Deep Sea Fishing in the Florida Keys: The Ultimate Guide
Aug 30, 2021 | 8 minute read
Reading Time: 8 minutes

If you’ve ever wondered where to find some of the most beautiful beaches to relax on and some of the best fishing opportunities in the world, the Florida Keys is just the place. It lies just above the Florida Reef with its countless tropical islands and eternal summer. The only living coral barrier reef in the US has a lot to offer for all types of anglers, but deep sea fishing in the Florida Keys is something truly special. 

An aerial view of the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys

The Keys archipelago offers easy access to the Gulf of Mexico and deep Atlantic waters. You won’t have to worry about travel time or a scarcity of fish species. It’s hard to disagree that the Florida Keys is one of the most desirable deep sea fishing destinations in the whole world. In this guide, we’ll help you find out why.

Top Florida Keys Deep Sea Fishing Catches

Before deciding which hot spots to hit first, you need to know which species you’ll be targeting. There’s a wealth of trophies and very interesting creatures in the deep waters off the Florida Keys. Let’s dive right into it. 

Billfish

A smiling angler on a boat out of Islamorada holding a large Sailfish

Marlin fishing in the Florida Keys is iconic. Locals have been targeting them for years, and every year, thousands of visitors head offshore for their dose of Marlin action. There are two members of the family available – White and Blue Marlin. 

Other Billfish offshoots you can tease in the deep waters are Swordfish and Sailfish. If you’re an experienced angler heading out with a professional crew that’s equipped to battle these fastest fish in the ocean, that is. Catching Sailfish and Swordfish in the Florida Keys is not an easy task and can take the whole day. However, it’s definitely worth it! 

Tuna

A smiling angler on a boat holding a freshly caught Tuna out of Marathon

Tuna fishing in the Florida Keys is something every angler looks forward to year after year. There’s a strong population of Blackfin Tuna in the Keys, ready to fight with whoever tries to hook them. Blackfins are not the only Tuna in the Florida Keys, though. If you’re lucky, you can get your hands on Bluefin and Yellowfin as well.

Local captains usually target Tuna around the humps – large underwater mountains where these pelagic fish look for food. It’s also common to troll or chum near shrimp boats (for very obvious reasons) and around deep wrecks. 

Mahi Mahi

Freshly caught Mahi Mahi at a marina in the Florida Keys

Fishing for Mahi Mahi in the Florida Keys is a real pleasure. These colorful creatures are among the best species to target on your deep sea fishing trip. If you catch one and decide to keep it, a delicious dinner is guaranteed. Plus, Mahi Mahi are really photogenic!

The best part about Mahi Mahi in the Keys is that they can be found pretty much anywhere offshore. They reach trophy sizes, too! A typical catch includes a mix of smaller Mahi and a couple of big “bulls,” but you can also land a few trophies if you are lucky. 

Snapper 

An angler holding a Red Snapper on a boat

Looking to try deep sea fishing in the Florida Keys while staying closer to shore? Fish for Snapper! There are reefs and wrecks that hold some of the most interesting Snapper species. Apart from the famous Red Snapper, you can find Vermilion, Mutton, and Yellowtail. Snapper fishing in the Florida Keys is definitely something to try at least once in your life.

Aside from great fighting qualities, Snappers are also delicious. You can test your angling skills, enjoy a deep sea fishing adventure, catch a nice dinner, and all that without having to go too far from shore. 

Grouper

An angler on a boat out of the Florida Keys holding a large Yellowedge Grouper

Grouper fishing is a great way to enjoy your deep sea adventure in the Keys. They’re pretty big around here! Gag and Red Grouper are the most common catches, although you can search for Snowy, Yellowedge, and Black as well. For some Groupers, you’ll need to head further offshore, but it’s worth it. 

And, of course, you can try to catch the biggest Grouper of all – the Goliath. These beautiful creatures are strictly catch-and-release, but you can take a photo with your catch while it’s still in the water. 

And That’s Not All!

Of course, there are other game fish you can catch on your deep sea fishing trip in the Florida Keys, such as Tilefish, Wahoo, Amberjack, and many more. As long as you’re fishing with an experienced crew and follow all the necessary rules and regulations, the sky’s the limit.

When to Go Deep Sea Fishing in the Florida Keys

Boats in the Florida Keys

The best answer to that question is – whenever! It’s the Florida Keys, after all, and something is always biting in the archipelago’s deep blue waters. It’s always prolific and fun, regardless of when you decide to visit. However, there are a few things you need to know before you book a deep sea fishing charter. Some species, like Red Snapper, have strict regulations and are not always available. 

Spring through the summer months are prime for deep sea fishing for Mahi Mahi, and June through September is the best time to search for Yellowtail Snapper. Hit the wrecks in May if you want to go for Black, Gag, and Red Grouper since it’s when the season opens. If you miss the opening, don’t worry – you have plenty of time to catch your Grouper before the season closes in the last days of December. 

Meanwhile, old fronts starting in January and all the way through March are great for a Sailfish trip. 

How to Go Deep Sea Fishing in the Florida Keys

Now that you know what you’ll be targeting on your next Florida Keys deep sea fishing trip, it’s time to think about the techniques to land a big one. Below are the most popular methods of casting your line and hooking your deep sea fish. 

Trolling

Several trolling rods with a view of the water from the stern of a moving boat

Trolling is definitely the first thing that comes to mind when you think about deep sea fishing. This technique consists of driving the boat around with multiple lines spread in the water. The more lines there are, the more bites can happen. 

When it comes to bait, it’ll depend on the targeted species. You can go for artificial or dead bait, whichever works to lure your Mahi Mahi and Amberjack. Whatever you or your crew decide to use, you’ll drag it around, mimicking the favored fish of your prey. Why? Because when your target species see the bait, chances are it will think it’s their next meal. 

Bottom Fishing

An angler on a big game fishing trip, reeling in a fish from the boat

If you happen to come across any sort of structure on your deep sea fishing trip in the Florida Keys, you’ll most likely try bottom fishing. There are rocks, ledges, and shoals on the Gulf side of the Keys, and reefs and wrecks on the Atlantic side. These are ideal spots for some bottom action. 

This technique includes anchoring on a reef or other underwater structures and mimicking your target species’ fish, just as you would while trolling. You’ll do it by jigging or dragging your line along the seafloor. Of course, all the action happens on the bottom of the sea, since that’s where your Groupers, Snappers, and Amberjacks will be. 

Deep Dropping

A smiling angler on a boat holding freshly caught Tilefish

Deep dropping is just like bottom fishing but in very, very deep waters. Luckily, the Florida Keys’ offshore playgrounds are ideal for this technique! You’ll need to use some specialist equipment, such as electronic rods or iron pumpers, as only the purists opt for manual deep dropping action. 

While deepwater Snowy and Yellowedge Groupers are the most common targets during those trips, you can also try your luck and go for Golden Tilefish, Queen Snapper, monster Wreckfish, and even Swordfish. These beautiful creatures will surely put a smile on your face!

Where to Go Deep Sea Fishing in the Florida Keys

A white sport fishing boat leaving Sunset Key in Key West Harbor to go fishing in the Atlantic Ocean

The Florida Keys are blessed with some of the best fishing spots in the world. There are numerous deep sea fishing locales on the archipelago for you to discover. Let’s see some of them to help you pick one for your next adventure. 

  • Key Largo: Key Largo is part of the Upper Keys and offers great deep sea fishing opportunities. There’s easy access to the deep Atlantic waters, and you can catch Sailfish just a couple of miles from shore.
  • Key West: This beautiful city is a great place to start your offshore adventure in the Keys. For instance, the reef line begins just 6 miles to the south of Key West – and that’s where the water starts to drop off. Who said you have to go far to enjoy deep sea fishing? 
  • Marathon: The Marathon Hump is another place in the Florida Keys where the waters get deep really fast. A lot of anglers make it their go-to place for targeting Marlin, Tuna, Grouper, and everything in between. 
  • Dry Tortugas: If you want to enjoy the ride and head out to the deep blue waters, Dry Tortugas is a great choice. 70 miles from Key West, this is the most remote Key there is. Of course, the offshore fishing opportunities are endless here. 
  • Islamorada: Islamorada is often called the “Sportfishing Capital of the World,” and it’s hard to argue with that. Everything is on the menu in the offshore waters here, from Mahi Mahi and Swordfish to Marlin, Tuna, and even Sharks. 
  • Big Pine Key: Big Pine Key offers great deep sea action in the Lower Keys. Mahi Mahi, Marlin, and Sailfish are among the most common catches. Plus, it’s really close to the reefs, and the nature is stunning. 
  • Cudjoe Key: Finally, Cudjoe Key is perfect for a relaxing vacation. It’s not usually as crowded as other places throughout the Florida Keys. You can enjoy your deep sea fishing adventure and target Grouper, Snapper, and Billfish among others. 

Florida Keys Deep Sea Fishing Regulations

As we’ve already mentioned, even though some species can be caught throughout the year, there are strict regulations as to when and how you can target them. It’s always a good idea to consult the FWC website before you head out to the water. Make sure that if you’re over the age of 16, you have a valid Florida fishing license. If you’re fishing with a licensed captain, charters usually cover the necessary licenses.

Since the Florida Keys is touched by both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, the regulations vary depending on which side you’re fishing on. You can visit Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council and South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council to check the regulations for federal waters and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary for additional fishing regulations.

Florida Keys Deep Sea Fishing Is Always a Good Idea!

An aerial view of Key West in Florida

The Key West Fishing Tournament, the US’s only living-coral barrier reef, almost 3,000 nautical miles of protected waters – the Florida Keys is an ideal place for deep sea fishing professionals and amateurs alike. It’s such a perfect mix of relaxed charm and non-stop action that, even if you’ve been there before, you always want to come back for more. 

Have you ever been deep sea fishing in the Florida Keys? Did you enjoy it? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

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