Welcome To Key West – Yellowfin Owners

Yellowfin Owners Tournament Key West

Yellowfin 36 Center Console Yellowfin 36 Center Console powered by triple 400 Mercury Verados

June 18th 2018 – Welcome to Key West Yellowfin owners for the 2018 YFOT held here on our little island of Key West. Being a multi Yellowfin boat owner and a huge fan of the brand I am super excited that Key West is hosting this years event. I am writing this post as a bit of a newbies boating guide to Key West. In hopes that it that may help some of the new visitors enjoy a little more this weekend.

The Forecast

From here the forecast for the weekend looks absolutely fabulous. Hot, Sticky with light South East winds and super clear water will be in store for us this weekend.

Be Watchful For “Pop Up” thunderstorms

Key West Weather

As I write this the pop ups were popping. Here is our radar this afternoon. As you can see, isolated to the islands for convection. Quite the light show.

Not unlike the mainland there will be the occasional afternoon convective thunderstorms over the mainland that will heat up. These really small storms generally form over the lower Keys from Big Pine Key to Stock island and drift toward Key West. Over the water they will produce some water spouts and some localized lightening with some rain. They go away usually just as fast as they flare up. There is no way to predict them just keep an eye out. Folks fishing offshore and to the West wont even know they are there. Sometimes these thunderstorms can affect the backcountry adventures to the North of Key West back in the islands.

This piece is written to provide info for those that have never been here and need a leg up on things to have some fun with to show their family and crew a nice time on the water with some options. 

The Fishing 

Fishing has been very good here in Key West as it usually is this time of the year. There are so many arenas that we chose from here that folks can enjoy. Inshore flats and backcountry Offshore wrecks, patch reefs and deep sea fishing just to name a few. Its all going to be accessible this weekend and from what I see the fishing should be stellar across the board.

Deep Sea Dolphin, Wahoo,

We have been hitting the dolphin in the 300 to 750 ft range this week. Not a ton of big fish are being caught but some nice gaffers with some teenagers and plenty of peanuts. Larger baits and a lipped trolling plug seem to get our larger fish with a little faster troll. There are some wahoo out there so lead your plugs with wire. Scattered weeds were an issue on Sunday (yesterday) but we all know that changes daily. With the oily calm conditions scattered weed might be an issue throughout the forecast period making trolling kinda tough.

  • Run South East for Key West toward American Shoal and fish the depths from there  East has been a bit more productive in the 300 – 500 ft range.
  • American Shoals is also a pretty reef to stop at and snorkel with the kids
  • Wrap up your trolling and you can shoot 6.5 miles to the East of American Shoals and hit Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary for an incredible snorkel spot. Best in the Keys in my opinion.

Tarpon Fishing

The early morning bite has been pretty good yet here in Key West. Get out before the sun comes up. Work the harbor  and adjacent channels where you see fish rolling using live baits. Our tarpon like live pin fish, crabs, flies and Hogy 7″ lures (Black, white, bubble gum). Anchoring and chumming works well too. Bay boats with trolling motors are super effective.

  • Remember the water is crystal clear. Fluorocarbon is a must! We use long lengths of 40lb fluoro here to get the bite. Sometimes I will even drop to 30.
  • Be mindful of others while you are out there in the line up we don’t really fish super close together like they may do in places like Boca Grand. We fish for tarpon in navigable channels here. Idling through is a huge courtesy although not required.

Backcountry / Flats Fishing

For those of you brave enough to venture out into the super shallow waters of the backcountry the permit and bone fishing on the flats this time of the year is really good. Work the Gulf or Atlantic facing flats for your best bets. Patience, a little bit of current and a great set of eyes will help you find these guys in the shallows 18 inches or less who like to eat Shrimp (bonefish) and Crabs (permit).

  • 12 lb test rods with 8 – 12 lb fluoro leader and #1 and 1/0 hooks.
  • Permit crabs for the flats should be about the size of a 1960 half dollar.
  • For fly fishermen I always suggest a spawning shrimp pattern for a shot at  either fish you may see. 8 or 9 wt rods long leaders.
  • Please don’t run skinny and use the deeper channels to get up on plane.
Amber Jacks

Hard fighting amber jacks on the wrecks.

Wreck Fishing

The deeper wrecks will hold some nice amber jacks with the possibility of a mutton snapper or grouper on the bottom. Remember the Atlantic is closed for red snapper although you may catch them. Pay Attention to the regs. I have provided some numbers for you at the bottom of this for everyone to use. Live pin fish are always a great fit here. If you can get some white bait or pilchards they can be good for chumming up some black fin tunas on the top. Shallower wrecks will hold grouper and snapper as well with the good possibility of some permit orbiting around the tops. Barracudas are fun too with some big jack crevasse that respond well to top water plugs.

  • 30 – 50 braid with 50 + leader for the Amber Jacks for a good starter set up. Don’t forget the belt for the kids – might need that.
  • your gonna need some lead 8, 10, 12 once sinkers for the deep stuff if your using knocker rigs
  • Jigs 5 oz or better makes it easy. Tip it with a pin fish up through the lower jaw.
  • Speed Jigs are awesome and fast way to hook up. 6 + ounce.
  • Deep wrecks also hold Bee liner (Vermillion) snapper. Smaller hooks and squid work well.

Reef fishing

The reef is super easy to find. Go South of Key West and stop before it drops off to 100ft. The reef runs all the way from Miami clear down to the Dry Tortugas hovering between 4-6 miles from the mainland of the Florida Keys till you get past the Marquesas. Using references like American Shoals and Sand Key Light the new Keys reef fisherman can look on his chart and see the shallows. On the reef you will find excellent yellowtail snapper fishing. I have provided a 101 tutorial for beginners below. 

Reef Trolling. One of my favorite things to do in the summer. Trolling keeps the boat moving and air circulating. I like to use lipped plugs on a 30 – 50lb braided line setup. The lipped plugs dive down to the shallow reefs (20 – 30 ft) where the grouper are looking for an easy target. Trolling for grouper works really well here and you dont need a PHD in fishing to do it. Go slow, take your time, watch your depth and have someone ready at the rod..

Reef jigging. For some reason grouper cannot turn down a good jig. Patch reefs between the islands and the reef are a great place to jig. White bucktails or smaller speed jigs are excellent choice to keep an angler busy hoping for a solid strike. Patch reefs are easy to find they are everywhere. Use your chart plotter look for areas that are in 30 – 40 ft in Hawks Channel that come up to 15 – 25 feet.

How to Yellowtail 101
  • Bring chum, chum bag, bait (silver sides, majua, cut squid, cut fish).
  • Find the edge of the reef and watch your bottom machine in the 40 – 100 ft range for large gatherings of fish. Anchor up current from these fish.
  • Start chumming by putting block of chum in the chum bag tied off to the back of the boat. as the particles of chum drift down they will bring the snappers up.
  • Using a 12lb spinning rod and light leader size #1 1/0 or 2/0 hook. No weight no swivels, Drift bait back in the current to look just like piece of chum. Do Not slow the drift of the bait.
  • Line starts to rip out.. close the bail and come tight. the rest is up to you, the sharks, the barracudas and the gods.
  • Yellowtails need to be at least 12 inches to keep.
Golden tile Fish

My wife first time deep dropping and her 49lb Golden Tile fish.

Deep Dropping

Deep drop numbers are hard to come by. I have provided a few decent ones here but you will have to look around if your going to go this route. A great way to end or add to a day of trolling for dolphin. Spots are 500 to 1000 ft of water and hold a miriad of fish. The more common species of fish caught deep dropping are: Snowy Grouper, Yellow Edge Grouper, Grey Tile fish, Golden Tile fish and the tasty Black Bellied Rose fish. Squid is the most common bait. I like the Calcutta rigs for deep dropping Lights are suggested and proper gear is needed in the form of Electric reels and lots of weight. When looking for deep drop spots watch for quick rises of at least 30 ft from the average depth. Get up current and drop. Its pretty easy.

Snorkeling Spots

There are a TON of places to snorkel here out of Key West. Not just at the reef but also in the Gulf. Remember your dive flags and have a blast. I have provided some good spots to dump your snorkelers in the water around Key West.

  • Cotrell Reef    N24 37.168 W81 54.660 – here you will see buoys to tie off to for snorkeling. An excellent beginner to medium experience on the North West side of Key West. About a 20 minute run from Oceans Edge. A tourist spot.
  • Sand Key  N24 27.096 W81 52.632 – Super popular tourist Snorkel spot. Easy to find as it has a lighthouse on it. On the reef line and some excellent yellowtail fishing near by. About 12 miles from Oceans Edge Key West.
  • Western Sambo     N24 28.757 W81 42.852 – A very pretty area located in the EEZ (exsclusive economic zone). Totally protected. no fishing or spear fishing allowed on this reef. Just 5 miles from Oceans Edge Key West.
  • Boca Chica Reef  N24 32.960 W81 42.533 – Very Close to Oceans Edge marina Key West just one mile. Approach with extreme caution from the deeper waters to the South your first time. Shallow coral and easy to find. Located in the EEZ no fishing or spearing allowed. The reef extends to the East another mile in places just keep a sharp eye out for cool stuff to snorkel.

A Few Wreck Numbers For those who have none.

  • Wilkes    N24 29.077 W81 33.160    240 ish to the sand. Amber jacks and muttons maybe some red snappers.
  • Kendrick   N24 27.602 W81 36.092  deep. Amber jacks and usually lots of current.
  • Vandenburg N24 27.598 W81 44.243 Just past the reef due South of Oceans Edge Key West. Look for the buoys. also a good diving spot.
  • Wreck      N24 27.250 W81 46.250 Due South of Key West. Look around. lots of junk on the bottom around here. Good bottom fishing. You will see the spoils on your chart plotters. There are more wrecks in the area.
  • Airplane Wreck   N24 25.674 W81 53.684 About 200 ft of water. Amber jacks, red snapper, mutton snapper
  • Sub Wreck    N24 25.245 W82 02.403   A famous Key West spot red snapper, mutton snapper, black fin tunas, barracudas.

A Few Sand Bar Spots

  • Boca Chica   N24 33.364 W81 42.911  2-3 ft of water. super popular on weekends. Very Close to Oceans Edge. Sharp eyes for the shallows.
  • Snipe Keys    N24 42.231 W81 40.169  local knowledge needed to get here through the backcountry. Easy if you use the Gulf through Calda Channel then East. Very Popular spot.
  • Boca Grand  N24 32.147 W82 00.771 A good run from Key West but worth it when you get there. This is a popular spot for the power boat clubs. Please refrain from beaching your boat. Erosion is killing this island. Has a good beach.
  • Woman Key    N24 31.400 W81 58.402   A pretty island with a pretty large sandbar with a Southern exposure.

Local things to do and see can be found in my wife blog site www.thekeywester.com 

If Anyone needs dockage we have some available at Sunset Marina..
Call my office 305 292 7212

Hope everyone has a great time while you are here.. Say Hi.. I will be at the Thursday dinner. 
See ya On The Water 

About Capt. Steven Lamp
Dr Catcher Is - Capt. Steven Lamp - Owner of Dream Catcher Charters is a veteran Key West fishing guide for flats fishing, deep sea fishing, wrecks and reef fishing, and fly fishing. An expert waterman and licensed captain since 1986. A Veteran of the United States Coast Guard Heavy Weather Search and Rescue, I.G.F.A. Certified Captain and Standing regional board member of The Florida Fishing Guides Association