The Florida Keys are home to the only living coral reef in the United States, and Key West has access to possibly the best reef fishing in the Florida Keys.
The Reef can be close
There are patch reefs starting right offshore in Key West and these continue out 6-7 miles to where the main reef line is. Past that the bottom drops off and the reef ends.
Reef fishing can be easily accessed on a half. three quarter or full day charter.
Yellow tail snapper, one the most common fish caught on the reef and one of the best to eat
The reef is action packed
There are a lot of fish on the reef and a huge variety of them. The fishing action can be fast and furious. Dozens of smaller fish such as yellowtail and mangrove snapper, Cero and Spanish mackerel are common to catch in a day while you are eating for the big one.
There are big fish too, fish such as black and red grouper, mutton and Cubera snapper. Big pelagic fish swim the reef as well, king mackerel, amber jack, yellow jack, sharks even sometimes wahoo and dolphin.
Gear for fishing the reef
Due to the different sizes and types of fish different types of gear will be used. Usually spinning gear with light line and a fluorocarbon leader for the smaller snapper.
Then usually a conventional gear for fishing for the larger bottom fish. Although sometimes heavy spinning gear is used for bottom fishing with braided line.
Bait for fishing the reef
Like gear the baits will vary a lot doing this type of fishing. For the smaller fish you will use cut bait, fish or squid, sometimes shrimp on either a small hook or a small jig head.
For the bigger fish you use larger cut bait, whole dead fish or live fish. Sometimes you can use a really large live bait which is kind of exciting.
Live baits would include ballyhoo, cigar minnows, speedos, and blue runners.
What to expect on your reef fishing trip
Reef fishing is pretty much always done from an anchored boat. In calmer seas bottom fishing can be done on the drift but in the Keys most reef fishing involves a chumslick.
Chumming is done while anchored for this type of fishing. So depending on the weather and your tolerance for wind you would anchor on the reef where you are comfortable.
The chum goes in and usually the small fish show up first in the slick, over time the bigger fish start showing up and it’s on.
Book your reef fishing trip!