It was Ernest Hemingway who popularized deep sea fishing in the Florida Keys. More than just a wordsmith, Hemingway was also an avid fisherman who made his home in Key West during the 1930’s. Legend has it that he would sail through the Gulf Stream on his way to visit a lady friend in Havana, often hooking into Marlin and other big game fish en route.

Hemingway wasn’t the first to fish these offshore waters (and certainly not the last), but his stories have inspired many an angler over the years. Visitors from far and wide make their way to the Keys to follow in his footsteps, heading out into the Atlantic or up into the Gulf of Mexico.   

What to Catch and When to Target it

Deep sea fishing in the Keys is fantastic no matter where you set sail. The offshore waters running all the way from Key Largo to Key West host Blue Marlin, Sailfish, Blackfin and Yellowfin Tuna, Wahoo, Mahi Mahi, Amberjack, King Mackerel, Swordfish and a variety of enchanting Snapper and Grouper species.

Winter is one of the best seasons for deep sea fishing on the Atlantic side. In November, Sailfish, Tuna, and King Mackerel start showing up offshore, peaking between December and February. As these species start fading out in spring, they’re replaced by Mahi Mahi, followed by Blue Marlin in June. Anglers tend to catch more Swordfish during summer, too.

You can find Snapper and Grouper at any time of year. Wahoo hang around most of the time, changing location between debris in the open water and the reefs close to shore. December through February is a good time to target them on the reefs, then they move offshore from spring until August.

Florida Keys Deep Sea Fishing Hot Spots

The Bluewater
One reason why deep sea fishing on the Atlantic side of the Keys is so spectacular is the fact that you can find many of these big game predators close to shore, just 4 or 5 miles out. This means possibly landing a massive catch in just several hours!
 
The Bluewater comes right up to the Florida Reef, which acts as a long, natural barrier between the Keys and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s not uncommon to find Sailfish, Mahi Mahi, and other large predators checking out the action here.

The Gulf Stream
Roughly 10-20 miles offshore runs the Gulf Stream, a vast underwater current responsible for carrying big game fish all the way up Florida’s east coast and beyond. Depending on the time of year, you’ll find any number of big game fish around here including Wahoo, Mahi Mahi, Sailfish, and Marlin. To fish the deepest water around, however, you’ll need to sail just a little bit farther.

The Humps
About 25-30 miles offshore are The Humps, a chain of underwater mountains running alongside the Keys. Out here, you’re truly fishing the deep sea, with waters running as deep as thousands of feet. These mountains cause an upwelling of nutrient-rich water, drawing baitfish and their predators toward them.

Fishing at The Humps will bring you Sailfish, Amberjack, Tuna, and Blue Marlin like the one that Hemingway immortalized in The Old Man and the Sea. The deep surrounding waters also see “slammer” Mahi Mahi (70+ lbs).

Floyd’s Wall
If you’re fishing out of Marathon, keep heading past The Humps until you hit Floyd’s Wall. Here the seafloor makes a sudden drop of 1,500 feet, an ideal location for Swordfishing. 
 
If this infamous Billfish is at the top of your list, it’s worth heading to Islamorada—home to some of the best Swordfishing in the world.

The Gulf of Mexico
Some trips heading out of the lower Keys also present the option to head up into the Gulf of Mexico. Here you’ll find many of the same species, but it takes a lot more time to find them. If you do intend to fish the Gulf, plan on booking a full day or extended day trip, sometime between spring and fall when most species reach their peak season here.

How to Fish

Florida Keys deep sea fishing employs a variety of tactics. Trolling is the primary method used for fast-swimming pelagics like Sailfish, Marlin, Tuna, Wahoo, King Mackerel, and Mahi Mahi. Depending on your target species, live bait, cut bait, and lures can all get the job done.

Anglers here also chum for Blackfin Tuna and Kings near The Humps. Charter boats head off with 500-1,000 lbs of live Pilchards, which are chucked into the sea to draw these predators to the boat. Once you have their interest, cast a baited hook into the feeding frenzy.

If you’re up for reeling in a mystery, try deep dropping in water about 1,000 feet deep (between 25 and 45 miles out). This will bring you a wide variety of bottom fish including massive Snapper, Grouper, and Tilefish. This method will also help you catch a Swordfish. Traditionally, deep dropping is done at night, but daytime trips have been increasingly popular over the past decade.

Florida Keys

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Top Targeted Deep Sea Fishing Species in Florida Keys

Dolphin (Mahi Mahi)

Sailfish

Wahoo

Amberjack

What People Are Saying About Deep Sea Fishing in Florida Keys

"Full day with Irish Cowboy"

Shawn Granger fished with Cowboy Charters - Irish Cowboy on July 29, 2018

Tom and AJ gave us a great ride! Took four great Americans from the SWUFO group and had an awesome day. For us old guys I’d go again, they have electric deep rigs on every boat that makes deep fishing a pleasant experience compared to the wire out forearms from other charters I’ve done! Fish we these guys you can’t go wrong and they do it RIGHT!

"Morning fishing with Captain Don and Mate Shawn"

Rose Lee fished with High Stakes Charters on July 23, 2018

Excellent morning of deep sea fishing. Caught enough Wahoo and Mahi mahi to feed six of us and to eat for a week straight. We caught a prize winner Wahoo- 60 pounder!! The captain and mate were friendly, knowledgeable and great to hang out with. High Stakes Charter is worth every penny!! Thanks for a perfect half day of fishing.

"Half Day Trip"

Hannah Daniel fished with Sea Time Sport Fishing Charters on July 22, 2018

This was a great experience! 100% recommend Sea Time Sports Fishing. They went above and beyond to put us on some fish. It was our first time deep sea fishing and it definitely will not be the last.

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