Travel Guide To Fishing In Florida
If variety is the spice of life, than the state of Florida is the chili pepper of the fishing world. Whatever type of fishing you like to do, the Sunshine State can accommodate.
“You want to fish a wreck for snapper and grouper? No problem. Fly a kite on the reef for a bunch of sails? Yup, Florida’s got that, too. Chase tarpon, snook and bonefish on the flats? You betcha. You get the idea, and we’re just scratching the surface.”
There’s always an option available when fishing in Florida. No matter the time of year, you can find something to pull on. With a forecast calling for light winds,I headed down to Pompano to fish with Capt. Jamie Bunn on his 32-foot Sea Vee, Encore. Jamie knows these waters extremely well as he’s almost always out here fishing, when he’s not running the Pompano Beach Saltwater Circuit. We set a loose plan to make a few daytime swordfish drops, then hit the reef on the way in and see what we could find. If all went well, we’d have a nice mix of fish in the box.
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Fishing in Florida, Hillboro Inlet
The historic Hillboro inlet located in Pompano Beach, Florida, has been home to some of the sport’s most notable captains. Guys such as Peter Wright, Bark Garnsey, Skip Smith and Eddie Herbert to name but a few, cut their teeth fishing in Florida at the Gulf Stream and reef edge off of Pompano. Located midway between Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton, Hillsboro is one of the busiest inlets in south Florida, but it doesn’t get the commercial and cruise ship traffic you see in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
Originally opened in the early 1900s, Hillsboro is continually being dredged to accommodate the large boats that use it. It can be a bit hairy on big-weather days with its ripping currents, but more often than not, the inlet is a breeze to navigate. Just monitor the boat traffic as there’s always a few yahoos straying a bit too far from the sandbar party. There’s a good number of cruisers out of Hillsboro, but it’s mostly a fisherman’s inlet. Paradise for fishing in Florida.
Bluewater Movements holds several tournaments each year in the Hillsboro area, including the Pompano Beach Saltwater Circuit. There is no better way to get to know the local fleet than take part in one of these events. Visit Bluewater Movements for more info. There is also the Pompano Beach Rodeo.
Getting There: Located right on A1A in Pompano, the inlet has a public park with a fishing pier on the south side and the historic lighthouse on the north side. The closest airport is Fort Lauderdale. If taking your own boat, the coordinates are 26°15′35.15″N 80°4′57.39″W.
What to Fish For: You can fish for kingfish, dolphin, blackfin tuna, wahoo, amberjack, snapper, swordfish, sailfish, snook, tarpon and more. For local fishing reports and charter information, contact Hillsboro Inlet Marina at 954-943-8222 or Lighthouse Point Marina.
I picked up Brant Crenshaw, the sales director for BD Outdoors.com who was visiting some friends in Jupiter, and we made our way down to Pompano where we met up with Jamie and his longtime friend Ron Mitchem. Jamie was already prepping the boat, and we helped him load the aft livewell with a couple dozen goggle-eyes that he had stored in a large floating pen next to the boat.
“In my opinion, live-baiting is by far the most productive way to target the large majority of offshore species in south Florida,” Jamie says. “For sailfishing, I would have to say that my favorite bait is a toss up between a threadfin herring and a sardine. When it comes to springtime meat fishing, a hearty goggle-eye fished out of the kite is hard to beat. A tinker mackerel is an amazing bait as well, if you’re lucky enough to catch a few offshore.”
We all climbed aboard the Sea Vee and bumped over to Haulover Inlet, where it would be less than 20 miles to the depths we wanted to target the swords. To make the most of Florida’s mixed bag, you really need the right boat that can effectively fish for a range of species and various styles. A center console such as Jamie’s Sea Vee is a perfect fit. Encore gave us the speed to zip out to the swordfish grounds comfortably in less than an hour. It’s pretty obvious that this boat caters to fishermen — everywhere you look you notice a cool little feature that makes a fisherman’s life easier. The first one I noticed were the hardwired plugs for the electric reels. They where right were you would want them, tucked safely under the gunwhale back in the stern and hardwired by Sea Vee’s installers. Sea Vee’s company philosophy is all about fishing and the many features on the boat make it easier to fish and maximize your time on the water.
We decided to set our first drop in 1,680 feet of water. You couldn’t ask for better conditions — a light wind, calm seas and purple-blue water. Daytime swordfishing is one of those fisheries that may not be filled with action, but when you do get a nice sword on, it’s all worth it. If you make three drops in a day and score one or two bites, that’s a pretty good day. Get a keeper in the boat, and you’re on cloud nine. And, since you’re fishing during the day, you can actually see these mythical beasts jump.
We fished one rod, and Jamie quickly got us set up. He placed two blinking strobes a few feet above the fluttering squid bait. Hopefully the little lights will cast a glow that this hunter can’t help but check out. And even if the fish is not in feeding mode, how could it resist a free snack? Especially one as beautiful as our 16-inch squid.
With the nose of the 32-foot Sea Vee pointing south and one of the 300-hp Mercury Verado outboards in forward gear, we’re actually traveling north at about 2 mph. The boat is working against the Gulf Stream, a tropical current that forms off Florida and cranks to the north between 4 and 6 mph.
To get the line where he wants it with a minimal amount of belly in the line, Jamie sets out 400 feet of line as we drift with the current, then we make a turn into the Gulf Stream as he reels up 100 feet of line. Then, it’s a drop to the bottom. You want to keep the line in front of the boat. We had 2,100 feet of line out on the first drop and fished it for a bit more than 30 minutes, making adjustments when necessary. Jamie uses a 12-pound weight to stay in touch with the bottom, but you have to reel it out of the mud or you may get stuck down there and losing 2,100 feet of line would be a heartbreaker.
On the first drop I saw something I’ve never seen before. As we were talking and a free-jumping swordfish made a series of leaps just west of us. It wasn’t a huge sword, but that silver belly gave it away. We all wondered if it was hooked or just jumping. Either way, it was pretty spectacular. “I think we’re in a good spot,” Jamie said.
A couple of other boats in the area reported bites, but no one had gotten one all the way to the boat. We decided to reset and make another drop. This time we tried a bonito belly strip and a skirt. Again, we dropped, cranked, turned into the current and sent it all the way to the bottom. Nothing… We made a total of five drops before we decided that today wasn’t the day for a sword so we’d go after something else. We did however, catch a barracuda on the flat-line bait and got a few jumps out of an errant sailfish as well.
We pulled in the electric Lindgren-Pitman reel and stowed it in one of the rod holders.
Jamie got the kites out of the console, and we pulled out some kite rods from the 19 rod holders on either side of the console.Jamie decided to run the boat from the station above the hardtop as we headed back towards shore, and I’m glad he did. He spotted a free-jumping sailfish and gunned the Sea Vee, quickly getting up ahead of the fish as we hooked a few goggle-eyes and tossed them in the water. Jamie corralled that sail like a cowboy, but somehow the fish snuck away. We did, however find a big patch of peanut dolphin and caught a bunch on chunks of ballyhoo that Jamie had stored in the cooler.
Next stop was the reef just south of the inlet. The thunderheads were building but we wanted to get a bit more action before heading in. We set up a kite and three baits. Jamie’s an expert bait fisherman and the Sea Vee has three live wells, offering more than enough room for all his baits. “There is a 65-gallon well in the transom, a 100-gallon well in the floor behind the leaning post and a 100-gallon well in the floor in front of the console,” he says. “Max load in a spring meat fish tournament, I will typically carry around 150 goggle-eyes, along with a mix of a couple hundred scale baits (sardines, threadfin herring and pilchards). We carry a handful of speedos with the gogs too if we have them. In the case of the winter Sailfish tournaments we carry the same assortment of bait but far less on the quantity.”
The storm started to descend on us and the antennas were buzzing with static electricity. None of us really wanted to call it a day, but when the storm melted the 80-pound braid on the kite rod — not once but three times — we called it a day.
We didn’t break any records, but we did manage to try several vastly different techniques (kite fishing, deep dropping for swords, sight-fishing sails and dorado, chunking and live baiting) in just a few hours. The boat certainly made it easier with its ample storage, speed, stability, bait capacity and electronics. Next time, I want to catch at least five species of game fish.
“If you really wanted to rack up a bunch of different species in one day April and May would definitely be the best time to try and target the largest variety. In past years during those months, I’ve caught sailfish, tuna, kingfish, cobia, dolphin and snapper all in one day and had a shot at a wahoo as well. If you count some of the junk fish that no one cares to talk about, you can add two or three more species to that list.”
Kite Fishing Checklist
✓ Electric kite reels and plugs
✓ Three kites
✓ Nine to 15 kite rods matched with Accurate Boss 600X, high-speed 6:1 ratio reels and loaded with 15- to 20-pound Momoi Diamond Braid
✓ Four to five spinning rods, including bait-runners for fishing live baits
✓ Four to six conventional rods for flat-line and deep baits
✓ Helium tank and balloons for windless days
✓ Sea anchor, anchor ball
✓ Frozen chum and cut bait
✓ As many live baits as you can catch and carry
✓ In the tackle drawers: rigging floss, electrical tape, wire rigs for small and large baits (7/0 hooks for large baits and 4/0 to 5/0 hooks for small baits), extra boxes of hooks, stinger rigs, #1 to #3 split-shot weights for the kites, ¼- to 3-ounce rubber-core weights, 4- to 10-ounce teardrop weights, rubber bands, bait nets, cast net, chum bag, monofilament leader, pliers, gaffs, assortment of swivels
Daytime Swordfishing Checklist
✓ Primary electric deep-drop rod as well as a back-up electric deep-drop rod
✓ Assortment of baits (squid, strip baits, dolphin bellies, mullet etc.)
✓ Deep-drop leads (8 to 12 pounds)
✓ Bait-rigging tray that slides into a rod holder
✓ Harpoon, darts, harpoon line and float
✓ Flying gaff and straight gaffs
✓ Spinning rod or conventional rod to fish a flat-line bait for dolphin, kingfish or wahoo
✓ In the tackle drawers: wind-on leaders, 300- to 400-pound leader material, crimps, 10/0 to 11/0 hooks, rigging floss, rigging needles, glow beads, strobe lights, hook file, heavy-duty ball-bearing swivels, squid skirts, bait knife, crimping tool and gloves