When I get calls from clients in the winter months and I tell them the patch reefs are offering some great fishing I get asked these questions:
What is Patch Reef Fishing?
Florida Keys Patch Reef fishing is a local term for fishing shallow water reefs, rock piles, coral heads and small ship wrecks inside the Florida Keys reef in 10-40ft of water.
What Can we Catch When We Fish the Patch Reefs?
The big coral heads, smaller reefs, rock piles and shallow wrecks in these depths inside the barrier reef will hold numerous Snappers, groupers, mackerels, barracudas, jacks, mangrove snappers, hog fish, porgies, cobia, sharks and more. I always try to get my clients a couple very big Mutton Snappers on the patch reefs using a trade secret technique. Check out the pictures below of the big Mutton Snappers my clients have caught in 10ft. of water on the patch reefs off Key Largo only 3 miles from shore.
When is the Best Time to Fish the Patch Reefs?
Patch reef fishing can offer action year round, but when in the windy and cooler months (December-February) in the Florida Keys the patch reef fishing is at its peak. The best days to fish the patch reefs are on cooler windy days when we can not get outside the reef.
What Tackle Do We Use?
We use ultra light spinning rods on the patch reefs, similar to pan fish and walleye rods to catch these fish making it the ultimate in light tackle fun fishing.
For my light tackle set-ups I prefer to use lightest weight reels I can afford with powerful drag, I prefer using Shimano Sustain 2500-5000 class reels paired with my favorite light tackle fishing rods made by St. Croix. The spools of the Shimano Sustains are filled with 10-15 lb. Power Pro Braided Line. To the braid I connect a 6ft piece of 15-20 lb. Fluorocarbon Leader using Double Uni Knot. I love using small 3/4-1oz size jig heads on the patch reefs. The best colors for me are Pink and Super Glow DOA style Jig Heads with sharp hooks
I target larger Mutton Snappers and Groupers on the patch reefs using Shimano Twin Power 8000 spinning reels paired with custom Adrenaline Live Bait Rods. The Twin Powers are spooled with 40lb. Braided line connected to a 6ft piece of 40-60lb. Fluorocarbon Leader using a Double Uni Knot.
Freaking fun fishing! We can catch lots of fish and maybe a few for the frying. If you enjoy casting and hooking fish this style of fishing is similar to walleye and bass fishing up north. Clients are casting the entire trip and hooking their own fish.
For me, water quality is the more important than current when it comes to fishing the patch reefs in the Florida Keys. When I arrive at a patch reef and find “backcountry mud” water quality I will either run north or south 5-10 miles to find a cleaner water. My water color preference for patch reef fishing is “powder blue” or “green”. Snappers are not big fans of eating in muddy water.
As far as current goes, learn to fish whatever current you are dealt with when fishing the patch reefs. Wind against the tide can be frustrating conditions for most anglers including myself, but remember you are not “feel lining” baits for Yellowtails on the patch reefs you are “casting” jig heads tipped with bait. Make long casts with the wind and let the current bring the jig head back to the boat. Also make long casts out the port and starboard sides of the boat, this technique works well for my clients when faced with wind “against tide conditions”.
Chumming and Shrimp
I like to put a lot chum in the water when patch reef fishing. You read a lot about “not using chum” on the patch reefs. Don’t believe what you read. I bring the same amount of chum as I do on my Yellowtail trips which is 100 pounds or more. This guarantees me action and quality fish for the box and allows me to fish each spot effectively sometimes I will fish 3-5 spots per charter in 5 hours. In the chum mix I like to add some dead shrimp. Just this little bit of crustacean scent fires up the snappers on the patches.
How to Find Patch Reef Fishing Spots in Florida Keys
If you can afford to do so I would recommend purchasing an Atlas Trax (https://atlastrax.com)but if not use Google Earth. This is not a paid promotion or marketing scheme. Atlas Trax does not pay me to speak about their product, I really just like using it. Here is a tip for those that don’t already know this, but as you are scouting at home on the computer using Google Earth, make sure to learn how to use the time slider took to your advantage. Scroll back through the time slider and look for scans that google earth completed on days when it was nice out for fishing around the time you are planning your fishing trip, look for the boats fishing a patch reef fishing then drop a g.p.s. location pin and save it to your GPS on the boat. I included an example of a what you should be looking for when you are scouting for lobster, bait or patch reef spots using Google Earth. When you find a spot you want to check out just drop a “pin” on the spot and put the coordinates into your GPS. Use the historical data as your personal log book. You have to put in the hours to find the data, but it will be worth it if you find a good fishing spot.
If you want to target large sea trout this spring, then use Google Earth to help you find a few spots to try out.
Below is an image of a “sea trout” fishing spot just outside of Flamingo (Everglades National Park).
Another tool I just recently started using is Strike Lines Charts. These are 3-D Sonar Charts. I really prefer fishing patches with grassy mud/sand bottom surrounding them, not hard rocky bottom.Thanks to Strike Line Charts I can now tell what type of bottom surrounds the patches. Mutton Snappers like to roam and eat away from the patches, they love foraging on the crustaceans that live in the grass surrounding the patch reef. The trick is to find a healthy patch reef that is holding fish with some nice sea fans and grass surrounding it. Below is an image of several patch reefs. This particular location is off of Ocean Reef. The Ocean Reef Patch Reefs offer some awesome fishing. It is worth the trip to fish these patches off of the Ocean Reef Club in the Upper Florida Keys.
Hook and Cook(Shore Lunch)
It is a tradition in the Florida Keys for charter clients to take their catch to a local restaurant so they can prepare you the ultimate hook and cook experience, my northern clients call this a “shore lunch” experience.
Lazy Days http://www.lazydaysislamorada.com in the Islamorada offers the absolute best hook and cook experience in the Florida Keys. You have to make reservations well in advance not to mention the view of the Alligator Reef Light house is awesome. Highly recommended.
Seakeeper, a Luxury Comfort Fishing Experience for my Clients
Another patch reef windy day advantage has been our new Seakeeper 2. It basically shuts down the 15 knot days on the patch reefs into crazy comfortable fun for my clients now. We have the advantage over all the smaller boats in the Florida Keys fishing fleet without a Seakeeper. Anchor fishing on the patch reefs now feels like fishing from the dock. Not to mention getting to and from the spot with ease in gusty breeze as Seakeeper works wonders while underway to and from the fishing spot. My clients are left speechless at the end of the day. I am very grateful and lucky to have 1 fo the first 10 Seakeeper 2 off the assembly line! I want the best for my clients, I can’t control the fishing but I can offer the best possible ocean fishing experience with quality equipment. Learn more about how the Seakeeper 2 works at https://www.seakeeper.com. Check out the demonstration video on our website (insert website page with video) We are very lucky to be the only 24ft boat in the United States with a Seakeeper 2. Check out the December 2018 issue of Florida Sportsman Magazine, we were the feature article https://tavernierfishingcharters.com/florida-sportsman-article-2018.pdf
Stay tuned for future podcasts about how to fish the patch reefs in the Florida Keys. I will talk about anchoring secrets, baits and reveal a secret fishing chumming tip and a trade secret for catching big muttons on the patch reefs. If you fish the patch reefs in the Florida Keys or can relate to this style of fishing in your areas I highly suggest you stay tuned for future Podcast about how to fish the patch reefs in the Florida Keys.
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Good Karma Sportfishing