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In many parts of North America, early hunting season begins in August, and here is no exception. The Florida Keys are bustling with hunters of all kinds right now. Armed with spearguns, slings, tickle sticks, and yes fishing poles, anglers and spearo’s alike converge on Keys waters for a multitude of hunting opportunities. August marks the beginning of Lobster season in the Keys and thousands of enthusiasts and commercial fisherman will be deploying gear in search of these tasty “bugs”. August generally is a calm moth for winds and sea conditions can be very light to glass calm, bringing crystal clear waters. These clear waters offer amazing opportunities for spearfishing as well. With clarity as far as 80 feet or more on many days, spear-fishers have their sights set on trophy fish like Hogfish, Grouper, and Snapper. Speaking of Snapper, the outer edges of the reef still have some great Snapper fishing right now. Grey Snappers, Yellowtails, and Muttons have been providing plenty of action while putting a few fillets on the table too! Most days on the Outer Limits in August begins with bent rods and Snappers.

August Reef ActionOn a recent trip our anglers had an awesome experience with big Grey Snappers and Yellowtails, and a 30lb. King Mackerel to top off the excitement. As an added bonus a gigantic Porpoise and a mother and baby showed up as the King was 30 feet from the boat and tried to take the Kingfish, but let it go with teeth scrapes down the fish, which was released into the fish box where it was filleted and turned into smoked fish. On the offshore side the fishing has slowed down quite a bit, but there have been some very quality fish to be caught. A push of large Mahi have shown back up in recent days and have put some serious wear on the drag plates. John Parke got to tangle with a big Bull the other day and ended up with a monster 43.5lb. beast of a Bull. There have also been a handful of Blue Marlin and White Marlin offshore as well. So no matter what Keys treasure you are hunting for there is something in August for everyone!!

John's 43.5lb. Bull

Our search for the best burger in the Lower Keys continues as we visit a somewhat new establishment to the Keys cuisine; Kaya Island Eats. Located quaintly in Bay Point at mile marker 15, oceanside, Kaya’s menu boasts an infusion of caribbean, hawaiian, and Pacific island tastes. But what we are after is the Cheeseburger, and let me just say now, it’s really a good one!

This burger is one of the top burgers we have come across in the BurgerBlog. The 1/2 pound angus burger itself was seasoned and cooked to perfection, and judging by the shape, I am led to believe that it is hand pressed as well. I ordered mine with their special bourbon cheese sauce, and when you have the burger, you need to follow suit. The cheese sauce rocks this burger! Oh wait, there’s more. Just to add to this already tasty carnivorous delight, we have a pile of crispy bacon and a garlic toasted hawaiian bun that made my mouth water just looking at it. This was truly a great burger experience. The sides were no slouch as well. Served with hand cut and crispy steak fries, fresh LTO, and island coleslaw, this burger was a real treat.

Kaya Island Eats burger

In all I rate this burger to be very high on the list of top burgers in the Lower Keys and possibly all of the Keys. Get yourself to Kaya Island Eats and enjoy!

Presentation – 5

Bun – 9 (I would have been happy to eat this bun just by itself)

Patty – 9 (!/2 pound seasoned angus beef cooked just to my liking)

LTO – 7

Sides and Fries – 7

Add Bacon – 7 (oh Yeah!)

Kaya burger gets an 8

If you are anything like me, smoked fish is, and has, been a staple in my life since I was a kid. I have had more species and varieties of smoked fish than most people could ever think of. However over the years I have tried many different recipes, most of which were my own trial and error, until I have tweaked it enough to continue to repeat the same manner of smoking my fish. Being summer here in the Keys, Mahi Mahi is generally the offshore catch of the day on the Outer Limits, which is a bonus to the smoker as we like smoked Mahi. Whether made into a dip, a salad, or just eaten by itself, Mahi has a very mild and delicious flavor when smoked. Now everyone has a different way they like to do things, but here is mine. Give it a shot, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

The Brine

With most smoked meats, especially fish, a brine works very well to keep the meat from drying out during the smoking process. Brining also will help the fish keep its flavor rather than turning into a smoked chunk of wood. The brine I use is very simple to make, but the amount of time that the fish needs to be in the brine is a matter of preference. I have seen where people like to brine for anywhere from an hour to a whole day. Personally I feel 8-12 hours is sufficient for my fish and have tried longer and shorter periods and feel this is the best.

Floating the Egg

First we start with a stainless steel pot, please do not use aluminum, filled with 1 to 2 gallons of water depending on how much fish you plan on smoking. For very large amounts a cooler, cleaned of course, can work very well. This brine is simple; water, salt, sugar, and Old Bay seasoning. The amount of salt is key though. For this I like to use the “floating egg” trick. Measure out a 1/3 of a cup at a time and stir until dissolved. Make sure to keep track of exactly how much salt you place in the brine. After 1 cup or so, gently place an egg into the salted water, when the correct amount of salt has been achieved the egg will float to the top. If you think it may be too salty, just add a little water at a time.

Once the egg floats now just add same amount of white sugar as salt, and 1 tablespoon Old Bay per gallon of water, and stir until dissolved as well. Once all has been dissolved top off with about a pound or two of ice and place fish into the brine and place in the refrigerator.

Note: when I am going to use the fish for salad or a dip I will leave the skin on the fillet and remove it after smoking the fish. When I am planning to eat the fish by itself I will take the skin off the fillet and cut into 4 inch chunks prior to brining. Medium size fillets work the best but any Mahi is great for smoking.

Forming the Pellicle

After the brining process remove the fish from the brine and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Once rinsed, pat dry the fish and place each piece on a tray for a couple hours to form a pellicle (a sort of skin) on the surface of the fish. This skin like pellicle will help keep the moisture in and absorb the smoke a little better. Once formed, the surface of the fish will have a firm yet somewhat sticky feel to it. Just before placing the fish in the smoker, I rub a mixture of brown sugar and honey on the pieces to give a sweet flavor to the outside of the fish

Smoke’em If You Got’em

When I smoke my fish I prefer fruit  or nut types of wood such as Apple, Cherry, and Pecan varieties. These wood types are very mild and don’t overwhelm the fish with strong smoke. The worst thing with some smoke fish I find is that very strong wood types make the fish taste like a piece of smoked wood. No thanks! I use a Traeger wood pellet smoker, but whatever type of smoker you use, whether electric, charcoal, or gas, make sure the temperature is regulated. I like to smoke my fish at 160-170 degrees. Any hotter and you might as well just cook it. I have over the years done the fish at a slightly lower temperature but this is what works best for me.  The length of time it takes for optimal smoking varies greatly on how much fish you have and what temperature you are smoking with, but the internal temperature of the fish needs to reach 160 to 165 degrees to make sure that the fish is done. Most of the time smoking will take 2-4 hours depending on the thickness of the fish and will turn the pieces a golden brown color. When the desired temperature has been reached, remove the fish from the smoker and let sit on the counter top to cool to room temperature. The fish should be kept in the refrigerator and will hold for up to 3 weeks. I have also had great luck in vacuum sealing the fish and freezing it for future consumption. So “Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em!”Cherry Wood Smoked Fish

 

by Capt. Jay

Wow, here it is July already. July in Key West can be a very busy month for most folks in the Southernmost point. Our nation’s birthday in the beginning of the month, Hemingway Days, the Key West Marlin Tournament, Lobster mini-season, and a whole lot of celebrating… How ever you spend your time in Key West in July, there is always something to do… Now for the fishing!!

The Snappers

Right now is the time of year for Snapper slapping! July is a great inshore snapper fisherman’s dream. From the reef to the shallows, snapper from all shapes and sizes are hungry. July is primarily the time of year that Yellowtail Snapper, Grey Snapper (aka Mangrove Snapper), and many other bottom fish spawn. This brings large schools of these fish to the outside edges of the reef in very large and hungry numbers. Light tackle fishing at its finest, snapper can be a blast to catch on 8-12lb. gear. This time of year can be warm sitting on the anchor so make sure you bring lots of sunscreen and a hat. Our boat has AC which can be very nice to get out of the elements and cool off on those hot summer days. We use a combination of live and cut bait, free lined or weighted to target these tasty fish… and plenty of chum!Snapper fishing with Cullen Strady

Along with the Snappers, come a few others to the party. Sharks and Barracuda are usually a common visitor to the fishing grounds as well as Goliath or Black Grouper. Try sinking a larger bait close to the bottom to attract one of these monsters.

 

 Blue Water!!

Offshore of Key West in July can bring a host of characters to be caught. Sailfish, Blue Marlin, and White Marlin are still being caught from 600 feet of water and on out passed the drop. On the Outer Limits, angler Gordon Nesbit caught a very acrobatic White Marlin on the 4th of July. Weighing in at an estimated 65 lbs., this speed demon came into the spread ready to eat and took no time at all deciding which bait to slash, devouring the left rigger. As the fish took off to the races, Gordon settled in and went to work. The 30 lb. tackle made good and twenty minutes was all it took Gordon to best this billfish. With leader in hand, Cory gave the Marlin a quick reviving and a healthy release. Congratulations Gordon!4th of July White Marlin

Along with the billfish, Mahi-Mahi have still been passing through the lower Keys waters as well. While most of the fish are school size, there is still a good slammer lingering around from time to time. The Sargasso grass offshore has been very prevalent this year, creating large weed beds, which are perfect places for Mahi to hang around. Many of our Mahi have been caught under these big patches of cover. And don’t forget about the flotsam. medium to large pieces of floating debris can make your whole trip sometimes in July. Remember, “if it is floating offshore, go check it out”. The Outer Limits once found three sailboaters, stranded on a 7ft dingy, 25 miles offshore, who were adrift for 7 days. From a distance it only looked like floating debris… but thats another story.

While the Gulfstream current remains offshore quite a ways, there is still decent fishing within range of Key West right now.

Marlin Mayhem

July also marks a three day event for local offshore anglers in the Key West Marlin Tournament. This event from the 16th thru the 19th is set right in the middle of Hemingway Days, which is fitting seeing that the “Bull” liked to battle Marlin… a lot!! Last year the Mr.Z had an awesome showing in the KWMT by placing 3rd with 400 points. The year prior the Outer Limits posted the top Bull Dolphin (42lbs.) in the Dolphin Division and pulled the hook on what would have been the winning Marlin. This year, excitement awaits, as up to 50 or more teams prepare to take to the Straits of Florida in search of these tackle testing superstars of blue water.

Fact, in the last few years, there have been more Marlin caught by the Outer Limits and the Mr.Z than any other charter boats in Key West, and this year is continuing on the same path. Look to see either one or both of these teams on the podium this year as well.

 

The “daze of summer” are here. Finally for many who experienced some of the worst winter weather of their lives just a few months ago. The time of year where temperatures are warm, students are home from school, vacations are most popular, and just about every beach in the USA is blanketed with visitors, and the Florida Keys and Key West are no exception. With literally thousands of places to stay and thousands of activities to participate in, the Florida Keys are the absolute top vacation destination in the country for adults and families alike. Whether you are into  beach bathing, water sports, fishing, shopping, site seeing, night life, or just kicking the feet up and relaxing, there is something for every taste. Speaking of taste, the Keys offer some of the most amazing and diverse cuisine than any chain of islands maybe in the world. There truly is something for everybody.

Get Your Feet Wet

The water sports in the Florida Keys are some of the most world renowned. Everything from paddle boarding and kayaking, to boating and fishing, to  diving and snorkeling, the list goes on and on. The Keys have such a variety of water sports that even the most avid of adventurers couldn’t do them all. Take just the diving aspect for example. There are hundreds of square miles of natural coral reef (the largest in America) with hundreds of wrecks that are within just a few miles from shore, in most cases, that divers and snorkelers alike  can experience.AVID MahiThe fishing in The Florida Keys is by far some of the best on the planet, and when it comes to variety there are few places on earth that can boast as many different species of fish. From offshore species such as Marlin, Sailfish, and Mahi-Mahi, to inshore gamefish like Tarpon, Bonefish, and Permit, to reef dwellers such as Snapper and Grouper, the Keys have it all. Not to mention size, but hundreds of world record size fish have come from Florida Keys waters. Summertime in the Keys is a heaven for water sport junkies.

Just Kicking Back

Florida Keys Summertime Sunrise

But if just some good old R and R is the what the doctor ordered let me tell you this is the place to be. Imagine a laid back lifestyle, great weather, unbelievable food, and a picture perfect view almost everywhere you turn, all while sitting in a hammock. This is just a sample of relaxing in this amazing location. The sunrise and sunset in the Keys offer some of the most breathtaking views in all of the country if not the world. Very few places on earth are as beautiful as the Florida Keys.

So when you decide to leave the confinement of your home for some summertime fresh ocean air, come on down and enjoy all that we have to offer. The Florida Keys are calling you. Now answer that call!!

Captain Jay