Snapping Sharks, Gangs of Groupers – Key West Fishing in Fall is the Best

Fall is kicking into high gear in Key West fishing as we go into the tail end of what some people call our monsoon season – May through October, and hit the prime time for tropical depressions to be swinging through the Keys and the Gulf region. Temperatures of late have been a bit more pleasant for going fishing, staying in the lower 80’s, but with breezy weather and thunderstorms prevalent this time of year, offshore fishing days have to be chosen carefully. However, we also thank the shifting tropical weather movements, even the storms and high winds, for stirring up the water, cooling it down, getting many different species of fish on the move and feeding, and making for excellent Key West fishing in fall.

Despite the seasonal weather slowing things down a bit, we have had some good offshore days, with all-you-can catch Bonito on offer, along with Wahoo and few big Dolphins coming to the docks on the low-wind days. A strong east-bound current has been sweeping along the reef, and fishing has been great out there. The Yellowtail Snapper have been biting well, and with big schools of Ballyhoo stacking up, the action on reef species is only going to get hotter. Shark fishing has been very good, both in the Flats channels and out on the wrecks. Captains have been hitting the deep wrecks to put their fishermen on big Black Tips, Bull Sharks in the 200-300 pound range, and some large Lemon Sharks as well. With all the Bonito available, it is the obvious choice for feeding the toothy predators, and some chum and big bait chunks made from these succulent, oily fish have been all it takes to get the sharks chomping hard.

The past couple of weeks have also brought a few days of rain combined with low to no wind, at least in near shore waters. Fishermen willing to brave some wet weather might find these conditions conducive to finding some Tarpon rolling on the Flats, or tossing a shrimp at the legendary Key West Bonefish. The low barometric pressure that occurs during these passing weather patterns often stimulates fish to feed more actively, and the raindrops hitting the water can provide some camouflage for the splash your bait makes when it lands in front of the fish. For those who prefer to remain drier than the fish, the warmer summer-like days that are still scattered into the fall weeks are also good for hunting Bones on the Flats. Throwing a live shrimp, a bucktail jig sweetened with a little piece of shrimp, or a shrimp or crab pattern fly are all fine ways to try for a fall hookup with the Gray Ghost of the Flats.

As we get later into fall in Key West, the typical round of seasonal in-town activities picks up as well. One fall phenomenon is various biker runs down the Keys to the island. The past 3 days has brought one of the big rallies to town, the annual Keys Poker Run put on by Phil Peterson’s Harley Davidson shop up in Miami. About 10,000 people and nearly as many bikes of all shapes and sizes hit town for the benefit of charity and a lot of fun. Each year, the city sets aside 8 blocks around Duval Street for bike parking, and there are all kinds of festivities and special activities for the motorcycle-inclined.

The rumble of the big bikes (and big people!) brings to mind the fish that could be considered the biker of the deeps – the Grouper. Big, burly, incredibly strong, and not afraid to fight, once these bad boys reach their growth, they rule the wrecks, reefs, and ledges. Nothing that comes within range of a Grouper’s huge maw is safe. In the case of the monster Goliath Grouper, this sometimes even includes human divers. The Grouper will snap open its big mouth to suck in large baitfish, squid, octopus, Moray Eels, and even Spiny Lobster without blinking. Grouper will eat live, dead, or chunk bait nearly anytime you find them, and are also great table fish, making them a top favorite among the Key West game fish.

Grouper can be caught year-round off Key West, but there are regulated seasons on this fish depending on the particular species and the waters you are fishing. For Florida Atlantic Grouper, and all Monroe County State Waters (which include the waters around Key West), it is catch and release only for all Grouper species from January 1st until April 30th, and open season from May 1st through December 31st. Although it is always good for Grouper around here, for Key West fishing with fisherman, Grouper prime time comes from November through April.

The Grouper is one of the stars of the Key West fall fishing season, so, with that in mind, our next report will be dedicated to giving the low-down on this classic bottom brawler. Stay tuned to find out how to gear up and go after a sport fish that will give you the fight of a lifetime and some delicious dinner table fare afterwards.