Note: Some charters on this list may have limited operations due to COVID-19. Check with operators about availability before you book.
The sparkling azure waters and tropical climate make Key West, Florida, the perfect year-round destination for both casual and skilled sport fishing. And while expert anglers come here to reel in trophy fish like tarpon, everyone can catch a prize – and even their dinner – in these waters. You just need to decide what type of fishing experience you’d like to have.
Backcountry fishing is one of the most frequently booked charters in Key West since it’s a favorite with pros and beginners alike. This type of inshore fishing takes place on the calm, shallow waters in and around mangroves and relies on light tackle or fly-fishing gear. There are a variety of species to catch, including cobia, barracuda, ladyfish, bonefish and tarpon.
Flats fishing also occurs close to the shoreline, where the waters can be as shallow as 3 feet deep. Flat boats are specially designed to skim the top of the water’s surface over grassy bottoms that are brimming with species such as shrimp and crab. Anglers fish by sight and cast the bait once they’ve spied their target.
Fishing the offshore wrecks (think: ships, planes and submarines) is another option. It’s estimated that there are more than 200 wrecks around Key West. Artificial reefs form attached to the wrecks, which attract all kinds of marine species. Expect to find kingfish, wahoo, tuna and grouper at depths of approximately 100 to 240 feet.
Deep-sea fishing in Key West is some of the best available in the U.S. This type of fishing requires larger and faster boats that go past the natural barrier reef into the warm blue waters of the Gulf Stream. Most of the fishing is done by trolling with live bait and lures. Anglers can expect to catch wahoo, white and blue marlin, kingfish and barracuda.
Once you decide on the type of fishing trip you’re interested in, the next decision is finding the right captain and crew to plan your charter. U.S. News identified the following outings as the best available, consulting both expert opinion and traveler sentiment.
Most prices include the fishing license, rod, reel, tackle and bait for the charter trips listed below. Some crews will also clean and filet your fish and have ice and bottled water on board. Patrons will need to bring their own food and beverages, as well as coolers for the fish they keep. Please note that it’s also customary to tip the captain and crew 15% to 20%. Check with each charter company on additional specifics before booking.
Key West Fishing Connection
Key West Fishing Connection offers custom fishing charters that typically last between four and eight hours. Its most popular trip is deep-water wreck fishing: The charter anchors atop a shipwreck and uses live bait to catch fish like wahoo, black fin tuna and mahi-mahi. This charter takes place 6 to 10 miles offshore and fishes in waters up to 250 feet deep. Key West Fishing Connection’s other trips include blue water fishing along the shallow reef, longer trips in deeper water offshore (up to 2,000 feet) and, for the more adventurous, a day or evening of shark fishing. Prices start at $700 for a three-hour inshore trip and climb as high as $1,900 for 10 hours offshore. Charters usually depart at 7 or 8 a.m., and a maximum of six people are allowed. Patrons rave about the personalized attention and expertise of the captains. They also comment that you’ll catch plenty of fish during your trip.
Linda D Sportfishing is a fourth-generation family-owned and -operated company that offers private Key West charters on one of two boats, the Linda D IV or the Linda D V. Both boats can accommodate up to six passengers and welcome children. Four-, six- and eight-hour charters are available, and four-hour charters have both morning and afternoon departures. Solo travelers and couples can select a split charter, which lets them share the boat with other anglers. Travelers praise the captain and mate for providing an incredible experience, saying they caught plenty of fish. Charter prices start at $800 for four hours, $1,000 for six hours and $1,200 for eight hours. Split charter pricing is approximately $200 per person for the four-hour trip and about $240 per person for the six-hour adventure.
Cowboy Cowgirl Sportfishing Charters
Cowboy Cowgirl Sportfishing Charters specializes in private and shared (split) trips. They have six boats that measure 34 to 45 feet in length. Each boat accommodates a maximum of six anglers, and children are welcome on board. Private charters can be reserved for four-, six-, eight-, 10- or 12-hour trips. Prices vary depending on the boat and length of your charter. You can expect to pay about $700 for a four-hour excursion on Cowboy, a 36-foot Hatteras, and roughly $1,700 for a 12-hour adventure on Cowgirl, a 45-foot Hatteras. Shared charters are available for four-, six- or eight-hour trips and cost approximately $185 to $285 per person. Trips generally depart daily, but specific boat availability may vary. Reviewers mention that the captain and mate are friendly and accommodating. They also say they caught plenty of fish. Some comment that this was their best charter experience, adding that they plan to book with Cowboy Cowgirl again.
This company offers everything from backcountry fishing on calm waters to chasing exotic fish species 90 miles past Dry Tortugas. Prices start at $800 for a private four-hour trip and increase to approximately $1,500 for an eight-hour charter. All excursions have a maximum of six passengers. Split (or shared) rates are available for the four-hour trip and cost approximately $400 for one to two people. For something a little different, sign up for one of the company’s specialty charters. One such outing is the full-day (eight- to 10-hour) Key West Gulf shrimp boat trip. This adventure takes anglers miles offshore, where the shrimp boats have been trawling overnight for their catch. Once they pull in their nets, the shrimpers sort through their haul and separate the shrimp from what’s known as the bycatch (the fish caught unintentionally that gets released back into the ocean). When the fishing charter boats reach their destination alongside the shrimp boats, the excitement begins as hundreds of pounds of bait are returned to their habitat from the shrimp bycatch. Once this happens, a feeding frenzy commences and anglers start hunting for big game fish. Patrons say it’s like fishing in an aquarium. This specialty boat charter’s cost starts at $1,500 for the full day; an additional fuel surcharge of approximately $240 also applies. No more than six passengers are permitted. Travelers praise the captain’s knowledge and friendliness. They also say that it’s the crew’s expertise that keeps them finding fish all day long.
This charter company offers a wide variety of trips guided by captains who specialize in backcountry, offshore and sport fishing. Traditional charters cover everything from family-friendly experiences on the nearshore excursion to action-packed adventures while flats fishing for bonefish, permit and tarpon. Specialty charters include wreck fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, fishing at The Towers (five former Air Force communication towers located far offshore) and searching for hammerhead and blacktip sharks in Key West’s backcountry. Most of their boats accommodate one to four passengers, but the company is willing to take up to six people on some vessels. However, only four people are allowed to fish at a time. Key West Pro Guides offers four-, five-, six-, and eight-hour trips. Prices vary depending on the type of charter. They start at $550 for four hours of backcountry fishing and cost as much as $1,500 for an eight-hour specialty trip. Patrons praise the captains and their overall experience. In fact, one reviewer who has fished all over the world says that their outing with this company was one of the best charters they’ve ever done.
Dream Catcher Charters offers a multitude of boating and fishing charters. Some of the company’s options include shipwreck, reef, deep-sea, backcountry and flat fishing excursions. They also have specialty trips for bonefishing and fly-fishing. Fishing charters last four, six or eight hours. Inshore fishing trips cost approximately $450 to $900 and permit a maximum of four people. Meanwhile, reef fishing charter fees range from $800 to $1,500, and deep-sea fishing charters cost between $1,000 and $1,800. Both of the latter two charters can accommodate up to six people. Reviewers comment that the captains are efficient and knowledgeable. They also say the crew is patient with novices on board. In addition to fishing charters, Dream Catchers runs eco-tours and snorkeling trips, among other excursions.
This company’s split fishing charters are available for either four- or six-hour trips and accommodate a maximum of six people. They also offer a six-hour party boat tour, summer night fishing and five-hour private charters. The four-hour split charters depart at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. and cost approximately $175 per person. Meanwhile, the six-hour trip leaves the dock at 8 a.m. and starts at $225 per person. The party boat carries a maximum of 45 passengers, and prices start at $66.95 for adults, $39.95 for children ages 6 to 12 and $24.95 for kids 5 and younger. Prices for the company’s private charters start at $1,800 for 1 to 25 people and $2,200 for 26 to 45 individuals. These private charter rates include light snacks and nonalcoholic beverages. All of Gulfstream Fishing’s charters cover fishing essentials like licenses, bait and tackle in their fees. The exception is the rods, which are available to rent for $5, or you can bring your own. Patrons remark that each boat’s crew is friendly and helpful. They also say they enjoy meeting people on the party boat and that it’s a fun experience.
Captain Conch Charters specializes in both split and private trips. On split (half-day) charters, the captain makes the decision on where you’ll fish and what types of species to target. The company offers four- and six-hour options that give up to six anglers the chance to catch grouper, tuna, snapper or mahi-mahi. Bottom reef fishing and trolling are some of the tactics the charters may use. Private charter options also accommodate a maximum of six passengers and can be booked for four, six or eight hours. Plan to reel in a shark, tarpon or marlin on these adventures. Prices for four-hour split charters start at $175 per person and depart at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. Six-hour split trips leave at 8 a.m. and cost approximately $225 per person. Private charter prices start at $800 for four hours, $1,000 for six hours and $1,250 for eight hours. Most travelers rave about their charters, saying that the crew is professional and that they caught plenty of fish.