The Mutton Snapper, a fish under extreme scrutiny by both the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. Deemed to be a healthy stock, and not overfished, or undergoing any overfishing, new regulations have been placed upon Mutton Snapper in the state waters of Florida. These new regulations include raising the minimum size limit from 16 inches to 18 inches, reducing the bag limit from 10 fish per angler to 5 fish per angler (within the 10 snapper aggregate), and changing the commercial trip limit to 5 fish per person/ per day during the months of April, May, and June, with a 500 pound trip limit during the rest of the year.
Over the last 20 or so years these fish, and their massive spawning congregations to a handful of Florida Keys reefs, have been the target of many heated conversations. During the full moon, These spawning fish move into areas of the reef and become easy targets to fishermen from late April thru June. Earlier regulations allowed for a 10 fish per person bag limit, creating a stir when boats would show catches of 100’s of spawning fish going to freezers and fish houses everywhere. Many debates as to whether or not allow fishermen to catch these fish as they are spawning, or as to reducing the bag limits during the spawn have been at the front line, but the fire was stoked when these organizations along with the Florida Keys Sanctuary, began looking into closing areas of reef to protect these fish during their spawn. Measures were taken and a very popular reef south of the Dry Tortugas named Riley’s Hump was completely closed to fishing. Not just for Mutton Snapper, but for any and all species of sea life. Now, years later these powers have brought up ideas of closing even more sections of reef, one of them being Western Dry Rocks, a widely fished area southwest of Key West located in state waters. These ideas of closing more waters of the Keys have been met with extreme opposition from the majority of the fishing community, arguing that closing an area for a fish that spawns during three months out of the year shouldn’t be closed year round, and that more closures will inevitably create more pressure in other areas. Over the course of the last couple years, many public workshops have been held by these organizations to hear what the public has to say and comment about these regulation changes. During the FWC’s latest meeting in St. Augustine, actions to further special management of Western Dry Rocks were not taken.
This has been a slightly odd year to say the least. Whether its El Nino to blame or whatever, it has been strange nonetheless. More so than anything has been the lack of Mahi-Mahi this summer in Key West waters. Generally one of our most highly abundant species offshore of the Lower Keys during the summer months, these tasty gamefish have been very few and far between this year. Yes, granted we have had a few days where we have had a decent catch one day or two here and there, but nothing even close to the norm. This lack of Dolphin offshore, has pushed many Keys captains back inshore, where better action can be had.
“When the bluewater gets tough, the tough go to the reef!” The Outer Limits has had some great catches on the edge of the reef this summer, which has kept the rods bent and the clients very happy. Species such as Yellowtail Snapper, Mangrove Snapper, and Grouper have all been consistent visitors to our ice box. Along with these fish, others such as Cobia, Jacks, and Sharks have made appearances as well. Regardless of the weather, the reef has been quite consistent the last couple months, giving anglers fun fishing on light tackle.
With the autumn months approaching, and cooler temperatures ahead, the reef will be getting even more active, as more predatory fish move to shallower waters. Look forward to some great fishing in the near future!
As funny as it sounds catching a shark while trolling is actually quite uncommon. As much fishing as we do offshore, we very rarely catch sharks while on the troll, and when we do most of the time it happens to be a Silky Shark no more than about 10 to 15 pounds. However, every once in a great while we happen to tie into a few big sharks trolling natural baits. Only a few of these times in my 15 years of fishing out of Key West have I hooked a Mako Shark.
Over the last few months, my deckhand Cory has been turning teasers out on his wood lathe, and we have been testing them out extensively onboard the Outer Limits. He also has been turning a few topwater poppers as well. By painting them and then adding resin he has made some that really catch some nice fish.
The weather was calm 20 miles offshore, with a sky pretty much overcast all day. The Dolphin fishing has been a little slow lately, but that hasn’t deterred our clients from wanting to go give it a shot anyway. Our Texas crew was eager and ready to see what the Ocean had in store for us, which we found out was going to be unexpected. Mid morning, and still having not had a bite yet, we were visited by a very energetic Mako. First it came up on one of Cory’s bowling pin teasers, as quick as I could I tried to wind it away before the shark was able to bite it and possibly cut it off. While I wound the teaser up, Cory took a few cranks on the popper that was being trolled a few yards behind the teaser, and the 200 pound shark took no time in deciding to crush the lure. In seconds Tommy was in the chair and the long battle ensued. Thirty minutes transpired and the toothy creature was to the leader, but nowhere close to done. Once the shark got a good look at Tommy it was seconds later and the shark was a few hunted yards away. Sweating and worked, our angler finally was able to get an edge on the Shark. Now at boat side, a measurement was taken and high fives all around. Not very often do you get to catch a Mako out of Key West, and and even less often on the troll, and on a homemade lure… Priceless!
Here is another great video of Elizabeth and her Sailfish caught on board the MrZ
Spring and summer fishing in the Florida Keys is probably some of the best fishing in the world. Whether your game is inshore or offshore, both offer anglers with a multitude of species to target. I for one live for this time time of year. It is, in my opinion, some of the most fun and exciting bluewater fishing you can find. Multitudes of species are all within range for most boats which makes for less running time and more fishing time. For me, there is one species that is always a favorite to target; Big Mahi-Mahi
For years I have always thought of Dolphin fish as some kind of ravenous alien species of fish. I’m not sure if it’s because of their vibrant colors, their voracious feeding habits, or just the true shape of the bodies (especially the bulls), but probably all of these. They are fast, strong, and without a doubt delicious. Even smaller fish can test the arms of many anglers, and are very fun to catch on light tackle. One of the largest Mahi that I have landed weighed over 60 pounds and was caught on 20lb spinning tackle. Now that was a fight! That fish also helped my Outer Limits team and I win the Dolphin Masters Invitational. Their long shape and tall body enables them to turn themselves to the side making it very hard to move these fish closer.
Though these fish can be caught year round in the Keys, the best time of year is spring and summer. Most days our boats will be out anywhere from 200 to 3000 feet of water in search of weed lines, flotsam, birds, and bait, all of which hold schools of Mahi. Many of the larger bulls and cows travel in groups of 2 or more pairs and can be found more often under Frigate birds chasing flying fish. Many methods of catching these fish can work such as live baiting, trolling, and chumming, and we usually do all three. Trolling however is one of the best methods in my opinion, mainly because you are covering plenty of ground yet still fishing the whole time. Many of the larger fish we catch come from “out of the blue”, basically not near any active spot so to speak like around a piece of debris or under birds, but just crossing paths with our baits. Many days these highly migratory species can travel as much as 30 or more miles, so every day new fish are moving through.
Make sure you are geared up for the upcoming months because the Mahi bite is going to be a great one. Give us a call 305-923-1043 and let some of the best in the business put you on some big Dolphin this summer