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Key Colony Beach FL KEYS Reef Fishing Report

Capt. Jason Long
July 4, 2012
Marathon - Saltwater Fishing Report

by: www.bestbetsportfishing.com

It surprises me how many anglers visit the Florida Keys during the summer months with just one thing on their minds—catching dolphin (mahi mahi). True, summer is prime season for targeting dolphin, and I highly recommend you spend time offshore pursuing these awesome fish. But don't sell yourself short by only fishing out in the blue water. Summer also marks the best time of the year to fish the reef.

Click to Enlarge Photo

As you probably already know, the Florida Keys are home to one of the largest living coral reef systems in the world. Just miles from our shoreline is a living and breathing aquarium where over 500 species of fish take up residence. It's an underwater playground for fishermen, divers, and anyone who just wants to marvel at the ever-changing spectrum of blues and greens that reflect the ocean's beauty from every angle and at every tide. For us anglers, the reef offers a chance to bend the rod on a diverse collection of hard-fighting and great tasting fish. And it provides an ideal platform for both experienced anglers to test their light tackle skills, and for children and beginners to learn the ins and outs of saltwater fishing. Recently, the reef fishing has been as good as it gets, especially for the big three snapper species: mutton, mangrove, and yellowtail.

For targeting yellowtails, load up on chum and head out to 55 to 65 feet of water. Yellowtails have been biting well in those depths starting in the mornings and continuing throughout the day. Search around until you find a nice mark of fish, anchor up, and be patient. Yellowtails are in their spawn so it may take a while (maybe even up to a half-hour) before the larger females pop up in your chum slick. Lately we've been catching a lot of small aggressive fish at first, and then getting into the larger tails later on. Because of this, don't keep too many 12 to 13-inch fish. You don't want to limit out on small fish and then have to release the big flags when they do start biting. To keep busy while waiting for the larger fish to turn on try dropping a legal-size yellowtail to the bottom. We've hooked several big black groupers over the past week using live yellowtails for bait.

While targeting yellowtails, it's not uncommon for a mutton snapper to swim up in your chum line. Muttons in the five to ten-pound class have been biting well on the flat line, and while not as big as the fish you'll find out on the wrecks, still offer a great fight and immense challenge to bring in on light yellowtail tackle. Don't get discouraged if a mutton runs you into the bottom and breaks you off. Often you will see them swimming around in the chum slick behind the yellowtails and you can get them to the boat by tying on a heavier leader and drifting back a larger chunk of bait. In addition to catching muttons while yellowtailing, we're also catching our share on the patch reefs in 25 to 30-feet while targeting mangrove snapper. Chunks of fresh ballyhoo, or small live ballyhoo or pinfish fished on a jig head will produce the best, just as you would target the mangroves.

Click to Enlarge Photo

Speaking of mangrove snapper, in addition to catching them on the patch reefs, now is also the time of year to target them on the reef at night. The nighttime mangrove bite is well underway, and you can beat the heat and load the coolers by fishing in 40 to 60 feet of water after dark. Similar to targeting yellowtails, be patient while mangrove fishing and release the smaller ones. You're likely to catch smaller fish at first, and then the big slobs later on in your trip. Because it's dark, and because you are likely to catch small fish in addition to the cooler-worthy mangroves, it's not a bad idea to use circle hooks or circle jig heads. Not only will you protect the population of the species by not gut-hooking the smaller spawning females, but you also don't have to bother with tying on new hooks in the dark when you have to sacrifice your hook to the fish. Circle hooks almost always catch their targets in the corner of the mouth, making it better for both you and the fish. When fishing at night also remember to be safe, and be courteous to other boaters by not anchoring too close to them or in their chum lines.

FLORIDA KEYS FISHING REGULATIONS (Common Reef Species)

Mangrove (Grey) Snapper *STATE WATERS
Size limit: 10"
Bag limit: 5 per person/day (included in 10 snapper aggregate bag limit)

Mangrove (Grey) Snapper *FEDERAL WATERS
Size limit: 12"
Bag limit: 10 per person/day (included in 10 snapper aggregate bag limit)

Mutton Snapper
Size limit: 16"
Bag limit: 10 per person/day (included in 10 snapper aggregate bag limit)

Yellowtail Snapper
Size limit: 12"
Bag limit: 10 per person/day (included in 10 snapper aggregate bag limit)

Black/Gag Grouper**
Size limit: 24"
Bag limit: 1 per person/day (included in 3 grouper aggregate bag limit)

Red Grouper
Size limit: 20"
Bag limit: 3 per person/day (included in 3 grouper aggregate bag limit)

* In the Atlantic Ocean Federal Waters start beyond 3 nautical miles from the Florida coastline.
** Only one black or gag grouper may be kept per person, not both.

To book a trip or to learn more about what's biting in the Florida Keys contact Capt. Jason Long at 305.395.1376. Best Bet Boats are located in Key Colony Beach in the Middle Keys.

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Docked in Key Colony Beach (Marathon), in the heart of the Middle Keys, Best Bet Sportfishing offers reef, wreck, offshore and tarpon trips for anglers of all ages and skill levels, specializing in live bait, light tackle techniques. In business for over 15 years, Best Bet has earned a reputation throughout the Florida Keys for catching big fish, while offering an honest, fun and safe environment. We offer three different styles of boats to accommodate your fishing needs and price range.

Contact Info:

Best Bet Sportfishing
PO BOX 510785
Key Colony Beach, FL 33051
Phone: 305-395-1376
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