Now that the first cold fronts of November have moved through South Florida, get ready for red-hot offshore fishing.
“When you think November, the first thing you think of is patch reefs,” said Capt. Abie Raymond. “It’s a fun time of year.”
Patch reefs are small areas of coral in fairly shallow water that are scattered from Palm Beach to Islamorada. As Raymond explained, those reefs are where ballyhoo and shrimp gather when water temperatures drop.
That sudden abundance of bait attracts a variety of species ranging from snapper to sailfish.
“When the water cools down, the patch reefs get full of ballyhoo and everything follows them in there,” said Raymond, whose Go Hard Fishing (www.gohardfishing.com) offers offshore and inshore charters out of Bill Bird Marina in Miami Beach, as well as trips in Miami-Dade County’s freshwater canals for peacock bass, largemouth bass and clown knifefish.
“And the shrimp start running good and push out of Biscayne Bay onto the patch reefs,” added Raymond, who was the longtime mate for the legendary Capt. Bouncer Smith, one of many experts on the Nautical Ventures Weekly Fisherman radio show, which airs from 6-8 a.m. Saturday on WINZ 940-AM and live-streams on the Nautical Ventures Facebook page.
Raymond said big mutton snapper and gag grouper feast on the ballyhoo, as do kingfish, Spanish mackerel, cero mackerel and jacks. At the same time, yellowtail snapper, smaller muttons and porgies eat live shrimp.
The ballyhoo also attract sailfish to the patch reefs. Raymond said he’s seen several sailfish at a time chasing ballyhoo around the shallow reefs. When that happens, he’ll rig live ballyhoo on spinning outfits to cast to the sailfish.
“You can sight-cast them because they’re jet black against the reef and the white sand,” said Raymond, who fishes patch reefs in depths ranging from 12 to 30 feet of water from south of Key Biscayne to Elliott Key. “If you stay in that depth and watch your bottom machine, you’ll see the relief immediately where it goes from sand to spikey bottom. A lot of times you’ll see sea turtles on the surface, which is a great indicator of a patch reef, or you’ll see ballyhoo. If you see a wad of them, they’re probably on top of a patch reef.”
Catching ballyhoo is fairly easy after you see the baitfish showering out of the water or swimming around patch reefs. Raymond anchors his boat, puts out a chum bag and readies an 8-pound Shakespeare Ugly Stick rod with a 2500 Penn Spinfisher reel. To the end of the 8-pound monofilament line he ties a tiny No. 20 gold hook baited with an even tinier piece of frozen shrimp, then floats it back to the baitfish, which pick the offering off the surface. He uses a de-hooker to drop the ballyhoo into the livewell without touching the baitfish.
For mutton snapper, he fishes the ballyhoo on 7-foot, 20-pound Ugly Stick rods with 7500 Penn Spinfisher reels spooled with 20-pound monofilament and four-foot, 30-pound fluorocarbon leaders. If mackerel are present, he uses an 80-pound Spro swivel to add 12 inches of No. 5 stainless wire to prevent cutoffs. The wire is attached to a 6/0 VMC light wire circle hook.
“If you have one ready in the livewell and you see ballyhoo spraying, fire it out,” Raymond said. “You might catch a Spanish, a kingfish, a jack or a sailfish. Some days it’s just bite after bite.”
For more fishing tips, listen to The Nautical Ventures Weekly Fisherman radio show every Saturday morning from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. live on 940 WINZ, an iHeart station. You’ll learn where the fish are biting and how to catch them. If you can’t tune in live, the Weekly Fisherman radio podcasts are available through:
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