Blue Water Bounty and Tails from the Shallow Side
By Capt. Rob Harris Director Key West Fishing Tournament
By definition, “Bounty” has several meanings according to Merriam-Webster dictionary. I would like to share a couple of examples that can be applied to Florida Keys waters for the month of July. You can decide which one applies to you.
Without a doubt, fishing tournaments place a type of “bounty” on a specific target species. Not all require the “Dead or Alive” caveat either. One that comes to mind is the Drambuie Marlin Tournament scheduled to be held in Key West July 18-21st. The Billfish category is based on most releases. They also have a “Fun Fish” category that IS based on heaviest fish, so “bounty” would apply as both a term of payment as well as in harvest.
Another tournament that pays a “bounty” is the Gator Club Dolphin Derby. This event was originally scheduled to be held last month, but due to the weather was rescheduled till July 13-15th. For those of us fishing in the Drambuie, this provides for extra time on the water pre-fishing while we try and gain a little spending money.
Those tournaments, and those like them, are happening up and down the Keys this month which should point out to anglers that there is a “bounty” of Blue Water species out there to be had. Marlin, Dolphin, Tuna, Wahoo and more are just a short run from docks up and down US1. People (visitors) tell me all the time that this is this best time to go out chasing pelagics based on the time of year and accessibility. One of the reasons that I love living here is I don’t have to pick and choose ahead of time when I’m coming down. I can’t argue too much with their choice or reason why, but I know July is a good time to be here.
Dolphin and Tuna will be caught from the edge of the reef to beyond the wall. With the recent rains in Central America, I would also expect to see an increase in the amount of debris and flotsam passing by the Keys. That will help in localizing where the fish are as well as open up some various technics. When you come across a large item (debris) that has bait stacked throughout the water column, after you make a couple of trolling passes by it, stop and send down a jig. Get it deep, say 100 or more feet. As you are working it back up you may get hit (if not on the drop), or you may pull a school of dolphin up that are lurking beyond sight. If you get hit and lose your jig, send another down with a trace of wire. Wahoo love to hang in the shadows.
Back over the reef you’ll find all the action that you can stand. Yellowtail, Mangrove and Mutton Snapper will all be holding on the edge of the reef. Look to target water depths between 75-115’ for the Yellowtail and Mangrove Snapper. For Mutton I like to target the 150-220’ depths as we enter the heat of the Summer. As a matter of fact, for fishing the reef in July
I try and schedule my trips at night. It’s much cooler once the sun goes down and doesn’t slow the bite. As a matter of fact, it can even help it since you don’t have all the normal pressure from other anglers and predators. If you aren’t comfortable taking your boat out in the dark ask around and see if you can’t find a reputable guide to come with you on your boat. Or if you are looking for a more casual night trip, check with the local party boats and see if they are doing any night fishing. I spoke with Capt Jamie from the Gulfstream IV here in Key West and they are looking forward to starting their night schedule.
And if I’m looking to target Grouper, I look to go west. Yes, there are grouper throughout the reef areas Keys wide. If I’m looking to target Grouper specifically, in large numbers, the area between Marquesas Keys’ and the Dry Tortugas are the place to go. Add in some bonus Muttons, Kings and Flag Yellowtails…and I’m all for it! Keep in mind that there are bag and size limit differences between the Atlantic and Gulf sides of the keys, so make sure you are familiar with the regulations and which body of water you’ll be fishing in BEFORE you leave the dock.
Shallow Water Tails
Looking to spend some time in the skinny water? How about Permit, Bonefish or Tarpon? Capt Steve Lamp of Dream Catcher Charters assures me that there are so many here in July that he can even put a novice fly fisherman like me on all of them. Capt Steve has been specializing in backcountry fishing longer than I’ve lived in the Keys, so I’m going to take him up on his claim! Sharks are also plentiful and it becomes a great time to get out and start checking species off your fly fishing “must catch” list. You can fish the local backcountry flats or make the run out to the Marquesas for outstanding fishing in a “remote” locale. This fishery can be very tide dependent so make sure you check your charts before venturing out. They take destruction of the grass flats very serious and the fines can be staggering.
And of course there’s no way to write about fishing or diving in the keys during July without mention of Lobster. Yes, it’s that time of year again and most of us can’t wait to jump in the water and get some “tails” for dinner. This year, Mini-Season (aka: Sportsman’s Season) falls on the 25th and 26th so there is plenty of time to jump in your pool at home and start getting in shape. The backcountry areas on the Gulf side of the outer keys are the most popular, and you can expect to target depths between 5-15’. You’ll have plenty of company so make sure you have all the required safety gear and remember, it’s about having fun and spending time on the water with family and friends.
Capt Rob Harris