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Top Fishing Charters in Florida Keys

Fishing in Florida Keys

Anglers spend their time in the Florida Keys fishing for the most prestigious game fish on the planet. Many consider this destination to be the “Sportfishing Capital of the World”, and it’s easy to see why. Here you’ll find all the ingredients for world class angling, whether you’re a fan of light tackle action, deep dropping, or anything in between.

What Makes the Keys Special

This tropical archipelago is made up of 42 islands and connecting bridges, spanning more than 100 miles in total. Running parallel to the Keys is an underwater mountain chain and one of the largest coral reefs in the world. With access to the Atlantic Ocean, Florida Bay, the Everglades, and the Gulf of Mexico, anglers here are spoiled for choice.

Inshore, you can fish the flats for Bonefish, Tarpon, and Permit (otherwise known as a Florida Grand Slam). Or head to the Everglades and the Backcountry of Florida Bay, where you’ll find everything from Redfish and Speckled Trout to Cobia.

Running along the Atlantic side of the Keys is the Florida Reef, the only living coral reef in the continental U.S.. An average of 4 miles offshore, this is the final barrier between the Keys and the Atlantic Ocean. Anglers enjoy fishing here for Snapper, Grouper, and the occasional big game fish who wander close to shore.

Just beyond the Florida Reef lies the Bluewater, where you’ll encounter deep sea predators just 5-10 miles offshore. Around 20 miles out, the seafloor runs as deep as 2,000 feet in some areas. Marlin, Wahoo, Sailfish, Mahi Mahi, King Mackerel, and Tuna make these waters their home at various seasons. Deep dropping out here will also bring you a wide variety of exotic bottom fish and the occasional Swordfish.

For the best deep sea fishing in the Florida Keys, anglers head about 25 miles offshore to The Humps, an underwater mountain chain rising thousands of feet above the seafloor. This dramatic topography triggers a natural upwelling of nutrient rich waters, attracting all of Florida’s favorite big game fish.

Best Fishing Spots in The Keys

The Florida Keys unlock some of the finest fishing in the world. With over 40 islands to choose from and clear, blue waters everywhere you look, it’s hard to know where to start. Not to worry—we’ve done the hard work for you. Here’s our list of top picks, from Key Largo to Key West.

Key Largo

The largest of the islands and closest to mainland Florida, Key Largo gives you access to the Everglades National Park, renowned for some of the best light tackle fishing in Florida. This maze of creeks and islands is home to Redfish, Speckled Trout, Snook, Tarpon, Bonefish, and much more.
 
Key Largo also boasts stellar Tarpon fishing on the flats. Look for these Silver Kings in March and April, when the area is swarming with them. You might also spot a few later in spring hanging around local bridges.

On the other hand, big game fishing awaits just 5 miles offshore, where you’ll find Marlin, Sailfish, Wahoo, and more.


Islamorada

Islamorada has long been hailed as one of the world’s top game fishing destinations. Pride runs deep in these waters, where historic marinas are lined with world class sportfishing boats. It's no surprise, then, that this is where you'll find some of the best Florida Keys fishing charters.
 
Similar to Key Largo, Islamorada gives you access to the Everglades as well as the Atlantic, making it hard to choose between the prizes inshore and the ones offshore. In particular, this island is known for producing the biggest Bonefish in the Keys.

Islamorada is also known for some of the best Swordfishing in the world. Pursuing this prize will take you 25-45 miles offshore, deep dropping in up to 2,000 feet of water. It’s possible to catch a Swordfish any time of year, but the most productive months here tend to be May through November.

Until the early 2000’s, most Swordfishing was done at night. It was a crew out of Islamorada’s very own Bud n’ Mary’s Marina which pioneered daytime Swordfishing in 2003, and it has been increasingly popular ever since.

Marathon

Some of the best Tarpon fishing in the Keys can be found near Marathon, underneath the Seven Mile and Bahia Honda bridges. The Silver King passes through here by the thousands, sending light tackle and fly fishermen over the moon.

For an offshore adventure, head to the Marathon Humps, just a 30-minute boat ride away. Bring out the heavy tackle, cause this is where you’ll reel in the likes of Marlin, Sailfish, Tuna, Wahoo, Mahi Mahi, and monster Sharks such as Makos and Great Whites.

Past the Marathon Humps, about 30 miles offshore, stands Floyd’s Wall. Here the seafloor takes a dive, plummeting 1,500 feet below. This area makes for excellent Swordfishing.

Big Pine Key

Fishing just south of Big Pine Key is the closest you can get to fishing in the Caribbean without actually going there. Local flats and inshore waterways are teeming with Tarpon, Bonefish, Permit, Snook, and more. Of course, if you came for the Silver King, best to head toward the Bahia Honda Bridge.

More than a gateway to the lower Keys, Big Pine is also the gateway to some massive Shark and big game fishing. Dropping lines offshore in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico is not for the faint of heart.

Key West

Perched at the very tip of this island chain is Key West, a destination which comes with some very special highlights (even by Florida Keys standards). It was here that famous author and angler Ernest Hemingway made his home from 1931-1939.

No stranger to sportfishing, Hemingway greatly enjoyed fishing in the Keys. Some even credit him as a pioneer of local deep sea fishing, claiming he was among the first to hook into Marlin, Sailfish, and other big game fish near The Humps.

Key West and the Marquesas Keys 26 miles beyond are also known for Shark fishing. Actually, this is the place for Shark fishing. You can hook into a variety of species here, near shore and far, some of them reaching over 1,000 lbs in size. Fights last from 20 minutes to an hour, so bring your A game.

70 miles to the west lies the Dry Tortugas National Park, a smattering of islands where many charter boats go for good bottom fishing. While you can find day trips to the Dry Tortugas, it’s more common to book an overnight charter, since this leaves plenty of time for fishing once you arrive.

Florida Keys Fishing Types

Flats Fishing

Fishing the flats is all about stealth. Whether you’re fly fishing or spinning with light tackle, the only way to catch Bonefish and Permit is by sneaking up on them. Use an 8 or 9-weight outfit if fly fishing for these elusive prizes.
 
Experienced anglers relish sight casting for Bonefish, Tarpon, and certain other species on the flats.

Reef fishing

You might use a wide variety of techniques while fishing the Florida Reef and patch reefs inshore. Bottom fishing is the primary method of catching Snapper and Grouper. While targeting other species near the reefs—such as Barracuda, Cobia, and the odd Sailfish—you might also troll, sight cast, or even kite fish.

Big game fishing

While trolling the Bluewater you might land any big game species from Marlin, Sailfish, and Wahoo to Tuna. Fishermen in the Keys draw Tuna and Kingfish to the boat by chumming live Pilchards before casting a bait into the feeding frenzy.

It’s common to target Mahi Mahi near floating debris or weedlines, since this is where they feed. However, blind trolling can sometimes cause this fish to appear out of nowhere. Far from picky, Mahi will bite live bait, jigs, or chunks of bait.

In the shallow waters of the Keys, anglers sometimes target “showering” Sailfish. This involves casting a live bait into a pack of Sailfish as they feed on Ballyhoo. The Ballyhoo jump out of the water and splash around, creating a showering effect.

Deep Dropping

Deep dropping in water hundreds (or even thousands) of feet deep can produce some of the Keys’ most mysterious fish. Many anglers use an electric reel for this method, since it will save your arm a whole lot of work.

Species commonly caught while deep dropping here include Queen Snapper, Barrel Fish, Tilefish, Yellow Edge Grouper, and Snowy Grouper. This method is also used to target Swordfish.

Need to Know

All licensed fishing charters in the Keys provide a Florida fishing license for their customers.
 
While you’re likely to catch many species in these waters year-round, some of them are not always legal to keep. Tarpon, Bonefish, and Permit are strictly catch and release. Red Snapper and certain Grouper species are highly regulated and the open seasons for these fish can change from year to year.

You can stay up to date on Florida fishing regulations for these species and more online.
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Florida Keys Fishing Seasons

Average temperatures in the Keys are around 70°F in January. Bonefish and Permit will be biting on the flats so long as a cold front doesn’t scare them off. Offshore, it's time for the annual Key Largo Sailfish Challenge.

February is a great time to fish inshore for Redfish, Permit, Sharks, and Barracuda. Offshore, you’ll catch Sailfish and Kingfish. For a mixed bag and some guaranteed success, try hitting a few reefs close to shore.

Tourist season hits full swing in the Keys by March. The waters will be just as crowded, with Tarpon making their entrance inshore while Tuna, Wahoo, and Mahi Mahi occupy the deep sea.

The backcountry is loaded with Tarpon, Redfish, Cobia, Jack Crevalle, Sharks, and much more at this time of year. Meanwhile, the deep sea if full of Wahoo, Tuna, large Mahi, and Marlin.

Flats and backcountry fishing are all the rage, with Tarpon taking center stage. Offshore, anglers are gearing up for the Florida Keys Dolphin Championship, the largest Mahi Mahi fishing tournament in the world. 

Florida Keys flats fishing is spectacular in June. By now, the Grouper season is open in both Atlantic and Gulf waters, so get ready to fill your freezer! Offshore, you’ll hook into Tuna, Wahoo, and Marlin.

July keeps anglers busy with competitions like the Poor Boys Tarpon Fly Tournament and the Bacardi Key West Marlin Tournament. With clear waters and fair weather, this is an ideal time for long runs offshore.

Come August, things tend to quiet down in the Keys. Lobster season will be opening soon, and crustacean lovers everywhere are invited to come and celebrate at the Annual Key West Lobsterfest.

Fall is one of the best times for flats fishing in the Keys, with Bonefish, Barracuda, Snook, Redfish, and more biting vigorously. The reefs are bustling with Snapper, Grouper, and other bottom fish. 

Many guides in the Keys take a vacation in October, so be sure to book a charter months ahead if you plan on fishing. Inshore fishing is outstanding in autumn, while winter game fish are arriving offshore.

November marks the beginning of The Key West Fishing Tournament, one of the most popular fishing tournaments in the Keys. This event lasts 8 months, open to anglers of any age or skill level.

Winter is a great time to set your sights on offshore big game fishing, with Kingfish, Sailfish, and Blackfin Tuna reaching their peak seasons. Or try fishing the flats between cold fronts. 

Florida Keys Fishing Calendar

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What People Are Saying About Florida Keys

"Full Day on Southpaw"

Joseph Smiesko fished with Southpaw Fishing Charters on November 10, 2018

Book with Southpaw, best money you can spend and enjoy your day.

"Full Day with Captain Jayme"

Will Omalley fished with Sea Time Sport Fishing Charters on November 10, 2018

Remember it's "fishing" not "catching". But the weather is hot, the beer is cold, and the times are great!

"Fishing with Island Girl"

Tom Dudas fished with Island Girl Islamorada on November 5, 2018

be flexible fish for what is available to catch

"Fishing the Flats"

Armando Parra fished with Zoned In Charters on November 3, 2018

Catch and Release! Keep the resource for future generations. Pictures are your treasure

Top Types of Fishing in Florida Keys

  1. Flats Fishing

Top Fishing Techniques in Florida Keys

  1. Deep Sea Fishing
  2. Fly Fishing

Top Targeted Species in Florida Keys

Tarpon

Snapper (Mangrove)

Dolphin (Mahi Mahi)

Permit

Top Florida Keys Destinations