Where there’s dolphin around, expect the marlin to be close

Keysnet.com -  Well looks like we made it through another festive holiday weekend. Even with the crowds, there were some great catches both in the backcountry and offshore.

Like most guides and captains, I had several charters over the course of the busy weekend, but one in particular stood out among the rest. On July 4, I had a half-day trip with Dan Walenjus and his 9-year-old son Alex, both from New Jersey. They had just recently purchased a home in Key Largo and wanted to see what the local flats have to offer. We spent our first hour throwing baits to rolling tarpon that had a bit of lockjaw, and then headed over to the flats.

Before we could shut off the engine, we could see tailing bonefish not far from where we were. After a few minutes, Dan hooked up to a nice bonefish but lost it after it cut him off on a sponge.

Still determined, we moved to another flat and found a large hungry school of permit that could not resist some live shrimp. Alex and his father both hooked up at the same time and landed their permit. After posing for some photos, the fish were released unharmed. Shortly after this, Alex caught another permit along with two legal mutton snapper, all this before 11:30 a.m.

On the offshore side of things, Capt. Jon Reynolds and his crew aboard the Drop Back out of the Post Card Inn at Holiday Isle Resort and Marina have been reporting a lot of bigger dolphin around this past week. In fact some of the biggest schoolies of the year so far are averaging between 6-10 pounds (almost gaffers), mixed in with larger fish in almost every school they found.

Adding to the excitement, with the dolphin there have been more skipjack tuna around averaging between 5-10 pounds more than they had seen in previous weeks.

For the Drop Back the hot bite has been out deep in and around 1,000 feet while trolling dead ballahoo with colored skirts.

Once a school of dolphin is located, pitching fresh cut chunks of bait like ballahoo, squid and pilchards keeps the action going.

There have already been a few marlin caught in the Upper Keys over the past few weeks. With all the dolphin around, expect there to be more marlin caught in the coming weeks.

On the west side of U.S. 1 in the backcountry, all the rain the mainland has received has flushed large amounts of bait out into the bay, making any outflow a hot spot.

Tarpon, snook, redfish and seatrout are all being caught on live baits like pilchards or shrimp in addition to artificial lures like gold/silver spoons and Gulp tipped jigs.

Redfish have shown up in a big way on and around the flats of Flamingo and Cape Sable. Schools of 50-100 fish can be seen pushing large wakes as they make their way across the flats. Hanging around these schools have been big snook and sharks, in addition to the mangrove snappers and jacks that are already there.

Having a dedicated rod with a wire leader ready for a shark encounter is a must-have when fishing the bay during the summer months.

Big tarpon are still being caught locally on live and dead baits, with the best action happening at night during the falling tide. Live baits like crabs and mullet work best, but dead baits fished on the bottom can work as well if not better.

Those of you who know me, know that to me, fishing is more than just a game, it is a way of life. So fish hard and fish often!

Capt. Mike Makowski is a backcountry fishing guide and owner of Blackfoot Charters in Key Largo. His column appears biweekly. To send him fishing reports or photos, e-mail captmikemakowski5@gmail.com or call (305) 481-0111.