A school of Yellowtail Snapper. Some of the other fish we catch in the Florida Keys areTuna, Wahoo, Blue & White Marlin, Sailfish, Wahoo, Dolphin (Mahi Mahi), Sharks, Kingfish, Mutton Snapper, King Mackerel, Grouper, Cobia, Tarpon and more.

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Courtesy of
Waldo "Double Treble" Tejera.
Islamorada Sport Fishing Online contributing writer.

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“Zero in on a Cero”

      Down in the Keys we’ve got a local resident that isn’t found anywhere else in the U.S.  It’s often confused with its cousin, the Spanish Mackerel.  But this guy is usually bigger and is found mostly on shallower patch reefs.  Cero’s can be identified by their lateral yellow marking.  Their lateral line does not dip like that of a King Mackerel.  In addition to the random yellow spots of Spanish Mackerel, they have a broken line that runs back into their tailfin.  Their spots are, in my opinion, deeper than those found on Spanish.  They are aggressive and their initial runs are reel busters. 

     Cero’s, like all Mackerels, love frisky, and lively baitfish.  I find live ballyhoo to be one of their favorite.  Catching ballyhoo is pretty easy this time of year.  Head out to the nearest patch reef in 15-25’ of clear water, anchor up and start a chum line. In less than 20 minutes you’ll see them way back feeding on your chum.  And believe it or not,  the Cero’s will come to your chum as well. You’ll be catching bait and fishing for Cero’s in the same spot.  Slowly but surely, they’ll get confident and get closer to your transom.  Have a couple of rods with 10# or less line tied to a #8-10 tiny gold hook.  Bait your hook with a very small piece of shrimp or squid.  Freeline your bait to the ‘hoos and watch it carefully.  When you see one take it in its mouth, set the hook and reel it in.  You can’t wait very long because they’ll spit out the hook when they feel it.  If you have a large (8’ or greater) cast net and you’re feeling lucky, give it a shot.  I like to handline these fish because they last longer in the bait well.  They’re very fragile and die easily.  Handle them as little as possible and make sure your livewell is working well (lots of water exchange).  Often other types of baitfish may gather in your chumline.  Don’t discriminate because whatever is hanging around the area is probably the best bait, even if it’s a lowly grunt.

     Cero’s are a light tackle fish.  Use a main line of 12# or less.  You should prepare a few leaders at home before the trip.  Cut a piece of 10-12” #3 (thinnest you can find) coffee colored wire and attach a very small black swivel to one end using a haywire twist.  To the other end tie a #2x coffee colored treble hook.  Tie the main line to the swivel and you’re all set.  Once you’ve caught the first baitfish, hook it through the lips ( I hook it through the upper jaw).  Some fishermen like to use a 2/0 regular hook and a stinger treble for these longer bait. I find I get more strikes from Cero’s with just one through the lips. If you get a hit and the fish is not on, don’t reel in because the fish might have eaten the tail end first and come back to finish his meal right away.  Your drag should be set very light.  Let the fish run as much as it likes and retrieve it when it tires.  Try not to tighten your drag in the course of a fight.  By the way, don’t be surprised if you find yourself battling other patch reef fish.  Muttons, grouper, barracuda and most any predator fish found in these shallower waters will readily hit a live ballyhoo.  Cero’s are great eating too. 




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