Finding a fishing charter or guide in Key West can be tough, as there are so many different companies to choose from. Also, you’re going to be stuck figuring out what type of fishing charter to go on, and what to fish for.

Little details during the research and booking process can really make or break the fishing charter for you. It’s best to have all the information mapped out beforehand so you know you are getting exactly what you have in mind out of your fishing or boating expedition.

Types of Charters

Many people always say they want to go fishing, and ask how much it is without realizing that there are many different charters to choose from. Price is dependent on how long the fishing charter is going to be. Typically private charters go out on 4, 6, and 8 hour days (half, three-quarter, and full day). Most companies though, will gladly charge accordingly to any hours spent over the original booked time (if the schedule allows).

Each type or kind of charter throughout Key West has roughly the same price, give or take some add on options per request or boat size. The type of charter that is chosen is usually dependent on the type of group that is going on the trip. There isn’t a best type of charter to go on. The best type of charter depends on the type of group going, and what’s best for their needs.

Backcountry Fishing

Backcountry fishing in Key West is one of the most popular types of fishing charters to embark on because of it’s wide range of options, as far as fishing goes. Prices range from $450-$500 for a 4 hour backcountry fishing charter for 2 anglers. The price will ultimately depend on what boat you are on. If you are fishing on a flats boat (16-20ft skiff) the price will be on the lower side of that price range. If you are fishing in a bay boat (21-25ft center console) the price will be a little bit higher in that range.

If you are fishing on a bay boat, you do have the option to have more than 2 anglers. Most bay boats can accommodate up to 4 anglers, which usually adds on $25-50 per additional angler.

Differences Between Flats and Bay Boats

It’s good to know the difference between flats boats and bay boats because backcountry fishing is one of the only categories of charters that have so many different styles of boats.

Flats Boats

A flats boat is your shallow drafting, technical fishing skiff. These boats are typically designed for the captain, and two anglers. The boats have a poling platform on the back, which is a platform above the engine. This allows the captain to “pole” the boat around, while hunting shallow and staying silent. The method here is to be stealth, while allowing the captain to have a elevated view at the flats and upcoming area.

These types of boats are very beneficial to sight fishing on the flats, and are just about as stealth as it gets. Flats boats, given that they are only 16-20ft in length, do not give a lot of space. I you are a bigger person or just don’t feel comfortable in a smaller boat, this isn’t for you. If you would like to fish with more than just 1 other person, this also isn’t the boat for you.

Most anglers that fish on flats boats are more experienced than not, and can utilize these boats’ fishability on the flats more so than entry level anglers. This boat is what you want to be in if you are strictly targeting tarpon, bonefish, barracuda, and permit on the flats…or if you’d like to fly fish on the flats.

Bay Boats

The bay boat is the all around flats/backcountry/offshore hybrid. Bay boats are designed to float in shallow water (a little over 12″) while being able to handle a great deal of chop. Captain Kyle’s bay boat is a Skeeter SX240 which he loves for being able to do a little bit of everything. That’s what the bay boat is all about, having the opportunity to do all types of fishing.

The space on bay boats (20-25ft) is a lot better than of a flats boat. Most bay boats can accommodate up to 4 anglers. This is a good option for kids as well, since they are a little higher above the water. It is a popular backcountry fishing vessel also because of the roominess and “fishability”. People love the fact that they are not limited to the backcountry while out on their charter. If it is slow in the shallows, bay boats can always shoot out to a reef-type environment and switch up the tactics.

So…?

So what style of boat to pick? Well, depending on the anglers will depend on what type of boat to choose. If you are a hardcore flats or fly fisherman, or  someone who wants to primarily sight fish all day, the flats boat would suit you best. If you want to do a little sight fishing at some point, but want to have catching fish the first priority, the bay boat is a better option. 

Fish in the Backcountry and Flats

There are many types of fish that you can go after in the backcountry. The types of fish that you will target will really depend on the group you are with, whether they are avid anglers or just out to have fun and catch a variety of species. This is usually how the captain will plan his route and what he will target.

With more avid anglers who are looking to target certain species, trips are usually based around tarpon, permit, bonefish, and barracudas. These species are fish that are primarily sight casted to and/or solely fished for. These are some of the harder species to catch, and usually you have to just be fishing for one of them, to catch one of them.

With more of a relaxed day you could go after snapper, jacks, sharks, trout, pompano, and possibly barracudas. This type of day is more of a blind casting versus sight casting day. Many of these species can even be caught using the same type of bait or lure. While the trip is more based around catching a variety and quantity, you could get into some of the harder to catch species like tarpon and permit if the opportunity presents itself.

Luckily for backcountry fishing, a lot of the spots are not far from each other. You could mix up your day by going back and forth from looking for hard to catch species, to fun fishing. Backcountry fishing is also a trip where you can bring a couple fish back for dinner. It isn’t the basis of the trip, but a couple fish could be brought back for a meal or two. If you want to bring back more meat, you should look into reef fishing.

Reef/Offshore Fishing

Reef fishing is another popular type of fishing in Key West. This is mainly the type of fishing you’ll see boats come back in from if they are unloading a handful of fish onto the dock. Typically reef fishing is done on a “light tackle boat” which is referring to a 27-34′ center console. These boats are spacious enough for 4-6 anglers, as well as being big enough to take a decent chop as you would get near some of the reefs. The areas that these boats fish in are anywhere from 40-200ft of water, typically bottom fishing and chumming fish up from structure.

Offshore or deep sea would be another fishing charter phrase that can be brought up when talked about fishing in Key West. This would also be a trip that could be taken on by any light tackle boat, but is typically done on a bigger boat designed for trolling. These boats are usually about 35-45′ in length and are a lot wider. A “sport fish” style design would be another way to describe one. Taking 6 passengers is not a problem for these boats, as they have plenty of room and seating.

Differences Between Light Tackle and Deep Sea Trips

Light tackle boats are designed for anchoring up or drifting and dropping baits down to the bottom. It is more of a hands on approach to fishing the reefs. Fish species would include lane snapper, yellowtail snapper, mutton snapper, mangrove snapper, many different types of grouper, amberjack, black fin tuna,  African pompano, sharks, mackerel, cobia, and more. You never know what you will catch when dropping down onto structures of coral or a shipwreck.

Light tackle boats typically anchor up and chum fish up to the boat. If the fishing is slow, they are quick enough to jump to the next spot. Light tackle boats offer high action, high productivity fishing.

Deep sea fishing boats are the types of boats that you’ll see trolling most of the time. The fishing isn’t as hands on as other types of fishing, but thats common with fishing for pelagic species. Most of these species including mahi-mahi, kingfish, wahoo, sailfish, and tunas require trolling. Trolling is the job of the captain and mate, to make sure the lines and baits are running right. If a fish is hooked, it will be handed to whoever’s “up.”

The fish you will be going after are ones that are brilliant in color, pretty sizable, as well as very tasty. Deep sea fishing boats are also very popular for bigger groups. They can take up to 6, so it’s a popular type of trip for bachelor parties and other big groups. Most light tackle boats and deep sea boats offer “split charters,” which is where you pay a “per-head” price. This makes the charter price a lot more affordable if it is just you and another person.