Big Game Fishing

By: Terry Tomalin

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The Florida Keys are a destination for big game fishing. But they weren't always.

For decades, Florida Keys fishing guides never ventured too far from the near-shore reefs. But then Ernest Hemingway came along and changed how people went fishing in the Keys. And Papa, as the author came to be called, discovered the blue-water bill fishery by accident.

Legend has it that Hemingway liked to run his boat Pilar to Havana where he had a lady friend. Every time the author crossed the Gulf Stream, he hooked his share of marlin, sailfish and blackfin tuna in an area called The Humps.

These seamounts, or underwater mountains, rise more than 1,000 feet off the ocean floor, triggering a natural upwelling of nutrient-rich seawater, than in turn attracts baitfish, and the open-sea predators.

Without The Humps, blue-water fishing in The Keys would not be the same. The underwater topography is what makes this region ground zero for marlin, sailfish and tuna, mainstays for many Florida Keys outfitters.

The captains who work out of the Key West and Islamorada get their share of purists who head south just to catch billfish. But anglers typically catch other species, including blackfin tuna and mahi mahi, on most marlin and sailfish trips.

Most blue-water hunters will target the true superstar of the Florida Keys, the legendary blue marlin. This open-ocean predator is a deep-sea hunter known for its epic trans-Atlantic migrations.The best time to target these monsters is during the spring and summer months, and unlike their cousins, the swordfish, blue marlin hunt primarily during the day, using their long, sharp bills to slice through schools of fish.

Anglers who target marlin should expect a fight. Most fish take four to six hours to land. And there are some real behemoths out there. The Florida record tipped the scales at 1,046 pounds. Many Florida Keys fishing charters target sailfish, another offshore species found in the Gulf Stream beyond the 100-fathom line. A fast-growing species, sailfish can reach a length of four feet in less than a year.

Sailfish move inshore during the summer months, but peak fishing season is usually in winter and early spring, when the water is a little cooler. The typical fish is in the 60 -to 80-pound range. The state record, a 126 pounder, was caught near Big Pine Key.

Rounding out the big three of big game fishing in the Florida Keys is the mighty swordfish. Swordfish are masters of the darkness, sometimes caught at depths up to 2,000 feet.

Most fish are caught at night, however in recent years, many charter boat captains have been fishing for these fantastic sport fish during the day. The 612-pound state Florida state record was caught near Key Largo.

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