The Florida Keys Fishing Charters in Winter

Other than a few rain showers, the weather in Key West environs stayed generally nice throughout the month of October, with highs pretty stable around the mid 80’s. The winds were primarily out of the southeast, accounting for the good late season Mahi-Mahi bite. The warm temps also seemed to be good for the Wahoo, and the Blackfin Tuna action has been non-stop. Big schools are still running outside the reef, and catches of this hard-fighting game fish have been hitting the docks like clockwork over the past couple weeks. October also produced good Swordfishing, with boats from Key West to Key Largo going out to regularly score on Swords in 1600 feet of water. If the fall is anything to go by, Florida Keys fishing charters will be great this year.

Now, the first strong cold front has hit, coinciding with the beginning of polar vortex action up north and perfectly timed for the arrival of November. On November 1st, air temperatures barely hit 80, and the wind was out of the northwest. By early morning of the 2nd, it was solid out the north-northeast and gusting near 30 mph, with daytime air temps barely breaking out of the mid 60’s. Naturally, water temperatures dropped off sharply as well, down into the 60’s off Key West from the high 70’s just last week. The forecasts indicate that this cold snap is the first of an oncoming succession of these fronts. Winter is coming in with a bang, and the transition to the winter fish species is on.

Backcountry, Flats, and Reef fishing will be going off the hook with some of the year’s best multi-species light-tackle action. It may take a couple of days for some of the Flats fish to get used to the colder water, but the bait schools are swarming into the shallows and the predators are not far behind. Already the schools of Jacks, Mackerel, Pompano, and Sea Trout are in the Backcountry and eating bait. The Grouper and Snapper will be on the patch reefs, lurking in the channels off the Flats, and hanging around the edges of the mangrove islands. The Backcountry is the place to be this time of year, and it works out well for an escape from the winds that hit the open water when the fronts come through. Once the high pressure settles in behind each cold front, the wind will drop and it will be time to get back out on the blue water after a newly-arrived wave of winter big game fish including Kingfish, Sailfish, Tuna, and Wahoo.

This is definitely the time for live bait and it is plentiful and easy to catch. A stop on the Flats, a few throws of the cast net, and a captain can have a live well fully-stocked with lively pilchards. Head out to a wreck or over the reef, toss generous quantities of bait out, and the Kingfish, Mackerel, Mahi-Mahi, Tuna, and even Sailfish and Wahoo will come in for the feast. Another option is to let the live bait come to you. Cruise the outside reef edge and look for schools of ballyhoo leaping out of the water in huge numbers and showering back, churning the surface like a hard rainstorm. Just under them will be schools of Cero Mackerel, small Kingfish, Jacks, and other predators. Or you may see groups of Sailfish breaking the surface in pursuit of the ballyhoo. Sight casting with bait or lures on light tackle right into the middle of the hunt is one of the most exciting types of fishing around as game fish slam your bait right in plain view of the boat.

The Key West fishing charters in winter season kick off is also the signal to go out for some nice freezer filets. The tasty Mangrove Snapper will be thick in the channels off the Flats, waiting for the baitfish schools to go by. Anchoring up-current and drifting cut or live bait back to them is a good way to pick up a few dinners worth. Out on the reef, the Yellowtail and Mutton Snapper fishing was already good, with many captains producing limits day after day. Now, it is going to be great as the cooler water brings these fish up into the shallows and onto the patch reefs inside the main reef. Close by, easy to get to, and easy to limit on, Snapper are the early winter inshore stars. You can also expect some hookups on Black and Red Grouper, and now is the time to take home a few of these excellent table fish before Grouper season closes on January 1st.

Along with the meat fish like Snapper, Grouper, and Sea Trout, the cooling Backcountry waters will also produce some serious fighting action. Although the Barracuda will go dormant for a few days until they acclimatize to the cold water, they will soon be back on the hunt. Casting tube lures or plugs to these beasts is a lot of fun on light tackle. For a real workout, catch a batch of Blue Runners or Lady Fish and chum in some Blacktip Sharks. These big, aggressive predators are nearly always around and going after the baitfish schools and anything else they can get their teeth into. Rig up some heavy gear with a length of wire leader on the terminal end, throw a bunch of bloody fish chunks out, and drift a big bait back into the chum line. A Blacktip will fight long and hard, running and stripping the reel time after time just as the angler gets it near the boat.

Now is the best time of the year for Key West Backcountry fishing. The number of species that you can catch on one trip, the availability of different types of fishing, and the quantity of live bait are all at their peaks. Whether it is big game fish outside the reef, Backcountry table fish, Permit on the Flats, or a run out to the Marquesas, it is all happening now. Escape the polar vortexes of the north and come on down to experience the amazing Florida Keys fishing charters vortex.