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June 29, 2009

Top Five Florida Keys Fishing Opportunities

Local experts offer up prime bets for July and August

Pat Ford

2. Lemon and Bull Sharks

Capt. Skip Nielsen at Bud N' Mary's Marina in Islamorada (305-664-9314; describes the Florida Bay backcountry as "wall-to-wall sharks" in July and August. When the water warms, sharks swarm.

Nielsen fishes channel mouths, moats around backcountry islands  and in virtually all the major channels that open into the Gulf from Florida Bay. Lemon sharks averaging 80 to 100 pounds flood onto flats with an incoming tide; on the outgoing, they retreat to channels and ditches. Nielsen usually catches bulls a little deeper; they weigh in at 80 to 300 pounds.

"These sharks are notorious for associating humans with an easy meal," Nielsen says chillingly. "Lemons are bad company at the boat. They'll bite the rub rail. Bulls, when you beat them, they lay there."

Expect at least 10 to 15 hookups, but if you're really ready to go mano a mano, Nielsen can put you on 20 or more triple-digit fish.

 He'll start by staking out his skiff in an area with good current flow and then butterfly a ladyfish or barracuda to hang off the transom. The sharks like fresh chum, not frozen.
He'll haul out the Penn spinning and conventional tackle, spooled with 50- to 65-pound PowerPro tied to a 15-foot (or longer) shot of 80- to 100-pound mono. He ties the mono to a barrel swivel and twists on 2 feet of No. 9 wire leader, topped off with an 8/0 Owner circle hook. Yes, all these sharks will be released. Top baits: a chunk of your fresh ladyfish or 'cuda, mullet, or mackerel.

"When the lemons are on the edge of the flat, they make long runs, then come three-quarters of the way out of the water and do some thrashing," Nielsen says. "Bulls are stronger and make longer runs."

Biggest doesn't always mean baddest!