Fishing in Key West, Florida: The Complete Guide

fishing in Key West

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Key West is known for its beautiful sand beaches, laidback island life, and world class fishing. The waters right off of the United States’ Southernmost Point are home to the top five most sought-after gamefish: bonefish, tarpon, permit, redfish, and snook, while just a bit further out in the Atlantic you’ll find troves of sport fishing favorites like blue and white marlin, swordfish, and sailfish. Whether you are a beginner, seasoned fisherman, or just want to try it out, Key West offers some of the best fishing in the world. 

Best Season for Fishing

Although it may seem like there are no seasons in the Keys, the water temperature does change throughout the year. During the winter months, December through February, a good catch is harder to come by. The waters are windier this time of year as well, so backcountry fishing is recommended. The “backcountry,” as it’s referred to by locals, is the area known as Florida Bay and is the waters of the inner curve of the Keys. Springtime, which is March through May, is probably the best season for fishing all types of fish in the local waters. The waters are starting to warm up and the tarpon begin bombarding the seas. June through August is the hottest time of the year, and although it’s a great time for fishing, it may not be ideal for the inexperienced — it can get pretty hot out on the water. The second-best time to fish in Key West is the fall months of September and October — the summer crowds have diminished but the water is still warm and full of fish. 

Common Types of Fishing in Key West

Fishing in Key West is unique in that there is a wide array of options for the type of fishing you can try. Deep sea fishing, light tackle offshore fishing, flats fishing, and backcountry fishing are all available depending on the type of experience and location you’re looking for. There are also many areas where you can fish from shore or over one of the Overseas Highway bridges, these are good for beginners who just want to give fishing a try. 

How to DIY Your Fishing Trip

DIY-ing your Key West fishing trip is sure to create a memorable experience, but should really only be attempted by experienced anglers who know the waters and how to fish. Although, if you are planning on fishing off a dock, bridge, or from shore, you’ll probably be okay. Renting gear is easy in Key West, as the island is crawling with bait and tackle shops that will rent you all the gear you need, and even explain how to use it. Key West Bait & Tackle is centrally located in Land’s End Village and have been around for over 30 years. Rod rentals start at $25.00 for the first day and $5.00 per day after that. Fun in the Sun Boat Rentals and Charters will rent you a boat, however you must be at least 21 and pass a Boater’s Safety Test prior check in. Boat rentals start at about $225 for a half day rental, but the price varies depending on the model boat and amount of time. If you are first-timer, or have driven a boat less than ten times, it is recommended that you charter a boat with an experienced captain. 

Best Tour and Fishing Charters

The most cost-effective way to fish in Key West is by joining a fishing excursion. If you have a big enough group, you will probably take up majority of the tour anyway. Fishing tours start at about $350 for a two-hour tour but the price varies depending on the length of trip and amount of people. Equipment should be included.

Fishing charters are another way to experience world class Key West fishing, but the price can run a bit higher, starting at about $500 for a half day trip. Fun in the Sun offers fishing tours and boat charters and are located in Key West Harbor. Dream Catcher Charters, is another popular tour company with competitive prices and quality captains. For an extreme fishing adventure try Wild Bill. They offer a deep-sea fishing adventure where you are bound to catch something big. 

Fishing Rules and Guidelines

Catch and Release Fishing is the common practice down in Key West. In order to protect the sea life, the state of Florida encourages anglers to, “limit your catch, not catch your limit.” It is everyone’s responsibility to protect the waters and keep Florida the “Fishing Capital of the World.” So, when planning your fishing trip down in the Keys, ensure that your charter is using the proper tools and gear for catch and release and understands the importance of the practice. Also, remember that a saltwater fishing license is required to fish independently in the Keys, even from bridges or the shore. You can purchase a license at most bait and tackle shops or online. 

For updated fishing rules and regulations check out the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission