The first week of February and the Sailfish fishing has been heating up. Easterly current from the Gulfstream has moved in close to the reef edge, bringing with it a push of Sailfish into Lower Keys waters. Over the last month Sailfish fishing has been decent but has lacked consistency. however the last week has shown signs that more hungry fish have been moving through the waters near Key West giving many anglers the excitement of battling one of these acrobatic brutes. Whether live baiting kite fishing, or trolling, Sailfish are extremely fast and explosive eating machines, so be ready at all times for this thief to show up and take a bait without hesitation… Usually while you are making a sandwich
The last few days have been nothing short of spectacular. The weather has been a beautiful 78 degrees with light Easterly breezes. Fishing has picked up and quite a few Sailfish are starting to make their way into Key West waters which is a very good sign of hopefully a great season for billfish. Along with the Sailfish, some very nice Blackfin Tuna have been showing up as well, giving anglers a variety of both sport and game fish together. What a great time of year to be in the Keys!
I must say, this last couple years of fishing has been quite active with Wahoo. Not only in the winter when we see them the thickest, but pretty much year round. Throughout most of this last year and a half I have seen more consistent Wahoo bites than I can ever remember. Generally speaking, the Keys usually has a “run” of fish that show up around November, and stay through the early spring. Sometimes this run is early, and sometimes late, but it usually always happens for a moth or two where the Wahoo are hanging around Key West in large numbers. Generally found anywhere from 70 to 300 feet of depth, these fish move together usually traveling Easterly in schools ranging from 2 to 1000. We have had days where literally every bait that gets put in the water is bit by a Wahoo.
Screamers of the Deep
The main attraction for these “tiger striped meat missiles” as I like to call them is not only their excellent table fare, but the shear power they possess to smoke the drag on just about any reel. The average Wahoo is one of the fastest open water fish in the Ocean, obtaining a sustained speed of over 60 miles per hour. Add that speed to a hydrodynamic streamlined body, and an attitude to boot, and, well you have one of the best gamefish in the ocean, barnone. I have an amazing respect for such fish that can rip 300 yards of line off of a 50lb outfit and then turn back and come at the boat so fast that even the Flash would be impressed. Some of the tightest drag outfits in the game today can sometimes be very little match to the initial run of a big Wahoo.
And when it comes to table fare, well this is probably the whitest fish on the planet. As sashimi, which is our favorite, I believe it is the best. Being an avid fisherman and foodie all of my life I’m not the least bit shy about saying that I think it is the top of the list when it comes to raw fish. Yet however cooked it is very hard to beat as well.
So stop wasting time and get down here and “GET ‘EM”
Over my years of fishing in Key West, nothing surprises me much anymore when it comes to catching certain fish, in places they are seldom seen. Prime example is seeing pelagic fish such as Sailfish, Tuna, and Mahi way up on top of the shallow reefs. These fish usually dwell in deeper waters of 100 feet and much deeper, yet every year in the winter, when the Ballyhoo congregate on top of the shallow reef, these gamefish make their way into these shallows to feed on the massive schools that await. Now, I also must point out that this is also a very exciting time of year because a lot of our Sailfish are caught by sight fishing for them on the reef by pitching (casting) a live Ballyhoo at them. Very few fisheries are as exciting as sight fishing for billfish.
This being said, I bet you are already guessing by the title what is about to happen.
It was somewhat of a bit on the breezy side of the spectrum, but newlyweds Andy and Stephanie were ready to go give it a shot. We had decided that since it might not be as rough on the reef that we would start there and see what we were up against first. Once we anchored the Outer Limits, it took literally minutes for the bait to be chummed up behind the boat, and in one throw of the net the well was loaded with Ballyhoo. The bite was just as quick as the bait and in minutes Andy was hooked up to Mackerels, Jacks, Mutton Snappers, and Barracudas. The action was pretty steady for the first 15 minutes or so and in an instant show of BANG! two Sailfish piled on both of the outrigger baits and the acrobatics began. Both fish were tail walking in opposite directions screaming line off the spools. When two billfish take off in opposing directions , you usually have to take the closest one first, which was Andy’s and Cory got a great release on it and we headed back to get Stephanie’s fish. Now, let me add this, her fish had almost taken off all the line on the spool, and being that we were hooked up to this fish on 20lb test line, you never want to put a ton of drag on them, and this fish had wrapped around a lobster trap buoy. Making a drastic maneuver with the boat, I was able to get to the buoy in time, and get the line unwrapped. This was no regular Sailfish as once the line was freed from the trap rope, it went south to the off edge of the reef and went deep. Now this time of the year the lobster move across the reef in large numbers which in turn brings about multitudes of traps along the reef edge, and some of these traps have lost the floatation buoy, yet the polypropylene line is still attached and floating. These “ghost traps” can be a hassle to deal with as they cannot be seen. Stephanie’s Sailfish got wrapped into one of these ghost traps and after 10 minutes of working she was finally able to free the fish and miraculously, without breaking the line. Another 5 minutes of battling this brute and finally we had the Sailfish boat side. we got a couple great pictures and after reviving the fish for a few minutes, the Sailfish was released healthy. Now, here is the best part, not only was this her first Sailfish, BUT this was the first fish she had EVER had on, AND the first time she had ever had a fishing pole in her hands… GO FIGURE right. This is like going to a casino for the first time, dropping a quarter into the slot machine, and winning a million. AWESOME!!
We finished the morning with a few more good Mutton Snappers and released some big Cudas. What a great trip for the Bride and Groom on their Honeymoon. I love being a part of memories like this.
Here are some great photos of some of the many Key West sunsets I have witnessed over the years. While all of them are stunning in their own right, some happen to just melt the soul and make you stop and think about this beautiful every day occurrence passes us by with little to no acknowledgment. Sunsets for me are one of my favorite parts of my day, and as you can see, this is why. Enjoy,
Captain Jay Miller