Fishing in the Florida Keys: A Complete Guide
Sep 9, 2020 | 10 minute read
Reading Time: 10 minutes

Lying just above the Florida Reef, the only living coral barrier reef in the US, the Florida Keys were bound to have amazing fishing! This string of tropical islands has some of the most beautiful beaches and the most amazing wildlife in the world. The archipelago is a favorite vacation spot for thousands of avid anglers who visit for their chance to reel in some prized fish and get a tropical holiday out of it.

An aerial view of the Florida Keys

The coral islands of the Florida Keys start about 15 miles south of Miami and extend southwest into the Gulf of Mexico, forming the border of the Florida Bay. Comprising over 800 keys, this American slice of the Caribbean offers vast opportunities to anyone looking to have some fun. Its uniqueness leaves everyone breathless, and the fishing is considered the best in the world.

And how can it not be? Offering every type of saltwater fishing under the sun, the Keys taking the top spot isn’t really a surprise. The Florida Bay is at your fingertips in the Upper Keys, while the Lower Keys offer unparalleled access to the Gulf of Mexico. On the other side, you have the depths of the Atlantic, and Cuba is just 90 miles away from Key West if you’re looking for a real adventure!

Top Catches in the Florida Keys

It’s everything! Everything is a top catch in the Florida Keys. Sinking a line anywhere in these waters will yield some great results, as the area is rich both in species and numbers. Read on to find out more about what you can target in this abundant natural environment.

An infographic showing the top fish species to target in the Florida Keys both inshore and offshore

Bonefish

One of the Florida Keys beloved fish, Bonefish is truly a force to be reckoned with! It’s an agile swimmer and a prized inshore game fish in this part of the world. It doesn’t grow to impressive sizes, but it more than makes up for that with the fight it puts up.

A young man holding a Bonefish in the waters of the Florida Keys

The flats around Key West are known to be very fish-rich, and dipping your rod in these waters will have you reeling in some nice specimens in no time. This is a very feisty fish, but the effort is worth it! The bony structure doesn’t make it great table fare, and its game qualities make it a catch-and-release species.

Tarpon

This one needs no introduction. Everyone knows that the “Silver King” takes the number one spot! Revered as a top game fish in all of Florida, the Keys have a rich history with this silver beast. It’s big, beautiful, and puts up an amazing fight, leaping out of the water to get off the hook. Reeling one in is an adventure you should make sure not to miss.

A man holding a Tarpon on a boat in the Florida Keys

While Tarpon fishing is widespread throughout the Florida Keys, the Lower Keys see the most action. The vast flats surrounding Key West hold great numbers of Tarpon, and fly fishing enthusiasts flock here from all over the world for their chance to cast a fly and hook a trophy. If you’re serious about fishing, this needs to be on your list!

Snapper

The waters around the Florida Keys hold a variety of Snapper species, each one more interesting than the next. You’ll find Mutton, Yellowtail, Vermillion, and the beloved Red Snapper feasting in these blue waters. If you’re in Florida, bottom fishing for Red Snapper is definitely something you shouldn’t miss.

A man holding a Snapper on a boat in Florida

This beautiful species is a trophy for any avid angler, and reeling it in is a real feat. Pulling them out of the depths is not easy, but there’s nothing more fun than a fishing challenge in the Keys! Loved for its tender meat, this delicious fish will reward you with an amazing meal upon your return, leaving you craving more.

Grouper

Another bottom-dweller everyone loves to target. Are you looking to break some records? If so, some species of Grouper can get pretty big in the Florida Keys. Red, Gag, Snowy, Black, and the majestic Goliath variety are all in the cards. Reel in one of these beasts and they’ll make for an amazing selfie you can brag about.

A man holding a Grouper on a boat in Florida

Red and Gag Grouper will probably end up your most frequent catches, and pulling these beasts out is an adventure in itself. If you happen to catch the biggest one of them, the Goliath, snap a once-in-a-lifetime photo while it’s still in the water before releasing. They are big and beautiful, but they’re also protected in these waters.

Mahi Mahi

And if you’re looking for a marine photo-op, there’s no fish more photogenic than the elusive Mahi Mahi! You’ll find it by heading out a bit offshore in literally any direction, as they inhabit the waters all around the Florida Keys. Fishing for this stunning yellow and green species is an adventure, and you should make sure to try it out while you’re in the area.

A man holding a Mahi Mahi fish in the waters of the Florida Keys

Reaching some great sizes, it’s a trophy game fish everyone admires. And how can they not? Varying in color, no two Mahi Mahi specimens are the same, so it’s a game of chance. Sink a line in deeper waters and play the game. What will your Mahi Mahi look like? Come and find out!

Billfish

Another unavoidable fish family if you’re in deep Florida waters. Billfish are by far the greatest game fish an avid angler can reel in while deep sea fishing. Just sail offshore for a day of adventure, and expect to battle Blue and White Marlin, Sailfish, as well as the iconic Swordfish. Fishing for these beasts is for the more experienced among you, but in the right conditions, you’ll have the time of your life.

Four anglers holding a Blue Marlin on a boat in the Florida Keys

The fun doesn’t have to end there – so many fish species live in the waters around the Florida Keys and we would need a lot of time to mention them all. Barracuda, Bonefish, Permit, Sheepshead, Jacks, Sharks, Tuna, Mackerel, Cobia, Wahoo… we can go on and on, but you get the picture!

How to Fish in the Florida Keys

As the Keys include a wide variety of habitats, there’s a range of different types of fishing you can try out. Here you’ll find everything from flats and mangroves, to very deep waters not far from shore. Keep on reading to find your preferred way of exploring the area. 

Charter Fishing

By far the most prolific way to explore these waters, charter fishing, is a tradition in the Keys. What makes charter fishing so good? Well, considering the Keys are a string of small islands surrounded by water, fishing from a charter boat is easy and convenient. It can take you to the fishing grounds in no time, and you can cover a bigger area than by other means.

A view from a charter fishing boat on the water

If you’re a charter fishing enthusiast, you’re in luck! There are charters dotted all along the Keys, from the Upper Keys all the way to Key West. Wherever you decide to visit, chances are there will be a lot of options to choose from. The captains in the area are experienced and with their guidance, you’re guaranteed to have a productive fishing excursion.

Party Boat Fishing

The charter business in the Florida Keys is big, there’s no denying that. Fishing is the main outdoor activity one can do in the area, so it’s not surprising that you can find a charter literally anywhere you go. However, renting a charter boat can be quite expensive for some, but luckily, there’s an alternative!

A charter fishing boat in Islamorada

A popular way of fishing here is hopping aboard a party boat. This is basically a shared trip on a charter boat, which means it’s less expensive and more fun! The only downside is that the captain might have less time to dedicate to you. However, if you’d like to meet some new people, head out on a boat, and enjoy a nice time with new friends without breaking the bank, this is the trip to take.

Kayak Fishing

Looking for the most immersive experience on the water? Look no further than kayak fishing! This is a popular way to explore the waters in the Keys, and it’s a great way to really see how fun the fishing here can be. Paddle out onto the oceanside flats, patch reefs, and the backcountry waters, and you’ll be reeling in some trophies in no time.

A kayak on a beach in Florida

Getting up close and personal with the natural life in the Keys is a unique experience. It’s a way to really put your fishing skills to the test in a sublime tropical setting. You can enjoy the crystal clear waters, the abundance of wildlife, and not to mention the stunning scenery all around. No matter where in the Keys you hop in a kayak, it’s going to be an adventure!

Shore Fishing

While heading out on the water is a great way to explore the area, shore fishing in the Florida Keys is just as fun. With numerous tropical beaches, surf fishing will yield some great results in the form of Snook, Permit, Jacks, and Mackerel. For more action, hit some of the bridges. The Bahia Honda Bridge is a great place to sink your line for some mighty Tarpon.

The sunset at the Bahia Honda Bridge in Florida

While it might be less exciting than deep sea fishing, fishing from the shore is a great way to unwind and enjoy your day. You can relax and cast a line, soaking in the sun and the beautiful views, all while enjoying a nice cold drink in a tropical setting. Sounds pretty nice, right? Don’t get too comfortable though, cause the fish here bite fast and hard!

Where to Fish in the Florida Keys

As we said, there are over 800 islands comprising the Florida Keys, so it’s not always easy to decide which spot to sink your line in. While fishing is amazing anywhere you go, depending on your ambitions, there are some places you might not want to miss out on. Coming up, a list of top fishing spots in the Florida Keys!

An infographic showing a map of the Florida Keys with the top places to go fishing including Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key, Cudjoe Key, Key West, and Dry Tortugas
  • Key West: Starting big, with the most populous city in the Florida Keys! Key West is rich in history, as well as beauty and nature. Today it’s home to many angling enthusiasts, and people flock from all over to try out the fishing on offer. Expect to target every saltwater species imaginable!
  • Key Largo: This is the biggest key and the opportunities are endless. Part of the Upper Keys, it has great access to the shallow waters of the Florida Bay. But the deep Atlantic is at your fingertips as well! Whatever you want to target, you’ll find it here.
  • Islamorada: Heading down towards the middle part of the Keys, you’ll find this amazing sportfishing town. Everything from flats and backcountry, bottom and reef fishing, all the way to deep sea fishing is in the cards in the “Sportfishing Capital of the World.”
  • Marathon: Marathon boasts a lot of angling opportunities for anyone willing to do a bit of work. The Marathon Hump is a must-visit destination, as the waters here get really deep really fast. Anything from Snapper and Grouper to Marlin and Tuna is at your disposal here.
  • Big Pine Key: A great place to introduce yourself and your family to the Keys, this small town is a relaxing fishing haven. You can expect to find Tarpon, Bonefish, Permit, as well as Mahi Mahi, Marlin, and Sailfish.
  • Cudjoe Key: This one doesn’t see as many tourists as some of its neighbors, so if you’re looking for a relaxing vacation with some amazing fishing opportunities, it’s the one for you. Grouper, Snapper, Cobia, Tuna, and Billfish are all within easy reach.
  • Dry Tortugas: This is a special one. It’s the most remote Key of all, some 70 miles from Key West. It’s an uninhabited National Park today, drenched in history, so it’s definitely worth visiting. You can take a ferry or a seaplane from Key West, as well as hire a charter that will take you on this adventure.

For more information on the best fishing spots to hit when visiting the Florida Keys, consult this detailed guide and pack your bags! 

Seasons and Regulations

This is easy – always! In the Florida Keys, there’s always something going on when it comes to fishing. It’s in season all year long and it’s always prolific. There’s something to go after whenever you decide to visit. This is why fishing in the Keys is famous worldwide, and the top reason why the fishing industry is as strong as it is today.

The famous landmark of the southernmost point of the USA in Key West, Florida

However, not all species can always be targeted as there are strict regulations to prevent overfishing. For information about regulations, always consult the FWC website. These regulations are different depending on which side of the Keys you’re fishing in – Gulf or Atlantic waters. Also, note that everyone over the age of 16 needs to buy a Florida fishing license

Florida Keys Fishing Tournaments

You can only expect that in a place like the Florida Keys there are numerous fishing tournaments year-round. And you would be right! A big one, the Key West Fishing Tournament, is a multimonth tournament from December to July, targeting over 40 species of fish. It’s a must for anyone looking to make their mark in fishing.

A street in Key West, Florida

Islamorada hosts a number of tournaments, some of which are the Annual Gold Cup Tarpon Tournament in June, and the Islamorada Sailfish Tournament in December. Another one worth mentioning is the Marathon Offshore Bull and Cow Dolphin Tournament in May with over $30,000 in cash prizes up for grabs!

Why the Florida Keys? Why Not!

No, seriously. When it comes to fishing, there’s not a single downside to the Florida Keys. The climate is terrific, the beaches are stunning, the wildlife is beautiful, and the fishing is spectacular! It’s open and productive year-round, and it has a world-class reputation as one of the best places to sink a line. So no more waiting, the time has come to try it out!

An aerial view of the Florida Keys

Have you ever visited the Florida Keys? Have you tried fishing in the area? Tell us all about your adventure in the comments below, and feel free to ask about anything you’re interested in. We love hearing from you!

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