In case you haven’t noticed, this year has been unseasonably warm all over the country. Key Largo has been no exception, and for all of November and December temperatures remained on land around 80 degrees. That’s about ten degrees warmer than usual.
That has meant warmer water temperatures, as well. While we usually can expect water temps to be in the low 70s during winter time, this year they’re still in the high 70s.
Warm water means different Key Largo fishing conditions.
Usually by late November the water’s cold and there are lot of grouper showing up in the shallows. But if it’s warm you have to fish deeper (read “go further”) for those prized fish. And now since grouper season closes January 1, we need that cold water to make an appearance before then!
Every year around the beginning of December, we usually have cold enough water temperatures that the mackerel start running in full force. They’re cold-water seekers, so they follow cold water. And if it hasn’t shown up here in Key Largo then we won’t be seeing any mackerel, either.
That’s precisely what has happened this year, with warmer-than-usual temperatures through the end of 2015.
Wahoo are perhaps the most exciting part of winter fishing in Key Largo. These are another species of pelagic fish that follow colder water around the Atlantic Ocean. Like mackerel, they’re great eating and wonderful, powerful fighters to boot.
Wahoo really make their grand appearance in January, which is when they run the thickest. However, most years we can get a sneak peak at them in December…if the water has been cold enough!
Again, that hasn’t happened and although a few people have landed some wahoo, it’s nothing like in previous years.
How to fish the warmer winter waters of Key Largo
Like we mentioned above, if you’re targeting grouper, go far and go deep. They’ll stay way out there beyond the reef where they water is pleasantly cool for them. If you’ve heard of people getting big black grouper close in, then it wasn’t this year and you’ll have to wait until another cooler winter for that to happen again in full force.
The wahoo are there, but in smaller numbers and like the grouper, further out. Plan on burning lots of gas to get those prize winter fish!
Why such a warm winter this year?
Blame it on the El Nino effect, say the scientists when asked why this winter has been so warm from Vermont to Florida and Virginia to California.
And it’s not just any old El Nino, which occurs regularly anyway. It’s a longer and stronger El Nino, with temperatures around 4 or 5 degrees above normal.
El Nino is a weather pattern that takes place in the Pacific Ocean, near Peru and Ecuador. Surface temperatures of the water get unusually warm and this affects weather patterns across the globe.
In the winter of 2009-2010 we had an El Nino but it wasn’t nearly as strong an effect as the current one we’re experiencing.
So if you’re planning a trip to Key Largo to land big fish, don’t let the warm water scare you away. They’re still there, just a little further out.