Complete Guide to Fishing the Wrecks in Key West

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With an experienced guide, you can have a truly unforgettable experience fishing the hundreds of shipwrecks that litter the sea floor around Key West.

Shipwrecks have played a key role in the history of Key West. While many of these wrecks are nameless shrimp boats or forgotten freighters, legendary nautical disasters litter the sea floor around Key West as well.

These wrecks are located on both the Gulf and the Atlantic sides of the Florida Keys, where anglers at every level of experience have a dazzling array of exotic species they can target at any given time.

These fish love the protection the wrecks offer them. It’s similar to the shelter provided by the numerous reefs, ledges, and other rocky structures common to Key West. The various wrecks provide miniature ecosystems for many species.

The dynamics of the food chain are definitely operative among the wrecks. The upshot of this pretty straightforward– the larger species prey on the smaller ones, but there’s plenty left over for fishermen who have the right guide.

In the following sections, we’ll explore the thrilling joys of wreck fishing in Key West. And while there’s nothing like actually trolling the Key West waters, this guide will give you a sample of the memorable adventures you can expect. First, let’s have a look at wonders of fishing wrecks on the Gulf of Mexico side.

Wreck Fishing on the Gulf Side

The Gulf waters near Key West contain some of best spots for wreck fishing in the world. Many of these shipwrecks are German subs that were sunk by Allied minefields during the course of the Second World War.

As effective as these minefields were against potential German invaders, it managed to sink a number of commercial vessels as well. Some of the best-known wrecks on the Gulf Side are The Sturtevant, the Bosilijka, and the Edward Luckenbach.

The Gulf wrecks begin a short distance west of the Keys, many of them within 10-20 miles. Each of these wrecks is virtually exploding with an incredible variety of marine life. Again, the species you’re likely to meet depends on a number of factors.

But in general, the Gulf wrecks are full of species like mackerel, sharks, tuna, cobia, and the legendary barracuda. In other words, these wrecks can deliver just the type of ocean adventure you want, provided you have the right guide.

The Best Guide to Wreck Fishing on the Gulf Side

Like everywhere in Key West, the species you’ll find near the wrecks depends on the season. Each of the wrecks presents different opportunities as well.

This is true no matter which side of the Keys you’re fishing. This constant variability is one of the chief reasons you’ll need a captain who knows the area well. Their captains know which fish are available when and where. They also know the best bait and methods to use for targeting a specific group of fish.

In fact, the Key West Fishing captains are indispensable to a great Gulf wreck fishing experience. The wrecks on the Gulf side of Key West number in the hundreds and sit at various depths. This can seem like a dizzying set of choices, but a fishing charter captain will narrow things down pretty quickly.

Atlantic Wreck Fishing In Key West

The wrecks you can troll on the Atlantic side are just as intriguing as those in the Gulf. They’re also teeming with hungry fish. At the lower depths, you’ll find huge schools of snapper and grouper, two of the area’s most popular table fish.

As you proceed up the water column into shallower depths, you’ll discover species like mackerel, tuna, bonita, and kingfish. Then, up near the surface of the water, you’ll find majestic, aggressive fish like cobia, permit, and many varieties of shark.

Just like on the Gulf side of Key West, many famous vessels sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic side.  Although many of these are unknown commercial vessels, you’ll find some very well known wrecks as well.  These include the USS Curb, The Wilkes-Barre, and the Vandenburg.

Getting The Most Out of Fishing the Wrecks

As you can see, the wrecks in Key West present amazingly diverse opportunities. The only questions are what you’ll target and how many you’ll be able to land.

The first step toward wreck fishing success is knowing where and when to drop anchor. Typically, you’ll want to stop up current from the wreck to maximize your results. After that, it’s a matter of equipment, instruction, and bait.

A Key West Fishing charter will provide all the equipment and instruction you need. When it comes to bait, every situation is different. It’s probably best to use live bait when fishing the wrecks.

A chum line here and there will coax certain species into approaching your boat, but the real actions starts when they something alive and moving. That’s why live bait options such as crab, pinfish, threadfins, pilchards, and herring are so popular when fishing the Gulf wrecks.

But again, the best bait and tackle choices always depend on conditions.  That’s why you need a guide who has this information already at hand.

They’ll take the guesswork out of wreck fishing and allow you to focus on the thrills you came for in the first place.

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Richard Remick

Richard is the founder and the chief editor of Outside Pursuits. Passionate about the great outdoors, Richard spends much of his time in Colorado enjoying skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, cycling, hiking, and camping. When at home in Florida, he is most often found in the water. He loves water sports such as paddle boarding, kayaking, snorkeling, and scuba diving. He is a certified scuba diver. Because of his wealth of knowledge and experience, Richard has been invited to contribute articles to many outdoor-focused websites, such as Florida Rambler, and has been profiled on travel websites such as JohnnyJet.

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