Summer time in south Florida can be a bit tricky due to those pesky pop-up thunderstorms. They seem to pop up everyday around the same time–you can almost set your clock to them. Several miles offshore is not somewhere you want to be when these guys decide to show up. Although they rarely last that long, they typically have high winds and really dark thunderheads that spew lightning. And as we all know, lightning and water do not mix. But of course we still need to get that fishing fix in. Well for all you island hoppers down in the Florida Keys, I have some good news. You can get that offshore fix and feel without making those longer runs by the way of fishing patch reefs.
Patch reefs are scattered throughout the inshore and nearshore areas surrounding the Florida Keys. Typically found in 20 feet of water or less and small in size, they hold all the reef fish that you would expect. Species such as snapper, grouper, mackerel, jacks, sharks and much more all call these small patch reefs home. Another benefit to fishing these reefs is the fact that on nice, clear days, you can see them and locate them without the aid of electronics.
Although I would advise marking some of your favorite and more productive reefs with a GPS so that you can return quickly and easily for days to come. With little competition from other anglers and the ability to access these pristine fishing grounds from smaller vessels such as your inshore flats boat, you can catch offshore sized fish right in your backyard.
The trick to finding a productive patch reef is to troll through the area a number of times with a hard body lure. If you get a few hits and want to check out the reef in more depth, drop anchor above the reef. Avoid anchoring directly on top of the reef as the anchor will cause irreversible damage.
Once you’re satisfied with your position, go ahead and chum the waters. This will get the fish active, hungry and ready to strike whatever you sling their way. Speaking of slinging their way, try using live pilchard as bait. Cast it out and wait for your prize. Live shrimp or ballyhoo are also great alternatives.
Fishing the patch reefs that are scattered among the keys is a great way to get that offshore feel without all the traveling or worrying about the weather. If a storm does decide to pop up, you are able to run for cover easily and quickly. First time out? Try hiring a local guide to learn the ropes.