What’s biting in the Florida Keys?

The Florida Keys are a world-renowned fishing destination known for an abundance of trophy fish species. Anglers flock here from around the globe with hopes of landing monster tarpon, permit, bonefish, sailfish and more. With over 1,700 islands to explore, fishing opportunities are endless. Whether you prefer shore fishing, flats fishing, bridge fishing, offshore fishing or even lobstering, the Keys has something for every angler.

When is the best time to fish in the Florida Keys?

The Keys offer great fishing year-round, but certain times of year are better than others for targeting specific species. Here’s a quick breakdown:

– Winter (December – March): Sailfish, blackfin tuna, wahoo, cobia, sheepshead, snapper, pompano
– Spring (March – May): Tarpon, permit, bonefish, cobia, dolphin, snapper, grouper
– Summer (June – August): Tarpon, permit, bonefish, snapper, shark, tuna, mahi mahi
– Fall (September – November): Sailfish, wahoo, mutton snapper, yellowtail snapper, grouper

The winter and spring months tend to be the busiest fishing times in the Keys.

Where are the best spots to fish in the Florida Keys?

The Keys offer a diversity of fishing habitats, ranging from shallow grass flats to deep offshore waters. Some top spots include:

– Bahia Honda Bridge – spans the 500-foot-wide Bahia Honda Channel, providing access to deep waters for snapper and grouper.

– Seven Mile Bridge – famous old bridge connecting Knights Key to Little Duck Key, offering shoreline fishing for tarpon, snapper, shark and more.

– Marathon Hump – underwater plateau rising from 600 feet to 300 feet, holding snapper, grouper, amberjack and other reef fish.

– Woman Key – flats near Woman Key State Park hold schools of bonefish, permit and tarpon.

– Patch and Snipe Keys – mangrove islands north of Key Largo harbor tarpon, shark and barracuda.

– Sombrero Reef – extensive offshore reef with opportunities for yellowtail snapper, cobia, kingfish and sailfish.

– Sand Key – seven-mile-long sandbar near Key West holding permit, bonefish and tarpon.

What baits and lures work best?

Baits and lures that are effective in the Keys include:

– Live shrimp – the go-to bait for most snapper and grouper fishing. Hook them through the horn.

– Pilchards – small baitfish that work well for tarpon, snook, barracuda and shark.

– Crabs – hermit and blue crabs are prized baits for permit, pompano and drum.

– Mullet – whole finger mullet are irresistible to large gamefish like tarpon, shark and cobia.

– Pinfish – ubiquitous small baitfish perfect for livelining offshore and nearshore.

– Squid – whole squid and trolled squid imitations are deadly for mahi mahi and tuna.

– Sardines – excellent bait for a variety of captain and grouper species when fished on the bottom.

– Bucktail jigs – versatile artificial lures for species such as mackerel, jacks and snapper.

– Spoons – casting or trolling metal spoons mimics baitfish and triggers strikes from tarpon, tuna and more.

What are the regulations?

Fishing in the Florida Keys is managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Here are some key regulations:

– A recreational saltwater fishing license and tarpon tag are required for anglers 16 and older.

– Size and bag limits exist for many species like grouper, snapper, snook, lobster, etc. Consult regulations.

– Certain areas like Everglades National Park, Key West Wildlife Refuge and Dry Tortugas National Park have special rules.

– Seasons, licenses and permits dictate lobstering and crabbing activities.

– Circle hooks are required when using natural baits to help conservation.

– Catch and release is encouraged for less harvested sportfish like bonefish and tarpon.

Always stay up to date on fishing regulations before your Keys trip.

What are some trophy fish species in the Keys?

The Keys are famous for trophy-sized fish. Some of the most sought after include:

Tarpon – Silver Kings reach enormous proportions, with the IGFA record standing at 243 pounds from Key West. Fish over 100 pounds are possible. The main season runs March through July.

Permit – Permits arguably reach their peak size and numbers in the Keys. Twenty pounders are the holy grail, but 15 pound fish are more common. Catch them on crab and shrimp.

Bonefish – Bonefish don’t match the sheer size of tarpon and permit, but they can still reach double-digit weights. Their strength makes them outstanding light tackle gamefish.

Sailfish – Acrobatic sailfish reach their peak concentrations off Key West in the winter months. Fish over 100 pounds are regularly caught.

Cobia – Cobia migration happens in spring when fish over 50 pounds move through the waters of the middle and lower Keys.

Wahoo – Wahoo provide blistering runs and great tablefare. Troll for fish up to 60 pounds in late winter and early spring.

What about accommodations for fishing?

The Keys offer a wide range of accommodations catering to anglers, including:

Fishing lodges – Lodges like World Wide Sportsman and Little Palm Island offer high-end fishing packages with complete services.

Charter boats – Hire charter captains to take you fishing on the water. Offshore, inshore and fly fishing charters available.

Marinas – Marinas like Hawks Cay, Bud n’ Mary’s and Robbie’s provide dockage, gear, bait and fuel for visiting anglers with boats.

Campgrounds – Many state and national park campgrounds provide great access for anglers on a budget, like at Bahia Honda State Park.

Weekly vacation rentals – Rent private homes with boat docks for easy access and ability to keep your own boat.

Hotels – Angler-friendly hotels like Islander Resort near Islamorada have dive shops, free shuttles to the reef and knowledgeable staff.

Are guides recommended for fishing the Keys?

Hiring a local guide is highly recommended for fishing the Keys, especially if you’re not intimately familiar with the region. Reasons guides are advantageous include:

– They have extensive local knowledge and put you on fish.

– They supply all necessary gear and bait. No need to spend money on gear.

– They have the boat and handle all the work to get you fishing.

– They know where the bite is on any given day and conditions.

– They understand seasons, migratory patterns and biology of fish.

– They provide instruction and tips to help you become a better angler.

– They know all the best fishing spots away from crowds and pressure.

While hiring guides costs more than fishing on your own, the benefits usually far outweigh the expense.

Are there family-friendly fishing opportunities?

The Keys offer plenty of family-friendly fishing options, including:

Bridge fishing – Easy access bridges like Seven Mile Bridge are perfect for catching snappers, jacks and more without a boat.

Charters – Many charter captains cater to families and children with kid-friendly boats.

Backcountry – Poling skiffs access shallow flats and mangroves where kids can catch smaller snappers, barracuda and sharks.

Jetties – Jetties at parks, piers and bridges provide simple fishing for a variety of species.

Kayak fishing – Paddle in the protected waters of the backcountry and mangrove islands to find fish.

Flats fishing – Hire a guide with a shallow drafting boat to take the family fishing protected flats.

Theme parks – Attractions like the Dolphin Connection at Hawks Cay offer hands-on educational fishing experiences.

No matter their age or skill level, kids can experience the thrill of Keys fishing.

What about half-day fishing trips?

Half-day fishing charters provide a good introduction to the fishery at a lower cost. What can you expect on a typical 4-6 hour morning or afternoon trip?

– Variety – Half-day trips target the best bite of the moment from several possible species – snapper, shark, kingfish, etc.

– Numbers – Action is often consistent with plenty of bites to keep attention spans short. Less waiting between hookups.

– Learning – Crews are focused on helping you learn techniques like bait rigging, fighting fish, and handling catches.

– Flexibility – The boat may move around to several spots near port to stay on fish.

– Savings – Half-day trips cost significantly less than full days. If fishing isn’t for you, you’ve saved money.

– Appreciation – A half day allows you to experience the fishery and decide if it’s something to pursue on longer trips.

For families and rookie anglers, half-day trips are a smart way to get introduced to Keys fishing.

What about DIY fishing from a rental boat?

Renting your own boat opens up fishing opportunities away from crowded guides and charters. Things to know:

– Several marinas like Robbie’s in Islamorada rent out boats from center consoles to flats skiffs.

– You can access remote flats and mangrove areas other boats can’t reach.

– DIY fishing requires you to have boating and navigational skills to be safe and successful.

– Having your own boat means you control when and where you fish. Total freedom and flexibility.

– Rental boats often come with gear like rods, bait buckets and anchors to use. But you also need licenses.

– Self-guided fishing means doing the work like spotting fish, casting, baiting hooks, unhooking fish, and boat cleaning.

Renting a boat isn’t for everyone, but it’s rewarding for self-sufficient anglers who value freedom.

What about lobstering in the Keys?

Lobstering has a passionate following in the Florida Keys during the late summer and fall mini-season and regular season. Here is what you need to know:

– A recreational lobster permit and gear like a net and tickle stick are required to lobster legally. Obey seasons and limits.

– The spiny lobster is the target species with a minimum size limit of 3 inches. Look for them hiding near structures.

– Common techniques include tickling lobsters out of holes, netting, diving and using lobster snares.

– Optimal lobstering conditions feature slack tides and water temperatures above 75 degrees F.

– The best action focuses on the last half of the outgoing tidal phase around new and full moons.

– Focus your efforts near lobster shelters like coral heads, bridges, artificial reefs and pilings.

Lobster mini-season attracts thousands of visitors, so avoid crowds by venturing to more remote areas.

How about spearfishing?

The abundance of clear, tropical waters makes the Florida Keys a spearfishing paradise. Considerations include:

– A recreational saltwater fishing license covers spearfishing, but you must take a free online course for anti-fouling certification.

– Key species include hogfish, grouper, snapper and lionfish. Know regulations, sizes and seasons.

– Local dive shops like Silent World offer gear rentals and guided spearfishing excursions.

– Special techniques used in the Keys include blue water hunting, reef walking, freediving and scouting with scooters.

– Lionfish are an invasive nuisance species in the Keys. Removing them through spearfishing helps native ecosystems.

– Take care to observe safe freediving practices. Always dive with a partner.

Spearfishing opens up an exciting, selective method to target prized fish in all areas of the Florida Keys.


With laid back island culture and miles of pristine subtropical waters, the Florida Keys sets the stage for spectacular fishing experiences. By following the guide above, anglers can maximize their chances of going home with stories, photos and fillets of memorable trophy fish. Just be sure to take time to appreciate the beauty of your surroundings, as the Keys offer so much more than just fishing.