For muttons and grouper, Dana keeps things simple, and drifts. “I’m using 10 to 12 feet of 30-pound leader, the lightest sinker I can reach bottom with, a 5/0 or 6/0 circle hook, and primarily Spanish sardines, hooked under the lower jaw and out through the upper jaw. We’ll also use live ballyhoo, hooked down through the lower jaw, with the shank wrapped to the beak, and live pinfish hooked like the Spanish sardine,” he says. Once the bait hits bottom, he reels tight to straighten the leader, then goes into free-spool, paying out just enough line to keep the sinker and bait in place while drifting the perimeter of the wreck. “We call this spooling out. Those muttons and porgies are sitting away from the wreck. When we get a bite, we’ll engage the drag and set the hook. These fish move around based on the current, so once we score, we’ll repeat that drift pattern,” he says.
Even at anchor, it’s often necessary to fish around the wreck. “A prime example of this is when we anchored up some 20 feet off one corner of a wreck, and caught three big black grouper. The current and bite slowed, so we moved to an offshore corner, and caught four or five muttons. On top of the wreck, we caught big yellowtails.”
Yellow Gold on Those Wrecks
Dana says the large yellowtails on the deep wrecks, from 140 feet on out to 270 feet, are one of the best-kept secrets. “There are big ’tails out there, consistently between 3 and 5 pounds,” he says. “Very few people know that, or how to catch them. When there’s a light wind and current, we drift over the top of a wreck and often mark the ’tails around 100 feet down, over the shallow wrecks.”
Dana uses 20-pound mono line, a ½-ounce egg sinker, barrel swivel, and 6 to 8 feet of 20-pound mono leader with a 2/0 to 3/0 circle hook. He’ll bait with a sardine plug. The trick, he says, is to get up-current of the wreck, free-spool the bait down 100 feet, or where the ’tails are marked, and then drift over the wreck, making sure the bait drifts through that zone. Once a ’tail is hooked, the others get excited and ignite the bite. You’ll likely get one or two yellowtails per drift, so repetition is essential. Don’t chum: Chubs, file fish, runners and such will find your baits first.
Live Shrimp Kicks Tail
Smith and Dana both suggest taking along several dozen live shrimp. Dana he says a ¼-ounce jig tipped with a live shrimp is “deadly on those big-wreck yellowtails.” Smith added that live shrimp are especially effective during the winter, when fished with the lightest sinker that will still hold bottom. Use 6 feet of 30-pound-test leader and a 6/0 circle hook (thread the shrimp onto the hook), and — according to Smith — “brace yourself for battles with yellowtails and mangrove snapper, and giant hog snapper.”
Dana summed up the fishing on the scene around the artificial reefs and wrecks in Broward and Miami-Dade counties: “Wrecks have a life pattern,” he says. “Once they’re sunk and accumulate growth, they’re good for a while, and then they slack off. Then, over time, they come back as steady fish producers. A lot of our systems are healthy and hold fish. There’s plenty of action around them, based on what you want to catch; just don’t forget to bump up your tackle and make sure you’re hanging on when you drop that first bait to the bottom.