Friday, December 29, 2006

Nice Day On The Water

The last few trips haven't been big news catch wise. Good size Spanish, Nice Mangs and a lot of other stuff. My crew had shots at bigger things, but that's fishing.

The Mackerel bite has moved back out in the bay a little further than last week. The bigger Mackerel and Cobia were a little out of range for the half-day guide trip this afternoon. Still there was fair action in close for a mixed bag.

I was telling my crew today how slow it was, but he was really very happy with the trip. I may be getting spoiled, since a slower than average day bothers me. As long as the customer is happy, it's all good. No pictures on this trip, just a very relaxing day on the water.

Tight lines,
Capt. Dallas

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Keysy Christmas

It is the Holiday’s again, time to enjoy family and remember the reason for the season. That means fishing to me. Christmas and New Years signals the start of the tourist season in the Florida Keys. While my posts of late have been few, they will start picking up in the coming weeks and months. Tomorrow as with most Christmas Days, I will be fishing for a living. An afternoon half-day as a guide for a nice couple that just arrived in town.

The game plan for tomorrow’s trip is a little Keys fishing 101. Show the customers how to boat around the area without tearing up their rental boat. There will be a quick tour and then we will fish areas suited to the boat they rented and their seaworthiness. Winter is a little breezy in the Keys. The fish don’t mind the weather at all, the boaters mind to varying degrees. Living on an island is a great thing for boaters that don’t like it rough. There is always a leeside and a place to fish. So after the basic intro to the Keys 101, we will move into how to not get your butt kicked in the Keys while fishing.

Next we will move into basic Keys fishing techniques. My customers aren’t familiar with saltwater fish or fishing. They have considerable fresh water bass fishing experience. My job will be to teach them the differences between the two and break them of their bass habits.

With the weather to blow up a little tomorrow, classic Keys bridge fishing techniques will be the order of the day. The snapper bite at the bridge has been great so we shouldn’t have any problem catching fish. Most vacationers are not really satisfied with just eating fish; they want a challenge, something Big! The bridge offers all of that. So a little basic Tarpon fishing and basic Shark fishing will be on the syllabus.

Hopefully, they will have a digital camera so I can post a few photos. I really need some more interesting pictures for my posts or all you guys will start going somewhere else. Just try to bear with me for a few days and maybe I can add a few attention grabbing glossy photos of big fish and happy customers.

Happy Holidays guys and save a little eggnog for me.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Big is in the Eye of the Beholder

Family fishing vacations to the Florida Keys are very popular. The local charter captains enjoy taking the kids out and have almost as much fun as they do. If you plan to travel to the Keys for vacation, bring the kids along they will have a great time. Just remember that a successful fishing trip with younger children is not always measured in big fish, but in big smiles.

The Florida Bay is often like a lake, making it easy to introduce young anglers to a great time. These calm days are prefect for the kids and the adults. The action is almost constant which is what you need to hold the attention of many young anglers. Your family will be fishing in shallow clear waters, so you and yours will see plenty of fish. Using chumming techniques, the number of fish behind the boat will continue to grow. Mackerel, snapper, blue fish, sharks and a variety of Jacks are just a few of the fish you will encounter.

In winter, which is the best time to visit the Keys, hundreds of Spanish mackerel will pay you a visit. The Spanish are fun catch for young and old alike with fish ranging from two to ten pounds. They are great sport on light tackle. Jacks, blue runners and Jack Crevelle, will often show en mass making it hard not to have fish on the line.

To challenge the adults, Cobia, Goliath Grouper and larger sharks will show on most trips to stretch your line. The Cobia is delicious table fare, perfect for a family dinner. In the Keys almost any local restaurant will cook your fresh catch for you.

In calm weather, the reef of the ocean side of the island offers Yellowtail Snapper, grouper and mackerel. As in the bay, chum fishing is normally used to bring the fish right to the boat for all to see. The Yellowtails are very tasty and while they can be finicky, will most often bite very well. The occasional King Mackerel, many weighing over thirty pounds are a great challenge for both the younger and older crew.

Half-day trips are recommended for the younger members. All day trips can prove to be a little more than younger children like. If any of your children weigh less than fifty pounds, check with your captain before the trip to make sure a comfortable life vest is available. If you have a very young child, it is best to buy your own life vest. Let the young one wear the vest a little before the trip to become familiar with it before getting on the boat. All children under 13 years of age have to wear a vest. Your charter captain will have vests available for you and your family weighing over fifty pounds.

Bring plenty of drinks, light snacks, sunscreen and a hat for the sun. Your captain will have a cooler on the boat so check with him before bringinng your own. You and your children will have a great time. Do, not be surprise if the highlight of your child’s fishing trip is a small barracuda or shark. Remember, big is in the eye of the beholder.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Garmin GPSMAP 492C

With fuel cost causing issues in the charter business, I have been looking for a new charter boat that is more fuel efficient and versatile for the wide variety of fish here in the Florida Keys. While I haven’t purchased the boat, I have been shopping for new electronics. The boats that I am looking to buy are swallow draft center consoles. Center consoles have limited space making dual-purpose electronics very appealing. While I have never been a fan of most combination sounder/GPS machine. I recently had to change my mind.

The Garmin GPSMAP 492C impressed me. The compact unit combines Garman’s outstanding GPS equipment that I have used for years with a high quality color sounder. If you have used a Garmin, you know the ease of operation of the GPS units and the seamless nature of their chart plotters. While I have always preferred monochromatic displays, which were much easier to read with out digging out the glasses. The new color display was much easier to read that pervious models. With the backlight being adjustable from ultra dim for night fishing to high contrast for bright sunlight, I was able use the unit with no problems.

The sounder is a full 500 watts. Fishing in the Florida Keys, I may be fishing in fifteen foot of water in the bay one day and over 1000 foot past the wall the next. Having a sounder the can read 600 feet of bottom can make or break an offshore trip. If the striking fish aren’t biting a productive deep drop can put smiles on the crew.

With the center console I am planning to buy, the built in antenna means less rigging and money. Now there is no need for an expensive electronics box for the Tee Top. The 492 can be mounted on the dash by the compass. I like this because looking up at the box was always a pain in the neck. Dash mounted, access to the menu and control buttons is much easier.

All this was impressive until I found out that Bluechart comes installed with the unit. That saves $150 for the chart cost and $800 worth of aggravation keying in the 400 digit access code. If you are in the market for a new GPS for your center console, you need to checkout the Garmin GPSMAP 492C. Just look at the price.
Retail Price:$719.99 U.S.D.

Make fishing the Florida Keys your next vacation.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Don't forget the recipes and fishing basics link!

How to Have a Merry Christmas

It’s getting real close to Christmas and a few ladies out there haven’t wrapped up their shopping. Most men I know haven’t started yet. So for the ladies, it’s easy to please your fishing hubby, give him a Bass Pro Shops gift card.

Guys, pleasing the little lady might be more of a challenge. If you are thinking about a new vacuum or the Victoria’s Secrets catalog, my couch is only comfortable for about two days. Then you are on your own. But Bass Pro Shops may be your ticket out of the doghouse too.

Tip one, Sunglasses: A little BPS gift card so she can get proper eye wear for that tropical vacation she’s always wanted. You not only make her happy, you get to forget about shoveling snow and all the other honey do’s in the jar, and do a little serious fishing in the Keys.

Tip two Shoes

What woman doesn’t want new shoes, and boat shoes are perfect for that Sailfish trip you are taking her on in the fabulous Florida Keys because scraping ice of the windshield every morning is starting to chap your butt.

Tip three Luggage:

With sharp looking new wheeled luggage, she can keep up with you while you are running to the ticket counter to get your boarding passes to get on the plane that is taking you away from the slush that used to be snow and to the once in a lifetime fishing vacation/second honeymoon that will save your marriage and your sanity! In the Florida Keys of course.

Tight lines and a Merry Christmas to all,
Ho Ho Ho
Capt. Dallas

Friday, December 15, 2006

Fishing the Florida Keys - Sailfish Basics

Fishing for sailfish is a pretty big thing this time of year in the Florida Keys. Sails normally run November through April. The peak time will vary some each year and some years are much better than others. It is still pretty much world class fishing every year. A charter having four to six shots a day is a good average. Most of the sailfish are caught on live bait, Pilchards, ballyhoo, goggle eyes and other, in that order. Dead bait trolling and lures will produce, but not as well as the live bait.

More and more captains employ drift fishing with live chumming as their preferred method. Kite fishing is used by a few, but isn’t very effective if you have not found the fish. I prefer to mix it up, running and gunning a while to locate bait and sails, then live baitfish for them. Sight casting to the fish is really what I like once the fish are found, but drifting in a good area loaded with bait is what happens most of the time.

While a bait tank full of Pilchards or ballyhoo is preferred, sometimes you have to go with what you have. Blue runners, pinfish, yellowtail snapper and even needlefish have produced sails for me.

Rigging for sails is pretty much like rigging for tarpon. On the spinners I have 5 to 8 feet of double line and 6 to 8 feet of monofilament leader. Normally fifty to sixty pound leader is all I use and I fluorocarbon is a big deal with me. The hook is a 5/0 to 7/0 J or a 6/0 to 9/0 new type circle; it depends on my mate and my customers. With Pilchards or any live bait other than ballyhoo, just hook them in the nostrils. With ballyhoo, I hook them in the upper lip and us a short piece of copper rigging wire to wrap the bill and hook shank. Blue runners are tough to fish because at the first sign of a sail they try to climb back in the live well. This means I will use a balloon about six in front of the blue runners. This make them look a little more stupid and I can keep an eye on them. Having a bait look stupid isn’t a bad thing. Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory explains the reason. Stupid or defective critters are removed from the gene pool quickly.

For conventional rods, I use the wind on leader setup described in the six basic knot posting. I use the conventional a lot of the time when I have rookie anglers and no mate. I the anglers how to let the bait on the conventional tackle out and drive the boat in front of the fish. This also works on regular drift fishing. I really like having my customers fight big sails on light spinning outfits. Catching an 80-pound sail on ten or twelve pound test is a hoot that you can brag about later. The tournament guys use 30 pound on their spinners and thirty to fifty pound on their conventional rods to rack up numbers. That’s fine, I know how to do that too, I just prefer the light tackle and the shorter leaders. Who was it that said its not destination, it’s the journey. That’s fishing and me.

Finding the fish for me is the fun part for me. I’m looking for birds working, bait sprays, black trash bags in the water (that’s what a sailfish looks like swimming in the water) and free jumpers. Free jumping sails are neat to see, but you rarely get one in your lines. That said you have to check them out anyway. Come on! You got a shot right!

Best depths to hunt for sailfish in the winter is 100 to 300 feet. They can be on the reef or all the way past the ledge. Whether you need to run to alligator light or the Sambos is your guess. I normally work from Bonefish towers to Bahai Honda. Well, once I ran to American shoal and did pretty well. It’s all fishing and sailfish are a very worthy adversary. If you have never tried it, get off your dead butt and give it a go!

Tight lines,

Capt. Dallas

Baitfish Tranquilizer

There was a comment I added to one of the Posts in Florida Sportsman forum "Keys General fishing" that needed a little more clarification. So I though I would add that to the blog just incase y'all don't read FS. The use of Oil of Cloves to annestize bait is a little trickier than was stated in the forum.

First Clove Oil is fairly potent. When the baits chill they really chill out and have to have extra O2 added to the water because they don’t move enough to breath well enough on their own. Pinfish require less added o2 and ballyhoo require much more. The o2 added also depends on the volume of the bait tank and the temperature of the water. I had a 28 gallon bait tank, with o2 set at minimum which was about one liter per minute, two bags of ice to get the water to about 72 degrees F and two drops of clove oil (mixed in saltwater before adding to the tank) and the bait pump turned off. With this combination, I could overload Pilchards and get them back to the bait keep with very little loss.

If I had to keep the bait alive longer, that’s when the IV drip came in. With the bait pump running, a diluted mixture of the clove oil and saltwater was used to maintain the concentration in the tank. I had a 1200-gallon per hour bait pump. That’s 20 gallons a minute of saltwater changed in the tank per hour. The 20 drops per minute was an easy to setup drip rate, so I adjusted the clove oil concentration to get one drop of clove per 20 drops of solution. That’s one part clove oil to twenty parts saltwater. The ice was a one shot deal it just gave the bait a good start. Problems were, the bait pump flow would change. I little too much bay grass in the pickup and the whole load was in peril. The system showed a lot of promise. I was working on a venturi pick up that would automatically vary the clove oil mixture with the bait pump flow. Fortunately, (or not depending on your view), I started running too many trips to play with the design.

As you probably see, this is a little more complicated than most people wanted to deal with. It can come in handy for live chumming for Sailfish. Giving you enough time to overload the bait tank and travel to a good spot past the reef where you could put out a nice wad of live Pilchards for your first drift. After a couple of drifts, shut the system down once there is a normal load of Pilchards in the bait tank. SKA anglers might want to play with the system when they need to make 50 plus mile runs in tourneys.

The reason I started doing all this was to keep live ballyhoo overnight. I only had limited success, probably because I couldn’t keep the water temperature low enough. A water cooler cost more than I wanted to invest. My not too overly scientific experiments showed the system worked but there were still bugs to workout. The same basic system is used for shipping large fish with great success; it is just a bit trickier with smaller baitfish.

Tight lines,

Capt. Dallas

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Fishing Guides

Recreation fishermen visiting the Florida Keys for the first time, even regular visitors can benefit from a good quality local guide. Anyone that trailers his boat to the Keys or is renting a boat locally should think about a guide service. This is how I got started in the keys. People renting boats would hire me for a half day, just to give them a quick look at how to get around without tearing the boat up or getting lost. Some would just hire me for a hour to refresh their boating skills. It wasn’t long until they started getting me for full days with quite a few getting me for a week or more.

While it is harder not to catch fish in the Keys than to catch, the quality of the catch seemed to be better with me on the boat. So I have been recommending people hire a guide for a while until last week. That’s when I found how much people are charging. Anything over $150 a day is a bit much!

That makes me think it might be time to start a guide referral service. I know three very qualified guides here in Marathon, that don’t have a problem working a half-day for $80 and a full-day for 150 dollars plus gratuity. Gratuity is typically 10 to 20 percent of the guide fee. We know that if you have a bad trip, getting stiffed is to be expected. It was always my policy that I’d refund anyone that didn’t have a good time. In my first 800 trips or so I refunded four times, mainly because of weather.

So between captains, Pete, Howard, Chris and myself, there is a pretty good start to a solid guide service in Marathon. Add in captain Jim on Big Pine and captain’s Jeff and Josh in Key Weird and captain Lee in Islamarada, that’s a pretty network of guides.

Don’t expect any guide to give you a bunch of numbers for honey holes. If you fish the same guide for a few trips, he might throw you a bone here or there. But don’t count on it. The biggest thing the guide will do is show you how and which public numbers to fish. The Top-spots charts have a few pretty good numbers in areas where there are better ones. A little local knowledge can really kick things up.

So if you might be interested in a fishing guide, let me know.

Capt. Dallas

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Gulf Wreck Jewfish

I have written a couple of posts about the Gulf Wrecks. I want to add one more if that won’t bother everyone too much. The trip was in November a few years ago. I had a regular crew from upstate New York that fished with me every year. They had been to the wrecks at least once a year for about four years with me. Every one of the crew had tangled with a big Jewfish and one was about all they wanted. The big fish just kick your butt. So they started bringing a new victim each year just for Bubba. That’s the name give to the 130# outfit I use for the Jewfish.

My crew, Big John, his son Luke and Alley, brought along one of Luke’s friends that played football for some school like Ithaca State. For the like of me I can remember the boy’s name, but he was pretty healthy. Standing about 6-foot tall and weighing 275 pounds, he wasn’t all that worried about a little old fish. Normally John would have run his own boat but boats break so we ran the trip in Captain Pips 28 Topaz. Normally I wouldn’t take a mate on these trips, but Mike was around and pretty sober so we took him.

It was a chamber of commerce kind of day. Flat seas, a perfect current and good clean water. We had a good load of pinfish for live bait and the crew had plenty of cold beer. The game plan on these trips is for the crew to catch bait for the victim. John, Luke and Alley dropped and started catch big blue runners and Jack Crevelle that we shot to the bottom on Bubba. Normally this is all it takes, but the big guys on the bottom weren’t in the mood for Jacks. So Alley brought up a nice red group that went on Bubba instead on the ice. That red didn’t make it to the bottom before a big Jewfish inhaled it. The football player took the rod and much to our surprise, whipped the big Jew fish’s butt.

Mike, Luke and the football player managed to drag the 300-pound fish over the side for a nice photo op. That is the fish in the side bar along with Mike and the football player. While the crew was taking pictures, Alley had brought another red over the side. Mike put the red on Bubba and asked the football player if he wanted another fish. He did and he was hooked up on one in a heartbeat. This time the fish did its job. The football player was grunting and groaning. This fish kept digging for the bottom and was wearing the football player out. I watched the veins on the football player’s neck bulge and he turned as red as a beet. With the fish still about 20 feet down, the football player started begging for somebody, anybody to take the rod.

Now the crew was getting what they came for. The way the football player had handled the first fish had us all scratching our heads, but now the real deal was happening. No one would take the rod, though Mike was there to grab it just in case. The football player bore down and finally got the Jewfish to the side of boat. This was a smaller fish, only 250 pounds or so, but it was spunky. We all ready had a good picture so we just let this on go without a photo op.

The football player did one heck of a job. He was two for five on big Jewfish. I have had guys go zero for 10 before I could find one small enough for them to catch. So if you know somebody that’s pretty tough that you might like to tighten up a little. A Jewfish trip to the Gulf wreck is probably just the ticket. Be careful before you pick up Bubba though, you might be opening up a can of whoop ass you can’t close!

Tight Lines,
Capt. Dallas

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Fishing the Florida Keys - Marathon's Fine Dining

Many visitors to Marathon and the rest of the Florida Keys don’t realize that most restaurants will cook your catch. While I am all for catch and release fishing, fresh caught fish is just too good to pass up all the time. There is just something special about the flavor of freshly caught yellowtail snapper. So I’m going to give you a quick review of my opinion of Marathon’s fine dining.

First on my list has to be The Castaway. They offer a well stock salad bar and mounds of fresh honey buns with each meal. Evening diners will have their catch cooked three or more ways and served family style. The Castaway has a full bar, live entertainment on the weekends and a quiet waterfront dining area. The alligator tail appetizer is the finest I’ve ever tasted.

Tied for second:

Cabot’s, a bit pricey but worth it. Full bar, great food, waterfront dining with a great sunset view.

Annette’s Steak and Lobster, great food, a great salad bar, a full bar and a nice atmosphere. Inside dining only and no water front but still a Marathon favorite.

Key’s Fisheries, Some of the finest seafood in the Keys. Waterfront dining, a very casual atmosphere and a full bar. While they have only been open for four years, they are all ready a Keys tradition.

The Island Tiki Bar. The, happening place in Marathon, great food, full bar, waterfront dining in a true native tiki hut. Winter sunsets can be gorgeous! And the wait staff is pretty gorgeous too!

Tied for third (they don’t have a full bar)

Burdine’s Cheeki Tiki, Excellent food with a fantastic waterfront view. If they had a full bar they would be pushing The Castaway for number one.

Porky’s Bayside, known for their barbeque but their seafood is excellent. Family style cook your catch, waterfront dining, nightly live entertainment in season and cold beer.

The Seven Mile Grill, not the keys icon that it once was due to Wilma renovation but still a great spot to cook your catch. The fried yellow tail sandwich is reasonable priced and delicious.

Herbies, another Marathon classic, great food served in a casual atmosphere. All of their seafood is great, but fresh cook your catch just makes it better.

The Village Café, while they have a full bar they didn’t score higher on my list because of their location. Located in a strip mall they just don’t have a Keys atmosphere. The food though is outstanding! So if you get a little home sick, this will remind you of a New York neighborhood café. Upper Eastside New York that is.

I’m starting to get caught up with my local flavor stuff so pretty soon I can get back to fishing. Just bear with me gang.

Tight Lines

Capt. Dallas

Monday, December 11, 2006

Fishing the Florida Keys - Moon phases

Now that the winter season is here my fishing reports are going to sound like a broken record until around March. This is the time of the year where colder water temperatures north of us have driven most of the bait and predators down this way. Mackerel, (Spanish, Kings and a few Cero) will be found almost anywhere. Sailfish will be along the reef line and out. Most sails being found in 100 to 300 feet of water. Snapper will be found about anywhere you fish with the occasional keeper Grouper, Hogfish or Mutton. Cobia will be cruising just about anywhere too, though the bay is still your best bet for a couple months. So I think I should add a little something else to keep you entertained.

Most people that come down to the keys on vacation don’t take the time to consider the moon phase before the trip. The moon can affect your fishing, so let’s take a little look at what to expect.

The quarter moons are generally accepted as being the best moons for fishing. These provide the average current flows, so the fish are normally settled down to a normal pattern. So these are great moons to plan your trip around.

New moons have higher tides, so there will be stronger currents. Coming up on a new moon, most fish will bite a little better. They are taking advantage of the stronger currents moving more bait past them. As the new moon passes, the bite will slow a little, but the fish rarely get lockjaw. I’ve never had much trouble finding fish on a new moon unless the tides are exceptionally high or low.

The full moon is the weirdest. As with the new moon the days leading to full normally have an increased bite and the days following a bit of a slow down. But unlike the new moon, following the full, the fish can just shutdown. Most people blame the full moon’s light at night causing the fish to gorge themselves, so they aren’t hungry during the day. There can be a lot of truth in this, but a friend of mine that raised fish gave me a little better theory.

Most fish spawn around the full moon. Depending on the type of fish, the timing of the spawn varies. Pelagic species tend to spawn before the full. This helps insure that their roe gets scatter to the maximum, helping improve survival. Bottom dwellers, tend to spawn just after the full moon so their roe will be spread, but still have the maximum time in normal currents to hatch in the general area of the spawn. This way, grouper and snapper larvae are most likely to end up in a friendly environment and not in the middle of the Gulf Stream.

In the winter, spawning isn’t really on the minds of most fish because the water temperature is too low. But fish really aren’t renown for serious thinking. With everything right for the spawn except for the temperature, some fish will just get confused so to speak. So snapper, which pretty much only know how to eat, procreate and defecate, forget about the first. Because of this, one or two days following the full moon, the Yellowtail bite can just plain suck. Dolphin, a pelagic suffers from the same confusion, and one or two days prior to or the day of the full moon may do the same thing, with a bit of a slow down following the moon.

Tarpon tend to fire up around the full moon. This could indicate that tarpon typically spawn well off the full moon or that they just don’t give a rip. Hogfish, Porgies and Mackerel tend to behave like the Tarpon do and will bite just about anytime.

Fishing around the full moon can be fantastic. Just be a little more flexible on the species you are looking for. I’ve done pretty good fishing for what’s biting instead of what I want. This is called no brainer fishing by some, but it works for me. So don’t worry about the full moon too much, just listen to your guide or captain and go with the flow. Even big time Marlin fishermen that hate the full moon will still fish it. Some of the biggest Marlin hooked up, have bitten on the full moon. And you bill fishermen should remember that sword fishing peaks on the full. So just go with the flow.

Tight lines
Capt. Dallas

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Tarpon Fishing Basics

Before we start, tarpon fishing isn’t my favorite. It’s fine when they bite, but tarpon can be very closed mouth. They also tend to bite at night. I tend to prefer drinking at night. So I’ve reached a compromise with these big silver guys. I’ll fish for them between dawn and at dusk. While tarpon will take a plug, pinfish, crab or dead bait, I don’t go bridge fishing if I don’t have live mullet. That said, here we go with the basics.

The rig for Tarpon is fairly simple, 5 to 10 foot of double line, with 5 to 8 foot of 50 to 80 pound clear mono leader with roughly a 6/0 J or 9/0 circle hook. The size of the hook really depends on size of the bait and the size of the fish you are targeting. For first timers, the J hooks are more productive and don’t really injure very many fish. Why, because first time tarpon fishermen normally freak out and do every thing wrong! The J hook is more forgiving. Depending on the current and the bait, I may add a swivel in the leader about 3 to 4 feet in front of the bait. I normally only use spinning tackle, conventional and bait casters tend to back lash too often.

Circle hooks are the way to go with Tarpon if you know what you are doing. Sizing the circle is very important. The gap has to be wide enough to catch in the jaw of the fish. Most of these fish are pretty big, 60 pound and way over. With the new style circles, you get a wider gap with a lighter weight hook. Look for a well-made circle with at least a half-inch gap. Snelling the circle hooks using a Uni-knot is very easy, but tying straight works. Circles hooks require a drop back on a tarpon pick-up. When dead sticking, my method goes back to old school. On a spinning outfit, use a piece of copper rigging wire at the reel seat to loop a half turn around the line and leave the bail open. When the wire trips, let the fish take enough line to turn and close the bail. There is no hook-set, just let the fish tighten the line in his own good time. When the hook sets on a Tarpon, most people notice. Then it’s game on! When drifting or free lining the mullet, the angler has to be like the release wire. Let the fish eat, turn and then close the bail, NO HOOK SET!

Bridge fishing, your captain will have an anchor ball so he can cut lose and chase the fish. The first minute or so is critical. Tarpon have a tendency to take anglers around the bridge structure. With the hook-up, your captain has to hit the right hole in the bridge to follow the fish. Don’t put any pressure on the fish if it looks like she has taken you around a pile. Let the captain work it out and then start fighting the fish. With a good current at the bridge, tarpon are more predictable fighters and normally go with the current. This makes everybody’s life easier. When the Tarpon jumps, just keep a bend in the rod, don’t bow to or over pressure the fish on a leap and the hook will normally stay put.

With J hooks, only a short drop back (normally just point the rod at the fish) and one or two firm hook-sets. Make sure these hooks are sharp and filing down the barb a little isn’t a bad idea. Tarpon have a very bony mouth and can be difficult to hook. Live blue crabs, pinfish, live or dead ballyhoo, will all produce Tarpon so you should be well armed bait wise. Chunking with dead sardines or herring can be very effective if you have Tarpon rolling in the area and not moving on your live baits. This is also extremely effective on resident, off-season, Tarpon. Plugs like Bomber long A’s and the like work quite well, cast to the fish, let it set for a few seconds and start a slow retrieve. On the strike again, one or two firm hook sets and play your fish.

Tarpon make great shark bait so don’t get too surprised if a hammerhead or bull shark eats your fish. It’s just nature doing it’s thing. The sharks will also take your bait so don’t be surprised if you end up with a 300 pound shark dragging you all over the place.

Daytime Tarpon fishing (more than two hours after sunrise) is more like hunting than fishing. Once you find fish that aren’t moving down the road, they will fall for all the baits previously mentioned or nothing at all. I’ve been surrounded by hundreds of Tarpon that just would not feed. When they turn on, they really turn on. But if they don’t want to bite, grab a cold beer and your camera. It is fishing after all.

April, May and June are my favorite months for tarpon. As I said, morning and evening trips are all that I normally, run in these months. Full day backcountry trips are also productive for Tarpon, plus you have a large variety of other critters to play with. It is all good, just be aware of what you are getting into. It may take a couple of trips to put you on the fish you really want. I wanted to add a photo, but since hurricane Wilma wiped out my other computer along with just about everything else I own, I can’t. I’m looking at a nice 100-pound fish on my bulletin board. Maybe I’ll go scan it and add the photo later.

Tight Lines,
Capt. Dallas

Friday, December 08, 2006

Fishing the Florida Keys - What a Bite!

As I mentioned last time, Permit are being caught at the bridge. Offshore has been pretty hot for Sails, which is normal for this month, but Wahoo and Dolphin are included in every report I've gotten. I asked how the tarpon are biting in Key West and one boat out of Almost There Charters had three on a trip two days ago. The Bay is hot as a fire cracker! Not only tons of Spanish Mackerel, but more cobia than I've seen in years. While I was driving to Key West yesterday, every flat I drove past on the ocean side was loaded with bait. Pelicans, terns and gulls were every where! It looked like birds behind a shrimp boat, only there were no boats anywhere.

Driving over the Seven Mile bridge, I saw four boats fishing along the way and all had nice size Mangrove Snapper coming over the side. To help you understand what I just said, normally there would be fifteen or more boats and you might see two fish, for all four boats to have fish on, that's just plain outrageous! Every bridge that I passed, that had anglers, someone seemed to be taking pictures of fish. Not small stuff, but three pound Mangs and one guy had a either a big pompano or a small permit. Heck, I got a great fishing report just driving down the road! So I stopped by a few docks to get reports from local charter guys in Marathon and not a single boat in the old town had been out in two days. We are in the middle of one of the best bites I've ever seen, and no customers!

This is one of the most frustrating starts to the season I have every seen. Fish every where and not a customer is sight!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Fishing The Florida Keys - report

A few boats have been getting out. Most have been taking advantage of the Mackerel bite in the bay. Action is great back there and getting better. Good Spanish action in Hawks channel reported as well. Offshore reports are still mentioning Dolphin in faily close, a good thing. Sails are being reported, but the reports are a little slow for this time of year. Not because of the sails, but because charters aren't getting booked like normal. The season seems to be off to a slow start, but is picking up. Had one report of a nice sword early last week, scattered reports of nice size Black Fin and lots of Kings.

So all the usual suspects are here, you just need to winterize you house and get your butt down here!

Tight Lines
Captain Dallas

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Getting Close!

I think the pangler issues are resolved. We located one with the leaning post live well. Also have a lead on a custom built fish box for the bow. This should make a great casting deck. Pull up cleat for the bow will clean it up nicely for my fly guys. The live well and the fishbox will also even out loading to reduce the wet foot problem. Adding ping pong ball scupper stops will help too. Going with a very simple Garmin combo GPS/sounder to keep it real clean looking. All of this will add a couple of grand to the price, but much less than I thought.

A bait cooler wil fit perfectly in front of motor splash well. The drink cooler will be the only thing really in the way. I may go with another custom cooler to clean that up a bit. Have a few really neat ideas for tackle storage. This boat is going to be the cat' ass.

Tight Lines

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Cooking Your Catch

I've added a recipe or two on the tips and recipes page. Bacon wrapped stuffed yellowtail. YUM!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

New boat Sea Trial

Just back from a sea trial, now I'm more confused. Drove a 26 Pangler around in Islamarada. The boat was powered by a 225 Merc four stroke, had roughly 75 gallons of fuel and two guys around 200 pounds each. The boat's ride was really nice, it gets on a plane in a heartbeat, will plane at 2500 RPM and was very dry for a center console and it was surprizingly stable. I didn't take a GPS, but in the corner she made an easy 45 Knots and at 4000 RPM she pushed 30 knots. The low plane at 2500, was close to 20 knots, but the low plane is a bit deceptive. There was no real bow rise getting on a plane, it just got there! That was pretty impressive. So I like the basic lined Panga concept. The fit and finish was typical of a production boat, nothing bedded so there are rust tracks, adequate but not impressive. The tee top was nice and should last, the leaning post with rocket lanchers and cooler storage beneath was well made. Wiring was above average quality and the instruments well laid out and all analog which I prefer.

I was a bit disappointed with the quality of construction. There were numerous gelcoat chips in the hull, a lot more than I would expect for boat with thirty hours serving as a demo. I have owned Anglers in the past and never seen chips like this. With Anglers use of foam to reduce flex as well a provide floatation, I was surprised at the chipping.

Big draw backs for what I do, charter fishing, is there is no easy way to install a leaning post live well. Installing a live well at the transom looks good, But the extra 240 pounds in the rear will make it a wet footed boat with three guys fishing in the back. There is very little storage, no fish box just an anchor locker, Cooler storage under the leaning post, a small area under the console seat and a small area under the console for batterys, life preservers, flare box and maybe some foul weather gear. The boat looks very roomy, but add a fish cooler, a bait cooler, your tackle bag and a live well. Things will get a bit cramped. So to make it really fishable, (at least to my standards) I need to have a custom fish box built for the bow area that would double as a casting deck, use the storage under the console seat for a bait cooler, the space under the leaning post for the drink cooler and go with a much smaller live well.

So if any of you Pangler owners that live bait for tarpon and also like to bring home a mess of big cobia, dolphin, grouper etc. would like to comment, I would appreciate the input.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Ribbon of Silver

I was at The Tackle Box today talking to Capt. Dave about the Florida Bay happenings. We made some plans to swap a few numbers, my Cobia spots for his Mutton spots. Our talk about the Bay reminded me of a trip I had a few years back. It’s kind of hard to convince people just how good the Mackerel fishing really can be. This might help.

This was a trip in March of 2003. The guys I had on the boat, wanted to learn how to fish the reef and a little offshore. After catching all the tails they wanted, we drifted fish just off the reef in 125 to 150 feet. The drifts produced a few King Mackerel, not big 10 to 15 pounds and we played with some little Tunny. It was nothing all that spectacular just a pretty good day of fishing. After we had burned all chum, I pointed the boat back to the barn.

As I slowed the boat down in front of the marina, one of my crew mentioned that he would like to try for a Spanish mackerel in the bay. Not having anymore chum, only one ballyhoo and about 5 Tunny strips, the prospects weren’t all that exciting, but we had a little more time. We ran 7 miles north just past marker 16. The sun was just perfect in the west, the water gin clear and I spotted a ribbon of silver in the water. After stopping the boat I told the crew to bait and up and pointed to were I wanted them to cast. As soon as the baits hit the water, all four were hooked up on Spanish mackerel. We boated all four, all dead on five pounds, a few minutes later. My crew hadn’t realized until the fish struck what that silver ribbon was, a solid wall of Spanish mackerel. I‘m not good at estimating something like this, but about 25,000 fish is my guess.

Maybe that will give doubters a little better understanding of why the Mackerel fishing can be so good.

Going to sea trial the new boat tomorrow, so until then,

Tight Lines

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Macks are Back!

The front did its job and moved the Mackerel in close. About seven miles back in the bay is a great place to start. The big ones, over seven pounds, are a little way off, but plenty of 3 to 5 pounds are here now. Cobia are still a little further back, but that could change today. Decent size Mang’s around two to three pounds and still a few Seatrout.

The season has arrived. Good reports of Sails and Mackerel on the ocean side too. Most of the sails have been on trolled baits, but the live bait charters are gearing up in earnest. Deep drops are producing good size Muttons and fair numbers of Grouper. No offshore reports because the wind has been a little high. I expect good numbers of Black fin tuna are waiting for snack, along with a few scattered, Dolphin and King Mackerel. Check out my Mackerel posts on tips for the Spanish, or come on down and book a trip or two.

The past few days I’ve been working on getting the new boat for the backcountry charters, so I haven’t been out, most of the info was courtesy of Native Sun and Adios Charters. Hope to have the new boat running in a couple of weeks so get ready for some great fishing!

Tight Lines

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Florida Bay Mackerel Fishing

Revised 11/26

Winter Mackerel fishing in the Florida is pretty simple. Get about 8 to 10 miles out in bay in 10 to 12 foot off water, chum like crazy, use wire leaders and catch fish. Okay, I’m done.

Well, maybe there is a little bit more.

If you are in Marathon, 8 to 10 miles north is a good area once they show. If you are in Islamarada, you should head west of Springer Bank. If you are in Big Pine, head north through Spanish Harbor towards the Contents Keys and about three miles further north. You can catch them closer in and further out, this is just the normally productive area.

Pick you area and start chumming. When I’m on the reef, I’ll normally use a larger mesh chum bag. Back in the Bay I use a medium or small mess bag. I want the scent more in the Bay attract mackerel and enough bits to keep the bait fish happy. Once you start chumming you should see a lot of baitfish pretty quickly. Pin fish first normally, then jacks (blue runners and/or Crevalle) and if you are half way lucky, Ballyhoo. All of these can be caught on a small size 6 or 8 hook with a tiny piece of bait, and you should stock your live well.

The Jacks make great shark bait, snip the tail off and balloon them back. They also make great strip bait. Fillet them and cut the fillets in ½ to ¾ inch strips. The ballyhoo is great as live, dead or chunk baits. Use the pinfish as live bait, but if you run low on strips, they work too. I normally take one or two, dozen live shrimp to get things started and a few live crabs, in case something interesting shows up.

I’m not going give away my secret numbers, so I’m sending you guys to a general area. I will go to, well, just a little more special areas. These areas might have a few keeper Grouper, bigger Mangroves, and about a billion times more Cobia, than you’ll see. Other than that it’s the same kind of thing.

You will wire rigs, Mackerel have sharp teeth, you need wire rigs or long shank hooks. I make my on wire rigs, two types for Bay Mackerel. One is very light, size 2, 3407 Mustad, size7 swivel and about 6” of number 2 wire. This is for light currents so the weight of the wire doesn’t take you in the grass. The other is size 2/0 Mustad 3407, size 7 swivel and about six inches of number 4 wire. These are for the bite! I use size seven swivels for two reasons; first the reduce the chance of the bait sliding up the line after a strike – second, if you thread one rig’s hook through another rig’s swivel, you have a stinger rig. If your bait slides up your line, another mackerel will probable cut your line. The stinger rig is great for double hooking ballyhoo. Have a couple dozen of each minimum before you head out. Tying wire rigs with mackerel slime is almost impossible. Use a proper haywire twist on the rigs, meaning don’t cut the tag, twist and break the tag. This is bloodless so you won’t cut your hands on your wire leaders. A snake-er gaff is perfect for handling the mackerel. It has a 1 ½ to 2” gap gaff hook and a long, light fishing pole handle. Make your own, if you like, but they cost less than 20 bucks.

With any Mackerel, a fairly light drag is required with these small hooks. About 3 to 6 pounds is all you want. Set too tight, you’ll have a lot of pulled hooks. The light drag just adds to the fun. Some of the Spanish you can hook are over 10 pounds, lots of fun on light tackle. But bring a little bit heavier stuff for other fish you might encounter.

Once the bite starts, you’ll find that Mackerel love a moving target. Cast your strip baits back in the slick and let them drift a bit. Then jig them a few times and reel them back to the boat. If the Mackerel are way back in the slick, rig up a fairly heavy spoon and cast that back to them. Reel the spoon in fast to tick‘em off and draw them closer to the boat. If they are in the area, you’ll get them going. Throwing spoons the whole time is fun, but costly. You will lose a lot of lures if you catch a good bite. Spanish aren’t the sharpest tacks in the box when they strike, they will miss short and miss long, and snip your lure off. I’ve seen a dozen Spanish miss a spoon on one cast. It’s pretty comical.

If you like fly-fishing, a fairly large, Clouser-minnow, yellow or blue and white or Hell Just Put One In The Slick, it will work quite well. Remember to use a few inches wire leader. Tie the fly to the wire using a haywire twist and the fly to a mono shock leader with a dog knot If you don’t know a dog knot, use a Albright knot. Same deal as with the strip baits. Cast out, let it drift a little, twitch a little, then strip fast a few times. If you don’t hook up, repeat until you do. A nine-weight fly rod is recommended, just because of the wind you’ll probably be fighting. When you hook up a big one, get ready for some great runs.

Other critters that may show are Cobia, Sharks, Snapper, Grouper, Seatrout, Pompino, Permit, Ladyfish, Bluefish, Cero Mackerel, King Mackerel, Tarpon and Goliath Grouper. Other than that it’s pretty much just Spanish Mackerel you will encounter. I mentioned that I take a few crabs for interesting fish. I think Permit and Cobia are kind of interesting. Oh, those live pinfish drifted back, can get nailed pretty hard, as will as live or dead ballyhoo.

If you get some big spinner sharks it’s a blast. You will need a special leader set up or heavier tackle to bring one to the boat. First, you will need a super strong hook. A 4/0 to 7/0 super strong works great. Second, two or more feet of number six or heavier wire. Third, enough 60 to 80 pound mono, to complete your 20 foot total length leader for less that 30 pound main line or 25 feet for 30 pound and heavier. Finally, 10 feet of double line for less than 30 pound main line or 15 feet for 30 and heavier. Why, because these fish spin like a top when they jump, wrapping a lot of the leader around them. As the Spinners twist and turn, they will stress the heck out of your rig. I’ve hooked spinners that would push a buck-fifty plenty of times and lost a few they might have hit 200 pounds. I normally balloon one of these rigs way back in the slick.

Best Months: January through March

Tight Lines

Fishing the Florida Keys - How To

I'm going to start posting a few how to articles on fishing the Keys. Don't expect every Captain down here to agree with everything I write. There is more than one way to skin a catfish. Some thing that are fairly common,I don't do. Sand balling is one. I have ways to product the same kind of results without trashing the boat. The methods I use follow the KISS principle, Keep It Simple Stupid. They work for me. When they quit working I'll change.

If you are new to fishing in the Keys you may want to buy copies of a couple of Vic Dunnaway's books, Complete Book of Baits, Rigging and Tackle and Sport Fish of
Florida. Vic knew his stuff. I use his UniKnot every trip.

I have one blog post, The Art of Yellowtail Snapper Fishing, all ready. I will revise that a little because it was for Octobert and November when I really nail the flags, every day tailing is a little different but not much.

Florida Bay for Mackerel will be next. If I get around to it, Basic Bridge Fishing, from a boat that is, will be next. Anyone that disagrees or has any input, feel free to comment.

Tight Lines

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Up Coming Tournaments

There are a few fishing tournaments coming up in the Middle and Lower Keys that are a lot of fun. Pay outs are low, but if you get into the Calcutta, you can win some cash. The first one is the Captain Leon Shell Memorial Billfish Tournament, February every year. This is an angler tournament, $75 to $100 per angler. You get a nice captain's bag and a great meal at the awards banquet. Most Sailfish normally wins the over-all, tuna, dolphin and wahoo have divisions as well.

For a complete listing of all fishing tournaments the Florida Keys, check the Weekly Fisherman link on blog side bar. If you want to fish any of these tourneys, leave a message and I'll get you a list of local captains you may hook up with.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Want a World Record?

Small Permit - I normally don't take these fish, they're more valuable swimming

Had a couple of people this week emailing me about trying for a world record Permit. This isn't the time of year. July and August is the best bet where I fish. This is when the big girls spawn on the wrecks. Getting one to boat ain't easy. See Fishing the Florida Keys - the Gulf Wrecks. I can put you on world class Permit, but you have to catch them. If you want a world line test record of any kind, try Spanish Mackerel and Lady fish. Late December to March is a great time to try. Female or junior anglers on fly rods have the best shot. Don't count on setting a record though. They're world records for a reason!

Tight lines,
Captain Dallas

Monday, November 20, 2006

Fishing the Florida Keys - Fishing Report

The wind kicked up the last couple of days so there aren't many reports from off shore. Before the blow everywhere was pretty hot. I expect the same after the front passes through. A couple of bigger boats did get out and got their butts kicked for a fair catch of Black fin tuna in the 8 to 12 pound range. No dolphin reports.

Reef catches of yellowtail and muttons are pretty good but the tide will run against the wind for half your day. So check the currents close before planning trip. A few tarpon are being jumped here and there but the action is far from hot. There should be plenty of big lanes, mangs and a few keeper grouper on the hawk channel rock piles. I'll try to get out there around Turkey Day to catch a few.

Cobia and a mixed bag of mangroves, seatrout, bluefish and a few mackerel in the bay. This latest cold front should move the mackerel and more cobia a lot closer this week. The macs and cobia I've seen have been 16 to 18 miles north west of Marathon. This week I should see them about 10 to 14 out. Not much info from the flats guys over the weekend. I didn't have a trip due to inebriation. If you plan to fish, do the Duval crawl after the trip. I lose a lot of trips to Duval street!

More people are showing up with the cold front too. I'll have a lot more info from the local captains, if they can remember where they docked their boats. Some haven't been out in a month.

Happy Turkey Day and Tight Lines


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Fishing The Florida Keys - The Marathon Hump

The Marathon Hump is 27 miles South East of Marathon. This hump or mound rises from 1150 feet on the east side to 410 feet at the top. When the gulf stream current is flowing, large eddy currents form, forcing bait to the surface. On a good day, hundreds if not thousands of terns will feeding over schooling Black Fin Tuna and Dolphin crashing bait. The hump can be magically alive with fish or dead, depending on the current and the bait in the area. Sunday, it was alive.

Live bait can be the key to catching fish at hump sometimes, but I have great luck trolling 4" to 6" lures here. Twenty or more Black fins in the 10 to 30 pound range, dolphin to 50 pounds and the occasional bill fish. The largest Black fin I've boated at the hump was 35 pounds, but we have been spooled a few times. I'm a light tackle kind of guy and thirty pound gear isn't all ways enough. It's not that thirty isn't heavy enough for the fish, it's thirty isn't all ways heavy enough for the fish that want to eat your fish. So you may want to use fifty pound gear at the hump.

Pulling a big lure on the shot gun line is a good idea. Marlin, Makos, Wahoo and bigger Yellowfin tuna, like eating Black Fins. They don't always want to play, but the hump is a great place to hook a fish of a life time. A few miles south of the hump is the wall. Here the water drops to over 1000 feet. A great place to dust off those big marlin lures and see how they work. If you find birds working, get ready for just about any pelagic you can imagine.

On the way out and back in your in prime fishing grounds. I normally run and gun until I'm about two miles from the hump. On the way, I'm watching for birds, floating debris and bait sprays, that tell me fish are close. There have been a few trips we didn't make it to the hump because of all the fish we found on the way out. Pick a good day though, the seas at the hump can be brutal with a east wind over 18 knots. I shoot for 5 to 10 knot forecast winds on a hump trip, but will consider a 10 to 15 day. Over 15, forget it. There is too much other good fishing out of Marathon to risk your gear on a sixty mile round trip in a washing machine.

Until next time
Tight Lines

Monday, November 13, 2006

Fishing the Florida Keys for a New Boat

It's boat shopping time again. Time for one of the two happiest days in a boat owners life, the day he buys and the day he sells. The reason is that the fishing competition in Marathon is changing. More captains are moving into larger sport fisherman and high end charters. The fishing is just too good down here to neglect the backcountry and bay wrecks. So I'm looking at 24' to 26' panga style open fisherman. These are clean enough for fly fishermen, not much foul their fly line and big enough for four anglers, six in a pinch with the 26 footer.

The fuel economy is the main draw these boats have for me. Every charter down here has a fuel surcharge built in right now. I hate that nickle and diming tactic. With one of these pangas, its $350 for a half day and $550 for a full day. No extras, no add ons, just get in the boat and go! The pangas have a high bow flare so just about any day is fish able. Tarpon trips, bay wrecks, gulf wrecks, offshore for sailfish, the panga is a good all around boat for this area. I haven't decided on which manufacturer yet, but I'm getting closer. When it gets real close, I'll post pictures and let you guys help me decide.

If you want to get in on a great investment click here for details.

The Fishing Reports is like this. All the Blackfin Tuna you want at the Marathon Hump along with good numbers of school dolphin and a few gaffers. Cobia still in the bay and mackerel are showing but agood way back to the north west. Lots of bait in the area of the 57 10 and further west. A few sails off the reef, but most of the action I've heard is closer to Aligator light than Sombrero. Tails, Muttons, Grouper and still good numbers of Mangroves on the reef.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Lodging and Vacation Package Information

Click here for more information on Charter, Dining and Lodging in the Marathon area.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Fishing the Florida Keys - The Gulf Wrecks

The wind is still blowing so I guess I'll have to talk about one of my favorite fishing areas, The Gulf Wrecks. Most of these wrecks are WWII merchant ships sunk by german subs. These wrecks are loaded with a variety of fish. One trip, a lady angler called it her fishing wet dream. Guess she kinda had fun! Most of the time the action is non-stop if there is a little current. I've only had two trips out of about 100 that was boring. That's fishing though, even on the slow trips we hooked a few big fish.

Fishing the Gulf wrecks can be a challenge. Since the ban on Jewfish (Goliath Grouper), these big fish have made a big come back. Some on the wrecks have dozens of Jewfish over two hundred pounds. Getting a keeper grouper in the boat is almost impossible. The Jewfish are really thick. If you want to catch and release one of these monsters think big. Four to six pound live baits and 100# test or bigger gear. Delicately adjust you drag with a hammer to around fifty to eighty pounds. Then be careful what you wish for, these guys are brutes! In the side bar, the fish laying on the deck is an approximately 275 pound Goliath.

On one charter we have great visibility and saw a squadron of six Jewfish between 150 and 600 pounds follow a big blue runner up to the boat. It was a pretty awesome sight. Big bull sharks and hammerheads are all over these wrecks as well. So any fish you hook has to run a gantlet of monsters to make it to the boat.

Along with these monster preditors are world class permit. If you don't know what a permit is, it's a pompano on serious steriods. We have boated plenty permit in the thirty to 45 pound range on the Gulf wrecks and lost plenty of bigger ones to the wreck and the predators. It takes a bit of trickery and luck to have a shot at a potential world record permit.

Timing is the first part of the process. The school of permit move around the wreck. If you wait until they are down current from wreck before you cast, you have the best shot. Having the boat between the wreck and the school helps too. This allows you to herd the fish a little. If the angler bears down on the fish when it moves towards the wreck and eases up when it moves away, you can get a hundred yards of clearance. This tactic cuts down on the Jewfish problems. Believe me, a six hundred pound jewfish will inhale a 50 pound permit given a chance. This doesn't solve shark problem.

Another trick for sharks requires another boat fishing for permit on the same wreck. Wait until the other boat is hooked up before you cast to the school. Then the first fish hooked has the highest chance of a shark attack. It's best to coordinate this tactic before you start or large egg sinkers may start flying your way. This worked real well on one trip, but for the other boat. I had a male angler and the other boat had a female angler. Their boat landed a fish just over 50 pounds on twelve pound gear. We were shooting for a 36 plus pounder on six pound test and didn't boat a one out of 10 hook ups. Guess that's why it's called a world record. The best bait for the big permit is a live big blue crab. The bait shops call these tarpon crabs. Three to five inches across from point to point is my preferred size, Without claws by the way. Drill a 2/0 to 4/0 hook into the shell about 1/4" to 1/2" from the base of the point. This keeps the crab nice and lively. My leader is normally 5' to 10' of clear mono or florocarbon normally 20# to 50# test. The shorter leader makes it easier to sight cast to larger fish. Unless you're pretty sure you have a world record, take picture a let her go. The big ones are females that are nice to have around, if you like fast permit action.

If you aren't into world class permit as much as dinner, chum fishing is your best bet. Use a lot of chum to lure the snapper closer to the suface. Once they are up, free line bait strips or live bait to the school. A tight drag is a must to keep the hooked fish out of the Jewfish zone. Keep a crab or big live shrimp ready for cobia that will normally show. If the cobia fight on the surface you have a great chance of boating dinner. Don't get greedy though if you don't mine. One or two cobia are plenty and it gives the next guy a chance at dinner too.

Live white bait or rigged balleyhoo in the chum slick will product spanish mackerel and king mackerel along with cobia. A foot or so of number 4 wire leader is required for the mackerel and the cobia don't care if you use wire or not. Tuna, mainly little tunny with a few blackfin aren't uncommon. Late spring to early summer is best for the permit, with winter a spring better for the kings and cobia. There is a big overlap on the wrecks though so any day can be productive. Pick a calm day for your trip, with winds under 10 knots if possible. If you want to book a trip or just shoot the breeze, leave a comment.

Until next time, tight lines.

Captain Dallas

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Florida Keys Fishing - When it Blows It Sucks!

Lost two trips this weekend to the weather. Heck, it's only blowing thirty out of the northeast! Seams all my old customers have taken to wearing skirts. Well I guess it's time for a quick fishing report and some reminiscing.

The report is the fish are here, the fishermen aren't. Great mixed bags are back in the bay, snapper, grouper, cobia, jewfish, big mackerel and the usual suspects. The flats have slowed down with the temperature drop, but will pick up around the next moon. Sailfish, tuna and still a few dolphin offshore. Reef fishing is good, with Yellowtail, mutton and mangrove Snapper cooperating nicely. Grouper fishing has been a little slow, but that just because I haven't been out there charter fishing. I have a few little fishing holes that are hot this time of year. So put your pants back on and let's go on a little fishing charter.

Now let's reminisce, This time three years ago I had a mate Chris (last name with held because I'm brain dead), that I was training. We had a charter with two really nice older gentlemen that had been planing the trip for a bunch of years. After saving they finally came up with enough money to come to the fabulous Florida Key and go on a once of a life time blue water big game fishing safari. One of the gents want to go sailfishing, the other wanted grouper fishing. That's doable out of Marathon, but a little tough on a half day charter.

I told the guys we would try a little sailfishing on the way to one of my grouper hole off Bahia Honda. Thirty minutes from the dock, we crossed the reef and I spotted a Frigate Bird pounding the deck. I put the Topaz in the corner and told Chris to get ready. We were loaded for bear, a couple hundred big lively pilchards in the bait tank. Running to the Frigate, I was seeing single and double sailfish in the water. I started thinking I was nuts passing these fish, but I wanted to see what that bird was on.

We finally caught up with the bird and it was worth it! I told Chris to flip a bait in the water and backed the boat down on nine sailfish balling a school of cigar minnow. As I counted the fish out to Chris, who had never caught a sail, much less seen this many balling, got a touch excited. The first bait, he cast so hard it came off the hook and went about 40 yards straight up in the air. I shook my head while he watched the bait go up, stop, and fall back in the cockpit. Then he got a big dip of pilchards and dumped them on the deck. Manage to corral one and flung that bait off too.

I climbed down out of the tower, baited another rod and flipped it in the water. As I handed the rod to the closest angler, I told him to close the bail and catch a fish, then climbed back in the tower. Chris, by this time, managed to get two more baits in the water with baits still on the hook. Now we had three sailfish on and only two anglers. I told Chris to just stick the third rod in a holder and help the anglers. These where slob sailfish and we were fishing 20# spinners with only 8 foot leaders, so it took a while. The first fish came to the boat about 45 minutes later. Chris billed the sail like a pro and posed it with the angler while I took pictures from the tower. They released the sail and after a few hand shakes and pats on the back, Chris put that rod in a tower holder. I mentioned to Chris that it might be a good idea to hand the angler the other rod. Now we are back to two sailfish on. We managed to boat all three, but the camera ran out of film after the second.

I called down from the tower to see if they want to go grouper fishing now, but my bottom fisherman decided that sailfishing was OK after all. I the next hour, we boated one more sail, a couple of big jack crevalle and jumped off three more sailfish. Then it was time to head back to the dock. Chris mentioned mounting a sail or two to the anglers. At the dock, the angler that had boated three of the four fish asked me if it was worth mounting. After mentioning to him that three slob sailfish in a half day was a bit better than average, sailfish the size we boated are a bit rare and that he may never get a chance to repeat a trip like that he got a mount.

I could not hear their conversation driving from the tower. Chris told me that there was to be three anglers but one of their friends had died a few months earlier. They were just going on about how he would have loved that trip. By the way, that's Chris on the right.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Fishing the Forida Keys - No Sexy Fish Today

The crew I was going to take out didn't make it. They had BOAT issues. Boat is an achronym, Broke Or About To. After you find that out, Break Out Another Thousand. I was looking forward to fishing with them. We have caught a lot of sexy fish together, sailfish, Dolphin and big boys like sharks and jewfish. I wanted to take them out for Cobia, grouper and a few sharks, but next time I guess. Ended up crabbing with my buddy Jimbo instead.

We moved a few traps and pulled 160 stone crab pots. The current was all screwed up, so it was no fishing vacation. Any day on the water is a good day though. Got a little more money in my clothes and learned a little more about the crabbing industry. After running go fast fishing boats, a 10 knot crab boat takes a little attitude adjustment. Besides being slow, she handles a lot different than most boats I've driven. I'll get use to her though, just a little more time at the helm. Anyway, about 70 pounds of stone crab claws wasn't bad for a few hours work.

Hopefully, I'll have a better fishing report for you next time. It's going to be wet and windy for the next couple of days, but Saturday and Sunday should be fishable. If not, I may have to break out the guitar and and write some more blues tunes.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Smoked and grilled Mackerel dishes

For more recipes

Here's a few ways to cook all those mackerel that are biting:

Spanish Mackerel have a stigma attached because of Boston mackerel and other mackerel that make good bait and little else. Spanish tastes more like Wahoo than they do like King Mackerel and are very tasty if properly prepared. To prepare Spanish for smoking, I fillet them, leaving the skin on and then zipper the fillets. This is accomplished by cutting down both sides the bone/bloodline in the center of the fillet and pulling the line out. I soak the fillets in salt water and ice for fifteen minutes or so just to make sure the fillets are really chilled and clean.

There are a variety of brining solutions you can use and most of them are great. I rarely brine my fillets before smoking. Normally all I do is season them with salt, pepper, paprika for color and a little cayenne pepper.

I have a fairly elaborate electric smoker that will hold about 150 pounds of fillets that I heat to 250 degrees. In the smoke pot, I use, button wood chips soaked in water and a little apple juice if I have it. Cover you grates with foil and lay the fillets skin side down on the foil. I don’t over cook mine, usually 4 to 6 hours is plenty, depending on the thickness of the fillets. I want the fish cooked but still moist.

Once done, let the fish cool for a while, 5 to 10 minutes, with a large spatula, take the fish off the grate. Most of the skin will stick to the foil making clean up easy.

Smoke mackerel is best served with several cold beer around a cook fire.

Smoke Mackerel Dip

This is my version. There are lots of other great ones.

4 pounds approx. smoked Mackerel crumbled coarsely
1 cup slice green onions
½ cup dice celery
½ cup soften cream cheese
½ cup sour cream
1 package dry ranch dressing mix.

Throw the first five ingredients in a large bowl and blend it all together, clean hands is the best mixer. Sprinkle the dressing mix over it all and mix again. If the smoked fish is properly seasoned, no extra seasoning is required. A little mayo can be added if the fish was smoked a bit dry. The dip should be a little stiff, but should spread with a little difficulty. If you want it to spread more easily, add mayo and/or sour cream.

If you don’t have a smoker or don’t want to smoke the fish, then fire up your grille. Place foil in the center of the grill and place the fish skin side on the foil. I normally mix all my spice in a half cup of mayo and baste the fillets once on the grill at the start of cooking. Cook 10 to 12 minutes over medium heat. Let cool as before and serve with cold beer.

If you have any left over, here’s another good dish:

2 pounds grill Spanish crumbled
2 cups plain bread crumbs
½ cup sliced green onions
½ cup dice bell pepper
1 very finely diced Scot’s bonnet pepper
Garlic and cayenne pepper optional
4 eggs well beaten

Place the fish in a large bowl and punch a well in the middle of the fish.
Put the bread crumbs in the well.

Sauté the peppers and onions in half butter and olive oil (2 table spoons each).
Once translucent, pour the veggies and oil on the bread crumbs. Mix a bit, add the beaten eggs, and mix well.

Get the skillet hot again, with butter and olive oil, and sauté small hamburger size patties of the fish mixture. Cook until crispy on the first side and turn. Cook the second side about half as long as the first. Serve crispy caramelized side up. These are great just like they are, or serve with any creative sauce you like. Duck sauce, honey mustard or hot wing sauce, to name a few. A mango vinaigrette sauce is good with these fish cakes. Just deglaze the skillet with ¼ cup apple vinegar, stir in 1 cup of mango juice and reduce by half over medium low heat.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Florida Keys Fishing - Another Fishing Trip in Paradise

My charter yesterday after noon was wet but fun. A small cold front came through and we got soaked. The wind was strong enough that my crew, a young Navy guy stationed at Boca Chica and his two friends from out of town, started shivering. So we left a great wreck we were fishing to hide in the lee of Demolition Island. They caught plenty of Snapper for dinner and had a great time, wet or not. My crew was new to fishing and was a little rough on my gear. One of my rod guides messed up so I'll be fixing that this afternoon. That got me thinking.

I've had these rods and reels for over 5 years now. Fished an average of 275 days a year for that time and have only had four guides break. That ain't bad! The rods were custom made for me, from Ugly Stick blanks, by Rick at Key Largo Rods. Now the finish on the rods is pretty rough, but they all are still in use. The reels are Daiwa BG30's and BG60's. These have been used hard, were flooded by hurricane Wilma, basically have been through the mill and they are all still in service. They don't look a pretty as they use to, but they're still catching fish. I have to clean them more often now, and I have two bearings, thanks to Wilma, that I'll need to replace soon, but they still catch big fish. Tarpon over 100 pounds, sail fish over 90 pound, Amberjack over 70 pounds, Dolphin over 50 pounds, Permit over 45 pounds, and sharks over 300 pounds, all on my custom Ugly Stick/Daiwa BG series Spinning outfits.

I can complain a lot about the weather, but I can't complaint about my tackle.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Florida Keys Fishing - Cobia but no Kings

The Ohio crew plus doc got into the Cobia yesterday as predicted. Only got one keeper though, missed shots at a couple more. Had several lemon sharks, nurse sharks, short grouper and jewfish. It wasn't a great trip because the current quit first, then crossed us up. Still the Cobia is enough dinner for twelve. Not a bad fish at all. The crew from upstate NY is due in tomorrow. Hope to get out with them Monday for some big Jewfish and more Cobia. Have a backcountry trip tomarrow, maybe the Tarpon are biting. From left, me, Doc with his Cobia and Jerry.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Florida Keys Fishing - The Season Starts

Jerry and the boys from Ohio arrived last night and stopped by for a drink. They take a few of these fishing vacations each year. The Spanish and King Mackerel fishing will be fantastic and the night life with Key West's Fantasy Festival will be great. Grouper Fishing in the Florida Bay should be good as well. I'm planing on eating nice fresh Cobia for dinner. I have several Bay wrecks where the Cobia fishing should be awesome.

Yellowtail Snapper fishing is still hot on the reef. These fish are a beautiful as they are tasty. Big Mangrove and Mutton Snapper are on the reef along with keeper Grouper. One stop shopping makes a great Fishing Trip!

Get your vacation plans set and come on down to the Florida Keys for the best fishing holiday you will ever have!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Fishing the Florida Keys The Art of Yellowtail Snapper Fishing

Revised 27 November

October and November is a great time to catch large flag Yellowtails, Mutton Snapper and big Black Grouper. This is the time of the year when the Blacks move onto the reef to spawn. So I'll normally get a nice mixed bag of Blacks, Muttons and tails.

Chum fishing is the technique of choice. Count on one 7-pound block per hour of fishing using a medium large mesh bag. I prefer 45 to 60 foot of water with good marked structure this time of the year. Anchor where you have two or more good marks down current of the boat. Start chumming like crazy, shaking the first bag half empty in the first 20 minutes or so. Pre-thawing a block in the cooler the night before helps.

The bait I prefer for the tails is silver side minnows and Ballyhoo strips. Size your bait for you hook. Look at what is coming out of the chum bag, that’s the hatch to match. The rig is simple, tie a size 2 to 2/o hook on the line. The size 2 (or smaller) if the current is light, and use up to the 2/o if the current is running hard. If your bait drifts and drops at the same rate as the chum, you got it right. In a stronger current I'll add a size 7, barrel swivel 2 to 3 feet in front of the hook. Between varying the hook size and swivel combinations, you shouldn't have to add any weight. Light jigs and feathers work but aren't necessary if you get your technique down.

Fresh, clear, 12 to 20 pound monofilament, on a spinning outfit is best for tailing for Flags, yellow tails over 3pounds. Flourocarbon is optional, unless the current is nearly dead and the water is gin clear. If your spot is good, your line fresh and your chum slick kicking, you won't need it. Most people will say twenty is too heavy, until they hook into a 6 plus pound flag way back in the slick, or a 20 pound Mutton.

When you get ready to deploy your bait, give the chum bag a good shake, drop your bait in the chum and start pealing off line fast enough to keep up with the chum cloud and preferably just under the chum in the water. Initial drifts may be three times the water depth or more, but when the bite starts, you should see the fish behind the boat.

While you're tailing, take a few of the live tails and toss them in your bait well. Shoot one of these tails down on a grouper rig with enough weight to keep him from climbing back in the boat. I use larger tails, 14 to 16 inches for grouper baits. I don't like messing around with short grouper. About 6 to 10 foot of leader is recommended for Blacks. Suspend the weight 10 to 20 feet off the bottom to prevent rock ups. Don't go too heavy on the leader; 50 to 80 pound test is plenty.

Keep and eye open for Muttons. If you have a large shrimp, live or fresh dead, you should be able to feed it to them. Smaller Pinfish work as well. A lot of the Muttons you hook will be on the Yellowtail rods. This is why I prefer the slightly larger hook and the 12 to 20 pound test this time of the year.

Yellowtails to 5 pounds, Muttons to 20 pound and Blacks to 50 pounds are common this time of the year, if you have good conditions. Good conditions are an east or west current on the reef, moving with the wind. In the middle keys, the last of the outgoing or first of the incoming tide is best. This is when dirtier water is more likely to be present. Out of Key West, there is less dirty water inflow from the bayside, so any steady current will be just fine.

Come on down and let's catch a few good tasting dinners.

Captain Dallas

Addendum or whatever it is to explain stuff.

The above was written for a time of year I normally hammer bigger fish. I can catch Yellowtail year in and year out. It does get slow at times, but you can still catch these guys. The worst case is no current with gin clear water. You see the fish right there under the boat and they just won't bite. If you see them swimming from left to right behind the boat, they are telling you something. Since they don't have fingers, they are using their fins, get it.

This is the time for the Secret weapon; six-pound leader and size 8 hooks, with very small bits of bait. Look at the fish in water. If you are chumming, somewhere they are eating the chum. Be one with the chum and let your bait be one with you. Anybody can catch fish that are biting, but to catch fish that aren't biting takes finesse. With a slack current watch how the chum drops in the slick and how the baited hook you have drops. If they drop at the same rate, you get a bite. It's presentation, its not hot pink size 6 circle hooks or 167th oz jigs, it's the presentation. Get your baited hook to the same spot the tails are feeding in the slick and you have a fish.

That said visualize what's happening in the slick with a current. At some point, the tails are eating. Vary your weight, (that's add a tiny split shot, switch to a smaller hook, a bigger hook, add a swivel, slow your drift or quicken your drift) whatever, to find the right combination. Once you find the combination, you can hammer the fish.

Sand balling, Oat mixtures, cooked elbow macaroni, are all local favorite chumming additions. I use oats, wet and dry, to kick it up a bit, but plenty of free flowing ground sardines or Menhaden is all it really takes.

Yellowtail snapper will not impress some people, but they are excellent eating, have a good fight for their size and can be a challenge. From what I’ve heard, they kick Lake Erie perches butts big time and the weather is normally a touch nicer in the winter here.

Another Add-on: The new Gulf reef fish regulations require the use of circle hooks, de-hooking devices and venting tools when fish for 'tails in Gulf waters. J hooks are still allowed on the ocean side for now.