Typical Seasonal Sightings
Many of you have asked when the best time is to catch certain types of fish on your Key West fishing charter. There are a lot of fish in Key West that have certain times of the year that are better than others. Some of these species really don’t get caught too often in other months of the year. I’m going to give you a few time frames that these fish give us. Here’s just a list of some species that people ask the most about. If it’s not listed here, feel free to call or email us today and find out when it’s the best time to catch your target species!
Answered questions about popular types of species in Key West:
Lets start with one of the most popular Key West fishing charter target species, the Atlantic tarpon. Tarpon migrate through the Keys in the spring time, and are most common to catch from the months of March-June. Depending on the year, the weather can make them come a little sooner, or a little later. It is really hard to judge when the best weeks of these months will be to go after tarpon. If I were going to put a time frame that I personally thought was the best, I would say April and May. These are the hot months for Key West tarpon fishing. Ever wondered why every backcountry and flats guide is nearly booked solid in the spring? It’s simply because of the “silver king.” I have had people on various occasions tell me that they see tarpon at the docks year round, throughout the entire Keys. This is true. These are our pet tarpon that linger around the docks and marinas waiting around for a snack. They have lost all interest in trying to go feed on their own, so they just wait for all the Key West fishing charter boats to get in and empty their extra bait. They also wait under filet tables, awaiting fresh cut carcasses of fish. There are in fact “local fish” that hang around Key West harbor. These tarpon seem to always be somewhere in the vicinity of downtown Key West on the water. They are not the easiest to find, or get to eat, but yes they are there year round. Also, a few spots in the backcountry have this happen too, with local tarpon. So all in all, tarpon are technically here year round but they are not a targeted species any other time of the year than the spring. I would not book someone on a specific tarpon charter if they weren’t in the spring migration. I always say that catching one could happen, but isn’t likely and doesn’t happen daily.
Read more about tarpon fishing HERE.
Cobia are a Key West fishing favorite. They are a great fight, and taste good too! Cobia can be found mainly in the cooler months of the year, and taper off mid spring. Cobia seem to make an appearance in Key West a little after the first of cold fronts. They come into the deeper channels in the backcountry, and spread out. The deeper water holds the majority of them. They like structures just reefs and wrecks. Many Key West fishing charters go out to what’s called the “patch reefs” to catch an assortment of snappers, groupers, and porgies. while they are chumming up these big mounds of coral and structure, cobia seem to make their way into the chum slick. Cobia are a very scent driven fish, and they will swim a long way if they smell the flow of chum. Cobia like the shallow wrecks too. They hover on top of these wrecks out in the Gulf of Mexico. They are very easy to spot, as their brown coloration doesn’t help them blend into the green water. They will go down under the wreck or lay on the bottom if they sense that something is wrong, but usually you will get to hook up to a few of them before they get scared. Cobia make a great meal, and are super powerful. Everyone in Key West loves catching cobia.
Captain Kyle Kelso on the left with a thumbs up for a Marquesas Keys permit.Permit is a species that are somewhere around Key West year round. They are a species of fish that is targeted not only on the flats and in the backcountry, but also in deeper water. Permit are one of the most illusive fish that we have in Key West, and they are one of the hardest to catch. Many people don’t have the patience to fish for permit, as it can be a very time consuming process. Permit are up on the flats of Key West and the outer islands most of the year. They are best to target in the late spring and summer months on the flats. In the early spring, permit are getting ready to spawn. You won’t see as many of these fish up on the flats, as they are bunched up getting ready to head offshore to the reefs and wrecks. Once this happens, you will only want to target permit on the reefs and wrecks they gather to because there won’t be as many on the flats! Permit fishing on wrecks and reefs when they are spawning is, in my opinion, the most effective way to catch a permit. They are bunched up in schools of hundreds, and they get so competitive to eat that you will be sure to catch one. Permit are classified into two classes: wreck fish and flats fish. The wreck fish are (obviously) a little easier to catch than the flats fish because they are bunched up in schools. The flats fish are a little more rewarding as they require patience and finesse. Either way, Key West is known for its first class permit fishing in the Keys. They are very hard fish to get on the end of your line, but when you do, you will have a new favorite fish.
Mangrove snapper are probably one of most common fish in the Keys. Why am I writing about them then? Well, they spawn too. Mangrove snapper have a spawn that happens south of Key West on the reefs in late July. This can run anywhere to the end of August to the middle of September. Catching quality mangrove snappers is no easier than this. It is a world class fishing event for anyone out there. Several boats anchor up and chum the snappers to behind the boat. Funny thing is, you probably don’t even need to chum because there are so many snapper there spawning that they don’t even care about chum. You will see four and five pound mangrove snappers laying on the surface in 60ft of water just awaiting you to throw something to them. Catching dinner with the family in Key West doesn’t get any easier than this! I love the mangrove snapper spawn that happens this time of year because it is so brutally hot outside, and it’s the best thing going on. When the water temperatures are so hot, the backcountry can sometimes be hard to find consistent action fishing. Going out a little deeper to the mangrove spawn might not be as scenic as the beautiful backcountry mangroves and wildlife, but you’ll be catching fish ever single time you drop a bait if you can get the technique down right!
Bonefish are one of those tricky fish like permit. They are an illusive flats species like no other. They are even harder to spot than permit on the flats! Bonefish are called “ghosts” for this reason. The best time to search for bonefish is in the late summer months and early fall. Bonesfish are a species that are only caught in the backcountry and flats. They feed on small crustaceans in the shallows. A lot of times bonefish are so shallow, that you can’t even get to them. You will see their wakes or their tails wagging but you can’t get a lure near them! Bonefish will occasionally go to some deeper flats and channels between flats when the tide is low, or if the weather is a little cooler. They like to hang around where they feel comfortable and safe. I have caught bonefish in all parts of the year in these deeper channels, but targeting them is more possibly in those late summer months. Sometimes when we are jigging in these shallow channels for other passing by fish like jacks or mackerel, a bonefish will crab your jig if it gets close enough to the bottom.
Lets talk about some of the winter time species you’re bound to catch on your Key West fishing charter. Sea trout and pompano are two of those. They only appear in our shallow basins in the winter or cooler months. These months are from right around mid October until early March. Trout and pompano are targeted in these areas with grass beds, where bait fish thrive. Bait gets washed into these areas through fast moving tidal channels. Cold fronts, that cool the water down a little bit, also help with the abundance of the winter time species. Other than trout and pompano, we see a lot of other species in these areas that are mixed in. Jack crevelle, yellow jacks, ladyfish, juvenile groupers, snappers, and mackerel are also in the mix. These fish (other than the trout and pompano) are all fish that you could catch in Key West throughout the year. The winter months bring these fish all into the same areas, which make fishing them so much fun.