Fishing experts to provide tips during Islamorada seminar

Marathon light-tackle guide captain Mike Biffel holds up a nice gag grouper he caught in December before the fishery closed. He will be among the faculty at the upcoming Salt Water Sportsman seminar in the Keys.
Marathon light-tackle guide captain Mike Biffel holds up a nice gag grouper he caught in December before the fishery closed. He will be among the faculty at the upcoming Salt Water Sportsman seminar in the Keys. Miami Herald Staff

If your saltwater fishing needs a tune-up, mark your calendar for Saturday, Jan. 31.

That’s when Salt Water Sportsman magazine editor-at-large and NBC Sports Network television host George Poveromo will conduct the South Florida installment of his popular national seminar series in Islamorada.

Co-hosted by West Palm Beach Fishing Club executive director Tom Twyford, the daylong session covers species ranging from yellowtail to yellowfin and mahi to marlin. Tackle, hot spots and other tricks of the sport will be revealed, backed up by live demonstrations and visual aids.

Poveromo and Twyford will be joined by an all-star fishing faculty including Key Largo inshore/offshore guide captain George Clark, Jr.; Islamorada inshore, offshore and back-country expert captains Jim Willcox, Paul Ross and Ron Brack; Marathon reef/wreck/offshore captain Mike Biffel; North Miami Beach wahoo authority and tackle maker captain Ron Schatman; Lower Keys captains Mark Schmidt, Andrew Tipler, Beau Woods, and Diego Toiran; and marine electronics expert captain David Wicker.

This year’s session will be the first for Biffel, who’s been guiding anglers to big catches throughout the Keys for more than 30 years — lately on his 32-foot SeaVee with twin 300-horsepower outboards called “Big Dawg.”

“All bite and no bark,” Biffel said of his charter excursions.

On a blustery December day with winds topping 20 knots out of the north, Biffel managed a limit catch of mangrove snapper, plus a gag grouper for his party while fishing the reef and Hawk Channel south of Marathon.

Biffel and mate Andrew Hunt first prepared the way forward by cast-netting two live wells full of pilchards large and small to which they were directed by a flock of happily diving pelicans.

“Live bait is important,” Biffel said in massive understatement.

He anchored the boat in the sand beside a reef about 30 feet deep where Emily Sante of Detroit and her party caught several mangroves up to 5 pounds using 3/8-ounce, chartreuse “Hank Brown”-style jig heads shaped like garlic cloves tipped with pilchards. Their tackle consisted of 15-pound spinning outfits with 30-pound fluorocarbon leader.

When a pesky shark began devouring all the bounty, the Big Dawg relocated about three miles away to another section of reef about 30 feet deep and boated even more mangroves — all much larger than the 10-inch minimum size. If a fish came up that looked like it was smaller than the rest, the crew released it.

Remarking on the large size and abundant numbers of snapper, Biffel said, “We think they come out here to spawn and they stay in the area. If there’s plenty of food for them, they’re not going to leave.”

A brief foray out to the deep edge of the reef at about 90 feet produced only a small kingfish and a bonito, so Biffel steered the boat back inshore to Hawk Channel.

Anchoring near a patch reef about 30 feet deep and armed with a 15-pound spinning outfit, Biffel lowered a pilchard on a Chip Veach jig (white, bullet-shaped head and hairy puce tail) which was immediately grabbed by something that bent the rod in a steep arc.

Biffel pumped and wound and eventually brought up a 12-pound gag for the fish box. Sante’s party followed up with several more gags, along with black and red grouper. However, all 20 or so were undersized and had to be released. A couple fish got “sharked” and several others won the battle to reach the bottom.

Grouper harvest season is now closed in the Keys and the rest of the South Atlantic. But tips and techniques picked up at the seminar will prepare South Florida anglers for the joyful re-opening on May 1. In the meantime, you’ll have blackfin tuna, trout, wahoo, cobia, swordfish and others to try out your new-found knowledge.

If you go

The Salt Water Sportsman Seminar will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Jan. 31, at Coral Shores High School’s Performing Arts Center, 89901 Overseas Highway, Tavernier. Admission is $55. For reservations, call 1-800-448-7360 or visit www.nationalseminarseries.com.

If you would like to book a trip with captain Mike Biffel, visit bigdawg1.com or call 305-481-4587.

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