An old business saying goes like this, “it all has to do with location, location, location.” This holds true to fishing offshore as well. Just in a different sense. “Where to go today?” is the question. Offshore fishing in the fall and winter months can be tricky sometimes. The location of the wind direction is key, and if you get it right, you can have some great fishing.
Throughout the fall and winter months the Lower Keys has little consistency when it comes to fishing offshore. As opposed to the spring and summer where the wind is predominately from the east to south direction, which are generally the best winds for offshore fishing out of Key West, the fall and winter have a constant change in wind direction. Cold fronts with, as the weather reports call them, “Fresh” north to northeast breezes make their way through the Keys waters bringing with them lower temperatures and sloppy seas conditions. As with “sloppy” I’m talking “a very confused” sea. Fronts pass through the Keys relatively quickly, first beginning with a west wind, then clocking around to the north, northeast, and then back to east all with in a few days. This quick clocking around of the wind can make the seas offshore somewhat of a washing machine. These are not very favorable days to be 20 or more miles offshore looking for Marlin, Tuna, and Dolphin fish. Now sure, every now and then you might catch a few good fish during fronts, but don’t count on any consistency. However, when the front slacks off enough that the warmer low pressure of the Florida Straits and Caribbean Sea pushes East to Southeast winds back into Keys waters, head offshore and get ready. Warmer temperatures from south to southeast winds brings with it a push of hungry marine life. Mahi, Tuna, Wahoo, and even Blue Marlin can be caught offshore in the fall and winter. As a matter of fact the Blue Marlin fishing can be good in these months, though the reason many people don’t boast catches, is they don’t fish offshore this time of year. As said before, the fishing is mostly dictated by the wind and your days of southeast winds are limited, but they are there, and they can be worth the look offshore.
Take this last week on the Outer Limits for example. Monday started off beautiful, and great conditions for offshore. Light southeast winds, 80 degree air temperature, and 78 degree water temps.. Joe and wife Sandy had a great day with constant nice Mahi action, and a bonus with 3 Wahoo, just inside the shelf. The wind pushed what scattered Sargasso grass there was into a few lines and most all the fish were caught near these weed lines. We did manage to make a few deep drops targeting Swordfish, but unlike the day before we did not have any takers. The day before was quite different as we released one Swordfish and lost another one, but we will leave this type of fishing for an upcoming report.
Tuesday was pretty much the same conditions but with a little stronger breeze. The slightly choppier sea had the Blackfin Tuna popping baitfish in the 500 foot depths, along with a few Mahi up to 20 pounds mixed in as well. Our clients were once again cranking on fish repetitively as multiple hookups were constant and we released quite a few Skipjack Tuna as well.
Then Wednesday, the front came. Blistering north and northeast winds in the 25 knot range had kept many boats at the dock for a few days. Yet, during a front there is always a backup plan…
On a recent trip aboard the Outer Limits, the White boys Paul, Matt, and Jeff had an afternoon like no other. Blistering winds and pounding rain kept the charter boats tied to the dock for half the week as the most recent installment of mother nature’s cold front fury set into the lower Keys. Finally, with nothing but the last afternoon during their stay in Key West, they decided to give the high seas a shot. Coincidentally, west bound currents off the reef edge helped keep the seas to a manageable height and the fish were snapping. Not ten minutes into the trip and the rigger bait was crushed leaving nothing but a hole in the water and drag peeling off the reel. “Sail On!” as the majestic billfish went airborne. “The first fish made the trip in itself” Jeff stated, but the trio was far from done. Every 20 minutes or so that went by was another bite from a nice quality fish. A Mahi, then a Blackfin Tuna, and another, then another Mahi. Then, to top it all off, another Sailfish! The triple double for the trio!
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. The food, the family and friends, football, and yep, the fishing! As there is so much that we here at keywestfishtales.com have to be thankful for, the good fishing is no exception. Cold fronts continue to drop temperatures to below freezing in almost every state in the country, yet Key West remains with the thermometer above 70 and water temperature have remained in the high 70′s offshore.
The afternoon Tuna bite seems to be the best bet for great action now, and has been through the entire month so far. Plentiful amounts of Ballyhoo and Flying Fish have kept a constant food source for these hungry pelagics. Targeting these fish can be done with many different methods, all of which have been productive. Trolling baits such as Ballyhoo or strip baits has been a very productive method later in the day as these fish tend to feed quite extensively as the sun gets low in the sky. Many of our trips as of late have been scheduled in the afternoon so that we can target the Tuna through the evening bite. Trolling lures can work as well as bait, and generally this method works best at sunrise and sundown. Drifting or anchoring and using a method of live bait chumming with Pilchards is also a very productive method and can get these fish to feed throughout the day. Strong, fast, and agile are just some of the characteristics of these hard fighters. Medium to light tackle makes tangling with these balls of muscle an absolute blast.
Along with the Tuna have been the occasional Sailfish, Wahoo, and Mahi to round out the playing field. Don’t let the early cold get you down, come on down to warm weather, warm water, and hot fishing!
Happy Holidays! Early as it may be for some, the holiday season is right around the corner. But first, tomorrow is Veteran’s Day and a huge thank you goes out to all the men and women who served both at home and abroad in our armed forces. With out these brave men and women our country would not be the same great place it is today. Thank You!!
Another great place today is the warm waters south of Key West. The fall season is in full swing and the same cold front systems that have been dropping temperatures all over have been making a cool appearance in the southernmost point, but have yet to manage to drop more than a few degrees on the thermometer. Highs have still been in the high 70′s and low 80′s which has kept the water temperatures to the same as well. The water temp offshore yesterday was 79 degrees and the fishing has been hot! Strong eastbound currents from the gulf stream have been moving in close to the reef edge pulling with it schools of Ballyhoo. Sailfish, Blackfin Tuna, and Mahi have been a constant threat to the Ballyhoo.
This strong push of bluewater generally tends to bring on a good Wahoo bite around the full moon, but as the last few days have been the moons peak, we have not seen many Wahoo yet. Possibly by the next full moon, the migrating Wahoo will arrive. These open ocean fish show up in Key West waters predominately in large numbers during November thru January and follow the large schools of small Little Tunny (Pocket Bonito as we call them).
The bite has been some reel fun lately. The fall fish have started to move through our fertile waters for what is shaping up to be hopefully a good winter fishery. The Mahi have been here in pretty good numbers although this is not usually a typical time of year we see these fish. As the water temperatures drop we will see these fish move out of our waters and begin to head south for the winter. But until that happens we are more than happy to keep catching these tasty fighters. Some of our last few trips have had some nicer fish in the 20 pound range along with a mixed bag of schoolie size fish.
The Blackfin tuna and the Sailfish are becoming the most prevalent we have seen them since last spring. The large amounts of Ballyhoo will be constantly bombarded by these fast and agile predators in the oncoming months. The tuna have been giving us action throughout the day, but early morning and late afternoon and evenings have been the best times to target these fish. Along with the tuna the Sailfish have made the move south, and as the waters cool we should expect to see a plentiful number of these acrobatic fish as well. On a recent afternoon this past week, angler Bruce B. released 2 out of 3 full grown Sailfish while fishing aboard the Outer Limits.
Don’t let the dread of the upcoming winter get you down, come down to Key West and get you some HOT!