I love talking about fishing and catching fish. So, most of my conversations, other than work related, involve exactly that. I love to share stories and processes so when someone asks, “Where’d you get those blackfin tunas C.J.?” I will usually answer, “Right on the Marathon Hump, trolling under flocks of birds at 2,000 RPM with one-half ounce black and red feathers with 5/0 hooks tied directly to 30-pound mono trolled 300 feet behind the boat.” I answer that way because that’s the system that I have developed over the years and it works incredibly well for me. Any change to this litany of procedures, no matter how minuscule, and my results plummet like the house prices in Monroe County over the last few years.
Does this mean that everyone who wants to catch a blackfin tuna has to follow these directions exactly? No, it doesn’t. My buddy Bill runs Billy Bait Mini Turbos 75 feet behind the boat. And I have been with him when we’ve quadruple hooked up with uncooperative tuna forcing us to run around the cockpit, crossing over and under each other to keep four screeching lines from tangling with each other. This is major fishing fun, especially if there are less than four anglers. I’ve spoken to many people who troll cedar plugs for tuna. They troll cedar plugs right in the same areas that I troll black-and-red feathers and catch a lot of tuna. I have tried trolling cedar plugs on several occasions and have never had any luck. That’s just the way it goes. Find something that works for you, memorize it, or better yet write it down, and repeat it.
Another frequent question is, “Hey how about giving us some of your secret waypoints C.J.?” This is a whole different kettle of fish, excuse the expression. Guides, captains and fisherpersons of all types spend years collecting GPS waypoints then protecting them with their lives. I do too. But, with all the “secret spots” I’ve got, I can’t think of more than one or two where I have never seen other fisherman. And, out of a hundred waypoints, I usually fish only three to six of them on any given fishing trip. And I can’t think of many that I haven’t replaced with new waypoints after a year or two. So, my answer to the “secret spot” question is, “There really are no secret spots.” There are, however, spots that are more productive than others and some of these may work well for a while — and then stop working well — and then start working well again.
Professional captains who fish everyday run across wrecks and patch reefs while cruising, trolling or heading to, or from, the dock. Their eyes are all always scanning their fish-finder’s screen and they will mark anything interesting by simply pushing the waypoint button. Then, during their next outing they will look at, and/or fish those spots. These are as close as you will come to truly “secret spots.” I do the same thing. In fact, there are several waypoints on my machine that I have since named, Big Snappers 1, Big Snappers 2 and so on up to Big Snappers 10. These spots are all within a short distance from commercially available waypoints that are listed on most, if not all, the charts you can buy at any of the boating/tackle shops in town. All of the Big Snapper waypoints were found by searching the area around the Bridge Rubble Reef off of Marathon and south of Moser Channel. Most times, I hit the Save Waypoint button when I find a likely looking spot and the GPS automatically assigns a number to that spot. As I pass through an area with lots of these numbered waypoints, I drop a line, or put out some trolling lines as I pass by on my way to wherever I am going. A lot of times, the action is so good, I never make it to my original destination.
There is a spot on the way to the Ups and Downs, where I have caught very nice mahi mahi on several occasions. This has become the spot where I start trolling when fishing the Ups and Downs. I catch fish on, or near, this spot one out of four or five times. It is less than 2 miles from some commercially available waypoints that I got from a Boater’s World (may they rest in peace) nautical chart. Deep drop fisherpersons watch their fish finders constantly, and as they drift baits on the bottom, they hit the waypoint button anytime they pass over structure that looks promising or is holding fish. Out in the bay, fisherman will mark bomb craters, sunken debris and sandy patches. After fishing these spots several times, they rename the waypoint of delete it. Culling their waypoints like this gives them a collection of “secret waypoints” that they feel confident in. Recently, I had the opportunity to fish in Islamorada. I lived in Islamorada for two years before moving to Marathon and sure enough one of my secret waypoints out near the Islamorada Hump paid off with some nice blackfin tuna.
I have entered several commercially available waypoints, mostly popular snapper locations, into my GPS. My commercial friends have taught that the goal is to catch fish, not structure. So, I will use these waypoints only as a starting place. Many times, I see four or five boats on one of these spots and there is not a bent rod among them; the fish may have moved off that particular spot. After cruising and watching the fish finder, I locate nearby areas of structure actively holding fish. I mark these spots on the GPS until I see a pattern developing, then drop an anchor and wet a line. If I get no bites in 20 minutes or so, I move to the next spot. After several attempts I almost always locate the fish and head home with delectable same-day snapper.
Myfwc.org, has a free listing of waypoints for artificial and natural reefs throughout the state. It takes a few minutes to navigate their site, (try home page; fishing; fishing — saltwater; artificial reefs; list of artificial reefs) but it is worth it. This is a great place to start.
Stay patient on the water. Cruise around your waypoint before throwing the anchor. Watch your fish finder. Look for fish — not structure and you will develop your own “secret spots.” And, although they’re really not secret, you will protect them with your life. Well, maybe not with your life, but you know what I mean. And hey, don’t forget, life is good in the Florida Keys; life is very good in the Florida Keys.