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

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