Florida Keys Fishing Trip Planner: February

King mackerel, sailfish and dolphin are hot this month in the Florida Keys.

February Fishing in the Florida Keys

Keys king mackerel


One popular option near Key West, live-baiting king mackerel in 50-foot Gulf waters. Pat Ford

Take a break from sailfishing this winter in the Florida Keys. Instead, cash in on the dynamic king mackerel fishing available in the Gulf. Capt. Tony Murphy heads to the Gulf of Mexico’s green waters in the colder months to target 30-plus-pound king mackerel. From December to February, look for water temperatures from 72 to 76 degrees along reef edges to find the kings.

“The break in 45 to 52 feet of Gulf water is great in February,” he says. “In the Atlantic, we fish the inside reef edge from 75 to 120 feet. A west tide is optimal, especially with the predominantly east wind.”

king mackerel catch
At least a foot of wire is necessary to tie to your leader before the hook. King mackerel teeth can cut a mono or fluorocarbon leader faster than your own pliers. Doug Olander /

Murphy’s favorite tactic is chumming the kings into a feeding frenzy with live pilchards, then casting a fly rod for the mackerel. But on a normal charter, he uses Shimano Terez rods and Saragosa spinners loaded with 50-pound braid.


“For a leader, I’ll use two rod lengths of 30-pound fluorocarbon connected to 12 inches of No. 5 wire with an Albright knot,” Murphy adds. “The hook size will depend on the type and size of live bait.”

Barracuda Take the Spotlight

barracuda on the flats
The underrated barracuda exhibits the best gamefish qualities—strength, aggression, speed, savagery and jumping ability. One Keys tournament each February celebrates them. Doug Olander /

Competitors used spin and fly tackle to target aggressive barracuda in the 2017 Cuda Bowl, taking place on Feb. 3-4. The all-release flats tournament got its name because it’s scheduled every year two days before the NFL Super Bowl.

Heidi Andrews of Vero Beach, Florida, released 281.5 inches of barracuda to win the spin division of the 2017 Cuda Bowl Tournament in Key West. Andrews earned the title of divisional grand champion fishing with Captain Aaron Snell of Key West. She also was named top lady angler.

Live baits, flies or plugs entice barracuda into vicious strikes. Doug Olander /

Only flats skiff-type boats with a poling tower were used in the two-day tourney.

Jim Knowles of Round Hill, Virginia, won the Cuda Bowl’s fly division championship after releasing barracuda totaling 229.75 inches. He was guided by Captain Peter Heydon of Key West.

The largest barracuda in the spin division was released by Tom del Bosque of Boca Raton, Florida. He caught the fish, measuring 53.5 inches, guided by Key West’s Captain Jimi McKillip. Joe Skrumbellos of Davie, Florida, scored the largest barracuda on fly tackle at 46.5 inches.


The flats challenge drew 61 anglers who released 418 barracuda.

More Hot Tournaments in February

redfish on fly
Spring Backcountry Fly Championship Series Doug Olander /

Tournament anglers can compete to catch the most inches of snook and redfish on fly in the Spring Backcountry Fly Championship Series. Mark your calendars for Feb. 24 and 25 to compete in this Islamorada-based tournament. In this challenge, one inch equals one point, so the bigger the fish the better! Awards are given to the grand champion and runner-up, and to the anglers who catch the largest snook and redfish. The field is limited to 30 boats.

dolphin catch
Islamorada Winter Classic Doug Olander /

Late February offers offshore anglers the opportunity to target nine offshore species in a family-format tournament. From Feb. 24 to 26, the Islamorada Winter Classic will take place out of Islamorada, Florida Keys. Trophies are awarded to top boat teams in weight and release categories, as well as private vessel and charter divisions. Junior and teen divisional winners also have opportunities to win. Target species include sailfish, barracuda, dolphin, cobia, wahoo, tuna, mackerel, hogfish and snapper.