My best friend and fishing buddy always responds to my request to go offshore fishing or deep dropping off our South Florida waters with the same line…”when the seas are a bit flatter we can get out there”. Having been on the water for the better part of my life I realize that summer storms can make heading offshore to fish the Gulf Stream off South Florida a bit tricky at times, and that the flat waters can turn to 4-6 foot seas in a heartbeat. I started thinking about the things that truly make me happy while fishing and then realized that most were in my own backyard. The inshore waters and reefs along Fort Lauderdale, Miami and all points south are great areas to enjoy inshore fishing for Snapper, Mackerel, Grouper and many other species.
One of the best parts about fishing the inshore waters of South Florida is the incredible system of patch reefs which hold an amazing array of species, and the best part is that you rarely have any competition for these areas. These small patch reefs are a refuge for small fish, which in turn bring larger and heftier fish to that area. These South Florida patch reefs are usually found in less than 20 feet of water and on a good day you can see them without the aid of any depth finders. Of course, we resourceful anglers mark the reefs that bring in the best catches with our GPS’s so we can return to them easily.
While most of my buddies have large offshore fishing machines I am perfectly content with my 20’ Aquasport center console, I can get offshore on calm days yet can still enjoy the bays and back country when the feeling strikes me. For fishing the patch reefs off my home in Miami, I find this boat to be ideal for the methods I use and fish I target. The patch reefs found in south Florida waters hold mangrove snapper, yellowtail snapper Various Mackerel and Grouper as well as many other species that pass through, including a variety of sharks and Jacks.
The best way to find the most productive Patch Reefs is to troll in and around the areas with small lures; Yozuri’s and Rapalas have always served me well. Once I have a an idea of which patch reef is producing not only the most fish, but if I’m lucky, also the species I am craving for dinner, I will usually anchor up-current from the reef. Something not everyone may realize is that inconsiderate anglers and divers damage the reefs by dropping on top of them. It is much more environmentally friendly and better for your fishing if you drop anchor in the sand just up-current. You will also lose much less tackle by not snagging it on the coral, sea fans and any other life at the bottom.
Once you have found an area that you want to fish and have anchored, it is a good idea to put a block of chum in a chum bag and hang it over the side. This is like ringing the dinner bell as everything from small baitfish to sharks will find their way to the chum. Since the water is relatively shallow, tying it off to a stern cleat along with the rocking of the boat should produce a good chum slick provided there is some current; either current is usually fine as long as it is a moving tide.
I prefer to use live bait such as pilchard that I can easily catch by casting a net in the bay or by using sabiki rigs just outside the inlet, usually on the incoming tide. If no pilchard are to be found, cut ballyhoo or live shrimp work well too. Keep a sharp eye open for live Ballyhoo swimming in your chum slick, as these can be easily caught with small hooks or a cast net and can often bring in amazing results such as Grouper, etc.
The tackle I prefer to use while fishing in the shallow waters of the patch reef is light spinning tackle in the 10 to 20 pound class. Although I like the lighter tackle, the variety of species and sizes fishing the patch reefs makes me lean to the heavier side. Baitcasting gear in
this range would be suitable as well. Pretty much anything you use will get results; I prefer small jigs tip with a piece of shrimp or strip of ballyhoo while my brother uses a fish finder rig with an egg sinker anywhere from 1/8 ounce to an ounce depending upon the current. Place this above a swivel then a few feet of leader of about 30 lb test and you are ready to go. I prefer to go to the light side on leaders and sinkers as well as I feel I get more action that way and I don’t lose as many fish as you may think.
Fishing the Patch reefs of Miami, the Keys, and most of South Florida is not rocket science; you learn much as you go. You will soon understand what species seem to hit what rigs or baits more than others and you may then begin to target certain species. Don’t forget to try using various plugs and other lures, as I have on more than one occasion hooked into Bonito, Tarpon, Snook and even a King Mackerel on these shallow reefs.
The bottom line is; the patch reefs are easily accessible, they hold a great many species and are easy to fish with limited competition. If that’s not enough, think about the Snapper, Grouper or other fine table fare that could be served up courtesy of the patch reefs of South Florida!
If you’re an avid hunter or fisherman who happens to be a single guy, chances are, you’ve never given a second thought to what the modern day female perspective is on the whole “hunter/gatherer” thing or the increase in women hunters. That’s fine. If you’re a married sportsman, chances are you’ve heard just about all you care to hear as far as your spouse’s opinion goes. Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who have a wife that actually scours the internet and combs cookbooks in search of recipes for venison and wild game. If not, odds are pretty good that when you bring home a trophy buck, you hear things like “just don’t hang it in a tree where the neighbors can see it” and “no, I’m not coming out into the garage to oogle over you murdering a beautiful defenseless animal, no matter how many points he has on his head”. Remember, women hunters and women anglers are on the rise and your wife may turn out to be your best hunting or fishing buddy!
So while it may seem like there are two distinct camps of women; those ‘for’ and ‘against’ hunting and even fishing, I’m here to tell you there is yet a third type of woman out there.. the hybrid female. I consider myself a ‘hybrid’ when it comes to hunting and fishing season. Now before I go any further, let me first state that ‘yes, I have in fact gone hunting’ and ‘yes, I do love to fish’. When conducted in a sportsman-like manner, I can tolerate hunting; do I love the idea? No. But when I say ‘sportsman-like’, I mean, without the use of bait or dogs, without being outfitted with every advantage Dicks’ Sporting Goods and Cabella’s has to offer. Have you noticed that many of these super stores now have separate sections for women hunters? Any woman, if equipped with the patience to hear a man’s rationale on why they hunt, has the ability to empathize with the fact that there is a season on deer to prevent over population and to promote healthier herds. When you speak in terms of ‘positives’, we women can accept the fact that you want to go sit in a tree at the crack of dawn and wait for an animal that is depicted as tame and beautiful to come walking down the trail so you can put food on the family table.
What we are incapable of understanding are those hunters (I keep referring to men, when in fact there are plenty of very successful, well known female hunters out there, so excuse me if I’m being stereotypical) who hunt, and essentially, to use a harsher word, KILL, for the mere fun of the sport. Women, being nurturing, emotional souls, cannot agree with the idea of killing something, no matter if it be as small as a squirrel, just ‘for the fun of it’. There is an ecological balance to our planet and if we were meant to kill things for fun, we all would have been born with gun barrels on the tips of our fingers. I know there are many people that feel this way; not just women, so if you get anything at all out of this article, please only harvest what you will consume and/or use. If we could think like the primitive Native Americans, where no part of a deer or buffalo was wasted, we could probably do some good in the way of living greener as well, finding alternate uses for ALL parts of a creature that sacrificed its life to provide sustenance for you and your family.
The same mentality goes for fishing; while I know there are “plenty of fish in the sea”, it seems some sportsmen don’t feel the need to abide by catch limits or seasons on certain game fish. These rules all came to exist for a reason; to preserve the species, while allowing us to experience the thrill of the catch and enjoy the bounties of the ocean. I’ve been on chartered boats where people seem to think it’s all about how many coolers they fill to bring home and brag about. For me, and I’m sure for other women hunters or women anglers, it’s the thrill of the fight and finally, after a particularly tough battle with a big fish, bringing him to the surface and taking your photographs. Depending on the fish, I’m just as happy to let him go and see him swim away as I am to serve him up for dinner. It’s the personal challenge and satisfaction that will remain preserved in my photo album that I find satisfying, versus seeing an animal mounted on the wall.
So while hunters and fishermen (I feel like I should use fisher-people here) come in all shapes, sizes and genders, the main thing, from a woman’s perspective, is respect. Respect the environment, respect your fellow man and the various feelings they may have about your hobby, and don’t forget to pause a moment and respect the animal that you choose to harvest. Women hunters and women anglers are no different from the male counterparts, except that we maybe look a bit better in Cammo!
Visualize this, we leave the dock about 2 hours before dark and run due south from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami. We then head out with the aid of satellite navigation and radar into the Gulf Stream and to depths over 1000 feet of water. We then set lines and drift our way back home. We fish live bait, squid with light sticks (as seen in the perfect storm), really whatever it takes to get them going. When the reel goes off, there is nothing more exciting than being out on the ocean at night battling it out with such a powerful yet delicious fish.
There has been quite a bit written about sword fishing lately and for good reason, North Atlantic swordfish populations, which had been severely depleted by the 1990s as a result of over fishing, have staged a stunning recovery, as reported by the international regulatory group (ICCAT) charged with overseeing their protection. Sport fishermen from South Florida are now able to catch this mighty adversary, if properly prepared.
On the dock preparation is very important to a successful trip and outfitting the proper equipment from the proper bait, to the fighting harness and attitude of the crew is essential for a safe and successful Swordfish trip.
Larger boats are preferable, as you will be fishing at night about 10 miles off the coast, with the weather and rough seas always being a concern. Creature comforts such wet bars, and DVD entertainment centers are always wonderful as is air conditioning systems that are for comfort. However on my many trips aboard my vessel a cool breeze and a bottle of Pepsi were a welcomed addition.
Rods and Reels must be sufficient to do battle with fish averaging between 80 and 400 lbs, and perhaps even larger. Anglers must be strapped into harnesses to avoid being pulled overboard by these mighty fish. All Rods and reels must be checked for any potential problems before leaving the dock.
With our gear checked we can now leave the dock, but we are not on our way to the fishing grounds just yet, you will still need a supply of live bait. Catching live bait can be fun yet difficult. Stopping by the sea buoys or shallow reefs to catch a small fish known as blue runners can make the difference between a successful trip and just a waste of a lot of fuel. I have turned back more than a few times due to lack of live bait. Keep them lively. Many people Claim that rigged dead squid are just as good, but I know what has worked consistently for me and like to dance with the girl that brought me!
We can now head to the fishing grounds. With the help of sophisticated navigational systems and radar, including GPS and depth finders, we can now head south towards Miami and the sword fishing grounds. Once offshore of Miami Beach we head into the Gulf Stream and about 1400 feet of water, where we make final preparations and begin fishing while slowly drifting north, back towards Ft. Lauderdale, under a moonlit night sky. Listen closely to the radio as you might pick up some useful information such as the depth that the fish are being caught in.
A Sea anchor maybe deployed to slow the drift and rods are readied to begin fishing. Four rods are readied with special rigs that include a cylume stick (glow stick, as seen in Movie perfect storm). A live bait is carefully rigged on a circle hook designed to catch on the edge of the swordfish’s bony jaw. The Cylume stick attracts small baitfish, which in turn attract the swords. Each rod is now carefully lowered to designated depth, usually at100, 200, 300 and 400 feet. A balloon with a glow stick is then tied to the line and let drift away from the boat at different intervals to avoid tangles.
The wait begins as we begin drifting slowly through the night listening to the sounds of the ocean. Friends engaging in lively talk, eating junk food that would bring down the wrath of our cardiologist and watching creatures swim in and out of the lights of the boat. The occasional sound of a passing whale ensures that all is well in the universe, at least for tonight.
Listening for the tell tale sounds of line running off the reel with a fish on. Suddenly the reel begins to scream, and the angler prepares to do battle. The designated angler is strapped into a harness to prevent him or her from being pulled overboard while others clear the way. The angler sets the hook and the battle begins, it may take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours to bring in the beast of the deep.
As the angler fights the fish by raising and lowering his rod while reeling in an effort to gain line back on the reel, the others on board yell encouragement to him. All eyes are peeled to the water waiting for a first glimpse of the fish. Despite a valiant battle the great fish is now tiring and nearing the boat, the battle is about to end. As the tired fish nears the boat, someone with a flying gaff, which is a long pole with a hook attached to rope, is readied to pull the fish alongside. After being gaffed the fish is then brought into the boat or if too large tied alongside. At this point the weary angler can finally relax and take a good look at his efforts. It is extremely important to only harvest fish that are of sufficient size to ensure that this fishery continues to thrive. We usually will keep one fish of over 125 lbs or larger every few trips and release all others. After all there is quite a lot of meat for all on a fish this size or larger for all to enjoy.
Finally with the fish secured, a very happy crew prepares for the ride back to the dock. The ride home is very peaceful. All aboard are very silent, reflecting on the events of the evening. The lights of the coast are getting brighter as we near shore. All the preparation that went into making this trip successful seems very worth it now. For those who do not have access to a boat worthy of such a trip, the local guides are now offering swordfish trips on a regular basis and can be found anywhere from the phone book to the internet. If you are an angler and an adventurer, this is one fishing trip that can’t be beat.