Offshore catches surprising


Despite a tough winter season of fishing, a recent trip for captain Jimmy David and his customers yielded nice returns.

South Florida’s offshore fishing has been a bit lackluster this winter season, causing charterboat captains and anglers to lower their expectations for what constitutes a good day on the water.

But a little over a week ago, captain Jimmy David, owner/operator of the charterboat L & H out of Crandon Marina, wowed his four customers with what he called “the best day we’ve had in a while” — seven sailfish releases; seven dolphin to about 15 pounds; two kingfish to 20 pounds; and several bonitos.

Weather and sea conditions played a large part: winds out of the north-northwest at about 15 mph and north current flowing about 1 1/2 knots, which made the seas stand up in peaks.

While not the most comfortable conditions for anglers, the waves created sort of a surf break for sailfish and the current bunched up floating weeds and debris, attracting bait and larger predators.

When winds and seas calmed to near-doldrums in the afternoon, the bite shut off abruptly.

David and his crew — son James, 14, and mate Jim Hendrix — deployed eight kite lines from the cockpit baited with blue runners, threadfin herring and goggle eyes. The lines held a short trace of wire above the circle hooks, which turned out to be a good insurance policy for the toothy kings.

“The sailfish don’t seem to mind,” David said of the wire leader.

Indeed, after the early morning dolphin flurry found on a weed line circled by a telltale frigate bird, the sail bite was steady until the wind stopped blowing. The sail releases were divided about equally between kite baits and baits pitched by James and Hendrix to passing “surfers.” All occurred in about 100 to 130 feet of water north of Triumph Reef.

The L & H wasn’t the only offshore boat plying the waters between Fowey Light and Key Largo. Several others had set up in the area, pre-fishing for the lucrative Jimmy Johnson National Billfish Championship, held March 8-9. Reports of steady sail releases echoed on VHF radio throughout the fleet. As it turned out, the two-day total for tournament winner 4 Aces was 16, mirroring the bite on that practice day.

But perhaps the biggest excitement of the day came when several boats reported seeing schools of bluefin tuna from 300 to 700 pounds — a rare sight off southeast Florida — traveling briskly south in about 120 feet of water. No one got any bites, and David said he believed those fish might have been heading for the Gulf of Mexico — their springtime spawning grounds.

David believes the best of the South Florida sailfish season is yet to come, perhaps later this month into April and May. But he was happy with what he got that day.

“We were due for it,” he said.

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