Spearfishing the Florida Keys: A Guide
The Florida Keys are a prime spot for spearfishing, whether you're after shallow reefs or deeper bluewater hunting grounds. And with over 1,700 different islands, there are loads of different spots to choose from no matter what fish you’re after. Whether you're a spearfishing newbie or a seasoned pro, this blog will help you get ready for a spearfishing trip to the Florida Keys.
Popular Florida Keys Spearfishing Spots
Expanding on the map above, there are several prime locations worth checking out if you’re on a spearfishing trip in the Keys. With a wide range of fish species available, from the protected Looe Key Reef to the challenging seamounts of The Humps, the Florida Keys offer endless opportunities for catching fish. Let’s dive into some specific spots below, beginning with the Upper Keys.
The Upper Keys: Best Spearfishing Spots
The Upper Florida Keys offer some of the best spearfishing spots in the Keys, with a number of reefs and wrecks teeming with marine life. The fishing areas located between Islamorada and the Everglades are even globally recognized, with Islamorada being recognized as the ‘Sportfishing Capital of the World’.
Unfortunately, spearfishing is prohibited in certain shallow waters in the Upper Keys due to the 3-mile Sanctuary Preservation Area. Regardless, if you are spearfishing in the Upper Keys, there are still some awesome spots that you should check out – especially if you have a spearfishing qualification and are comfortable going in deeper waters.
One of the most popular spots those spearfishing in the Upper Keys visit is the Molasses Reef, which is located off of Key Largo. The nearby Elbow Reef is another great spot, and for those looking for a more challenging hunt, the deep wrecks off Key Largo like the Spiegel Grove and the Duane offer the chance to catch larger species like grouper and snapper.
As mentioned above, Islamorada offers some great spearfishing spots, like the Alligator Reef and the Islamorada Hump (a.k.a ‘The Hump’). Alligator Reef is a popular spot for reef fishing for snapper, grouper, and amberjack. The Islamorada Hump, on the other hand, is a deep-sea fishing spot located offshore from Islamorada. It is a seamount rising from the ocean floor and attracts a variety of species, like kingfish, dolphin, mackerel, sailfish, wahoo, and marlin.
The Middle Keys: Best Spearfishing Spots
Compared to the Upper Keys, the Middle Keys offer more opportunities for spearfishing due to fewer restrictions, making it a prime location.
Sombrero Reef is situated in Marathon (about 5 miles offshore) and is known for its shallow depths and is a popular destination for spearfishing yellowtail snapper, grouper, and permit just to name a few. Another good spot in Marathon is Coffins Patch, which is a particularly great spot for beginners because the water is shallow and calm, but there is still plenty of fish to catch including snapper, hogfish, and grunts.
Another top spot for spearfishing in the middle keys is Duck Key, where you can spearfish for Tarpon, Redfish, Bonefish, Permit and Snook.
Content Keys is a series of islands located in the Middle Keys and is another great place to spearfish. It offers both shallow reefs and deeper bluewater hunting grounds, making it an ideal location if you’re on a trip with spearfishers of differing skill levels.
The Lower Keys: Best Spearfishing Spots
The Lower Keys are the chain of islands stretching from the east end of the Seven Mile Bridge, near Marathon in the Middle Keys, to Key West. It’s worth mentioning that the water gets very deep, very quickly in the Lower Keys. So, if you’re a pro when it comes to spearfishing, this will likely be a really fun area for you. Regardless, there are plenty of places to spearfish here that we will go into below, beginning with the popular Cudjoe Key.
Cudjoe Key is an island located between Sugarloaf Key and Big Pine Key and is a popular fishing spot because of it having both Atlantic-side reefs and Gulf wrecks. The local reefs are home to fish such as yellowtails, muttons, and mangrove snapper, while the Gulf wrecks off Cudjoe are swarming with cobia, permit, snapper, grouper, kingfish, Spanish mackerel, jacks, barracuda, and sharks.
A great wreck to check out in the Lower Keys (about 40 miles West of Cudjoe Key) is The Vandenburg, which is a decommissioned military ship that was intentionally sunken in 2009. The Vandenberg is one of the largest artificial reefs in the world, with a variety of fish species calling it home like grouper, snapper, and barracuda.
Western Dry Rocks is another popular spearfishing spot. Located about 7 miles SW of Key Largo, it’s known for its large schools of fish, making this site a fun one because you can maximize the variety of fish you catch in a single trip.
Top Spearfishing Charters in Florida Keys
If you're planning to go spearfishing in the Florida Keys, using a spearfishing charter is a great way to enhance your experience. One major advantage of using a local spearfishing charter is access to their knowledge. The guides will have a deep understanding of the waters and can take you to most popular spots, even places that may not be easily accessible by land. Plus, when you use a spearfishing charter, the necessary equipment is provided which can be incredibly convenient if you’re traveling and don’t want to bring all your gear with you.
Debatably the most important thing that you benefit from when using a spearfishing charter is that you increase your chances of a successful spearfishing run. With your guide’s knowledge of the area and access to top-notch equipment, they can provide guidance on techniques and strategies for catching different fish. So, if you’re headed to the Keys soon to spearfish, we’ve listed a few of the most highly rated spearfishing charters in the area below:
Spearfishing in the Florida Keys – Fish to Catch
The Florida Keys is a hotspot for spearfishing because of the wide variety of fish species available in the area. If you're planning to go spearfishing in the Florida Keys, you can expect to encounter many types of fish, including (but not limited to):
- Hogfish: These are popular targets because of their taste and good looks, hogfish usually hang around shallow waters and can be pretty sneaky.
- Lionfish: Lionfish are an invasive species in the Florida Keys. They have no natural predators in the Atlantic and reproduce rapidly, outcompeting native fish for resources and preying on small fish and crustaceans. Lionfish have become a major problem for the local ecosystem, so it’s highly encouraged to catch and eat them. (They’re completely safe to eat)
- Snapper & Grouper: You’ll find several types of grouper in the Keys, including black, red, and gag grouper. The most common snapper species you can find in the Keys is the red snapper, but there are other species like yellowtail and mutton snapper
- Tuna: Blackfin, yellowfin, and skipjack tuna are just some of the tuna species that can be found in the deeper waters around the Florida Keys. Like Wahoo, tuna, especially blackfin tuna, are a real challenge to catch because of their speed, strength, and extremely sharp fins.
- Wahoo: Wahoo is a prized game fish found in offshore waters. Like tuna, wahoo are known for their speed and strength, making them quite a challenge to catch.
- Mahi-mahi: These colorful fish are usually found offshore. They are freaky fast and like to fight, so make sure you’re focused if trying to catch one!
Spearfishing in the Florida Keys: Considerations
In the Keys, spearfishing is allowed for certain species of fish. These include common species like the hogfish, grouper, snapper, tuna, mahi-mahi, lobster and stone crab as well as some less common species like cobia, tripletail, and African pompano. On the other hand, some species of fish are protected and cannot be taken by spearfishing, like the Nassau grouper, Goliath Grouper, and Sawfish. Additionally, there are certain areas of the Florida Keys where spearfishing is not allowed, including John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Another important thing to be aware of when spearfishing in the Keys are the minimum size and bag limits for each species. For example, for hogfish, the minimum size limit is 12 inches, and the daily bag limit is one fish per person.
Spearfishing with a Hawaiian Sling in The Keys
While the use of Hawaiian slings for spearfishing is legal in the Florida Keys, there are certain regulations that must be followed. According to Florida law, spearfishing with a Hawaiian sling is allowed for both residents and non-residents as long as they have a valid Florida saltwater fishing license. In addition, spearfishing is allowed only for certain species of fish, including hogfish, snapper, and sheepshead.
Also, is illegal to use a Hawaiian sling within 100 yards of a public swimming beach or any commercial or fishing pier. Additionally, the use of Hawaiian slings is prohibited in some areas of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Aside from a Hawaiian Sling being effective and easy to use, it’s also great because it eliminates the need for scuba gear or other diving equipment (tanks, regulators, buoyancy compensators, etc.) which are commonly used in other types of spearfishing. It allows you to dive and catch fish with just the sling and the spear, making it a more simple and accessible method of spearfishing. Check out the I’A Hawaiian Sling, which was developed as a high-quality alternative to marked-up dive shop products. Have any questions about the product? Feel free to contact us, we are more than happy to answer any questions you may have!