Key West Tarpon Fishing

Key West Tarpon Fishing

Key West tarpon fishing is the preferred angling experience for fishermen from all over North America and the rest of the world. The tarpon is a fish that truly stands out. In fact, it’s achieved an almost legendary status among fishing experts. They flock to the area every year, just for a chance at landing one of these magnificent game fish.

Huge, powerful, and determined to stay in the water, the tarpon certainly isn’t the easiest catch in the world. But if you’ve got the verve and endurance, Key West tarpon fishing might become one of your favorite ocean activities too.

Getting to Know the Tarpon

The first thing that jumps out about the tarpon is its impressive size. The length and weight of a given tarpon usually depend on its age. As they mature, a tarpon can grow up to anywhere between 5-6feet long. Just as impressively, tarpon typically weighs somewhere in the range of 50-200 pounds. And while much larger tarpon are sometimes spotted, the average weight settles in at somewhere around 100 pounds.

The tarpon’s size alone puts it at the top of the area’s food chain. It also allows them to devour pretty much any other fish that they want. The tarpon’s dominant presence is a big reason why many locals refer to it as ‘The Silver King.’

Its striking appearance has only enhanced the tarpon’s well-earned reputation. The back of a tarpon displays dark hues of bluish green that make them fairly easy to identify for experienced guides. This quick recognition is also helped by the markings on the sides of the tarpon. Here, the dark blues of the back transition quickly to bright silver lines that extend almost all way to the tail.

Usually, tarpon swim in relatively large schools. This means that if you spot one, there are probably many more in the immediate vicinity. And once you actually get a tarpon onto your boat, you’ll discover a mouth that extends upward sharply and gives the tarpon its distinctively ferocious look.

The Ins and Outs of Key West Tarpon Fishing

When going after tarpon, the most important thing is knowing where to find them. Their preferred hunting waters depend on the time of year, but large schools often congregate at the top of the water column in Key West Harbor. You’re most likely to land a tarpon between March and July, but only an experienced guide can predict where they’ll be at a given time of year.

Dropping a chum line is a great way to pique a tarpon’s interest and get them swimming close to your boat. After that, you’ve got a great chance of hooking one with live or dead bait. And that’s when the real battle begins. A tarpon will not come out of the water without a fight, so be ready for an endurance test if you’re serious about landing one.

By now, it’s probably pretty clear why Key West tarpon fishing is known the world over as a thrilling ocean adventure. But in the end, it’s really just something you’ll have to experience firsthand. Contact us today for the most exciting tarpon adventure in the business.

Key West Shark Fishing Charter

The Thrills of Shark Fishing in Key West

It’s impossible to catalog all the wonderful things about deep sea fishing in Key West, but landing a shark is definitely at the top of the list.  But it’s important to keep in mind that there’s more to shark fishing than the myths you’ll see in the movies.

Strangely enough, the reality of shark fishing is actually much more fascinating than the way it’s portrayed in the movies. Requiring a wealth of knowledge, endurance, and great deal of patience, landing a real-life shark is a truly transcendent adventure. It’s not merely a highlight of deep sea fishing in Key West. Looking one of these wonderful beasts from up close has the power to be a life altering experience.

An Overview of Shark Fishing

Fishing for shark can seem intimidating at first and it’s definitely not something to take lightly. But with our experienced and patient captains, your party will emerge from their shark outing safe, exhausted, and satisfied. In other words, they can deliver a memorable fishing experience for anyone who has the fortitude to try it.

There are many opportunities out there for deep sea fishing in Key West, but none are as action packed as targeting sharks with one of our expert guides. They’ll get you engaged with one of the area’s many shark species quicker than anyone. And most importantly of all, they’ll give you and your party the best chance at landing a few.

Deep Sea Fishing in Key West and Popular Shark Species

The terrifying vision of the Jaws movies is a hard one to break, but that doesn’t mean it’s realistic. Yes, sharks can definitely be dangerous creatures. But sharks actually rarely attack humans, and fishing for them is perfectly safe as long as you’ve got the right guide.

There’s another movie misconception about sharks floating around out there, one that diminishes the incredible variety of shark species that exist outside of popular culture. It might seem like there’s only a couple of different sharks in the world, but the truth is actually quite different. In fact, the shark family is as diverse and spectacular as any in the animal kingdom.

Here are just a few of the sharks you can find and catch in the waters around Key West:

  • Lemon sharks
  • Reef Sharks
  • Blacktip Sharks
  • Bull Sharks
  • Hammerhead Sharks

It’s also important to remember that are many variations within the sample presented above. But what you really need to know is that our guides can provide you with shark information on a need to know basis. And while sharks are catch and release only, fishing for them is still an unforgettable experience.

Hopefully, this has helped you understand shark fishing a little better and erased any fears you might have had on the subject. No one’s claiming that landing one of these fascinating fish is an easy thing to do, but it is a safe way to experience some of the best that deep sea fishing in Key West has to offer. Please contact us today to plan your next great expedition. We look forward to hearing from you.

Key West Reef Fishing

Key West Reef Fishing

Some of the most amazing fishing in Key West happens among the huge coral reef structures that beautify its waters. With the right guide, reef fishing can be tranquil and thrilling at one and the same time. This might seem contradictory on the surface, but the great natural beauty of the reefs and the exotic fish that inhabit definitely make it possible. Read on to discover the details about the wonders to be found while reef fishing in Key West.

Reef Fishing in Key West

Some of the most popular target fish love the protection provided by the rocky structures of the Great Florida Reef. This includes fish of every conceivable size, fighting ability, and species. And though reef fishing is not without its challenges, our expert guides can put you onto the adventure of a lifetime.

The stunning beauty of the Great Florida Reef graces the area’s waters beginning near Soldier Key. It then makes an arc that stretches almost 200 miles to the south of Key West. The largest reef in all of North America, the Florida reef has rings on the Gulf and the Atlantic sides of Key West. Taken together, the exquisite features of this massive natural wonder make the ideal backdrop for a veritable angler’s paradise.

The reefs offer some of the best fishing in Key West twelve months out of the year, but they’re especially abundant as the water begins to cool in the north. This usually happens sometime in November, when endless numbers of fish are forced to migrate to the warmer reef waters further south. And while you’ll still need an expert guide to pick just the right spots, this is when reef fishing is at its finest.

What To Expect From Your Reef Fishing Experience

The first thing you need to know about reef fishing is the incredible variety of species you can target during one of our charters. By the time the winter months arrive, you can expect to find a delightful array of both game and table fish in the reef’s different areas. Depending on the time of year and location, our expert captains can help you target delicious food fish like grouper, snapper, and tuna.

And if you’re in the mood to go after something with a little more force behind it, the reefs can accommodate that too. Beginning at the primary reef line– which begins about six miles south of Key West– our captains can put you onto the very best sport fish the area has to offer. These fighting fish include species like amberjack, the African pompano, and sailfish.

But while we list the reef’s table and fame fish separately, it’s not like you have to choose between the two groups beforehand. They mingle freely with one another among the protection of the reefs, and our captains know just know where to find the blend that’s appropriate to your party’s desires. Please contact us today to book a reef fishing adventure you’re not likely to forget.

The Top 5 Types of Key West Fishing Charters

There’s no place in the world with as many fishing options as the beautiful waters of Key West. From offshore and flats fishing to trolling the wrecks and the reefs, this sunny outpost can deliver any type of fishing experience you want. This is what makes the experience well worth the Key West fishing charter prices you’ll pay. It’s also why fishermen from all over the country come to Key West when they’re hungry for high octane fishing adventures.

But with so many options, you’ll need two things to get off to a good start. First, you’ll need to narrow your range of choices a bit. Second, you’ll need equipment, bait, and the right guide. Fortunately, you can accomplish both of these important tasks by getting to know the different types of fishing charters available in Key West. Read on for details about the five most popular types, as well as all the info you need regarding Key West fishing charter prices.

Flats Boat Charters

Flats boats are best for fishermen who want a direct and more traditional fishing experience. Though they’re not designed for everyone, flats boats offer the challenge of a pure fishing adventure to those who are tough enough to handle them. Ideal for fly fishing in the shallow offshore waters of Key West, flats boats satisfy the hunter that lives inside every true fisherman.

In other words, flats boats are not for the casual angler. They have a narrow, minimalist design with a length that ranges from 17-25 feet. During a flats charter, the fishermen typically cast from the bow of the boat while the captain poles the vessel quietly from a platform in the rear. But these challenges pay off for the patient fishermen. The shallows near Key West are rife with exciting species like tarpon, permit, and bonefish. Land a few of these beauties and you’ll see why fishing purists find the challenges inherent to flats boats well worth the trouble.

Bay Boats

Bay boats have become one of the most popular fishing vessels in Key West. Available in a wide array of shapes and sizes, bay boats offer fishermen a number of choices. These choices include amenities like bathrooms and areas of shade. Though similar in some ways to a flats boat, bay boats are typically larger and more comfortable.

Bay boats are extremely versatile. In addition to their use in fishing the flats, you can also use a bay boat to target species in the backcountry waters, as well as around the many reefs and wrecks that characterize the waters around Key West.

The average length of a bay boat is similar to that of its flats counterpart– between 17-25 feet. They’re usually equipped with a more powerful motor than flats boats, but the poling platform at the stern of the boat is very similar. As you’ll see below, bay boats are also similar to flats boats in terms of their Key West fishing charter prices.

Center Console Boats

Another fantastic Key West charter option is a tour on what’s known as a ‘center console’ boat. Just as the name says, the control console is in the middle of the boat, which allows passengers to walk around the boat from stern to bow with little difficulty. More spacious than either a flats or a bay boat, these center console boats can range in length from anywhere between 15-50 feet.

Because of this extra space, many center console boats feature sleeping cabins and can easily accommodate 6 or more passengers. They can also feature bathrooms, showers, and satellite radios. In addition to giving passengers access to many types of deep sea fishing, center console boats are also ideal for snorkeling. As you can see, a center console boat offers a Key West Ocean adventure that fits the entire family.

Light Tackle Fishing

You can experience the thrills of light tackle fishing on a variety of different boats, but they each offer a wide range of fishing and other ocean activities. This, of course, includes the opportunity to land a number of exotic table and game fish. Using light tackle, you can target and catch anything from permit and tarpon to tuna and sailfish, just to name a few.

In addition to the availability of such a high number of fish species, light tackle fishing boats also allow passengers to fish in many different styles. These methods include deep sea, reef, and wreck fishing. Lastly, light tackle fishing lets you drop your line at a number of different depths.

Sport Fishing Charters

Just as the name says, sport fishing charters target the hard fighting game fish that swim in the waters of Key West. These include species like mahi-mahi, amberjack, tuna, and some of the larger shark varieties. Although some sport fishing charters target table fish like grouper and snapper, most tend to focus on the exotic species we mentioned above.

Sport fishing vessels are comfortable with lots of shade. The length of sport fishing boats varies between 25-50 feet, and they’re often decked out with amenities such as a live bait well and an icebox. Sometimes traveling as far as 20 miles offshore, sport fishing charters offer the perfect combination of thrilling fishing adventure and comfort.

Key West Fishing Charter Prices

Now let’s have a look at how much you should expect to pay for each type of charter. The cost of a flats charter depends on the length of the tour and the size of the boat. Flats boats are usually only large enough for between 1-4 people. A four hour (half day) trip will cost you between $400-$550, while a full day, eight-hour trip runs between $600-$800.

The cost of a bay boat charter is similar to that of a flats boat. Depending on the boat, the location, and the duration of the tour, bay boat charters usually cost between $500-$800. With their slightly larger size, bay boats can often accommodate more people than a flats boat, with each extra passenger costing about $50.

Center console boats probably have the widest range of Key West fishing charter prices. With both day and night trips available, a center console charter can cost anywhere from $550-$700 for 6 passengers. But some of the higher end center console boat charters can cost up to $3,000 for an overnight trip.

A light tackle charter offers an intermediate cost between flats boats and center consoles. With many light tackle boats able to accommodate up to six passengers, a charter can cost anywhere from $700-$1,200 dollars.

The costs of sport fishing charters typically range from $800-$1200, depending on the quality of the boat, the number of passengers, and the length of the trip.

Backcountry Fishing

The Florida Keys are a haven for thousands of different species of fish, large and small. This is because the shallow waters surrounding the chain of islands provide a safe habitat for young fish to mature safely before entering the predatorial ocean. These shallow waters are called the flats or the backcountry. Back there, there is a fish for everyone.

Key West Back country Fishing

The backcountry is a water wilderness of its own. Uninhabited mangrove islands provide a thriving ecosystem and the flats house species of fish not found in the open ocean. Surrounding Key West there are several National Wildlife Refuges: Great White Heron Wildlife Refuge, stretching from north of Marathon almost to Key West, Key Deer Wildlife Refuge, surrounding the flats of Big Pine, and Key West National Wildlife Refuge. These parks make for great backcountry fishing.

tarpon fishing 017What fish are back there?

There are upwards of 25 species of fish to be caught year round in the shallow waters of the backcountry. Bigger, predatory fish are not targeted back here, but they can be caught trying to sneak an easy meal of maturing fish, which always provides an extra thrill factor. Fishermen target bonefish, permit, tarpon, redfish, trout, snapper, snook, pompano, black drum, ladyfish, sheepshead, jacks, and barracuda.

While each fish requires a different technique, the element of surprise is key in the shallow waters. Anglers need to get the perfect distance from the fish; too close and the fish will flee, to far away and the fish won’t notice the bait. In the backcountry it’s all about looking for clues and sign a particular fish is in the area. A stir in the water, discoloration of the water due to stirred sediments and breaching are all things fishermen look for in the calm waters.

Backcountry Boats

Backcountry and flats fishermen have special boats called skiffs that draw very little water and are perfect for maneuvering in the shallows. Skiffs are typically between 16 and 20 feet long and can draw as little as 10-12 inches of water. On the stern of these boats is a platform so that fishermen have a higher vantage point to search for fish. Polarized sunglasses are also important to reduce the surface glare on the water. Flats fishermen also make use of a long pole allowing them to cut the engine and push the skiff into even shallower water allowing for an even more heightened element of surprise.

Bait

Fishermen use a variety of bait including live bait and lures. Pilchards are a more popular live bait, but shrimp seem to always do the trick. It’s important to have a good cast in these waters; placement is everything.

For a well-rounded fishing experience with a wide variety of fish, the backcountry really can offer a fish for everyone. It’s also incredibly beautiful, a sight not many get to enjoy, especially if it’s an early morning trip, the calm glassy waters of the backcountry can make anyone fall in love.

Key West Wreck Fishing

Throughout the turquoise waters of the Florida Keys there is a large diversity of saltwater fishing. Among the many types of fishing, one of the big draws is wreck fishing – particularly off the coast of Key West. Over the years upwards of 20 wrecks have gone down in the shallow waters surrounding the island creating artificial reefs that are a haven for fish large and small.

Where did the wrecks come from?

The wrecks surrounding Key West include ships dating back to the 1600’s – old slave ships lost to the perilous sea, ships from WWII era that were lost to mine fields and torpedos during target practice, several ships lost in the hurricane of 1919, and a collection of ships sunk intentionally to create artificial reefs. The ships sunk as artificial reefs provide a new habitat to promote reef growth as well as a structure to provide protection for those fish seeking safety from the open ocean.

What fish are on the wrecks?

In the Atlantic Ocean the wrecks range from all depths, but the better wreck fishing is typically in the 150-250 foot range. On these wrecks fishermen target yellowtail snapper, mutton snapper, grouper and pelagics like sailfish, tuna, mahi-mahi, king mackerel, cero mackerel, sharks and wahoo. In the Gulf the wrecks are in much shallower water ranging from 15-40 feet. On these shallower wrecks fisherman hope to catch cobia, king mackerel permit, gag grouper, red grouper, black grouper, mangrove snapper and sharks. For each species of fish there are different seasons, size requirements, and bait preferences.

Bait

For all wrecks live bait is preferable. Pilchards are great for snapper, grouper, and amberjack. They can be hooked and dropped as bait or more preferably hit against the boat to stun and thrown in the water to sink in a state of glitter and confusion thus attracting big, hungry, curious fish. Pinfish are also advantageous when targeting snapper, mutton, and grouper. They are hooked in the stomach or between the eyes and sent down as live bait. They are bigger and stronger than pilchards and tend to survive longer. Blue runners are good when fishing for pelagic fish, big grouper and sharks. Live blue crab is used when the objective is to snag a permit. Squid is candy to a cobia, but they will also readily go for live shrimp and crabs.

Cobia

In the Gulf of Mexico there are numerous sunken steel barges, some in only 30 feet of water, that always produce good fishing. Cobia tend to hang around these barges and wrecks, and are great fun to catch as they put up a good, typically longer fight. Sometimes they are difficult to catch because of the large number of sharks also hanging around the barges looking for an easy meal. While it can be frustrating to get your catch stolen by a shark, it’s always fun to see!

Getting out to the wrecks is just one of the many ways to fish down here in Key West, but sure to produce a wide variety of fish, hopefully with fights to remember!

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.

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.

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 .