But, some people come down to the keys ion a budget, and $400 to as much as $1000 a day for a guide or charter is out of their reach. They can’t afford to fish that way, and often they visit and do the tourist things without fishing. I have a solution for those of you in that predicament!
Rent a Boat or Bring Your Own?As I said, there are boat rentals up and down the keys. Some could be considered pricey, but they are still cheaper than most guides. Check into renting a boat for a day or a week. You can sight-see and catch some exciting fish, even if you have never fished here before!
Bringing you own boat is obviously more cost effective. Some people shy from that, saying their boat is too small. But I have a way for you to fish out of even a small boat, in protected waters, and you will catch fish!
What Kind of Fish?If you are looking just to catch some fish – I can tell you – you can.
Barracuda are everywhere on the keys, and they are easy to catch. As a kid, that’s about all my dad and I fished for out of Key West. The reason was because the boat leaked so badly and anchoring was out of the question! But small cudas are very good eating, hard fighting, and easy to catch. You can catch cudas upwards of twenty pounds all around the mangrove islands on the keys. You will be trolling the grass flats in three to five feet of water. I can almost guarantee you catch fish!
- Mangrove Snapper
Mangrove snapper are where you find them. They call the mangrove snapper for a reason – they love being ion and around the mangrove islands of the keys. Not every mangrove clump holds fish, and sometimes they can be hard to catch even when you find them. But follow some of my tips and you will bring dinner home to your rental condo!
What Tackle Do I Need?For both these species of fish, you only need some light tackle. Twenty pound test conventional or spinning gear will do fine. Lighter tackle works well for the snapper – maybe 8 to 10 pound test. Heavier tackle is needed for the trolling. Add some 30 pound wire leader and some 15 pound fluorocarbon leader, obviously the wire for barracuda. Some small jig heads and plain 3/0 hooks for the snapper and some 5/0 hooks for the cudas. It’s that simple and it’s all you really need for the snapper and barracuda fishing.
How Do I Rig My Rods?You can pre-rig your tackle and do both kinds of fishing. Rig the heavier tackle for barracuda trolling by putting a four foot lo9ng wire leader and a tandem set of 5/0 hooks on the end. You will troll with a mullet strip bait on those double hooks. Yes, artificials will work, but your best bet is natural bait the fish can smell and taste in the water.
Rig the lighter tackle with an 18 inch fluorocarbon leader and either a plain 3/0 hook or a jig head. On the hook you will be using live shrimp. There are other baits, but live shrimp catch more fish!
Trolling. It’s a nice easy way to fish. I filet one side of a mullet, making sure I split the tail and have a piece of the tail on the filet. That filet will make three strip baits, so we get six baits off of one mullet. Hook the bait so the front end of the strip is on the hook closest to the rod (the first hook!). The second hook should be placed so that the strip of bait is clean, flat and straight.
Look for the turtle grass flats that are relatively close to the mangrove islands. These grass flats can be as deep as ten to twelve e feet, but I find more fish in water three to five feet deep. If you can locate a flat that drops off to a deeper area or a channel, that’s even better. Then put your lines out the back of the boat – I would troll no more than two at a time. The bait needs to be back behind the boat 30 to 60 feet back. The boat should be moving slowly, probably just a bit more than idle speed. The bait should be running just under the surface of the water, and it should not be spinning or twisting. Put your bait in the water next to the boat and watch it. If it spins, it’s because the bait needs to be adjusted. I trim some meat off the side of the bait to make it run clean. After that, it’s a matter of trolling the grass flats and waiting for a strike.
- Mangrove Snapper
You will have to work a bit for these snapper. First, you have to locate them. You can’t just go out and anchor somewhere and put a bait in the water. These fish will be in and around the mangroves, especially the islands where there is a deep tidal cut along the edge of the trees. Snapper can also be found in the channels, both man-made and natural, that separate the flats and islands in the keys. Once again, not every cut or channel will have fish – you have to search for them.
I like to hook a live shrimp on a plain hook and put that bait in front of the snapper. I use a rubber core sinker – or two or three – to get the bait down if the tidal current is strong. With no current use no weight. The rubber core sinkers are easy to put on and remove from your line with no need to cut or re-tie the line.