Winter Fishing In The Keys Has It All

Key West, Florida

Story and Photos By Pat Ford
Published: December 2012

There's no doubt, if I had two weeks to fish anywhere in the U.S., that I would head to Key West, Florida. I had the good fortune to be stationed at the Naval Air Station in Key West in 1971, and I've been fishing its waters ever since. Nowhere else can you fish the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, deep and shallow wrecks, and endless miles of flats, all from the same marina. Prime time begins in November when temperatures are dropping up north and the fish are migrating south. The first to arrive is the bait (mullet, ballyhoo, and pilchards) and the game fish are never far behind.

Photo of a Spanish mackerel who fell victim to a big google-eyed fly
This Spanish mackerel fell victim to a big google-eyed fly.

A typical day begins in a 30-foot center console that can easily handle most civilized winds and sea conditions. I fish almost exclusively with Capt. R.T. Trosset and/or his son, Chris, who operate out of Hurricane Hole Marina on Stock Island, but there are a number of excellent light-tackle offshore and skiff guides between Marathon and Key West (see sidebar). A typical day with R.T. begins with chasing bait, pilchards to be exact. Once located on the edges of the flats and captured, these three-inch minnows become the best chum a cast net can provide. All the light-tackle boats have massive live wells that will sustain thousands of baits that are casually thrown over the side while anchored over the reef, bar, or wreck selected for the day's adventure. Incredibly, the disoriented pilchards stay close to the boat and will attract most everything in the area that might consider them a snack. It's not unusual to have mackerel, bonito, kingfish, wahoo, tuna, and sailfish crashing baits just off the stern, in addition to amberjacks, grouper, snapper, bar jacks, and yellowtail hovering below. If you enjoy live-bait fishing, the options are almost unlimited, but fly-fishing also can be wildly rewarding. You'll really need a 12-weight rod and a large-capacity reel for offshore, spooled with clear, intermediate-sinking line.

Photo of shark fishing with a fly rod
Even on "bad days" shark fishing can prove exhilarating. A big shark on a fly rod presents a challenge you'll never forget.

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Know Before You Go

Key West is just one of a group of 200 islands collectively called The Florida Keys. Only 30 are inhabited. Excellent sportfishing can be found all along the island chain, but charterboats tend to accumulate in the population centers such as Key West and Islamorada. Most guides provide all tackle and licenses necessary, as well as bait if desired. Inquire about drinks or food, or bring your own. If you do prefer to bring and use your own equipment, be sure to let the guide know in advance.

Costs: Flats guides typically charge $450 and up for a full day of backcountry fishing for two anglers, tip not included. Offshore fishing with R.T. Trosset is $1,300 for a full day for four anglers.

Fun Fact: The 127-mile-long trip from Florida City on U.S. 1 South to Key West makes for picturesque driving, featuring 42 bridge crossings that total nearly 19 miles over water. Fun Fact Two: Key West is the only U.S. city that never sees frost. The lowest temperature ever recorded on the island was 41 degrees Fahrenheit.

To book a trip with R.T. or Chris Trosset, call R.T. at 305-797-5693.


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