Saturday, February 27, 2010

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Islamorada in February

Fishin' in the Keys - February 2010

Well, the trip to the Keys and the kick-off of my season is in the books. Kirby's Law meant that it was the coldest February in decades and followed a massive fish kill in the backcountry the previous month. Needless to say, this would have a major effect on the bite and the options available to us. Sam and I were joined in Islamorada by my brother Doug and his girlfriend Claudia. While Doug and I had plans for fishing, they were mapping out the shopping in Key West and a trip to the Everglades!

Day one was cool (highs in the mid-60's) with winds in the 20 mph range. Doug and I were chartered offshore on the Motherload with Capt. Kevin Kelly. Our predawn conference centered on options; 1) stay in near the reefs fishing some sails, kings, black fin tuna and other reef fish, or 2) run 12 miles to The Hump in rougher water to fish the big pre-spawn amber jacks. The sails had been real hit or miss, so we went with option B. Kevin promised the jacks would be plentiful, but the seas about 4-6 feet and really choppy. After a slow start just looking for bait, we were finally off to The Hump. As advertised, we hooked a jack on every blue runner we sent 300+ feet to the bottom. The jacks were slammin' and Doug was turning green to the point I took 4 of the first five hookups. Haulin' these things up from 300'-400' gives the arms a workout. Doug wasn't recovering at all, so after I had a fish that took 3-4 big runs and giving nothing back broke off, we decided to run back into the reef. Kevin wasn't thrilled to be leaving a sure thing behind, particularly as we had put our eggs in the amberjack basket. Doug, however, regained some color as we returned to the relatively smooth reef waters, and we finished off the afternoon catching some 'cudas, black fin tuna, bonito and other reef dwellers.

Day two was scheduled to be a backcountry half-day with Capt. Ted Wilson out of the famous Bud-n-Mary's Marina. Northwest winds and cool temps meant that we shifted to a near-shore wreck fishing approach on the front side of the islands. Turns out that Ted and Doug had mutual friends, and we ended up with a great morning of light tackle fishing for snapper, grouper, Spanish mackerel and a ton of other reef and wreck dwellers. I think one of the most exciting aspects of this type of fishing is that you never know what you will pull up. I felt like I was fishing in a tropical aquarium. Doug and I had a blast fishing and shootin' the s*#t with Ted. I'm definitely looking forward to fishing with him again in some warmer weather!

Day three was the blow-out reserve day, so we picked up a last minute charter with Captain Jeff Beeler, a good friend of Ted's who has been fishing this area his entire life. With a full day, I really wanted to see the back country despite the cold weather and the limited options, so we decided to run all the way up into the Everglades past Flamingo. The water was ten degrees colder than average, and this definitely turned the fish that remained off. We fished hard to catch a handful of trout, black drum, and sheepshead. Doug absolutely killed me, as I couldn't hook anything to save my life! We fished numerous locations, but the bite just wasn't there. Despite this, the Everglades were incredible, and we were treated to rare treats such as an American crocodile and a bald eagle that took off about 50' away from us, among other exotic wildlife. I can't wait to get back down there to fish these waters in some warm weather!

All told, the trip was a ton of fun, with great people, some decent fishing, and a strong feeling of wanting to get back for more!