Fishing in the Florida Keys is a high point in any fisherman’s career, whether they prefer deep-sea conquests or pier fishing; the Florida Keys has it all. The Keys region boasts the most diverse tropical sport fishing in the world.
This chain of tropical islands may be just a one-hour drive from Miami, but it’s a world apart from the pace of Miami life. Here you will find five exquisite islands offering some of the best beaches, diving, and fishing in the world. Beginning at the south-eastern tip of the Florida peninsula, the Florida Keys consist of Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Lower Keys, and Key West. This watery wonderland is teeming with exciting underwater life and is hailed as the Sport Fishing Capital of the World. The great fishing is due in no small part to the location of the Florida Keys; it is just off of the USA’s only living coral barrier reef.
Florida Keys fish species
There are many, many species of fish that call the balmy waters off of the Florida Keys home. In fact, there are recorded to be about 600 individual species, many of record-breaking size.
The Bonefish is one of the Florida Keys’ most infamous species. It presents a thrilling challenge for fishers, with its beautiful silver opalescent scales making it extremely hard to spot as it flits through at high speeds. The upper keys, particularly Islamorada, are known for a healthy population of large Bonefish, which you may also hear called ‘phantom fish’, ‘gray ghosts’, or ‘banana fish’.
This immense prehistoric fish is the most popular species for sport fishing in the Florida Keys. Tarpon is incredibly numerous in all regions of the Keys and can be caught using many different techniques.
The Florida Keys are fantastic places for grouper fishing. They are mammoth fish, reaching up to 8 feet in length and sometimes exceeding 800 pounds. THis makes them a challenging catch for even the most experienced fisher. However, due to their popularity as edible fish, grouper have been overfished and are protected by catch and release legislation in the Florida Keys.
Firm and flavorful, the mahi-mahi is a favorite amongst seafood lovers and is a prize catch for Florida Keys saltwater fishers. Mah-Mahi, or dolphin fish as they’re sometimes called, frequent the deep waters in the Gulf Stream.
There are a number of impressive billfish species living in the waters around the Florida Keys. The most prized include swordfish, blue marlin, white marlin, and sailfish. They all inhabit the warm water currents of the Gulf Stream, and fishing for them is regarded as one of the most thrilling iterations of the sport you can do.
Amberjacks, or AJs as they’re also known, are some of the biggest, boldest and toughest fish in the Florida Keys. A popular spot for catching them is The Marathon Hump. March and April are the best months for finding them. AJs are renowned for being incredibly hard to reel in. They are huge and can weigh in at a whopping 100 pounds, needing strength, grit, and determination the bring them in.
Barracuda is one of the most sought-after species of fish, and they are prevalent in the Florida Keys. Particularly active during the winter months, you can catch ‘Cuda in the flats and backwaters. They move further out to sea during the summer months. Barracuda may be numerous, but catching them is not without challenges. They are speedy fish, reaching top speeds of up to 40 mph.
Fiesty cobia is one of the Florida Keys’ most famous species. They are a popular menu item up and down the state, and their large population in the Keys area makes them a prime target for fishers. Cobia is tricky to spot, as their size, shape, and outward-pointing pectoral fins mean that they are often mistaken for lemon sharks, especially when viewed from above. They are also hefty in size and weight, making them hard to reel in.
Permit are a great species of fish to find in the Florida Keys. They are present in the water all year round, but the peak season for permit fishing is when the waters are warmest, between December and February. Permits are a mid-sized species prized by sports fishermen, and are particularly abundant in the Middle Keys and Lowers Keys. Key West is one of the best places in the world for permit fishing.
Snook fishing in the Florida Keys has long been one of the most popular activities in the region. Due to a couple of big freezes in the recent past, the population is protected by legislation. In certain parts of the Florida Keys, snooks are subject to a catch and release order, and in deeper Atlantic waters, there is a limit of one snook per person, per day.
Where to Fish
Florida Keys fishing is split up into three basic areas: flats, reef, and shore. Here you will find innumerable species of fish including bonefish, tarpon, and permit in the inshore areas; large grouper and snapper in the reefs and mahi-mahi, billfish, tuna, wahoo, and more cruising the deeper offshore straits. Each island offers something slightly different from the next, with a whole host of interesting ocean life to spot while you fish.
Fishing in the Florida Keys flats is one of the best fishing experiences in the world. The region has endless miles of shallow sands and grass flats, channels, bridges, and mangroves. Species such as the bonefish pursue crabs, shrimp, and small fish in water as shallow as six inches; also look out for tarpon, jacks, mackerel, barracuda, snapper, and grouper, to name just a few! Spectacular flats are on the Atlantic side of the Keys and in the fabled backcountry, an area of uninhabited mangroves on the Gulf Side of the archipelago. Flats fishing is the name of the game in Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Lower Keys, and Key West.
The Florida Keys reefs are the only living coral reefs in the continental US. They stretch from south Miami to the Dry Tortugas National Park. Reef fishing in the Florida Keys is an eventful experience. It’s not uncommon to catch more than 20 species of fish in one day. Opportunities include fishing shallow patch reefs at depths of 15-30 feet of water or heading out to the mid-size reefs. Adventure seekers can explore depths of up to 750 feet using electric reels for deep dropping. Expect to find large bottom fish such as the burly grouper and snapper as well as pelagic fish like kingfish, mackerel, tuna, wahoo, and sailfish. Night reef fishing trips are a great way to see nocturnal fish such as the yellowtail and mutton snapper. Reef fishing can be found in all Keys however Islamorada and Key Largo are the cream of the crop.
Deep-Sea Fishing in the Florida Keys
Outside the Florida Keys reef, the offshore water plunges to depths of more than 1,500 feet. Tropical fish, sharks, dolphins, and whales swim among underwater canyons and hundreds of wrecks scattered all over the Keys. Most of these wrecks are located off Key West out to Dry Tortugas, having found their fate in storms. The deeper wrecks hold the large fish while the shallow wrecks see large volumes of schooling fish. All are great to visit for the diverse species living there.
Fishing Charters in the Florida Keys
You can book fishing trips in the Florida Keys through numerous recommended operators including Captain Doug Kelly Fishing Charters and Dream Catcher Charters.