Florida Keys Bridge Fishing

Florida Keys Bridge Fishing Guide for Tourists

Probably the cheapest way to fish in the Florida Keys is from one of the many bridges. All along the keys on Highway One there are bridges, most of which are closed to traffic where one can fish. They are mostly part of the old Highway One , although there are some other small bridges off of Highway One from which fishing is allowed. To be honest most bridge fishing trips will not compare to a trip to the reef or many other places in a boat. It’s not that the bridges don’t have tons of fish around them, they do, it’s just that everywhere that’s accessible for free gets lots of traffic and angling pressure. So you have to work harder.

Fish commonly caught from the bridges include snapper, grouper, barracuda, grunts and pretty much at one time or another every other fish in the area. The bridges create breaks in the massive current that runs between the Atlantic Ocean and Florida Bay/ Gulf of Mexico. Around the base of many of the the old bridges, there are piles of old construction materials because back when they were built, workers would just throw any used material or junk into the water. All the this debris on the bottom creates a great fish habitat. If you take a snorkel mask and jump in at the base of one of these bridges you will see what I mean, thousands of small fish school around the pilings and rock walls around the base of the bridges, along with crabs and other small sea creatures. All these small fish attract larger fish and so on.

Seven Mile Bridge

For fishing tackle around the bridges you are most likely going to need 20 lbs test line or greater. You may have to dead lift a fish from 12-20 feet down, also it’s very easy to get snagged fishing from the bridges so, heavier line will be helpful. You may want some poles with lighter line for catching bait, and some bridges have areas around the base that you can walk to the water’s edge and cast from. More serious bridge fisherman bring a bridge landing net, which is sort of like a basket at the end of a rope, they lower to the water to scoop up larger fish they catch, fish that would break the line if hoisted from the water on fishing line alone.

For bait most anglers use dead cut bait, cut-up fish, squid or pieces of shrimp. This can be purchased at local tackle shops, but don’t buy frozen shrimp, frozen shrimp sucks, dead fresh shrimp is much better. As in any fishing, live bait will often work better then dead. Probably the ideal bait for fishing the bridges would be a small pilchard around 2-3 inches long, but pilchards can be a pain the neck to find even when you have a boat and know the area. Sometimes though sardines school up around the base of the bridges but that is only around the end of summer in September and August and even then it’s hit and miss. I would recommend buying a couple dozen fresh shrimp, then using small hooks to catch some non-game fish species like a grunt (there will be tons of them) then cut the grunt up for cut bait.

As for rigging your tackle I would suggest using jigs if you can reach the bottom with them in the current. Just a small 1/4-1/2 ounce jig head tipped with a piece of shrimp or cut fish will work well. The water at the base of the bridges is pretty shallow, less then 20 feet, usually around 10 feet, but the force of the current will be considerable. If your jigs won’t sink quickly enough due to the current, a slip sinker rig will work well. Tie your hook to a few feet of line (if you want to get fancy fluorocarbon leader), then to a swivel. Then run your line thru a 1-3 ounce egg sinker, and tie it to the swivel. You want to use as little weight as possible, just enough to hold the bottom. For hooks there are a ton of little fish at the base of bridges who will peck away at your baits. So you can either just enjoy having your bait stolen time after time, while you wait for a bigger fish or you can use smaller hooks. Now I would recommend mustad live bait hooks, in sizes 3-7. They are small but they have a heavy shank, so if you do hook that big fish, they won’t bend like most small hooks.

yellowtail snapper
Baby Yellowtail , good to eat but have to be over 12 inches

Now something most visitors don’t know about fishing the bridges: you can greatly increase the action by chumming from the bridge. Some hardcore bridge fishers think that this attracts too many junk little fish, but if you are reading this then most likely you are not one of them. Anyway’s what you do is buy a couple blocks of commercial chum (it’s sold all over the place in the Keys), get a chum sack, and some small diameter rope. Then just put the chum in the sack and tie the rop to it and lower it to the water. In 10 minutes you will have a big party behind the chum sack. Tons of small fish will be swarming the chum, and if you are lucky some larger fish too. The trick can be to get the baits past the tiny bait stealers that show up.

Which bridges to fish? Well in my opinion the farther you get from Miami the better. I have had much better luck fishing the bridges in the lower keys than bridges around Key Largo. The bigger bridges are going to have more chances at catching more types of fish. Like you could pretty much catch anything off the 7 mile bridge, but if you pick a small bridge without a huge amount of water flowing under it, you will more likely just catch snapper and grunts.

Key West Flats and Backcountry Fishing

Key West Flats and Backcountry Fishing

Surrounding many parts of the Florida Keys are shallow saltwater flats. These flats tend to either have sea grass and a soft bottom or are hard rock bottom. Depending on the tide different fish swim up on these flats to look for food, and various other fish follow them up there. Flats fishing is usually sight fishing, which is more like hunting. The guide poles the boat from a platform in the rear of the boat and looks for fish in the distance and directs the angler were to cast to target the fish. It requires more casting skill then other types of fishing, since you need to have the ability to land the bait in the path of fish swimming the flats. Primarily fish targeted on the flats are Bonefish, Permit, Tarpon, Sharks and Barracuda. Sharks and Barracuda are considered lesser of flats fish because they are much easier to catch and don’t have the fighting abilities of the other fish, but in foot deep water they can still be a blast.

Backcountry Fishing is a loose term used to describe fishing north of the Keys. In the upper Keys the Everglades National Park is north of the Keys and consists of huge shallow water bays surrounded by mangroves. The area is a fish garden of Eden and massive amounts of fish make up the ecosystem. Fish common in the Everglades are Sea Trout, Snook , Mangrove Snapper, Redfish, Jew Fish and sharks. Sea trout are a commonly targeted fish in the Everglades by the guides out of Islamorada. They school up and are caught by the dozen in some sections of the Everglades Park.

Catching Bait in the Florida Keys

Catching Bait in the Florida Keys

Buying Bait in the Florida Keys

Probably the most common way to get bait in the keys for visitors is buying it at the local store. They sell some sort of bait at all sorts of stores in the Keys, you can buy bait in the grocery store if you want to. Generally you have your frozen baits which will include frozen shrimp, ballyhoo, mullet, squid and pilchards. Frozen bait is generally considered the worst of baits, except for squid which is pretty much always frozen. I would avoid most frozen baits except for squid, usually if you have squid you can catch small fish and then in turn use them to catch smaller fish to use for live bait or cut bait.

The live baits for sale in the tackle shops are usually finger mullet, shrimp, blue crabs and pinfish, sometimes pilchards, blue runners or goggle eyes. The last 3 are pretty rare though, although I am sure there are some shops that have them consistently, and if you read this and know of some email me and I will list them on here. Generally live baits are going to cost at least a buck a piece, and definitely have aerator or oxygen tablets to keep those puppies alive till you get the boat.

Fresh dead baits are good to buy also, fresh dead pilchards and ballyhoo make great baits, cut up or whole, and you can get a lot more weight for your buck

Catching Bait

Well probably one of the most important parts of fishing is catching bait. In the Florida Keys there are serveral main fish that are used for baits. Essentially bait can be broken down by size, there are baits that tend to be used for for big fish and baits for smaller fish.

The Larger baits would include Blue Runners, Ballyhoo, Speedos and Bonito. Live bonito are general used for catching Marlin and are bitch to keep alive, and frankly catching Marlin is out of my league, so I won’t be writing much about them.

Smaller Baits would consist of Pilchards, Sardines, Pinfish and Pigfish and glass minnows.

Pretty much catching bait consist of chumming them up to get them near the back of the boat and then either cast netting or hooking them with small hooks. Most larger baits will out run a net and really the only larger bait you will catch with a cast net is Ballyhoo. You will die of exhaustion before you catch blue runner or speedos in a cast net. For small hooks to use for Ballyhoo and Blue runners I have found Gamaktsu Size six hooks blow cheaper mustad or eagle claw hooks. I can’t even begin to say what a difference those little hooks have made.

For chum just plain commercial menhaden chum works fine, really trick is to find the spot where the bait is. Pretty much the best places to catch most baits will be on the bay side, around creeks and grass beds. Just look for healthy thick sea grass in 3-7 feet of water. As long as there is a little current, put you chum sack in and usually within 10 minutes there will be a bunch of something behind the boat. Usually pinfish but possibly pilchards and/or blue runners. If a mass of small pilchards show up you will need to cast net them, if they are bigger you can hair hook them or net them. Pinfish can be cast netted if they are really balled up behind the boat or with a net that fall really fast but usually people catch them with a small hook and split shot. And when I say small I mean really tiny like tiny 12 hooks they use to catch brook trout up north.

On the ocean side it is much more hit and miss, and to catch ballyhoo and speedos you will have to explore the reef and find a spot. depending on the time of year the ballyhoo can be really easy to find. Speedos are always more work.

Another way to catch bait is with a pinfish trap. This is really actually pretty fun, you just fill this trap with some sort of bait, like fish carcass or even the remnants of chum sack, throw it in the water and wait a few hours or over night and next thing you have trap filled with crabs and pinfish. Sounds great doesn’t it? Well it is pretty fun to pull the trap and see what you got , the only problem is that people steal the traps. It’s a great feeling when you load trap full of dolphin carcasses and throw it out on a grass flat, get there early the next day ready to pull the trap and head offshore to fish for dolphin , and low and behold the trap is gone.

Key West Offshore Fishing

Offshore Fishing in Key West

There are so many amazing types of Key West fishing trips that it can sometime be difficult to choose between them. The good news is that there’s no wrong way to fish the beautiful waters of Key West, especially if you have the right guide. Also known as ‘Blue Water fishing,’ offshore fishing is one of the many great choices you can make.

Key West offers some of the most thrilling offshore fishing action in the country. Much of this is due to location. Key West fishing trips offer access to both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, and it’s this very centrality that gives offshore fishing its trademark diversity. Continue reading to discover more about the truly unique experience of offshore fishing in Key West.

An Overview of Offshore Fishing in Key West

Trolling is the most commonly used method for successful offshore fishing expeditions in Key West. This is because a slow-moving boat gives you the best vantage point for finding the floating debris where offshore fish tend to congregate. This debris can include anything from garbage and weed lines to barrels, tree limbs, and floating pallets.

Essentially, this floating debris provides shelter for hundreds of small fish. And whenever you find small fish, you can bet that bigger fish aren’t far away. The smaller species that seek refuge in piles of offshore debris pretty much guarantee that you’ll have plenty of larger beauties to target.

Trolling is one of the only constants involved in offshore fishing. Your choice of tackle, bait, etc. will depend on the time of year, your desired targets, and a variety of other factors. This is where offshore fishing can seem a little bit daunting– too many choices can be very confusing. That’s why it’s best to use an experienced guide to lead your offshore fishing trip.

Why Offshore Fishing is The Highlight of So Many Key West Fishing Trips

Although offshore fishing isn’t always easy for the beginner, it’s definitely well worth the challenge. And with one of our experienced guides leading the way, even the first time fisherman can bring in quite a haul after a short time out on the water.

One of the main reasons that offshore fishing is so rewarding is the sheer variety of species you can target. These species include hard fighting species like sailfish, marlin, and wahoo. The challenge of catching one of these ferocious beauties is one of the things that keeps expert fishermen returning to Key West year after year.

In addition to these magnificent sport fish, offshore fishing offers a bounty of delicious food fish as well. The mahi mahi (also known as the dolphin fish) is one of the most popular targets in the blue offshore waters around Key West. Taken together, the Mahi Mahi’s size, beauty, and delicious flavor make it the perfect offshore fish.

Offshore Key West fishing trips can land you other delicious table fish as well. In addition to the mahi mahi, offshore fishing also presents opportunities for species like bonito, mackerel, and several varieties of tuna. As you can see, offshore fishing in Key West is great for both thrill seeking and catching tonight’s dinner!

You and your entire party are guaranteed to have a wonderful day out fishing the offshore waters. Contact us today to arrange for the ideal guide to your trip.

Florida Keys Reef and Wreck Fishing

Florida Keys Reef and Wreck Fishing

If you want lots of action, a variety of fish, in a variety of sizes and meat for the table, then reef and wreck fishing is for you. Personally, it is my favorite type of fishing, I love bottom fishing and depending on the depth of water you often have a shot at many different pelagic species also. Anchor up on a deep reef or wreck and you never know what type of fish you could catch, everything from grunts to sailfish and wahoo.

Really the key to this fishing is the spots, finding the spots and anchoring up and lining the boat up right. Some extra time dropping and re-dropping the anchor, is worth the effort since you have to make sure you are either up current or right over the structure holding fish. As someone visiting the Keys and maybe fishing from a rental boat you may have to rely on published GPS coordinates to find spots because it can take quite a bit time drifting around to run into the good spots but those are best ones, the ones not everyone knows about. Anyways get a copy of a top spot chart. They sell them at most bait and tackle stores in the Florida Keys. They will have enough stuff to get started on, and enough to last you through your vacation.

Depending on what you’re fishing for, you are going to want to fish in depths from 20-200 feet. Quite a range isn’t it. Really personally I try to target structures that are in 50 to 150 feet of water. If you fish shallower water you are going to tend to get a lot of small fish, which is great if you are new to fishing here, or if you are fishing with kids, or other people who just want a lot of action. Fishing the shallower water you are going to get a lot of grunts and short snapper and grouper, but you will often get some barracuda and in the winter cero and Spanish mackerel. A 20-pound barracuda will blow your mind on light spinning tackle if you are used to fishing fresh water. For the first year I fished here I primarily fished the shallower rocks and patch reefs. It took me over a year to get sick of it, get a bigger boat and move out deeper. As you move out past the 50-foot mark, you will start to catch larger fish but not as many as you would on the patch reef. As you move out into water 80 feet and up you will tend to start getting larger pelagic fish along with bottom dwelling fish. In deeper waters depending on the time of year and location, it’s common to hook King Mackerel, Sailfish, Wahoo, Cobia, and Bonito while wreck fishing.

And that’s what I really like about wreck and reef fishing. You can fish a variety of baits in a variety of ways and target a variety of fish. Lots of chances for action. Usually, what I do depending on what type of baits I have, I try to keep a bait on the surface, and a large bait right on the bottom, and then usually a smaller bait usually free lined in the current. I use primarily ballyhoo, blue runners and if I can get them, pilchards. I try to keep them alive but dead ballyhoo or a blue runner works very well, cut open so it spreads a scent.

What fishing tackle to use would really kind of depend on which type of fishing you are doing and the depth. Mostly in the shallow water, you can get away with using 30# test on the bottom and 12# for freelining snapper baits, 12# spinning gear is also great for catching barracudas and cero and Spanish mackerel and smaller jacks, all of which are common on the shallower reefs. When using mono for a bottom fishing rig, you can slide the line thru the sinker and to a swivel and the have your leader after that but don’t use this rig on braided line. Once you move into deep water you will want to use heavier tackle for the bottom. 50 pound test line is really the minimum test I would use once you get into waters over 75 feet, personally I use Shimano 6500 spooled with 50 pound test Stren super braid or Penn senator spooled with 80 -100 pound test ande mono, I also use 80-120 pound test leader but don’t use a thru sinker rig to attach it. I have found that the thru sinker rig will cause break offs on braid especially when using heavier weights. For a bottom rig with braid or heavier weights use one of these

Its called a 3way barrel swivel, you can order them by clicking the picture, you attach your main link to the top of the one swivel, then you take a small length of lighter line and attach your sinker beneath it, then run your leader and bait of the perpendicular swivel. This rig works great for big fish on braided line, and if you get your sinker caught on something you can break it off and not lose your rig.

Some of this tackle may seem over the top for the average grouper or snapper, but if you fish big baits or heck any baits around the deeper rocks and wreck, there is very good chance you will run into a monster and it will take gear like this to bring them up.

For hooks I have started using mostly circles, I use gamakatsu circle 4x 8/0 circles hooks and Rapala 8/0 circles (mostly because I got a deal on ebay) , gamakatsu octopus hooks are great too but when fishing the heavy gear they don’t seem to have a heavy enough shank, the regular mustad live bait hooks have a good shank but come dull out of the package, but they do make a more expensive sharper hook.

For fishing mid column and the surface I would use spinning rods with 12-20# pound test, you can use 12 pound for freelining baits back and its fun to catch trigger fish and snapper on light tackle but you will lose a fair number of fish, by either them breaking you off, or predator fish snatching your hooked fish. Also with the 20-pound test, if a fat tuna or bar jack grab the bait you will have a chance of landing them.

Florida Keys Patch Reef Fishing Guide for Tourists

Well if you have made the leap to renting a boat for your vacation in the Florida Keys, or even if you are just renting it for a day and you want to catch a bunch of fish, the first stop should be the patch reefs. Along the Florida Keys barrier reef there are tons of spots to fish, usually with a few minutes drive from shore. Between the Main reef and shore, there are smaller “patch” reefs, they are usually in water less the twenty feet and are easily spottable, as long as there is even a little sunlight.

The small reefs are essentially coral forests, often surrounded by grassy soft bottom. They are a magnet for fish. Actually snorkeling them quick before you start fishing can be a blast and actually is pretty useful to see what’s hanging around them. I recommend the patch reefs to visiting vacationers because they are easy to find, visible to the eye, which is good because a lot rental boats don’t have gps. They tend to be protected by the barrier reef so the water around them tends not to be so rough when the wind is blowing, and they hold a ton of fish, mostly smaller fish but a ton nevertheless. They are perfect for taking kids fishing, or for first-timers. The patches are full of snapper, grunts, grouper (but mostly undersized) and depending on the time of year ciro and spanish mackerel (fall/winter).

Mangrove Snapper

For fishing tackle, I would say bring a couple of rods and reels spooled with line ranging from 12 – 20-pound test. Really 20-pound line is the best for this fishing all around. It’s fun to catch the smaller fish on smaller gear but you will end up losing a lot around the coral. Also, the occasional grouper will bite, and you have very little chance of pulling even a small grouper up on light line.

For bait, use jigs tipped with cut fish or shrimp. When you go to the patch reefs bring some hair hooks, tiny hooks. Usually, you can catch small bait fish like Ballyhoo on the patch reefs. Ballyhoo are small beaked bait fish, ranging from about 7 – 14 inches long. They are very common on the patch reefs and make great bait live or dead. Ballyhoo can be netted but if you don’t know how to throw a net, a very small hook with a little piece of meat on it will catch them.

Now to really get the bite going on the shallow reefs it pays to chum them up, so bring a couple of boxes of commercial menhaden chump, or glass minnows. Honestly, with a bunch of chum on the shallow reef you are almost guaranteed to catch something, if you chum enough, maybe not the fish of a lifetime but something.

Marathon Florida Fishing

Marathon Florida Fishing

Marathon, Florida is located right in the middle of the Florida Keys and is home to the seven mile birdge. Marathon has great access to Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. It also has a bunch of great wrecks and offshore fishing. It does not have the same access to the Everglades as Islamorada and Key Largo but there are still a ton of great fishing spots. The seven mile bridge is a favorite fishing spot for Tarpon in the spring and snapper year round. There are a bunch of structures out in the Florida Bay north of the 7 mile bridge which hold a ton of fish. In colder months that bay is packed with Mackerel and Bluefish, and it is a great place to fish when the wind is howling .

Big Pine Key Fishing

Big Pine Key Fishing

Big Pine Key and the lower keys are located between Marathon and Key West in the southern end of the Florida Keys. The areas around Big Pine Key are a maze of mangrove islands and channels, and are great for back country fishing . It has direct access to the gulf of Mexico to the north and the atlantic to the south. There are ton of bridges of varying sizes to fish including Bahia Honda bridge which is famous for tarpon fishing in the spring and summer. There are numerous wrecks on the atlantic side, and also the looe Key Sanctuary which you cannot fish but is supposed to be one of the best snorkeling spots in the country.

The are a bunch of great campgrounds in the big pine key area like the Big Pine Key Fishing lodge and the Bahia Honda state campground both have great boat access and fishing access from shore.

Sprigger Bank Fishing

Sprigger Bank Fishing

Sprigger Bank is located on the eastern edge of Florida Bay, next to the border of the Everglades National Park. The Bank and the surrounding areas are teeming with fish and it definitely a spot worth checking out if you have your boat or rental boat in the area. Sprigger Bank is located almost due north of the Long Key Bridge.

In the warmer months there are many mangrove snappers, baby jewfish and baby gag groupers, sea trout and of course catfish galore. In the winter months those same species are there but are sort of eclipsed by the massive numbers of blue fish, Spanish Mackerel and tons of sharks.

Usually I fish with 12 pound spinning rods using small jigs tipped with cut fish or shrimp for the small fish, a pinfish out on cork, and then usually a shark bait with a big steel leader, on a big spinning reel loaded with 50 pound test braid.

Islamorada Fishing

Islamorada Fishing

Islamorada is considered the sportfishing capital of the world. More fishing records have been set there then anywhere else. Located in the middle Keys it has access to probably the most diverse environments to fish in. It is a short ride into the Everglades Park for spetacular backcountry fishing, it’s located where the Florda Bay opens up to north, it has saltwater flats for sight fishing the flats, and it has numerous deep water wrecks and reefs and offshore humps. Plus, the gulf strean is usually just a short dive from shore. Pretty every type of saltwater fishing for every type of saltwater species is a short drive away.

Feeding the Tarpon at Robbies

Islamorada boasts a huge charter fishing fleet. You can charter a boat for pretty much every type of fishing, and there are numerous marinas. If you’re coming to rent a boat check out robbies. They have cheap boat rentals and you can feed the tarpon out of your hands. You will also want to check out the World Wide Sportsman which I can pretty much guarantee will be the best fishing tackle store you have ever seen.

Worldwide sportsman

There are a lot of hotels with dock access so bringing your own boat is not a problem. There are a ton of wrecks off of Islamorada and the Florida Bay has numerous banks which are full of fish. If you are here in the winter months I highly recommend heading out to sprigger bank on the edge of the Everglades. Bring a bunch of chum and you will have snapper, mackerel, bluefish, and a shark bonanaza. They may not be the most sought after fish but you will catch fish literally till your arms are tired, so bring a bunch of steel leader and check it out.

There is a bunch of bridge and shore access in Islamorada, so just keep your eyes open along the highway, and you will see plenty of spots to pull off.

Mosquito Bank and Basin Hill Shoals

Mosquito Bank and Basin Hill Shoals

Two popular patch reefs in the Key Largo Area are Mosquito Banks and Basin Hill Shoal. They are both a short distance from the Pennekamp State Park boat rentals and boat launch. Both reef areas hold tons of fish but are both much better fishing in the winter months. They are also great places to catch bait all year round. Both places are usually loaded with ballyhoo and Basin Hill Shoals in the warmer months is a great place to catch small blue runners.

Both reefs are great on windy days, especially Basin Hill shoals if the wind is blowing from the east. It is very common if you are coming here on vacation in the months of December to February for the wind to be howling. So knowing some sheltered spots where you can at least catch dinner is a good thing.

To get to Mosquito Bank from Pennekamp and Key Largo sound you just head out what is know as south creek, just look for a short tower to the south, it marks the inland side of the patches. Pretty much even if the wind is howling you will be able to see the patches . I would suggest find a deep edge a little outside the patches to fish. Otherwise you will be smothered in tiny grunts.

To get to Basin Hill shoals you will go out of “north creek” from Key Largo Sound and head north east following the shore. You will see a short tower after you have been driving for a minute. This marks the inland side of the shoals, and pretty much you will see the patches all to the ocean side of that tower. Now the beauty of the shoals is that 1 foot area you see to the east of shoals, this will pretty much kill the waves coming from the east, so even a the windiest day the water is pretty comfortable inside of that bank.

For tips on how to fish these shallow reefs please check out the reef fishing page