There are plenty of great reasons to head down to Key West, Florida — especially around the time of the Miami International Boat Show when much of the country is still freezing its collective hiney off. There are the warm, tropical breezes while you lounge around the pool. There’s the bawdy nightlife of Duval Street — or at least there will be, once having fun with a bunch of other people becomes a legal activity again. There’s sipping a rum drink while watching the sun disappear into the sea at Mallory Square.
If you’re a fisherman, however, all these other activities take a distant back seat. Key West is truly a world-class angling destination — kind of like Disneyland and Christmas rolled into one. For one, its location at the southernmost point of the continental U.S. gives anglers the unique option of running out to the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. Light tackle and fly-fishing fanatics can find a local guide who specializes in chasing tarpon, bonefish, and permit across the flats. Inshore reefs and wrecks team with cobia, grouper, mutton snapper, jack crevalle and thick-shouldered amberjack that will test your stamina and tackle. Or anglers can search out blue water for opportunities to enjoy wide-open bites on blackfin tuna, bonito, king mackerel, sailfish, wahoo, and more.
This February, I was fortunate to find a window in between the end of the Miami Boat Show and the start of coronavirus mania to spend a few days renewing old friendships and fishing with famous Key West fishing guide Capt. Robert Trosset (RT) and his son Capt. Chris Trosset. I’ve known and fished with RT many times over the years. His sponsorship by Suzuki outboards for 38 straight years and my marketing work for the brand back in the day had us sharing a rail fairly often. Still, it had been nearly 20 years since we last hit the water together. Back then, his son Chris was just a cute little kid who loved to fish. Today, he’s a stud charter captain in his own right, with his twin-Suzuki powered Contender 35 parked slipped next to RT’s 36 Yellowfin center console at the Ocean’s Edge Marina.
The place had changed quite a bit, to be sure. The old Oceanside Marina I remembered was little more than a dry stack boat storage shed, fuel dock and a dingy bait and tackle store. Over the past three years, however, the entire area was developed into the beautiful new Ocean’s Edge Resort and Marina complex, with luxurious hotel rooms, recreational amenities galore, gourmet restaurants, and plenty of strutting roosters to make sure you don’t miss your early morning fishing trip. Speaking of that, the marina boasts rows of fishing boats just waiting to charter, all just steps outside your hotel door. On one side, flats and bay boats ready to explore skinny-water adventure. On the other, bluewater center consoles and even sportfishing yachts ready for longer runs offshore.
While the surroundings and comfort level certainly had changed since my last visit, the fishing was just as I remembered — insanely good. The first morning, after cast-netting a boatload of live pilchards for bait and chum, our two boats worked together to hit some nearby reefs. This gave us the chance to take some great boat-to-boat photography, as we often fished close enough to speak without the need for a VHF radio. More importantly, this strategy gave us the combined fishy brainpower of two Key West’s best guides. We hopped from one spot to another and often before we even came tight on the anchor, we would have big jack crevalle, amberjack and snapper and great barracuda crashing through the chum.
Every type of surface bait or lure you threw was quickly inhaled by something, most often a big jack crevalle that could easily top 20-pounds. A couple of our anglers used the opportunity to pick up their fly rods and enjoy epic some hand-to-fin combat. Cobia swam through a couple of times, and we were able to entice a couple with jig-and-bait combos fished on the cast and retrieve.
Baits fished with sinkers or leadheads often resulted in some nice sized mutton snapper, grouper, yellowtail snapper and other tasty reef fish that made it home for dinner (expertly prepared for us that evening by the resort’s Yellowfin Bar & Kitchen).
All that first day, the action only lagged when we stopped to take photos, our arms got tired, or we decided to move around and look for something else because it was getting “too easy.” Now, that’s a good problem to have.
Our second day was even better. We got an early start, caught bait and made an 80-mile run to some secret spots out in the Gulf. Fortunately, given the flat calm weather and the fact that these boats can easily cruise in the mid-40-mph range with their twin Suzuki 350 horse-powered outboards, the run to the fishing grounds went by quickly. Eventually, we dropped our anchors in blue water near an offshore radio tower. And just as before, the fish were waiting for us. Shortly after we put out the chum bags and starting tossing a few live pilchards, our boats were surrounded with life and surface activity. This time it was massive schools of big amberjack exploding on everything that hit the water. After pulling our arms off, we began casting surface poppers with the hooks removed, just “geek out” on watching these predators attack and come flying clear of the water.
We hooked and lost some big kingfish, landed a gorgeous African pompano, had fish snatched off our lines by marauding bull sharks, and marveled at the amount of life around the boat. The highlight attraction of this day, however, was big cobia. If you could manage to get a heavy leadhead down to the bottom through the hungry amberjack, you would likely get slammed by a big cobia. Both boats loaded up on beautiful cobia in the 15- to 35-pound range, and I had one to boat side that RT estimated at 50+-pounds before it dove back down and became a meal for a hungry shark.
I can think of no better way to bear through the coronavirus-induced angling hiatus we currently find ourselves in than to plan a fishing adventure trip to Key West. There is plenty to fish for any time of the year, but I always like going in the winter. I highly recommend staying at the Oceans Edge Resort and booking a trip with one of the Trossets. Here’s a bonus. If you’re the type of angler who likes to pursue I.G.F.A. world records, RT is widely recognized as one of the best. Over an illustrious career, he has guided anglers to 238 line-class and fly-tippet-class world records. And if backcountry and flats fishing are more your game, they can handle that for you as well.
It may have taken me almost two decades to finally make it back to Key West, but I guarantee you I’m already working on my plans to go back.
Capt. Robert Trosset
Capt. Chris Trosset
Reel Fly Charters
Ocean’s Edge Resort & Marina