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June 29, 2009

Top Five Florida Keys Fishing Opportunities

Local experts offer up prime bets for July and August

Mike Mazur

5. Sword Fight

Swordfishing remains a reliable trophy quest year-round in the Keys, day or night. While these fish average just  150 to 200 pounds, they're plentiful. Strategy and tactics prove demanding but straightforward: Use heavy gear, go deep and put the baits where the fish are.

That last parameter varies along the Keys reef. Capt. Butch Hewlett (305-743-4594) fishes the walls running west from Marathon. "There are a bunch of them: Floyds, Woods Wall. I ride the edge from 1,600 to 1,900 feet," he says. "When I mark squid on the bottom, that's where the swordfish are. Then I drift, from 2,100 feet into 1,400."

Hewlett fishes a single rod rigged with squid. "We use 65-pound braid,  a 200-pound leader and up to 15 pounds of weight," he says. Hewlett relies on a hybrid Daiwa 300-series reel. "We use the electric option to retrieve baits but stay on manual to fight fish."

Hooking up creates the greatest challenge. "In 1,800 feet, in that current, you may have 3,000 feet of line out. When they whack it, the rod bends over a little and they hook themselves. You just wind until you come tight," he says.

Islamorada anglers employ a similar drill, but the undersea landscape is different. "We don't have the structure they do farther west," says Capt. George McElveen on the Reel McCoy (305-522-3883). "So we study bathymetric charts for deep reefs. The sharper the reef, the better it holds the bait and the better the fishing."

McElveen fishes rigged squid using 80- to 130-pound PowerPro on Shimano Tiagra 80-wides with 10 to 16 pounds of breakaway weight, 50 feet from the hooks. "You hope to break off when the fish hits, or you get snagged. We are dropping on a lot of structure, and if you snag bottom, the line breaks at the rod tip. It's about a $300 loss," he says.

Once set up, McElveen says, action often comes quickly. "When they're hitting, it's a quick bite. A lot of times they hit the bait on its way down."