red-fishMild conditions return after what may be the coldest couple weeks of the winter season so far. Fishing continues to be good all across the board, with some days slower than others, depending on the species you target.

The backcountry continues to give anglers lots of options, depending on the weather. However, the thrill of landing a sailfish continues to lure anglers offshore who are finding much more than sailfish at the end of there lines this past week.

Captain Jon Reynolds and his crew aboard the Drop Back out of the Post Card Inn at Holiday Isle Marina in Islamorada has had a busy week full of happy clients. He put them on several sailfish, along with blackfin tunas, bonitos, and a few kingfish while fishing the reef edge.

Live baits like ballahoo and cigar minnows slow trolled off the edge in 115-200 feet around weed lines and current rips have been where you will find the Drop Back. Capt. Jon also reported a good bite for those boats deep dropping in 600-plus feet for tilefish, queen snapper and assorted deep-water grouper off Islamorada.

Capt. Chan Warner and his crew aboard the Gulfstream out of the Key Largo Fisheries Marina had to pull the party boat out into dry dock for its Coast Guard inspection this past week. Before they did, Capt. Chan reported a fantastic bottom bite. Spending a majority of his time fishing in 130 feet off Key Largo, he has been filling the coolers with lots of yellowtails, porgies and kingfish. This is in addition to assorted reef fish, mackerel, jacks, and several species of groupers mostly caught on knocker rigs with fresh cut bait like squid, bonito strips and ballahoo chunks.

The patch reefs found in 15-50 feet all up and down the Upper Keys have been a great option for anglers looking to catch some dinner and have a good time while doing it. Species like snappers, groupers, jacks, hogfish, mackerel, porgies, sharks, grunts and assorted reef fish can all be caught on the patches.

Live shrimp and ballahoo are the baits to have. Shrimp should be fished on the bottom with a simple knocker rig, and a 1/4 ounce of weight or more depending on the amount of current. Always bring a current copy of the Florida Fishing Regulations when fishing the patches, because you will occasionally catch a surprise species that might have you scratching your head.

Those who choose to head into the shallow waters of the backcountry this past week found lots of rod bending action and pleasant conditions. Redfish, snook and trout remain scattered throughout Florida Bay, along with the numbers of fish being found around the Flamingo/ Cape Sable areas.

Live baits like pilchards and shrimp fished with Owner Mutu Light Circle hooks 2/0-4/0 and 30- to 40-pound fluorocarbon leaders with little to no weight have been the best way to present your baits. Artificial lures like silver/gold Johnson weedless spoons and Gulp shrimp and jerk baits colors “new penny” and “white/glow” rigged weedless work great especially when searching out productive areas.

Out in the Gulf there has been tripletails 5-10 pounds, mackerel 2-4 pounds and cobias 15-30 pounds being caught around the outer markers, trap buoy lines, and double top secret wrecks known to a few. Look for schools of bait, bird activity and bottom structure as you run around the Gulf to help you find active areas.

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 in Key Largo. His column appears biweekly.

February 7, 2014