My best friend and fishing buddy always responds to my request to go offshore fishing or deep dropping off our South Florida waters with the same line…”when the seas are a bit flatter we can get out there”. Having been on the water for the better part of my life I realize that summer storms can make heading offshore to fish the Gulf Stream off South Florida a bit tricky at times, and that the flat waters can turn to 4-6 foot seas in a heartbeat. I started thinking about the things that truly make me happy while fishing and then realized that most were in my own backyard. The inshore waters and reefs along Fort Lauderdale, Miami and all points south are great areas to enjoy inshore fishing for Snapper, Mackerel, Grouper and many other species.
One of the best parts about fishing the inshore waters of South Florida is the incredible system of patch reefs which hold an amazing array of species, and the best part is that you rarely have any competition for these areas. These small patch reefs are a refuge for small fish, which in turn bring larger and heftier fish to that area. These South Florida patch reefs are usually found in less than 20 feet of water and on a good day you can see them without the aid of any depth finders. Of course, we resourceful anglers mark the reefs that bring in the best catches with our GPS’s so we can return to them easily.
While most of my buddies have large offshore fishing machines I am perfectly content with my 20’ Aquasport center console, I can get offshore on calm days yet can still enjoy the bays and back country when the feeling strikes me. For fishing the patch reefs off my home in Miami, I find this boat to be ideal for the methods I use and fish I target. The patch reefs found in south Florida waters hold mangrove snapper, yellowtail snapper Various Mackerel and Grouper as well as many other species that pass through, including a variety of sharks and Jacks.
The best way to find the most productive Patch Reefs is to troll in and around the areas with small lures; Yozuri’s and Rapalas have always served me well. Once I have a an idea of which patch reef is producing not only the most fish, but if I’m lucky, also the species I am craving for dinner, I will usually anchor up-current from the reef. Something not everyone may realize is that inconsiderate anglers and divers damage the reefs by dropping on top of them. It is much more environmentally friendly and better for your fishing if you drop anchor in the sand just up-current. You will also lose much less tackle by not snagging it on the coral, sea fans and any other life at the bottom.
Once you have found an area that you want to fish and have anchored, it is a good idea to put a block of chum in a chum bag and hang it over the side. This is like ringing the dinner bell as everything from small baitfish to sharks will find their way to the chum. Since the water is relatively shallow, tying it off to a stern cleat along with the rocking of the boat should produce a good chum slick provided there is some current; either current is usually fine as long as it is a moving tide.
I prefer to use live bait such as pilchard that I can easily catch by casting a net in the bay or by using sabiki rigs just outside the inlet, usually on the incoming tide. If no pilchard are to be found, cut ballyhoo or live shrimp work well too. Keep a sharp eye open for live Ballyhoo swimming in your chum slick, as these can be easily caught with small hooks or a cast net and can often bring in amazing results such as Grouper, etc.
The tackle I prefer to use while fishing in the shallow waters of the patch reef is light spinning tackle in the 10 to 20 pound class. Although I like the lighter tackle, the variety of species and sizes fishing the patch reefs makes me lean to the heavier side. Baitcasting gear in
this range would be suitable as well. Pretty much anything you use will get results; I prefer small jigs tip with a piece of shrimp or strip of ballyhoo while my brother uses a fish finder rig with an egg sinker anywhere from 1/8 ounce to an ounce depending upon the current. Place this above a swivel then a few feet of leader of about 30 lb test and you are ready to go. I prefer to go to the light side on leaders and sinkers as well as I feel I get more action that way and I don’t lose as many fish as you may think.
Fishing the Patch reefs of Miami, the Keys, and most of South Florida is not rocket science; you learn much as you go. You will soon understand what species seem to hit what rigs or baits more than others and you may then begin to target certain species. Don’t forget to try using various plugs and other lures, as I have on more than one occasion hooked into Bonito, Tarpon, Snook and even a King Mackerel on these shallow reefs.
The bottom line is; the patch reefs are easily accessible, they hold a great many species and are easy to fish with limited competition. If that’s not enough, think about the Snapper, Grouper or other fine table fare that could be served up courtesy of the patch reefs of South Florida!