Spring & Fall

A Day on the Yabba Issue Three—Spring/Fall Seasons

At this point you’ve read the first two issues of “A Day on the Yabba”, about summer season bluewater trolling and wintertime live bait fishing closer to the edge of the reef. In those issues, we alluded to the fact that many other fishing options and nuances are available. Oftentimes these options are the top choices during those in-between times, for example from late February through late April, when sailfish may be slowing down and mahi mahi haven’t quite started to pour through, or from mid-September to mid-November, when mahi mahi have finished their migration through the area, yet the sails haven’t quite arrived in numbers. That said, fantastic catches of sailfish have been made in April, and fantastic catches of mahi mahi might be made in months like September or February, not to mention scattered catches of both of these mainstay species throughout the year. And the other thing is, it might be peak sailfish or mahi mahi time, but you might like to sample some other options.

You’re accustomed by now to the routine of early morning arrival, loading, and preparation, and with the wintertime live bait catching routine. Most of the alternative options involve catching live bait first, and one interesting option is to stay up on the reef shelf and fish the patch reefs, in 15 to 30 foot depths. Live and dead baits near the bottom attract gag, red, and black groupers, mutton snappers, and other marquee bottom species. Smaller baits free-lined in the chum slick catch mangrove, mutton, and yellowtail snappers, blue runners, cero mackerel, and many other species. Live baits suspended from a kite line, or deployed on outriggers, catch cero mackerel, barracuda, and bottom dwellers that lunge up from the reef to engulf the hapless baitfish. Mostly this involves anchoring out on the sandy bottom upcurrent of structure, although it is possible to drift and “power fish” these spots.

The next option is fishing the reef edge, using similar techniques to patch fishing, except in depths usually ranging from 60 to 135 feet. Here the yellowtails caught free-lining in the chum slick, or occasionally caught on kite or outrigger-deployed live baits, can exceed seven pounds, and the bottom rods for groupers, usually 50 to 80 pound tackle, can wrest some real lunkers from the depths. Meanwhile, it’s worth mentioning that particularly in the spring Capt. Steve might spot a school of cobia cruising the shallows or along the reef edge, and the action can be hot and heavy with these very strong battlers. Cobia school members vary widely in size, but fish over 50 pounds are possible. If the conditions are right, Capt. Steve may encourage you to invest some time sight-hunting for cobia along the reef shelf. He drives from the tower, zigging and zagging his way over the prime hunting grounds, looking for the dark shapes of these migratory gamefish, often in association with large stingrays. He’ll maneuver the boat up-sun of the school so clients can cast live grunts on heavy spinning tackle right in front of their swimming path, resulting in multiple hook-ups, screaming drags, throbbing rods, and general pandemonium.

Getting back to anchoring on the reef edge, we mentioned the general array of bait deployment. We further emphasize the value of Capt. Steve and crew working the kite baits very hard off one side of the cockpit, so that while you enjoy good action with yellowtails, groupers, mutton snappers, and other reef species, you have an excellent chance of catching a sailfish, blackfin tuna, bonito, cobia, king mackerel, wahoo, yellow jack, mahi mahi, or any number of other species on the kite baits.

Taking this whole structure-oriented routine further offshore, Capt. Steve is also an expert at variety-fishing the seamounts. Normally, the velocity of the Gulf Stream current and greater depths dictate power-drifting or trolling. However, on occasion, it’s entirely possible to anchor on the pinnacles of such seamounts as the Islamorada Hump or the 409 Hump. Fishing techniques at the seamounts include live-baiting on the surface for blackfin tuna, wahoo, marlin, and sailfish; deploying deeper live baits for blackfin tuna and amberjack; fishing the bottom with an electric reel or conventional tackle for snappers, porgies, tilefish, and groupers; and, one of Capt. Steve’s favorite specialties, targeting large sharks, particularly the big tiger, dusky, hammerhead, and other sharks that patrol these underwater mountain tops. Check out the photos on this website of some of the incredible animals Yabba clients have brought to the side of the boat, photographed, and released to fight another day.

And that’s not all. Interested in fly fishing? Let him know in advance, and Capt. Steve will have the right teasers rigged up and ready, so that you can try some “bait and switch”-style fly fishing for sailfish or mahi mahi. Alternatively, lighter fly tackle and the right flies fished in association with live bait teasers and chumming, or in chum slicks, catch tuna, mackerel, snappers, groupers, jacks…you name it. School dolphin readily take flies when they are excited and near the boat, requiring little experience to have an absolute ball and “get your feet wet” in the wonderful world of fly fishing.

Guess what—that’s still not all. Islamorada boasts a subtropical marine environment with as many or more fishing options than you will find at any one spot in the world.
Another Capt. Steve specialty, particularly in the springtime, is to sight cast live crabs for huge permit that aggregate at secret spots along the reef break. He’s even been known to anchor outside the channel and catch a big tarpon or two in the spring/summer months. As you can see, fishing on the Yabba is limited only by your own imagination and dreams, and, like a high-flying executive chef, Capt. Steve has all the ingredients to serve up what you choose from the menu.

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