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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 15 to 20-pound class rod with a strong backbone and a light sensitive tip for casting ability and for feeling a very light bite. The Captain Dave Brown Signature Series 15 or 20-pound Shakespeare Ugly Stick rod was designed for yellowtail catching in mind. Teamed up with PENN 5600L or Daiwa BG 20, makes an unbeatable combination. Avoid using graphite body reels for yellowtailing. When you dog down the drag to bring in that flag, a graphite body will flex, causing the gears to strip out. The PENN and DAIWA reels are built much stronger with metal bodies. Fill your reel with 15 or 20 pound test P-Line. P-Line is best because it is nearly invisible in the water, has very low stretch and is highly abrasion resistant. You can tie the hook right to the P-Line and do very well with yellowtail, but for those times when the water is clear and you just can't get a bite, it's time to get out the fluorocarbon leader. Fluorocarbon leader in 15 or 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 Capt. Hank Brown number 99002 Hook-Up Lures. 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 50 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 LORAN or 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 double ground from 100% pure Atlantic menhaden. This chum is dynamite for pulling up big yellowtail. Always ask what is in the chum no matter where buy it, as some chums in the Keys are ground from fish carcasses and won't go through the chum bag. 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 is another helpful tool for yellowtail fishing as yt's love to eat corn. I don't now of any other fish that attacks a handful of corn like a yellowtail snapper.
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 corn. 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. Make sure you only use fresh ballyhoo. Place a shrimp on your hook up through the head or a 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! Good yellowtailing!


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