Key West Fishing
A slice of angler's paradise

 

Key West fishing is the place to go, for all the exciting angling action you've been dreaming of!

Why go all the way to Key West to fish? For starters, the weather is just beautiful; the temperature varies only about 12 degrees from season to season all year long, so you can't beat the consistency of the sub-tropical climate.

If the beautiful weather isn't enough to convince you, consider the sheer variety of available fish, the plentiful fishing locations to choose from in the waters surrounding the small island of Key West, and the different styles of fishing you can use to go after a particularly enticing game fish.


Photographer:Loulouphotos | Agency: Dreamstime.com
Pretty beach for surf fishing in Key West
Fish in Key West on a beautiful beach

With so many options, Key West fishing has something special to offer everyone in your group, no matter what their level of expertise might be.

Some of that wide variety of fish you can cast for around the Key West area are sailfish, marlin, and shark...plus loads of tarpon and dolphin (mahi mahi), too. There's many more kinds of fish you'll enjoy landing; this is just a small taste of the Key West fishing variety.




Key West fishing: lots of fish variety


Key West fishing is naturally excellent, in part due to the location of the key, which has the distinction of being situated where the Gulf stream, coming in from the Gulf of Mexico, meets and mixes with the Atlantic Ocean. The diversity of these waters makes for productive Key West fishing all year long.

Photographer: johntrainor | CC Lic
Dolphin fish
Key West fishing may land you a nice dolphin fish

For example, Florida Keys dolphin fishing is spectactular in the summer. (You'll hear the dolphin fish referred to by the locals with nicknames like mahi-mahi and dorado). The dolphin fish is an awesome fighter that puts on a show, weighing on average from 5 to 30 or 40 pounds, or more.

Be sure to save some of your catch for dinner, as the dolphin is an excellent meal. However, if you're too tired to cook, after sportfishing all day long, the local restaurants turn your catch into your dinner, along with a side dish or two, too. Nothing beats savoring your angling victory along with each bite of dinner.

If you like shark fishing, Key West fishing explodes with shark action. Tiger, Bull, and Hammerhead sharks top the list of available shark species found in Key West waters.

Take a look at a shark fishing video; Several couples, out with Tenacity Guide Service, reel in shark after shark in the flats off Key West, in only three feet of water ...



Sharks like the lemon sharks in the above video are plentiful enough during the day, but the shark action gets even more intense at night when you fish in Key West.


Credit: Rob Stegmann | Agency: Dreamstime.com
Tarpon fishing in Key West
Fish in Key West for tarpon

Complete your Key West fishing trip with a jaunt in search of tarpon. The great silver king is well-respected by anglers as the mightiest shallow water fighter, anywhere.

Picture a six-foot, over 150 pound silver giant rocketing out of the water twisting and shaking with all its considerable might. It's not a fight you'll soon win - or forget.

Landing a tarpon is top-gun Key West fishing action at its best. Some tarpon are found year-round in the Keys, but the serious action picks up beginning in March and grows monthly through July, as the tarpon make their annual migration to Key West during their spawning season. Florida Key tarpon fishing can even be done from some Key West piers and bridges, even by the most junior angler.

Now that we've talked, a little, about some of the more popular fish in Key West waters, you might want to know when the best time is for Key West fishing...


Key West fishing: deepsea and inshore fishing seasons

FISH JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
Tuna X X X X X X X
Amberjack X X X X X X X X X
Sailfish X X X X X X X X X X
Kingfish X X X X X X
Wahoo X X X X X X X X
Barracuda X X X X X X
Shark X X X X X X X
Cobia X X X X X X
Permit X X X X X X X
Snapper X X X X X
Dorado X X X X X
Grouper X X X X
Tarpon X X X X

(An 'X' means that's a good time to fish for that species!)



We mentioned flats fishing above - if you'll recall, those sharks were landed in only about 3 feet of water. Flats fishing means fishing that is done in shallow inland waters, and Key West is a popular destination for some fine flats fishing .




Key West fishing in the flats


Some 20 miles of seemingly endless expanses of flats, found in the protected shallow waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, bring many anglers in hot pursuit of the ultimate thrill of landing the Key West fishing "Grand Slam": Tarpon, Bonefish, and Permit.

Key West fishing in the surounding flats is best described as a mixture of hunting and fishing. This is a type of fishing you really cannot do by yourself, but with your buddy or your guide to push your boat through the shallow waters with a pole while keeping a watchful eye out for your prey, you sneak up on the fish and get as close as you can before launching a precision cast towards your prize. The bonefish is especially tricky to catch as they are hard to spot and lightning fast.

Some anglers even wade out in the flats since the water is shallow enough to do so... Use conventional gear, or even try fly fishing. Your flats fishing trip depends upon your ability to visually spot the fish, to get quietly get close enough to cast (especially bonefish!), to precisely place your cast, and the stamina to skillfully play the fish for as long as it takes during its long runs over the flats.


Photographer: L'eau Bleue | CC License
Flats fishing at night in Key West
Heading out for night time flats fishing


Shark and barracuda are also plentiful in the flats. Other popular fish are most abundant in the flats during certain months:


Key West Fishing: flats fishing seasons

FISH JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
Bonefish X X X X X
Barracuda X X X X
Cobia X X X X
Shark X X
Permit X X X X X X X
Tarpon X X X X X


(An 'X' means that's a good time to fish the flats for that species!)



We've talked about the why, what, when, and a little bit about where to go fish in Key West.

Now, let's talk some more about the where and how - besides the flats, where else can you find the best Key West fishing spots? and, how will you get there?




Key West fishing: find boat ramps and marinas


Boating is a big part of Florida fishing vacations in the Keys. Whether you trailer your boat for Key West fishing in your own boat, or travel there in your boat, you'll need to know where to go to put in, gas up, tie up, and get supplies.

Boat ramps

  • Smathers Beach boat ramp: About a half-mile east of the White Street Pier, the longest public beach in Key West also has concessions, restrooms, and assorted items for rent. At Mile Marker 7.
  • Stock Island wayside boat ramp: Found off Highway 1 at Mile Marker 5, on Stock Island. Open 24 hours, 1 paved lane, no fee.
  • Shark Key wayside boat ramp: At Mile Marker 11 on Highway 1, in the town of Big Coppitt Key. Open 24 hours, 1 paved lane, no fee.
  • 11th Street Boat Ramp: In Key West, at the south end of 11th Street. Open 24 hours, paved lane, no fee.
  • Simonton Beach Park Boat Ramp: Single unpaved ramp at the north end of Simonton Street in Key West. No fee, open 7am - 11pm. Docks and parking available.
  • Gulf View Park Boat Ramp: Paved ramp, parking available, no fee, open 24 hours. On Big Coppitt Key at Del Mar Boulevard and Barcelona Drive.

Beachfront Solutions | CC LicenseBoats docked at a Key West Marina
Boats docked at a marina in Key West


Marinas

  • Key West Bight Marina: 33 transient slips can handle boats up to 140 feet in length. 20 acre facility in the heart of the historic seaport, with plenty of shopping and restaurants within walking distance. Amenities include round-the-clock security, laundry, pump-out, showers, cable and wi-fi available, water, ice, phone, trash removal, power (30, 50,or 100 amp). Call for more information at (305) 809-3983.
    Latitude 24-33.743 N , Longitude 081-48.065 W
  • City Marina at Garrison Bight: 30 transient slips can accommodate vessels up to 70 feet long. Many of the other 250 slips are devoted to a live aboard boat community; the famous Charter Boat Row, providing exciting Key West fishing action, began calling this marina home back in the 1930's. Amenities include bath/showers, pump-out, onsite laundry, wi-fi, water, power (30 & 50 amp), trash removal, and trailer storage. Call (305) 809-3981 for details.
    Latitude 24-33.606 N, Longitude 81-47.054 W
  • Conch Harbor Marina: Hours are 7am - 6pm daily. In Old Town within walking distance of Duval Street; can handle vessels up to 195 feet in length. On-site pool and restaurants. Nightly and monthly slip rentals. (305)294-2933
    Latitude 24-56.17082 N, Longitude 81-79.89254 W
  • Key West Yacht Club: Reciprocal policy with other Yacht Club of America members. For non-members, 67 slips available for vessels up to 58-foot maximum length, and 6 dinghy dock spaces for boats 18 foot or less in length. (305)896-5775
    Latitude 24-56.1869 N, Longitude 81-77.9048 W
  • Westin Key West Marina: Part of the West Key West Resort, the marina has 37 slips that can hold boats up to 200 feet long, with electric and water hookups. 305-294-4000
    Latitude 24-55.80948 N, Longitude 81-80.69274 W



Key West fishing from piers


Many folks come to the Keys with their own boat, while others book a Key West fishing trip with a charter. However, if you prefer to stick to dry land to do your fishing, that's okay, too; Key West does have a couple of nice piers where you can fish.


White Street Pier

Photographer: theo0023 | CC License
White Street fishing pier
Fish in Key West at the White Street pier

Sandwiched between two public beaches, the fishing pier on White Street is on the Atlantic Ocean side of Key West. Nearby 16-acre Higgs Beach provides swimming, restrooms, concessions and a cafe, a dog park, playground, and beach volleyball to enjoy before or after you fish from the pier.

Harvey Rest Beach park, on the pier's east side, is smaller that Higgs Beach but is a quieter place to picnic and watch the sunset.



South Beach Park Pier

Photographer: joevare | CC License
South Beach fishing pier
South Beach fishing pier, Key West

Less than a mile west of the White Street Pier, on the Atlantic side of Key West, is South Beach Park with its concrete fishing pier.

An interesting fact about this pier is that it's just a short block away from the corner of Whitehead and South streets, the farthest point south you can go fish and still be in the United States.







Key West fishing: Wrecks and reefs


Take your boat out to fish around sunken wrecks in the deeper waters around the Keys. Ranging from 15 to 35 miles or more out, assorted ship wrecks rest at depths ranging from just over a dozen feet, to over 400 feet down. On the Gulf side, wreck fishing is great for permit, cobia, snapper, sharks, and grouper.

Atlantic side wrecks usually rest in deeper water; larger amberjack, grouper, cobia, bonita, cobia, and lots of others provide superior Key West fishing action.



Photo credit: U.S. Navy
German U-boat circa 1946
The German U-Boat, U-2513, pictured in 1946; used for target practice in 1951.




Wreck and artificial reef fishing can be quite productive; different varieties run hot at various times. Chum and live bait to turn the action red-hot and non-stop!

Key West fishing opportunities are ample at many of the thousands of reef patches all the way out to the Dry Tortugas, which lie about 70 miles west of Key West. Plenty of reefs aren't fished very often, so the fish at the reefs are always jumpin'.

Reefs offer up about the same variety of fish as the wrecks. A bonus to wreck and reef fishing is to happen upon a shrimp boat on your way out to the wrecks and reefs, to take advantage of the large schools of fish that congregate around the shrimp boats.


Wrecks

  • U.S.S. Amesbury: also known to locals as Alexander's Wreck, the 306 foot ship rests in 25 feet of water. The decommissioned destroyer was grounded while being towed by Alexander's Marine Service, and subsequently broke apart during a storm shortly after. Latitude: 24 36.97 N, Longitude: 81 58.91 W

  • Araby Maid: a schooner 195 feet in length, sank in 1903 after a collision and rests at a 204 foot depth. Latitude: 24 43.831 N, Longitude: 83 28.955 W

  • Rhein: A 453 ft long German freighter that was sunk during WWII, lies 250 feet deep. Latitude: 25 56.116 N, Longitude: 83 30.601 W

  • Tanker Wreck: (no details). Latitude: 24 33.63 N, Longitude: 82 42.37 W

  • U-2513 German U Boat: built during WWII, the 252-foot long ship was sunk in 1951 as part of a target practice exercise by the USS Robert A. Owens; the U boat rests at a 214 feet depth. Latitude: , Longitude:

Sinking of the U.S.S. General Hoyt S. Vandenberg
The sinking of the U.S.S. General Hoyt S. Vandenberg


Artifical reefs

  • General Hoyt S. Vandenberg Reef: U.S.S. General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, a massive 10-story tall, 524-foot long military vessel first commissioned back in 1943, was scuttled in 2009 to become the second-largest artificial reef in the world. The ship rests upright at a 140-foot depth. Latitude: 24 45.995 N, Longitude: 81 73.6467 W

  • Key West Tournament Reef: Barge and heavy still lying at a depth of 205 feet.
    Latitude: 24 25.673 N, Longitude 81 45.584 W

  • Joe's Tug: a 90-foot tugboat resting 60 feet deep.
    Latitude: 24 27.85 N, Longitude: 81 44.27 W

  • Big Pine Reef: 80 feet deep, modules and concrete A frames.
    Latitude: 24 32.509 N, Longitude: 81 19.419 W

  • U.S.S. Saufley: a 337-foot former navy vessel, the ship rests 420 feet below the surface. Latitude: 24 26.942 N, Longitude: 81 34.974 W

  • Adolphus Busch Sr: the 210-foot freigher lies 100 feet deep.
    Latitude: 24 31.841 N, Longitude: 81 27.688 W

  • Stargazer Reef: only 13 feet deep, composed of steel sculptures.
    Latitude: 24 27.3 N, Longitude: 81 52 W



Key West fishing at state and national parks


Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park


Photo credit: Florida State Parks
Fishing at Fort Zacharty Taylor
Fish off Fort Taylor's stony point

Be sure to make time for a visit to Fort Zachary Taylor while you're in sampling the Key West fishing during your Florida fishing vacations. Found on the far western end of Key West, the fort, dating back to the 1840's, is a National Historic Landmark.

Originally built to protect Key West Harbor, fort, named for the twelfth President of the United States, remained active throughout the Civil War and for many years after, until 1947.

Today, the 87-acre Fort Zachary Taylor Historic Park is a popular destination for history buffs, beach lovers, and anglers alike.

Take a tour of the fort to see the largest U.S. collection of Civil War-era cannons and other remnants from times past.

Swim and play in the beautiful emerald waters off the park's large beach....

...Or spend the day fishing from the rocky point at historic Fort Zachary Taylor park.

You'll cast into a 33-foot depth in the entrance to Key West Harbor for a variety of species including the prized tarpon, cobia, permit, and sharks.


You'll also be in just about the best spot to enjoy Key West fishing while also catching a breathtaking sunset, complete with sailboat, schooner, and tour boat silhouettes on the harbor's horizon.

What else is there to do at Fort Taylor park?

Photo credit: Florida State Parks
Aerial view, Ft Zachary Taylor
Fort Taylor aerial view

  • * Annual Pirate Fest: Each December, Fort Zachary Taylor re-enacts life in times past at the remote outpost

  • * Wildlife viewing: Part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, the park is a stopping place for migratory birds. Ask the park rangers for a list of birds to look for.

  • * Bicycle or hiking trails: Several trails give great views of wildlife, the moat surrounding the fort, and shipping lanes.

  • * Snorkeling: Weather and water conditions permitting, get close to the abundant fish and coral just off the beach. Snorkeling gear can be rented at the concession/gift shop.

  • * Concessions: Grab a bite and enjoy the view from the deck at the park's restaurant. You can also rent beach chairs and umbrellas.

Showers and restrooms are provided for park visitors. Expect to pay a small admission fee; daily fort tours begin at noon.

For more information, view a park brochure and map.




Did you know that Key West isn't the last of the Florida Keys? It's just where the road ends. There's more islands to fish around that are found north and west of Key West, but you can't drive there; these smaller islands, or keys, that are included in the Florida Keys Nationial Wildlife Refuges, can be reached only by boat.

If you're boatless and want to fish the waters around these numerous keys, Key West fishing charters can give you a ride out to help you find the best fishing spots.

More remote keys some 70 miles from Key West, the Dry Tortugas, can also reached by seaplane if your only interest is sightseeing (see below for more about Tortugas National Park).


Key West National Wildlife Refuge


For excellent Key West fishing opportunities, you may want to spend some time exploring the waters of the many small islands north and west of Key West that are included in the National Wildlife Refuge system in the Keys.

With over 200,000 acres of marine waters within just the Key West portion of the refuge, you can spend many hours exploring the flats and Gulf waters within the boundaries of the refuge.

To get to Key West, Florida, for fishing vacations, you'll drive down Highway 1; be sure to make a stop at the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuge Visitor's Center on Big Pine Key for more information about fishing within the refuge, or call 305-872-0774. (see the map above for the Visitor Center location)


Photo credit: usfwshq | CC License
Key West National Wildlife Refuge is popular with anglers
Lots of exciting fishing action found in the Key West National Wildlife Refuge



Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge (NWR)

Stretching across nearly 200,000 acres in the waters north of the Keys, from Marathon to Key West, the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge has over 7,000 acres of islands to fish around.

Like the rest of the Florida Keys NWR, Great White Heron NWR is accessible only by watercraft.

The waters of the both the Florida Keys and Great White Heron NWR are referred to as "the backcountry" by Keys locals. Not quite so shallow as the flats, the backcountry is a beautiful, breathtaking blending of flats and mangrove islands, to the north and west of the Keys, and offers outstanding opportunities to fish near Key West.

The mangroves lining many of the islands shelter species like tarpon, permit, barracuda, snapper, and sharks, plus lots of other great sport fish. During the height of tarpon season, the backcountry is your best chance of getting one of these big fighters.


Photo credit: Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuge
Great White Heron NWR
Explore the sub-tropical waters of the Key West or Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge


If you want the action and excitement of shallow water fishing without the technical aspects of flats fishing, then your Key West fishing trip is more suited for the backcountry. There's no poling involved; just set up along the edges of channels to ambush your prey. Another great thing about both flats and backcountry fishing is the calmer water; it's almost like fishing on a lake back home, and the chance of rough water is very slim.

Flats and backcountry fishing, found in the generous marine acreage of both the Key West and the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuges, are ideal for the novice angler.

Learn more about the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuge system by viewing a NWR brochure and maps.


Dry Tortugas National Park

If you've ever watched any of Disney's Pirates of the Caribean movies, you might recall Captain Jack Sparrow taking his beloved Black Pearl (or any other ship he could get his hands on) for the occasional hazardous journey to the Tortugas.

While the Pirate movies are just for fun, the dangers for sailing ships passing by the Tortugas were once very real; literally hundreds of shipwrecks can be found in the beautiful, yet oftentimes deadly, waters of the Dry Tortugas National Park.

From east to west, the seven small keys of the Dry Tortugas National Park are named East Key, Middle Key, Hospital Key, Long Key, Bush Key, Garden Key, and Loggerhead Key.


Photo credit: Dominic Sherony | CC License
The view from Fort Jefferson on Garden Key
Looking towards Bush Key from the top of historic Fort Jefferson on Garden Key

The keys of the Dry Tortugas, the final western land of the Florida Keys, are about 70 miles from the end of the road in Key West; because of the remote location, the surrounding waters aren't fished as often as those farther east, and are consequently teeming with marine life.

The Dry Tortugas has long been considered a strategic location by the various powers that have claimed them over the centuries. The Tortugas are found where the Atlantic, the western Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico coverge. The waters near the Tortugas became a well-traveled shipping channel, but because of the dangerously shallow waters, were the site of numerous shipwrecks over the years.

A few of the better-known Tortugas wrecks are highlighted in the map above; popular with divers and anglers alike, the wrecks provide cover for many varieties of game fish.

Key West to the Tortugas requires a roughly 2 1/2 boat ride; but the angler's reward for making the trip is some smoking fishing action. While you're there, you may want drop anchor, go ashore, and tour the historic Fort; or just go for a swim, paddle a kayak, or snorkel among wrecks and reefs in the beautiful, clear, blue-green waters.


Photo credit: National Park Service
Fort Jefferson aerial view
Aerial shot of Fort Jefferson

Garden Key, open 24 hours a day, is home to Fort Jefferson, which dates back to the latter part of the 1800's. The fort is also open year-round to tour during daylight hours, from sunrise to sunset. The lighthouse there isn't open to the public, but does make for a scenic background shot of your visit.

Another picturesque lighthouse is found on Loggerhead Key; like the one on Garden Key, this lighthouse isn't open to the public.


Photo credit: National Park Service
Lighthouse on Loggerhead Key
Loggerhead Key's lighthouse

For the adventurous, limited, primitive camping in available for a small fee on Garden Key. Bring everything you need, even water, for the night as there are no facilities other than toilets.

As mentioned before, the Tortugas are accessible only by boat or seaplane. If you want to book a Key West fishing charter to take you to the Tortugas, you'll need to hire one that has a special permit to provide tours to the national park.

If you plan to arrive by private boat, like the campers you need to bring everything you need with you, including fresh water. You may drop anchor overnight in designated waters only, which are within 1 nautical mile of the harbor light at Fort Jefferson on Garden Key.

Boat slips are provided on a first-come, first-serve basis for the purpose of loading and unloading camping gear, or to tour Fort Jefferson. There's a two-hour limit on slip usage in the busy harbor.

Private boats and recreational boats (including kayaks) within the waters of the park need a free boat permit, which you can get on VHF Marine Radio Channel 16, or see any park ranger for a boat permit. If you're just traveling straight through the waters of the park, a boat permit isn't necessary.

View a map of the Dry Tortugas, and brochure regarding boat permits and mooring buoys within the park.

For more information, call the Dry Tortugas National Park office at 305-242-7700, or view a park brochure to learn about fishing regulations within the park.







Key West fishing: Other great Florida Keys destinations


Marathon - some of the best fishing spots in the Florida Keys are found in the waters surrounding Marathon, including nearby Bahia Honda State Park, which is found a short 15-minute drive south of Marathon. If you like wrestling with a fighting fish for a good, long time, try Marathon for red-hot tarpon action.

Islamorada - a great place to launch deep-sea fishing expeditions from. Islamorada is known as the sportfishing capital of the world, and is home to many fishing tournaments like the world-class Islamorada Sailfish Tournament held in late November-early December.

Key Largo - Only a 90-minute drive from Miami International Airport, Key Largo fishing offers up supreme flats and backcountry fishing for both the novice and the veteran angler.



   
   
 
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