It certainly is a great time of the year down here in the sunny Florida Keys. The best part about it is the Reef fishing is terrific! This weekend me and a few buddies decided to jump in the That’s Right and do a quick trip to the Dry Tortugas’. We left late Saturday night and had our lines in the water at 7:10am and caught our first fish at 7:11am. We thought that perhaps we would find a nice Grouper bite and enjoy it before the season closes January 1st.

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Our first stop was in about 70′ of water, the wind was out of the NE at around 10 knots and a nice current flowing to the SW. Since there were only six of us we approached each stop with three up and three down. Meaning three of us catching Yellowtail Snappers and the other three fishing for the Groupers, PERFECT!  We had with us an arsenal of dead and live baits.  We all know one can never have too much bait. For live bait we had cigar minnows and pilchards, the rest were all cut dead bait. We prefer fresh Mackerel, as well as ballyhoo, speedo’s, goggle eyes and plenty of fresh Bonita.  When bottom fishing we like to start by getting things worked up down there, I love to cut tiny chunks of fresh Bonita and mix it in with my sand chum, works wonders for getting the fish into a nice frenzy.   We will mix up a bucket full of sand and soft chum with a small amount of water, the consistency allows us to make really tight balls the size of a softball. We make up about four or five balls and send them to the bottom, it’s like the dinner bell, and we do this twice in a 20minute shot as well as sending some chunks over to flow with chum. Now we are ready to fish.

Our Yellowtail set up is nothing more than your standard 20lb spinning tackle, loaded with fresh 20lb mono to a small bimini and a 4′ leader of 20lb floro carbon. We will use an assortment of different jig heads and Hook up jigs usually with the equivalence of a 3/0 or 4/0 in hook size, tipped with a shrimp or small strip bait. The smaller fish are in the front and the large ones fall right in behind as they make their way up your chum line. So we would cast about 15 yards behind the boat to start our drift. The heavier we would chum the closer they would come; it was like a game of cat and mouse fun times. The nice part about using the jig heads is they come in different weights and we like to use the ¼ oz a lot due to the fact that if the Yellowtails miss it on its way down there usually always a nice Mutton snapper or Mangrove snapper waiting  to slurp it up.

Groupers are in a class all by themselves, they are great fighters and a challenge for any bottom fisherman. We like to use medium conventionals loaded with either 30lb or 60lb braid with a top shot of 80lb mono. Everybody does it differently but we use two rigs, either the standard knocker rig or the three way swivel routine, which I like when there’s little to no current. This rig allows your lead to be still on the bottom and your bait swims more freely, as for the knocker rig you are more hands on and have to walk your bait along the bottom which works great with a more steady current.  Also using dead/cut bait works wonders as does live bait on the three way swivel.  The best two live baits we have found are the Grunt and a Yellowtail.

Back to the action, our first spot was a dandy; we had a nice steady pick of small and large Yellowtails. We were getting a bite on every drift and that adds up after an hour! The water temp was great, 76 degrees and a dirty green/blue mix, perfect for our type of fishing. We landed several nice Red Groupers as well as a Scamp and one Gag, all in an hour and half, then on to the next spot.  We tried to stay shallow this trip so we went to another spot about 2 miles away and found some real nice big coral heads surrounded by sandy bottom and some sea fans.  Again we chummed up the bottom and fished it hard; no yellowtails in this spot just Groupers and a few nice Mutton Snappers mingling amongst the sea fans.  We wound up with several larger Red groupers and two nice Black grouper. We also managed a few very large Mutton’s that we caught on ballyhoo drifter bait on straight 20lb, an absolute blast! Mixed in the chum slick we started noticing some mackerels cutting in and out, so out went the Gottcha lures and we hooked up immediately , straight 12lb made this plenty of fun with super action for a little while. Time up, off we go, this time we went to our 95′ Grouper hole looking for a lunker  Black.  Here we found another pick of nice Yellowtails with a variety of snappers below them. There were Muttons, Mangroves and some School Master Snappers and even some big Porgies mixed in.  WOW!  The Groupers were here too and they are hungry.  We picked away, some more Reds and even another Scamp.  Then it got slow for some reason and our next few bites all came from small little reef sharks that became annoying, knowing that the groupers were waiting for more food. So we stopped fishing for 20 minutes and waited them out.  We guessed right, first bait down got a nice Black grouper, followed by a few more blacks then the bite slowed again.  There’s got to be a big one down there some place! Sure enough two in a row, got them both out of the rocks not once but twice with some serious angling skills, unfortunately half way up lost both of them, the leader got really chafed up while in the rocks, oh well we get them next time.  Of course that was the end of that bite, darn off we go.

So it’s later in the afternoon and we are going to head back at first light, so we decided to work our way back up the line to a spot off the end of the Marquesas and just offshore of Rebecca shoals. This area is best known for its Yellow tailing and some groupers.  As the day went on the winds and conditions would come and go, never getting much more than 15 knots out of the NE so it was making for a pleasant evening.  At this point we’re pretty worn out as this was a lot of work on the wrists and arms, trust me we all felt the burn, and our effort level was sliding just a bit, so we made this next stop our last for the day. After taking a 22 mile ride up the beach, I felt we needed to be around a good rocky bottom with some nice growth around it and I knew just which spot I wanted to spend the night on, it’s in  about 95′ of water just off a nice 20′ ledge, the top being around 75′ perfect. The bottom machine was showing good signs of life and it didn’t lie, we got there about 5:30pm and we gave it hell. The night brings us just a few more groupers, but yielded a very nice Snapper bite pretty much the entire time we fished. Yellowtails and Mangroves mostly, but  great action on the chicken rigs, a much more productive way to fish at night due to the simple reason the groupers really don’t seem to do that much eating at night, so they leave these lighter rigs alone.

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Over all we had a blast, a quick 28 hour trip was just what we needed, a little R&R so to speak, plus Grouper “catching” is lots of fun, grouper fishing, well it has its moments.  Honestly it’s hard to go down there and have a bad trip; you know what they say “if you go where they live you better catchem'”! These are great trips and if you’re looking for non-stop fishing this is the trip for you!  We offer several different lengths of trips ranging from 24 hours to 55 hours so come get your fix. Oh ya, did I mention it was a balmy 80 degrees out.

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