Ultimate Guide • Updated Wed, Jul 19, 2023
The Florida Keys is renowned for its deep-sea angling opportunities. From marlin and sailfish to tuna and mahi mahi, deep-sea fishing the Florida Keys provides unbelievable adventures on the water. With easy access to the offshore waters of both the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, this tropical paradise boasts world-class angling. Whether you're a life-long angler or a beginner looking to get on the water for the first time, the Florida Keys offer charters and guides to ensure an unforgettable deep-sea fishing excursion.
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Deep-sea fishing charters play a crucial role in enhancing the fishing experience for both novice and experienced anglers. These knowledgeable professionals possess extensive expertise on the local fishing grounds, techniques, and target species. Hiring a deep-sea fishing guide offers several advantages, including access to prime fishing spots, insider knowledge on the best times to fish, and guidance on the most effective tackle and bait choices. Guides can also provide valuable instruction on fishing techniques, help with equipment setup, and assist with landing and handling fish. Whether you're new to deep-sea fishing or looking to improve your skills, a skilled guide can enhance your chances of a safe and successful fishing trip. Check out our world-class offshore fishing charters in Key West, Islamorada, and Key Largo.
As a world-class destination for deep sea fishing, the Florida Keys are a prime destination for targeting pelagic fish species, making memories that will last a lifetime. Below are the some of the most common deep sea fish species in the Florida Keys:
Sailfish are one of the most popular and highly sought-after deep-sea fishing species around the Florida Keys. These magnificent fish are known for their distinctive sail-like dorsal fins and remarkable speed. Sailfish are particularly prevalent in the offshore waters of the Florida Keys, especially during the winter months while they migrate through the area. Anglers are drawn to these trophy fish for their massive size, striking appearance, thrilling runs, and big leaps out of water. Whether you're an experienced angler or a first-time deep-sea fisherman, encountering a sailfish in the waters of the Florida Keys is an exhilarating experience that will create lasting memories.
Marlin are a highly prized and sought-after deep-sea fishing species in the Florida Keys. The Florida Keys offer opportunities to target both blue marlin and white marlin, both of which are known for their incredible size, strength, and aggressive fighting behavior. Marlin inhabit the offshore waters of the Florida Keys and are most often caught during the warmer months. Anglers often embark on dedicated marlin fishing trips, using trolling techniques with large baits or lures to entice these massive fish. Hooking into a marlin is an adrenaline-pumping experience, as they always put up a vigorous fight. Catching a marlin in the Florida Keys is considered a significant accomplishment and a highlight for any deep-sea angler.
Tuna are another highly prized deep-sea species that is commonly targeted in the Florida Keys. The Florida Keys offer both yellowfin tuna and blackfin tuna - both highly prized as gamefish and table fare. These pelagic predators are often found chasing schools of baitfish in offshore waters beneath flocks of diving sea birds. Tuna are often targeted by trolling, live baiting, or casting with lures. Get ready for a battle, as tuna are pound for pound some of the strongest and speediest fish in the ocean. If you're looking for a truly exhilarating deep-sea fishing adventure, tuna in the Florida Keys will provide an unforgettable experience.
Mahi mahi, also known as dorado or dolphin, are found throughout the coastal waters of the Florida Keys. These beautiful, vibrantly-colored fish are known for their striking appearance and acrobatic jumps. Mahi mahi can be found year round in the warm offshore waters of the Florida Keys, and can be caught worldwide in 3 of the 4 oceans. Mahi are often found around floating debris, weed lines, or offshore structures where they seek shelter and prey. Anglers targeting mahi use various techniques such as trolling, casting, and live baiting. Once hooked, mahi put up a strong fight, and are also prized for their delicious filets. Mahi mahi are one of the fastest growing animals in the world, reaching breeding age approximately 3 months after birth. This makes them an excellent choice for conservation minded seafood lovers.
Wahoo are a popular species for deep sea fishing in the Florida Keys, known for their speed, power, and aggressive nature. Anglers particularly enjoy targeting wahoo because of their ferocious attacks and their wild runs. They are also delicious when smoked or grilled. Wahoo are typically found in the offshore waters of the Florida Keys near reefs, drop-offs, temperature breaks, and edges. Wahoo are often caught by high-speed trolling lures or rigged baits to mimic their natural prey.
Snapper, particularly yellowtail snapper, red snapper, and mutton snapper, are popular target species for deep-sea anglers in the Florida Keys. These prized fish are known for their delicious taste and bring anglers from across the globe each snapper season. When snapper fishing the Florida Keys, anglers can use various techniques, such as bottom fishing with live bait or artificial lures around wrecks and reefs. Snapper can put up a strong fight and are great if you're looking for a day full of rod-bending action.
Grouper species, including black grouper, red grouper, and gag grouper are a popular species anglers target while deep-sea fishing in the Florida Keys. These powerful and voracious fish are known for their strength and their structure-oriented behavior. Grouper are commonly found near reefs, wrecks, and rocky areas in the offshore waters of the Florida Keys. Anglers may employ various techniques such as bottom fishing with live bait, cut bait, or jigs to entice these species. Grouper put up a formidable fight, often using their strength to seek shelter within the reef structure. Landing a grouper requires some patience, skill, proper tackle, and technique to overcome their resistance. In addition to their fighting ability, grouper are highly regarded for their delicious and flaky meat, making them a prized catch for both sport anglers and seafood lovers.
Key West is a world renowned destination for deep-sea fishing enthusiasts, offering a vast amount of deep-sea fishing opportunities. Situated at the southernmost point of the United States, Key West provides access to both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, presenting diverse fishing grounds and an abundance of marine life. Anglers can target a variety of game fish such as sailfish, marlin, tuna, mahi mahi, and wahoo, all known for their size and exhilarating fights, putting Key West on the map in terms of fishing. With numerous experienced fishing charters, knowledgeable captains, and an island style atmosphere, Key West is the perfect destination for those seeking a memorable deep-sea fishing adventure.
Islamorada, often referred to, among anglers, as the "Sportfishing Capital of the World," is a premier destination for deep-sea fishing in Florida. Located in the Upper Keys, Islamorada offers anglers unparalleled access to the abundant offshore waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Whether you're an experienced angler or a beginner, the diverse fishing grounds around Islamorada provide opportunities to target a wide range of game fish for all levels. With a multitude of professional fishing charters and experienced guides available, anglers can embark on thrilling deep-sea fishing adventures, where the chance to hook into trophy fish and create lasting memories awaits.
Key Largo, located in the northern part of the Florida Keys, is a fantastic destination for deep-sea fishing enthusiasts. With its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, Key Largo offers anglers access to a variety of fishing grounds and abundant pelagic species. Deep-sea fishing charters in Key Largo provide the opportunity to target a wide range of species. Whether you're a seasoned angler or a beginner, experienced captains and guides are always available to assist and ensure a safe and successful fishing trip. The beautiful waters of Key Largo, known for their vibrant coral reefs and diverse ecosystems, make it a captivating location for anglers seeking thrilling deep-sea fishing experiences and the chance to land the fish of a lifetime.
When gearing up for deep-sea fishing in the Florida Keys, it's important to have the right equipment to maximize your chances of success. Before your fishing trip, consult with local tackle shops, charter captains, or experienced anglers in the Florida Keys to get specific gear recommendations based on your target species and fishing techniques you plan to employ. Charters and guides will almost always provide the appropriate materials for deep sea fishing. Here are some essential gear items to consider:
Choose sturdy and reliable rods and reels designed for offshore fishing. Use heavy-action rods and reels with high line capacities to handle and withstand the massive pelagic species that people often target while deep sea fishing.
Use quality fishing lines with high abrasion resistance and appropriate strength. Braided lines or monofilament lines with sufficient strength (over 30 pound test to be safe) are commonly used for deep-sea fishing.
Stock up on a variety of hooks, swivels, and sinkers suitable for the species you're targeting. Use sharp saltwater circle hooks between size 2 and 4/0 depending on the size of your bait and your fish.
Carry a selection of artificial lures such as trolling plugs, jigs, and poppers to entice bites from pelagic species like sailfish, tuna, and mahi-mahi. Additionally, live bait such as pilchards, mullet, or shrimp can be effective for attracting various offshore fish.
Prioritize safety by having life jackets, a first aid kit, flares, a marine radio or satellite phone, and other necessary safety equipment on board. Bring plenty of water. Protect yourself from the sun's rays by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, polarized sunglasses, and plenty of sunscreen. The Florida Keys' hot climate can be intense, so adequate sun protection and hydration is crucial.
Bottom fishing in the Florida Keys can be an effective technique for targeting a variety of species, including snapper, grouper, and other bottom-dwelling fish. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to bottom fish in the Florida Keys:
Identify suitable bottom fishing spots, such as reefs, wrecks, ledges, or other structure-rich areas. Local fishing charts, GPS devices, or advice from experienced anglers and charter captains can help you locate productive areas.
Use a sturdy rod and reel combo with medium to heavy action, capable of handling the weight and power of your target species. Attach a leader of fluorocarbon or monofilament line to the main line using a swivel or a strong knot. The leader should be approximately 3 to 5 feet in length, depending on the water clarity and target species.
Select appropriate weights or sinkers to reach the desired depth. Egg sinkers, bank sinkers, and knocker rigs are commonly used. The weight should be sufficient to keep your bait near the bottom and resist the current.
Choose the appropriate hook size and style based on the target species and bait you intend to use. Circle hooks are often preferred for their higher hook-up rates and improved fish survival when practicing catch-and-release. Common bait options include live or cut baitfish, squid, shrimp, or other natural baits that are locally available and appealing to the targeted species.
Depending on the conditions and the fishing spot, you can choose to anchor your boat near the structure or drift along your targeted area. Anchoring provides more stability and control over one spot, while drifting allows you to cover more ground and increase your chances of locating fish.
Cast up current to quickly drop your baited hook to the bottom while maintaining minor tension on the line. If you're drifting, adjust your depth as you drift to keep your bait close to the bottom. Keep an eye on your rod tip for any signs of bites or nibbles. Once you feel or see a bite, allow the fish to take the bait before reeling down fast to set the hook.
Once hooked, reel the fish steadily and carefully, maintaining tension on the line. Avoid jerking the rod too forcefully to prevent the fish from shaking off the hook. Keep your drag set loose enough to prevent t=the line from breaking, but tight enough to tire the fish out. Use a landing net or gaff to land the fish when it reaches the surface.
Trolling is a popular fishing technique when offshore fishing in the Florida Keys. Offshore trolling allows anglers to cover large areas and target pelagic species like sailfish, marlin, tuna, mahi mahi, and wahoo. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to troll effectively in the Florida Keys:
Use a boat equipped with sturdy rods and reels capable of handling larger game fish. Medium to heavy-action trolling rods with high line capacity reels are ideal for trolling offshore in the Florida Keys.
Select a variety of trolling lures suitable for your target species. Options include trolling plugs, feathers, skirts, and rigged baits. Different colors, sizes, and designs can help mimic the baitfish prevalent in the area like flying fish, squid, and skipjack.
Position your trolling lures at different distances and depths behind the boat. Attach each lure to a separate rod or use a trolling spreader bar to separate multiple lures. This helps create a wider trolling spread and increases your chances of attracting fish.
Find the optimal trolling speed for the targeted species. Generally, trolling speeds in the Florida Keys range between 4 to 8 knots, but it can vary based on the lure type and species you are targeting. Adjust your boat's speed accordingly to maximize lure action and entice strikes.
Keep an eye on the water's surface for signs of bird activity, floating debris, or weed lines that can indicate potential feeding areas for gamefish. Also, be aware of underwater structures like reefs, ledges, or drop-offs, as these can attract fish and increase your chances of success. If you have access to sea temperature charts, set up on clear temperature breaks where the water transitions from cool to warm, as game fish tend to congregate around these areas.
Stay vigilant and monitor your trolling spread for any signs of strikes or fish hitting your lures. When a fish strikes, allow it to take the lure and maintain tension on the line before setting the hook. Depending on the species and gear you're using, this may involve reeling in slowly or engaging the drag system immediately.
Once hooked, fight the fish using proper angling techniques, keeping tension on the line and avoiding sudden jerks. When bringing the fish close to the boat, use a landing net or gaff to secure it. If the fish is undersized, protected, or not in season, handle it carefully and release it unharmed. If you are fishing for protected game fish species like sailfish or marlin, cut the line close to the hook using a knife, pliers, or specialized line cutting device for a speedy, safe release.
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