Key West Winter Wrecks – Florida Key West Wreck
The cooler months that we get in Key West are actually pretty mild, considered what the rest of the country is going through. We see water temperatures in the mid 60s, sometimes even lower.
The high winds from the cold fronts push baitfish into areas where they are met by hungry predators.
The few days after a front passes can be some of the best winter time fishing that is offered in the Keys. Fish have not been pressured or fished for days, making them ready for action. The shallow wrecks in the Gulf of Mexico as well as some patch reefs make for great locations to go after some awesome fighting species.
My favorite type of fishing when the weather is a little cooler is definitely going after some cobia on shallow wrecks. Cobia like to move in when our waters are a little cooler, and they thrive on any type of structure that they can find. They stick out like a sore thumb in our tropical colored waters, looking like a bunch of floating brown logs. They sometimes spook when you hook one, but usually regroup shortly after. The size range of cobia can differ day to day, but usually the pod of fish is of the same general weight. In our South Atlantic fishery cobia have to be 33” to the fork in their tail to keep. Recreational anglers can keep 1 cobia per person with a 6 fish maximum per boat. In Federal Gulf waters, anglers can keep 2 per person.
The type of tackle is important when fishing cobia. The size rod varies on the size the cobia are. If we see some bigger ones, I’ll usually use my 30-pound spinning rods. If the cobia are a little smaller, a 12-25-pound rod with a 6000 class reel will work. Throwing a live pinfish or even a live crab on a 4/0 J hook seems to be the best technique. The crab will also give you a chance of something else on the wrecks like a mutton snapper or a permit. I usually use 30-40-pound fluorocarbon leaders, depending on the water clarity. We sometimes have to use lighter line down in the Keys because of how clear our waters can be. Setting the hook really isn’t necessary for any of the fish on these wrecks. They hit so hard that they just about set the hooks themselves. I have had people lose a ton of fish by trying to set it. I constantly tell people to apply just a little bit of pressure, keeping the rod bent. Cobia usually play with the bait in their mouths for a bit, then completely inhale. They do hit the bait hard, which makes it seem like they’re on there at first.
When I’m pulling up to these shallow wrecks, I come in at a slow idle so I do not spook the fish. If it is calm enough I will use my trolling motor but there is usually a small ground swell from the Gulf, which will create even more noise. The depth is typically less than 20-feet in most of these wrecks. The cobia will a lot of times go from laying next to the wreck on the sea floor to coming back up to the surface in a social setting. I’ll mark them on my sonar lying on the bottom sometimes. If they don’t come up to the top, we just do a little blind casting and drifting near that area.
This time of year, the shallow wrecks can be so abundant with fish that you can spend hours drifting over them.
We see everything from snappers, barracuda, permit, cobia, big jacks, goliath groupers and other tropical species living on these wrecks. The winter months seem to be the better times of year to fish the shallow wrecks, as it seems like everything is using it as a little tropical shelter. Another good thing about the cooler water is that the bull sharks in this area aren’t as aggressive and fired up. This helps us get our fish in the boat a lot easier!