Many of the largest swordfish of the year are caught as they migrate through our waters in winter. Each year as the weather turns cold, Florida east coast anglers begin targeting sailfish as they migrate south with each passing cold front. When chasing sailfish, the best fishing usually occurs on the leading edge of the cold front when the wind is blowing the hardest and the seas are rough.
That slim stretch of land halfway down the Keys is a stroke of geological genius for anglers. Only three miles to Islamorada’s south stands the reef, home of snapper and grouper. From there, the sea floor quickly drops off to the continental shelf.
No fish in the sea is immune to the lure of fresh menhaden. If menhaden ranged throughout Florida, I’m convinced they would top every angler’s list of best baits. These fish are oily, reflective and loaded with energy. From the backwaters to the beaches, they’re a top menu item for a huge variety of gamefish, from seatrout to sailfish.
An often fast-paced and highly visual pursuit, snaring mangroves within a rod length of the transom defines “cool,” but it’s also practically advantageous. Normally, when a guy tells me my fishing day will involve glass minnows and pompano jigs, I assume we’re talking flats and beaches.
High-leaping Atlantic sails gather at the northern end of Sailfish Alley in early winter. Ft. Pierce, at the north end of Sailfish Alley, heats up when temperatures drop. A walk down Fort Pierce docks reads like a Who’s Who list of sailfish chasers.
What kinds of fish might you find on the artificial reefs and wrecks around the Florida coast? That depends on season and latitude, to some extent. In midwinter, for instance, there’s a pretty big difference between the cold, nutrient-rich green water you’d encounter off Fernandina Beach, in far northeast Florida, and the warm, crystal clear Gulf Stream along the Florida Keys.
Following the release of the Bahamas tuna documentary, Bluefin on the Line, six teams competed in the 2014 Cat Cay Tuna Tournament, held June 5-7. No fish were landed, but Amanda Perryman, Marketing Director for Costa, which produced the film, said that about 60 fish were spotted and two good bunches were baited, with no bites.
Leaving the narrow corridor of South Florida reef, anglers find surprising concentrations of sailfish to the state line and beyond. Fifty miles off St. Augustine, we were trolling in dark, green water, praying for a stray bite. I’d spent the day in a heavy jacket, trying to salvage my trip by trolling up and down the 28 fathom ledge.
Get ready…Get set…Go for Florida’s state saltwater fish! It’s finally here: November, start of sailfish season in South Florida. You wake up one morning and there’s a cool wind out of the north. Out on the reef, packs of spindlebeaks are heading south, black etchings in vivid sapphire seas.
What’s better than turkey, football and relatives you haven’t seen all year? Easy answer: wahoo, high-speed trolling and a boat only big enough for six of your best friends or family.
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