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December 06, 2010

Key West Winter Plug Fest

Don't miss the excitement of throwing lures to fired up coastal pelagics and reef predators

Key West kingfish

Shortly after we stopped, we were again hooking up with topwater strikes. But these drag-busters weren't sleek, skyrocketing kings. Rather, at this spot, jacks - mostly yellow jacks and amberjacks - were pushing each other aside to assault the poor, poor pitiful plugs dancing at the surface. Once they connected, there was some serious rod bending going on.

Soon, more species had joined the party, and gray snapper, cero mackerel and other game fish were whacking our topwater "walking" lures as they danced over the surface, adding an element of surprise to the action.

Silver Lining in the Clouds
One might suppose all of this describes one of Key West's mainstay sport fisheries. But in fact, throwing plugs is something most anglers apparently never think about as an option. RT says it's a pretty rare occasion that he gets anglers who specifically want to throw plugs, though it happens. "Matter of fact," RT recalls, "I've had some bass fishermen come out and throw lures with their bass tackle. They had a great time!"

The chum angle is critical, says RT. Chum above any sort of structure typically means bringing fish up to see and hear the surface commotion of a popper or walking lure. Over a good wreck, just a chum block can be enough, though no doubt the combination of ground and live chum is hard to beat.

Tossing surface plugs is an option best taken in the winter, says RT. "There's more bait around, particularly pilchards and ballyhoo." That means more predators looking for such prey. It's also an option best chosen on overcast days. RT says it's much harder to get most species up to the surface on bright, sunny days.

One situation where chum won't do much involves the cold-weather phenomenon of predators showering ballyhoo on shallow reefs. "You could catch just about anything chasing those ballyhoo," RT says. "I've caught muttons [mutton snapper], black grouper and other stuff casting plugs that way. Any reef fish that eat ballyhoo will eat a topwater."

I also suggest that anyone ­contemplating this approach to fishing Key West bring a good supply of subsurface darting minnows and other shallow-running plugs, especially twitchbaits or any that lend themselves to a hard pause/jerk retrieve. There are times when taking 'em right on top may be a hard sell but something running three or four feet down will do it - and wrenching strikes while casting and retrieving any lures will make any angler's day.

Interestingly, calling predators up and within casting range with live chum as RT and Chris do so effectively is standard fare for fly-rodders but much less common for those armed with conventional tackle. After joining me for a couple of days throwing plugs, More - no stranger to fishing Key West - said future trips to Key West would now include an array of surface plugs. Little wonder: Tossing topwaters to coastal pelagics and reef dwellers is one of Key West's most exciting light-tackle options.

Key West Contact Information
For information or to book a trip with Capt. RT Trosset, e-mail, or call 305-797-5693. For accommodations, one option we often use is the DoubleTree Grand Key Resort: Visit, or call 305-293-1818. For general information on visiting the Florida Keys, go to www.flakey