If you’re looking for a world-class destination for outdoor pursuits on the water, look no further than the waters surrounding the Florida Keys. This chain of coral islands begins 15 miles south of Miami and extends into the Gulf of Mexico to the Southernmost Point in the United States. Combined, these islands make up over 800 square miles of recreational paradise. Everything in the Keys revolves around the sea, so get ready for year-round boating, kayaking, swimming, snorkeling, and, of course, fishing.
Something Unique: Lobstering
Anyone who visits the Keys has at least heard of lobster season down there. It gets kicked off with a “mini-season” consisting of a couple of days in July, followed by an 8 month regular season from early August through March. Lobstering is a favorite pastime in the Keys, where these spiny crustaceans lurk in waters that are shallow enough to snorkel in and are generally in some scenic swimming spots. For the scuba enthusiasts, lobstering can be a great way to catch dinner in some waters that the snorkelers and free divers can’t get to!
Inshore/Backcountry Fishing ★★★★★
While this archipelago doesn’t exactly have miles of “inshore” waters, there are a ton of mangrove laden narrows and the backcountry of the Florida bay is prime for targeting inshore species like Redfish, Snook, Sea Trout, and Pompano. In addition to these catches, you can catch some of the more pelagic bottom fishes that come into the shallow waters like Mangrove Snapper, Sheepshead, Porgy, and juvenile grouper. Whether you’re running 40 miles to fish the outer reaches of the Florida bay or piled up under one of the many small bridges, there is ample and productive fishing in the Keys year-round.
Also, while fishing in these shallows, don’t be surprised to hook into a Goliath Grouper–the largest of the Groupers–that can weigh well over 500 pounds!
Tarpon, Bonefish, and Permit Fishing ★★★★★
The fishing world is full of “Slams.” Everything from offshore slams, to trash fish slams is accounted for these days, but the OG is the Florida “Grand Slam,” a Tarpon, Bonefish, and Permit. There are very few places that a Grand Slam can be achieved in a day, and hands down the Keys are the best spot for it. And these fish aren’t just here, they are thick!
Tarpon fishing cranks up in March and runs through the summer, with resident fish available to catch year round. Whether you’re looking to sight fish with flies on the flats or live bait around the channels, Tarpon run rampant in the Keys.
Bonefish can be sight fished on the flats with best numbers March through October. These fish are awesome to chase and fight harder than most pelagics, pound-for-pound.
Permit fishing is incredible throughout the keys, with the best fishing occurring from late February through November. These fish, like Bonefish and Tarpon, can be targeted year round, but Spring and Fall are most productive. Early runs of Permit provide the best opportunities for seeing large schools meandering through shallow flats.
Offshore Fishing ★★★★★
Offshore fishing in the Keys is the stuff of legend. Trolling opportunities abound down in the keys, where you can have a chance at double digit Sailfish, Slammer Mahi, or a monster Blue Marlin. Tuna, Jacks, Wahoo, and other pelagics are common as well, and there’s great fishing year round. For an added bonus–many of the popular grounds to troll are accessible by bay boats, meaning you don’t need a 30ft+ boat with multiple engines to have a great day.
Bottom fishing is also epic in the Keys. The species of Snapper and Grouper that can be caught are dizzying. Snapper range from the small(ish) Mangroves and Yellowtail to massive Queens and Cuberas. And Grouper range from the Goliaths in shallow water to deepsea Snowys. There’s a ton more to catch on the bottom too, from Triggerfish to Hogfish!
If you’re looking for a real challenge, the Keys are also home to some of the best Swordfishing in the United States. Daytime Swords are generally caught in over 1,500 ft of water, so make sure you’re geared up!
Species: Redfish, Seatrout, Sheepshead, Pompano, Goliath Grouper, Black Drum, Porgy, Mangrove Snapper, Snook, Bonefish, Permit, Tarpon, Tripletail, Snapper, Grouper, Pelagics, Billfish, Sailfish, Blue Marlin, Wahoo, Blackfin Tuna, Yellowfin Tuna, Triggerfish, Hogfish, Yellowtail Snapper, Cubera Snapper, Mutton Snapper, Lane Snapper, Red Snapper, Black Grouper, Nassau Grouper, Red Grouper, Gag Grouper, Snowy Grouper, Yellowmouth Grouper, Warsaw Grouper.
There aren’t many places better for saltwater kayaking than the Florida Keys. From winding creeks through mangrove forests to secluded islands near coral reefs, there are a million destinations to paddle in the keys. An added bonus–there are miles of flats that are inaccessible to most boats that paddlers can roam in seclusion. If you’re looking for a jumping off point, we recommend Bahia Honda State Park and down through the Big Pine Key to Sugarloaf Key. The park provides easy access and beautiful vistas, while the area from Big Pine down tends to be more secluded than many other Keys. Be sure to bring a mask as this area is replete with underwater sights, from coral heads to dozens of wrecks to explore.
There are plenty of stargazing opportunities in the Florida Keys, as long as you can get away from the more populated areas. The Keys’ position near the southern tip of the United States makes it easy to get a glimpse of the night sky. Objects such as Omega Centauri and Eta Carinae can be easily seen from this area. Generally calm air makes it easy to view the stars and planets in great detail. Because the Keys are near water, light pollution is minimal.
For prime stargazing opportunities, visit Bahia Honda in the south of the Keys. This remote Florida state park is the darkest location in the Keys. The park also hosts two stargazing programs a month.
Snorkeling & Diving ★★★★★
Snorkeling and Diving are phenomenal throughout the Keys from Biscayne Bay all the way to Key West. Beaches, wrecks and reefs all provide unique opportunities to see some once-in-a-lifetime sights. Whether you’re looking for abandoned ships or schools of tropical fish, snorkeling and diving in the keys is world class.