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Boat Fishing Boat Fishing At Florida Keys - Yorkshiremen on tour and our game of Rock/Paper/Scissors

Discussion in 'Sea Fishing Forum - Shore, Boat & Kayak Fishing' started by rupert, Dec 9, 2015.

  1. rupert

    rupert Blenny

    Tropical weather, more species than you could shake a stick at, plus fish bigger than I’m ever likely to encounter in the UK, sounded like a pretty good way to celebrate me reaching fifty years young.

    Rodney Goodship has been trying to persuade me to join him out at Marathon on the Florida Keys for years. My big birthday and an available slot late November/early December sounded the perfect opportunity, so I bit the bullet and booked with Rodney. The plan was to take three pals of mine, Giles, Matthew and Nick.


    We fished west in Florida Bay

    Rodney provides all the fishing bait gear required on the boat, but as I’m sure you’ll concur, it’s always an added buzz to catch on your own gear. So in the lead up to the trip, I couldn’t but help put together some rods and reels in readiness! I took two 9’ Sage four piece Fly outfits – an #8 and #10 weight, a light spinning outfit comprising an 8’ Savage Gear Spinning rod and Mitchell Extreme Pro 2000 reel and finally a heavy spinning outfit being a Fox Kayak Trek which is an 8’ 20-40lb class rod. The latter was paired up with a Shimano Stella 8000SW which holds around 300 yards of 40lb braid.

    At 10.30 am we flew out from Manchester to Atlanta, then changed at Atlanta to our destination of Key West. Flying time was about ten and half hours, but with change overs etc. it was about 11 pm American time before we arrived in our hire car at Rodney’s Florida base. After all that travelling, it only took a couple of bottles of Budweiser each, before all four of us were in the land of nod.

    We were booked to have seven days fishing, but the early days were plagued by wind which severely limited where we could fish. I really wanted to catch a goliath grouper and the other guys were keen for a decent shark apiece, but to fish the wrecks Rodney had identified for us, would require much less wind. Hopefully, the wind would subside and the fishing would get better as the week went on.

    To describe each day in detail would bore everyone to death, so I’ll stick to describing the highlights and illustrate the report with pictures where I can.

    The one thing I should point out beforehand though is that all the fishing we would be doing is in shallow water. Even 20 miles offshore, we would still be fishing in depths of under 15 feet! The water was quite coloured, so for the most of the week, we couldn’t see the bottom, but it was still hard to imagine how little water we were fishing in, comparted to the UK boat scene.

    Our first day saw a relatively relaxed start with a substantial breakfast and a visit to the tackle shop for permits, bait and chum. Once afloat, we headed south and under the 7 mile bridge to a sheltered mark in the lee of a small island. Virtually all the fishing is done at anchor and pretty much as soon as a frozen chum block is placed overboard in the chum net, the small fish move in, hopefully drawing more and more larger predators with them.


    Nick with a thingemebob fish. (It was called a slice of pork fish or something like that!


    Good bit of structure here under the bridges to draw and hold fish!
  2. rupert

    rupert Blenny

    Rodney likes everyone to use different tactics to see what works best, so typically we were using 3/8 oz. jigs tipped off with fresh shrimp on light spinning rods, ledgered live pinfish on heavy spinning rods and casting 1 to 2oz Dexter wedge spoons on wire traces. The spoons are wound in as fast as you possibly can, so it’s quite an energy sapping method over time!

    Action is normally pretty rapid. The smaller baited jigs attract all sorts of small species, commonly grunts and snappers. Our first real excitement was when I had one of these snatched off the hook twice by a barracuda. Rodney quickly rigged up a float fished live bait on a wire trace and passed me the rod saying “This could be pretty instant.” I lowered the bait over the side and was about to open the bail arm of the reel to trot the bait downtide….WHAM! The bait was nailed. I wasn’t prepared for it being that quick!

    The fish played like a pike on steroids – a manic short run, then you would see it, then off on another uncontrollable run. The fish looked to be a good double, but just as we were boating it, the treble hook snapped and the Cuda was away. Bugger!

    The next day Rodney hatched a cunning plan. The wind was as bad, if not worse than the previous day, so the plan was for Captain Mike to take Rodney’s boat south to Bahia Honda which had a marina and we would meet Mike and board there. Top service and it saved us all a potentially wet ride to boot!

    Captain Mike


    Captain Mike taking Rodney’s boat home


    Which enables us to slip off to a BassPro shop!

    Although we were fishing within a few hundred metres of shore, Rodney said we still had a good chance of Bull shark and Goliath Grouper on the marks he took us to. That’s what’s unique about the Keys, good fish can be taken very close to shore. The Bulls and Grouper defeated us, though Nick and Giles sampled their first shark – Nurse Shark. Not the most athletic of species, but great practice for what was to follow later in the week. Meanwhile both Mathew and I got trashed by fish on our heavy spinning rods. I’d loved to have seen what we had hooked.

    Matthew and I were fishing 40lb braid with 30lb mono hook lengths and even on a heavy spinning rod and my Fox 20-40lb rod, we could not control whatever we had hooked. Mathew’s bit through the mono and mine both eventually ran through the bridge pilings, which we were anchored 100 metres uptide from and chaffed through the braid. After these defeats, we upped the strength of our traces to 50lb mono and never got another bite! Wire similarly deters a lot of the species, so mono ultimately gets you more bites.

    It soon became clear that this Florida fishing was not unlike the game of Rock/Paper/Scissors. Sometimes your choice of tackle ensured victory, other times your choices left you instantly defeated! The toothy species needed wire, the crafty species needed as light as mono as sensibly possible. The Goliath Grouper needed 300lb mono hook length and an 80lb stand up rod. The problem here is, you don’t know what you’re likely to hook next!
    • Winner Winner x 1
  3. rupert

    rupert Blenny

    Whilst this was primarily a fishing trip, our visit coincided with Thanksgiving, which is one of the biggest celebrations in the USA and a public holiday. All my crew joined Rodney, his wife Helen and Captain Mike, at a local restaurant to celebrate on the Thursday night. Whilst tradition dictated that we really should have eaten turkey, the 20oz cowboy steaks were too much to resist! The Americans do steak - and do it very well!

    Many of the local restaurants will cook your catch too. One night we took some African Pompano and Cobia which had been caught that same day. If you ask for it be cooked ‘3 ways’ you are served with blackened fish, fried fish and bread-crumbed fish. Not only was this a filling scrumptious supper, but the venue itself was rather different. Wild Tarpon swam in and teased us around the decking and a number of locals arrived by boat, boasting their rich and varied boat porn!


    African Pompano for Giles


    Cobia for Nick


    Where we took our catch to be cooked


    Our catch cooked “ 3 Ways”

    After we’d eaten, Captain Mike took us off to another bar where we had more beer, a game or two of darts and got involved with the local pool table hustler, luckily playing doubles with him, rather than against him. The guy was amazing – even more when he played one handed!



    The winning double act!
  4. rupert

    rupert Blenny

    Anyway, back to the fishing………The species I really wanted to catch was a Goliath Grouper. Before going out to the Keys I’d seen a number of YouTube clips. Surely they couldn’t be as hard as those guys made it look?

    The tactics for grouper fishing are to mark the wreck, with floating markers held in place with lead weights. The boat is then anchored 50 to 80 yards uptide of the wreck and chum is used to draw the grouper away from the structure, but on broken wrecks, there seem to be plenty of snags in the vicinity. My first encounters with grouper all ended in tears. They were all hooked too close to structure and all went instantly solid. I think I lost two or three that day and I was beginning to think I might never boat one!

    The other factor is the tackle required. 80lb stand up rod, 80lb braid, big lever drag reel running 45lb drag and a wind on 300lb leader crimped to a 22/0 circle hook (Grouper avoid wire traces). The float is a balloon and a bait, Jack Crevalle or Spanish Mackerel. (Best bait is a small shark). The trouble is that this same approach attracts big sharks – and without the wire trace, we’re back again to the Rock/Paper/Scissors scenario.


    The Grouper outfit

    Rodney was very adept at predicting what had just taken the bait. With a Grouper the float gently bobs as the fish inhales the bait. A shark is very different. The float gives a quick bob, then flies off at speed. To be fair the circle hooks meant that the hook hold was always in the corner of the mouth away from the teeth, but even so we lost a few of the big circle hooks to shark. Annoyingly, the hooks are a specialist order and eye wateringly expensive!
    • Winner Winner x 1
  5. rupert

    rupert Blenny

    Our second day at Grouper saw us on a different wreck and eventually everything fell into place! Having seen a few lost and landed you appreciate the fine line between capture and failure. Once you work them free of the structure, things fall very much in your favour, but the sheer mass and power of them is hard to describe, such that once they decide to resist and swim away, there’s not a lot you can do to stop them. Some of my crew had two on the rod, which helped. With a reel set at 45lb drag it is very sobering to see line peel off when the grouper is peed off.


    Captain Mike lends a second hand

    The first Goliath was brought to the boat side at an estimated 250lb. This species, like tarpon, are afforded strong protection and it is illegal to bring either of them on board, which given their size would be a pretty impossible task anyway. For that reason, pictures are taken with the Grouper in the water, with the more adventurous anglers jumping in with them for a photo shoot!


    My first Goliath Grouper


    Giles’s first Goliath at around 400lbs!

    [URL='http://s305.photobucket.com/user/rupert444/media/Florida%20Giles%20grouper_zpsucyssxch.jpg.html'][URL='http://s305.photobucket.com/user/rupert444/media/IMG_1037_zps7evseeb2.jpg.html'][URL='http://s305.photobucket.com/user/rupert444/media/Florida%20Grouper%20Rupert_zpsvmhwqk5f.jpg.html'][URL='http://s305.photobucket.com/user/rupert444/media/Florida%20Giles%20grouper_zpsucyssxch.jpg.html'][URL='http://s305.photobucket.com/user/rupert444/media/IMG_1213_zpscsecseim.jpg.html'][I]Matthew groping his grouper![/I][/URL][/URL][/URL][/URL]
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  6. rupert

    rupert Blenny

    On the subject of protection; the Americans manage and police their sea fishery rigorously. One afternoon, we were inspected whilst miles out to sea. All the boat licences, insurances and safety equipment were checked. We all needed our own fishing permits and the inspection made sure we hadn’t retained any species on board for bait or our own consumption that fell below the statutory size limits.

    Giles bagged the biggest Goliath of our trip, a monster of some 400lb. The cavernous mouth of this amazing fish was captured on film by Rodney and is probably the most impressive fishing photo of our trip. On the last two days at sea, all of us landed Goliaths, so we’ve all come away with that box firmly ticked.

    Whilst grouper fishing, we all enjoyed the by catch of Bull and Blacktip shark. The former reached about 400lb on our trip and the latter 125lb. Bull shark are powerful adversaries and Rodney was telling us about some of his encounters with big Bulls that have dragged the boat for miles and gone on for hours! Thankfully, we had ours to the boat much more quickly, with most of the battles being 15 to 25 minutes.

    Rodney likes to buoy off the anchor and chase the shark. The reason being that the whole bay is heavily potted and the pot buoys are everywhere. We had sharks running around a number of buoys as it was, but by manoeuvring the boat, the line was untangled and disaster averted.


    Bull shark on for Matthew


    Bull shark for me
  7. rupert

    rupert Blenny

    Although the Bulls were the most impressive in terms of attitude and bulk, the aquabatic blacktip offered the better sport in my opinion and demonstrated a fantastic turn of speed.

    The Keys offers the most fantastic choice of species and all of them seem turbocharged in comparison to UK species! We thoroughly enjoyed the Jack Crevalle and Spanish Mackerel (and on a fly rod too), but the Cobia and African Pompano trumped these in terms of power and stamina.

    On the subject of fly fishing, Rodney advocates what he calls the Keysy Cast. Basically, it a side to side swish to let the fly line drift out with the tide, which makes it an entirely safe way of fly on a busy boat, as no fly line is actually aerialised. Using this approach you are pulling the fly back through the chum trail and most retrieves reward with a thumping take, though only a small proportion stay attached!



    One on the fly for Giles


    A Spanish mackerel for me
  8. rupert

    rupert Blenny

  9. rupert

    rupert Blenny

  10. rupert

    rupert Blenny

    Sorry about the broken report but it was the only way I could work out how to do it!!
  11. mystic girl

    mystic girl Blenny

    Well done Rup sounds a great trip
  12. ndskinner

    ndskinner Blenny

    Sounds like a great trip. Thanks for sharing, It was a good read.
  13. lipslicker

    lipslicker Whitby Fishing Forum _ Simply The Best

    Great stuff. Really enjoyed that read, and learning about things that side of the pond.
    Thank you.
  14. rdngd

    rdngd Whitby Fishing Forum _ Simply The Best

    Thanks Rupert you and the boys are welcome back any time you have so much more to catch !! Rodney
  15. bow1

    bow1 Rockling

    Excellent report
  16. jc

    jc Whitby Fishing Forum _ Simply The Best

    wow what a blast well done and good post thanks for sharing
  17. Clement

    Clement Blenny

    Cracking stuff Rupert! Thank you for a thoroughly enjoyable read.
  18. rdngd

    rdngd Whitby Fishing Forum _ Simply The Best

    If any of you guys read this excellent report of Rupert's and fancied a trip I have just had a cancellation for one guy who had booked to come with two regulars 4 th Feb to 10 th Feb as we have taken deposits I can do a very special deal. This does not happen very often and Feb can be a fantastic time in the Keys and it is the main mackerel season with all the sharks and groupers, offshore there will be a good run of sailfish and tuna. Please get in touch by email rdngd@aol.com and I here in Northumberland till Tuesday so you can call anytime up to 9 pm 01668216173
  19. rupert

    rupert Blenny

    Having experienced this amazing venue at the end of last year, I'm dying to have another mission as soon as I can arrange! The flight is much easier than I first imagined and the fishing, when you get to Marathon is just mind blowing..............and all in very warm and favourable temperatures too !

    Thoroughly recommend to anyone who can spare the time and Rodney really is a top bloke who knows the Florida Keys inside out and the many, many species available and will do all he possibly can to make sure your string is stretched to the max and beyond!!

    Really hope someone local takes up this slot and posts another report !!
  20. brian carragher

    brian carragher Whitby Fishing Forum _ Simply The Best

    If this one is'nt worth a bump then nothing is, has to be one of the best ever reports posted on here and theres been some crackers over the years

    If this does'nt whet any appetites for some summer boating and fishing then nothing will

    A damm good read and even better when read again

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