Wintertime, and the fishing can be breezy in the Florida Keys. Or it could be flat-calm and still bountiful.
Whatever. There is always something available to catch if you pay close attention to the conditions. And nobody is better at judging the day’s best bet than captain Randy Towe, a Guy Harvey Outpost Outfitter in Islamorada.
An inshore/offshore fishing guide who operates both a 34-foot Pursuit center-console and a 25-foot Contender bay boat, Towe also builds and sells his own Signature Series rods out of his Tavernier shop and recently launched his “Pelagic Professor” fishing consulting business. His boats are named Quit Yer Bitchin’ because “everybody’s bitching about the weather, their job, and I’m like, ‘quit yer bitchin’ and let’s go fishing!'” Towe explained.
The primary factor in fishing success –especially with the constantly-changing weather of December through March–is turning the conditions to your advantage, Towe said.
“The conditions we have for that particular day will dictate the best bet,” the captain said. “It’s an unpredictable cycle….so many moving parts. I haven’t figured it out exactly even after 40 years.”
For example, from now till early spring in the waters surrounding Islamorada, fishing small, isolated patch reefs 15 to 30 feet deep in Hawk Channel on the Atlantic side of the Keys often yields enough grouper, snapper, mackerel and other species for a sumptuous dinner for all on board. But you need the right winds.
“You anchor in the sand, and put chum out so it’s going toward the patch and drawing the fish to you,” Towe said. “Wind direction is important; from the northwest, there will be a two-to-three-foot chop on the bay side. But the Atlantic side will be nice and calm.”
With gentler winds, anglers can safely venture out to the edge of the reef 60 to 150 feet deep and encounter sailfish, kingfish, wahoo, blackfin tuna and dolphin. Fishermen usually slow-troll bally hoo on the surface or fish them out and away from the boat using kites. Put down a deep bait and expect a mutton snapper, a grouper or flag yellowtail to gobble it. (However all shallow water grouper species are closed to harvest from Jan. 1 through April 30.)
On a day with strong northeasterly winds, anglers fishing the white sandy holes eight to 12 feet deep near Sprigger Bank in the Upper Keys back country are likely to encounter all the Spanish mackerel they have the energy to reel in. Silver spoons, topwater plugs, jigs tipped with shrimp, flashy fly patterns — all work to make the most out of the ‘mack attack’. And as a bonus, you’ll probably catch mangrove snapper too.
If children are in the angling party, Towe recommends pursuing the quick and easy action of sea trout, ladyfish and jacks around First National Bank, Blue Bank, Sandy Key and Conchy Channel in the back country. Casting jigs tipped with shrimp or floating a shrimp on a popping cork almost guarantees non-stop strikes from these eager species.
For anglers seeking the challenge of gamefish such as snook, redfish or tarpon, Towe advises choosing a warm day with breezes from the southeast to make the 45-minute run north to Flamingo in Everglades National Park. Which species you’ll catch is highly dependent on tide. The best natural baits are shrimp and mullet.
The unpredictability of winter weather– while sometimes maddening– also heightens the thrill of sport fishing.
Said Towe: “I have seen January flat calm, warm and no sailfish, but more tarpon than we knew what to do with.”
Offshore packages with Randy Towe while staying at the Islander Resort, a Guy Harvey Outpost start at $835/person, double occupancy. Call GHO Outfitter Reservations at 800-513-5257, or visit GHO’s Outfitter Page to book your Florida Keys Fishing Getaway!
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