The Florida Keys are the perfect fishing vacation spot. Thousands of avid anglers who come here each year can confirm it. Many of them trailer their boats all the way from North Carolina or Rhode Island. Is it worth it? It sure is! The sky’s the limit when it comes to fishing here. It takes about 20 minutes to get from the skinny waters of inshore flats to deep offshore canyons. So, today, you’re going to get a look at some of the best fishing spots in the Keys. Next time you visit, you’ll know exactly where to head.
Day 1: Flats Fishing Around Key West
There are many reasons that make Key West one of the most popular spots in the Straits of Florida. The city has a rich cultural heritage and buzzing nightlife. You can fly in or drive all the way from Key Largo. Key West is popular among families with kids. You can explore the waters, go on eco tours, go on treasure hunts, and explore landmark buildings.
But it’s not only the Hemingway House, water activities, and good food that make the town so popular. There’s one thing that beats all this. Fishing.
Key West is surrounded by a vast surface of flats that hold Bonefish, Permit, and Tarpon. You can start your vacation by scouting the flats and doing a bit of sight fishing, then switch to the fly. Fly anglers from abroad come here year after year for world-class fishing. To get to the secret spots with big fish, pair up with a local guide.
But that’s not all. Key West lies just 80 miles north of Cuba. Many anglers decide to hire a deep sea charter to take them fishing in the Cuban waters. Multi-day trip, anyone?
These skinny waters fish for Snook, Tarpon, Permit, Lemon Shark, and Yellowtail Snapper. You won’t find choppy seas here, only calm waters teeming with fish.
If you want to try something that’s essentially Key West, then book a fishing trip on a small flats boat. Snook, Permit, and Tarpon swarm these spots, so you want to be as quiet as possible.
Your fishing guide will stand on a casting platform and use a long pole to steer the boat. As the fish are spooky, you don’t want to make too much noise. Your guide will spot the fish from the platform. He will tell you when to make the cast as you stand on the bow, reeling in one fish after the other.
Day 2: Bottom Fishing Around the Marquesas Keys Rock Piles
There’s one more thing you must try before heading east to explore other riches of the Florida Keys. Just 20 miles west of Key West lies a group of uninhabited mangrove islands that form the Marquesas Keys. These islands don’t have a lot to offer to city lovers but are sheer epicness when it comes to sport fishing.
The water depth around the rock piles on the east side of the islands is between 15 and 30 feet. These patches of rocky bottoms are home to an amazing number of Snapper and Grouper.
You will be pulling up fish every two minutes and they will almost always be keepers. Head a couple of miles northwest of the island. You will find rocks scattered across the otherwise sandy bottom. This is where the big fish are.
Mutton and Pink Snapper, Red and Gag Grouper are the most frequent catches. But you will often hook into King Mackerel, Yellowtail Snapper, Barracuda, and Sharks.
If your friends think fishing is boring, bottom fishing around the Marquesas Keys is the perfect remedy for them. There is no waiting here. The rods will be bending, as hungry fish bust up your bait. Use small minnows, pinfish, sardines, squid, and mullet for the best results.
A trip to the Marquesas is another truly local thing to do. If you’re traveling with kids, this fishing trip is a great starting point for them. The fish are there in the water ready to take your bait. You won’t have to chum the bait to heat things up – the fishing is on fire.
Day 3: Backcountry Fishing Around Sugarloaf Key Islands
It’s time for a bit more intimate fishing! After having feasted on flaky Snapper meat in the Marquesas, head east to Sugarloaf Keys. Here you will find a maze of mangrove cuts, flats, and creeks rich in fish. It’s scenic, it’s quiet, and there’s plenty of fish.
You can explore these waters from a skiff, or if you aren’t afraid of working out, you can hop into a kayak or canoe. If it’s windy offshore, you can always catch fish around these sheltered channels.
Most of these mangrove cuts are only a couple of feet deep. Every now and then you will come across some deeper holes that plunge down to depths of 20 feet. Before you head into these meandering mangrove cuts, fish for pilchards on the flats.
Here you will find clear waters so you can sight fish for Snook, Tarpon, and Permit. You can also run into Jack Crevalle, Bonnethead Sharks, and some Snapper. Stock up on squid and pinfish, and you should have no trouble getting the bite.
Day 4: Fishing the Channels of Cudjoe Key
Each island in the Florida Keys has good fishing opportunities. Some places attract most of the anglers who look for tried and proven honey holes. But you should make it your goal to try out spots that don’t always make it to the headlines. The channels of Cudjoe Key are one of the best fishing spots in the Keys. You won’t regret coming here.
Non-local anglers often overlook this network of flats, mangrove islands, and channels. But you shouldn’t. If you do, you could be missing out on a chance to reel in Snapper, Grouper, Bonefish, Permit, Tarpon, and Jacks.
These channels are often shallow and great for sight fishing. You might come across deep, wide cuts where sunken boats and other debris make it for a hot fishing spot.
Plus, these mangrove islands and rich vegetation protect the channels from the wind. This means you’ll be able to get out even when other spots are not accessible.
You can do drift fishing near the shoreline or sight fishing around the flats. Calm waters make Cudjoe Key channels popular among kayak anglers. Rent a ‘yak and explore the murky deep waters.
As for the bait, you will find a lot of mullet, crab, and shrimp around these fisheries. They are a food of choice for all the game fish around you. If you like action, these channels will give you a chase to remember. Sharks and Barracuda often forage these waters. Get ready!
Day 5: Fishing for Tarpon Under the Bahia Honda Bridge
If you want to try something Floridian, then you must fish for Tarpon around the Bahia Honda Bridge. The “Silver King” is nowhere as numerous as here.
The channel between the Old Bahia Honda bridge and the Overseas Highway is the deepest inshore fishery in the Keys. The waters drop from 18 to 25 feet and offer some of the best bridge fishing in the Florida Keys.
There is a lot of food moving between the bridge pylons and the pilings serve as a good shelter for the game fish. As you warm up to get to the Tarpon business, you can hook into Permit, Sheepshead, Mutton Snapper, and Hammerhead Sharks.
Tarpon swarm these waterways as part of their migration northwards. They weigh between 70 and 130 lbs on average, though anglers have pulled in fish bigger than that. For your best chances at success, use crabs as bait – it works like a charm.
What’s great about this world-famous fishery is that Tarpon are in the water throughout the day. No reason to get up early – spend your morning snorkeling or enjoy the rich wildlife of Big Pine Key’s Blue Hole.
Day 6: Best Deep Sea Fishing at Marathon Humps
Fishing the Hump out of Marathon (also known as the West Hump) is for the experienced angler only. This fishery is the closest thing to an actual angling paradise. Deep sea fishing is made for these waters, which often plummet to over 500 ft.
The Marathon Hump is a seamount, a mountain that rises from the ocean floor. It offers good shelter and traps a lot of baitfish. The strong currents of the Gulf Stream push the baitfish towards the surface. There they make an accessible prey for the big game fish.
You’ll have a chance to fish for monster pelagics and prove you are stronger than massive bottom fish. These fishing spots are home to Blue and White Marlin, Sailfish, Yellowfin and Blackfin Tuna, Wahoo, and Mahi. The battle with Marlin and Tuna can oftentimes last for hours. If you want a true test of your stamina and strength, sit tight in that fighting chair!
If you want to go home with a big, tasty dinner, prepare to pull hard. Snowy, Strawberry, and Yellowedge Grouper, Tilefish, and Queen Snapper frequent these waters. You will need to pull them up from depths of 450+ feet. So you might need to use the electric reel unless you want to lose your dinner.
Day 7: Land an Inshore Super Grand Slam in Islamorada
After your brawl with Marlin, Tuna, and Grouper, it’s time for something different.
Islamorada has the nickname “Sport Fishing Capital of the World”, and you shouldn’t miss it. There is so much you can do here! Fish offshore reefs and wrecks, chase Bonefish and Snook on the flats, and go fly fishing for Tarpon.
But, since you’re in a special place, why not do something special? Try to put your name among the few who have managed to catch Bonefish, Permit, Tarpon, and Snook in a single day.
And given the premier Islamorada fisheries, it shouldn’t be hard to do it. These waters are some of the richest fisheries in the whole of Florida.
Each of the fish have their own unique features, so it’s a real feat to land them all in a single day. It’s a fishing quest second to none! Plus, you don’t have to travel far offshore. No choppy seas here! You will be playing hide and seek with the fish around the mangrove islands and flats of Islamorada. And it’s also suitable for less experienced anglers. Your whole family can come along and do something exciting together.
Day 8: Catch Snapper and Grouper on Tavernier Key Reefs
A reef patch south of Tavernier Key holds a good number of Mutton, Mangrove, and Yellowtail Snapper, as well as Gag Grouper. These fishing trips are perfect if you want some laid-back family time. You can head out in the morning, bend the rods, catch fish for lunch, come back home for some pool time and a nap, then head out again for another round of fishing.
In case it’s windy and wavy, you might not be able to find baitfish. Use frozen bait, such as glass minnow. It will attract some smaller Snapper. If you can catch live bait, go with Ballyhoo. They work well here and can get you Yellowtail Snapper and Gag Grouper.
These fishing trips are relaxing and work well with beginner anglers. But, make sure to look out for some wayward Barracuda. They will often get close to the boat and wait for you to hook into something, then run for it and snatch it. Still, it’s fun action, especially for your young ones.
Day 9: Fishing the Shipwrecks of Key Largo
You might know Key Largo as the best place in the world for diving. But that’s only one part of its appeal. Complete your Florida Keys fishing vacation with a bang. Come fish the shipwrecks where thousands of fish roam!
Duane and Bibb are sunken ships that lie a couple of miles from Key Largo. The fisheries near Duane are 120 feet deep. These sandy bottoms are home to Amberjack, Grouper, and Snapper, to name just a few.
Bibb is one of the premier diving sites, with excellent fishing opportunities. It lies just six nautical miles from Key Largo. Hogfish, Black Grouper, and Snapper swim around the sunken vessel. Make sure you tie your boat to the mooring buoy, as fishing is not allowed otherwise.
Some of the shipwrecks are also used for dive boats. If you wouldn’t like divers to show up in the middle of your fishing spot, it’s best to go out on a local charter. The captains will know which spots are less crowded but still productive.
Which of these fishing spots have you tried before? What was the fishing like? What other spots in the Keys are a must-fish? We’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.