Deep Sea Fishing in Key West: The Complete Guide for 2023

Oct 13, 2023 | 8 minute read Comments
Reading Time: 8 minutes

The southernmost city in the continental United States has a lot to offer. This stunning town is perched right at the meeting point of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s no wonder that deep sea fishing in Key West is a special experience. Nowhere else in the US can you access both of these fisheries so easily.

Whether you’re up for some reef fishing in the Gulf, or an adrenaline rush in the deep waters of the Atlantic, you’re in the right place. And lying just 90 miles from the coast of Cuba, the Caribbean is so close you can taste it. Read on to find out more about what awaits you if you decide to visit these deep waters.

Top Deep Sea Fish in Key West

While Hemingway might’ve spent his days here going after Marlin, there’s so much more to Key West deep sea fishing. You’ll find these offshore waters hold an abundance of bottom-dwelling creatures, as well as a whole host of pelagic monsters, so let’s dive right in!


We need to talk about Marlin. One of the most sought-after game fish in the world, they’re revered for their fighting abilities. Why else would Hemingway dedicate a whole book to them? But seriously, Marlin fishing out of Key West is something you need to try. They’ve been the target of local anglers for centuries, so you’ll get to experience a piece of history.

A hooked Marlin leaping out of the water

Typically, you’ll find two members of the Marlin family in the waters around Key West – White and Blue Marlin. White Marlin are the smallest of the family, but they make up for it with the fight they put up. On the other hand, Blue Marlin can reach over 1,000 pounds, making them a force to be reckoned with. You’ll go after them in the deep offshore waters by trolling, teasing these elusive creatures to come up and fight.


Tuna are another pelagic species famous around the world for their delicious meat and amazing fighting spirit. Key West anglers look forward to these creatures gracing their waters every year. Blackfin Tuna are the most common guests here, but you can run into big Bluefin and Yellowfin as well. The best action is around the humps, big underwater mountains that attract all sorts of bait fish that Tuna love.

An angler holding a big Blackfin Tuna on a boat

Blackfin Tuna are feisty, delicious creatures that start showing up in late fall, reaching their peak in April and May. You’ll go after them by trolling, but you can also cast live baits like mullet and ballyhoo. Fishing around deep wrecks can be especially productive if you’re using live baits and chum. Casting behind shrimp boats is another great way of reeling them in.


Another member of the Billfish family, Sailfish are considered one of the fastest fish in the ocean. This is why they’re a highly sought-after game fish in Key West, and anglers here dream of catching this magnificent creature. The best time to head out in search of a trophy Sailfish is November through January and again in April and early May.

Two smiling anglers holding a Sailfish on a boat

The most common way of targeting them is trolling using live bait like ballyhoo. But if you really want to have fun, try kite fishing. This is a fascinating technique that allows you to see all of the action happening right on the surface.

Mahi Mahi

Looking for an all-around best target to go after? Then Mahi Mahi is your guy. This beauty holds a special place in the hearts of sport fishermen. It’s one of the most strikingly looking species in the world, so you better get ready for a photo op! This fish is also tasty, with delicate meat being one of the top reasons people go after it.

An angler holding a big Mahi Mahi on a boat

And to top it all off, the Mahi Mahi is a ferocious fighter. You’ll find it swimming in offshore waters, so heading out on a trolling trip will yield some great results. The peak season for Mahi Mahi is May through September, which is when trolling with both live and artificial baits will yield amazing results. Just be ready for a good fight, and you’ll be rewarded in more ways than one. This fish really has it all!

Snapper and Grouper

If you’re looking for a deep sea experience, but don’t want to go too far from shore, you’re in luck! With numerous reefs and wrecks in the waters around Key West, you won’t have to compromise on anything. A wealth of opportunities await if bottom fishing is your kind of adventure, with various Snapper and Grouper species ready to take your bait.

Red Snapper takes the number one spot, with anglers from all over hitting these waters during the open season. Mutton and Yellowtail Snapper are also popular catches, and with stunning reefs very close to shore, you’re in prime position to fill your bags. Black, Red, and Gag Grouper can also be found roaming these waters in search for food.

An angler holding a Red Snapper on a boat

And that’s not all! Numerous other game fish call the waters around Key West their home. You can head out and cast a line for Swordfish, Cobia, Wahoo, Amberjack, and many more. Keep your options open and you’re bound to have a blast!

How to Go Deep Sea Fishing in Key West

Depending on what you’re looking to catch, there’s a variety of fishing techniques you can try out in Key West. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular ways anglers go deep sea fishing here.


If your ambition is to sail out and target some of the pelagic species off the coast of Key West, trolling is probably the best way to do it. Tuna, Marlin, Sailfish, Cobia, Mahi Mahi, and many more species are in the cards if this is your preferred method of fishing.

Multiple rods on a boat while trolling

By trolling, you can cover a lot of ground and follow the fish. You’ll cruise the open waters with multiple lines, enticing the bite of those offshore monsters. What’s more, you can hire a charter boat with a professional local captain who knows these waters. They’ll be able to provide all the help you need to get those game fish onto the boat!

Bottom Fishing

Bottom fishing is a great way to explore the deep sea fishing scene without heading too far out. The Florida Keys are known for their abundance of reefs and wrecks, swarming with numerous bottom-dwelling fish species like Snapper, Grouper, and Amberjack. The reefs in the Florida Keys are the only living coral reefs in the continental US, so exploring them is a special experience.

Anglers fishing from a boat

The Key West reef lies just five miles from shore, so you’ll get there in the blink of an eye. For the best results, use a variety of live baits as well as cut baits to entice the bite of these fish. Bottom fishing is a real feat, as these fish tend to put up a real fight. Eating a freshly caught meal at the end of the day is a great reward after putting in that hard work.

If you’re looking for something new and exciting, try out deep dropping. It’s a technique that’s popular among anglers looking to reel in big Swordfish. Normally you’d go Swordfishing at night when they tend to swim closer to the surface. However, with deep dropping, you can sink your line at over 1,000 feet, making these stunning creatures available in broad daylight.

Where to Go Deep Sea Fishing in Key West

Key West has access to some of the best fishing in the world, so it’s no surprise that there are loads of places with amazing fishing opportunities. Let’s see some of the top deep sea fishing spots in Key West so you can decide on where to take your next adventure.

Aerial view of Key West in Florida
  • The Marquesas Keys: These stunning mangrove islands are wild and uninhabited. Just 20 miles west off Key West, this is where you’ll find amazing bottom fishing opportunities. The rocky bottoms in the area are home to a great number of Snapper and Grouper species.
  • Marathon Humps: The West Hump is a true deep sea fishing paradise, with waters reaching over 500 feet. It’s basically a mountain in the middle of the ocean, meaning you’ll find a lot of pelagic species passing by, as well as some bottom monsters. Marlin, Sailfish, Tuna, Wahoo, Mahi Mahi, Snapper, Tilefish… you name it, you’ll find it here!
  • Dry Tortugas: Located about 75 miles west of Key West, the Dry Tortugas area is home to the most magnificent coral reefs, as well as some world-class game fish. Visit for a bit of history, as well as a chance to land a number of deep sea monsters, including Marlin, Sailfish, Tuna, Grouper, Mahi Mahi, and many more.
  • The Wall: This famous blue water hot spot lies just 20 miles south of Key West, towards the Florida Straits. With depths reaching over 2,000 feet, it’s no wonder anglers flock here to get their share of deep sea fishing adrenaline. This is where you’ll find Blue Marlin in great numbers, so get ready for your own “Old Man and the Sea” adventure!

Deep Sea Fishing Tournaments in Key West

With such an ambitious fishing scene, it’s no surprise that Key West is home to a variety of fishing tournaments you can enter and show off your catch. The most notable one is the Key West Fishing Tournament, a display of sportfishing that lasts for eight months. There are four categories you can compete in, and anyone can enter their weighed and released catches at no charge.

A fishing tournament participant holds the bill of a Marlin so it can be recorded

Another important tournament here is, of course, the Key West Marlin Tournament. It’s a yearly competition taking place in the summer, where you can win a big prize for reeling in the biggest Blue and White Marlin, as well as some other species for additional points. There are lots of festivities as well, so it’s a great time to hit the waters and have some fun!

Seasons and Regulations

The Florida Keys are known for amazing weather year-round. This means one thing – there’s always a game fish waiting to take your bait. That being said, some species have strict regulations, like Red Snapper which you can only target for a few months in the summer. The best way to make sure you’re up to date and following all regulations is to book a trip with a seasoned captain.

Everyone who’s over 16 and heading out on a fishing trip in Florida needs to have a Florida fishing license. You can find out more about getting yours by taking a look at the video above or follow our simple guide. But if you’re heading out on a fishing charter, the captain will take care of the license for you, so you don’t need to worry about anything but your delicious meal at the end of the day!

Why Key West? There’s no other place like it!

Sunrise on Smathers Beach in Key West

This one’s easy – Key West is a unique fishing spot, with amazing access to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. This alone is enough to earn its reputation as the most popular fishing town in the world. Add to that the rich history, stunning nature, and picturesque scenery, and it’s a combination that’s hard to come by. Come and experience the deep sea fishing scene of Key West for yourself, and you’re sure to come back time and time again.

Have you ever tried deep sea fishing in Key West? How was it? Tell us all about it in the comments bellow, or ask any questions you might have. We love to hear from you!

Author profile picture

Vule is a biologist with a love for the natural world, writing, and technology. As a kid, he used to go camping and fishing with his father, falling in love with the experience of being in the wild. Today, he writes about fishing, and when he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him chilling by a river somewhere.

Comments (6)


Nov 24, 2022

nice write up! In key west area where is a good place to stay to venture out to good bottom for snappers in a monkey boat.. So like less than 10 miles from protected waters thanks!

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    Nov 24, 2022

    Hi Derek,

    Thanks for reading, I’m glad you liked the article. The best place to go after Snappers in Key West, namely Yellowtail Snapper, are the flats. Here, you can find a variety of other species as well, and there’s a good number of Yellowtails at your disposal. If you find some mangroves along the way, you can cast some live bait for Mangrove Snapper.

    For bigger specimens, you’ll need to go further from the shore, to the reefs and shipwrecks, which always hold good fish. Give Western Sambo Reef a try for excellent Snapper fishing. For a longer adventure, you can check out Bay Keys (4 miles) and Cayo Agua Keys, some 6 miles away. You can also head to the Harbor Keys, but you’ll have to travel about 9 miles.

    I hope this helps Derek, have a great time in Key West.

    All the best!

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Jul 11, 2022

Koko Fishing Charters was AWESOME. Captain Chris and 1st mate Cory were great all day. Easy going guys, huge boat, all the fishing gear, experience, and we had a blast over the 4th of July holiday. Highly highly recommend them. Plus, they gave us 2 recommendations where we could takenour fresh catch and have it cooked for us that night. Hogfish Grille & Hirricane Hole weren’t much to look at, but great dining experience, atmosphere, and they know how to cook!!

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    Jul 11, 2022

    Hi Tim,

    Thank you for reaching out. We’re so glad you enjoyed your trip! It would be great if you left a review for Capt. Chris and his crew on his listing on FishingBooker. Here’s the link.


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Mark solomon

Jul 4, 2021

Been several times. My first was a big disappointment as I never got so much as a bite. My second trip erased that. I caught mangrove snappers, mah-mahi, and a seven foot bull shark. My third trip all I caught was a yellow finned snapper. My fourth trip was easily the most exciting as I caught a black grouper and a human being bobbing in ten foot waves five miles off of Key West. Apparently he had to abandon a sinking boat, and all he had was a child life preserver.

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    Jul 5, 2021

    Hi Mark,

    Thanks for reading and for sharing your experiences with us. It’s always great to hear fellow anglers’ stories, so keep ’em coming! A bit scary that you had to rescue a person, and I guess it shows us the importance of safety equipment. Anyway, the fishing sounds fantastic (except for the first time – but that happens to the best of us)!

    Tight lines,

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