- Last Updated on Monday, 17 September 2012 12:44
- Written by Patti Lavell
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The Florida Keys and fishing go together like peanut butter and jelly. They’re both great on their own but they just naturally belong together. If you visit the Florida Keys without taking advantage of the world class fishing at your fingertips then you will miss one of the most exhilarating experiences to be found on this chain of islands.
According to the National Game Fish Association, more game fish records have been established in the Keys than any other angling destination in the world. Who in their right mind would pass up that caliber of fishing?
Now that you’re “hooked”, you have a few choices about how you get out on the water to begin your adventure. Hiring a charter is really your best bet because the Captain’s are intimately familiar with the waters, the tides and where the fish are running. In addition to having access to the Captain’s local knowledge, he has all of the state licensing, tackle and bait you’ll need, regardless of what kind of fishing you decide to do.
While boat rentals are available up and down the Keys, it’s inadvisable to rent a boat and set out on your own because there are so many areas where you can run aground and get into trouble. Even equipped with charts it can be dangerous and you’re likely to waste most of your day (and gas) just looking for the fish. The best way to set yourself up for a successful day of fishing is to charter a boat. For the most economical charter, look for a party boat where you share the cost of the charter with others. Most party boats offer both half and full day charters.
Once you decide how to get to the fishing grounds, you need to decide what type of fishing you’d like to do; flats/backcountry or offshore/deep-sea, wreck or reef. The variety of fishing experiences available to you are almost limitless so your decision about where to fish depends largely on what you want to catch.
The Florida Keys are surrounded by miles of shallow sand and grass flats on the Atlantic side and in the backcountry, which is a region of uninhabited mangrove islands on the Gulf side. It’s here that you’ll find bonefish, tarpon, snook, barracuda, jacks, redfish and sea trout. Depending upon the tide, you’ll even find sharks and cobia.
Just beyond the reef on the Atlantic side of the Keys the depths drop to 1,500 feet. This is the place to find schools of colorful dolphin swimming beneath floating masses of sea grass. If you’re looking for big game, get ready because this is where the legendary billfish cruise. After the drop off you’ll find marlin, sailfish, kingfish, tuna, dolphin, cobia, grouper, snapper and sharks, among others.
The waters surrounding the Florida Keys are the graveyards of hundreds of ships that were ripped open by the rocky coral reef and those wrecks make for some great fishing. Charter captains know which wrecks are the favorite hangouts for sharks, amberjacks, barracuda, cobia, snapper, grouper and permit.
Those very same reefs that swallowed ships whole provide protective homes for a variety of bottom dwellers. Fishing near the reef can land you grouper, snapper, kingfish, mackerel, cobia and sharks.
You don’t really need a boat to enjoy some great fishing in the Florida Keys. This island chain is connected to the mainland by a host of bridges and generations of anglers have found some sweet spots under those bridges. Keep in mind that a Florida saltwater fishing license is required for bridge fishing. Long Key Bridge and the west end of the Seven Mile Bridge have great track records and if you decide to bridge fish you stand a chance of landing anything running with the tide.
In the effort to balance preservation and recreation, the method of catch-and-release is widely practiced in the Keys. The most important things an angler can do to ensure a successful catch and release are hook and land the fish as quickly as possible to minimize stress, leave the fish in the water while removing the hook and release the fish as quickly as possible. Some fish die after catch and release because of the stress during the struggle or because they were left out of the water too long during the hook removal. If you remember nothing else, remember this: Limit your kill, don’t kill your limit.
Once you get your first taste of Florida Keys fishing, you’ll understand why novelist Zane Grey and author Ernest Hemingway fell in love with wetting a line in these waters. No other place in North America offers such an enormous variety of fish species and habitats from deep sea reef fishing to backcountry flats fishing.