Tips for Winter Fishing in the Florida Keys

Sailfish love winter weather in the Florida Keys.

Winter is a great time to fish in the Florida Keys. Here are ten tips to help you make the most of your time on the water.

Give yourself enough time. Winter cold fronts are unpredictable and bring winds that can make it difficult, if not impossible, to get on the water. If your schedule permits, build in a few extra days just in case Mother Nature decides to ignore your Florida Keys fishing plans.

Be flexible. You’ve got options when you fish the Florida Keys. Sometimes a change in plans can mean the difference between a day of productive fishing and a day spent on land. If a winter cold front brings winds that prohibit an offshore trip, you may still be able to fish in Florida Bay, by the Seven Mile Bridge or a sheltered area of the flats.

Sailfish abound in the winter and one of the best ways to ensure a successful catch and release is to book a trip with one of the many reputable charter companies in the Florida Keys. They’ve got the gear and the experience to target these exciting fish.

In addition to Sailfish offshore, you’ll find Blackfin Tuna and Wahoo, both are fun to catch and make a great dinner. If you are lucky enough to get the right weather window, you can venture offshore in a smaller boat, but you may want to hedge your bets and book a charter on a bigger boat. You’ll have a better chance of getting to the fish and you’ll be more comfortable.

Know what you can keep and what you need to release. Fishing limits change frequently. To stay current check with the Florida Wildlife Commission.There’s also a useful smart phone app called Fish Rules that provides up-to-date fishing regulations, photos of the fish, the ability to keep a fishing log and more.

Mackerel — King, Cero and Spanish — are plentiful during the winter months and a blast to catch. Add in some fat Mangrove Snapper and you’ve got a day of fun family fishing.


Mackerel — King, Cero and Spanish — are a blast to catch, but the toothy critters will require wire leader. Be sure to rig your baits accordingly — live shrimp or pilchards are preferred — and use chum to get the action going.

While some folks find Mackerel a bit too fishy tasting for dinner fare, a little brine and smoke turn these fillets into a delicacy. Porky’s Bayside BBQ as well as some charter operations offer anglers the option to smoke their fish.

Yellowtail and Mangrove Snapper are tasty targets year round and we’ve seen some nice fat ones coming to the dock, so load up a few blocks of chum, and head to the reef or back in Florida Bay for a great day of fishing.

Cobia is another winter time fish that is exciting to catch and great to eat. You’ll find them around wrecks and reefs. They can be caught by spinning, plug casting, or bottom fishing. They’ve also been known to show up when trolling live bait for sailfish.

If you plan to fish in your own boat or a rental, be sure to keep an eye on the weather. Winter time cold fronts can turn the perfect day into the perfect storm in the blink of an eye. It’s wise to check the marine forecast before leaving the dock. Sometimes you’ll be able to squeeze in some great fishing before the weather hits. Just remember to give yourself plenty of time to get safety back to the dock.

Enjoy your time of the water in the beautiful Florida Keys. Catch ‘em up!

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