Friday, February 29, 2008

Big Pine Key Back Country

For some reason we had two great weather days Sunday and Monday, but no one wanted to fish. So I went to Big Pine Key to sea trial a McKee Craft 16 foot skiff with my buddy Doc.

We launched at the Old Wooden Bridge fish camp and headed out Big Spanish channel. If you have never made that trip you need to put it on your list. It is one of the best boat rides you will ever take. The fishing can be outstanding for tarpon, permit and bonefish if you can get around in skinny water.

Big Spanish Channel ends on the Bayside at Harbor Key and is just a mile from the Content Keys. There is a mixture of sand and grass flats with deep channels in between. It is a back country fisherman's paradise. Near the islands there are a few spots you can catch Mangroves and even a keeper grouper if you aren't much into sports fishing. Bird watchers will have a ball in winter and spring.

We took a couple of rods but weren't serious about fishing. Since we were breaking in a new motor we didn't have that much time anyway. We did drift a few flats seeing mainly baracudas, sharks and mangroves. Now that the skiff is ready to run and we figured out a few things, I will make a few more serious scouting trips to areas I can't access with the bigger boats. Once we get the Pangler running, we should be able to run some top notch back country trips.

Speaking of the Pangler, that idea is placed on hold but not forgotten. With any luck that boat will be available for next season starting in November. That should give the economy enough time to turn around and Conchtiki should be making some money.

With the Pangler I will be able to fish everywhere in the Keys. For instance from Marathon, the Contents is a forty minute run by water. Flamingo is a little longer run, but there are several good areas to fish along the way. I will also be able to trailer to other areas to take advantage of the bite.

Marathon in the Florida Keys should be your next fishing vacation destination. Join us for charter fishing, fishing guide trips or our fishing 101 so you can fish on your own with better success.

Tight lines,

Capt. Dallas

Monday, February 25, 2008

Small Boat Fishing in the Keys

There are a lot of people that like to trailer their small boat down to the Keys for their fishing vacation. There is a ton of great fishing you can do from a small boat or skiff in the Keys. Even when the wind blows you can find a place out of the wind to enjoy a day on the water.

To use your small boat to your best advantage don't forget that trailer. From Marathon you can launch on the north or south side of the island to avoid the wind. Marathon is also in the middle of the Keys. A short trip either east or west will take you to new fishing spots. Out of Big Pine or Cudjo Keys you have access to some of the finest flats fishing in the world. There is more than just bonefish tarpon and permit around the flats. The deeper water between the flats and around the back country islands hold snapper, grouper and even a cobia at times.

Navigating the waters can be intimidating. To make life simpler, have a GPS map system on your boat and a good chart of the area as a back up. Plan your trip in advance and have a float plan ready for a friend in case you get caught by the tides.

The small boat owner can have a great time exploring the back country and on calm days can fish the reef and near offshore waters. The Florida Bay is accessible on most days for the small boats and has some great fishing.

When fishing own your own, I recommend hiring a guide for your first day or two on the water. Navigating around Marathon is pretty easy, especially with a GPS map system. The back Country out of Islamarada and Big Pine Key to the west is a little trickier. Get a local guide for the area you are fishing. The everglades National Park has great fishing and some of the toughest navigation. A guide out of Key Largo, Taverner or Islamarada will make your trip productive and easier on your wallet.

I have good knowledge of the waters from Marathon to Key West. Still there are a few areas I would recommend a more local guide to get the best bang for your buck.

Another advantage of the GPS map system is that most of the boat ramps are listed and easy to find. I will try to add a few links to boat ramps in the near future. Right now I am heading to Big Pine for back country trip. The sun is high enough to read the water and spot the fish.

Marathon in the Florida Keys should be your next fishing vacation destination. Join us for charter fishing, fishing guide trips or our fishing 101 so you can fish on your own with better success.

Tight lines,

Capt. Dallas

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Full Moon

I have posted before that the full moon can make fishing a challenge. Most of the fish targeted here in the Keys are current feeders. The full moon currents and the light of the full moon cause the fish to change their feeding habits.

Daytime fishing can become a challenge on the full moon. Normally, there are only one or two days at and just after the full when daytime fishing, well sucks. Night fishing on the other hand is fantastic. So if you are vacationing around a full moon plan on scheduling a night trip.

Tarpon guides are all geared for night fishing. On the full moon the bite can last all night long. Reef fishing charters at night are very productive if there is a favorable current. Yellowtails, mutton and mangrove snapper are great night feeders. The biggest complaint about night fishing trips is that they are short. With the ten fish per person aggregate snapper limit, it doesn't take long to limit out when the current is running with the wind.

So does the full moon mean all day time fishing sucks? No, the big tide changes can be very productive for flats fishing. At low tide, when flats are fully exposed, bonefish, permit and tarpon can be targeted along the edges of the flats. This is a great time for you to get in touch with your light tackle side and have some fun.

Fishing on the reef can still be productive, but you have to change your tactics. Because of the stronger tides, visibility on the reef will be either very clear or very dirty. In the clear water target grouper, hogfish and porgies. Use live or very fresh dead shrimp on light jigs for the hogfish and porgies and live pinfish, ballyhoo and pilchards for the grouper. This is normally a slower bite than chum fishing, but can produce a very good catch. The key is to cover a lot of ground and hit plenty of live coral fields. This type of fishing is where flourocarbon comes in handy. I use 12 pound flouro with the jigs. While any jig head will work, I have better luck with the white buck tail jigs just heavy enough to get to the bottom. For the grouper use a long leader, six to ten foot, and keep the bait about five feet off the bottom. The grouper bite will be slow, so just dead stick the grouper rod and work the jigs.

Chumming in clear water is optional if you are targeting the hogfish and grouper. If you do chum, you can catch yellowtail if you use very small hooks and light leader. I have had to go as light as six pound test and size six hooks to catch 'tails in clear water on a full moon.

If you have dirty water and a decent current on the outgoing tide, the reef can be just as productive on the full moon as any other time. The problem is the if. Tides in the Keys are a bit abnormal. You only have two to three foot swings and there is often a low high and a high high. This makes the currents very difficult to predict. So be prepared for any conditions if you want to catch fish on the full moon during the day time.

There was a comment on my last post about Oceanside 101 guides. As you all hopefully know, most of my trips are fishing 101's. While I can cover a lot of techniques in a day, most of my regular customers like to book me every year for the first day of their stay to learn something new. One thing I recommend is learning to throw a large cast net (eight foot or larger). The right bait can make your trip so try to add castnetting 101 to your lesson plan. Another thing is make sure your boat has a good round or oval livewell to keep your bait happy until it is time to fish. Most of the Pips and Vacation Boat rentals boats have good livewells. If you are renting make sure you have at least a twenty gallon bait well. Then your Oceanside 101 trip can be productive.

Make Marathon in the Florida Keys your next fishing vacation destination.

Tight lines,

Capt. Dallas

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Fishing is Good if you Have the Right Bait

The little guy in the photo is a pinfish. Each one of my fishing 101 trips starts with catching a few of these guys to trade in on something bigger. While pinfish are not as versatile as Pilchards, they are easy to catch and fish love these bite size snacks. Small hooks size 8 to 10 with small bait a quarter inch square are the ticket. A small Sabiki rig is fine, but cut it down to two or three hooks to reduce your frustration level.

Drifting pinfish past the old bridge piers will produce anything from a variety of Jacks to Tarpon. Big mangroves love pins and the bridge is holding big mangrove snapper. On the patches just on the reef and inside there are plenty of mangroves, muttons and grouper. Just do me a favor and use circle hooks so you don't gut hook the undersized fish. A light knocker rig, just an egg sinker free to slide on the line a 2/0 to 4/0 light wire circle, is the ticket. Adjust your weight with the current and bait size. From a 1/4 ounce to 1 1/2 ounce being the most you should need.

Fishing the down current side of a patch just in the sand is productive. Watching the fish take your bait is kinda fun too. If there are a lot of smaller fish in the area, try cutting a larger pin in half for bait. The little guys will go nuts pecking at the cut bait. Just let it lay until a big one shows to spoil their party.

If you hit a patch that is hot, don't wipe it out. Leaving a few bigger fish on a patch helps attract other big ones. If you take all the larger fish it can take months for the patch to reload. When you don't wipe it out they tend to reload in a few nights.

If you want sailfish, pinfish will work. The sails won't always eat the pins but they will check them out. Have a rigged ballyhoo ready as a pitch bait if they are window shopping.

Drifting the pinfish in the bay on a float will produce sea trout, mangroves, mackerel and even a grouper on occasion. On anchor, get your chum going and free line a couple and have a knocker rig or two out just like the patches.

By the way, Circle hooks are going to be required for all Gulf Reef fishing this year. Get used to them now. With circle hooks you don't set the hook, let the fish tighten the line and just reel.

Tight lines
Enjoy some Marathon Heart of the Florida Keys Fishing

Capt. Dallas

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Not Everyday is Fantastic

Today was a day from hell in my opinion. The live well took a dump and the New Moon currents threw my whole time table off. Yep, I was stooping and fetching to make anything happen.

I am a light tackle guy. I think in terms of 5 to 1's and better. Any fish that weighs five time more than the line test that caught him is my goal. With everything going against me I managed to squeak out a nine to one today. A just over one hundred pound bull shark on twelve pound test.

Most savvy anglers would say "Whoop de do, they caught a friggin' shark!" I agree, there is no way in hell that I would want to fight a shark on any tackle. But I am not the paying customer. There are folks that have never caught a fish that weighed more than the test of the line they were using. Sharks are a good way to move into big game fishing though.

So the day after tomorrow, I will try to place this satisfied customer on a few sailfish on light tackle. That is just a little more exciting than sharks in my opinion. Sorry, no photos of the shark, we were fishing the flats and I had enough fun driving the boat.

Hopefully, I will have some sailfish pictures for the next post.

Tight lines,
Enjoy some Marathon Heart of the Florida Keys Fishing

Captain Dallas

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Seven Mile Marina is Looking Good

The Seven Mile Marina is starting to look like the place to be if you are a charter captain in Marathon. The newly added finger docks on the back side of the boat basin nearly doubled the number of boat slips.

In addition to the new docks, there has been a lot of sprucing up of the grounds and a new restaurant built on the site. The restaurant is not open yet, so if you feel like running a restaurant in the Keys here is your chance.

I threatened a while back to list a few of the old town charter boats. So I might as well start with the new and improved Seven Mile Marina. All ready mentioned in my blog is Native Son Charters, run by Captains, Pete and Howard that I worked with at Seadog. Best Bet Charters, with Captain Jason has also been mentioned. Since then, Best Bet has add a new Cabo to the fleet. Blue Magic, with Captain Larry is back running out of Seven Mile after pretty much completing the refurbishing of his 30 foot Island Hopper.

First Light, with Captain Jay DeShay is running light tackle trips in his new 25 footer with single inboard diesel. Fuel cost had been hurting his business, but the new boat has things going the right direction.

Walk About Charters, with Captain Chris is just starting up at the Seven Mile Marina. Chris you should remember if you read my blog. He was my mate for the sailfish trip in "When it Blows it Sucks" post last year. If you haven't read it you really should, just click the link.

There are a few other captains that I haven't met at the Seven Mile. Hopefully I will get a chance to meet them soon and add them to the list. If you fish with any of these guys, mention my name.

Tight lines,
Enjoy some Marathon Heart of the Florida Keys Fishing

Captain Dallas

Here are a few photos of the Walk About.