Florida Keys, FL Fishing: Exciting, Intense Experience

Florida Keys, FL Fishing: Exciting, Intense Experience
Published: Wednesday, March 17th, 2021
Updated on: Sunday, May 16th, 2021

If you ask anglers where their favorite fishing destinations are, without a doubt, Florida Keys is one of their top choices. This coral island chain is located off the southernmost part of the United States. With over 73,000 people, the group of islands houses the biggest fish and fishing tournaments.

What makes the Florida Keys a great fishing destination is its history.

Initially inhabited by the Tequesta and Calusa Tribe, the islands were called Los Martires (“The Martyrs) by Juan Ponce de León in 1513 when the Spaniards occupied the land. It was said that the islands looked like suffering martyrs or men from afar. The name “keys” was derived from the Spanish word Cayo which means small island. For those years in history, many men wanted to inhabit the place traveling across the seas for trade. This explains why there are many shipwrecks in the area. As tragic as it sounds, this now contributes to tourism and fishing attraction in the Florida Keys.

Today, this archipelago is known for so many things. Tourists from all over the country (and the world) enjoy their sweet time for a vacation. And who won’t love the place? It has excellent food with rich ecological and environmental facilities and museums, historical landmarks, and culture and arts for everyone. But the best thing about the Florida Keys? Fishing. 

Florida Keys Fishing

Considering that the Florida Keys is a coral cay archipelago, expect a fishing adventure of a lifetime. The surrounding waters are abundant with game fish and in its freshwater fishing spots.

The southeast side of Upper Keys is facing the Atlantic Ocean, while the Middle Keys have both the Atlantic Ocean (down south) and Florida Bay in the northern end. If you head further northwest of Lower Keys, you have the Gulf of Mexico, one of the world's best fishing spots. 

But the most popular destination in the Florida Keys is Key West. It is well-known among tourists since the place is rich in history, beauty, and nature. You’ll find many shipwrecks, Ernest Hemingway’s home, and many others. However, Key West's highlight is its fishing excursions, where you’ll discover tuna, tarpon, and other game fish.

Key West is also famous for its 8-month long Key West Fishing Tournament. It runs from December to July and is open to the public. This highly anticipated competition has nine (9) different line classes and targets 33 different species. There is a no-bait division, too, to add to the challenge. You can fish on land, bridge, or boat. There are winners for each line class, both in-county and out-of-county contestants.

Speaking of tournaments, Islamorada is the place to be as they claim to be the “Sport Fishing Capital of the World”. They hold at least three fishing tournaments in a year: Offshore Bull and Cow Dolphin Tournament in May, Annual Gold Cup Tarpon Tournament in June, and Islamorada Sailfish Tournament in December. That being said, these are the main fish species you’ll catch there, plus some bonefish, permit, redfish, snook, snapper, and sharks.

If you want to find some sailfish, tuna, barracuda, grouper, and snapper, head to the many shipwrecks in Key Largo. It has access to shallow waters and the deep sea in Florida Bay. You can also head to its backcountry creeks and channels and catch trout, snook, or snapper.

Another option for deep sea fishing is in Marathon, where the waters get deep quickly. It’s best to check the day’s tide schedule and hit the waters when the tide is high. You’ll find yourself in intense fights with snapper, grouper, marlin, and tuna.

These main fishing destinations in the Florida Keys are often crowded with a competitive fishing environment and can get quite intense. So if you want a more relaxed fishing vacation, you can go to Big Pine Key, Cudjoe Key, and Dry Tortugas.

Big Pine Key is a great place to have a chill fishing time. But the fish species you’ll find here are as impressive and huge as in other Keys. You’ll catch tarpon, bonefish, permit, mahi-mahi, marlin, and sailfish.

Almost the same fish species are in Cudjoe Key with some Grouper, Snapper, Cobia, and Tuna. The place is not as crowded as Key West and the other more popular Key towns, making it a vacation spot for those who want to steer away from the crowd.

Lastly, there’s Dry Tortugas which is the most remote among them. Located 70 miles from Key West, Dry Tortugas' waters offer great catches like grouper, tarpon, amberjack, snook, and mahi-mahi.

Overall, Florida Keys makes an excellent choice for fishing destinations because it is surrounded by water bodies abundant with gamefish. This accessibility to fishing spots allows you to fish at your comfort. Be it fly fishing or surf casting the shorelines, casting your line from a bridge or pier, trolling using a kayak or boat, or deep sea fishing through a charter or party boat.   


Top 10 Fish Species in Florida Keys, FL

The top 10 fish species in the Florida Keys are bonefish, tarpon, snapper, grouper, mahi-mahi, marlin, sailfish, swordfish, cobia, and permit.

Florida Keys, FL Fishing: Exciting, Intense Experience Fish species

Habitat: Nearshore, Offshore, Reef, Wreck

Weight: 5 - 15 Pounds

Length: 24" - 39"


Habitat: Inshore, Flats, Backcountry

Weight: 12 - 29 Pounds

Length: 16" - 50"


Habitat: Onshore, Flats, Backcountry, Nearshore

Weight: 10 - 45 Pounds

Length: 30" - 61"

Fat Snook 

Habitat: Inshore, Mangroves

Weight: 6 - 10 Pounds

Length: 12" - 28"

Indo-Pacific Sailfish

Habitat: Offshore

Weight: 120 - 220 Pounds

Length: 42" - 137"


Habitat: Onshore, Muddy Flats

Weight: 4 - 16 Pounds

Length: 16" - 41"


Habitat: Inshore, Flats, Offshore, Reefs, Jetties

Weight: 9 - 60 Pounds

Length: 24" - 48"

Red Snapper 

Habitat: Nearshore, Offshore, Reef, Wreck

Weight: 5 - 20 Pounds

Length: 19" - 39"

Florida Keys Seasonal Fishing

What makes the Florida Keys a top fishing destination? You can catch fantastic game fish all year round. 

The best seasons to go fishing in the Florida Keys are spring and summer since most fishing tournaments happen during these times. That being said, you’ll expect fish species abundant in its waters.

Spring in the Florida Keys will bring you tarpon in the backcountry, with some bonefish in the flats. But the one thing you should do during this season is deep sea fishing offshore and catch some mahi-mahi, sailfish, and even sharks!

It gets more exciting during the summer as the waters are getting warm and more fish swim to the shallows. The hot and humid weather won’t stop you from going offshore since the water is also calmer. Catch some bonefish, permit, mahi-mahi, marlin, swordfish, and wahoo. Flex those fishing rods (and muscles) because these fish will give you a crazy fight. And when you’re done with your catch, try catching some lobsters in late July.

In the fall, the weather starts to cool down – but definitely not the fishing. It’s a great time to visit since the crowd begins to thin out, especially on the beaches. You’ll find yourself enjoying your time in the water with less crowd. Of course, you’ll find a much spectacular time fishing if you catch slam in September. The reefs start to come alive in October with more baitfish, which attracts many fish that prey on them – yellowtail, snappers, groupers, and mutton snappers. They make for excellent table fare, too!

Winter can get very windy in the Florida Keys, but you’ll still find permit in flats and sailfish and tuna over the reefs. There are fewer fish in the flats by December, so most anglers head to the backcountry to fish since the water is calm and there’s steady action. You can catch sailfish and blackfin tuna during this season.

You should check and take note of when fishing in the Florida Keys is the weather, especially hurricanes. They mostly happen in September, so make sure you travel in safety.


The Key to Having Fun in the Florida Keys

1.Fishing Charters

Explore the Florida Keys and its beautiful natural habitat aboard the many fishing charters there. You have so many options to choose from and all you need to do is to decide what king of fishing trip you want to do.


2. Seven-Mile Bridge

Travel through the entire Seven-Mile Bridge by foot or riding a bicycle. This famous bridge is one of the longest bridges in the world. It connects Middle Keys and Lower Florida Keys and offers a picturesque seaside view as you cross it.


3. Ernest Hemingway House

If you know and love the famous author, drop by the Hemingway House. This is where Earnest and his wife, Pauline, fell in love and settled down. It’s one of the major tourist attractions in the Keys where people can see his collection of furniture and art.


4. Nature & Wildlife Parks

Florida Keys are filled with nature and wildlife parks. From the Wild Bird Sanctuary in Key Largo to the Dolphin Research Center. Include the Turtle Hospital in your itinerary, too.

5. Music and the Arts

Bask into the music, theater, and other forms of art in Florida Keys. You can listen to live music at the Green Parrot, stroll in the Third Thursday Art Walk, or learn sand sculpting in Casa Marina. You can witness performances at the Red Barn Theater as well. 

6. Stargazing

Head to Big Pine Key and prop up a tent: it’s time for some stargazing. Look up and spot constellations like the Orion or the bright lights from our neighboring planets Venus, Mars, and Jupiter. Don’t worry about lacking some sleep for one night; you’ll find the celestial wonder above you is worth it.

Top Beaches in Florida Keys

1.John Pennekamp Corral Reef State Park

The name will give you an idea that this beach is best for underwater exploration. Witness the beauty of the coral reefs and seagrass beds you can do in three different ways: scuba diving, snorkeling, or riding a glass-bottom boat. Plus, you’ll find a Spanish shipwreck if you explore 100 feet offshore. 

2. Indian Key Historic State Park

Besides swimming, Indian Key Historic State Park offers fun offshore activities like scuba diving, canoeing, and snorkeling. The place is rich in history, too, as it was the Dade County government's first home. You can tour around and visit the first foundation buildings of the said government.

3. Sombrero Beach

This beach is best for some downtime on the beach with your family. This 12.6-acre public beach park has picnic tables, restrooms, covered shelters, and a playground. There’s also a protected cove at the beach's west end where kids can enjoy their time in the water.

4. Dry Tortugas National Park

Aboard a boat or seaplane and explore the Dry Tortugas National Park and its cluster of seven islands – one of which is where you’ll find the historic U.S. military installation in Fort Jefferson National Monument. The beach itself is very much enticing with its fine, white sands and clear blue waters.

Fishing Techniques
Fly Fishing
Surf Casting
Deep Sea Fishing