The tropical weather, nearby Gulf Stream and 125-mile-long arc of islands that comprises the Florida Keys create a fishing environment that’s completely unique in the world.
What makes it so unique? Geography, for one thing. The close proximity of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Florida Bay mean anglers can fish more than one body of water within the same day — which can be an almost irresistible concept.
Get to know this diverse fishery with seven quick essentials.
ONE: Year-round fishing in the Florida Keys’ balmy subtropical climate means a noteworthy (or at least edible!) catch is possible virtually any time.
TWO: According to the International Game Fish Association, more saltwater world records have been established in the Florida Keys than any other angling destination on the globe. Which is pretty amazing.
THREE: Fabulous table fare comes from the Keys’ most popular summer visitor, the dolphin fish. It’s also called dorado or mahi-mahi (hint: try broiling your dolphin with lots of garlic, butter and pepper).
FOUR: Pioneering Keys captains who fish at depths of 1,200 feet or more are successfully catching deep-water swordfish during daylight hours — a practice virtually unheard-of until recent years.
FIVE: Off the Keys’ “inner” curve and the Florida mainland is Florida Bay, referred to by locals as the backcountry or flats. This region of shallow, unmarked waters is home to five of the most sought-after game fish to be found: bonefish, tarpon, permit, redfish (red drum) and snook.
SIX: Many backcountry species are year-round residents of the Keys. Permit, for years exclusive to the Lower Keys and far north Key Largo, are now showing up on flats everywhere in between. You’ll find them in the greatest numbers from April through September.
SEVEN: Tarpon, also called silver kings, range from 60 to 150 pounds and are challenged in the spring along the entire length of the Keys, on flats and in deeper channels. Tarpon come close to Keys bridges from April through July.
For a successful and enjoyable day of fishing, your best bet is to book one of the Keys’ experienced charter captains. Charter fleets dot the island chain from Key Largo to Key West, and boats range from 26-foot outboard-powered center consoles to 65-foot air-conditioned, long-range sport fishers.
And hiring a backcountry guide is recommended, since the shallow unmarked waters of Florida Bay can be confusing and potentially treacherous for inexperienced anglers.
Not surprisingly, you can learn a LOT from the offshore captains and backcountry guides of the Keys — their knowledge of local waters and local species is flat-out unparalleled.
On top of that, just recently the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (which protects the waters surrounding the entire island chain) launched a Blue Star Fishing Guide program to recognize and promote sustainable recreational fishing.
The voluntary program provides online training for Keys charter captains and guides about the sanctuary and its diverse habitats and fisheries — empowering them to be top-level ambassadors for responsible sport fishing, and stewards of the environment.
So when you make charter reservations with a recognized Blue Star captain or guide, your on-the-water adventure will help support the long-term health of the Keys’ unique fishery. And that’s a lure few anglers can resist.