Key West Fishing – Starting the New Year Off Right

After an unseasonably warm stretch of temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s started the New Year off on a summer-like note, a little bit of a breeze out of the north the past few days cooled things down until the wind came back around to the east today and we saw highs near 80 once again. High air temps, light winds and clear skies have been the norm since early December when the fall cold front pattern seems to have ended. In the following weeks, warm winds out of the south and east kept day and nighttime air temperatures up and stable. This pushed water temps in the Backcountry and Flats back into the 70s by the Christmas holidays, and the shallow water fishing has turned on in a big way since then. Between the near-constant inshore bite and the steady deep sea action we have seen the past few weeks, 2015 is already looking like a banner year for Key West fishing charters.

The Flats have been giving Permit fishermen the time of their lives with plenty of shots at tailing fish running up to about 30 lbs. The light winds are keeping enough chop on the water to provide some camouflage for stalking anglers, and while crabs are scarce right now, the fish are eating buck tail jigs pretty readily. There are also a few Bonefish around, but the real Flats story besides Permit has been the monster Barracuda that can be spotted lying soaking up the sun in the shallow water over sand holes or near the lighter-colored grass patches. Pulling tube lures, streamer flies, or anything shiny past these fish at maximum speed results in blasting top-water strikes and runs that have the drags smoking. Guides have also been finding Barracuda in the channels along the Backcountry mangrove islands, where the fish lurk between the mangrove roots ready to ambush passing baitfish. Barracuda can be found around this type of structure any time, but the ‘Cuda fishing charter really got good this year once the cooler water temperatures of winter hit offshore and pushed the big bait schools into the warmer shallows.

Warm Backcountry waters have also sparked exceptional Shark fishing for the past month, and it is still going strong as we hit the second week of January. Blacktip, Bull, Lemon and occasional Hammerhead Sharks patrol the Backcountry channels and basins, and warm water makes them very aggressive. They are quick to home in on the thrashing and blood of hooked smaller fish like the Mangrove Snappers, Jacks, Ladyfish, Pompano and Sea Trout that have been so plentiful of late. Once these big predators arrive at the party, it is difficult to get a hooked fish to the boat in one piece, so the best option might be just to pick up the heavier gear, put a bloody chunk of Barracuda or Ladyfish on, and do some Shark fishing charters. The popularity of Shark fishing charters has been on the rise around Key West the last couple of years, with many fishermen coming to look for a trophy mount to take home and leaving with a big Bull Shark or sometimes even a Tiger or Hammerhead.

Offshore, the prevailing high temperatures and steady east winds have set up an almost summer-like pattern that has been great for the deep sea boats. The Mahi-Mahi fishing charters has been phenomenal for this time of year. In fact, some local captains say they have not seen fall and winter Dolphin fishing charters this good in years. Great catches of Mahi, with some fish of 20 lbs. and larger, along with steady multi-species action on Sailfish, Kingfish, Wahoo, Mutton Snapper, Blackfin Tuna and Bonito has resulted in a lot of impressive mixed-bags hung up on the docks by returning offshore fishermen. The Gulf Steam has pulled in closer to shore now, and almost all of the classic pelagic sport fish can be found feeding just a short run out beyond the reef, making for extra fishing time and big catches.

The 2014 Key West Fishing charters Tournament that wrapped up in November gave evidence of what a good year Key West fisher-people had. The tournament concluded its 49th year with a long list of entries and over 236 fish that earned awards in the various species and line class categories. This fun tournament encourages sportsmanship and the love of fishing in everyone young and old, Keys local or visitor. The eight-month-long event begins in March and ends on November 30 each year, and all entries must be fish caught in public waters in the Florida Keys west of the west end of the Seven Mile Bridge. Charter captains are required to register their boats in order for their anglers to participate, while private boats and anglers are not required to register. To enter, fishermen need only to have their catch weighed and certified by the official weigh master at one of the 17 authorized tournament weigh stations, then fill out an entry form and mail it to the KWFT or deposit it in one of the entry drop boxes found at local marinas.

Anglers target 44 different gamefish species with fly, spin, and plug tackle in nine line-weight classes ranging from 8 to over 50 lb. test. Every year, more than 2,000 anglers commemorate their catches with “Outstanding Angling Achievement” citations or receive “Sportsmanship Award” citations for released catches. Trophies are awarded to leaders in each division: Men’s, Women’s, Junior and PeeWee, as well as for Master Angler, Heaviest Fish of each species, and Most Releases of fish from 7 different species. This year, Walt Moss of Vinton, VA took home Master Angler honors as well as chalking up the most Tarpon releases with 26. Larry and Alan Langohr, of Neenah, WI and Wayzata, MN respectively, fought to a draw on Permit releases with 79 each. Pat Bennett from Weston, FL took the Bonefish title with 21 releases. Fishermen will celebrate the year and receive their awards on January 24, 2015 at the Awards Dinner to be held at the Double Tree Grand Key in Key West. The 2015 Key West Fishing Tournament will kick off in March, so make plans to get down here and get in the game with some of the world’s best saltwater sport fishing charters.