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Tips For First Time Fly Fishing In The Flats Of Key West, FL?

If you find yourself itching to try fly fishing and happen to be in the beautiful location of Key West, FL, you’re in for a treat. The flats of Key West offer an excellent opportunity for beginners to try their hand at this exciting angling technique. In order to make the most of your first experience, there are a few tips that can help you navigate the flats and increase your chances of success. From choosing the right gear to mastering the art of casting, this article will provide you with the essential knowledge needed to make your first time fly fishing in the flats of Key West a memorable one.

Tips For First Time Fly Fishing In The Flats Of Key West, FL?

Choosing the Right Time

Consider the Season and Weather

Before heading out for your fly fishing adventure in the flats of Key West, it’s important to consider the season and weather conditions. Key West experiences a tropical climate, with warm temperatures throughout the year. However, certain times of the year may be more favorable for fly fishing in the flats.

During the winter months, from December to February, the weather is generally mild, with temperatures ranging from the high 60s to low 70s Fahrenheit. This makes it a great time to visit Key West for fly fishing, as the cooler temperatures can attract many species of fish to the flats.

In contrast, the summer months, especially from June to September, can be hot and humid in Key West. While the fishing can still be productive during these months, it’s important to consider the heat and make sure you stay hydrated and protected from the sun.

Know the Tides and Moon Phase

Tides play a crucial role in flats fishing, as they dictate the movement of water and influence the behavior of fish. It’s essential to study the tide charts and plan your fishing trip accordingly. High tides can provide better access to the flats, allowing you to explore more areas for fishing. On the other hand, low tides can concentrate fish in certain areas, making them easier to target.

Additionally, the moon phase can affect the feeding patterns of fish. During a full or new moon phase, fish tend to be more active, making it an ideal time for fly fishing in the flats. It’s worth noting that the period leading up to a full or new moon and the days following it can also be productive.

Avoid Crowded Times

While it’s exciting to share your fishing experience with other anglers, crowded flats can make it challenging to find productive fishing spots. Therefore, it’s a good idea to avoid peak fishing times and crowded areas. Weekends and holidays tend to attract more anglers, so if you have the flexibility, consider fishing during weekdays or less popular times.

To ensure a more peaceful and enjoyable fly fishing experience, consider scheduling your trip during the shoulder seasons, such as spring or fall, when there are fewer visitors in Key West.

Selecting the Right Gear

Use a Saltwater Fly Fishing Setup

When fly fishing in the flats of Key West, it’s important to have the right gear that can withstand the saltwater environment and the powerful fish found in these waters. A saltwater fly fishing setup typically consists of a sturdy fly rod, a reel with a sealed drag system to prevent corrosion, and saltwater fly lines that have a heavier design to help with casting larger flies.

It’s recommended to use a fly rod with a weight between 7-9, as this provides enough power to handle the strong fish species found in the flats. Pair your rod with a suitable reel that has a smooth drag system capable of handling the runs and powerful surges of the fish you’ll be targeting.

Choose the Appropriate Flies

Selecting the right flies for flats fishing is crucial for enticing fish to bite. Key West’s flats are home to various fish species like bonefish, tarpon, and permit, each with their own prey preferences. It’s important to research the feeding habits of your target species to choose the appropriate flies.

For bonefish, popular fly patterns include the Gotcha, Crazy Charlie, and Christmas Island Special. These flies mimic the small crustaceans and shrimp that bonefish feed on. Tarpon flies like the Cockroach, Black Death, and Tarpon Toad imitate baitfish that tarpon prey upon. Permit, known for their picky eating habits, are often tempted by crab pattern flies such as the Merkin or spawning shrimp patterns.

It’s advisable to stock your fly box with a variety of sizes and colors to match the conditions and the preferences of the fish you encounter in the flats of Key West.

Bring Essential Accessories

Aside from your fly fishing setup and flies, there are a few essential accessories you should bring along for your flats fishing adventure. These include a good pair of polarized sunglasses, a hat, sunscreen, and bug repellent.

Polarized sunglasses are crucial as they help reduce glare on the water’s surface, allowing you to spot fish more easily. Choose sunglasses with quality lenses that offer good visibility in various light conditions. Additionally, a hat with a wide brim will provide shade and protect your face and neck from the sun’s rays.

Sunscreen and bug repellent are necessary to protect your skin from the sun and potential insect bites. Look for sunscreen with a high SPF and water-resistant properties to ensure long-lasting protection. Bug repellent will help keep pesky mosquitoes and other insects at bay, ensuring you have a more comfortable and enjoyable time on the flats.

Understanding Flats Fishing

Learn about the Flats

Flats are shallow areas of water typically found near coastal regions, and Key West is renowned for its vast and productive flats. These areas consist of sandy or grassy bottoms and can be home to a wide variety of fish species. Understanding the structure and characteristics of the flats is crucial for successful fly fishing.

Sandy flats provide excellent visibility and make it easier to spot fish. These areas are often preferred by bonefish, as they offer a suitable habitat for feeding. Grass flats, on the other hand, house a diverse range of species, including tarpon, permit, and various types of baitfish. Grass flats provide cover and a source of food for the fish.

It’s advisable to study charts and maps of the flats to familiarize yourself with the different areas and topography. This knowledge will help you navigate the flats more effectively and increase your chances of finding productive fishing spots.

Know the Targeted Species

The flats of Key West are home to several prized fish species that attract anglers from around the world. Understanding the behavior, feeding patterns, and habitat preferences of your target species is essential for successful fishing.

Bonefish, known for their impressive speed and elusive nature, often feed on the flats during high tides. They have a keen sense of smell and excellent eyesight, making them challenging to catch. Tarpon, on the other hand, are large and powerful fish that migrate through the flats. These fish are often found in deeper channels or near mangroves, where they feed on baitfish. Permit, one of the most challenging fish to catch on the flats, are known for their selective feeding habits and can often be found near sandbars or in turtle grass beds.

By researching your target species and understanding their behavior, you’ll be better equipped to choose the right flies, present them effectively, and increase your chances of success on the flats.

Study the Local Regulations

Before embarking on your fly fishing adventure in the flats of Key West, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the local regulations and fishing guidelines. These regulations are designed to promote conservation and protect the fish populations and their habitats.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is responsible for managing and setting regulations for recreational fishing in Florida, including Key West. It’s important to check their website or contact the local FWC office to obtain up-to-date information on size limits, bag limits, and any seasonal closures or restrictions that may apply to the species you intend to target.

Additionally, it’s important to respect any catch-and-release guidelines, as they contribute to the sustainability of the fish populations in the flats. Responsible fishing practices help ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy the thrill of fly fishing in these unique and valuable ecosystems.

Mastering Fly Casting Techniques

Practice Your Casting Skills

Mastering fly casting techniques is crucial for success in flats fishing. Efficient and accurate casting allows you to present your fly to the fish in a natural and enticing manner. Practice your casting skills before your trip to Key West to increase your chances of landing that prized catch.

One of the fundamental casting techniques to master is the overhead cast. This involves smoothly and confidently casting your fly line forward and then allowing it to unroll for a precise presentation. Practice this cast in an open area, focusing on your technique and gradually increasing your casting distance.

Another important cast to learn is the roll cast. This cast is useful when fishing in tight spaces or when you need to cast with minimal backcasting space. It involves loading the rod by bringing the line backward and then flicking it forward in a rolling motion. With practice, you’ll be able to execute this cast accurately and efficiently.

Perfect the Double Haul Cast

The double haul cast is a more advanced casting technique that can significantly increase your casting distance and accuracy. This technique involves using your line hand to pull on the fly line while casting, which adds speed and power to your cast.

To perform the double haul cast, start by accelerating the rod backward during the backcast while simultaneously pulling on the line with your line hand. As you bring the rod forward, release the tension on the line hand, allowing the line to shoot forward with added speed.

Perfecting this technique will allow you to cast further and present your fly to fish that are located at a greater distance on the flats.

Be Mindful of Your Casting Distance

When fly fishing in the flats, it’s important to be mindful of your casting distance. Often, fish on the flats are easily spooked, and an overly long cast can startle them or result in a less accurate presentation.

Practice casting to various distances to develop a sense of control and accuracy. Expert fly anglers can effectively present flies to fish within 30-40 feet, which is often the optimal casting range on the flats. By mastering your casting distance, you’ll increase your chances of success and avoid unnecessarily disturbing the fish.

Tips For First Time Fly Fishing In The Flats Of Key West, FL?

Learning Basic Fly Fishing Techniques

Get Familiar with Stripping

Stripping is an essential technique when fly fishing in the flats. It involves retrieving the fly line by pulling it in short, sharp bursts to imitate the movement of a fleeing baitfish or shrimp.

To effectively strip, hold the fly line in your line hand between your index finger and thumb. Use short, quick pulls to retrieve the line, keeping it taut. Vary the speed and length of your strips to mimic the natural movement of the prey species your target fish are feeding on.

Practicing different stripping techniques before your trip will improve your ability to entice fish to strike and increase your chances of success on the flats.

Learn to Set the Hook Properly

Setting the hook properly is crucial for successfully landing fish while fly fishing in the flats. A proper hook set ensures that the fly securely penetrates the fish’s mouth, increasing the chances of a successful hookup.

To set the hook, remember to resist the instinct to immediately strike at the fish when you feel a bite. Instead, maintain tension on the line and wait for a solid pull or for the fish to turn before gently lifting your rod tip to set the hook. This technique helps ensure a firm hook set without the risk of pulling the fly out of the fish’s mouth prematurely.

Practicing proper hook-setting techniques will improve your hookup rate and give you a better chance of landing the fish of a lifetime.

Practice Playing and Landing Fish

Playing and landing fish is an exhilarating part of fly fishing in the flats. Once you hook a fish, it’s crucial to effectively manage the fight and safely bring the fish to hand.

When playing a fish, keep the rod tip pointed towards the fish to absorb its runs and minimize the risk of the line breaking. Use the reel’s drag system to provide consistent resistance without putting too much pressure on the fish.

As the fish tires, you can gradually reel it in, keeping the line taut but not tight. Avoid forcing the fish to come in too quickly, as this can result in a broken line or a lost fish.

When the fish is close to the boat or shore, use a landing net or carefully lift it out of the water. If practicing catch-and-release, be mindful of handling the fish gently and quickly, minimizing the amount of time it spends out of the water. This will ensure the fish’s survival and its ability to continue thriving in the flats.

Observing the Flats

Look for Signs of Activity

Observing the flats and being aware of signs of activity can greatly improve your chances of finding and catching fish. Keep an eye out for movement on the water’s surface, such as baitfish jumping or birds diving into the water to feed. These signs often indicate the presence of predator fish that may be feeding below.

Pay attention to disturbances in the water, such as wakes or tails sticking out. These are signs that fish are actively feeding and can guide you to potential fishing spots.

Additionally, look for indicators of underwater structures, such as coral heads or grass beds, which can provide shelter and feeding grounds for fish. By carefully observing your surroundings, you’ll develop a better understanding of the ecosystem and be able to make more informed decisions in your pursuit of fish.

Identify Fish Movements and Behaviors

Understanding fish movements and behaviors is key to effectively targeting them on the flats. Certain species, like bonefish, tail when feeding in shallow water, creating small splashes or disturbances. Tarpon, known for their impressive acrobatics, often roll or show their dorsal fins above the water’s surface. Permit, on the other hand, can be seen cruising in search of food or tailing as they feed near the bottom.

By studying and familiarizing yourself with the behavior of target species, you’ll be better prepared to present your fly in a way that entices the fish to bite.

Spotting Fish in Shallow Water

Spotting fish in shallow water is a skill that you can develop with practice and experience. When searching for fish on the flats, it’s essential to have a pair of polarized sunglasses to reduce glare and improve visibility.

Scan the water carefully, looking for subtle movements, shadows, or flashes of silver or gold. Fish often blend in with their surroundings, so it’s important to train your eyes to pick up on these subtle visual cues.

When you spot a fish, take note of its direction and movement. This will help you position yourself for a good presentation and increase your chances of a successful catch. Patience and keen observation are key when it comes to spotting fish in shallow water.

Working with Fly Fishing Guides

Consider Hiring a Guide

If you’re new to fly fishing or unfamiliar with the flats of Key West, it’s highly recommended to consider hiring a fly fishing guide. A knowledgeable and experienced guide can make a significant difference in your fishing success and overall experience on the flats.

A guide will have in-depth knowledge of the local waters, fish behavior, and productive fishing spots. They can provide valuable tips, help you fine-tune your technique, and assist with spotting fish. A guide’s expertise not only increases your chances of catching fish but also enhances your understanding of the flats ecosystem.

Research and Select a Reliable Guide

When selecting a fly fishing guide in Key West, it’s important to research and choose a reliable and reputable professional. Look for guides who are licensed, experienced, and knowledgeable about the flats and the target species you’re interested in pursuing.

Read online reviews, check their credentials, and ask for recommendations from fellow anglers or local fishing shops. A reliable guide will prioritize your safety, be patient with novice anglers, and provide a memorable and successful fishing experience.

Communication is also key when working with a guide. Make sure to clearly communicate your goals, expectations, and any specific requests you may have. This will help the guide tailor the fishing experience to suit your needs and maximize your chances of a successful trip.

Navigating the Flats

Use a Flats Boat

Navigating the flats requires a specialized vessel that can maneuver in shallow waters without causing damage. Flats boats are specifically designed for this purpose, with shallow drafts and a stable platform for fly fishing.

Flats boats come in various sizes and configurations, but they typically feature a poling platform for the guide to stand on and push the boat through the shallow water using a long pole. The shallow draft of these boats allows anglers to access areas that would be inaccessible to larger watercraft.

When selecting a flats boat, consider factors such as the number of anglers it can accommodate, storage space for gear, and the ability to handle various water conditions. Renting a flats boat or booking a guided trip will usually provide access to a suitable vessel for exploring the flats of Key West.

Understand the Importance of Poling

Poling is a technique used by guides to move the flats boat silently and efficiently through the shallow water. It involves the guide standing on the poling platform and using a long pole to push the boat forward, gradually propelling it along.

Poling is essential for flats fishing, as it allows anglers to approach fish without causing excessive noise or disturbance. By quietly poling into position, you increase your chances of getting closer to fish that may be spooked by an engine or other loud noises.

When on a guided trip, it’s important to respect the guide’s instructions regarding poling and be mindful of their efforts to position the boat advantageously for fly fishing.

Be Cautious of Shallow Water and Obstacles

Navigating the flats requires caution and an understanding of the potential hazards that may be present. Shallow water can be deceptive, and what initially appears to be deep water can quickly turn into a sandbar or a grassy flat.

It’s important to pay close attention to water clarity and depth, as well as the guidance of your guide. If you’re operating a flats boat on your own, familiarize yourself with the area’s navigational charts and be mindful of any marked channels or hazards.

Additionally, be aware of submerged obstacles such as rocks or coral heads, especially in areas with grassy bottoms. These obstacles can damage your boat or fishing equipment if you’re not careful. Take your time and proceed with caution to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience on the flats.

Maintaining Patience and Persistence

Be Patient with Your Progress

Fly fishing in the flats of Key West is a skill that takes time and practice to master. It’s important to be patient with your progress and not get discouraged if you don’t catch fish right away. Remember that the thrill of the chase and the beauty of the flats itself are rewarding aspects of the experience.

Celebrate small victories, such as improving your casting accuracy or spotting a fish. Each trip to the flats is an opportunity to learn and grow as an angler, so embrace the journey and enjoy the process.

Stay Persistent in Your Fishing Efforts

Fishing can sometimes be challenging, and fly fishing in the flats is no exception. Staying persistent in your efforts and maintaining a positive mindset are key to a successful experience.

If you are not having any luck in one area, be willing to relocate and explore different spots. Fish behavior can change throughout the day, and what may have been unproductive earlier could turn into a hotspot later. Stay focused, keep casting, and remain persistent in your pursuit of fish.

Adapt to Changing Conditions

Flats fishing can be influenced by various factors, such as weather, tides, and fish behavior. It’s important to adapt to changing conditions and adjust your approach accordingly.

If the wind picks up or the water clarity decreases, for example, it may be necessary to adjust your casting technique or fly selection. By remaining adaptable and open to change, you’ll maximize your chances of success on the flats.

Remember that each day on the flats is unique, and even experienced anglers face challenges. Embrace the learning opportunities that come with each outing and adapt your strategies to make the most of your time on the water.

Respecting the Environment

Follow Ethical Fishing Practices

Respecting the environment should always be a priority when participating in any form of fishing. Fly fishing in the flats of Key West requires responsible angling practices to ensure the preservation of the ecosystem and the fish populations.

Practice catch-and-release whenever possible, especially for species that are not suitable for consumption or if the fishery is protected. Properly handle fish to minimize stress and reduce the risk of injury. Use appropriate release techniques, such as keeping the fish in the water as much as possible and quickly releasing it with minimal handling.

Additionally, avoid discarding any trash or debris into the water. Take any garbage with you and dispose of it in the proper facilities on land. By following ethical fishing practices, you’ll contribute to the long-term sustainability and health of the flats ecosystem.

Handle Fish with Care

Properly handling fish is crucial for their well-being and survival after catch-and-release. When handling fish, wet your hands to minimize damage to their protective slime layer, which helps ward off infections and parasites.

Avoid squeezing or placing excessive pressure on the fish’s internal organs. Support the fish gently while minimizing its time out of the water. If you need to remove the fish from the water for a quick photo, ensure that your hands are clean and that the fish is kept wet before returning it to the water.

By handling fish with care, you’re contributing to the overall health and vitality of the flats’ fish populations, allowing them to thrive for future generations of anglers to enjoy.

Leave No Trace on the Flats

Respecting the flats’ pristine environment means leaving no trace of your presence. This includes packing out any trash or debris, including fishing line, hooks, and other materials. Ensure that you leave the area in the same condition as you found it, if not better.

Dispose of any bait or excess food properly and avoid introducing non-native species or pollutants into the water. Respect any posted signs or guidelines aimed at protecting the flats’ sensitive ecosystems.

By leaving no trace on the flats, you’ll contribute to the preservation of these unique environments and help ensure that future generations can experience the beauty and splendor of Key West’s flats.

In conclusion, fly fishing in the flats of Key West, Florida, offers an exceptional angling experience surrounded by stunning natural beauty. By choosing the right time to fish, selecting the appropriate gear, understanding flats fishing dynamics, mastering casting techniques, and learning basic fly fishing skills, you’ll increase your chances of success on the water. Observing fish behaviors, working with fly fishing guides, navigating the flats responsibly, maintaining patience and persistence, and respecting the environment are also integral parts of a meaningful and sustainable fly fishing experience. So pack your gear, familiarize yourself with the magnificent flats of Key West, and get ready to immerse yourself in an unforgettable fly fishing adventure.

What Fish Are In Season In Key West?

Thinking of visiting Key West for some fishing? Then it’s important to know which fish are in season and ready for your rod and reel. With its beautiful turquoise waters and abundant marine life, Key West is a paradise for anglers. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a novice fisherman, this article will guide you through the different fish species that are currently in season in this tropical haven. From the popular mahi-mahi to the elusive bonefish, there’s a wide variety of fish just waiting for you to cast your line and reel them in. So get ready to embark on your fishing adventure and discover the bountiful treasures that Key West has to offer.

What Fish Are In Season In Key West?

If you’re a seafood lover or an avid angler, few places can compare to the fishing paradise that is Key West. Known for its crystal-clear waters and abundant marine life, Key West offers a wide variety of fish that are in season throughout the year. Whether you’re casting your line from a charter boat or trying your luck from a pier, here are some of the most sought-after fish species you can expect to catch in Key West.

What Fish Are In Season In Key West?


Grouper is a staple in Key West and is highly regarded for its firm texture and mild, sweet flavor. This fish can be found in abundance throughout the year, with peak seasons occurring from late spring to early fall. Key West is home to various grouper species, including Black Grouper, Red Grouper, and Gag Grouper. Whether you choose to prepare it grilled, blackened, or fried, grouper is a crowd-pleaser that will satisfy your seafood cravings.

Yellowtail Snapper

Yellowtail Snapper is another prized fish that can be found in abundance in the tropical waters of Key West. Known for its bright yellow stripe and delicate, white flesh, this species is a favorite among both locals and visitors. While yellowtail snapper can be caught year-round, it is most plentiful during the warmer months. Lightly seasoned and grilled to perfection, yellowtail snapper is a culinary delight that will have you craving for more.


Mahi-Mahi, also known as dolphin fish, is a highly sought-after game fish in Key West. Sporting vibrant colors and impressive fighting abilities, this fish is a thrill to catch. Mahi-Mahi is prevalent from late spring to early fall, coinciding with the peak offshore fishing season. With its firm, white flesh and mild flavor, Mahi-Mahi is a versatile fish that can be grilled, seared, or used in various seafood dishes.


Wahoo, often referred to as the “bullet of the sea” due to its incredible speed, is a prized catch among anglers in Key West. This sleek and powerful fish is known for its mild, delicate flavor and firm texture. The peak season for Wahoo in Key West runs from late winter to early spring. Whether you’re trolling or casting, landing a Wahoo will undoubtedly be an exhilarating experience that you won’t soon forget.

What Fish Are In Season In Key West?

King Mackerel

King Mackerel, also known as Kingfish, presents a thrilling challenge for fishing enthusiasts in Key West. These fast-swimming fish are prized for their speed, strength, and the exciting fight they put up once hooked. King Mackerel can be found in Key West’s waters year-round, with peak seasons occurring from fall to early spring. Whether you’re targeting them for sport or for a delicious meal, King Mackerel is a true testament to the diversity of fish available in Key West.

Blackfin Tuna

Blackfin Tuna is a smaller cousin of the larger and more elusive Yellowfin Tuna. Known for their intense speed and acrobatic jumps, Blackfin Tuna provide an adrenaline rush for anglers seeking an exciting fishing experience. These fish can be caught year-round in Key West, but they are most abundant during the summer months. With its tender, deep-red meat, Blackfin Tuna is a prized catch that can be enjoyed raw in sushi or prepared in various mouthwatering dishes.


Sailfish, with their distinctive sail-like dorsal fins and remarkable speed, are considered one of the ocean’s most prized game fish. These athletic creatures can reach speeds of up to 68 miles per hour, making them a thrill to catch. While Sailfish can be found offshore in Key West’s waters year-round, they are most prolific during the winter months. Catching a Sailfish is not only an accomplishment but also a breathtaking experience that will make for a memorable adventure on the open seas.


Amberjack, often referred to as the “reef donkey,” is a tough fighting fish that is sure to test your angling skills. Found near reefs and wrecks, Amberjack can be caught year-round in Key West. These muscular fish are known for their aggressive strikes and powerful resistance, providing anglers with an exciting battle. Amberjacks have a rich, white flesh that is excellent for grilling or baking, making them a favorite for seafood lovers.

Red Snapper

Red Snapper, with its vibrant color and delicious white meat, is a prized catch in Key West. Found near reefs and rocky outcrops, Red Snapper can be caught year-round, but they have specific seasons with stricter regulations to ensure sustainable fishing practices. This species is known for its mild, sweet flavor and delicate texture, making it a favorite choice for various culinary preparations. Whether you choose to pan-fry, bake, or grill it, Red Snapper is sure to satisfy even the most discerning seafood lover.


Lobster season in Key West is a highly anticipated time for both locals and tourists. From August to March, the annual spiny lobster season offers the opportunity to catch these delectable crustaceans. Known for their sweet and tender meat, spiny lobsters are a true delicacy. Whether you prefer them grilled, steamed, or in a buttery lobster roll, indulging in a freshly caught Key West lobster is an experience not to be missed.


Key West boasts a wide variety of fish species that are in season throughout the year, offering anglers and seafood enthusiasts a paradise to explore. From the prized Grouper and Yellowtail Snapper to the thrilling Mahi-Mahi and Sailfish, there is something for every taste and fishing preference. So pack your fishing gear, book a charter, or head to the pier – the waters of Key West are waiting for you to cast your line and reel in the catch of a lifetime. Happy fishing!

Where Can I Fish In Key West?

If you find yourself in Key West and itching to cast a line, you’re in luck! This picturesque island offers a plethora of fishing spots that will satisfy even the most avid angler. From the tranquil waters of the backcountry to the thrilling action of deep-sea fishing, Key West has it all. Whether you’re a seasoned fisherman or a beginner looking to reel in your first catch, Key West has something for everyone. So grab your gear, pack some sunscreen, and get ready for an unforgettable fishing adventure in the vibrant waters of Key West!

Where Can I Fish In Key West?

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Best Fishing Spots in Key West

The Marquesas Keys

The Marquesas Keys, located about 20 miles west of Key West, are a group of uninhabited islands that offer excellent fishing opportunities. The crystal-clear waters surrounding the Marquesas Keys are known for their abundance of fish. Here, you can expect to catch a variety of species including tarpon, bonefish, permit, snapper, and grouper.

The Dry Tortugas

The Dry Tortugas, a remote group of islands located about 70 miles west of Key West, is another prime fishing spot. These islands are home to some of the most pristine and untouched waters in the Florida Keys. In the waters surrounding the Dry Tortugas, you can find a wide range of fish species, including tarpon, snapper, grouper, and mahi-mahi. The area is also known for its abundant coral reefs, which provide excellent opportunities for snorkeling and diving.

Backcountry Waters

Key West’s backcountry waters, including the expansive flats and mangrove-lined channels, are a haven for anglers. The shallow, clear waters of the backcountry make it an ideal spot for targeting bonefish, permit, and tarpon. These species are known for their speed and agility, providing anglers with an exciting challenge. With the guidance of a knowledgeable guide, you can navigate the backcountry waters and have a rewarding fishing experience.

Nearshore Reefs

The nearshore reefs of Key West are easily accessible and offer excellent fishing opportunities. These reefs are teeming with diverse marine life, making them a popular destination for anglers of all skill levels. Some of the species you can expect to encounter while fishing nearshore reefs include snapper, grouper, and king mackerel. Fishing near the reefs not only offers a chance to catch delicious fish but also provides an opportunity to enjoy the stunning underwater scenery.

Offshore Waters

For those seeking bigger and more exhilarating fishing adventures, Key West’s offshore waters are the place to be. The Gulf Stream, a warm ocean current, flows just a few miles off the coast of Key West, attracting a wide range of pelagic game fish. Offshore anglers often target species such as mahi-mahi, tuna, sailfish, and wahoo. With the help of an experienced charter captain, you can head out into the deep blue waters and enjoy an unforgettable offshore fishing experience.

Types of Fish to Catch in Key West


Tarpon, also known as the “silver king,” is one of the most sought-after game fish in Key West. These powerful and acrobatic fish are known for their impressive jumps and drag-screaming runs. Targeting tarpon requires patience and skill, as they can be selective feeders. Key West’s backcountry and nearshore waters are prime locations for tarpon fishing, especially during the spring and summer months.


Key West is renowned for its bonefish population, making it a top destination for fly fishing enthusiasts. Bonefish are known for their speed and challenging nature, making them a thrilling catch. These elusive fish can be found in the shallow flats and channels of Key West’s backcountry, where they feed on crustaceans and small baitfish. Sight fishing for bonefish is a popular technique, requiring stealth and accurate casting.


Permit, often referred to as the “gray ghost,” are a prized catch for many anglers in Key West. These highly prized fish are known for their beauty and challenging nature. Permit can be found in a variety of habitats, including flats, channels, and nearshore wrecks. They have a keen sense of awareness and are notoriously difficult to fool. Targeting permit requires finesse and presenting the right fly or bait.


Snapper are abundant in the waters around Key West and provide anglers with delicious and exciting fishing opportunities. There are several species of snapper that can be found in Key West, including yellowtail, mangrove, and mutton snapper. These fish are often found near reefs and structures, where they feed on smaller fish and crustaceans. Snapper fishing can be enjoyed both inshore and offshore, making it accessible to anglers of all skill levels.


Key West is home to a variety of grouper species, including black grouper, red grouper, and gag grouper. These bottom-dwelling fish are known for their sheer size and strength. Grouper can be found near reefs, wrecks, and rocky structures, where they feed on smaller fish and crustaceans. They put up a good fight and provide anglers with a thrilling fishing experience. Grouper fishing is regulated to protect the population, so anglers must adhere to size and bag limits.


Mahi-Mahi, also known as dolphin fish, are highly prized for their vibrant colors and delicious flesh. These pelagic fish are often found offshore, where they congregate around floating objects such as seaweed, debris, and buoys. Mahi-Mahi are known for their acrobatic jumps and fast, powerful runs. They are a favorite target for offshore anglers during the warmer months of the year.


Various tuna species can be found in the offshore waters of Key West, including blackfin tuna, yellowfin tuna, and skipjack tuna. These fast-swimming fish are known for their strength and speed, providing anglers with an exhilarating battle. Tuna are often found feeding near floating debris or chasing schools of baitfish. These pelagic predators are highly sought after by offshore anglers and are prized for their delicious, sushi-grade flesh.


Sailfish are magnificent creatures and a sought-after catch for many offshore anglers in Key West. These billfish are known for their speed, agility, and iconic sail-like dorsal fin. Sailfish can be found in the offshore waters, particularly near the Gulf Stream, where they feed on smaller fish. Targeting sailfish often involves trolling with live bait or artificial lures. Reeling in a sailfish is an unforgettable experience due to their acrobatic jumps and fierce fighting.


Wahoo is another highly prized game fish found in the offshore waters of Key West. These fast-swimming predators are known for their razor-sharp teeth, powerful runs, and delicious flesh. Wahoo can be found near offshore weed lines, reefs, and drop-offs, where they ambush their prey. Offshore anglers often target wahoo by high-speed trolling with lures or slow-trolling with live baits, such as ballyhoo or bonito strips.

King Mackerel

King mackerel, also known as kingfish or kingfish, are abundant in the waters around Key West. These fast and aggressive fish provide anglers with thrilling action and delicious meat. King mackerel are often found near offshore wrecks, reefs, and structures, where they feed on schools of baitfish. Targeting king mackerel involves trolling with live bait or artificial lures, as well as slow-trolling or drifting with natural baits. These fish are known for their blistering runs and aerial acrobatics.

Where Can I Fish In Key West?

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Fishing Charters in Key West

Charter Companies

Key West is home to numerous fishing charter companies that offer a wide range of services to suit every angler’s needs. These charter companies provide experienced captains and fully-equipped boats, ensuring a safe and enjoyable fishing experience. From half-day trips to multi-day excursions, there are plenty of fishing charter options available in Key West.

Half-Day Charters

If you’re short on time but still want to experience the thrill of fishing in Key West, half-day charters are the perfect option. These charters typically last for around 4-5 hours and allow you to target a variety of fish species depending on the season. Half-day charters are a great option for families or beginners looking to get a taste of Key West’s fishing scene.

Full-Day Charters

For a more immersive fishing experience, full-day charters are a popular choice among anglers. These charters generally last for around 8 hours and provide ample time to explore different fishing grounds and target various fish species. With a full-day charter, you have the opportunity to venture further offshore and increase your chances of hooking into larger game fish.

Private Charters

If you prefer a more personalized fishing experience, private charters are available in Key West. Private charters cater to smaller groups and allow you to customize your fishing trip according to your preferences. Whether you’re a seasoned angler looking for a challenging adventure or a family wanting a private fishing excursion, a private charter can provide the flexibility and exclusivity you desire.

Fishing License


To legally fish in Key West, anglers are required to have a valid fishing license. This license applies to both residents and non-residents of Florida who are 16 years of age or older. It is important to note that certain exemptions exist for specific groups, such as seniors or individuals with disabilities. However, most anglers will need to obtain a fishing license before casting their lines.

Where to Obtain

Fishing licenses can be obtained online through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) website or by visiting a local FWC office or authorized retailer. The online option offers convenience and allows anglers to purchase and print their licenses from the comfort of their own home. Licenses obtained online are typically valid immediately upon purchase.


The cost of a fishing license in Key West varies depending on factors such as residency status, duration of the license, and whether it is for freshwater or saltwater fishing. Prices range from a few dollars for a one-day license to around $30 for an annual license for residents. Non-residents can expect to pay slightly higher fees. It is essential to check the FWC website for the most up-to-date information on fishing license costs.

Where Can I Fish In Key West?

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Best Time to Fish in Key West


Key West offers excellent fishing opportunities year-round, but certain seasons are more productive for specific species. The spring and summer months, particularly from March to August, are considered prime time for tarpon fishing. These months also offer good chances of encountering other popular species such as bonefish and permit. Fall (September to November) is known for its mahi-mahi and sailfish runs, while winter (December to February) is a great time for targeting species such as king mackerel and wahoo.


Understanding tidal patterns can significantly improve your fishing success in Key West. Many species are more active during specific tidal phases, such as the incoming tide or outgoing tide. Paying attention to tide charts and planning your fishing trips accordingly can increase your chances of encountering feeding fish. Additionally, certain species, such as bonefish, often prefer feeding on the flats during low tide, making it an ideal time to target them.

Dawn and Dusk

The early morning and late evening hours, known as dawn and dusk, are considered optimal fishing times in Key West. During these periods, fish are often more active and eager to feed. The low light conditions make it harder for fish to see anglers, providing an advantage for both fly fishing and spin fishing. If you want to experience the best fishing Key West has to offer, consider planning your trips around the sunrise and sunset.

Fishing Techniques in Key West

Fly Fishing

Key West is a paradise for fly fishing enthusiasts, with its shallow flats and clear waters providing an ideal environment for targeting bonefish, permit, and tarpon. Fly fishing requires precise casting and a stealthy approach to fool these smart and wary fish. Whether you prefer sight fishing on the flats or targeting tarpon in the backcountry, Key West offers ample opportunities to practice and improve your fly fishing skills.

Spin Fishing

Spin fishing is a versatile technique that allows anglers to target a wide range of fish species in Key West. From casting artificial lures to using live bait, spin fishing offers a dynamic and exciting fishing experience. Whether you’re fishing the backcountry, nearshore reefs, or offshore waters, spin fishing allows you to cover a larger area and target a variety of species, including snapper, grouper, and king mackerel.


Trolling is a popular technique used by offshore anglers in Key West to cover vast stretches of water and entice pelagic species such as mahi-mahi, tuna, and sailfish. It involves towing bait or lures behind a moving boat to simulate a swimming prey. Offshore trolling typically uses larger, more robust rods and reels to handle the powerful runs of game fish. The thrill of a strike and the subsequent fight make trolling a favorite among many anglers.

Bottom Fishing

Bottom fishing is a technique commonly used in Key West to target species such as snapper, grouper, and king mackerel. It involves dropping baited hooks to the ocean floor near reefs or structures where these fish congregate. Bottom fishing can be done from a stationary position or by drifting with the current. Patience is key when bottom fishing, as it may take some time for the fish to locate and bite the bait.

Kite Fishing

Kite fishing is a specialized technique used by anglers in Key West to target sailfish and other pelagic species. It involves suspending baits from a kite, which is flown above the water’s surface. The kite allows anglers to keep the bait at the desired depth and position, increasing the chances of attracting and hooking fish. Kite fishing requires precise rigging and careful kite handling to ensure a successful and thrilling fishing experience.

Where Can I Fish In Key West?

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Fishing Regulations in Key West

Size and Bag Limits

To ensure the sustainability of Key West’s fish populations, there are regulations in place regarding the size and bag limits of certain species. Size limits specify the minimum size at which a fish can be legally kept, while bag limits dictate the maximum number of fish that can be harvested within a specific time frame. It is crucial for anglers to familiarize themselves with these regulations and adhere to them to protect the fishery for future generations.

Protected Species

Key West is home to several protected species that are off-limits to harvest or strictly regulated. These species include various types of coral, sea turtles, and certain types of sharks. Anglers should educate themselves on the protected species in Key West and be aware of the guidelines set by environmental protection agencies. Respecting these regulations and practicing responsible fishing ensures the preservation of the delicate marine ecosystem.

Coral Reef Protection

Key West’s coral reefs are fragile and vulnerable ecosystems that require protection and conservation efforts. Anchoring on coral reefs can cause significant damage, so it is essential for anglers to use mooring buoys or anchor in designated areas. Additionally, anglers should avoid standing or touching coral formations to prevent further harm. By following responsible fishing practices, anglers can enjoy the beauty of Key West’s coral reefs while minimizing their environmental impact.

Fishing Equipment and Gear

Rods and Reels

The choice of fishing equipment and gear depends on the target species and fishing technique. For light tackle fishing in the backcountry or nearshore waters, a medium to a medium-heavy spinning rod and reel combo is suitable. Anglers targeting larger game fish offshore may opt for heavy-duty conventional reels paired with stout rods. It’s essential to match the equipment to the species you intend to catch to ensure a successful and enjoyable fishing experience.

Baits and Lures

Key West offers a variety of fishing baits and lures to entice different fish species. Live baits such as shrimp, pinfish, and pilchards are popular choices for targeting snapper, grouper, and tarpon. Artificial lures such as soft plastics, topwater plugs, and spoons are effective for attracting species like bonefish, permit, and mahi-mahi. Anglers should have a diverse selection of baits and lures to adapt to the changing fishing conditions and preferences of the fish.

Tackle Shops

Key West is home to several tackle shops that cater to the needs of anglers. These shops offer a wide range of fishing equipment, bait, and tackle for all types of fishing. Whether you need to stock up on hooks and sinkers, update your rod and reel, or get advice from knowledgeable staff, tackle shops in Key West are your go-to resource to ensure you have all the necessary gear for a successful fishing trip.

Where Can I Fish In Key West?

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Fish Cleaning and Cooking

Cleaning Your Catch

After a rewarding day of fishing in Key West, it’s time to clean and prepare the fish for consumption. If you’re not familiar with fish cleaning techniques, it’s recommended to seek the assistance of a professional fish cleaning service or your fishing charter captain. They can expertly fillet and clean your catch, ensuring that you make the most of your fresh seafood.

Local Seafood Restaurants

Key West is famous for its seafood cuisine, and there are numerous restaurants that offer delectable dishes featuring locally caught fish. From fried snapper and grilled mahi-mahi to blackened grouper and seared tuna, Key West’s seafood restaurants provide a wide variety of flavors and preparations to suit everyone’s taste. Indulge in the mouthwatering culinary delights and savor the fresh flavors of the sea.

Cooking Tips

If you prefer to cook your catch yourself, there are various cooking methods and recipes to try. Whether you’re grilling, baking, or pan-frying your fish, it’s important to make sure it is cooked to perfection. Fresh fish requires minimal seasoning to let its natural flavors shine. Experiment with marinades, rubs, and herbs to enhance the taste of your catch. Key West’s fresh seafood is a delight to cook and offers endless possibilities for culinary creativity.

Fishing Tips and Tricks

Local Knowledge

Taking advantage of local knowledge is essential for a successful fishing trip in Key West. The local guides and charter captains possess invaluable insights into the best fishing spots, techniques, and species behavior. They can provide tips and tricks tailored to the current fishing conditions and help you maximize your chances of catching fish. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and tap into their expertise to make the most of your time on the water.

Weather Conditions

Being aware of the weather conditions is crucial for planning a safe and productive fishing trip in Key West. Pay attention to factors such as wind speed, wave height, and precipitation forecasts. Certain weather patterns can affect fish behavior and feeding habits. For example, a rising barometer and calm conditions often coincide with increased fish activity. Keeping an eye on weather updates and adjusting your fishing strategy accordingly can significantly impact your success rate.

Time of Day

In addition to considering the season and tides, the time of day can also influence your fishing success in Key West. As mentioned earlier, dawn and dusk are typically the most productive times to fish due to increased fish activity. However, certain species may exhibit different feeding patterns depending on the time of day. Observing fish behavior and adjusting your fishing schedule accordingly can help you target the most active fish.

Key West offers a diverse and exciting fishing experience for anglers of all levels. Whether you’re targeting the elusive bonefish on the flats, battling with giant tarpon, or offshore fishing for pelagic species, Key West’s waters hold endless possibilities. By following the regulations, respecting the environment, and utilizing the local knowledge, you can make the most of your fishing adventures in Key West. So grab your gear, hop on a charter, and get ready for an unforgettable fishing experience.