Florida Keys Fishing Trip Planner: November

Both inshore and offshore Keys fisheries take off in the month of November.

October 20, 2016

November Fishing in the Florida Keys

sailfish jump
Dark blue water, current rips and color changes concentrate sailfish in the winter months, when ballyhoo are prevalent on local reefs. Pat Ford

The waters off Tavernier and Indian keys are prime sailfish grounds for Capt. Ross Early of Islamorada.

“I’m looking for royal-blue water color,” he says, “or any kind of color change to indicate a current rip, where two different bodies of water come together. This is where the sailfish like to hang out.”

Sailfish are caught via different techniques, with trolling skirted lures just one popular option. Charlie Levine /

Early’s most ­productive months are November, December and January because of the good numbers of ballyhoo on the reef. He prefers the 120-foot depths coupled with a hard northeast current. For tackle, Early uses Daiwa BG60 spooled with 15-pound main line, doubled up with a Bimini twist to 30-pound fluorocarbon leader and a 4/0 Mustad live-bait hook.


“My personal favorite technique is to sight-fish for sailfish in the shallows, less than 30 feet of water,” Early says. “On sunny days, you can find the sailfish when you’re riding high in the tower. After spotting them, fire up the bite by chumming live pilchards first, then sending out a hooked bait.”

Backcountry All Stars

permit catch
Anglers can compete in the sport fishing capital of the world for trophy species like permit at the Cheeca Lodge All American Backcountry Tournament. Doug Olander /

In pursuit of some of the most elusive game fish in the world, teams on up to 25 boats can enter Islamorada’s fifth annual Cheeca Lodge All American Backcountry Tournament set for Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 10-12.

Anglers are to compete in the sport fishing capital of the world for trophies and prizes for catching and releasing five tournament species: snook, redfish, permit, bonefish and tarpon. The event will host a team of two veteran soldiers to commemorate Veteran’s Day on Nov. 11.


A welcome reception and beachside banquet, rules meeting and auction are to kick off the weekend Thursday, Nov. 10, at Cheeca Lodge, the tournament’s social event headquarters at mile marker 82 oceanside.

Fishing is scheduled from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday, departing from nearby World Wide Sportsman. The prestigious fishing event culminates Saturday, Nov. 12, with a cocktail reception, early dinner and awards presentation.

Awards await the individual and team grand champions, individual and team runner-up entrants and champions in the fly, artificial and general tackle divisions.


Entry fee is $2,000 per angler and includes admission to both evening social events for the angler and a guest, as well as the angler’s guide and a guest. The fee also includes continental breakfast each morning dockside at World Wide Sportsman, and boxed lunches. Guide fees are additional.

Proceeds are to benefit the Guides Trust Foundation. The organization assists Florida Keys fishing guides in need, helping them meet their financial obligations in times of crisis or injury, and provides scholarship awards to local students.

Sugarloaf Showdown

bonefish catch
Bonefish are a top target off Sugarloaf Key as part of this year’s Sugarloaf Showdown tournament. Doug Olander /

Angling teams can test their skill at catching bonefish, permit and barracuda during the third annual Sugarloaf Showdown scheduled Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 10-12.


Presented by the Lower Keys Guides Association, the tournament is open to all anglers and is a fundraiser for the Guides Trust Foundation, which provides funds to assist fishing guides who are recovering from an illness or injury.

Participants in the team event earn points by catching and releasing fish in the target species. Awards await the three teams with the highest total points that represent catches of all three species.

If no team catches all three, the team with the highest point total representing two species will be declared the winner.

Individual awards are to be presented for the most catches of each target species, as well as for the participant who endures the “biggest disaster.”

Registration and check-in for the Showdown are slated for 4 p.m. Thursday at the Sugarloaf Lodge Tiki Bar, 17001 Overseas Highway on Sugarloaf Key. A kick-off dinner, silent auction and mandatory rules meeting for all participants are to follow.

Fishing is set for 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

The tournament awards party is scheduled after Saturday’s fishing at the Sugarloaf Lodge Tiki Bar. Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres are set for 5:30 p.m. and awards at 6 p.m., with the silent auction wrapping up at 7 p.m.

The entry fee is $250 for a two-person team or a team consisting of two anglers plus a guide. Competition is open to all anglers and guides, but only two people on each team are allowed to fish.


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