A Variety of Fishy Gifts for the Holidays
By: Capt. Mark Krowka
Over the last several weeks, Fall and early Winter in South Florida have dealt out every conceivable condition that is possible. A perfect storm to showcase the extreme versatility of the Mirage 18 HPX! Prefrontal, post-passage, barometric pressures as low as 29.75 and as high as 30.28, temperatures from the low 50’s to the high 80’s, fluctuating water temps, and breezes from every direction and velocity, in some cases, changing hourly. Thankfully, fish still have to eat.
Just prior to a cold air mass arriving in the Keys, David Limroth and Bob Stephenson from Virginia ventured into the backcountry of Flamingo and cast netted mullet for use as fresh dead baits on the bottom near Middle Ground. During falling water, they used 20-pound spin to lock up with 7 giant, high-flying and spiraling spinner sharks, landing 5 from 80-130 pounds. As water levels fell, Bob and David “dredged” at a sandy-bottomed runoff near Conchie Channel to crank up 8 redfish and one gill-rattling snook, all while flinging 1/4 ounce jigs tipped with freshly cut shrimp on 10-pound spinning tackle.
Jason West from Davie hosted friend Phil DiGiacomo from Doylestown, PA, for a half day of catching in Gulf waters on the bayside of Marathon during smooth conditions between fronts. While anchored and chumming, Jason and Phil casted yellow jigs tipped with shrimp and light wire traces to enjoy 112 fish and 12 species, including bluefish, trout and spanish mackerel up to 5 pounds. When the life-o-meter behind the chum suddenly shut down, it was clear that predators had arrived at the scene. Twenty pound spin with strips of ladyfish revealed a silky shark, a spinner, and then a tough 100-pound blacktip.
Anthony Landi from Providence RI, fished the next day in the same zipcode, using identical approaches, and caught 114 animals with 13 species. He battled huge ladyfish up to 5 pounds, span macks also up to 5 pounds, large and tasty mangrove and lane snappers to 2 1/2 pounds, and then a silky shark, spinner, a 110 pound blacktip, and ultimately a 250 pound lemon, all from the anchor, without any chasing on 20 pound line!
Christian Denhard from Palm Beach joined Tom Henshilwood all the way from Cape Town South Africa to anchor and chum the Gulf edge near Schooner Bank. They fished bright yellow 3/8 ounce jigs tipped with succulent shrimp to bang out 103 fish and 15 species, with the usual cast of characters involved, some of the spanny mackage up to a plump 7 pounds, a small cobia, 2 blacktips, and one large violent lemon shark.
Scott Linder from Irwin PA and Jeff Martin from Indianapolis, Indiana stayed flexible during a tricky frontal passage, starting early in the a.m. in Islamorada at Race Channel on a South wind, soaking big stinky ladyfish slabs on bottom. They had 5 heavy bites on 25 pound spin, landing a 100 pound brutal blacktip, a 140 pound sizzling spinner, and a monster, nearly unmovable 400 pound plus nurse shark. As the winds shifted Southwest, at under 10 mph, the duo anchored up off the farthest edge of Nine Mile Bank, and chummed and jigged up spanish mackerels, bluefish, and fat mangroves. A squall line and suddenly increasing winds to well over 20 sent Linder and Martin flying back into the safety of the immediate Islamorada area, where they parked near the Peterson Keys to quickly rake in 4 bonefish up to 4 pounds out of 6 bites, with Jeff’s very first one included! They tallied up 89 fish, with an amazing 18 species!
Alan Routman from Fort Lauderdale spent 2 days in the Middle Keys adjusting to ever-changing conditions. On day one he ran back into Snake Bite Channel to work a jig and shrimp combo slowly over a gravel and sand bottom to rack up 112 fish and 12 species, including jack crevalle, black drum, 5 snook and 31 redfish. Routman next worked an edge near Bradley Key with large, one pound halves of jack, and 20 pound spin to land a 125 pound, 6 foot lemon shark, and two menacing looking bulls of 100 and 150 pounds. On day two, Alan started in the Gulf with light spin, wire leaders and jigs sweetened with shrimp while anchoring and chumming. He landed spanish up to 6 pounds, and assorted jacks and ladyfish with 2 blacktips near Blue Bank. Increasing winds forced a move inland near a runoff by Sandy Key, which produced one snook and 33 reds on mono leaders with small jigs and shrimp added. When the outgoing tide had stopped, yet another reposition was made to a strip bank near the Calusa Keys, to park and let out live shrimp and grab 3 speedy bonefish up to 5 pounds for a 120 fish, 15 species day!
John Smith’s Spanish Mack
Ian Norris and Michele Destefano from Dania literally wore blisters into their hands, exploding for 204 fish and 14 species while anchored and chumming near Sprigger Bank in the Gulf! They stayed busy all day long while fighting mackerel, trout, jacks, oversize blue runners, delectable mangrove and lane snappers, all doubling over 10 pound spinning outfits.
Alan Routman with classic backcountry doubleheader
Pete Knaus from Tooele, UT, and John Smith (yes his real name) from Winter Haven PA, also were hurting from 2 action packed days of post-frontal gorgeous but chilly weather. On their first day, North winds were over 20 with a crisp, clear and cool air mass, complete with extreme high pressure and the lowest tides since last January. In a thin ditch near Palm Key, Knaus and Smith used 1/4 ounce bullet jigs and halves of live shrimp to land exactly 100 fish, and 8 species including black drum, one snook just over 10 pounds, 18 red drum up to 5 pounds, and 52 snaggle-toothed speckled trout. As the breeze turned to the Northeast, and slightly dropped, Pete and John were able to access the Gulf edge near Oxfoot Bank on their second day to elevate the body count to 209 fish and 17 species! They registered quality catches, including bluefish up to 6 pounds, ladies up to 5 pounds, mangroves to over 2 pounds, three trout over 5 pounds, all on the deadly jig/shrimp team and 8 pound spin. They iced the cake on the outing with twin 75 pound blacktips, a 125 pound spinner, and a 150 pound lemon, all taken on 20 pound spin and butterflied, very unlucky ladies.
Wes Seward from Kodiak Alaska, and Alisha Besch, from Homer Alaska worked both the Gulf edge and then a small creek near Clive Key to amass 141 fish and 14 species. They anchored with chum a few miles off Man-O-War Key with 10 pound spin and jigs with shrimp to land wild ladies over 5 pounds, spanish to 7, and a blacktip, silky and bull shark also. With the same jigs on light fluorocarbon leaders, the pair worked the current of a small channel to wind up 3 black drums to 6 pounds, 38 redfish up to 23″,and 7 snook up to 8 pounds!
Wes (top) and Alisha (bottom) with snooks
And then during a warming trend between chilly mornings, Mo Smith from Cordova TN, cashed in on one of the few Summer-like days remaining of this year. He used a live pinfish and 15 pound line to catch a hot 40 pound tarpon near the Long Key Viaduct bridge, and then put away 2 small bonefish near Lignum Vitae Channel on live shrimp and 8 pound spin. During the following incoming water, Smith was able to cast and gun down permits of 15 and 18 pounds on small live crabs in the Fiesta Key area of banks. Then he dropped live shrimp into a mottled area of bottom and cranked in 2 mutton snappers, for a late season, double Super Slam!!!
Mo Smith’s beautiful permit!