Fishing the Fall Turnover in Key West

Even though the fall weather of November brings in some windy and rainy conditions that can make getting on the water tough, the changeover also does great things for the Fall Fishing in Key West. The winds turn over the water and stir up the flats, and huge schools of batifish along with the migrating game fish species that pursue them begin to show up on the reefs and offshore.

This fall has been no exception, and a wide range of sizes and species of fish are on the move everywhere in- and off-shore Key West. The last week of October saw in the first official Northeast blow of the season, and it turned the reef fishing from ho-hum to hot in less than a day. When the winds came in, the action started, with captains reporting good success on Black and Red Grouper, Mutton Snapper, and Mangrove Snapper. Plenty of limits were coming on board, with the fish hitting live baits like Pilchards; jigs were working fine as well. Shrimp will work too, but tend to get more attention from the smaller fish. Yellowtail Snapper has also been hot on the patch reefs as well as the wrecks. They are gathering in large schools, with some big fish present, and have been biting hard when activated by some chumming.

The fishing action on the Flats and in the Backcountry also completely changed in just the span of a couple weeks. Big Bonefish up to 10 lbs. were plentiful into the last weeks of October, but now the Bonefish and Tarpon have mostly left for the season and the Cobia, Jacks, Mutton Snapper, Pompano, Redfish, and Trout have moved in to hunt the edges of the Flats. Schools of delicious 4-8 lb. Redfish are holding along the mangrove island shorelines and are easy to catch on live bait or lures. The Trout are also here in large numbers already, and they are running at decent sizes. They will readily hit live shrimp fished along channel edges under a cork float. Sharks are also numerous and widespread, with Black Tip, Bull, Lemon, and Spinner Sharks all patrolling the shallows after the Snappers and other fish.

Big Barracuda have been moving onto the Flats, and are ready to ambush baitfish and hit any kind of tube lure or shiny spoon. Big Permit also come onto the Flats in the fall and winter looking for crabs and other feed that has been turned up by the rough water, and this fall they have been eating crabs and shrimp hung under floats, as well as flies when conditions allow fly fishing. Fish in the 30 lb. range are not uncommon in winter, and, contrary to what many people think, they can be found in water temperatures as low as 65 degrees.

The Backcountry and the inner patch reefs have also been producing some big Mackerel of both the Cero and Spanish varieties. These hard-fighting fish are in town following the huge schools of baitfish that are now running through Key West waters. Mackerel are always feeding and are easy to catch, and Key West has consistently produced world records in this species. They are a great light tackle fish and provide Key West anglers with a lot of fun.

Offshore, the Sailfish have been arriving with the cold fronts, and boats working about 7 miles out in depths from 100-300 feet have been bringing fish alongside in increasing numbers daily. Working along the outer reef edge watching for birds and the spray that surging schools of Ballyhoo make is a good way to hunt Sailfish by sight, and it will also produce big Snappers, Yellow Jacks, and the occasional Dolphin. The Blackfin Tuna has been particularly consistent over the first couple weeks of November, and many captains have been able to rely on Tuna as the “go to” fish to show guests on offshore trips a good time when other species are slow.