As temperatures cool in the Florida Keys to a comfortable 75 degrees the fishing heats up big-time on the reef. The Florida reef is the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States. In addition to the living reef, the Florida Keys has a multitude of artificial reefs on the ocean floor created by sunken wrecks and debris. Beyond the living reef in the Keys there is not much more natural structure on the ocean floor as it is mostly sand bed. In order to provide more housing and spawning opportunity for fish, Florida has one of the most active artificial reef programs in the USA. Many of these structures are sunken intentionally and strategically by the FWC’s Division of Marine Fisheries Management in a way that is considered to impact fish populations positively. These sunken structures that we refer to as wrecks include ships, submarines, tanks, buses, airplanes, mixing trucks, cargo containers, train cars and more.
As the bait moves in closer to land like it does every year, large predatory fish show up creating some big fish opportunities for our anglers without having to go very far. One of the ways we like to take advantage of this seasonal change is that we move from hunting far offshore for Mahi in the summertime, to fishing the wrecks in the Fall and Winter. Main Attraction has plenty of wreck spots that have been scouted and discovered over the years. The wrecks we fish are typically 120’-240’ deep. In the Summertime the shark population on the wrecks makes it a bit challenging to get a large fish to the surface without it getting chomped by a big shark. Fortunately in the Wintertime that subsides and the fishing can be quite excellent on the wreck. In the winter these structures hold fish such as large Mutton Snapper, Grouper, and Amberjack. When the bait fish push in closer in the Wintertime, it’s not uncommon to catch Wahoo on or around a wreck as well.
Our Wreck fishing technique depends on the conditions of the day but the general idea is always the same. Our Captains pull up to the wreck, and assess the speed and direction of the wind and current. This assessment allows them to judge the direction and speed at which their vessel will drift. Typically we prefer a current that is moving anywhere from 0.5 to 1.5 mph. The Captain then sets up ahead of the wreck, dropping the baits near the bottom and slowly drifts them over the wreck. The Captain uses his controls to adjust the position of the boat and the speed of the drift to provide ample opportunity for a predator to see or smell the bait and strike.
Our crew members like to use a very long leader to allow the bait to swim naturally and drift above the wreck so as not to snag the structure below. For bait we use dead or live bait depending on the target. We often use Ballyhoo, Pilchards, and Pinfish. Amberjack and Grouper are usually found in the structure while Mutton Snapper is usually found in the sand beds surrounding the structure. When using dead bait Ballyhoo for Mutton snapper we like to butterfly them to allow that scent to waft through the current and call them to the bait. Mutton Snapper above 20lbs can be quite smart and they don’t just grab the bait and run. This is why a long leader is useful because it allows them time to investigate and nibble without the angler noticing which usually leads to a premature attempt at hooking the fish. When wreck fishing you typically do not want to start winding until you see the rod begin to bend over or you are most likely to lose the fish. Once the fish is hooked you want to wind like crazy, because there is always a bigger hungrier fish in the sea!
If you plan to visit the Florida Keys, call us at 305-289-0071 or Contact us via form, and book a Wreck fishing trip with one of our expert Captains on one of our 5 beautiful boats.
Sources: https://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/artificial-reefs/ https://myfwc.com/conservation/saltwater/