snapper

Mangrove snappers are the “every man’s fish”- from your roadside fishing spot to the big commercial boats, you can find mangroves being hauled in for good eating all over Florida. 

Mangrove snapper are also known as grey snapper and they are very common in the Florida Keys.

They don’t grow as large as the cubera or Mutton snapper and are not considered as good eating as the Mutton or yellowtail.  They are popular to eat and the smaller ones are considered better to eat than the large fish.

They are strong fighting fish for their size and can be a blast to catch on light tackle.

They like to bite, so be careful taking the hook out of their mouth – they will try to get you!

They are everywhere!

Mangroves can be found pretty much everywhere, from inshore around mangroves to out near the edge of the reef. They are very common on inshore patch reefs and also are very common on any structure on the gulf side.

They can be casted to around the nooks and crannies of mangrove islands and channels or you can get them balled up behind the boat in a chum slick.

It’s common to use cut bait on a small lead head jig to target them.

Huge schools in the Spring

In the Spring and early Summer they will travel to the reef from theGgulf and form large spawning aggregations. They can be very easy to catch this time of year and they can sometimes be caught as fast as you can put the bait in the water.

The small ones tend to eat first though, so if you are trying to get bigger fish this can be a problem.

Pro Tip: Sometimes using bigger pinfish for bait will keep the small ones away and let you catch the bigger ones.

They will eat a variety of baits

Mangroves will eat just about anything when in the mood. Live and dead fish, shrimp etc. The larger ones can be pretty line-shy though, and in areas where there is a lot of fishing pressure, they can be hard to get to take a bait.

Hope you’ve enjoyed these Mangrove snapper fishing tips- happy fishing!

Wahoo – Key West Wahoo fishing

Wahoo can be found all over the world in the warmer oceans. They are a prized fish to catch because of their strength and speed, but also their delicious meat is a sought after meal.

About Wahoo

Wahoo are characterized by an elongated body, with blue coloring on their back and a silvery color on their sides. They have pronounced bright blue stripes running vertically along their sides as well. They are beautiful and bright when alive, but quickly become gray when they die. Another prominent characteristic of wahoo is their razor sharp teeth. They very closely resemble a mackerel, but a small flap of skin that covers its’ closed mouth is a noticeable difference.  Wahoo can grow up to 8 feet in length and weigh upwards of 100 pounds.

Wahoo are solitary fish for the most part, but can be seen with one or two other fish at a time. On certain occasions where the fishing is good they can be seen in giant schools, but this is rare. They stay relatively close to shore and feed on smaller fish and squid. Interestingly enough, most wahoo carry a giant stomach worm that lives inside them, but seems to cause no harm to them or their meat.

iStock_000001605887XSmallBait and Tackle for Wahoo

The best time of year to fish for wahoo is in the winter months. They prefer temperate waters and migrate accordingly. Deep, clear water with a good current is typically where you can find them. Deep wrecks, under debri in the open ocean and the deep edge of the reef are also places where a fisherman might get lucky.

To attract this beasts big, bright lures are the best bet. Wahoo tend to favor certain colors including red and black or purple and black combinations. Lures with large skirts and teasers also attract attention.

Trolling, fast and slow, is how most wahoo are caught. Wahoo are among the fastest fish in the ocean which is why trolling fast won’t make a wahoo think twice. One of the best techniques is to have multiple lines at different depths and distances from the boat out in the water at the same time, thus covering multiple angles. Normal offshore trolling rigs can be used for wahoo. A 100 pound braided line is favorable and a wire leader is a must!

Yellowtail Snapper – Key West Yellowtail fishing

Yellowtail snapper, larger ones commonly known as “flags” to fisherman, are found in the warmer waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and in the Caribbean. The larger ones are strong fighters and they make a great meal.

About Yellowtail Snapper

Yellowtail are reef fish; they live around structure of reef or wreck. They are characterized by a yellow stripe that runs the length of their body and a forked yellow tail, hence the name. They do not grow to be very big. The average size caught is 14 inches, although they can be caught larger, it is rare. They are typically between one and three pounds.

Yellowtail are typically found in 20-200 feet of water though they are usually caught on the shallower side of that range. They feed on smaller fish, shrimp and crabs found on the reef. They live in schools and can be found in large numbers.

key-west-fishing-0030Bait and Tackle for Yellowtail Snapper

Yellowtail can be fished for year round. Chumming for yellowtail is advisable as it will keep them hanging around the boat. Chum in a mesh bag hanging from the boat is preferable as it will soak and create a chum slick; if there is some current that is even better to get the slick drifting behind the boat. Yellowtail are weary of big hooks and bait, light tackle is prefered so the fish can’t see the hook or line. Line under 12 pound test is prefered. Dirty water also helps so that the chum slick may be hidden. If these fish feel something is up, they won’t bite.

Fishing at anchor, drifting and sometimes trolling are good methods for yellowtail. Live shrimp is the preferred bait although frozen bait will work as well. Squid, smaller bait fish and minnows also make good bait. Be careful with these guys as they are notorious for tangling and cutting line on the sharp edges of the reef.

Mahi Mahi – Key West Mahi Fishing

Mahi-Mahi, also known as dorado or dolphin are found in warmer tropical waters. They are great fish to eat and are a popular fish for sport fishing because their beauty and abundance. They are sought after in tropical waters all over the world.

About Mahi Mahi

Mahi have very thin bodies with a dorsal fin stretching from head to tail. They have golden-yellow sides and bright blues and greens along their back and sides. They are known for their amazing colors which change rapidly and then quickly fade upon death. Their pectoral fins are a bright blue. They usually only live five years and are typically under 30 pounds. Males have a more prominent forehead and are generally larger than the females.

Mahi live in the open ocean near the surface; they are commonly found around debri,  seaweed and sargassum patches floating in the open ocean. The young especially feed on small fish, shrimp and crabs found living in the sargassum while full grown mahi prey on other larger fish hanging around floating masses. Mahi also feed on flying fish, mackerel, squid and baitfish.  Mahi can be found in such large numbers because they spawn year round each time producing upwards of 80,000 eggs.

IMG_0789Bait and Tackle for Mahi

Although mahi can be caught year round, the best time of year to fish for them is spring and summer (April through August). The best way to spot mahi is to look for floating debri in the water or birds, particularly frigate birds, in the sky: where there are birds there are fish.

Trolling in about 100-150 feet of water is the prefered method for mahi. For bait, fishermen use rigged ballyhoo and then chum when a school is encountered to get the school to hang around and eat. Then fishermen cast into the school in hopes of hooking one. Other trolling lures with teasers and skirts will work too. Medium weight tackle will work fine for mahi. Lines with a 30 to 50 pound test are advisable, though line with a higher test is better for bigger mahi. When a mahi is hooked it doesn’t dive down, rather it puts up an aerobatic surface fight making it a fun fish to catch.

Sailfish- Key West Sailfishing

Sailfish are an extremely sought after gamefish in the warmer waters of the ocean. This incredible species not only puts up a good fight, but is also a beautiful fish to catch.

About

Sailfish are characterized by a long body with an erect dorsal fin running the length of its’ body. They also have an elongated bill thus putting them in the billfish category. Typically 7-10 feet in length and weighing upwards of 150 pounds, this fish can swim up to speeds of 70 miles per hour. Sailfish are predominately blue and gray in color, but can be seen with flashes of yellow, bright blue and silver when excited or scared.

Sailfish live offshore in deeper waters although they are typically found near the surface. They feed on smaller pelagic fish and schools of smaller fish like sardines and anchovies. They hunt with other sailfish and use their sails to corral the fish for an easier meal. They also eat squid and octopus.

coolwater pics 003

Bait and Tackle

The best time of year for sailfish fishing is the winter months: December through March. Sailfish prefer clear water with a good current. They hang out on the edge of the blue water line where the blue water meets the reef. A full moon makes for good sailfish fishing.

Live bait is popular in the Florida waters. Typical bait includes pilchards, goggle eyes, blue runners, herring and pinfish. If not using live bait, pieces of bonito, ballyhoo or other small fish can be used as well. It is important the bait is lively; its’ panicky movements are what will attract a hungry sailfish. If bait is not possible some fishermen use good size lures with teasers to catch these big beasts. Trolling is the prefered method for sailfish: the edge of the blue water where reef meets open ocean and deep wreck trolling can provide a catch. Slow trolling is favorable.

Sailfish put up a solid fight with explosive jumps breaching the surface and incredible speed. That being said, a strong rig is needed to land the fish; lines with at least a 30 pound test need to be used on trolling rigs or spinning rigs. Kite fishing and flatline drifting are also common techniques for sailfish.