Now that the weather has finally warmed up and stabilized a bit the fishing has gotten back on track for us. As expected in the winter time, the patch reefs are very productive for yellowtails, mutton snappers, mangrove snappers and porgies. You will also find cero mackerels, groupers, ballyhoos and other popularly targeted species in the patches this time of year.
The term patch reef seems to confuse people from time to time. It’s basically a local term that defines the small areas of reef that are inshore from the main body of the coral reef. They are cut off from the reef by sand, making each one similar to an oasis in a dessert. Every patch out there has it’s own micro-ecosystem with resident fish, corals, eels, etc. and they are constantly having migratory fish move in and spend time on them as well. This makes for a very diverse gathering of species. Certain times of the year the patches are typically more productive than the main reef. Winter is a prime example of this. The ballyhoo and other baitfish move into the patches and everything else follows.
I have caught mutton snappers up to 21 pounds on the patches, groupers up to 30, yellowtails over 6, kingfish over 50 and sailfish up to 80 pounds in these patch reefs ranging from 10 to 30 feet of water. People seem to have this notion that if the water is shallow the fish must be small. Well, take a look at the tarpon at Robbie’s Marina. They are in 4 feet of water and they reach 180 pounds. In my opinion that blows the whole shallow water theory out of the water. Fish don’t care about depth, they care about temperature, salinity, clarity, cover, food and mates.
Getting out off the edge of the reef, the kingfish are still pretty consistent. Every day is a bit different, but most days you can count on catching a few if you hit the right areas. Live baits such as ballyhoo, cigar minnows, speedos and shrimp are the top baits, but jigs, spoons, crank baits and flies will work as well. The main thing to remember is you must use a wire leader to protect against their razor sharp teeth.
A key element to winter fishing is the shrimp run. The shrimp run from the bay to the ocean at night on an outgoing tide. Some nights the run is light and some nights millions of them migrate. When you catch one of these busy nights and fish with live shrimp either that night or the next day the fishing is bound to be hot.
The Islamorada Lady with Capt. Jeff Norton has been consistently catching sailfish and kings. I don’t think a day has gone by in the last month that they haven’t had a sailfish release flag flying after a charter. 9 out of 10 of these fish are coming on live ballyhoo that Capt. Jeff and his mate Joe Saba are netting on the way out to the fishing grounds in the morning. Bi-catches have been mutton snappers, groupers, yellowtails and jacks.
I prefer the weather in the summer, but the fishing in the winter. Come on down, jump on a boat and let us show you a fantastic day of rod bending action out of Robbie’s!