Key West Reef Fishing – Summertime Fun

Peace and quiet returned to Key West streets and waters as the Memorial Day crowds headed back to their home ports, but the Key West reef fishing has not calmed down at all. Although conditions have been bit choppy since high pressure off the East coast pushed 20-25mph east winds through on the holiday weekend, the reef has been producing quick limits of Red and Black Grouper and Snapper in anything from about 15 to 120 feet of water. Boats that hit the right spot have been finding extra-large schools of Yellowtail Snapper coming into the chum slick. The Mutton Snapper bite has also been great the past couple of weeks as these fun fish gather to spawn on the upcoming June full moon. Both DIY fishermen and guests aboard the Key West charter fishing boats have had good opportunities to fill the freezer with filets just in time for summer grilling.

Forecasts call for the winds to back down to a more seasonable 10-15mph out of the southeast for the Mutton Snapper spawn on the June 3rd full moon. A Key West reef fishing highlight known to local fishermen as the Moonlight Madness, the Mutton spawn happens on the April, May and June full moons. When conditions are right and your guide knows his stuff, action can be nonstop on these beautifully-colored fish that can run up to 30lbs. and put up a heck of a fight on light tackle. The Muttons can show up right on the full moon or a couple of days later, and once they come in, the bite will be on for the next few nights.

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Mutton Snapper come in two varieties. Greenish tinted fish are thought to come from inshore off the patch reefs and from Hawk’s Channel and the Flats. Dark pink-colored Muttons come up from deep reefs and wrecks around the 200 foot mark offshore. Both types gather in large numbers along the reef during the spawn, and they can be caught on live ballyhoo, pinfish, herring, or minnows off the bottom or near the surface in a chum slick, or even on a jig when the bite is hot. Mutton Snapper are a lot of fun to catch and very good to eat. If you want to go out for some full moon action, plan ahead because space is limited and trips during the spawn book up very early.

Although the unusually windy May has called for some changes in fishing strategy, Key West Tarpon fishing season is still going strong. The Silver Kings have been moving through in waves during the early part of the migration, but there have always been some fish around to go after. The harbor and the deeper Backcountry channels have been the go-to spots since the winds have made throwing flies in the shallow water pretty challenging. Even the Flats edges, channels and basins are hard to work when the chop makes it difficult to spot rolling fish before you get too close for a good shot at them. Despite this, guides who have been able find the right corner of the Backcountry and get some protection from the wind have produced fairly consistent Tarpon hookups on live and artificial baits and even flies at times.

Meanwhile, the harbor has been holding plenty of Tarpon, and stacks of boats have been out there chumming the ingoing and outgoing tides. The fishing is good as long as your boat is big enough to handle some wind chop. Very early mornings and late evenings are the way to go, and the coming full moon could create a very nice set up as it coincides with an evening low tide and a possible Palolo Worm hatch.

For those looking for serious deep sea fishing adventure, some interesting reports have been coming in from overnight deep drop trips out to the amazing Pulley Ridge reef. This reef lies 100 miles west of Key West in the center of the southern part of the Gulf of Mexico on the edge of the Continental Shelf. Thought to be formed on an ancient island now submerged in 180 to 275 feet of water, Pulley Ridge is the deepest light-dependent coral reef in the United States. The great depth and remote location kept Pulley Ridge undiscovered until 1999. This pristine reef holds 60 identified species of fish, and only hook and line drift fishing is allowed there.

Fishermen returning from drifts over the ridge have been telling of mixed bags of African Pompano, Yellow Edge Grouper, Snowy Grouper, Grey Tilefish, Queen Snapper and other exotic species. There has been a hot nighttime Blackfin Tuna bite reported out there in the past week, and the spot can also produce big Red Snapper, so it is a target for deep sea fishermen when Gulf Snapper season opens up on June 1st. The run out to these deep waters is not without reward either as a trolled bait can produce Wahoo and other blue water game fish.

Key West reef fishing is great this time of year whether you go far and deep or stick closer to home on the Florida Reef six miles off of Key West. Head out for some Moonlight Mutton Madness or a day of pulling in Yellowtail Snapper with your kids. However you do it, you are sure to score on a Key West reef fishing trip, so book yours now.