Tuna Time In Key West

key west tuna

Everyone loves our Key West blackfin tuna. Good to eat fun and fun to catch. With the weather from the amazingly crappy winter this year has finally straightened up the fishing has been very good offshore. We have had a great push of tuna move through Key West putting meat in the box for many of our deep sea fishing anglers. Garrett and I are having a blast with our people.

Fishing Report

Deep sea fishing this last week has been fire for blackfin tunas, smaller kingfish, the occasional sailfish and we raised a blue marlin. Not many mahi to speak of since the last push of them two weeks ago. It has been really nice to be able to bend the rods with some very edible species like tuna. Putting some nice bag limits together for our people that did not go to waist. What our folks did not want we were able to feed our neighbors and crew with at Dream Catcher Charters

The blackfin tunas started popping consistently last week. Munching on black and amber squid to start with switching to tiny flying fish right before the cold front on Sunday. Every fish we cleaned was absolutely jammed full of food, almost to the point of bursting at the seams. The flying fish are everywhere, at times we would be trolling and they would cover the water in swarms taking off in front of the boat. 

Blackfin Tuna Key West
Blackfins are so tasty.

At first the tunas were to the West of Key West down  to the mid point of “the bar”. laster in the week they moved down to due South of Key West making our trips super easy and the tunas got bigger as the bite progressed. Our largest blackfin tuna was over 15lbs. Our averages were in the 8-11 lb range. 

We think that the new limits on blackfin tunas is a good idea. 2 per person or 10 per boat which ever is greater in the South Atlantic. Thats plenty of meat for a fish that really tastes great before it’s frozen. A federal or state permit is not required for catching blackfin tunas. However we did catch some skip jack tunas and that species requires the South Atlantic HMS permit for charter boats. 

In the last few weeks some blue marlin have been hooked by the Key West deep sea fishing fleet and we were not left out on board the INXS. Sunday we had a good size blue come crushing in on our baits. We were so used to dropping back for sailfish that were coming into our spread that we gave him the bait with a soft hook set. As he raised his head and back out of the water we realized who we were dealing with.. Sadly it was too late. – next time!

The color change was where all the action was happening for the tuna, bonito and kingfish for us. A nice rip had formed steady just past the reef holding lots of fish. On the dirty side the flying fish were being hunted by mostly bonito and kings with a few sailfish and smaller schooling tunas. On the clean side of the color change we got our larger blackfin tunas and our sailfish eats. 

We took one of the days last week to poke our way offshore before the tuna melee. We went all the way to 850 ft before turning around without a bite. As we headed back to the shallows we had a nice cow dolphin eat but that was it. Good lesson to not run over fish to go find fish.

mahi mahi
One lone cow dolphin roaming the blue waters in about 750 ft.

Pro Tips On Catching Blackfin Tunas Trolling

Trolling for blackfins is pretty easy. Finding them can be done many ways. For instance, off of Key West typically the tunas will gather in groups just out past the reef, around wrecks, along rips and color changes. Humps or uprisings are also a great place to find the tunas. Because they are so close to the reef smaller boats can target them on nicer days when they are prevalent.

Visual indicators are key! Keep an eye out. Birds are fantastic fish finders smaller birds will fly in quick rotation to eat the baits that the tunas are pushing up to the surface. We call the “tuna birds” because of their behavior not the actual name of the species of bird. Also keep an eye out for random “pops” or splashes or even tuna flying out of the water as they crush bait. This is obviously a pretty good sign they are  there for the targeting. For example last week we saw acres and acres of tuna popping like crazy. Certainly made my job easy. 

Time of day can be a consideration on most tuna bites.  I find that the bite trolling can be strong either early in the morning or later in the afternoon. I will often coordinate my fishing charters based on an afternoon tuna bite. Last week this was hugely successful. 

Airmar R599 Chirp transducer

Another visual indicator that works really well if they are not so obvious is a decent bottom finder sonar. These days chirp transducers like the one I have in my Viking work really well with target separation. I use the Garmin GSD 26 3000 watt black box sounder with a Airmar R599 LM transducer for my heavy lifting but a good XSV unit with 1000 watts will work well for the tunas coupled to a B175 or similar chirp transducer. Generally when I see the fish like this it’s Feed Time and I just tell my first mate to get ready for the strikes. These fish are mid level looking for food.. 

squid chain
Squid Chains are a super effective and affordable way to catch Blackfin Tunas Off Key West.

Rigs are like politics. Everyone has their opinion of what works best. Here is what we have found to be our Go To for blackfin tunas off Key West. Either color on these 4.5 inch squids are deadly. I push a big 1/2 inch weight in the heads back each squid up with 1/4 ounce egg sinker and space them about 6 – 10 inches apart. The weight makes them heavy enough to troll off my out riggers even in a little wind and help set the hook. We have fiddled with leader size on these rigs and found that 40 – 60 lb fluorocarbon works really well with much experimentation. Running the baits back pretty long and trolling at about 6-8 knots over water helps as well. We have used all the lures out there and found this rig to be the most successful. Just so happens it’s the cheapest as well. 

Last note on that, often I can chop my throttles when I see a group of fish on the sonar to let these weighted squids drop.. a good 45 count works then I put engines in gear and push pretty hard creating a jigging effect and we often get smashed. 

Other than the squids are typically pull rigged ballyhoo and get our lager tunas with that. 

Like I mentioned, there are a dozen ways to catch our tunas South of the reef here off of Key West. Live baiting, Live bait on Kite, Trolling, Speed jig and slow pitch jigs to name a few. We have fishing charters that offer all of it.. In the spring we also run to the Gulf for the XL Blackfins that are behind the shrimp boats. I use my 36ft yellowfin center console for that trip and a whole other story. 

Fishing Charters

We have fishing charters that cover all the waters of Key West. Inshore and offshore. If we are not able to get you out on our boats we have colleagues that can and are happy to help. March is busy.. April and May is our busiest months.. Call ahead to reserve.. 

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