Key West is a fishing paradise where you can burn through a bucket list or catch a personal record with just a short trip. The furthest west of all the Florida Keys, Key West is in the perfect position to explore the best fishing grounds in all directions and get a little bit of everything. Deep-sea fishing in Key West was first made famous by Ernest Hemingway who spent a lot of time fishing the waters between Key West and Cuba, a section of water he deemed “the great blue river.” The tropical weather, over 125 miles of islands, and seemingly endless ocean make Key West a must-visit fishing spot for every angler.
The Keys include other popular fishing destinations like Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key, Key Largo, and many more. Over time these islands have earned a reputation for having some of the best fishing in the world and adopted the title of the “Fishing Capital of the World,” and Key West is one of the hottest spots in this area.
Types of Fishing in Key West
Saltwater fishing can usually be broken up into three categories: Inshore, nearshore, and offshore. Inshore fishing happens in the shallow water right by the land, offshore fishing takes you miles off the coast, and nearshore is everywhere in between. Key West is unique in that you can find many of the big offshore species swimming around close to land, so inshore and nearshore fishing is usually combined into one category.
Inshore fishing in Key West is one of the main reasons people visit the island. The world-famous bays, flats, islands, and sandbars surrounding Key West make a perfect recipe for targeting a variety of prized species. The water is usually clear enough to see plenty of fish right from the boat, and if you’re comfortable with your rod skills you can cast right at them.
The quality of fishing doesn’t end when you head further out to sea. For those looking to leave land behind, deep-sea fishing in Key West offers ample reefs, wrecks, and other seafloor structures for endless fishing. Trips like these are perfect for travelers looking to get the most action; Deeper water means bigger fish!
There is no better place for the fly fisherman to sight fish for must-catch species than Key West. Book a trip with a skilled guide and you just might catch the Key West Grand Slam – Tarpon, Bonefish, and Permit – all in a single day.
Species and Where to Find Them
Some of the most elusive and sought-after fish in the world are found just a short boat ride away in the inshore waters. Tarpon or “the Silver King” seems to be on almost every angler’s bucket list, and for good reason. These picky eaters grow to be massive and fight hard with long leaping runs. The “Grey Ghost”, or Bonefish, can be found cruising these flats in pursuit of crabs and other tasty morsels. Of course, other inshore species also inhabit these waters, like Redfish, Snook, Mangrove Snapper, Permit, Jacks, and Speckled Trout. You can expect to cast for these species in the backwater channels, flats, or bays around Key West.
In only slightly deeper water, a variety of snapper species, grouper, sharks, and even barracuda can be found. For snapper, grouper, and sharks bottom fishing is the most effective and is also a great way to spend a day on the water. On the other hand, barracuda are usually targeted with barracuda rigs made of surgical tubing and treble hooks fished near the surface. The diversity of fish here is hard to beat and makes for some of the best fishing in the world.
There is an array of offshore reefs close to Key West where you can catch species including mahi-mahi, grouper, and various snapper species. Other popular and sometimes deeper reef-dwelling species like cobia and amberjack are on patrol in these waters and hit like a train when they bite. Shark fishing near Key West is also fantastic and can be a blast on nearshore and deep sea trips.
Deep-sea charters give you the chance to land prized sport fish like Marlin, Sailfish, and other elusive pelagic species like Swordfish. These trophy species are generally found from the Gulfstream to the east and south to Dry Tortugas. Increase your odds of sizing up the fish of a lifetime with an overnight night fishing trip out of Key West.
Most Popular Charters and What to Expect
You would be hard-pressed to find a fishing destination like Key West anywhere. People from around the world visit this island paradise to catch fish with various Key West fishing charters.
Legendary Key West flats fishing charters target some of the most coveted inshore species in the world (and if you want a change of pace, another hidden gem of activity in Key West lobster charter snorkeling and spearfishing trips).
Key West has plenty of fishing charters for the deep-sea angler: equipped with all the amenities needed for a half-day or more on the water, large Key West sport fishing boats are the bread and butter of Key West deep sea fishing charters.
Some popular spots to check out on the water are Dry Tortugas, The Marathon Humps, and The Wall. Located 75 miles West of Key West, Dry Tortugas is home to amazing sportfishing, gorgeous coral reefs, and a ton of ocean research. The Marathon humps are a series of peaks and valleys ranging from about 1100 ft to 450ft below the surface. This beautiful spot is near the middle of the Gulfstream and has some of the best tuna fishing in the Keys. Head 20 miles south of Key West to The Wall to chase after some giant blue marlin. Competitive anglers come here every year to try their hand at breaking the blue marlin record.
Whether you want to bounce around reefs and wrecks to fill up the freezer with delicious meat or go marlin fishing to hook into a Grander that will drag the boat like Hemingway in The Old Man and the Sea, all the exciting Key West offshore and deep-sea charters have you covered!
Other Things to Do
Whether you’re a nature lover, a family traveler, or someone who wants a relaxing day of fishing followed by a cold drink on the beach, Key West will keep the whole crew entertained with its endless activities. If you want to get back out on the water, rent a kayak or paddleboard and cruise through the mangroves on an eco-tour. For snorkelers and divers, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more accessible place to explore reefs and wrecks. For the 21+ crowd, there are countless local dive bars and seafood joints that keep the drinks flowing.
Check out the Cannery to see some of the island’s industrial history. Once a central industrial center for the island, This old processing facility has served many purposes over the years, and now it is also a museum that shows the unique history of the industries that used to operate here.