Throughout the turquoise waters of the Florida Keys there is a large diversity of saltwater fishing. Among the many types of fishing, one of the big draws is wreck fishing – particularly off the coast of Key West. Over the years upwards of 20 wrecks have gone down in the shallow waters surrounding the island creating artificial reefs that are a haven for fish large and small.
Where did the wrecks come from?
The wrecks surrounding Key West include ships dating back to the 1600’s – old slave ships lost to the perilous sea, ships from WWII era that were lost to mine fields and torpedos during target practice, several ships lost in the hurricane of 1919, and a collection of ships sunk intentionally to create artificial reefs. The ships sunk as artificial reefs provide a new habitat to promote reef growth as well as a structure to provide protection for those fish seeking safety from the open ocean.
What fish are on the wrecks?
In the Atlantic Ocean the wrecks range from all depths, but the better wreck fishing is typically in the 150-250 foot range. On these wrecks fishermen target yellowtail snapper, mutton snapper, grouper and pelagics like sailfish, tuna, mahi-mahi, king mackerel, cero mackerel, sharks and wahoo. In the Gulf the wrecks are in much shallower water ranging from 15-40 feet. On these shallower wrecks fisherman hope to catch cobia, king mackerel permit, gag grouper, red grouper, black grouper, mangrove snapper and sharks. For each species of fish there are different seasons, size requirements, and bait preferences.
For all wrecks live bait is preferable. Pilchards are great for snapper, grouper, and amberjack. They can be hooked and dropped as bait or more preferably hit against the boat to stun and thrown in the water to sink in a state of glitter and confusion thus attracting big, hungry, curious fish. Pinfish are also advantageous when targeting snapper, mutton, and grouper. They are hooked in the stomach or between the eyes and sent down as live bait. They are bigger and stronger than pilchards and tend to survive longer. Blue runners are good when fishing for pelagic fish, big grouper and sharks. Live blue crab is used when the objective is to snag a permit. Squid is candy to a cobia, but they will also readily go for live shrimp and crabs.
In the Gulf of Mexico there are numerous sunken steel barges, some in only 30 feet of water, that always produce good fishing. Cobia tend to hang around these barges and wrecks, and are great fun to catch as they put up a good, typically longer fight. Sometimes they are difficult to catch because of the large number of sharks also hanging around the barges looking for an easy meal. While it can be frustrating to get your catch stolen by a shark, it’s always fun to see!
Getting out to the wrecks is just one of the many ways to fish down here in Key West, but sure to produce a wide variety of fish, hopefully with fights to remember!