Looking for the best fishing spots in the Florida Keys? Here’s an in-depth guide.



 

The sky is the limit when it comes to fishing the Florida Keys. In just under half an hour, you can get from the skinny waters of inshore flats to deep offshore canyons. These fisheries are teeming with game fish and table fare, every step of the way. And what’s great is that you don’t have to be a hardcore angler to go home with a bag full of catch. Here is a rundown of some of the best fishing spots in the Keys. Make sure to add them to your itinerary next time you visit!

Key West flats: Bonefish bonanza

There are many reasons that make Key West one of the most popular spots in the Straits of Florida. It has a rich cultural heritage and buzzing nightlife, and it’s popular among families with kids. The city offers numerous seafood restaurants, beaches, various outdoors activities and landmark buildings. But there’s one thing that beats all of this: fishing.

Key West is surrounded by a vast surface of flats that are home to bonefish, permit, and tarpon. You can start your vacation by scouting the flats and doing a bit of sight fishing, then switch to the fly. Fly anglers travel far and wide to enjoy the world-class fishing here year after year. To get to the secret spots with big fish, it’s best you pair up with a local guide.

Above: A barracuda caught in a Cudjoe Key channel. Right: A grouper caught at the Marqesas Keys. FISHING BOOKER / COURTESY PHOTOS

Above: A barracuda caught in a Cudjoe Key channel. Right: A grouper caught at the Marqesas Keys. FISHING BOOKER / COURTESY PHOTOS

And that’s not all. Key West lies just 80 miles north of Cuba. Many anglers decide to hire a deep-sea charter to take them fishing in Cuban waters. Multi-day trip, anyone?

Key West’s skinny waters fish for snook, tarpon, permit, lemon shark and yellowtail snapper. You won’t find choppy seas here, only calm waters with fish.

If you want to try something that’s essentially Key West, then book a fishing trip on a small flats boat. Snook, permit, and tarpon swarm these spots. They are easily spooked, so you’ll want to be as quiet as possible.

So, what will that look like? Your fishing guide will stand on a casting platform and use a long pole to steer the boat. He or she will spot the fish from the platform and tell you when to make the cast. At the same time, you’ll be standing on the bow, reeling in one fish after the other.

 

The Marquesas Keys: Bottom fishing at its best

Before you head east to explore the other riches of the Florida Keys, there’s one more thing to check off your bucket list. Just 20 miles west of Key West lies a group of uninhabited mangrove islands that form the Marquesas Keys. These islands don’t have a lot to offer to city lovers but are amazing when it comes to fishing.

The water depth around the rock piles on the east side of the islands is between 15 and 30 feet. These patches of rocky bottoms are home to a great number of snapper and grouper.

You will be pulling up fish every two minutes and they will almost always be keepers. Head a couple of miles northwest of the island. You will find rocks scattered across the otherwise sandy bottom. This is where the big fish are.

Bringing in a tarpon near the Bahia Honda Bridge. FISHING BOOKER / COURTESY PHOTO

Bringing in a tarpon near the Bahia Honda Bridge. FISHING BOOKER / COURTESY PHOTO

Mutton and pink snapper, red and gag grouper are the most frequent catches. But you will often hook into king mackerel, yellowtail snapper, barracuda and sharks.

If your friends think fishing is boring, boy will bottom fishing around the Marquesas Keys prove them wrong. There is simply no waiting around here. The rods will be bending, as hungry fish bust up your bait. Use small minnows, pinfish, sardines, squid, and mullet for the best results.

A trip to the Marquesas is another truly local thing to do. If you’re traveling with kids, this fishing trip is a great starting point for them. The fish are there in the water ready to take your bait. You won’t have to chum the bait to heat things up — the fishing is on fire.

Sugarloaf Key Islands’ backcountry fisheries

Let’s change pace a bit! After you feast on flaky snapper meat in the Marquesas, head east to the Sugarloaf Keys. Here you will find a maze of mangrove cuts, flats and creeks rich in fish. It’s scenic, it’s quiet and there are plenty of fish.

You can explore these waters from a skiff, or if you aren’t afraid of working out, you can hop into a kayak or canoe. If it’s windy offshore, you can always catch fish around these sheltered channels.

Most of these mangrove cuts are only a couple of feet deep. Every now and then you will come across some deeper holes, up to depths of 20 feet. Before you head into these meandering mangrove cuts, fish for pilchards on the flats.

Here you will find clear waters, so you can sight fish for snook, tarpon and permit. You can also run into jack crevalle, bonnethead sharks and some snapper. Stock up on squid and pinfish, and you should have no trouble getting the bite.

The Cudjoe Key channels are fit for a king

Each island in the Florida Keys has good fishing opportunities. Some places attract most of the anglers who look for tried and proven fishing spots. But you should also try the spots that don’t make it to the headlines. The channels of Cudjoe Key hold some of the best fishing in the Keys. You won’t regret coming here.

Non-local anglers often overlook these flats, mangrove islands and channels. But you shouldn’t, as you can reel in snapper, grouper, bonefish, permit, tarpon and jacks.

These channels are often shallow, so great for sight fishing. You might come across deep, wide cuts where sunken boats and other debris make for a hot fishing spot.

Plus, these mangrove islands and rich vegetation protect the channels from the wind. This means you’ll be able to get out even when other spots are not accessible.

You can go drift fishing near the shoreline or sight fishing around the flats. Its calm waters make the Cudjoe Key channels popular among kayak anglers. Rent a ‘yak and explore the murky deep waters.

Your best bait here are mullet, crab, and shrimp. They are a food of choice for all the game fish around. If you like action, these channels will give you a chase to remember. Sharks and barracuda often forage these waters. Get ready!

Each island in the Florida Keys has good fishing opportunities. Some places attract most of the anglers who look for tried and proven fishing spots. But you should also try the spots that don’t make it to the headlines. The channels of Cudjoe Key hold some of the best fishing in the Keys. You won’t regret coming here.

Non-local anglers often overlook these flats, mangrove islands and channels. But you shouldn’t, as you can reel in snapper, grouper, bonefish, permit, tarpon and jacks.

These channels are often shallow, so great for sight fishing. You might come across deep, wide cuts where sunken boats and other debris make for a hot fishing spot.

Plus, these mangrove islands and rich vegetation protect the channels from the wind. This means you’ll be able to get out even when other spots are not accessible.

You can go drift fishing near the shoreline or sight fishing around the flats. Its calm waters make the Cudjoe Key channels popular among kayak anglers. Rent a ‘yak and explore the murky deep waters.

Your best bait here are mullet, crab, and shrimp. They are a food of choice for all the game fish around. If you like action, these channels will give you a chase to remember. Sharks and barracuda often forage these waters. Get ready!

Bahia Honda Bridge: monster tarpon galore

If you want to try something Floridian, then you must fish for tarpon around the Bahia Honda Bridge. No other place in Florida boasts as many “silver kings.”

The channel between the Old Bahia Honda bridge and the Overseas Highway is the deepest inshore fishery in the Keys. The waters drop from 18 to 25 feet and offer some of the best bridge fishing in the Florida Keys.

There is a lot of food moving between the bridge pylons, and the pilings serve as a good shelter for the game fish. As you warm up before getting to tarpon business, you can hook into permit, sheepshead, mutton snapper and hammerhead sharks.

Tarpon swarm these waterways as part of their migration northward. They weigh between 70 and 130 pounds on average, though anglers have pulled in fish bigger than that. For your best chances at success, use crabs as bait — it works like a charm.

What’s great about this world-famous fishery is that tarpon are in the water throughout the day. No reason to get up early — you can spend your morning snorkeling or enjoying the rich wildlife of Big Pine Key’s Blue Hole, then come here for a brawl.

Marathon Humps: deep sea fishing at its finest

Fishing the Hump out of Marathon (also known as the West Hump) is for experienced anglers only. This fishery is the closest thing to an actual angling paradise. The waters plunge down to over 500 feet and make for a textbook example of a deep-sea fishery.

The reason that Marathon Hump is a productive spot is that it’s essentially a mountain rising from the ocean floor. This means that it not only offers good shelter for the game fish, but also traps a lot of baitfish. The strong currents of the Gulf Stream push the baitfish toward the surface, where they make an accessible buffet for the big game fish.

You’ll have a chance to fish for monster pelagics and prove you are stronger than massive bottom fish. These fishing spots are home to blue and white marlin, sailfish, yellowfin and blackfin tuna, wahoo and mahi. A battle with marlin and tuna often lasts for hours. If you want a true test of your stamina and strength, sit tight in that fighting chair!

If you want to go home with a big, tasty dinner instead, prepare to pull hard. Snowy, strawberry and yellowedge grouper, tilefish and queen snapper frequent these waters. You will need to pull them up from depths of 450-plus feet. Unless you want to lose your dinner, you might want to use the electric reel.

Islamorada Inshore Super Grand Slam

After your fight with big marlin, tuna and grouper, it’s time for something different.

Islamorada’s nickname is “Sport Fishing Capital of the World,” and you shouldn’t miss it. There is so much you can do here! Fish offshore reefs and wrecks, chase bonefish and snook on the flats, and go fly fishing for tarpon.

But since you’re in a special place, why not do something extra special? Try to put your name among the few who have managed to catch bonefish, permit, tarpon, and snook in a single day. This combination is fittingly called the “inshore super grand slam.”

And given the premier Islamorada fisheries, it shouldn’t be difficult to do it. These waters are some of the richest in the whole of Florida.

Each of these fish has their own unique features, so it’s a real feat to land them all in a single day. It’s a fishing quest second to none! Plus, you don’t have to travel far offshore. You will be playing hide and seek with the fish around the mangrove islands and flats of Islamorada. It’s even suitable for less experienced anglers — the entire family can come along and do something exciting together.

Snapper and grouper on Tavernier Key Reefs

A reef patch south of Tavernier Key holds a good number of mutton, mangrove and yellowtail snapper as well as gag grouper. These fishing trips are perfect if you want some laid-back family time. You can head out in the morning, bend the rods, catch fish for lunch, come back home for some pool time and a nap, then head out again for another round of fishing.

In case it’s windy and wavy, you might not be able to find baitfish. In that case, use frozen bait such as glass minnow. It will attract some smaller snapper. If you can catch live bait, go with ballyhoo. They work well here and can get you yellowtail snapper and gag grouper.

These fishing trips are relaxing and work well for beginner anglers. But make sure to look out for some wayward barracuda. They will often get close to the boat and wait for you to hook into something, then run for it and snatch it. Still, it’s fun action, especially for your young ones.

Shipwrecks of Key Largo

You might know Key Largo as the best place in the world for diving. But that’s only one part of its appeal. A quick boat ride from dry land will get you to shipwrecks where thousands of fish roam! Two wrecks that anglers like in particular are Duane and Bibb.

These sunken ships lie only a couple of miles from Key Largo. The fisheries near Duane are 120 feet deep. These sandy bottoms are home to amberjack, grouper and snapper, to name just a few.

Bibb is one of the premier diving sites, but it also has excellent fishing opportunities. It lies just six nautical miles from Key Largo. Hogfish, black grouper and snapper swim around the sunken vessel. Make sure you tie your boat to the mooring buoy, as fishing is not allowed otherwise.

Some of the shipwrecks are also used for dive boats. If you wouldn’t like divers to show up in the middle of your fishing spot, it’s best to go out on a local charter. The captains will know which spots are less crowded but still productive. ¦

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