Fall finally arrived this past week with our first cold front bringing with it cooling temperatures and a revitalization of our fishery in the form of bait and different species to pursue. A change in the weather means different opportunities for anglers fishing the backcountry as well as offshore.
Just a friendly reminder that daylight savings time ends Nov. 3; so don't forget to set back your clocks one hour Sunday night.
When things start to cool down just about everybody on the docks has one thing in mind, sailfish. Already this month boats have been catching sails just off the reef line from Key Largo to Key West, heading back to their docks with release flags held high.
Live bait has been the thing to have when heading offshore this past week whether you are looking to target sails on the reef line or blackfin tunas around the humps and wrecks. Just about everyone I talked to said that finding and catching bait has not been a problem, ballyhoo, pilchards, cigar minnows are all being found in good numbers.
If live bait is not your thing, there has been plenty of action for you feather draggers out there around the weed lines and current rips with bird activity. Boats trolling blue/white and pink/white feathers and skirts have caught small dolphin, bonito, kingfish, wahoo and blackfin/skip jack tunas in recent days.
The swordfish bite has been going strong around the canyons and walls found way offshore. Expect this action to only get better as we get further into the month of November. It takes a lot of experience to pull off a successful trip for swordfish. I recommend hiring a captain and crew if you are serious. There are plenty of captains that specialize in this type of fishing, just head down to your local marina and ask for a recommendation.
The deeper wrecks and ledges (150-400 feet) have been holding good numbers of groupers, snappers and amberjacks. Live baits dropped with a knocker rig have been the best producers, while artificial lures like lead jigs - tipped with white plastic tails - and butterfly jigs are catching their share but are a lot more work.
Yellowtail snapper has been the go-to species to target when the bottom fishing action slows. The best action has come from 80-110 feet for the tails along with mangrove snappers, small kingfish, jacks, mackerel and even the occasional cobia that finds its way into the chum slick.
I had the distinct pleasure of participating in the annual IWFA (inshore, women's, fishing, association) backcountry tournament last week out of Islamorada and it was a blast. I use this tournament to gauge our local snook populations ever since the cold snap almost wiped them out. This is a three-day tournament with 15-20 backcountry captains participating. The year before the cold snap, there were 20 boats releasing 347 snook; the year after, 20 boats released 14 snook over three days; the following year, 20 boats released 47 snook. This year we had 15 boats that released 158 snook. This is a great sign that snook are making a great comeback.
In the backcountry, the action is only getting better as the conditions cool. Redfish are beginning to show up in good numbers around the Lake Ingram and Flamingo areas. Live shrimp fished on the bottom with just enough weight to keep it on the bottom has been catching just about everything you could want.
Seatrout have been strong around the banks and basins within sight of Flamingo. Paradise poppers with gulp shrimp colors (new penny and nuclear chicken) have been the best producers. Look for the muddy water to help locate the most productive areas.
For those of you who know me, know that to me, fishing is more than just a game, it is way of life. So fish hard and fish often.
Capt. Mike Makowski is a backcountry fishing guide and owner of Blackfoot Charters in Key Largo. His columns appears biweekly. To send him fishing reports or photos, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (305) 481-0111.