When Is The Best Time To Go Fishing In Key West

When is the best time to go fishing in Key West. A tutorial about seasons, weather, crowds and affordability.

yellowtail, snapper, key west Yellowtail snapper fishing Key West

Key West needs no introduction as a fantastic destination for fishing. I find that anglers are always asking me, When is the best time to fish or go fishing in Key West? My quick response is always “When can you be here”? Because it’s always good. I found that answer did not always quench the thirst for knowledge some anglers have So, I thought I would put together a long draft of my response to that question.. Here ya go.

Capt. John posing with his angler a fun tarpon here in Key West.

Key West is blessed with many arenas to go fishing in. To the North we have the Gulf of Mexico with the many different ship wrecks and shrimp boats. To the South we are in the Atlantic Ocean where our reefs are located and the deep blue waters of the Gulf Stream that constantly snakes in and out flowing from West to East. Sandwiched in between we have the patch reefs and inshore fishing with the most pristine flats fishing in the free world. All together anglers have opportunities throughout the year to have a great fishing in Key West no matter what arena they chose. But lets break down the other variables that may affect a persons choice to fish Key West when, and why.

Crowds, Affordability And Life

Starting off here I think this is a decent consideration for many visiting anglers. Key West tourist season falls in the spring. Our room rates are highest and the number of folks here are the greatest. In fact, it is truly hard to move around our little island the last week of February through end of March during the time visitors come for spring break. While the fishing is outstanding in the spring many anglers seek better times to be here for more affordability and to enjoy our island a little less crowded and yet still live the dream catching trophies, scratching off a spot on the bucket list or feeding the table. The slower times here would be mid summer to early winter or, July to early December (aside from events and holidays).

Permit, fish, permit fishing, capt. Steven Lamp
Permit are on the reef in April. A very cool target on our reef fishing charters. This pair were caught fishing with Capt. Steven Lamp on board the Too Intense at Dream Catcher Charters.

I think Key West is a little slower in the late summer and fall due to a lot of things but mostly kids back to school, hunting seasons open, football, and the set up for the holidays such as thanksgiving and Christmas. Many folks have incredible weather back home where they live so they don’t have to escape. Then there is Hurricane season.. (see my weather section below).

Learn About Key West Fishing Rates

As a fisherman myself I personally love to go flats fishing in September and October. There are 1/3 the boats on the water and the weather is perfect for the most part. I also enjoy fishing the reef on the Atlantic during these calmest months with Grouper season in full swing. This is also my favorite time for deep drop fishing and daytime sword fishing. There may not be as many fish around as spring time offshore but I enjoy the solitude.

As a Key West fishing guide, I love the spring. I am busy every day and this is when we (as Key West fishing guides) make our years pay and about 75% of our schedule to allow us to stay and live here in Key West. The hotels are full and the fishing is great in so many arenas from February through June. Drawback is the crowds. Key West gets packed in the spring and seemingly everyone is here. Key West Dinning reservations are almost required. Booking a Key West fishing guide Must be done in advance.

The Weather

For the first part of the year we have our cold fronts ushering in from the North from mid November through the end of march and sometimes into April. About every 4-7 days another front sweeps the nation, decends down on us and spins our winds around all points of the compass. I have seen it go from 80 to 50 in less than 12 hours in the winter. The shallows suffer from these temp drops first. Fishing the flats right after a cold front would not be my first choice but the reef fishing will be awesome.

Fishing for dinner is very productive in the cooler months Key West reef fishing

As winter gives way to summer traditionally we get a high pressure that stalls over the Eastern seaboard called the Bermuda High. At the bottom end of this high pressure the isobars are close together right over the Florida Keys and Key West giving us what I like to refer to as the “Ides Of March”. Winds of up to 25 knots out of the East can persist for weeks on end. This does not affect the fishing in the least, in fact, some fishing depends on these conditions to set it up. See: tailing sailfish. During and after these winds are some of the best fishing in Key West.

Once the winds stop, usually by May we start to experience our summer like conditions. Temps soar into the 90s with flat calm periods that offer amazing water quality. The flats fishing heats up with tarpon fishing as the famous migration begins our season, the reef bite is out of control as our snappers are spawning and the deep sea bite is rock solid with everyones favorite dinner fare Mahi Mahi. For the calm water fishing enthusiast that can handle the heat or the fly fisherman that wants the shot at the Key West flats fishing grand slam, this is your time.

As summer lingers on into July, August and September hurricane season starts to peak. After starting up in June we get the occasional low pressure system through summer but the big bad boys (named storms) come through typically in August and September as the Carribean basin heats up and offers the big storms massive energy to get super strong (Cat 2-5). This is NOT when you want to be here in Key West for fishing. None of us do. BUT.. here are a few tips.. To take advantage of the great fishing this part of the year offers, book last minute. Flights, hotels and fishing guides are pretty cheap that time of the year here in Key West. Our forecasting for hurricanes is at least a week out for a major storm so you can book and go. Last note.. book with a cancellation friendly Key West fishing guide and get travel insurance that covers the rest for the event of a storm bashing your plans. Here at Dream Catcher Charters we have a policy in place that offers refunds for deposits to anglers fishing with us that not only includes Tropical storm Watches and up here in Key West during our booking dates but also for our coastal anglers that cannot leave because a storm is visiting them.

As the fall comes to a close and the hurricanes start to lay off in October typically we get my favorite time of the year for weather here in Key West. I just love the Key West flats fishing this time of the year. Water quality is amazing and the fish are everywhere with very little pressure. The weather comes with dryer air, our first cool fronts and some welcome changes after a hot summer. We see our first fronts as soon as late October making November a cranky month for weather. Then and it all starts over again.

The Fishing

So, here we are….. let’s toss aside the weather, the crowds, life events and the affordability.. When is the best time to go fishing in Key West – for The Fishing? If I were to pick a 3 month period for the best fishing Key West has to offer across the board, I would pick April, May and June based on Just The Fishing and the availability of the most of our species of fish here in Key West. Here is why as I break it down to the different arenas we fish here in Key West.

Permit fish
Capt. Bryson of Dream Catcher Charters got his client on this monster Key West permit.

In April we have the beginning of our summer species and the end of our winter. May has just about every fish species we could hope for and June has the best of our summer stock. For all the species that Key West is famous for these three months will get it done with a very few exceptions such as Kingfish, and we even catch them from time to time in April.

Inshore the tarpon fishing starts to get good here in April and start to migrate through Key West in May through June. Bonefish are on the flats as soon as the water spikes to warm and the permit come in off the spawn at the reef just before May. Barracudas, sharks, cobia, mangrove and mutton snappers are a great bi catch of the flats and Key West backcountry fishing this time of the year. Trout are still around in good numbers with many other fun fighting species of fish to catch backcountry fishing to keep the rods bent.

Reef fishing in Key West during these months is ON FIRE! from our shallowest patch reefs out to the deep reefs the snappers are feeding hard on all the bait that is milling around. On the reef the snappers are being fed with left overs from cero mackerel on the Atlantic reefs and Spanish Mackerel in the Gulf, these toothy predators along with barracudas are like portable chum grinders for the bottom feeding species below. This natural activity will keep the reef well lit for good eating fish. Add to the bounty May 1 opens up the Atlantic Grouper season and many of our snapper populations spawn in May and June offering up larger sizes of these species to improve the over all box of fillets. All this adding to the awesome fishing that these months contain. Our reef fishing charters are the best way to experience this fishery.

Deep Sea fishing is epic! Arguably there is no better time to go deep sea fishing Key West. Our big dolphin (mahi mahi) come rolling through starting in April. Our sail fishing is best in April – May. Black fin tuna are feeding hard on the live baits with wahoo on the moons. June has a good shot for marlin on the full and new moons along with numbers of dolphin for food fish in the box. All year long we have a great sword fishery so I will toss them in here as well.

So, there you have it. Even though our fishing here in Key West is always good in one arena or another I wanted to go over things that make the best times to go fishing in Key West according to me. Its up to you to do the math and figure out when is the best time for you to be here.

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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