Reeling in the New Year with Key West Winter Fishing

December and 2013 are winding up with some fairly good weather, with Key West temperatures at around 70 degrees and a few Christmas day rain showers that did little to dampen the tropical holiday spirit of the many visitors in town. In fishing terms, the last week of December was pretty wild, with winds of 20-30 knots out of the North swinging to the South, then totally dying out, then backing to the North again. It made getting offshore very far tough, and the pressure and temperature changes made for unpredictable winter fishing in Key West. It seems like the real change of season into deep winter is finally here though. The unseasonably warm weather of early December that saw hot, summer-like Dolphin fishing offshore has given way to the more usual passing cold fronts, and the baitfish are stacking up on the reef. The ballyhoo population is big this year, and there are quite a few Sailfish out there going after all that ballyhoo. Sailfish hookups are available just outside and even on the reef for those willing to brave a bit of the sporty water that prevails when the east-northeast winds kick up.

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In other offshore action, the Blackfin Tuna bite has been strong, and a few boats have reported some early Kingfish up to about 40 pounds. On the Gulf side, the south wind turned the Kings on, and many captains were reporting Kingfish limits being taken on most any live bait, with threadfins and pilchards being eaten readily. The Wahoo have not shown up yet in any significant numbers in the southern Keys, but they are starting to be caught up north. The reef fishing has been a little slow for Grouper, with the end of the season for the Atlantic and much of the Gulf waters coming up on January 1st. However, a hot Snapper bite has made up for any lack of Grouper, and limits of Mangrove, Mutton, and Yellowtail Snapper have been easy to find with the baitfish crowding the reef the way they are now.

The passing cold fronts moving in from the north and the cooler water temperatures they bring tend to put a damper on the hunt for the big-name fish on the Key West Flats. Tarpon, Bonefish, and Permit all move out of the shallows for deeper, warmer water in the depths of winter. That is not to say that there is no game afoot however. Huge schools of bait get driven far inshore during the winter months, and the Flats and Backcountry come alive with big Barracuda, Jack Crevalle, Mangrove Snapper, Pompano, Redfish, and Sharks.

This means that Flats fishing actually gets easier in the winter, with a wider variety of species that can be readily caught in large numbers. For example, by February, there will be schools of Barracuda over 100 strong on the Flats. For the family, or for the fisherman who just likes to catch a lot of fish, Key West Winter Fishing can be ideal. The Backcountry is also a good place to tuck away behind islands and hide from some of the stronger winds and sporty waters that are seen when the fronts move through. And for those who really want to, it is still possible to get into a few Tarpon and Permit in between the cold fronts.

For visitors coming south for warm weather and just wanting to get into some easy fast action Key West Winter Fishing, the Backcountry has been the place to be. Good Sea Trout fishing, along with plentiful Jacks, Pompano, and Sharks have been keeping the rods bent and the people happy. January is coming on fast, and with the great Backcountry fishing keeping people focused on boating mixed-bag limits and filling up freezers with Snapper and other good eating fish, time will fly by. Before you know it, February will bring the big Barracuda to the Flats, offering a chance to get back into sight fishing with some easy-to-spot monsters that will strike viciously at the simplest tube-bait lures. Throwing lures to the Barracuda is a great warm-up for late February, when the hot Permit fishing of the pre-spawn season goes off. Then, we will be at the beginning of the next Key West Tarpon run, and the fun goes on.