By Pat Ford
It’s pretty well known that Key West has some of the best fishing in the continental US, but when you catch a calm day in the winter it is spectacular!
I try to book Capt. RT Trosset a few days every month in the winter and every so often I get lucky and get a day when the usually brisk winds are calm. Last January RT had a cancelation and I hopped down on short notice. The winds had been tough for several weeks but our trip happened to fall between cold fronts and it was almost flat calm. I had expected it to be cold and sunny but for some reason I was met with temps in the high 60’s and rain…it never rains in Key West in the winter. Nevertheless, all that really mattered was the calm seas. This allowed us to cruise at 40 mph in RT’s 36’ Yellowfin and 350 hp Suzuki’s and cover lots of ground. It had been quite cold for our standards for about a week before our trip and the water temperature on the flats was down to 65 degrees. The only problem this causes is catching pilchards…they don’t like cold. We had to run all the way to the Marquesas before we found enough bait to chum up the blackfin tunas offshore.
It took several hours but we finally made it out to a wreck in 240’ of water where the blackfins hung out. The plan was to either drift or anchor up and use the live pilchards as chum. RT uses heavy spinning tackle for tunas. This wreck has a major shark population and if you fight a tuna too long, there’s a good chance that it will be eaten. Once the tuna’s find the chum line, you’ll see them crashing the baits and everything starts moving pretty fast. RT uses 40 lb fluorocarbon leaders and small hooks because the smaller pilchards seem to work better than the big ones. This day the rain seemed to help because the tunas stayed up on the surface all day. We caught several on fly tackle and probably totaled around 15, most of which were released. A 25 lb tuna a a fly is a spectacular catch.
When we finally tired, literally tired, of pulling on tuna, we ran over to Western Dry Rocks to look for some cero mackerel. I love catching ceros on light tackle. They ranged from 6 to over 10 lbs and almost every cast brought a strike. They are particularly fun on fly tackle with a pilchard size fly and a light wire leader. There is no better way to fish mackerel than with live chum. They are not as fussy as tunas an if they are around, the action will be non-stop till u run out of bait.
Towards the end of the day things changed just a bit. We began to have some heavy strikes….big fish that ran off a hundred yards of line. At first we though that they were blackfin sharks, but when we got one close to the boat, we realized that it was a huge kingfish. It made a second major run and the hook pulled. We hooked another and a 400 lb bull shark ate it next to the boat. I was using a fly rod and hooked one that pulled the hook then had another hit that was a serious fish. I managed to land this one – a king mackerel in the 30 lb range. This was one of the largest kings I’ve ever caught on a fly and it was a complete surprise. Usually you have to run 50 + miles northwest of Key West to fly fish for kings.
It was a routine but spectacular day in Key West with Captain Trosset. The key ingredient was the lack of wind. If only I knew how to schedule my trips for those few calm days in the winter.