Our offshore fishing charters are some of the best in the entire country, offering challenging fun for fishermen of any experience level. Here’s an overview of the most commonly found offshore fish in the Key West area.

The Florida Dolphin or Mahi Mahi

Florida Dolphins (Coryphaena hippurus), or Mahi Mahi as they’re often called, are some of the most fascinating and beautiful fish in all of Key West. The first thing you need to know is that the Florida dolphin is not the same as the beloved ‘talking mammal’ that everyone loves and wants to protect. Though majestic in its own right, the Florida dolphin is a different kind of creature entirely. Known for their vivid colors, delectable taste, and their hard fighting nature, Mahi Mahi is a highly prized offshore fish and can be found throughout the waters of Key West. They are also served in seafood restaurants all over the Florida Keys.

Appearance

The Florida dolphin truly is a beautiful fish. They typically have thick-set narrow bodies that are topped by a dorsal fin that extends from the head almost all the way back to the tail. Their colors are often spectacular – gold along their sides with dazzling bright blues and metallic greens over the rest of their bodies. Though Mahi Mahi can sometimes grow to a size of over fifty pounds, most catches are around two to three feet long and weigh between 8-30 pounds.

Where to Find Them

Experienced charter captains know that the best way to track down Mahi Mahi is to look for the frigate birds that fly in circles around areas of debris and swoop down to feed on the small bait fish that linger near the surface there. The charter captains know that Mahi Mahi are often below the surface of these areas as well, going after the same small bait fish because of their voracious hunger. But even if there aren’t frigate birds in pursuit, Mahi Mahi schools still tend to forage in areas where debris stands on the surface of the water.

Lures and Tackle

The challenge of landing Mahi Mahi stands at the top of most people’s fishing wish list when they come to Key West. There’s just something incredibly thrilling about suddenly discovering a school of these hard striking fish and having the unique opportunity to land a few of them. A Mahi Mahi are not the hardest fish to catch, and since they tend to travel in schools, if you get one there’s usually more where that came from!

One of the great things about going after Mahi Mahi is that you can catch them with either live bait or lures. Dead bait will sometimes do in a pinch, but Mahi Mahi are typically more likely to hit something alive like a pilchard.

Rules and Regulations

The rules and regulations that govern fishing offshore for Mahi Mahi are fairly straightforward. You can only keep a Mahi Mahi if it’s over 20 inches long and there is a bag limit of 10 fish per person. Also, anyone fishing offshore in the Keys has to possess a Florida license, a rule that’s only suspended if you’re on a chartered trip.

Sailfish

Another popular offshore target in Key West is the sailfish, a graceful and beautiful creature who will do acrobatic jumps out of the water to throw off your hook. This liveliness, along with the sailfish’s speed and fight, is one of the things that make them so sought after in the waters of Key West.

Appearance

The sailfish is truly a gorgeous creature. They range in color from a steely gray to a brilliant blue and typically grow to a size of 6-10 feet long, including their distinctive sharp bills. With a maximum weight of over 200 pounds and a dorsal fin that looks like a ship’s sail, it’s easy to see why they’re such a popular offshore game fish.

Where to Find Them

Sailfish can be found in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, with their greatest availability in the Key West area occurring during the spring. They can be found at depths ranging anywhere from 50 to well over 1,500 feet, depending on where the bait is.

Lure and Tackle

The best way to hook a sailfish is with live bait. They’re especially fond of the delectable ballyhoo, but they’re also happy to go after live pilchards and herrings as well. Kite fishing, in which the live bait stays at the surface of the water and creates detectable vibrations, is one the best ways to land a sailfish.

Rules and Regulations

You can catch sailfish year round in Key West, but as we said up above, the best times are in the springs months like April and May. The minimum size for a harvested sailfish is 63 inches and the bag limit is one per day.

Blackfin Tuna

The next great offshore fish to discuss is the Blackfin Tuna, a strong fighting fish that travels in schools like the Mahi Mahi and is prized for the delicious tuna steaks you can make from them. With strength, speed, and medium sized, the Blackfin Tuna is one of the most sought after fish in all of the Keys.

Appearance

As the name suggests, the Blackfin Tuna is black at the top with a yellowish color along the sides. It has an oval shape and is substantially smaller than its larger Tuna cousins, with a weight that averages around 20-25 pounds and typically maxes out at around 30 pounds. Despite their smaller size, they’re popular game fish because if you happen upon a school of Blackfin Tuna, you can often catch a bounty of them.

Where to Find Them

The blackfin tuna can be found up and down the Atlantic Coast, all the way from New England to Rio, but in the Key West area, the underwater topography of a region called The Humps is the ideal place these feisty fish.

Lure and Tackle

Once you locate a school of blackfin tuna, you can land one with just about any sort of live bait or lure, but experienced charter captains typically like to troll for them with ballyhoo or bonito strips. Pilchards, herrings, and shrimp are also great live bait options.

Rules and Regulations

In Key West, it’s open season on the Blackfin Tuna year round and there’s no minimum size limit. There’s a 100 pound total bag limit, but beyond that, there aren’t many regulations governing the Blackfin Tuna.

Triple Tail

Although not as well known as some of these other offshore fish, the triple tail is highly prized by fishermen who are familiar with it. Also known as the flasher or the steamboat, the triple tail puts up quite a fight and makes for excellent dinner fare once you actually land one.

Appearance

The triple tail gets its name from its large dorsal, caudal, and rear fins. It has a triangle-shaped head and adults typically display dark to reddish brown patterning along the sides of their body. Although they sometimes grow much larger, triple tails usually weigh somewhere between 3-15 pounds and measure well under 24 inches.

Where to Find Them

The triple tail habitat ranges over the entire Atlantic seaboard, but they are more commonly found in warmer tropical areas. In the waters of Key West, triple tails are most abundant during summer or early fall, with a preference for structures like shipwrecks, floating debris, and sea pilings. Though usually a solitary fish, they do form into schools upon occasion and are often found near the surface of deeper waters.

Lure and Tackle

The triple tail is not a particularly picky eater and will often congregate near structures that have in the water long enough to attract small bait fish. They’ll go after a variety of live baits when they’re hungry, including bumpers, anchovies, and a variety of crustaceans. With triple tails, it’s probably more important to fish near the type of structures they prefer than to use exactly this or that bait.

Rules and Regulations

There are only two regulations you really have to worry about with the Key West triple tail. First, they have to be at least 15″ long to be harvested legally. Second, there’s a two fish bag limit per person. So it’s not the regulations you have to worry about with the triple tail — it’s fishing the right spots and landing them after they’re on the hook!

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