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Fishing Texas-Style in the Florida Keys

Jim Darnell had success catching all kinds of fish using his Texas crappie jigs.
Photo provided by Jim Darnell

Fishing Texas-Style in the Florida Keys

Sunday, March 19, 2023

My wife, Beth, and I, after retiring as pastor from Cowboys for Jesus Church at Canyon Lake, have been living the dream for a month of fishing in the Florida Keys. We rented a cottage on Little Torch Key about 25 miles north of Key West and 20 miles south of Marathon. For a fisherman this is heaven-water everywhere. Plus I brought my boat.

But I am in new turf. Where do I fish in February?

With hundreds of mangrove islands, multiple bridges and miles of water in any direction it can be a bit overwhelming. But there are plenty of subdivision boat canals. For winter fishing in Texas this would be a windfall. But all the locals told me that you can’t catch in those boat channel mangrove snappers. They are too smart. And the tourists on the boats docks fish for them. They have seen every lure, dead bait, live bait, etc.

“If you get lucky and catch one all the others spook and it’s over,” they said.

So I set out to prove them wrong. When Bobby Whiteside and I were in Belize we discovered that almost any fish—snappers, barracudas, grunts, and small bonefish—would hit a crappie jig.

So I began to slow troll crappie jigs behind the boat. If you cast the jig to the docks—no fish. If you tried to give the jig more action by jerking it—no fish. But a slow steady drag behind the boat did the trick.

My first fish was a nice 23” barracuda. Somehow I hooked him outside the mouth away from his razor-sharp teeth. He put up quite a fight. Later Beth hooked a nice gray snapper (mangrove snapper). So I knew those jigs would work.

A day or two later Annie (my Lab) and I were trolling the jigs and caught a limit of nice snappers.

One morning a home owner who was sitting on his desk drinking coffee, asked, “What are you catching those fish on?” “Crappie jigs,” I replied. He seemed shocked.

But occasionally my line would go limp and the jig would be cut off. I soon discovered that it was the barracuda.

I found a branch canal off the main canal that had water flowing into it. It looked like fresh water. The first cast into the flowing water produced a vicious strike. I landed another nice barracuda on a jig. The next cast resulted in a cut line. I learned quickly that the little jigs were not the ticket for the barracuda. Most of the time they engulfed the tiny jig and cut it off.

The barracuda turned out to be great eating. The fillets were long and white—no red meat. Some of the locals were skeptical about eating the barracuda but put side by side with snapper fillets everyone liked the 'cuda best. They are very mild like flounder. If you like strong fishy taste you won’t like barracuda fillets.

I really wanted to catch a baby tarpon. My light tackle would be no match for a 60-pound fish. Then early one morning, I would see fish making circle swirls. Occasionally I would see a fin. I thought they were tarpon. They didn’t like my jigs. So I tried the long, shiny jerk baits and hooked a tarpon almost at the boat ramp. He wasn’t big—probably only 3-4 pounds. But he was powerful and knew how to jump like a big tarpon. I guess his mama put that jump into his genes.

So we have had great fun catching “uncatchable snapper” on Texas crappie jigs. It’s no wonder that most survival kits contain some crappie jigs. Any fish will hit a little white or yellow jig. We have proved that.

San Marcos Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666