With water levels in the eastern portions of the backcountry still at seasonal highs, you'll find a wide variety of predators chasing bait on recently flooded flats. Areas east of Jim Foot, Roscoe, and Buoy Key have little tidal flow and provide a good starting point for your search. Numerous flats, both large and small, border many of the mangrovelined shorelines here and to the east as far as Long Sound, offering ample poling grounds for sight fishing fly or spinfishers. One favorite among the multitudes of prey pushing south are the finger mullet occupying the backcountry waters of Florida Bay. Redfish and snook will be prowling the flats, channels, and adjacent runoffs in hot pursuit of an easy mullet meal giving ready anglers near unlimited opportunities at these prized gamefish.
Experienced backcountry fly anglers who concentrate their efforts on sight fishing choose to rig up with a generic backcountry leader rather than something species specific. Too many opportunities can be squandered if you feel like you're not properly rigged to take the shot you get because your leader is too light or too heavy or not the right material for the fish in view.
Make your backcountry fly leader about 10 feet long. Use five feet of 40-pound mono for the butt section, taper with two feet of 30-pound. Then attach a class tippet of your choice at least 15 inches long. I normally use a couple feet of 15-pound mono. Follow with a 30-pound mono or fluorocarbon shock leader. It's chosen as an all-around bite leader capable of landing snookand small sharks but not heavy enough to put off cagey fish. Use an 8- or 9-weight floating line on your favorite rod with a lightly-weighted weedless fly to finish offthegetup.
Anglers using spin gear should try casting a tipped 1/8- to 1/4-ounce jig. Rig it on an 8- or 10-pound spinning outfit with a couple feet of 30-pound mono leader. Keep a lighter rig readily available for any sheepshead that may appear.
A 4- or 6-pound spinning rod with a foot or two of 12-pound fluorocarbon leader is more than adequate and gives even a reserved sheepshead an opportunity to give you a run for your money. Larger fish will battle you hard on the light gear.
Dolphin will still be around in reasonable numbers for trolling anglers. But, don't go far offshore early in the morning. Give reefline trolling a try. October can sometimes yield a nice showing of wahoo between the edge of the reef and the 50-fathom line. Trolling your standard wire dolphin rigs can produce, but wahoo specialists have other ideas.
Straight running lures with heavy heads seem to be the top rig. Bullet-shaped heads in chrome, purple or black-and-red lead the color ranking. Most troll these at very high speeds sometimes approaching 15 knots. At those speeds, very heavy tackle is a necessity just to keep the lure from pulling drag even without a fish attached. Since most Keys wahoo range from 10 to 40 pounds it seems like a bit of overkill.
A slightly different approach is favored by local wahoo connoisseurs; it involves bait, lures and a trolling speed of 6 to 9 knots. Here's how it works. Find your preferred 4to 8-ounce bullet shaped trolling lure, Ideally with the previously mentioned colors. Rig it with a single 9/0 hook on about six feet of No. 10 singlestrand wire, pin a large fresh ballyhoo on it and you're set to go.
Make sure the bait swims (not dragging in an unnatural way), pull it on a flatline, and use a release clip mounted low on the boat to lower the angle of the line to the water. It should run down just below the surface, occasionally coming to the top. Wahoo seem to love this setup and locals like the fact that you can easily troll it on rigs down to 20-pound class.
DIVING With the impending cold fronts signaling a change of seasons, shallow patches will become points of high activity as fish move inshore from deeper water. Grouper, mutton snapperand hogfish will all be found in greater numbers inshore as the water cools down. This will give even a novice diver shots at shooting quality fish.
* BEST BET KEYS
By the end of the month the blackfin tuna should be available in fishable numbers at several Keys locales, including the Islamorada hump, Marathon Hump, and off the end of the Bar west off Key West. Try these footballs on small black-and-red feathers trolled far behind the boat. Another option is using high speed vertical jigs on either spin or conventional gear; this is a highly involved style of fishing that tends to keep the excitement up.
Twenty-pound tackle is just about right for these powerful tunas. While you can use a conventional, I have found that rigging spinners up gives you more flexibility to cast into busting fish while also keeping it simple for other less experienced anglers out on the trip.