Fishing Reports & Charter Info for Key West, FL

Tropical Non Depression – A rainy day post

I always try to stay positive when it comes to a fishing report. Contrary to what some of you believe it does rain in the sunshine state. And when it rains there’s no question there will be down pours, lightning, thunder and eventually flooding. In fact the drainage off the island of Key West is so slow that Front Street often becomes a pond. The drainage has improved over the years but back in the day it was not out of the ordinary to see kayaks paddling down the street.

Key West weather is so weird. Our tiny island is only two miles by four miles yet it can rain on one end of the island and not on the other!

It’s been raining for most of the day today so the fishing report for today is not going to be a good one. If someone were to brave the rain in full foul weather gear on the flats there may be some tarpon rolling. The winds are very calm fortunately making it easier to see tarpon break the surface.

The deep sea fishing might be great for deep dropping but I don’t know a lot of boats that made it out on this particular day. Recently the fishing offshore of Key West has yielded some nice tuna, wahoo and a few large dolphin. There’s great fall fishing just around the corner as the bait is stacking up!

I used to fish regularly on a party boat years ago. When it rained there were no excuses. The mate would always say, “The fish are always wet!”

Fishing Report from Capt. Vinny Argiro

Live Bait Fishing in Key West

The summer season is drifting away and the tourists are gathering for their yearly migration south to the Florida Keys for winter. To us Key West charter boat captains this can mean only one thing. It’s time to drag the livewells out of the shed and start getting ready for another live bait season. 

As much as I look forward to pitching live pilchards to tunas, I am not crazy about all the extra work involved to make it happen. I guess if it was easy it wouldn’t be a challenge. There are some things you can do and some you must do to make live baiting a success. 

The three most common means of obtaining live bait are with a cast net, a “Sabiki Rig” or a fist full of cash. If you choose to do it yourself , you are going to need a lot of stuff. Cast nets are expensive and usually one net is not going to be good enough to catch everything. You have to match your net to the bait you are throwing on. Every guide has at some point thrown a perfect circle on a school of bait that was just a tiny bit too small for the net and ended up with what is known as a “Christmas tree”. The bait gets their gills caught in the mesh and are stuck. This is a potential showstopper. The net is now useless until it is cleared of all the hung up bait. This can take a while and the bait is no longer alive, epic fail…

The Sabiki rig is a chain of very small hooks, each with a piece of synthetic fish skin. It is weighted and cast near bouys and structure to catch small bait fish such as herring and small jacks. This method is very effective for catching “hook baits” or baits that will actually be put on the hook instead of used for live chum. Generally they are a little larger. It is always a good idea to keep a dehooker to remove the bait from the hook without touching it. This adds to the baits longevity and liveliness. Make sure you keep cast nets and sabiki rigs on oppisite ends of the boat. Getting a sabiki tangled in a cast net would give a basket weaver nightmares.

The third method is to purchase your bait from a bait boat which is expensive and sketchy because you are at the bait mans mercy. If he has promised it to someone or doesn’t have it, you are out of luck. I have seen a dozen goggle eyes sell for more than $150.00 dollars on the morning of a tournament. One Barracuda can chew a large hole in your wallet at that rate.

Now that we have some bait where do we put them? The livewell is a signature contraption which is nearly an artform to many of us. Everyone has their favorite setup and of course the other guy’s well is junk. The one thing we will all agree on is FLOW. You need lots of water. I cant stress that enough. This is one area where size really does matter. Big pumps and big wells with big hoses and big everything. If you buy something for a livewell, get the biggest one they make. Get it ? At bare minimum a 50 gal. well will hold enough bait to get you by for a half day or so. An 1100 gallon per hour pump should be enough and a 2 inch overflow will exhaust the water pretty well. How you set it up is something only you can decide. Every boat and well are different. The best method is trail and error. It can be frustrating.

You’ll need something to hold your bait in while you are at the dock. This requires a very large pen usually made from mesh and pvc pipe. They are cumbersome and awkward but until we develop a better system for keeping upwards of 2000 very scared baitfish alive overnight without running pumps on the boat all night, you are gonna need some zip ties and a hacksaw…

Why do we go through all of this aggrevation to have live bait on our trips? Thats easy, because it works. Watching a sailfish eat a live bait on the surface is something few get to see but will never forget. Tuna exploding behind the boat on the live chum is absolutely insane. Its what keeps us guides going. The question is always asked, “Do you ever get tired of fishing” Its things like I just described that make the answer a definite “NO”.

If you are planning to charter a boat while you are in Key West and the captain has live bait for you, there was a lot of behind the scenes work that went into it. You can surely catch some good fish on dead bait but the live ones are fool proof. If they wont eat live bait then they just aren’t hungry. If you want to see it first hand , look me up. Otherwise, I hope to see you out there and good luck.

Capt. Vinny

Summertime Fishing Rules!

We are knee deep in summer now being that its mid-June. The past few weeks have been stellar offshore and inshore. Fishing the shallow water means tarpon. Whether you are on dawn patrol for rolling fish at the mouth of the harbor or waiting for those silly Palolo worms to swim, you’ll see your fair share of silver giants swimming the Oceanside flats. Fly fishing for tarpon is one of the most productive ways to feed these fish especially during the Palolo worm hatch. There is not much that can mimic a red worm swimming on the surface of the water except a fly. The worm phenomenon is an evening ritual around the full or new moon in May, June and sometimes even July. This year the worms emerged while the tide was flooding in. Kind of weird and in all the years I’ve been a part of fly fishing in the lower Keys this is the first I’ve seen the worms go off on an incoming tide. 



Capt. Vinny Argiro’s Key West Fishing Report

One of the most overlooked and also most productive areas to fish here in the keys would have to be the areas I refer to as “Hard Bottom”

These locations are not the high profile shallow reefs or the high pressured deep wrecks, but rather a mid range oasis in the desert. They are primarily deeper water patch reefs. The term hard bottom is self explanitory. Instead of a soft sand or silt bottom, these regions have a solid or rocky surface with plenty of hiding or ambush places for fish to congregate. Generally they are outside the reef edge in over 100 feet of water and because they usually dont appear as obvious on most depth finders they dont recieve a lot of fishing pressure. They can become a haven for some very large bottom species such as mutton snappers and groupers.

I have found a lot of these spots by pure accident. I always keep an eye on my bottom machine when I am in the 100′-300′ depth range. If I see anything that is not just flat bottom, I mark it. I can come back to it at a later date when I just happen to be in that area. I have had plenty of trips that were saved by these spots. One monster fish can turn the whole day around.

phone 611I used to just drop on these spots as a last resort, but recently I have been targeting them more often with impressive results. The rigging is the same as a rig used on a wreck. A large lead and a long leader with a circle hook to match the bait. I drop live baits as well as cut bait with equal success. Depending on what structure is down there, you never know whats gonna bite.

I have pulled african pompano, amberjacks, numerous species of snapper and grouper up from what may appear to be next to nothing on the fish finder. I drift the bottom in the same way I fish the wrecks. Setting up ahead of the area and letting the current drift my bait right down through the middle of it. Dont be too quick to end your drift as soon as the bottom flattens back out. I have caught some of my best fish on the outskirts of a bumpy region. One nice feature of this type of fishing is the hard bottom is usually wide spread so unlike a wreck which is a pin point drift, hard bottom drifts can go for quite a while.

I have actually set up a drift to cover two or more spots on the same drift. Be sure to hook live baits in the nose and cut bait needs to be streamlined. This prevents the bait from spinning out of control on the rapid decent and causing a nasty tangle. If you get the entire rig cut off, there is a good chance your bait wrapped around the main line and was up off the bottom too far and a toothy critter bit the bait and the main line leaving you with nothing.

Much like any bottom type fishing, it is essential to get a fish moving towards the surface as fast as possible to prevent being run into the rubble and snagged. Also, it is a tough neighborhood down there and any fish can be a meal for something larger. I have had sharks do some serious damage so get ‘em in the boat fast !!. The hard bottom spots tend to be hot and cold. I have fished a spot and killed ‘em and the next time nothing, so just because a spot didn’t produce, dont write it off. Come back and try it again some other day and it might surprise you.

Key West Mid-August Fishing Report

Being on the water this time of year is the place to be in the Keys! No matter how steamy the heat index may get, there’s always a place to drop on in the water and cool off.

The offshore fishing around Key West is good for grouper and snapper mostly in deeper water. Deep drops for these bottom dwellers will produce as long as the water is cooler down deep. See in the winter when the deeper water gets too cold the grouper move up in shallow and can be taken even by trolling a diving plug by some coral heads. A black or gag grouper can come up quick and ambush a plug.

There have been some mahi-mahi offshore too on the weed lines. Mahi will be smaller this time of year and boats have to head out to the wall and beyond to get them. Occasionally there is a larger dolphin in the mix.

Another fishing expedition would be to dabble in swordfishing. Generally the weather has to be calm, the moon full (some guys would argue this though), and you’ve got to know some spots where these creatures of the deep hang out. I’ve never personally gone swordfishing here in the Keys but I know a handful of captains who do. Most of them do it for fun and they seem to be very good at it. The swordfish sizes vary but large ones are caught all year long. In the past year there have been some whoppers caught up and down the Keys. Again, some during the day, some at night. There’s something creepy about being able to see the lights of Havana and fishing for swordfish in the dark abyss.

If you’d still rather stay closer to shore the fishing on the flats has been stellar this week. Fly fishing for permit with slick calm conditions is not recommended for the novice but it can be done. One of the best solutions to getting closer to these fish is to wade fish for them. My hubby and his dude for the day both released 2 permit on fly the other day. The 5th one became dinner as the poor guy got his tail bit off by a lemon shark. We don’t keep permit unless this happens. They are on the scale of table fare “excellent” eating. I’ve had permit just a few times in my 18 years living here. I’ve had it grilled, fried, blackened, sauteed and ceviche. I’d have to say sauteed wins the award for best cooked permit. Permit to us are considered a gamefish so please release them whenever possible.

Bonefish are making a big show in the Lower Keys too. It’s so nice to see the population of bonefish is healthier than in recent years. A bonefish can smell shrimp from over a mile away so if you want to get in them invest in some live shrimp and break up a few pieces of live shrimp and put one live one on your hook. Of course if your fly fishing you’ll have to go look for ‘em. They can be found traveling in singles, doubles and in larger schools.

The Redbone S.L.A.M. Tournament and the Superfly are quickly approaching in early September. I’m sure there is still room to participate in this charity event. The event helps raise money for cystic fibrosis. For more information on how to get involved visit

Summertime Slam

There is nothing like summer in the Keys. Those of you who worry too much about the heat are the reason it’s so nice here in the summer months – it’s not overcrowded! Besides the mini lobster season chaos it’s a pretty tranquil place in June, July and August.
One of my favorite things to do is get out on the flats and search for bones and permit. They are here and they are hungry too. Best bet is to start early and hear for a tarpon spot to start. Until the light improves you can always look for tarpon rolling or dredge for them with a crab or an intermediate fly line and a darker fly.

The best scenario would be to get your tarpon early and then head for some of the backcountry flats for some bones and permit. These two usually travel in similar water depth and will both eat a shrimp, small crab or even a shrimpy crab pattern. If you can get them all in one day you’ve got yourself a Florida Keys Slam!

The water is calm in summer and mostly clear. It’s perfect for fishing, snorkeling, paddleboarding and just visiting the beach.

But for those of you wondering… It’s stinkin’ hot! So hot you might need to just jump in the water. That wouldn’t be so bad either…. Would it?

Find your adventure in the Keys, hurry because summer is slipping away!

Things To Do

Things to do in Key West

There are plenty of things to do in Key West. Aside from the 200+ drinking establishments around the island there are other things to do for the more tame visitors and for those just taking a break from the night life and bar scene.

The Key West Aquarium is a perfect stop for visitors and locals to learn about our vast marine environment. The Key West Aquarium has undergone a huge facelift during the last few years and the exhibits are more vibrant and offer more sea creatures and fish than ever before.

The Butterfly Conservancy is a great place to visit any day of the year. It’s perfect for a rainy day too when you are trying to find something to stay busy or occupy your kids.

The Florida Keys Eco Center is also a beautiful new place to visit to learn more about our Eco system, birds and creatures that inhabit the area. The Eco Discovery Center has a self guided tour and a short film along with several great exhibits. They do on occasion have events geared towards different groups.

There are countless tours to experience. Some of the more popular ones are the Ghost Tour, a ride aboard the Conch Tour Train, and the inn tours which tend to be only around the holidays.

One tour that has been the highlight of a lot of vacations is Lloyd’s Tropical Bike Tour. This is a unique,island bicycle journey that takes,you to the island that time forgot. Discover some of the little known facts and places amidst our tiny island. It’s a fun tour and it won’t break the bank either. Consider it a perfect investment in your vacation especially if you can’t get out on the water.

If you do get the opportunity to get out on the water, do it! There’s a tour or trip to suit every family and every budget.  Some examples of a great trip is the sunset snorkel combo offered by the Fury and Sebago companies. A true island experience with a great vibe. Music, snorkeling on the coral reef and some beer, wine and Caribbean music. All this while you watch the end of another beautiful day in the Florida Keys. Watch the sun dip below the horizon and view Key West from a whole new perspective. I live here and I still enjoy these types of tours even though I have my own means to get out on the water.

Here are some smaller operations that will take you out on the water:

Easy Day Charters – no one does it like Capt. Tom since 1980. He’s a happy guy with a lot of great tales about old Key West. His charters are tailored to what you want to do. Fish, snorkel, sunbathe or just relax.

Island to Island Charters – Capt. Ally has a very comfortable deck boat made for comfort. She’s made a great business out of taking folks out to the shallow waters of the Lower Keys. She’s easy going and can take up to six guests. And if you feel the need for some technical flats fishing she’s got the perfect guy for the job, Capt. Tony.

Look for more on things to do in Key West coming soon.




Florida Spiny Lobster Season

Florida Keys Spiny Lobstering

Well the regular season for Florida Spiny Lobster or ‘bugs’ opened on August 6th. The season goes from August 6th through March 31st in the Keys. There are a few regulations for recreational harvest of Spiny Lobster and they can be found on the Florida Fish and Wildlife website. You can view the 2014 brochure here for the regulations and how to measure a lobster.

Lobster Mini-Season (Sport Season) – July 30th & 31st, 2014

The Lobster Mini-Season is always the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday of July (For 2014 it is July 30th & 31st) . The regulations state that each person harvesting lobster is allowed 6 Spiny Lobsters per day of both the sport mini-season and the regular season.

Florida Spiny Lobster

Florida Spiny Lobster Habitat


You must be in possession of a measuring device and use it to be certain the carapace of the lobster is at least 3″ from the center of the eyes to the start of the tail section.

Lobstering during mini-season begins at midnight on the first day. During the night-time hours the lobsters may only be taken by “bully netting” and no divers are allowed in the water until sunrise. Bully Netting is done with a large net on a long pole and with a light that can be submerged or a powerful hand-held light if you are in a pinch. The lobster travel during the night and a reflection from their eyes can be seen to pinpoint their position. The bully net is placed on top of the lobster and as he swims up into the net you would invert the net and bring it into the boat.

Personally it’s more fun to go during the daytime and work through the underwater ledges and coral heads in search of the spiny creature. These areas can be found throughout the shallow waters on both the Atlantic and Gulf edges of the Keys. Basically during the mini-season and the beginning of the regular season you will just have to find your spot. It’s sometimes a challenge as there can be nearly 30,000 people throughout the Keys that are visitors here specifically for lobstering.

Florida Spiny Lobter

How to measure a Florida Spiny Lobster
(image from

There are several dive boats that will take visitors out specifically for lobstering. The cost for sharing a charter like this may be more expensive than a regular dive trip because of the licensing and extra equipment. Be sure to ask if you need to obtain your own Florida Fishing License with a Lobster Stamp (an extra $2.00 usually) or if the charter company provides the license.

For any questions regarding the rules and regulations for lobstering in the Florida Keys please contact Florida Fish and Wildlife in Monroe County at (305) 289-2805.



From the FWC Website – Information on bag limits and licensing for Spiny Lobster

Florida Regulations:

Spiny Lobster Sport Season

Season dates Bag limit Possession limit – on the water Possession limit – off the water Minimum size limit
July 30-31, 2014 (Last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday of July each year) 6 per person per day for Monroe County and Biscayne National Park12 per person per day for the rest of Florida Equal to the daily bag limit Equal to the daily bag limit on the first day, and double the daily bag limit on the second day Carapace larger than 3″, measured in the waterPossession and use of a measuring device is required at all timesFind out how to measure spiny lobster

*Possession limits are enforced on and off the water

**Night diving is prohibited in Monroe County (only during the sport season)

***Harvest of lobster is prohibited in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park during the sport season and in Everglades National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, and no-take areas in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary during both the 2-day sport season and regular season.


Regular Spiny Lobster Season

Season dates Bag limit Possession limit – on the water Minimum size limit
Aug. 6 – March 31 6 per person per day Equal to the daily bag limit Carapace larger than 3″, measured in the waterPossession and use of a measuring device is required at all timesFind out how to measure spiny lobster

***Harvest of lobster is prohibited in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park during the sport season and in Everglades National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, and no-take areas in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary during both the 2-day sport season and regular season.

Florida Keys/Monroe County Information

Call 305-852-7717 or visit icon_external.png for information about no take areas in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Please call the FWC Marathon office at 305-289-2320, or check online for lobster harvesting regulations icon_pdf.gif for Monroe County.

Other Prohibitions

  • Unless exempt, a recreational saltwater fishing license and a lobster permit are required to harvest spiny lobster
  • Lobster must be landed in whole condition. Separating the tail from the body is prohibited in state waters.
  • The harvest or possession of eggbearing spiny lobster, or any other eggbearing species of lobster belonging to the families Palinuridae (spiny lobsters), Scyllaridae (slipper lobsters) or Synaxidae (furry lobsters) is prohibited
  • No person shall harvest or attempt to harvest spiny lobster using any device which will or could puncture, penetrate or crush the exoskeleton (shell) or the flesh of the lobster
  • Recreational trapping prohibited
  • Regardless of what species you are fishing for, bag limits are only for properly licensed individuals and those people exempt from license requirements who are actively harvesting. People harvesting may not exceed their individual bag limit and take someone else’s bag limit. That is, people (including children) who are not actively harvesting or are not properly licensed (if a license is required) may NOT be counted for purposes of bag limits.


Captain Vinny’s Key West Fishing Report

Shallow Water Fishing Heats Up!

On a recent airplane ride back from the mainland I met a couple that was on their way to the keys for the first time. Of course I asked if they planned to go fishing while they were in Key West. The guy (Dave) said he would love to but his girlfriend (Karen) gets seasick. Dave also told me he doesn’t fish very often and wasn’t sure he has the experience to catch something really big.

What if I told you , we could fish in waters that are always calm and catch fish that are well over 100 lbs on light tackle with absolutely no experience necessary

I said “What if I told you , we could fish in waters that are always calm and catch fish that are well over 100 lbs on light tackle with absolutely no experience necessary”. We scheduled their Shark trip for that Tuesday. I believe that the shark is one of the best sportfish a newbie to our sport can tangle with and expect to have a pretty high success rate. Somehow they have gained a reputation for being a “dead weight” fighter and I even had an angler tell me he would rather reel in a log than a shark. Moments later his spinning real started screaming and after the third spool dumping run he was sure he was fighting the Kingfish of a lifetime. It turned out to be an 80lb Blacktip Shark.

I heard no more about pulling in logs, cement blocks or tires for the rest of the day. I think this stems from sharks being hooked in deep water where they go deep and stay there. The shallow water channels and bays around Key West do not allow them to sit on the bottom and use their weight against you. These fish have to run to get away and run they do.

These channels are surrounded by shallow water flats which keep them calm under nearly any condition. An experienced guide has a list of these areas a mile long and can find a channel that has wind and tide conditions that will work on just about any day you choose. In general we see Lemon, Black Nose, Black Tip, Spinners and Bull Sharks. Occasionally a Hammerhead or Tiger will make an appearance as well. I like to use light tackle and drop off my anchor and follow the fish with the boat.

The current can be pretty strong sometimes so keeping the fish fairly close is important to prevent a tangle with a trap line or getting cut off on the bottom should the fish flee up on the flat. This also gives the angler a good view of his opponent throughout the entire fight.

The Spinner sharks are by far my favorite because they do just as their name suggests. They make leaping jumps and spin like a top on every one. They will rival a tarpon of equal size.

Many are lost because they wrap themselves up in the leader and break off. There are a few tricks for keeping them hooked. As far as rigging, I like to use circle hooks because most sharks are released. Obviously you will need wire leader and I like to use a wind-on leader of monofilament that is heavy enough to prevent abrasion and scuffs from either the sharks tail or the bottom.

Sharks are willing to eat whatever they find and bait can be just about anything fishy. If you fish in an area that has a lot of small fish such as pinfish or small snappers, I suggest using either a fish head or a whole fish for bait. this keeps the critters from stealing all the meat off the bait and leaving just the skin. A 2-3 lb slab of bonita will be mincemeat in seconds if the pinfish find it. I also like to hang a few fish carcasses over the side to add more scent to the water. I feel this works much better than just block frozen chum.

Everyone from a tournament pro to a first time angler can have a blast on days when the conditions aren’t so favorable for offshore species or staying in calm water is a must.

Remember, most sharks are protected so get his picture and send him back down the channel for another day. People back home will be impressed by the picture next to the southernmost point but not nearly as impressed as the one next to the 100 lb shark !!!

Right now is prime time for the shallow water sharks and we have been doing very well the past few weeks. This should continue all through the summer. Good luck and I hope to see you out there.


Rainin’ in the Keys!

Well, it’s summer time. Some are here, some are not (we like the lighter crowds and the fact that part of our guide community feels there are some trout they must catch elsewhere). June marks the best time to be here to fish and well…. just one of the best times to be here period. If you are planning to fish, there are tarpon, bonefish, permit, sharks and barracuda around. If you plan to dive or snorkel, the water is generally calm and mostly clear making the conditions perfect for viewing our coral reefs. If you just plain want to relax, the hotels generally have rooms available and the rates are slightly lower in the summer months.

For fishing – tarpon have been the game changer around here. While there’s an intense Gold Cup Tarpon Fly Fishing Tournament going on is Islamorada, there have been some tough days in the Lower Keys scouting tarpon. Gloomy, raining weather has not been helpful but the good news is it’s starting to clear up! Early morning dawn patrol is one way to get the tarpon while they are just waking up. They are happy and rolling. On a calm morning the sound of a tarpon rolling is most serene, at least I think so.

Plenty of permit still being caught and permit fishing will remain good as long as the winds put a little chop on the water. Shallow water fishing for permit is so much more challenging when it’s calm. Whether you are a bait or fly fisherman, laying the crab or fly in softly is the key to calm water permit fishing. Don’t forget the Del Brown Permit Tournament is less than a month away. Anglers compete three days for top awards in this long running fly only permit tournament. The tournament was named after the late Del Brown who caught 513 permit on his fly rod in a lifetime. The most on record. Visit for more information on the event.

The #GoldCupTarponTournament results after Day 2:

Results of the 2nd Day of Fishing “The Gold Cup Tarpon Tournament” Tough Day!
1st Place:- Ned Johnson w/ Capt Andy Thompson- 0 fish – 2331 cum pts
2nd Place:- Mark Richens w/ Capt Jared Raskob-0 fish – 1517 cum pts
3rd Place:- Sam Kaufman w/ Capt Steve Friedman-0 fish-912 cum pts
4th Place:- Nathaniel Linville w/ Capt Doug Kilpatrick-0 fish-874 cum pts
5th Place:- Baker Bishop w/ Capt Craig Brewer-0 fish- 824 cum pts
6th Place:- Gregory Smith w/ Capt Scott Collins- 1 wt fish- 726 pts- 726 cum pts (only weight fish caught for day 2
3 other teams caught release fish: (1 each)
Charles Duncan w/ Capt Rob Fordyce
David Preston w/ Capt Brian Esposito
Roger Fernandez w/ CaptTad Burke

Meanwhile offshore fishing for Mahi-Mahi has been spectacular. From some of the photos I have seen from Capt. Brice Barr on Doubledown and the Outer Limits Sportfishing boat, there have been some slammer dolphin out there!


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Tarpon Fishing

Tarpon Fishing in Key West is famous. There have been many television shows and magazine articles written about the annual tarpon migration here in Key West. Come between February and September for the best shot at one of the top game fish in the world, the mighty Silver King. Read more...