Fishing patch reefs, live Shrimp is the bait of choice as well as a chunks of ballyhoo. You’ll catch plenty of mangrove snappers along with a few nice ones, yellowtail, some smaller grouper varieties, lots of blue runners, some cero mackerel, porgies, and jack crevalles. Very fun on light tackle!!!
If you have never been Florida Keys fishing, the patch reefs are a good place to start. It’s the easiest way to learn the techniques of fishing in the keys. Patch reefs are rock piles or small coral reef formations which are relatively close to shore, inside of the main reef.
Most of the patch reefs are 5 to 15 feet deep and 100 feet or less in size, and whats appealing about this type of fishing is it’s accessible with a small boat.
Buy Bait locally
A good way to get quick info on the area is to buy bait locally. When you are buying your bait and blocks of chum, ask the bait shop operator for a good place to start and he will point you in the right direction. They are usually on top of the action and informative on where the hot spots are, and what types of fish are running.
When you get to the patch, anchor in the sandy areas next to the patch. The patch reefs are easy to spot, like the main reef they are green and brown in color, and the sandy areas will be have a blueish-white hue. You will want to anchor up-current or up-wind of the patch, and let the chum and baits flow towards the patch.
Bottom fishing will be the preferred method, and a simple set-up is the best way to go. You should be able to get by with a 2′ leader. Most of the fish you catch on inshore patches will be on the small side and getting cut off on structure shouldn’t be a problem. If you are getting cut-off by Spanish or Cero Mackerel, add a piece of wire.
Basic Tackle and Baits
You could start with a light action rod – spinning or revolving spool reel and 10 to 20 pound line. The Florida Keys waters are very clear–the less hardware on the end of your line the better. A 2/0 or 3/0 bronzed mustad hook will do the job.
Fresh mullet, thread herring, ballyhoo, pilchards, Spanish sardines are all good dead baits. Pinfish, Ballhoo, and large shrimp are good live baits. The Ballyhoo works well as a strip bait. Fillet and cut each side into a two strips, the others can be cut into chunks.
There are a few areas to place the hook in a live bait.You can place the hook in the nose, in the back or front of the dorsal fin or around the anal. Live shrimp should be hooked in the tail section. With live bait you may have to use a little weight, to get baits down where the fish are.
Once you get to your spot place a bag of chum in the chum bag, and let it draw fish to the boat. Drop your baits in the water, and feed line out. Let the bait flow naturally with the chum line in the current drawing fish to the back of the boat. Once you feel a bite, set the hook and most of all, Hold on! Even small fish in the keys have good power and at times the cooler weather triggers the bigger fish to move inshore to the patches.
There you have it, a brief run-down on Florida Keys fishing patch reefs.