Since the only way to get there is by boat or seaplane, and it is a 70-mile one way trip, it is easy to see why Dry Tortugas is America's least-visited national park. The remote location and few visitors also make it an amazing place to fish. Just be aware of snorkelers and divers in the area when you fish. Most people come for the history, snorkeling and to get away from everything. The sea life here is used to humans, which means sea turtles and fish will come in close. Fishing is different here than in other parts of Florida. Parts of the areas are off-limits to fishing and parts are open to fishing under certain conditions. The National Park Service explains the fishing rules in this article. Dry Tortugas fishing charters know the rules and will either have everything you need or will help you get what you need to fish here. Because these waters are very clear, you need light lines and fluorocarbon leaders. If the fish are ignoring your offerings, downsize the hook. The ultra-clear water also means a lot of the angling is sight fishing. In other words, look for fish. When you see them, try to catch them. Saltwater fly fisherman and veteran redfish anglers are used to this kind of fishing, but others will see it as something new. It can be exciting and frustrating at the same time to see a big fish come up, stare at your offering and swim away. But that is why it is called fishing and not called catching.
It is hard to call the shallow-water fishing here inshore because there is so little shoreline. The shallows cover a much greater area than might be expected given the above-ground landmass. Water from one to about 30 feet deep is the inshore area. The extensive shallow waters make this prime habitat for bonefish, permit and tarpon. For fly fishermen, these are the big three in saltwater. Low fishing pressure means the fish are less wary than they are in other heavily fished locations. You still have to be on your game to convince a permit or bonefish to hit your fly. Shrimp, crab and baitfish patterns are best. Getting a tarpon to hit your fly is just a matter of getting one's attention. Landing a silver king is an order of magnitude different. You need a 10-weight or 11-weight rod and a reel with at least 200 yards of backing. All the inshore species will slurp live bait like shrimp, menhaden, pinfish and crabs. Artificial shrimp work just as well and are cheaper in the long run. For some explosive action, throw topwater plugs.
Dry Tortugas has some pretty steep drop-offs. Where this happens, reef fish will stack up. They also gather around the many natural and artificial reefs in the area. Shipwrecks are another good place for fishing. Fish eagerly take live and cut bait dropped right on the underwater structure. Pinfish, menhaden and even baitfish caught on the reef are excellent offerings. Jigging big plugs is a popular way to haul grouper, snapper and amberjack on board. Pelagic fish are also caught jigging, but more commonly are brought to the boat by trolling. Usually, a mixture of artificial lures and dusters and bubblers tipped with frozen baits are pulled behind the boat. Wahoo, tuna, king mackerel, mahi mahi and billfish will take these baits. If you find a weed line or anything else at the surface, check it for mahi mahi. If dorado or dolphin, two other names for this fish, are present, you can also catch them with topwater lures and big bucktails tipped with bait or a swimming lure.
The extensive shallows and the structure of the Dry Tortugas makes this one of the few places where you can tackle reef fish on a fly rod. "We caught no wahoo on this day, but we wore our arms out catching amberjacks to 45 pounds, horse-eye jacks to 20 pounds, big barracudas, mutton snappers, yellowtail snappers, groupers, and even a few king mackerel. You can hook many of these fish on the light tackle of your choice, even a fly (an 11 or 12 weight is best)," writes Bob Stearns for Field & Stream magazine.
When you are ready to fish an unspoiled paradise, FishAnywhere has the Dry Tortugas fishing charters connections to make it happen. If you want to stay overnight on the island, you need to book your trip well in advance since slots fill quickly.