The nice thing about the Florida Keys is the amount of reef structure we have. The rest of the ocean is barren sand bottom, and the fish don’t like to congregate around that because they’re vulnerable to predation, but anywhere you have structure where they can hide, there’s going to be a lot of fish, from baitfish to snapper and grouper to ocean pelagics.
Summertime is a great time of the year to chase amberjacks in the Panhandle because we have calm seas and a lot of fish on the reefs and wrecks. The entire key to finding amberjacks is to locate high relief structure, whether that’s natural bottom or a wreck or Artificial Reef like a tug boat, barge or aircraft carrier. Anything that sticks way up from the bottom will hold amberjacks.
From late August through October, the baitfish are really schooled up off the beaches, and that’s got the Spanish mackerel holding in those areas in big numbers. The bait schools are everything from full-sized threadfin herring to three inch minnows or the juvenile pilchards that have just hatched. When you have that much bait in one area, you can bet the mackerel won’t be far behind.
Late August and all of September are still summertime in Florida, although the majority of fish have already spawned and are starting to move inshore or out to the wrecks. The largest concentrations of fish will still be along the beaches, around the passes and on the nearshore wrecks.
If you’re going to find wahoo on a regular basis during the summer months, you’re going to have to cover a lot of water. That’s how you find the floating objects that are holding fish when there’s not a lot of defined rips or current edges to work.
Apart from one tournament in Key West in July, we don’t really target marlin in my region, but we do seem to catch a lot of them during the full moons from May through August. More often than not, our marlin come as incidental catches when trolling ballyhoo for dolphin.
The last Wednesday and Thursday in July is the two-day Mini-Season for lobster in Florida waters, followed by the opening of the general lobster season the first Wednesday in August. There’s usually big crowds of divers on the water during the mini-season and early in the general season because they want to take advantage of the lobster that have ganged up since the season closed in April.
When people think of my region, permit fishing isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, despite the fact that we have some of the best fishing and some of the biggest permit found in Florida waters. July is prime time for permit fishing in my region, as the fish are schooled up on the reefs and wrecks, as well as around the inlets and on the beaches.