Let's go catch some yellowtail!
The yellowtail snapper is one of the most sought after fish in the Florida Keys. They are smart; they can bite off your hook (but if you rig with wire they won't touch the bait) and barracuda love to eat them as soon as the yellowtail on your line is over 18".
The first thing we need to do is get set up with the proper stuff to get rigged right for yellowtail catching. You need a 12 to 20-pound class rod with a strong backbone and a light sensitive tip for casting ability and for feeling a very light bite.
Star Rods Stellar Lite rod, Model SG1220ISM is a good "go to" rod if you have yellowtail catching in mind. Teaming it up with a PENN Slammer III 4500 or 5500 you will have an unbeatable combination.
Fill your reel with 12 to 20 pound test monofilament line. P-Line is best because it is nearly invisible in the water, has very low stretch and is highly abrasion resistant. Fluorocarbon leader in 8 to 20 pound test is the best for yellowtail.
All you need for terminal tackle, is an assortment removable split shot, a box of Mustad 9174 #4 hooks, the new Owner #2 Mutu Light circle hook, and some Yellowtail Candy weighted jigs. The leader should be tied direct to your line with a double uniknot or an Albright special. However, a small #10 swivel can also be used for joining line to leader.
Now that we are properly rigged it's time to go find the fish. Start in 30 to 100 feet on the outside edge of the reef. While cruising back and forth between these depths, look for pinnacles and drop-offs that fish can hide in or around. Watch also, for schools of fish marking on your fish finder. Mark the spot with your GPS. A marker buoy is a good tool to have for marking significant bottom features, be sure you have enough line on the buoy to reach the bottom.
Once you have located and marked your spot, check the direction of the current flow on the marker buoy or a nearby trap float. The final anchored position should be approximately 200 feet from the GPS spot or marker buoy, so that the chum runs directly to the spot. Move the boat until you are on the spot! Always use a reef or rock anchor with the chain rigged to the bottom of the anchor. Run the chain up the anchor shank and tie it to the top of the anchor with cable tie wraps or monofilament line, so that when you pull the anchor the ties break and the anchor comes out backwards.
Use a float and ring for easy anchor retrieval.
Proper chumming is the key to catching yellow tail snapper. There are all sorts of exotic recipes for chumming yellowtail, but most of us don't have time for all that. The best chum on the market is made with pure Atlantic menhaden. Menhaden is an extremely oily baitfish found in abundance from Northern Florida to Long Island Sound. In fact almost all of the fish oil sold is derived from menhaden. You can buy a frozen chum at The Tackle Box that is single or double ground from 100% pure Atlantic menhaden. This chum is dynamite for pulling up big yellowtail. We also carry Yellowtail Up. Yellowtail Up is a dry chum that comes with everything you need to mix it in it's packaging.
The second best ingredient for chum is Thread Herring or Spanish sardines. Chum should always be made from fresh baitfish not thawed out frozen baitfish or carcasses. Don't forget to have a spare chum bag on board.
Glass minnows are a good supplement to your chum. You can throw a handful in the water along with your bait to distract the yellowtail from your leader and hook. Oats are another helpful tool for yellowtail fishing. We also carry Mojo Fishing Oats that work great along with your chum. Mojo Fishing Oats are menhaden oil and shrimp encrusted and really attract the fish you are wanting to catch.
Start out with two chum bags, put a block of chum in the first bag then about 20 minutes later put out the second block of chum on the other side of the boat. Every few minutes throw out a handful of glass minnows. Alternate the glass minnows with oats. When the yellowtail show up in a ball behind the boat, take one chum bag out of the water and slow down throwing out the glass minnows and oats. Now you are ready to start catching fish!
Yellowtail snapper will eat a wide variety of baits. The problem is you never know from one day to the next what they will eat. Live shrimp is probably the best all around yellowtail bait, with silverside minnows a close second. Two or three glass minnows on a hook work well at times, as do small pieces of ballyhoo or squid. Place a shrimp on your hook up through the head or the tail. Place your hook in the glass minnow through the eye sockets.
Open the bail on your reel and start letting out line until you get a bite or you get tired of letting out line. This is called flat lining. Do not close the bail on the reel and leave the bait in the water. This will cause an unbelievable twist in your line.
When landing a flag yellowtail snapper, use a good quality landing net or a small gaff. Remember that fish gets heavier when you pull him out of the water, so you don't want to break a leader and loose the fish.
Make sure your hooks are sharp!