Summer in the Keys is nearly over. It has been a great summer so far for fishing. The hot, sunny, typical July days are finally the norm. With light and variable winds, the offshore dolphin fishing has been the main stay.
Usually, the best fishing during the late summer is farther offshore. (And I mean over 25 miles out, in well over 1000 ft of water.) The light winds during this time of year will help form good weed patches and weed lines. I always like to find live weed. Live weed is sargasso weed with lots of bait living under it. These small baits consist of a variety of small jacks, filefish, butterfish, and triggerfish. Dolphin fish are voracious eaters, and seem to eat nonstop throughout the day. With such a large amount of small baits around in the late summer months, it is better to target smaller birds rather than the frigate birds. Sooty terns and Noddy terns are the most common birds to help locate the feeding schools of dolphin. Usually by late July, the size of the schoolie dolphin are 5lbs and larger, but we are still seeing huge numbers of smaller schoolies. It’s been common to see 500 plus fish in a school. The small fish size isn’t a big concern. With all the food for them under the weed, these fish will be growing into much larger gaffer sized fish very soon.
The biggest surprise we had this July was the large number of billfish in the area. A blue marlin or two have been caught nearly every day this month by a boat off the upper keys. There was also a phenomenal color change that formed off the outer reef again. It’s very unusual for a color change to form off the Keys in July. We need certain conditions to be just right. The two most important are a strong east current close to the outer reef and dirty green water inshore. The combination of the two will produce a powder blue water current edge. With good light conditions we can spot the sailfish and false albacore tailing down the waves. Casting a variety of live baits was producing bites. On the Conetagious, we mainly focused on using live ballyhoo, because it was the easiest live bait to come by at the time.
For several days, we would anchor down in the dirty green water on the shallow reef and catch yellowtail. With good current, the chum slick would also attract a school of ballyhoo. It wasn’t long and we’d have enough live bait in the live well to go fish the color change too. For a week straight in early July, we managed to catch 3 to 10 sailfish each day on light spinning outfits.
We may not see a good color change in August, but I expect the dolphin fishing to remain strong through the month. I still expect a good push of slammer size dolphin. The windier days will seem to produce the better chances at catching the larger fish. The tuna fishing on the humps should also pick up this month and get better throughout the fall.
The summertime mangrove fishing has been fantastic at night, if that is more your cup of tea. My favorite thing to do is go lobstering and hog fishing this time of year. The water is usually clear and calm. And the number of lobster and hog fish around this summer is awesome. It’s a great family friendly thing to do.
I hope you can get a chance to get out and enjoy the ocean and all it has to offer!
Capt. Brian Cone