By: Capt. Mark Krowka
A handful of minor cold fronts have passed cleanly all the way through South Florida, and previewed active Winter fishing yet to come. Actual water temperatures however, are far less impressionable and far slower to drop than the air, and have remained warm enough for a partial fragment of the Fall fishery to linger in place. Because the weather varies daily now, flexibility is key, and the Mirage 18 HPX is, as usual, up for ALL tasks at hand!
Ed Patricoff of Islamorada snuck out just prior to a front, as it plunged southwestward just under Lake Okeechobee. He used frisky live pinfish on 17 pound spin to hook 3 tarpon and take down 2, both overachieving aerial acrobats in the 45 pound range. Patricoff added a nimble 3 pound bonefish on a live shrimp before the atmosphere eventually soured.
Dr. Kim Craney, from the Upper Keys Veterinary Hospital, fished a warmer 1/2 day in the immediate Islamorada area to land her very first bonefish, a 3 pounder, on a live shrimp and 10 pound spin from the Shell Key area. Then while staked out and pitching freshly netted mullet on 20 pound spin, Craney put away 4 vigorously thrashing lemon sharks, each over 5 feet long, and then a 4 foot plus 20 pound barracuda.
Kim Craney’s Cuda
Vic and Mary Unterbrink from Deerfield Beach ran out between fronts to anchor and chum near the Gulf edge in the Schooner Bank region and racked up 66 fish in a half day with 11 species which included large mangrove snappers up to 2 1/2 pounds, and spanish mackerel up to whopping 7 plump pounds. All catches were made on 10 pound spin, light 40 pound coffee-colored wire, and 3/8 ounce yellow bullet jigs with finger nail-size bits of shrimp impaled on the exposed hooks.
John Merrick and son Robert, from Virginia, fished an active half day during a warm period, using live shrimp on 10 pound spin to crank up 6 twisting bonnet sharks, 6 muttons up to 20 inches, 2 bonefish and 1 permit. The permit and bone being firsts for 5 year old Robert!
Robert Merrick’s first permit!
Pete Knaus from Tooele, Utah spent 2 days in the backcountry that could be summed up with just one word… variety. In past trips, Pete and his late best friend, Jim Calereso from Colorado, also a high school classmate and dearly missed friend of mine, had set our boat record for most species, twice with 19. On the first day of Pete’s recent visit here, he came close during an 88 fish outing with 18 species. Knaus landed mangroves to well over 3 pounds, lane, mutton & yellowtail snappers, black and gag groupers, ripping bluefish and barjacks up to 8 pounds, and spanny macks to 6 pounds all on live shrimp and bright green jigs tipped with shrimp. This variety was all from edges on the backside of Long Key. Using the same tackle and baits the next day, Pete logged 118 fish and our new record of 20 species, catching nearly the same cast of characters and adding a 3 pound bonefish!
Monroe County master builder Zee Hopman from Islamorada and his friend Arthur Saul from Freehold, NJ navigated back to the Snake Bite zipcode during a chilly morning and briskly falling water, to fish chartreuse 1/4 ounce jigs tipped with shrimp, slowly bouncing the bottom to register 117 fish and 10 species which included 4 black drum, 11 redfish and 18 snook. They also landed trout, jack crevalle and ladyfish. On the tide change, they dropped down 1/2 pound bloody sections of freshly cut crevalle on 20 pound spin to get 3 bites, and Arthur landed an 80 pound streamlined blacktip shark, and then a 100 pound swinging with fists out agitated bullshark.
Arthur Saul’s snook
Ben, Corey and Brent Johnston, from Texas, all worked hard while anchored near Sprigger Bank, well out from Marathon, and used the deadly jig and shrimp combo to have well over 500 bites and card an astonishing 303 fish with 12 species! Almost 100 of these caught were impressive mangroves to well over 2 pounds, and spanish macks to 5 pounds. Corey and Brent paired up on Day 2 for 4 snook and a red on jigs from ditches near Palm Key in the morning. The pair moved to flats back in Islamorada as a front advanced, to each land their very first bonefish, while using live shrimp in the Lignum Vitae Key circuit, Brent’s 19 incher and Corey’s 23 incher!
Corey Johnston’s first bone
Brent Johnston’s first bone
Chrissy Ciasca from Davie, barely got a wiggling live pinfish on 17 pound spinning to the water in the morning darkness before it was demolished by her first ever leaping tarpon, a 35 pound vertical performer, At almost first light Ciasca quickly put away 3 consecutive jack crevalles also on pinfish of 10, 12 and then 18 battling pounds. Only a short time later, with high water and low light, her 10 pound spinner with a live shrimp came tight and she reeled up a 3 pound zipping bone, also her first! Then it would be less than 10 minutes to hook and land its twin. She finished off the spot by bringing up a hand-sized mutton that was attacked at boatside and with no wire leader and a 1/0 hook, a 15 pound plus barracuda somehow managed to stay on and was landed. Chrissy still had hours left in the day, so a move was made back to a Gulf edge in sight of Sandy Key to anchor and chum using jigs enhanced with shrimp on the same light spin. She added on 101 fish, with 12 species including Spanish to 5 pounds, ladies to 4 pounds and even a pair of kingfish!
Chrissy Ciasca’s first bone
Chrissy with crevalle
Upon yet another cleanly sweeping frontal arrival, father & son Alan & Zach Routman from Ft. Lauderdale somehow managed to time things flawlessly once again. The cooler water and high falling tide made the perfect storm for a substantial thickening of fish in a specific deep trough near Tin Can Channel at Flamingo. Action was initially sparse, but as the water level dropped, the life-O-meter pegged into the red, and in three hours while fishing jigs and shrimp, the pair landed 237 fish and 11 species. They took trout, tasty black drum, 29 reds, and an amazing 110 (not a misprint) snook!