A Complete Guide to Fishing in Key West


The Keys are a string of coral islands off the southern point of Florida, the perfect location for world-class sport fishing in all directions. Easy access to both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean makes Key West a great spot to catch a wide variety of fish. Key West is far enough south that the weather is always warm, and the coral sand beaches make it a tropical island paradise year-round.

Located near the edge of the Florida plateau, the seafloor drops off quickly and gives Key West easy access to deep water and the giant fish that live there. Being the furthest west of all the Florida Keys puts it in the perfect position to take advantage of the best fishing grounds in all directions. The tropical weather, 125+ miles of islands, and seemingly endless ocean make Key West a bucket list fishing spot for every angler.

The Keys include other popular fishing destinations like Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key, Key Largo, and many more. Over time these islands have earned a reputation for having some of the best fishing in the world and adopted the title of the “Fishing Capital of the World.”

Types of Fishing in Key West

Offshore fishing can usually be broken up into three categories: Inshore, nearshore, and offshore. Inshore fishing happens in the shallow water right by the land, offshore fishing takes you miles off the coast, and nearshore is everywhere in between. Key West is unique in that some of the big offshore species can be found close to land, so inshore and nearshore and fishing is usually combined into one category.

Inshore fishing in Key West is one of the main reasons people visit the island. The world-famous bays, flats, islands, and sandbars surrounding Key West make a perfect recipe for targeting a variety of inshore and shallow-water species. On most days, the water is clear enough to see plenty of fish right from the boat, and if you’re comfortable with your rod skills you can cast right at them.

The quality of fishing doesn’t end when you head further out to sea. For those looking to leave land behind, deep-sea fishing in Key West offers ample reefs, wrecks, and other seafloor structures for endless fishing. Trips like these are perfect for thrill-seeking travelers; Deeper water means bigger fish!

For the fly fisherman, there is no better place to sight fish for your bucket list species than Key West. Throw the right casts and you just might catch the Key West Grand Slam – Tarpon, Bonefish, and Permit – all in a single day.

Species and Where to Find Them

Some of the most elusive and sought-after fish in the world are found just a short boat ride away in the inshore waters. Tarpon or “the Silver King” seems to be on almost every angler’s bucket list, and for good reason. These picky eaters grow to be massive and fight hard with long leaping runs. The “Grey Ghost”, or Bonefish, can be found cruising these flats in pursuit of crabs and other tasty morsels. Of course, other inshore species inhabit these waters as well, like Redfish, Snook, Mangrove Snapper, Permit, Jacks, and Speckled Trout. You can expect to cast for these species in the backwater channels, flats, or bays around Key West.

In only slightly deeper water, a variety of snapper species, grouper, sharks, and even barracuda can be found. For snapper, grouper, and sharks bottom fishing is the most effective and is also a great way to spend a day on the water. Barracuda, on the other hand, are usually targeted with barracuda rigs made of surgical tubing and treble hooks fished near the surface. The diversity of fish here is hard to beat and makes for some of the best fishing in the world.

There is an array of offshore reefs close to Key West where you can catch species including mahi-mahi, grouper, and various snapper species. Other popular and sometimes deeper reef-dwelling species like cobia and amberjack are on patrol in these waters and hit like a train when they bite. Shark fishing near Key West is also fantastic and can be a blast on nearshore and deep sea trips.

Deep-sea charters give you the chance to land prized sport fish like Marlin, Sailfish, and other elusive pelagic species like Swordfish. These trophy species are generally found from the Gulfstream to the east and south to Dry Tortugas. Increase your odds of sizing up the fish of a lifetime with an overnight night fishing trip out of Key West.

Most Popular Charters and What to Expect

You would be hard-pressed to find a fishing destination like Key West anywhere. People from around the world visit this island paradise to catch fish with various Key West fishing charters.

Legendary Key West flats fishing charters target some of the most coveted inshore species in the world (and if you want a change of pace, another hidden gem of an activity is Key West lobster charter snorkeling and spearfishing trips).

Key West has plenty of fishing charters for the deep sea angler: equipped with all the amenities needed for a half day or more on the water, large Key West sport fishing boats are the bread and butter of Key West deep sea fishing charters.

For the true sportsman, Captain Experiences offers over 60 fishing charters equipped with all the gear you need to land the pelagic monster of a lifetime.

Other Things to Do

Whether you’re a nature lover, a family traveler, or someone who wants a relaxing day of fishing followed by a cold drink on the beach, Key West will keep the whole crew entertained with its endless activities. If you want to get back out on the water, rent a kayak or paddleboard and cruise through the mangroves on an eco-tour. For snorkelers and divers, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more accessible place to explore reefs and wrecks. For the 21+ crowd, there are countless local dive bars and seafood joints that keep the drinks flowing.