Here in Key West, we do indeed have seasons. (My Northern friends can stop snickering now. It’s true.) In the summer the palm tree fronds are dressed from the southeast and in the winter they dress from the north-by-northeast. We have a tourist season and an off-season.
In the Florida Keys we have great fishing year round; however, knowing the seasons is extremely helpful. Flats, backcountry, wrecks, reef or deep-sea fishing all have great fishing throughout the year. The differences are the seasons, how we fish and why. I enjoy all the fishing seasons that the Keys have to offer, but in my opinion winter fishing out of Key West is the best time of the year.
Meat hunters looking for great table fare have it best during the winter. All year long there is a tasty fish to be caught in several of our arenas, but the winter has the monopoly with a smorgasbord of species both inshore and offshore. On the flats we have redfish, and in the backcountry we have pompano, trout and nice sized mangrove snappers all within reach even on a sloppy day (which happens a lot in the winter). The reef is covered with great table fare. Yellowtail snappers, grouper and those tasty mutton snappers make up a nice set of filets. The bummer is the grouper closure in January, but these fish can still be fun to fight. While wreck fishing we can also add cobia to the list this time of year, and one fish can feed an entire village. Into mackerel? You are in luck with all three species: king, cero, and Spanish ready to eat anything that looks like a baitfish. Bluewater fishing also holds a bountiful feast. Blackfin tunas run up and down the reef like it’s their job. During the occasional southeast wind often brings up nice gaffer dolphin (mahi mahi). Add that to a shot at a wahoo and wow! Now you are dining right.
Sportfishers are not left out in the winter at all. Some of our hardest pulling fish come here in the winter. Just so happens many of them are edible. But let’s talk about the release fish. Throughout the winter here in Key West, sailfish are taken on all sorts of techniques on top of and just outside of the reef or color change. Fun jumps and nice photos make this fish a classic Key West trophy. Large amberjack are plentiful on the wrecks, pull hard and make a good release. On the wrecks permit make our list as they are the size of barn doors and fight like gladiators. Sight fishing for permit on the wrecks and the flats is one of my favorite things. And we cannot forget about the sharks that we have in the backcountry. It is easy to hook up and release lemons, bulls and black tips almost every day in the backcountry in the cooler temps unless there has been a huge temperature change. Lastly, the bluefish, lady fish and jack crevales are all hard fighters ready to pull on the rod for some fun action on light tackle or fly in shallow water.
Don’t forget some extra ice and go get your fish on!