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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello all,

We've rented a house in mid August on Key Largo with a canal access to the water. I am very seriously considering renting a medium sized center console boat for the week so that I can fish as much as possible while down there. I fish the Chesapeake pretty much every weekend during the season, so have plenty of gear (from light tackle to offshore trolling), and experience handling a boat.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on whether this is an idea worth pursuing, places to considering going, locations, tactics, gear, what species to look for, etc. etc. I like fishing of all kinds. Just want to catch fish, and wouldn't mind bringing back some dinner a few days. C&R is cool too.

Thanks,

Reed
 

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Don't do it unless you want to catch a case of Conch Fever that will drive you crazy all winter until your next trip to the Keys. I would DEFINITELY rent the boat for the week. I took my wife and 3 kids (5, 7, & 10) for our first trip to the Keys last year. We stayed in Marathon and rented a 22' Center Console and had an absolute blast fishing. I used to live in Maryland and fished the Chesapeake quite a bit for a few years. If you are comfortable there, and sounds like you have the right tackle, you will have a great time in the keys. We did mostly chumming on the reef when the wind was good. Pretty simple concept, anchor on the edge of the reef, put out LOTS of chum and drift bait (shrimp, squid, cut bait) back into the chum slick. If its to windy, you can always fish the back country side. Nice thing about the Keys, you can usually fish somewhere and get out of the wind and waves. We did really well on Yellowtails, Mango Snapper, and some mackeral. Get a good chart, study the various forums like crazy, and you will have a great time. Going again in April. Can't wait to get there!
 

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If you don't rent a boat, you are seriously cutting your fun factor by a good 90%. I can't imagine being in the Keys without a boat.

When we stayed in Key Largo, we rented from Bump & Jump and had a good experience with them. We rented the 21' Angler and it was a great baot for down there.

In August, you can probably do well on the Reef. Pretty much anchor up and chum. Drift cut bait and live shrimp back in the slick (like chumming for rockfish in the Chessie). Or you can bottom fish with live bait for grouper and big snapper. You can catch little fish called pinfish in the grass in shallower water. Or, you can bottom fish with small pieces of cut bait and catch grunts for bait.

Offshore trolling for dolphin can be good but the fish can be way further out than you want to run that time of year. Depends on the water temp. You can ask around in the bait shops.

The Islamorada Hump will be in running distance for you. There are blackfin tuna there. Plus mahi, wahoo and big amberjack.

Defintely rent the boat. Plus, you'll want to snorkel out at John Pennekamp park. With your own boat, you can go whenever you want.
 

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Good choice. The options are limitless when you have the boat tied up to your dock. Fishing and snorkeling whenever you want.

Where in Key Largo will you be? Bay or ocean side? We were on the bay side, Buttonwood Sound. The only drawback was that it was a long way to the ocean. We either had to go NE and go through Pennekamp Park (a lot of winding channels and some no wake), or SW towards Islamorada. On the plus side, we had protected back-country fishing in our backyard. And Snooks restaurant about 1/2 mile up the bay was cool to pull up and have lunch with the boat.

Bump & Jump rentals let us dock at their place whenever we wanted, though. So, on days that we knew we were going to spend the entire next day on the ocean side, we'd tie the boat up over there. I'd just call my wife on the cell as we were pulling into the marina. By the time the boat was tied and unloaded, she was pulling into the parking lot.

I've been going to the Keys for years (mostly Marathon), but Key Largo has a special spot in my heart. I caught my first permit there.
 

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Definitely you'll want to spend plenty of time on the ocean side. Snorkeling, fishing the reef, the hump and there are a couple nice wrecks in between.

Do you have any charts yet? You should order a chart of the area online. Then you can plot and scheme, enter some GPS numbers, etc...

If you're really good at finding and cast-netting bait, a popular way of fishing the hump is to chum live baits. If you get out to the hump early, you can usually find the blackfin tuna by looking for birds and/or bait showers. Get over there (not to close), and start throwing livies into the water. This should get the tuna interested. Then you can catch them on live bait.

I stink at catching bait so I usually troll small feathers. Guys also do well jigging. Butterfly jigs seem the big thing now.

There are a couple wrecks that are just past the reef. The Duane and the Bibb. They have a couple of mooring balls you can tie off to. During the week, you probably won't have to compete with dive boats. You could try chumming here for a variety. You could also jig or drop some live baits down. Maybe hook some big snapper or grouper. Not sure about amberjack on these wrecks. You could ask a dive shop or tackle shop.

For somebody new to fishing the Keys, fishing the reef is the fastest way to get into the swing of things. Anchor in the sand, upcurrent from the coral. Get a case of chum blocks and start chumming. Two chum bags of different size mesh are good. A large mesh to get the chum going and a finer mesh when you want to slow it down. If you really want to get some serious chum out, buy a chum hoop. Basically a large mesh net on a floating ring. You can throw 3 blocks of chum in at a time and not have to pull it in the boat and open it up first. Tie a rope to the ring and hook it to something in the boat. When you want a nice cloud of chum to come out, just tug the rope a few times.

Once you have the chum going, you should see fish showing up behind your boat pretty shortly. You can free line a live shrimp or small piece of cut bait back in the current and start hooking up quickly. If you want to get some baits in the well, drop a small piece of cutbait to the bottom. You should catch live grunts pretty quickly. You can drop one of those down on a heavier rod for grouper, big mangrove snapper or possibly a nice mutton. If you're good with a cast net, you may see a school of ballyhoo in the chum slick. Net a bunch. They're about $8-10 a dozen at the tackle shop. Free line a live one way back in the slick for any big predators. If they die in the livewell, throw them on ice.

If you start reeling in fish heads with no fish attached, you have a barracuda around the boat. The best way to catch this sucker is a tube lure. Green is my favorite color. Throw it out there on a spinning outfit and reel it in as fast as you possibly can. The cuda will nail it. If you work it like a rubber worm, he'll know it's fake and you won't catch him all day.

On the bay side, you can fish the shoreline of the nearby mangrove islands and catch mangrove snapper, small barracuda and whatever else might be lurking. I've never fished later than the first week in July, so I'm not sure what's running in the bay that time of year. You'll have to research that and see what your options are. The first thing I would do when you're settled in your rental house is, throw on the goggles and hop in the water around your dock. Snoop around the dock, the surrounding shoreline and out as far as you can cast. This will give you an idea of what kind of fish are resident around your dock. When you're at the house, you can have fun fishing at the dock.
 

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I've stayed in Key Largo quite a few times, mostly camping in Pennecamp. I don't want to be negative but I've been there in August when the bugs are ok but I've also been there when they were absolutely miserable. They are usually worse at dawn and dusk but one time I remember, mid-day if you got anywhere within 20' of the mangrove trees you could almost see the swarm coming for you and no amount of bug juice could save you. I got hell from my wife when I brought my son home covered head to toe with bites. For some reason bug bites last on kids for days, on me they go away in a couple hours so she was like, "what, did you tie him to a tree or something?". My point is - if the bugs are bad, offshore is where you want to be, get the boat.

Guana has some good advice for you, especially on the chum. Most people just bring a couple blocks but you'll do a lot better if you chum heavy. Get to know these guys, http://www.keylargofisheries.com/cg...&product=94&mode=show_detail&reset=1236000566 they have great chum and at $34 per case it's a very good value. You should be able to catch your own ballyhoo at the patch reefs but they also sell them at Key Largo Fisheries too. I've found pilchards and spanish sardines on the flats just outside the north entrance to Largo sound but it's hit or miss plus without a net you'll have a hard time of it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Thanks again all. So as for tackle, I guess I'll bring down 4 trolling rods (2 TLD 25 combos and 2 Penn 114 Combos, all 30-50 lb class) that should have plenty of muscle for smaller tuna, mahi, etc. I'll also bring some light-to-medium baitcasting and spinning gear for the smaller stuff, as well as some open faced conventional reels I can put on one of the trolling rods if we want to live bait or chunk the tuna.

So I guess most of your basic terminal tackle will do (bottom rigs, circle hooks, various weights, etc) for much of the time. What lures should I focus on for trolling? Some feather rigs for sure. What small offshore lures would you all use? I'm thinking of bringing some in line planer boards and small spoons to put one rod deeper, and run the rest at or near the surface. Is this reasonable, or a waste of time?
 

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Those setups will be good for trolling and bottom fishing too. I have my TLD 25's setup with 40# and that seems to be a good balance between strengh and stealth (ps: love the "T-Bar" handle on that reel). Some guys fish with 30# but I'd rather over power the small ones and lose less of the big ones than the other way around. If you're going to troll a planer paint if black. Naked and skirted ballyhoo is tough to beat. Make up a bunch of rigs ahead of time, I like to make some with plain 80# mono and some with an extra foot of #8 wire in case I'm getting a lot of bight offs, mustad 7/0 and 8/0 seems to be about the right size.
 
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