Are you taking a vacation to Key West? Do you live in the Lower Keys? If so, then you probably know that Key West charter boats offer both locals and travelers an easy way to get out on the water. But be careful, not all charter services are created equally! The most important factor is the captain’s ability to deliver a fun and adventurous day. The weather, location, and your personal interests also play a big role in what often becomes a day you will never forget.
Head Boats or Private Key West Charters
This is the first choice you have to make. Do you want to pay $50-$70 per person to go drift fishing on a head boat with at least twenty strangers or pay $75-$150 per person to have a boat of your own? Because there are so many anglers on a head boat, everyone must fish their lines straight down. No casting or live bait is allowed. If you choose to go this route, make sure to get there early so that you can occupy either the left or right corner of the stern. That’s where 75% of the fish are caught. There might be some opportunity for sightseeing but do not expect to get off the boat, go swimming, or learn much about fishing. Party boats offer a great, low-cost way to get out and do some fishing but lack the skilled captain and flexibility private fishing charters offer.
Choosing the Right Captain for a Private Key West Charter
This may be the single most important decision you make. When looking for a charter captain, make sure you know what you want to do. If you want to focus only on fishing, pick a captain that can put you on the bite. If you have children or friends & family who would enjoy something other than fishing, you may want to seek a custom or “combo” charter that offers fishing, snorkeling, and other activities. Here is a shortlist of things to consider:
- A local captain with a long history in the Florida Keys and Key West who has worked as a charter or commercial fisherman is always a good bet.
- Ask if he or she is available on a Wednesday. Even if you won’t be in town that day you have to make sure you are not dealing with a “weekend warrior” who may only go fishing twice a month and has another full-time job.
- Beware the ‘fuel surcharge’ from Key West charter captains because large boats may cost $50-$100+ per engine-hour to run.
- Mid-sized “center console” charters are the most versatile and offer the ability to fish for any target species in a variety of water depths.
- Larger charter boats with cabins offer air conditioning and comfort if you are willing to pay top dollar. These boats generally target billfish with trolling methods. The mates will do all of the work and you will be handed a rod with a hooked fish if one should happen to be caught.
- Find a charter captain that offers a fishing experience, not just a promise to deliver fish. Some people catch very few fish and have a great time because the captain made fishing a fun and enjoyable experience.
- Very few, if any, charters “guarantee” fish but if they do, ask exactly what that means. Most charter services will catch fish on every trip. It is rare that a charter captain would “get skunked.”
- Check the website for photos. If a charter captain says he catches big groupers, but does not have a single photo of himself with a grouper on his website… beware. If the photos on the website look old… beware. If the captain isn’t in many of the photos… beware. You get the idea.
- Read Key West charter fishing reviews about other people’s experiences. Make sure that the ratings are favorable and people had fun.
The Weather and Marine Forecast
In addition to the forecast from the sky, you must now consider the forecast for the seas as well. Anything greater than a 3-5 foot prediction from NOAA means you will want to reschedule. It is worth noting that marine forecasts are not very accurate until 12-18 hours beforehand and even then they can be wrong. Fishing in Key West is indeed best during rough seas but make sure you are familiar with the cancellation policy of the charter. Some do not offer refunds unless they cancel. Plus if anyone gets seasick, they still demand full payment. Finding a charter with flexible policies and/or one that offers other activities is a great way to hedge your bet against rain and waves.
Location, Location, Location
Say for example you booked a Key West fishing charter with one of the boats at the crowded tourist docks. You will likely end up splitting the day’s catch with the fleet while sitting next to three or four other boats all day long. Alternatively, if you can find a charter up on Big Coppitt Key, Geiger Key, or even on Stock Island from Key West Harbor, you will have better access to the Atlantic and less pressure from other boats. Chartering a fishing boat a few miles from downtown Key West has paid off for many savvy visitors who have seen a natural beauty that the Duval Street-dwellers never do. Plus, some of these charters will pick you up from your hotel and offer access to yacht club facilities like pools, beaches, restaurants, and bars that others do not.
Your Interests Matter Most When Booking a Key West Charter Fishing Boat
Getting out on the water in Key West is a must. Depending on your definition of a great day, that may mean catching lots of fish, diving, catching lobster, sight-seeing, dolphin-watching, or even anchoring on a sand bar and playing music while you relax with a cold beverage. Just make sure you have an idea of what you want to do and find a captain or charter fishing service willing to work with you to make it happen.
Hopefully, you can use these tips to select a charter fishing boat that will make your next vacation or day off a wonderful experience.
Author Bio: As an avid angler and Florida Keys resident, I have had the opportunity to spend many days fishing in Key West with friends and family from around the world. I hope that my writings offer insight into the fishing techniques, methods, and strategies that I have learned over the years. You can see me fishing in Key West in some of the photos on the website below.
The Key West fishing charter photos are here: Key West Fishing Charter Photos [http://www.keywestjeff.com/key-west-charter-photos.html]
I recommend Captain Jeff’s Key West fishing charters [http://www.keywestjeff.com/] for Key West adventure-seekers because he is a close friend and I have first-hand knowledge of his excellent fishing abilities… plus I think I owe him a few beers from the last time he took me to the sand bar. Thanks for reading.