3 Regions in 7 Days

Hey everyone,

I just got back from a 7-day fishing marathon that took me from the Big Bend, to the South Region, and finally the Keys. I caught 23 different species of fish (some of which were firsts for me) fishing and diving some of the most beautiful and unique areas our great state (and our neighbor to the east) has to offer. In just a week’s time I went from catching snook on topwater in the backcountry, to spearfishing hogfish and lionfish off beautiful reefs, to catching lobster, to pulling up queens and snowies from 1,300 feet. It’s trips like these that really make me appreciate how fortunate I am to be born and raised in a place with such diverse waters and fisheries.

Although the majority of the trip took place outside the Big Bend region, I wanted to share it with y’all since I consider the Big Bend my home region now. If you’re only interested in local reports, just check out the report from the first day.

Day 1: Yankeetown

Although my vacation time hadn’t “officially” started, work was slow this day so I managed to slip out to meet up with a buddy of mine who has been living in YT for several years now. He always seems to be on a hot bite, so when he offered to take me out and show me what he does I jumped on the opportunity.

We met up at Captains Cove (the best bait and tackle shop around) to grab some tackle and figure out our game plan. I was under the impression that in summer the fish move from the creeks to the flats/bays out front, so when I heard the plan was to target snook and reds on topwater way back in the creeks I was pretty skeptical. We launched our yaks from the barge canal mid morning to a falling high tide. The sky was dark and overcast due to some morning storms, so my hopes were high for some topwater action.

Once we got way back into the creeks, there was a ton of good structure and we made our way working bars, cuts, and points. The guy I was with knew exactly where to focus our efforts. His knowledge of the area’s structure, bottom contour, and fish’s feeding habits was unbelievable. We worked about a 2-mile stretch of creek and he knew exactly what type of fish would be in what area at a given phase of the tide. We ended up with a few snook on topwater, missed a nice red, and got towed around by a moose black drum that sucked in a blue crab. I fish YT multiple times a week year-round and rarely catch snook, so I was stoked at the outcome. However, my buddy said it was a disappointingly slow day compared to how he’s done recently.

After that, we returned to the shop to hang out for a while. At some point I realized the tide was bottoming out and about to come in hard, which is my favorite tidal conditions for fishing my spots, so I convinced my buddy to come see what I do. I netted some crabs and mud minnows and we were on our way to one of my favorite oyster bars. The water was stained and had to be 100 degrees. I was shocked because the water was nowhere near as hot back in the creeks earlier that day. When we got to the bar, I was the only one fishing because, as I found out, he only fishes artificial. I find it funny how people can be such purists, but to each his own. Personally, I agree that throwing artificial is more fun, but there are situations where fishing bait is more strategic and can be challenging and fun too. As long as you’re responsible, I think everyone should be able to fish however they please without judgment. Anyway, I positioned a mud minnow on a ¼ oz jighead in a western-facing pocket and quickly landed a 26” red. This was immediately followed by an 18” trout. Not too long after, a big storm rolled in and we got chased back to the ramp. I was back to Gainesville in time to have a fresh fish dinner with my girls before leaving for the next week.

Day 2: Gainesville to Jupiter

This was one of my travel days. I drove from Gainesville to my original home in Jupiter and helped my dad, godfather, and a buddy of mine load gear and ready the boat for a 2-night Bahamas trip. Had a few stiff drinks after a long day of hard work and got to bed early.

Day 3-4: West End, The Bahamas

We left Jupiter at first light with a fleet of two other boats to make the crossing. We hit some pretty gnarly chop in the Gulf Stream but other than that it was a smooth crossing. Saw some weeds and birds on the way over but nothing convincing enough to stop the fleet. Checked into customs at Old Bahama Bay and made our way out to dive the area north up to Memory Rock. We shot some hogs and lionfish in about 35 feet, then set up in 65 feet for some yellowtailing. We quickly boated as many flags as we could eat fresh, and since yellowtail doesn’t freeze well we pulled anchor and headed out to deep drop for some fish that we could fill the freezer with. None of us had any numbers, so we just used Navionics to find good bottom contours to fish. We found a good looking area in 650 feet not far from OBB and managed about a dozen nice yelloweye. After that, it was back to the “resort” (quotes because the place was a total hole in the wall) for some drinks by the pool and a dinner of fresh yellowtail.

The next morning we started by trolling for dolphin and looking for tuna, but no luck. Headed in to dive some good bottom south of OBB and shoot some hogs. We started in 15-20 feet so my dad and godfather could dive. It was funny because we had a group of friends there on another boat who took their girlfriends there to dive the day prior, so my buddy and I had some fun teasing the old guys about that. They managed to shoot some hogs about 3-4 lbs, then we headed out to about 30-40 feet so me and my buddy could do some real diving. We shot several more hogs this time in the 6-7 lbs range. One of the hogs I shot was so powerful that it ripped my polespear out of my hands and pulled it so far into a ledge that it cracked the fiberglass- definitely not your typical Florida hog. We finished out the day with some more deep dropping, this time in 1,300 feet. After catching several nice queens our day ended with a crazy surprise. While bringing up what we assume was another queen, the rod doubled over with what we knew had to be a shark. It was strange because the fish fought very similar to a sword, shooting up and down in the water column. After about 2 hours of fighting it, it shot toward the surface and we were able to identify it as a mako before it broke off. This was the first mako I had ever seen in person, and it was an incredible experience to see such a beautiful animal. Anyway, the rig was gone and it was time to head back to the States. The crossing was smooth (or so I was told) and we returned home safe.

Day 5: Jupiter to Key West

Another travel day. Cleaned the boat and fish in the morning and headed down to Key West with the crew for mini season.

Day 6-7: Key West

The morning of the first day of mini season we headed out to some Gulf-side basins to work some narrow channels for bugs. We’ve been lobstering the area for about 16 years now, so we have the lobstering pretty dialed in. We pulled our crews limit on our first drift, mostly from under shallow ledges and individual holes in the bottom. After our 20 minutes of lobstering we headed to a wreck in the Gulf to do some spearfishing and shot some nice hogs and a big yellow jack. With several hours of daylight left, we decided to try deep dropping since it was such a success in the Bahamas. Like before, we had no numbers and relied on reading bottom contours to find fish. The first spot we went to we brought up some nice blueline tiles and a couple rosies. We also caught one of the craziest looking fish I’ve ever seen, which we later identified as a swallowtail bass. On the way in I jumped some fun-size tarpon in the canal in front of the house.

The next day we headed back out to the basins for more bugs. This time it took about 40 minutes to get our limit and it was back to the Atlantic side for more deep dropping and diving. On our way to the deep drop ground we came across a nice current rip, color change, and stack of weeds (trifecta) in about 900 feet. We got into a mess of schoolie dolphin and had some fun with them on light tackle. We only kept two for the box since we don’t like to freeze dolphin. Once we got to deep dropping we quickly boated some more tiles, a rosie, a yelloweye, and a snowy. Afterwards, we dropped on a wreck in 300 feet and caught all the vermillion we could ever want. On our way in we jumped some reefs and shot some mangrove and a yellowfin grouper. When we got back to the house, we put the boat on the lift and packed up the gear. The week was over before I knew it.

It was a hell of a week and one that I’ll never forget. I am so fortunate to be able to do this kind of stuff with family and friends, and it is something I never take for granted. By the way, I’d like to point out that normally I only keep enough fish to eat fresh, but these species are some of the best freezing fish in the state. Since I only do a couple trips like this a year, I use the opportunity to stock my freezer and supply my family for months at a time. On our limited college budget, it helps a lot to have a supply of fish and lobster (instead of eating Raman noodles and Easy Mac). When doing this, I also try to focus on deep water fish since they not only freeze well, but are larger and less pressured than other species.

By the way, I had a couple friends from the club fish my spots in YT while I was gone and they said the redfish bite was on fire this weekend. They also landed a couple flounder about 16-17”. I told my girlfriend just now that I can’t wait to get back out there and catch some reds. She looked at me like I was crazy and said “I think you have a problem”.

Hope you enjoyed the report and tight lines everyone!


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