an insider look at some of our best

bays to fish with some of the best 

local captains from around the country




KEY SPECIES: TARPON, PERMIT, SNOOK, amberjack, barracuda, bonefish, cobia, dolphin, grouper, kingfish, wahoo and much more.


Reel: Penn Fathom Low profile all sizes, Penn Fathom Lever drag all sizes

REEL: PENN LIve liner spinning and slammer all sizes

While Key West doesn’t exactly fit into the “Bay” description it’s a region we’d be crazy not to mention with so many similarities in fishing and conditions to bays.

Key West is the most diverse fishery in the United States, it is the prize location for fisherman and nothings quite like it.  From the different species to different techniques it is truly an anglers paradise.  For the sake of this editorial piece, we’ll be narrowing in on one key fishery, our tarpon fishery.

Springtime is tarpon time in Key West and nothing tells you that springtime has arrived quite like watching the large tarpon biomasses rolling, shimmering, and busting on bait in the channels throughout the Florida Keys. The tarpon, also known as the silver king, is one of the most sought-after species by anglers from around the world. Every spring, local fishing guides like myself fill out their calendars, some times a year in advance with anglers looking to cross out the tarpon of the old bucket list,

Even though the channels are littered with tarpon, hooking up to them on a consistent basis is no easy task and preparation is everything. Tarpon fishing in the Florida Keys is extremely competitive and quite often in close quarters. So, in order to be the one boat that hooks the most fish, you must have your boat and tackle completely dialed in ahead of time. Tides are also very important and timing your fishing according to what the tides are doing and where the biomasses are can make all the difference. Tides move forward by about 1 hour each day so you can make a pretty accurate forecast for tomorrow’s tides by what happened today.

You can target tarpon on artificial lures, fly-fishing, and chumming with dead bait, but in my opinion, using live bait is the key to success, especially when coupled with chumming. In the lower Florida Keys pinfish are the most commonly used tarpon baits due to their availability and the fact that you can easily trap them. Mullet is also widely known as amazing bait, but they are not easily accessible. As a fishing guide, I am running against the clock, and when every minute matters I can’t spend time trying to catch mullet. When catching pinfish, I’ll use a frozen chum block to bait the trap and pull the trap every day in order to have enough to cut and chum with and for using them live.


Once you’ve got your bait, you’ll need to find the fish before you can start fishing. Sometimes you’ll need to look for them on your fish finder and other times its as easy as seeing them roll on the surface, but you’ll want to make sure the fish are down current from you when you drop anchor. I like to anchor around 50 to 70-feet up-current of the biomass.

 When rigging up you need to remember that tarpon have great vision, so making your tackle invisible is a must! I keep several large spools of Berkley Vanish fluorocarbon leader in everything from 20 to 50-pound test on the boat in order to be ready for different water visibility conditions. If the water is dirty, I will use 40 or 50-pound leader in order to put a bit more drag on the fish and hopefully wear it down quickly. But if the water is clear, I’ll sometimes have to drop down to 30 or even 20-pound leader to get a bite. While this makes it much more difficult to land the fish, it sure beats not getting bit at all.

 My tools of the trade consist of Penn Slammer IV reels in the 5500 and 6500 sizes, paired with 7-foot Carnage II rods. I spool my reels with 50-pound Spiderwire Ultracast and rig it with the heaviest Vanish fluorocarbon leader that I think will get bit given that day’s water clarity and a 6/0 to 8/0 hook depending on the bait size. If the current is running strong, I’ll add a ¼-ounce weight and if it’s not running at all I’ll add a balloon to carry my bait back with the wind.

 Once I’m set up and have a cut-bait chum line established, I’ll usually fish two live baits on opposite sides of the boat, while drifting a third line down the middle with a cut bait that looks like my chum. I’ll run the outside baits approximately 70-feet off my stern and make sure that my passengers have a good hold on the rod as the bites can be fast and furious!




to learn more about the Key West area and to book a charter with Captain Pepe Gonzalez click this link.