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Ultimate Guide • Updated Fri, Jun 30, 2023

Key West Fish 101

Key West is home to a multitude of fish species due to its unique location where the Florida Atlantic and Gulf waters converge. The intersection of these two waterways create a rich marine ecosystem and excellent fishing opportunities for anglers. Whether you are a first time fisherman or a well seasoned angler, Key West boasts an abundance of fishing opportunities in its surrounding waters.

This article covers:

  • Key West Fishing Charters
  • Overview of Key West Fish
  • Key West Snapper Fishing
  • Key West Reef Fish
  • Key West Fish - Inshore
  • Key West Fish - Offshore
  • Key West Fishing Seasons
  • Key West Fish Species FAQ's

Key West Fishing Charters

Check out the best Key West fishing packages to book a professional guide and fish around Key West successfully and safely. Booking a trip with local Key West fishing guides can help you make the most of your time on the water — as they can put you on to your target species and make memories that last a lifetime.

Overview of Key West Fish

There are numerous types of fish found in the waters around Key West. While it's challenging to provide an exact count, the region is known for its rich marine biodiversity, making it home to a wide variety of fish species. The number of fish species found in Key West can easily reach several hundred. Additionally, seasonal migrations and changes in water temperature can influence the presence of different species throughout the year. Overall, Key West offers a diverse fishing experience with numerous opportunities to encounter various types of fish.

Florida Atlantic Fish

There are a few species of fish that are wildly popular amongst anglers fishing on the Atlantic side of Key West. Tarpon, bonefish, and permit are some of the most popular species on the flats off the island's east side. Tarpon are one of the most popular gamefish to target in Florida, and there is an abundance of them around Key West. Tarpon are known for their acrobatic leaps and powerful runs. Check out our comprehensive tarpon guide to learn more on tarpon fishing in the Florida Keys. Bonefish and permit are also a very popular fish to target in Key West, as they are often found on the flats and are a popular target for fly fishermen.
The Atlantic Ocean off Key West is home to a diverse range of fish species, including mahi mahi, tuna (yellowfin, blackfin, and skipjack), wahoo, sailfish, marlin (blue and white), various grouper species, snapper (yellowtail, mutton, and mangrove), kingfish, amberjack, and cobia. These waters provide ample opportunities for sport fishing enthusiasts to target a variety of prized game fish known for their speed, fighting ability, and delicious taste. Whether it's the vibrant colors of mahi mahi, the acrobatic displays of sailfish, or the powerful strikes of wahoo and tuna, the Atlantic waters off Key West offer an exciting and rewarding fishing experience.

Florida Gulf Fish

On the Gulf side of Key West, Florida, there are a multitude of fish species that are very popular to catch. There is certainly plenty of overlap with species in Key West's Atlantic waters — as fish regularly migrate east and west depending on seasonality, currents, and food availability. Permit, cobia, amberack, grouper, and snapper are some of the more popular options for Florida Gulf fish to catch in Key West.

Key West Snapper Fishing

Key West and the surrounding waters are renowned for their excellent snapper fishing. Some of the most common snapper species that are caught around Key West are yellowtail snapper, mangrove snapper and mutton snapper. Yellowtail are known for their vibrant yellow tail and delicious taste, these are a highly sought after species. Mangrove snapper, also known as gray snapper, are known to be more elusive and have a cunning nature. They inhabit mangrove shorelines, bridges and other structures. Mutton snappers are also a prized species because of their large size and taste. Mutton snapper are often found near reefs, wrecks and other structures in deeper waters. 

Florida Snapper Limits

For snapper species, such as yellowtail snapper, mangrove snapper, and mutton snapper, the following limits typically apply in Florida state waters (up to 9 nautical miles from shore):

Florida Yellowtail Snapper Limits

The daily bag limit for yellowtail snapper is typically 10 per person. The minimum size limit is around 12 inches total length.

Florida Mangrove Snapper Limits

The daily bag limit for mangrove snapper is usually 5 per person. The minimum size limit is around 10 inches total length.

Florida Mutton Snapper Limits

The daily bag limit for mutton snapper is generally 5 per person. The minimum size limit is around 18 inches total length.

Florida Red Snapper Limits

Florida's red snapper fishery is managed by the state with special closures and limits that can vary year by year. Check with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commision (FWC) for the latest info on red snapper season in Florida.

You can also follow this link to purchase your Florida fishing license online.

Key West Reef Fish

Key West reef fishing allows anglers to target a large variety of colorful and exciting fish species on Key West's nearshore reefs. Some popular reef species you may encounter near Key West include grouper, snapper, amberjack, barracuda, and triggerfish. 

Key West Fish - Inshore

While inshore fishing in Key West anglers can target a variety of different areas. There is a variety of different species one can find in the nearshore waters such as flats and backcountry areas. One of the more popular inshore species is the tarpon, also known as ‘the silver king’, are some of the most exciting fish to target. They often have big leaps out of the water and do very aggressive runs when they are hooked. The best time to target these fish in Key West is during April to September with most of the activity happening during the summer months. Another sought after species while inshore fishing is the bonefish. These fish are often found in flats and are active for year-round fishing, with the prime months being March to November. Though those are some of the more popular species, anglers can target redfish, snook, permit and various species of snapper.

Key West Fish - Offshore

Offshore fishing in Key West can take you to the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic ocean, both massive hubs for big fish and good fishing. Key West has a reputation for being a prime location for targeting Blue Marlin, with the peak seasons being April to September. Anglers can also target other species of billfish such as the sailfish and white marlin, which are prevalent during the same season. There is not only billfish in Key West offshore fishing but a variety of species such as Mahi-Mahi, Wahoo and Tuna; all of these species dwell on drop-offs or offshore reefs which make Key West a premier destination for offshore anglers. 

Key West Fishing Seasons

Seasonality and greatly affect the fishing and legality for different species of Key West fish. Below is a table outlining the peak season for some of Key West's most popular fish:

Tarpon SeasonApril to September 
Sailfish SeasonNovember to April 
Mahi Mahi SeasonApril to September 
Wahoo SeasonNovember to March 
Grouper and Snapper SeasonYear round
Bonefish and Permit SeasonYear round
Reef Fishing SeasonYear round, with certain regulations and closed seasons that may apply to certain species

Always be sure to check local rules and regulations for your target species.  

Key West Fish Species FAQ's

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