Fishing the Florida Keys for the first time

Grouper are commonly found both on and off the reefs

Grouper are commonly found both on and off the reefs

Question from the Submission form

Message: Hello my name is Logan D and I want to start with saying I'm a big fan of your show and would give anything to be able to do what you do. But anyways I'm 18 years old and will soon be starting my career in the coast guard but before that I'm gonna do something I've been wanting to do my whole life I'm taking my little brother on a fishing trip in the keys this march. I live in Delaware so I fish every chance I get but fishing up here isn't a lot different from down there so I'm hoping you can give me some advice with anything your willing to share. I'm going to be renting a boat and will be doing some reef fishing so any advice will be greatly appreciated. Thank you.



Congratulations on starting your career in the Coast Guard!  That is fantastic.  Maybe one day you will be stationed in Key West and you will get alot more chances to fish in our area.

If you are coming in March, you will definitely be there at a good time.  The weather is somewhat of a concern at that time of year as March can be windy.  I would get a fairly large boat if you can afford it.  A boat of 26 feet or more should be able to get you to the reef in conditions under 20 knots.

My number 1 recommendation is to try to acquire live bait.  You can definitely catch fish without it, but if you have a well full of pilchards, you will definitely catch more and bigger fish.  Pilchards are found all along the oceanside flats at that time of year.  I don't know if you are good with a cast net, but if not, this video from my friends at Into the Blue may help.

It is possible to buy live bait in some areas and sometimes they have pilchards.  If you cant get pilchards, many bait shops have pinfish. 

Take plenty of chum and make sure to chum heavy.  Get the chum line going and established before you start trying to catch fish.  It may take a little while but if you chum enough, the fish will definitely come to you.

In the Florida Keys, we are fortunate to have the reef in close proximity to shore.  Eventhough it is only 7 miles or so out, be sure to file a float plan with someone.  This sounds official, but it can be as simple as telling someone exactly where you intend to go, what time you plan on leaving and what time you plan on getting back.  Make sure you call this person when you get back so that the Coast Guard is not called. 

In a rented boat, make sure that you have a functioning radio, an anchor and enough line to hold the boat in the depth of the water you are planning to fish.  Leave the rental company your phone number and make sure that you have theirs.  Know where the life jackets are in the boat before leaving the dock.

Even if the weather is perfect in the morning, be ready for it to change.  In March, we can have slick calm conditions followed by a front line coming through which will turn the winds from 5 mph to 30 mph in just a few minutes.  Know the forecast and be prepared to act accordingly.

If the wind is really blowing, don't be afraid to try fishing at the bridges, or in the gulf.  There are tons of great fish to be caught in shallow water like tarpon and sharks.  Of course, snappers and grouper are also all over the nearshore waters.

I hope this helps.

Good luck and send us a picture of your big fish.

Tom Rowland


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