Yellow Jack

Yellow Jack is a common fish on the Atlantic side of the Florida Keys and Key West.  They often run in schools and can grow over 20#. They can be caught all over the reef in all different sizes.

Finicky Eaters

They put up a great fight on light tackle and can be a blast to catch. However, they are strangely finicky and often will look at baits without eating them. Sometimes when chumming for yellow tail they will swim around in the chum slick but will not bite.

When they are in the mood to eat though, they can be very aggressive and smash large live baits and artificials like poppers. Sometimes they eat baits drifted back for yellow tails but can be difficult to land on too light tackle.

They are often found on wrecks on the Atlantic side and large reef structures.

Certain times of the year they will run around in large schools on the inshore patch reefs terrorizing the small fish that live there.

Great to Eat!

Unlike Jack Crevelles and amber jack, Yellow Jacks are great to eat with little preparation. They can be fried, blackened and cooked any way you would cook any other white fish.

They are delicious smoked as well, and make great sashmi and ceviche.

Barracuda Fishing

Barracuda are very common in the Florida Keys and Key West. They are a long thin kind of fish, similar to pike or pickerel.

Aggressive

They have rows of huge teeth can be very aggressive, attacking fish almost the same size as them. They make a habit out of stealing fish from anglers on popular fishing spots and can be a full blown nuisance when targeting other fish.

Their razor sharp teeth can actually cut most smaller fish in half in the blink of the eye. Some places you will have to horse your fish to the boat and get them out of the water as quick as you can to keep them from being cut in half.

Good to Eat

They are actually very good to eat and are very popular with local Cubans as a food fish. They have a bad reputation for having ciguatera and very few non-Cubans eat them. There is actually are not much more of a ciguatera risk than with any large reef fish, but the stigma remains.

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They are Everywhere!

Barracuda live pretty much everywhere based on the water temperature. They will live inshore under docks and in canals, in the back country around mangrove islands, on the flats, and almost any large reef structure will hold at least a few of them. They also absolutely love any large wreck or artificial reef.  It is common to see people trolling over wrecks like the Vandenburg in Key West, trying to catch cudas.

They can be Targeted Many Ways

Popular ways to fish for barracuda on purpose is trolling and sight fishing them on the flats. They tend to be a favorite of fisherman that aren’t catching anything else. They can be a day-saver when nothing else is biting.

If you are using live bait sometimes you will be catching a lot of cudas you don’t want to be catching.

They also make impressive mounts and it is common to have them mounted.

Live Bait Fishing in Key West

There are many different ways to fish in Key West but perhaps one of the most popular and effective techniques is live baiting.

Just like fishing, catching bait requires skill and practice and a successful haul of bait can make or break the day.

Types of Live Bait

While any fish will sometimes eat anything it can fit in its mouth, certain baits are considered better for different fish. Actually, certain baits are just basically better.

key-west-live-bait-fishing-pinfish

Pinfish

Pin fish are like the peanut butter sandwich of baits. Everyone will eat them but they are not really their favorite. Pinfish are small oval fish that kind of look like a bream or a sunfish.

They are a kind of yellow/brown color and have rows of spines across their back.

The pros of pinfish are there are tough and they are easy to catch.

  • You can catch them with small hooks on almost any grass bed in the Keys.
  • They can survive with little oxygen so they live very well in a live well.
  • They also will stay alive a long time on a hook.

They can be caught reliably in traps as well.

Like I said earlier, everything will eat them, but in general they are better baits for Gulf and inshore.

They are commonly used to fish for tarpon, cobia, mangrove snapper, and grouper.

key-west-live-bait-fishing-ballyhoo

Ballyhoo

Ballyhoo are slim silverfish with beaks that can be 1/3 the length of their body.  They run in schools and are more common in the colder months.

They can be caught using small hooks or in a cast net. Catching them on small hooks tends to damage them less and they will survive longer in the livewell as well as on the hook.

Cast netting them can be a fast way to catch a lot of them.

Ballyhoo are shiny and have no spines. This makes them a lot more appetizing to fish then pinfish. However, they need a lot of water circulation and will die easily without it. You cannot keep them alive in a pen, so they need to be caught fresh right before the fishing trip.

Ballyhoo can be fished a variety of ways. One of the most common is to hook them through the nose and let them swim around on the surface for sailfish.  They can be rigged with a wire leader and stinger hook in the tail for King Mackerel.  They are often sent to the bottom when targeting grouper and mutton snapper.

Pichards

Pichards are small silvery fish that congregate in huge schools around Key West. The move in and out of the shallows in the early hours of the day. You can often see boats targeting them in the early hours during the winter months.

Captains drive their boats up in the shallows and throw cast nets on the schools. This can be very easy or difficult depending on the day. You have to watch for birds diving, in order to see where the schools are located.

Pichards are like the Pringles of the ocean: many fish cannot resist them and once they start eating them they can’t stop.  A 3 or 4 inch long pilchard is like the universal bait, so everything from a flag yellow-tail to a sailfish will readily eat them.

Speedos

Speedos are bigger baits, found offshore on the reef or on wrecks. They are fat, vaguely bullet-shaped fish that come in schools.

They have to be caught with small hooks and are hard to keep alive.

Speedos are big fish baits: they will usually be 6-10 inches long.

They are put down on bottom rigs when targeting big grouper, they are also slow trolled with wire leader for big kingfish and wahoo. They are considered the best wahoo bait.

Mangrove snapper

Mangrove snappers are the “every man’s fish”- from your roadside fishing spot to the big commercial boats, you can find mangroves being hauled in for good eating all over Florida. 

Mangrove snapper are also known as grey snapper and they are very common in the Florida Keys.

They don’t grow as large as the cubera or Mutton snapper and are not considered as good eating as the Mutton or yellowtail.  They are popular to eat and the smaller ones are considered better to eat than the large fish.

They are strong fighting fish for their size and can be a blast to catch on light tackle.

They like to bite, so be careful taking the hook out of their mouth – they will try to get you!

They are everywhere!

Mangroves can be found pretty much everywhere, from inshore around mangroves to out near the edge of the reef. They are very common on inshore patch reefs and also are very common on any structure on the gulf side.

They can be casted to around the nooks and crannies of mangrove islands and channels or you can get them balled up behind the boat in a chum slick.

It’s common to use cut bait on a small lead head jig to target them.

Huge schools in the Spring

In the Spring and early Summer they will travel to the reef from theGgulf and form large spawning aggregations. They can be very easy to catch this time of year and they can sometimes be caught as fast as you can put the bait in the water.

The small ones tend to eat first though, so if you are trying to get bigger fish this can be a problem.

Pro Tip: Sometimes using bigger pinfish for bait will keep the small ones away and let you catch the bigger ones.

They will eat a variety of baits

Mangroves will eat just about anything when in the mood. Live and dead fish, shrimp etc. The larger ones can be pretty line-shy though, and in areas where there is a lot of fishing pressure, they can be hard to get to take a bait.

Hope you’ve enjoyed these Mangrove snapper fishing tips- happy fishing!

Deep Sea Fishing Key West

Offshore fishing and reef and wreck fishing could both be considered Deep Sea Fishing Key West. In general in other part of the country when they say deep sea fishing they just mean not inshore.
Not fishing just off the beach but actually fishing offshore. Here in Key West fishing offshore can actually refer to a bunch of other smaller categories or fishing.
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Types of deep sea fishing in Key West

  • True offshore fishing – fishing for dolphin and pelegics up to 20 or 30 miles offshore
  • Wreck fishing – bottom fishing on one of the wrecks located past the reef 7-10 offshore
  • Deep drop fishing – bottom fishing in 400-1000 feet of water 7-15 miles offshore
  • Reef fishing – bottom fishing on the edge of the reef 7-10 miles out
  • Sword fishing  – bottom fishing in 500-1000 feet of water 10-15 miles out, sometimes at night

The actually terminology “deep sea fishing” is not really used by locals in Key West. They are usually more specific and say something like “going offshore, for dolphin”.

Choosing which fishing trip

Choosing which trip you would want to take, would depend on the what you want to catch and the weather. Most of the fishing done really far offshore will tend to be in the late spring and summer when the winds are a little less.

The wrecks and edge of the reef can be accessible even when the weather is not quite as nice, and these are popular spots to fishing in the winter and early spring.

Due to the way our reef runs east to west, it is actually possible to fish by land but still be 20 miles out in the ocean from Key West. Although land is loose term, in this case it would be a patch of sand with mangroves growing on it.

 

 

Winter time fishing in Key West

Winter time fishing in Key West can be very good. You get wide variety of options in winter as long as you get the weather.

The wind tends to blow more in the winter, and that fluctuates every year, some winters are windier then others.

Offshore

Sailfish show up around November and December and they tend to like it the windier the better.

Black fin tuna also start to show, often on the deeper wrecks such as the sub and airplane wreck.

The wahoo run begins somewhere in this time, depending on reports the whole key west fleet will be at the end of the bar targeting these fish, along with king mackerel, amber jacks and other offshore fish that congregate there.

The bar in Key West is second dead reef that is outside the main barrier reef. This bar comes up to 50 feet deep on the top, to the north and south this bar drops off to 100+. In the winter when the currents are right, this bar will be bathed in dark blue water and often ripping currents. These conditions will cause upwellings, which will make huge schools of bait congregate out there, speedos, bar jacks and blue runners primarily. This bait attracts the predators.

The most sought after fish out there will be the wahoo which can grow to over 80#. They will not be the only fish shadowing these bait schools, mackerel will be out there in force both king and cero. Yellow jacks, amber jacks sometimes crevelle jacks. Sailfish and the occasionally a dolphin as well.

Numerous sharks will be cruising this area as well.

Reef

The colder water turns on the reef big time. Grouper will suddenly be everywhere and you will catch nice reef fish in very shallow water. There will also be a lot more pelagic fish on the reef such as mackerel and jacks.

Big yellow tails will congregate on the bar and deeper reef, these are commonly called flags. They are harder to catch then the smaller versions but once you can get them biting it’s really blast catching them.

The inshore patch reefs can be very productive at this time, and often will have a lot of mutton snappers along with red grouper.

 

Fall fishing in Key West

Fishing in fall can be pretty productive on the reef for snapper, but the grouper don’t really start coming back until the water gets colder.

We often have a lot of calm weather in the early fall and these flats calm days can be great for running to more remote fishing spots but offshore fishing is not usually that great this time of year.

The dolphin have kind of cleared bout and the sailfish don’t really start showing up until the cold fronts of December and November.

Lobstering can be cery good, particularly in September.

This is the off season and there will be way less people on the island.  There will be no snow birds, and it is when many locals take off for their vacations.

Summertime fishing in Key West

When I say summertime fishing in Key West what I am more referring to is July, August and September. In terms of fishing the change from spring to summer takes place more somewhere in July.

Warmer Water

Typically in July the water will start getting hot and you will algae blooms which tend to turn the water on the reef green. The warm water is not as good fishing for some species of fish like grouper, yellow jacks, and amber jacks.

A lot of fish will move deeper this time of year, shallow patches that were on fire a couple months earlier will turn into ghost towns.

There will still be dolphin offshore but the big rush that happens in May and June will usually slow down. Tarpon will still be around and off course sharks.

Snapper Fishing

The snapper will be still around on the reef and in good numbers, as it gets later in the season the gray snapper on the reef tend to get smaller, as the bigger ones complete their spawn and head back to the gulf. These fish can pretty smart and sometimes it will take some live bait to catch both the larger yellow tails and larger grey snappers.

Bottom fishing in the deep water will be very productive. Also the gulf can be good this time of year but you may have to run farther then when the water was cooler.

Lobster Season

August marks the mini sport season for lobster the beginning of the regular lobster season, so that will be red hot for the first month or so.

The seas tend to be calm during this time period so although the fishing might be a big slower, it will be very easy to run further distances so sometimes that will make up for it.  This can allow for longer trips such as the Air force relay towers in the gulf of Mexico.

 

Wahoo – Key West Wahoo fishing

Wahoo can be found all over the world in the warmer oceans. They are a prized fish to catch because of their strength and speed, but also their delicious meat is a sought after meal.

About Wahoo

Wahoo are characterized by an elongated body, with blue coloring on their back and a silvery color on their sides. They have pronounced bright blue stripes running vertically along their sides as well. They are beautiful and bright when alive, but quickly become gray when they die. Another prominent characteristic of wahoo is their razor sharp teeth. They very closely resemble a mackerel, but a small flap of skin that covers its’ closed mouth is a noticeable difference.  Wahoo can grow up to 8 feet in length and weigh upwards of 100 pounds.

Wahoo are solitary fish for the most part, but can be seen with one or two other fish at a time. On certain occasions where the fishing is good they can be seen in giant schools, but this is rare. They stay relatively close to shore and feed on smaller fish and squid. Interestingly enough, most wahoo carry a giant stomach worm that lives inside them, but seems to cause no harm to them or their meat.

iStock_000001605887XSmallBait and Tackle for Wahoo

The best time of year to fish for wahoo is in the winter months. They prefer temperate waters and migrate accordingly. Deep, clear water with a good current is typically where you can find them. Deep wrecks, under debri in the open ocean and the deep edge of the reef are also places where a fisherman might get lucky.

To attract this beasts big, bright lures are the best bet. Wahoo tend to favor certain colors including red and black or purple and black combinations. Lures with large skirts and teasers also attract attention.

Trolling, fast and slow, is how most wahoo are caught. Wahoo are among the fastest fish in the ocean which is why trolling fast won’t make a wahoo think twice. One of the best techniques is to have multiple lines at different depths and distances from the boat out in the water at the same time, thus covering multiple angles. Normal offshore trolling rigs can be used for wahoo. A 100 pound braided line is favorable and a wire leader is a must!

Yellowtail Snapper – Key West Yellowtail fishing

Yellowtail snapper, larger ones commonly known as “flags” to fisherman, are found in the warmer waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and in the Caribbean. The larger ones are strong fighters and they make a great meal.

About Yellowtail Snapper

Yellowtail are reef fish; they live around structure of reef or wreck. They are characterized by a yellow stripe that runs the length of their body and a forked yellow tail, hence the name. They do not grow to be very big. The average size caught is 14 inches, although they can be caught larger, it is rare. They are typically between one and three pounds.

Yellowtail are typically found in 20-200 feet of water though they are usually caught on the shallower side of that range. They feed on smaller fish, shrimp and crabs found on the reef. They live in schools and can be found in large numbers.

key-west-fishing-0030Bait and Tackle for Yellowtail Snapper

Yellowtail can be fished for year round. Chumming for yellowtail is advisable as it will keep them hanging around the boat. Chum in a mesh bag hanging from the boat is preferable as it will soak and create a chum slick; if there is some current that is even better to get the slick drifting behind the boat. Yellowtail are weary of big hooks and bait, light tackle is prefered so the fish can’t see the hook or line. Line under 12 pound test is prefered. Dirty water also helps so that the chum slick may be hidden. If these fish feel something is up, they won’t bite.

Fishing at anchor, drifting and sometimes trolling are good methods for yellowtail. Live shrimp is the preferred bait although frozen bait will work as well. Squid, smaller bait fish and minnows also make good bait. Be careful with these guys as they are notorious for tangling and cutting line on the sharp edges of the reef.