Key West

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Fishing in Key West

Key West is the jewel in Florida’s sportfishing crown. Sitting between the warm shallows of the Gulf and the deep blue of the Atlantic, it’s a tropical paradise with an unbeatable mix of fish. Key West fishing charters make the most of this, tailoring trips for anglers of any age or experience level.
 
Key West’s flats and mangroves are full of fly fishing favorites like Bonefish, Tarpon, and Permit. Wet your toes on a half day trip or stay out longer and target all three for an Inshore Grand Slam! You can find these fish spring through fall, along with plenty of Mangrove Snapper.
 
If it’s tasty fish you’re after, you’ve got to visit the reefs. Bottom fish for year-round residents like Snappers and Groupers, as well as Cobia and King Mackerel in winter and spring. Even beginners can fill their coolers on these trips, making them particularly popular on Key West party boats.
 
Then there’s the bluewater bite. Troll offshore for delicious Tuna and Mahi Mahi, as well as Blue Marlin in summer or Sailfish in winter. These are serious sportfishing adventures, and you need a full day and some decent skills to get the most out of them.
 
Feeling competitive? Take on other inshore anglers in the Del Brown Permit Tournament or speed into the blue for the Key West Marlin Tournament. Both of these events take place in July, but whenever you visit, you’ll find great weather and a ton of tasty fish. That’s what Key West is all about.

Rules & Regulations

Fishing licenses are included on all saltwater charters in Florida, both private trips and party boats. Bear in mind that most Groupers are protected January–April here, while Permit are catch-and-release only from April through July. Ask your captain for the most up-to-date information on seasons and limits.

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Key West Fishing Seasons

The weather is changeable, making flats fishing inconsistent. Backwater fishing sees calm waters and steady action. Sailfish and Blackfin Tuna are caught offshore, with occasional Mahi.

Windy conditions affect flats and offshore fishing. Sight fishing for Permit on the flats is phenomenal, backcountry fishing is still extremely good, and Cobia can be caught over the wrecks.

Warm breezes see the end of Winter in Key West. Permit fishing is still excellent and targeted in the March Merkin tournament. Offshore, big Mahi arrive. Tarpon is heating up in the backcountry.

The waters warm up: Permit move to the reef to spawn and Bonefish start to show in the flats. Shark fishing is very good. Offshore fishing is excellent for Sailfish and large Mahi.

Winds are light, fishing is amazing. The Tarpon migration is kicking off, with lots of big fish in under 3 ft of water. Go for a Grand Slam: Tarpon, Bonefish, and Permit are all caught on the flats. 

Conditions are hot, humid and sweaty. The water is very clear on the flats - go for Bonefish, Permit, and Tarpon in one day. Mahi fishing is excellent, with Marlin, Wahoo, and Swordfish also around.

Conditions are calm but still hot. Early morning and late evening fishing is recommended for catching Tarpon. Late in the month the lobster season starts for some light hearted fun. 

Both weather and fishing is hot. Waters are calm: tailing Bonefish and Permit are easy to spot. Offshore, the fish are smaller and less plentiful, but deep dropping and Swordfishing is good. 

The weather cools and the crowds thin. This is the best time of year to score a Slam on the flats. The weather can be unpredictable with hurricanes, but the fishing makes it worth while.

Late fall sees the reefs come alive. Large numbers of baitfish attract delicacies such as Yellowtail Snappers, Groupers, and Mutton Snappers, which then arrive in boats and on the dinner table. 

Reef fishing is still good but can be windy. Bonefish thins out on the flats but Permit is as good as ever. Sailfish and Tuna are caught over the reefs and backcountry fishing is excellent.

Windy conditions offshore and fewer species on the flats make backcountry fishing your best option. If you can get offshore, enjoy the good Grouper bite before the season closes in January. 

Key West Fishing Calendar

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Top Targeted Species in Key West

Barracuda (Great)

Barracuda (Great)

Dolphin (Mahi Mahi)

Dolphin (Mahi Mahi)

Sailfish

Sailfish

Snapper (Mutton)

Snapper (Mutton)

King Mackerel (Kingfish)

King Mackerel (Kingfish)

Snapper (Yellowtail)

Snapper (Yellowtail)

Amberjack

Amberjack

Tarpon

Tarpon