Yellowtail Snapper

Yellowtail Snapper – Fishing Key West

Yellowtail snapper are a sought after food fish in the Florida Keys. They are common all around the Keys but are primarily fished for on the reef and deep wrecks. Although keepers are caught all over the bigger snapper are primarily caught in deeper water, 40-120 feet. When people fish for yellowtails they usually chum very heavily. It’s not uncommon to go thru chum box every hour or so. Essentially this causes the yellowtails to line up behind the boat; you then drift back small baits to them. Depending on the current and depth of the water, a small jig head or split shot will the help the bait get down. Baits for yellowtails are usually cut fish such as ballyhoo or bonito, shrimp or live pilchards. Yellowtails are often line shy and it pays to use as light line as possible often using a long fluorocarbon leader. Sometimes you will have to drift your bait far out behind the boat before you hit them, so be prepared with a reel that hold a good length of line.

On the deeper wrecks larger yellowtail will often eat whole small to medium sized ballyhoo, and the before mentioned baits.

Triple Tail

Triple Tail – Fishing In Key West

Triple tail are common offshore fish and can often be found shadowing floating debris offshore. They are fun to catch and eat, but sometimes they get lock jaw. When that occurs, they won’t eat anything. They will eat live and dead bait, and they will often swim at the boat to check and see if it is a better piece of debris to live under.

Scorpion Fish

Scorpion Fish – Key West Fish

Spotted Scorpion fish, not usually caught on purpose. They have poison spines so handle with care.


Sailfish – Deep Sea Fishing Key West

Sailfish are considered one of the most sought after game fish in the Florida Keys. They are occasionally caught year round in the waters around the keys but the best time to fish for them in winter months. Sailfish run in small groups and singles and tend to congregate just outside the reef line in the winter. They can be caught trolling but most people in the Keys fish for sailfish with live large pilchards or ballyhoo. They either drift or slow troll around the edge of the reef and over wrecks that located in water beyond where the reef drops off.

Best tackle in my opinion would be a spinning reel loaded with 20 pound line, then a few feet of 50 pound fluorocarbon leader, and then a 7/0 or 8/0 circle hook.

Sailfish are known for making great runs and numerous leaps in the air when hooked. They tend to hunt by sight and its is pretty important that your bait is swimming strongly and will react when it sees the sailfish coming. A really weak or dying bait tends not to work as well in any fishing, but even more in the case of sailfish.

Rainbow Runner

Rainbow Runner- Fishing Charters Key West

Rainbow Runners are in the jack family and are often encountered offshore or past the edge of the reef. They are fun to catch on light tackle, and like other jacks an OK eating fish. They eat small live baits and pieces of cut bait drifted in the current.

Pinfish, Sea Bream

Pinfish and Sea bream are common around the Florida Keys. They make ok live baits but probably not the best. Larger aggressive fish will eat them, pretty eagerly such as Tarpon, sharks, grouper, bluefish and jacks. They can usually be purchased at local bait shops for around a buck a piece, they are hardy and will live in pocket with an aerator no problem.

Pinfish – Key West Bait fish

But most people don’t buy them from bait shops, they are really easy to catch anywhere there is thick sea grass, especially on the bay side. All you do to catch pinfish is throw a block of chum in the water around the grass and wait a little bit. If none show up in 10 minutes move. You will see them running around all over in the chum slick. For the most part they are masters at avoiding cast nets, except maybe if you are out in Florida Bay where they get so thick it looks like you can walk on them. Most people just use a small hook and a small piece of bait; you just free line the bait into the chum slick and bam you got pinfish.


Permit – Fishing Trips Key West

Permit are often targeted on the flats and are known for the spookiness and difficulty to catch. They also school over wrecks where they are not as difficult to catch. They are known for the their fighting ability. They are part of the jack family and are relatively common on the flats, reef and as mentioned earlier wrecks of the keys. They are a pretty fish, and pretty good to eat too, even if it’s not politically correct to eat them in the Florida Keys. The Permit’s preferred food is crab and crustaceans

Nurse Shark

Nurse sharks are primarily considered junk fish, but if you are on vacation here and don’t usually catch them they can still be a blast. They are very weak fighters; they don’t really make runs like other sharks, they just try to stick to the bottom. The thing that is interesting about them, is that they get huge they seem to average around 5 feet long, but its common to hook huge ones pushing 8-10 feet long. If you are used to catching freshwater fish, the sheer size of fish will make them interesting to catch. Once you have caught a few though, the novelty sort of wears off. They are common to catch on the patch reef and shallower reef edges. They have a tendency to hit grouper baits and have been often a cause for disappointment while fishing for grouper. Nurse sharks are common all around the Florida Keys and probably are one of the most common sharks.

Nurse Shark – Charter Fishing In Key West

The Florida Bay is chock full of them, and they have the tendency to keep hitting baits even once they have been caught once. Actually, all sharks do this sometimes but nurse sharks are particularly persistent. They will keep coming back and hitting the same bait over and over again. They will readily eat live and dead bait, anything fished on the bottom. Sometimes to avoid them while shark fishing you can suspend the baits off the bottom, except one time I have a blue runner on a cork , and no lie a 6 foot nurse shark ate it and jumped fully out of the water. I wish I had gotten a picture of it because no one will probably believe me.

Mutton Snappper

Mutton Snapper – Key West Fishing Trips

Mutton snappers are common everywhere in Florida Keys reef. They live around the patch reefs when smaller and tend be in deeper water when they get larger. They are excellent to eat and excellent fighters. They are common up to 15 pounds but are caught larger then that. The big ones will often hit large live baits fished on the bottom, but in shallower water they will take baits off the surface. They like to eat ballyhoo, pilchards, small pinfish, shrimp and cut bait.

Mangrove Snapper

Mangrove – Fishing Key West Florida

Mangrove snappers or grey snapper are common everywhere in the Florida Keys. They average less then 4 pounds and are great eating and fighting fish. They eat smaller live baits such as pilchards and pinfish, shrimp and also cut bait. They can be found around mangroves, on the reef and even in the grass in Florida Bay. Best tackle for them would be 12 – 20 pound test spinning gear. I usually use small jigs to catch them.