What’s the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Key West? Is it unforgettable parties, breathtaking sunsets on the Mallory Square, or carefree chickens clucking their way through the traffic? For us, Key West is synonymous with everything water-related, including fantastic fisheries available year-round. Whether you’re a “conch” (a local) or just visiting this beautiful island, trying your hand in fishing is an absolute must. And if you’re not sure where to start, let’s talk about the party boat fishing Key West has to offer.
Whether you’re looking for fishing buddies or you’re on a budget, a party boat could be the choice for you. You get to experience the abundance of Key West’s waters without breaking the bank, and you’ll have a blast. Here’s all you need to know about fishing from a party boat in Key West.
What to Expect When Fishing on a Party Boat
If you’ve never been on a party boat before, imagine a charter fishing boat, but on steroids. Party boats are much bigger than your regular central console and, as such, can take more people fishing.
- Fishing on a bigger scale. Party boats are impressive vessels that can be 50–70’ long, sometimes even more. Anywhere from 10–65 people can cast their lines from a party boat. There’s ample seating in the shade and next to the rails if you prefer to be close to the action.
- A lot of new faces. Unlike on private fishing charters, you’ll be surrounded by anglers you don’t necessarily know. On party boats, people of all levels and ages come to enjoy a relaxed day of fishing.
- Trips are better priced but less personal. It’s more affordable to book your spot on a party boat compared to private charters. The downside is that the boat will probably be more crowded and the crew won’t be able to dedicate a lot of time to you in particular.
- Shorter excursions are the norm. Trips usually last 4–6 hours, though some companies offer longer expeditions. There are some deep sea fishing trips on party boats which last up to 10 hours.
- License, bait, and professional guide included. The fee you pay covers fishing licenses, bait, sometimes tackle, and the guiding services of seasoned fishermen and crew.
- Have your catch cooking-ready. For a small additional charge, you can get your catch cleaned and filleted when you return to the dock. When your fish is ready, take it to a nearby restaurant and have it cooked how you like it.
What fish can you catch and where?
Home to the third biggest reef in the world, the Florida Straits, Key West is a fishing treasure trove. Whenever you decide to explore these prolific waters, chances are you’ll get something tasty or hard-fighting on the line (often it’s both). The fact that Key West has got perfect weather practically year-round doesn’t hurt the bite either.
Shorter 4–6-hour trips are reserved for reef fishing, while 8-hour options allow you to give deep sea fishing a try. Here’s what you could find at the end of your line.
Fishing Reefs & Wrecks on a Key West Party Boat
It’s not just the reefs that make Key West such a popular fishing destination, but also countless shipwrecks scattered along the sea bottom. Reefs are teeming ecosystems that offer a good variety of species to target. Wrecks attract bait fish and in turn, larger predators follow their prey. It’s not hard to understand why they’re productive fishing spots.
So what can you catch when you go party boat fishing on the Key West reefs? We’re talking Yellowtail, Mutton, Lane, and Mangrove Snapper, and a variety of chunky Groupers. The most common catches are the Gag, Black, and Red varieties. Then we’ve got some all-time favorites like Barracuda, Spanish Mackerel, Sharks, Amberjack, Hogfish, and King Mackerel.
Bottom fishing and trolling are the most productive techniques for hunting down these beautiful beasts. Your crew will share tricks on how to get the fish to bite and it’s a good idea to heed the expert’s advice.
Reef fishing for a few hours is a great family activity, where both kids and adults can have a blast. The water is usually calmer around the reefs, even when the conditions in the open sea are rough. This type of action is the bread and butter of party boat fishing – it’s productive, it’s close, and it’s fun for all ages.
Offshore Fishing on a Key West Party Boat
Not all party boat operators offer offshore expeditions, but you can still find guides that are happy to take you into the bluewater. To make the most of these trips, you’ll need to book an 8-hour option at the least, and there are some that last even longer.
A lot of species you can find on the reefs, you can find in the offshore realm too, only bigger and stronger. Snappers are very popular among offshore party boat fishermen, especially during the open Red Snapper season. The star of the show during the winter months is Sailfish, the fastest fish in the ocean. Wahoo, Tuna, Jacks, and Sharks are also fair game. An occasional Marlin is known to pop up here and there, but that’s far from frequent.
Mahi Mahi are another favorite and they’re the fish to look out for during the hot summer days. They’re the most numerous species during the high season. Incredible fighters and acrobats, you can coax them into a feeding frenzy, and what a sight it is to behold! This means that you can have multiple catches at the same spot and even get your daily limit of Mahi if you’re lucky.
When to go party boat fishing in Key West?
The short answer to this question is all year. The weather in the Keys is fishing-perfect on most days, it’s just your catch that might vary depending on the time of year.
Spring and summer are the time to target any reef fish under the sun. Then there’s Mahi Mahi, who swarm these nutrient-rich waters in search of their next meal. These gorgeous fish come in all shapes, colors, and sizes (from 5–50 pounds), and they’re the belle of the summer fishing season.
Come to Key West when the weather cools down and the crowds subside, and your party boat may put you on the trail of Sailfish. Other pelagic speedsters like Wahoo and King Mackerel are also very active in the fall and winter. Blackfin Tuna, Mackerel, and all kinds of Grouper are on fire this time of year too. Basically, whenever you choose to catch a party boat and some good fish in Key West, chances are you’re in for a treat.
What to Bring on a Party Boat
Now that you know what to expect, it’s important to know how to pack before your Key West party boat trip.
- Your fishing gear. Some boats provide tackle for their customers, but that’s not always the case. It’s usually necessary to bring your fishing equipment with you when going party boat fishing in Key West. Some companies have rods and reels you can rent out, but the safest option is to bring your own.
- Food and drinks. If you’re going to spend half a day in the sun, you’d better be prepared. Stock up on water, snacks, and pack lunch to have on the go. Sometimes the crew will sell drinks and snacks, but that’s not always the case, so better to be safe than sorry.
- Comfortable clothing. Wear clothes that will protect you from the scorching sun in the summer and unexpected showers in the fall. Comfortable non-skid shoes are a good idea, as well as a hat, sunglasses, and a change of clothes in case you get wet or “fishy.” Pack some sort of rain gear in case the weather decides to change tack within minutes.
- A small cooler for transporting your catch. Party boats usually have big freezers where you can store your fish while you’re on board. However, you’ll still need a cooler to bring the catch with you. You can have it with you to store food and drinks, then use it to carry your fish fillets home.
- Sunscreen and motion sickness meds. Floridian sun is unforgiving and you don’t want to be caught in it without proper protection, so bring (non-aerosol) sunscreen. If you’ve dealt with motion sickness before, make sure you some medicine before you get on board. Party boats carry a lot of people and it’s unlikely they’ll turn back for individuals struck down by their lack of sea legs, so cover all your bases.
- Bring cash for tips. If you’re happy with the services of your captain and crew, the best way to express gratitude is through tips. We’d recommend bringing cash with you for gratuity, just so that you’re prepared to tip the staff properly.
- Good mood. There’s usually a lot of people on party boats, and yes, things can get a bit crowded or even competitive. It’s important to always keep in mind you’re there to have a good time, catch some fish, and maybe even make new friends.
Types of Party Boat Trips
Now that you know what you can catch and where to go, it’s time to discuss trip types. Not all party boat excursions are created equal and which you’ll choose depends on your budget, time, skill level, and who you’re taking fishing.
Half Day Trips (4–5 Hours)
This is the go-to option for most first-time party boat anglers, as well as beginners. You’ll get around five hours on the water, travel up to 15 miles from land, all the while trolling and bottom fishing for a variety of reef species. Snappers and Groupers are usually on the menu, and while you’re fishing, the deckhands will have your catch on ice to keep it fresh for you.
It’s important to remember that some party boats in Key West have separate half day trips for kids. If you’re going fishing with your little ones, check with the crew if the excursion you’re interested in is kid-friendly. There’s often an age limit for the kids, and they should always be under adult supervision. If your children have never been fishing on a party boat before, let them know what to expect. That way, they can enjoy the experience and won’t get bored before the trip is over.
Because the bite can be red-hot in the late afternoon hours, some party boat operators have sunset fishing tours. If you’ve never seen a sunset on the water off of Key West, then this is the perfect time to enjoy a solid bite and stunning views.
3/4 Day Trips (6–7 Hours)
Longer trips mean more time on the water and the ability to cover more fishing grounds. You’ll be heading out up to 25 miles offshore, where you’ll fish the reefs and wrecks that hold most fish at the given time. Cobia, Jacks, Sharks, Mackerel, and of course, Groupers and Snappers are all there for the taking. You’ll be using a variety of techniques to get the fish to bite, and here, further from land, your prey is bigger and hungrier. This means better fights and more fish fillets down the line.
Just like with half day trips, 3/4 day options also have a kid-friendly version. You’ll be staying on board for a longer period of time, so if you’ve got pre-teen kids who already love fishing, this trip could be a blast for them. The crew is usually happy to help set up the rods and bait the hooks, in case you need a hand.
Full Day Trips (8–10 Hours)
Are you in the mood to battle the greats, but will want to stay within your budget? Do you like the idea of spending a day on a big boat, with loads of anglers to befriend? Then full day trips on Key West party boats are the place for you.
You’re in for a bit of a boat ride before you get to the most productive spots, traveling up to 35 miles offshore. The trip will be worth it though because these deep waters are the playground of countless prized species.
Deep sea fishing could result in trophy-sized Snapper, Mackerel, Grouper, Mahi Mahi, Amberjack, and even mighty Sailfish in the fall and winter. This is a good choice for passionate and experienced fishermen who love fast and furious action. Pack plenty of food and drinks to last the day, a small cooler, and sunscreen.
What about private trips?
The point of party boat fishing in Key West is that you get a great mix of people on the same vessel. However, if you’ve got a large group of friends you’d like to take out, some companies can arrange private party boat fishing trips. Whether it’s a birthday, a reunion, or a company bonding event, these trips put the party in party boats.
The hospitality aspect of private trips is stronger than on a regular party boat trip, but the experience is also more expensive. You decide on how many hours you want to spend on board, how much you’d like to fish, and any additional amenities you might want.
Party Boat Fishing in Key West – Easy, Affordable, Fun!
Now you know all the facts that can help you decide whether you want to go party boat fishing off of Key West. If you liked most of the things you’ve read, then you’ve got your answer. Explore the island’s iconic fisheries in a unique and fun way that will have you coming back for more.
Have you ever been fishing on a party boat in Key West? What are your experiences? Is there a tip you’d like to share with the community? Let’s talk in the comments.