Key West Fishing Charters & Guides

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Charters Near Key West
Capt. Conch Charters- Reef Runner II
Key West, FL
(4.9, 32 Reviews)
Capt. Conch Charters - Capt. Conch
Key West, FL
(5.0, 31 Reviews)
Capt. Conch Charters - Conch Too
Key West, FL
(4.8, 46 Reviews)
About Fishing in Key West

Key West Fishing Charters

Thoughts of Key West can invite images of sandy beaches, Ernest Hemingway, palm trees, fishing, and so much more. It’s the southernmost city in the U.S. and only 95 miles north of Cuba. The island of Key West is only 4 miles long and 1 mile wide, but still offers a ton of fun. There are a variety of activities for families, couples, and friend-groups to experience and enjoy while visiting Key West. For a bit of history, check out Ernest Hemingway’s Home & Museum located on Whitehead St. in the heart of Old Town. And of course, fishing the beautiful waters.

The options for fishing in Key West can be overwhelming. There’s the backcountry to the west and north of the island, or the nearby reefs and wrecks. For deep sea fishing check out the Gulf Stream just a few miles south. (The Gulf Stream, not to be confused with the Gulf of Mexico, is a current of water in the ocean flowing from the Keys up the East Coast of the United States.) Spend a few days fishing Key West and you can literally do it all.

Key West Backcountry Fishing

The term “backcountry” refers to the area north of Key West and the Florida Keys that is filled with small mangrove islands, sand bars, and channels of water with a variety of fish. The water can run shallow or up to 30ft deep. It’s a treasure trove of fish species for anglers to target. Anglers can pick up a fly rod for some fly fishing, or try their hand at kayak fishing with spinning gear to stalk the shallows. Backcountry charters will fish from either a bay boat or a flats skiff, something that can handle both shallow and deep waters.

Key West’s backcountry is a great place for anglers of all skill-levels to perfect a technique or try something new. The waters are much calmer compared to other inshore or offshore excursions, and anglers tend to cast more often and experience more action when fishing the backcountry.

Some species you can catch include barracuda, trout, snook, redfish, and mangrove snapper. Mangrove Snapper (or gray snapper) are very popular thanks to their abundance and eagerness to eat a variety of baits. Shrimp or cut bait fished near the many mangroves, or any grassy or rocky structures, will typically produce a bite. Spawning season for mangrove snappers in Key West is late summer (July and August), but they are caught year round in good numbers. Adding to their popularity, mangrove snapper make for great table fare and are open for harvest year round, provided they are longer than 10’’.

Snook, trout, and redfish all make for a more sporting outing, however they are more tightly regulated than Mangrove Snapper. Be sure to check the latest regulations before targeting these fish if you intend on harvesting them. Snook are often described as a "bass on steroids," and for good reason. They're acrobatic fights and head thrashing is certainly reminiscent of largemouth bass, but the snook grows larger, runs faster, and fights harder. To make the nickname more fitting, most bass lures will work well on snook. Those targeting the coveted 40"+ snook however will typically use live mullet, pinfish, ladyfish, or large cut bait pieces of those species. 

Trout are known for their quality tablefare, hard hits, and propensity for hitting artificials. On light tackle, the jarring hit of a speckled seatrout interrupting an otherwise steady retrieve certainly gets the adrenaline pumping. Redfish are a highly targeted inshore species throughout the Gulf, and in the Atlantic through North Carolina, however they can be caught as far north as Massachusetts. They are more stubborn fighters than snook or trout, marked by slower but sustained runs.


Key West Inshore Fishing

Technically, backcountry fishing is considered inshore fishing, so everything in the above paragraphs could easily fit here as well. But we’ll move on to the other inshore possibilities found in Key West. Namely: flats fishing. Flats fishing is when anglers traverse water that is shallow, typically less than 5 feet deep. You’ll often see guides pushing their boat with a pole through the skinny water, standing on a poling platform while another angler stands on a casting platform scanning the horizon for any movement or fish-shadows.

Tarpon, permit, and bonefish are by far the most popular flats fishing species in Key West, and catching all three in one trip will earn the lucky angler a Grand Slam. Sight fishing the flats of Key West takes some practice, or aid from an experienced guide. First of all, wear polarized glasses that will help with reflections from the sun off the water. The polarized lenses allows anglers to see hundreds of feet across the water for schools of fish.

If you’re stalking bonefish, a quiet approach and natural presentation is vital. These “gray ghosts” spook very easily and will bolt at any sign of danger. If you do happen to hook a bonefish, take a quick picture before releasing back into the shallow water as this species (along with tarpon) are catch-and-release only throughout Florida.

Tarpon don't necessarily need much of an introduction, but they carry the well earned nickname of "the Silver King." Reaching over 200 pounds, this inshore brute can be a real heartbreaker. Their rough mouths fray leaders, leading to broken lines and lost fish, and their the acrobatic head shaking display that they are known for throws hooks very efficently. 

Key West Shark Fishing

A Key West shark charter is a great option for your fishing adventure. Sharks are found throughout the waters of the Keys, including the backcountry, reefs and wrecks of Key West. Lemon Shark, blacktip shark, bonnet-head shark, sawtooth shark, nurse shark, and bull shark are all found swimming the nearby waters. The blacktip shark has a distinctive black tip on their fins and can grow up to 8 feet long, although in Key West they are usually 3-5 feet long. They are typically found in water 3-6 feet deep and will eat barracuda, mackerel, and more.

Captains will chum the waters to attract the shark. Once on the hook they tend to run straight and fast, usually with the tide. Make sure to run with them or you’ll get spooled. Most anglers in Key West practice catch-and-release on landed sharks, as they’re not very good eating and there are some regulations on certain species. Best to release them for another day’s fight.

Key West Offshore Fishing

In the offshore waters of Key West anglers can find Spanish mackerel, king mackerel (or kingfish), grouper, snapper, sailfish, tuna, mahi mahi, marlin, and more. Charters who fish the Gulf Stream will typically troll for mahi mahi, also known as dolphin or dorado. Sailfish and marlin are other favorited offshore species, and some charters will even offer night fishing charters for sailfish.

Plan to spend at least six hours for a Key West offshore charter, once you get a taste of the action that the Gulf Stream provides you’ll be surprised how short a six hour day feels. This also allows for plenty enough time to fill your coolers with some of the best tasting fillets found offshore anywhere.

Book A Key West Fishing Charter

Fishing charters in Key West offer a variety of options for your day’s adventure. Whether it’s grouper, sailfish, mahi mahi, spotted seatrout, or wahoo, there’s always a coveted game fish biting 365 days a year. Find a local Key West charter that’s perfect for your group today!

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