Spring Slowly Heating Up By: Capt. Mark Krowka

Tournament Tails // April 25, 2019
Spring Slowly Heating Up

By: Capt. Mark Krowka
A lingering handful of minor cold fronts crept down to the lower part of the state in April, however, the warmer water temperatures and the increased numbers of bonefish, permit and tarpon, particularly the tarpon could not be held back.  As a bonus, a percentage of the silver kings that have arrived are the rotund females that fortunately are among the biggest poons that will be landed for the entire year.
Rick Kaye and grandson Justin from Illinois lowered down very freshly netted silver mullets to go one for two on tarpon, landing an energetic 50 pounder.  They also cranked up 6 mutton snappers, 4 bonnet sharks, a 50 pound blacktip and a wild 80 pound spinner, all taken on 20 pound spin from channels in the Upper Matecumbe circuit.
Caldwell (age 7) and Granger (age 11) Osborne from Charlotte, NC recorded a pair of important firsts with their Dad, Chris proudly looking on.  Caldwell took his inaugural bonefish, a speedy 2 pounder that stuffed down a live shrimp on 10 pound spin.  Granger took a giant 140 pound tarpon that inhaled a perforated mullet, a tremendous poon to celebrate his first!


Ian and son Connor Norris from Dania, squeezed the best out of an uncomfortable windy frontal passage day, starting off with 4 throbbing jack crevalle to 15 pounds, that all sucked up shimmering dead mullets from the bottom of Race Channel.  They dropped live shrimp into a trough near Cotton Key and each removed electrifying bonefish of 3 and 4 pounds on 8 pound spin.

Connor Norris with bone

Richie Ranone from Rhode Island also landed nervous bones of 3 and 4 pounds on live shrimp and 8 pound spin while fishing the shallows near Lignum Vitae Key.  He launched fresh dead mullet into a nearby channel and jumped 3 massive tarpon all over 150 pounds to land his biggest one ever, a stout 170 pounder after a challenging 25 minute battle on 20 pound spin.  For Richie, possibly surpassing his catch was watching his 12 year old daughter Nicola, wind up her very fist bonefish, a 3 pounder that gobbled a live shrimp.

Nicola Ranone & her first bonefish

Thane Morgan from Texas, (a multiple tournament Grand Champion) was a perfect 2 for 2 on the tarpons in the early morning darkness in the Channel 5 arena.  He used tennis ball-sized live crabs and 17 pound line to efficiently best shiny men of 80 and 120 pounds.  After first light, he added on a 3 pound bonefish, removed from a roaming school of 1/2 dozen, on the Oceanside of Marathon.  This fish annihilated a perfectly placed small crab pattern delivered on an 8 weight with clear floating line.
Christian and Morris Chamblee of Charlotte, NC enjoyed Lower Matecumbe variety, starting the day off 2 for 2 with tarpons of 75 and 125 pounds that munched down palm-sized crabs, drifted on 15 pound spin, before 6:30 a.m..  They made the move to dead baits after sunrise to add on 5 muttons, one colorful barjack, a 15 pound jack crevalle, a 60 pound vigorous spinner, and a wide load 250 pound plus nurse shark.  The pair put the icing on the cake with 4 bones on shrimp up to 3 pounds in the final hour of the outing!
Frank Delucas, his son Frankie and friend Charlie Ventura, all from Plantation, also began the day early to connect with 2 out of 5 tarpon bites in the downtown Islamorada area.  The acrobatic 50 and 90 pounders slam-dunked small crabs and were subdued on 15 pound spin.  The threesome ran to Flamingo, stopping on the way to jig up 30 plus fish including ladies, jacks and keeper trout en route to a subtle edge in the Murray Key area.  Once there and staked in, they casted fresh dead ladies and bloody crevalle halves to enjoy 9 out of 10 shark bites, including blacktips, spinners, Atlantic sharp nose and a heavy 200 pound plus nurse.
Chris Pacheco from Rhode Island was unexpectedly winded early, from landing 4 tarpon out of 6 bites near Channel 2, all before 7 a.m..  He drifted large 4 inch crabs on 17 pound test spin to put away fish of 75, 100, 110 and 130 pounds.  Pacheco also ran to the backcountry and jigged up a wad of ladyfish and big trout, saving the poor ladies for their ultimate fate adjacent to the Oyster Keys.  He used the new meat to land 3 slashing blacktips and a grumpy 125 pound lemon shark.
Alan Routman from Fort Lauderdale added yet another slam to his already lengthy list by catching an 80 pound tarpon on a crab with 15 pound line, a 125 pounder on a dead ladyfish with 20 pound spin, one bonefish on a shrimp and 10 pound, then a 20 pound permit from a tideline while pitching a crab and 15 pound, followed up by 2 muttons on shrimp for a Super Slam!
Tom Carter and son Alex from Georgia, spent 2 days in the Islamorada area during some recent tropical and favorable weather.  Alex took his first bonefish ever on a lively shrimp and 10 pound spin.  Tom’s first fish of the morning was an 18 pound permit on 15 pound spin that picked off a quarter-sized crab from the surface of a fertile eddy near the Petersen Key region.  He then took a mammoth 160 pound tarpon on a dead mullet and 20 pound spin that slugged it out for nearly half an hour.  Tom slapped on a 3 pound bonefish on a shrimp only moments later.  It was his first permit, first tarpon, first bonefish and of course his very first slam by 8:45 a.m.!  The father/son pair even took 3 additional bonefish on shrimp afterwards!  On their second day, they landed 6 jack crevalles on dead mullet, wily bones of 3 and 4 pounds on live shrimp, and then Tom laid out a large dead mullet on bottom to eclipse his earlier tarpon by landing a monster 170 pounder that sounded like a truck falling off the bridge when it jumped!

Tom Carter’s first permit

Tom Carter’s giant airborne tarpon

Maverick Blogservation:  On the exterior, dead bait fishing might at first appear to be a simple matter of dropping a chunk of fish to the bottom and waiting for a bite.  This is partially true, but consistent success on the “slab” as it is called in the Keys, is far more dimensional than you could imagine.  Through trial and error, and bits of information from some of the best guides in the bottom portion of the state, comes the following finer points involved in this productive style of fishing in no particular order:
1.   Fresh bait.  Yes, frozen or semi-fresh will do sometimes, but there is NO substitute for fish recently caught and properly cared for, either by being kept alive, or meticulously packed on ice, carefully avoiding excessive water intrusion that can quickly dilute effectiveness.
2.   Always the bare minimum amount of sinker weight. In most cases 1/2 ounce to 3 ounces will cover any depth, and nearly all velocities of current.   And always rig up slip sinkers, preferably egg-shaped, so that when fish slurp the primary bait, they feel little or no resistance, eat more comfortably and increase hook-up ratio.
3.   Open the bait up so it leaks enticing stinkage.  The degree that you cut open a fish depends on the amount of “trash” animals in a given area.  Butterflying, that is filleting it, leaving the meat connected to the head, and removing the entire bony column and tail, is by far the best presentation.  But it can also be cut down to nearly useless size by eager pickers.  Where known densities of these pests are lurking, cut slits in a bait, or in extreme cases, punch knife holes like a potato in the microwave, to prolong the optimal attractiveness of the offering.
4.   Seek current and feasible bottom.  Always up current of the fish to deliver your scented message clearly.  Eventful bottom, rocks, structure and growth makes for tough fishing, snags and increased small fish trouble.  Not to mention making it tougher for your target to find you!