Charter fishing the reefs off of Marathon in the Florida Keys is nothing but a hop, skip, and a jump from land. You’ll be fishing anywhere from 20 feet of water on the patch reefs out to a little over 100 feet for big yellowtail and other snapper and grouper. I hear the excitement all the time from customers: “This is the cleanest, most beautiful water I’ve ever seen in my life!” Sometimes you can see the bottom in over 80 feet of water while standing on the boat. Being able to see your fish come up from the deep and swallow your bait is awesome. Catching fish from 1 pound to well over 100 pounds while still being able to see the shoreline all day long is unbeatable.
There are plenty of fish to target while Marathon charter fishing on the reef. The list includes yellowtail snapper, mangrove snapper, mutton snapper, black grouper, gag grouper, red grouper, king fish, and Mackerel. You don’t have to go far to make the drags on your reels scream. And at the end of the day you know you’re going to have the freshest fish available because you just caught them.
Reef Fishing: Target Species
Yellowtail snapper is a very common species of snapper found here in the Florida Keys. It is a staple of the Marathon fishing charters I run on the reef. They feed on crabs, shrimp, worms, and smaller fish. Yellowtail spawn in groups off the edges of reefs in the Spring all the way through to the Fall but mostly during the Summer. We target yellowtail anywhere from the shallow patch reefs all the way out to 120 feet of water around reefs and Wrecks.
Using a lot of chum, light leader and small hooks is the way we catch yellowtail here in the Keys. The Chum is ground-up menhaden fish frozen to 7 pound blocks which we put in mesh bags to slowly melt and put out small pieces of bait in the water to attract the fish. Light tackle outfits are what we use to catch yellowtail snapper.
Most fish caught range anywhere from 12 to 18 inches but it’s not unheard of to catch snapper over 18 inches. Yellowtail tend to be easily spooked and the appearance of sharks and dolphins can scare entire schools off until the threat moves out of the area. Yellowtail fishing is very fun, as the fish can put up a strong fight.
The fish is known for its flaky white meat, so it’s well worth keeping your catch, which can be easily prepared at many of the local restaurants in Marathon, FL as a ‘hook n’ cook’. For a real traditional treat, try it whole-fried!
Find out more about catching yellowtail on our Marathon fishing charters.
Mangrove snapper (also known as Gray Snapper) is a very common snapper to fish for in the Florida Keys. Mangrove snapper can change in color from grayish red too bright red copper. It also has a dark stripe running along its side and ranges anywhere between 2 to 6 pounds but I have seen some caught over seven pounds. Mangrove snapper have fang like teeth in their mouth which can deliver a very painful bite, which is why they are named snapper. They feed on small fish and other crustaceans, such as shrimp. We usually fish them with live or cut bait closer to the bottom on the reefs. They are another tasty fish to eat!
Find out more about catching mangrove snapper aboard Marathon fishing charters.
Mutton snapper prefer low relief structures searching for shrimp, crabs and other fish. They are very colorful fish with red sides and slightly green tinted backs with a black dot. Mutton snapper is a highly prized fish here in Marathon and the rest of the Keys. They can be caught on a variety of baits but we usually catch them on live or frozen shrimp, squid, pinfish or ballyhoo. We usually find them in deeper waters from 50 to 250 feet of water although we sometimes find them in water as shallow as 50 feet. Mutton snapper tend to be solitary when adults but they can be seen in smaller schools. Their flesh, like most of the snapper family is white, flaky and light and is excellent to eat.
Find out more about catching mutton snapper on a Marathon fishing charter.
Black grouper is a very common fish in the Florida Keys, growing over 50 pounds, and they are normally solitary fish. They usually spawn on the shallow reefs between May and August. The smaller black grouper are usually females and transform into males as they grow larger. Adults feed mainly on fish and squid although the younger ones feed on crustaceans and shrimp and other small baitfish. You’ll find black grouper around rocky bottoms and coral reefs and ledges. Because they retreat into ‘holes’ in the reef for protection, they can be a difficult fish to catch. With the right technique, however, they prove to be a strong-fighting, fun fish to get on the boat. Along with other grouper, black grouper are very tasty to eat!
Red grouper like other grouper are usually found around hard rocky coral bottoms. Red grouper is a top predator on the reef being an opportunistic feeder. They feed on small baitfish and crustaceans. They are a medium-size grouper averaging about 12 pounds with a reddish-brown color and white spots. Like the black grouper, they start off as females turning into males later in life. Their spawning usually occurs between January and June peaking in May. With white flaky meat, red grouper are very good to eat.
Gag grouper is a mottled gray fish without the distinct colors and markings of other grouper. Its pattern is similar to that of the black grouper but it is much lighter in color. 10 to 20 pound fish are common but they can reach up to 80 pounds. Gag grouper are bottom feeders and we usually catch them on the bottom using live or dead baits. With their white flaky meat gag grouper make excellent table fare!
Kingfish is a medium-size fish typically ranging from 5 to 30 pounds but can reach up to 90 pounds and more. Their entire body is covered with very small scales. Their markings include a lateral line which starts high on the shoulder, dips abruptly at mid-body, and then continues as a wavy horizontal line to the tail. They are olive on the back, which fades to then to white on the belly. King mackerel are commonly caught from 40 foot out to 200 feet. They are opportunistic feeders, and their size influences what they want to eat. We catch them on live or dead baits and artificial lures. They are considered a very healthy fish to eat due to their high oil content, but many Florida Keys locals and visitors find kingfish a little too ‘fishy’. Because of this, it makes its way into many of the delicious smoked fish dip recipes you’ll find at local Marathon, FL restaurants.
Spanish Mackerel has a dark green back and its sides are marked with about three rows of round yellow spots. Its single row of cutting teeth on top and bottom flatten from side to side as with a king fish and Cero mackerel, which makes them a fish to handle carefully when caught. Like the kingfish they are very ferocious opportunistic feeders. Their food mostly consists of shrimp and squid with other small live baits.
The cero mackerel is similar in appearance to the Spanish except it has a stripe along its body in addition to the spots. Also the cero mackerel is larger size, often 10 pounds or more but not usually more than 30.
Florida Keys Fishing Calendar
Marathon Fishing Charters: Reef Fishing – Fishing in The Florida Keys, Marathon is available all year round and this calendar can help you see when a it’s best per type of fishing. From Dolphin to Tarpon, your day aboard will be unforgettable!
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