Fishing in the Florida Keys is a lot like choosing which great local restaurant to have dinner at; the options are endless, and it all depends on what you’re in the mood for.
One day you may feel like heading offshore in search of dolphin or other hard-fighting pelagic game fish, such as wahoo, tuna and sailfish. While the next day you might have an appetite for something a bit “lighter”, and choose to stalk the shallow water flats for bonefish, permit, and tarpon on fly or using light spinning gear.
On some occasions, you may fancy the calm waters of Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, and head out back to load the coolers with snapper, grouper, sea trout and more. Other times you might want to test your strength against the ocean’s most notorious predators, and anchor up at the bridges to do battle with a ferocious bull or hammerhead shark.
No matter what fishing flavor satisfies your on the water cravings, you will definitely get your fill in the Florida Keys. I must warn you though, the first time you feel the drag-screaming power of an angry bull dolphin, or witness the exhilarating aerial display of a frustrated 100-pound silver king as he tries with all his might to shake free from your line, you will be hooked… and you’ll definitely be hungry for more!
May is one of my favorite months to fish in the Keys, and the main reason why is the overwhelming variety of fish that can be targeted and caught this time of year. With cold fronts less likely to move in than in previous months, the water temperatures remains warm, and the bite always stays consistent.
Offshore, you can find large numbers of dolphin, wahoo, tuna, triple tail and more on floating debris and weed lines, and there are still enough free jumping sailfish in the area to keep your attention on your way out to the blue water.
The dolphin bite has been nothing short of spectacular over the past few weeks, and big slammers are being caught in as shallow as 150 to 300 feet of water- just a short boat ride from the dock! Keep an eye out for larger fish to be swimming under frigate birds, as well as schoolies and gaffers hanging around weeds and below floaters.
Once you’ve satisfied your appetite for offshore species, head to the wrecks and the reef for some excellent bottom fishing. Lately the mutton snapper continue to be productive on the deep wrecks, and the big yellowtails continue to congregate in the chum lines out on the reef.
Also on the wrecks, the permit spawn in still ongoing and offers an unmatched opportunity to do battle with one of the ocean’s strongest and arguably best fighting species. If you’ve never felt the power of a permit’s charge after it has engulfed your blue crab, then you definitely have to give it a try- there’s nothing quite like catching a 30-plus pound permit on light tackle.
Working your way inshore, the tarpon fishing is in peak season. From the beaches, to the flats, to the deep cuts and bridges, the tarpon have arrived in droves up and down the Keys and provide an angling experience of a lifetime for fishermen and women of all skill levels.
If you have yet to catch up with your first tarpon, I highly recommend hooking up with myself or one of the many great Keys fishing captains and guides. It’s truly an experience you will never forget.
Your Best Bet for the Weeks Ahead: Wahoo
While out dolphin fishing, always keep one rod rigged with a vertical jig or deep diving plug on a stretch of wire. When you come upon floating debris or weed lines drop it down and you may just hook into a wahoo or two.
A mixed bag of quality fish (dolphin, wahoo, yellowtail, amberjack) caught aboard the Best Bet this past week.
Captain Chris Morrison releasing a Middle Keys tarpon.
Best Bet Captain Nick Borraccino is pumped up for another day of Florida Keys fishing.