Florida Keys’ Fall Fishing Tournaments Bring Challenge and Satisfaction

FLORIDA KEYS — Heralded as among the world’s premier saltwater sportfishing destinations, the Florida Keys & Key West offer sensational year-round fishing opportunities. Ideal geographical location, beautiful weather and flourishing fisheries combine for exceptional fishing. 

World-class fishing captains and guides can be found throughout the Keys island chain, and abundant offshore and inshore tournaments provide additional challenges for anglers. 

Among the tournament highlights for fall and early winter 2023 are:

Sept. 15-17: Herman Lucerne Memorial Backcountry Fishing Championship. Islamorada. Named after the man known affectionately as “Mr. Everglades,” the tournament is a unique seven-species format highlighting the angling experience within the boundaries of Everglades National Park. Anglers are challenged to catch at least one tarpon, redfish, snook, seatrout, snapper, bonefish and black drum, with the goal of catching all seven species. Awards are given in 22 individual categories at a ceremony hosted at the Islander Resort. Visit hermanlucernememorial.com.

Sept. 22-24: Take Stock in Children Backcountry Challenge. Key Largo. This annual tournament put on by the Rotary Club of Key Largo offers anglers the opportunity to win coveted trophies for trout, snook and redfish. Fishing is allowed around the clock from Friday night through Sunday afternoon. A popular weekend auction showcase and Sunday evening dinner are open to the public. Proceeds support vocational and educational scholarships for financially challenged Upper Keys students. Visit keylargorotary.org/. 

Oct. 9-11: Islamorada Fall All-Tackle Bonefish and Permit Championship. Islamorada. Dubbed the “Fall All-Tackle,” the three-day challenge attracts energized newcomers to face seasoned veterans in a competition that has taken place since 1970. One angler per boat pairs with a licensed captain to vie for division winner’s trophies for the three longest bonefish and three longest permit. Email islamoradafallalltackle@gmail.com. 

Oct. 13-15: “Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing!” Florida Keys Saltwater Seminar and Fishing Fever Inshore/Offshore Tournament. Islamorada. Female fishing fans can learn or polish angling skills during the award-winning weekend seminar, with two days of optional charter fishing and the Fishing Fever Fun Tournament. More than 8,000 female graduates have immersed themselves in the lighthearted yet skill-heavy curriculum to learn and hone abilities in offshore, bottom, inshore and fly fishing. Visit ladiesletsgofishing.com or email fish@ladiesletsgofishing.com. 

Oct. 15-18: IWFA Islamorada Backcountry Tournament. Islamorada. One of the International Women’s Fishing Association’s longest standing and most popular tournament events, the IWFA challenge is based each year at the Islamorada Fishing Club. Female anglers target species including bonefish, snook, tarpon, permit, redfish, spotted seatrout and more in the backcountry waters of Everglades National Park. Visit iwfa.org.

Oct. 19-20: Casting for Cats Women’s Backcountry Tournament. Islamorada. Female anglers earn points for catching bonefish, permit, tarpon, snook and redfish using bait, artificial lures or fly tackle. Points are also awarded for ladyfish, sharks, jacks and spotted seatrout. The event is a major fundraiser to help control the feral cat population in the Upper Keys. Call Sharon Mahoney Ellenwood at 305-664-2012. 

Oct. 19-22: Marathon Offshore Swordfish Tournament. Marathon. Anglers fish offshore in Keys waters vying for a $10,000 first-place prize for the largest swordfish by weight. Other prizes include $5,000 for second place and $2,500 for third place. The first-place prize jumps to $20,000 if 15 or more boats are entered. Participants elect to fish two out of three eligible days: Oct. 20, 21 and 22. Visit marathonoffshoretournament.com. 

Oct. 27-28: Fall Backcountry Fly Championship. Islamorada. Tournament anglers compete to catch the most inches of snook and redfish on fly in a challenge where 1 inch equals one point. Awards are to be given to the grand champion, the anglers who catch the largest snook and redfish, and the “King of the Backcountry” series grand champion among others. Visit BFCtournament.com.

Nov. 9-11: Cheeca Lodge & Spa All-American Backcountry Tournament. Islamorada. Anglers compete for prizes and trophies in this annual all-release event targeting snook, redfish, bonefish, tarpon and permit. The tournament was inspired by George H. W. Bush, the 41st U.S. president, and honors war heroes in an esteemed competition held over Veterans Day weekend. Proceeds benefit the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust. Visit cheeca.com/allamerican.

Nov. 16-18: Sugarloaf Showdown. Sugarloaf Key. Angling teams can vie for victory by targeting bonefish, permit and barracuda in support of the Florida Keys Guides Trust Foundation during the annual Sugarloaf Showdown. The catch-and-release challenge is presented by the Lower Keys Guides Association. Visit sugarloafshowdown.com. 

Nov. 30 to Dec. 3: Islamorada Sailfish Tournament. Islamorada. The first leg of the Florida Keys Gold Cup Championship trifecta is the only tournament in the series to offer a junior division for anglers age 16 and younger. Unlimited anglers are allowed per vessel. Visit islamoradasailfishtournament.com or email ditournaments@aol.com. 

Dec. 1, 2023, through July 31, 2024: Key West Fishing Tournament. Key West. More than 40 species of fish are targeted during the multimonth tournament, with divisions for men, women, junior anglers (ages 10 to 15) and Pee Wees (under 10 years old). The Key West Fishing Tournament strongly encourages the release of game fish. All participating anglers receive certificates noting their catches and qualify for a variety of prizes. Visit keywestfishingtournament.com. 

Dec. 15-17: Islamorada Junior Sailfish Tournament. Islamorada. The Florida Keys’ oldest sailfish tournament for kids age 16 and under, this event has been held since 1964. Contact fishnbully@msn.com or call 305-240-9337.

An angler and fishing guide stalk the shallow Florida Keys waters for bonefish. Photo: Bob Krist

An angler and fishing guide stalk the shallow Florida Keys waters for bonefish. Photo: Bob Krist

This article was updated on October 22, 2023 at 2:43 PM