Marathon FL Fishing is an amazing experience that even a novice fisherman (or fisherwoman) can have the trip of a lifetime. Sure you can pay thousands to have a charter company cruise you around to their favorite spots, but for a more free roaming experience, we spent time learning the waters around Marathon and developed this full Do it Yourself Guide to fishing Marathon FL.
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Fishing Marathon FL in a Rental Boat
One thing that is unique about fishing in the keys is there are loads of companies ready to rent you a boat, give you a few tips, and send you on your way. We used All Aboard Boat Rentals and our experience with them was top notch.
I’ll admit, I was nervous at first, but the waters surrounding the keys are full of thousands of boats that are constantly on the move. The waters are also shallow in most spots in close so you don’t get the giant waves and it’s not so intimidating knowing you could probably jump out and stand up if you had to.
My family and I decided to rent our own boat and adventure on our own, and I would highly recommend it. There are full navigation systems on the boat that are easy to learn and will guide you through the channels, the oceans, and back to the harbor safely. No worries…you’ve got this!
What Gear will you Need?
I’m probably a bit of an over-planner! I have been fishing mostly fresh water lately so my salt water gear needed an upgrade. I bought poles, reels, lures, bait bags, grippers, hooks, hook removers….well, let me just give you more details below.
Poles – You will obviously need fishing poles, however, I found that the larger poles I purchased weren’t all that necessary. The largest fish we brought to the boat was a 6-7 foot nurse shark, and I caught that on an inexpensive light weight pole I had purchased for my daughter! The sting ray shown below was a big beast too, but came in on light tackle. So if you have “normal” medium rated fresh water poles, and want to save some money, I found they will work just fine.
Reels – A good reel can make a difference. Again, I didn’t find it was necessary to spend big bucks on larger reels. Any reel from our list of the 8 best inshore fishing reels will work perfectly.
Leader and Line – My experience says that 15-30 lb braided line with a 20-30 lb Monofilament leader will allow you to land about anything you want. String the full reel with the braided line and then tie on 5-6 feet of the mono and you should be set!
Note: If you are also interested in more toothy creatures, you may want to consider a steel leader as well. The one thing to remember though, steel leader doesn’t break and isn’t easy to cut. So when you reel in that big lemon shark, be planned ahead of time on what you are going to do to get it off the hook!
Circle Hooks – These types of hooks give amazing strength and tend to connect with the corner of the fish’s mouth. Strong hold but easy to remove! I bought this large pack of hooks and found that I did use a variety of sizes depending on if I was hooking live shrimp or cut bait.
Fish Handling Gloves – There are tons of different species in the Florida keys so what is really fun is, you never quite know what you are going to pull up. On the same hand, it can be a little intimidating to handle a lot of exotic creatures. So, I purchased some simple gloves just in case. I found the ocean catfish to have the craziest spines and ended up using gloves on those more than anything.
Chum bag – This is a must have! I’ll talk more about it later, but having a chum bag can make or break your trip. This one by Boone was super inexpensive, but worked great. I put large chum blocks in it and tied it to the swim ladder. Worked perfectly!
How to make sure you catch fish in Marathon Florida
Fish When There is Current
You have your rental boat and all of your gear ready. What’s next? Well the first thing is to understand a little about the oceans current. To make it super simple, the tides of the ocean go in and out of the islands at different times of the day. When the tide is coming in or going out, that is the best time fish. When the tide is not moving, you will have a harder time.
I recommend getting an app for your phone that will show you the tidal patterns and then plan to have poles in the water accordingly. I used the Fish Angler app and it gave me a lot of good information about tides and areas to go to catch fish. There are tons of competitive apps out there though, just find one that fits your needs.
Find Structure and Variances in the Bottom
What I have learned from Fishing the Florida Keys is that it’s important to find some kind of structure. Could be reef, docs, channels, or islands. Any kind of variance in the bottom where fish will hang out and retreat away from potential predators. The other key then is to get upstream of the current going over that structure.
What I would do is find a small reef or even a shallow island with grasses and anchor upstream so my chum would flow over and beyond the structure. Send that sent exactly where the fish are and they will come running (or swimming quickly).
We used this method at all of our stops throughout the Florida keys and always caught fish after fish.
Chum Some – Then Chum More
This is really the secret to catching fish inshore at Marathon FL. You can of course make your own chum, but the process is messy and stinky. Instead, go to any bait shop and buy the frozen block chum. Everyone had it when I was there and I think the price was about $10.
Once you get to a spot you want to try…and during a tidal change (where current is flowing), put that block of chum in your chum bag and let it start to drift. You will be amazed how quickly you will see fish activity down current. For us, we would immediately see smaller bait fish, and then Mangrove Snapper would usually appear next followed by schools of needle fish.
The chum will naturally melt and send sent down current, but if you shake the bag every so often, the chum will flood the area with smell and bring in even more fish.
During our last trip, we stopped at probably a dozen locations over a 2 day trip. We caught fish at every location….because we were chumming a ton. Don’t be shy, you can’t overchum!
What Kinds of Bait
Live Shrimp – I think the absolute best bait for fishing in Marathon is live shrimp. Get those whenever possible. Your boat will likely have a live well that will keep them healthy all day. On our most recent trip, live shrimp were hard to come by. There was one spot that had them and you had to stand in lines that were 10 boats deep at times. So we skipped that, but from my past experience, live shrimp is the best (if you can find it).
Live bait fish – If you are adventurous and have cast netting skills, you can likely chum a little and then catch your own live pin fish or other small bait fish. Hook a small live bait fish on a circle hook and you’ll be in business!
Frozen shrimp – I always do well on frozen shrimp. They are inexpensive and easy to work with. The only trouble with them is they tend to come off quickly. When you feel a bit, you either hook up, or your bait is gone. Still, frozen shrimp work.
Frozen Ballyhoo – Cut Ballyhoo is a really great all around bait. All the bait shops have it. It stays on the hook well, so you can work through multiple bites. It attracts all kinds of fish from snapper to grouper and even larger rays and sharks. Definitely a must have if you are fishing with your family and don’t want to reel in an empty hook time and again.
Cut Bait – If you want to go after bigger fish in the Florida Keys, use the smaller fish you catch as cut bait on a larger hook. We found Snapper works well and cut Barracuda seemed to bring in the largest fish we caught.
Lures – Larger Spoon or Rapala type lures can be really fun. I’ve had giant schools of bait fish come by followed by schools of Jacks, Snapper, and Grouper. Throw a large spoon or Rapala into those boils and you will have loads of fun!
Where to Find Fish in Marathon
Well, the answer to this question is….anywhere! We first took the advice of the rental counter clerk and went to the reef just East in the Atlantic. It takes about 20 minutes or so to get there. However, the days we were there, it was a little windy (10mph) and the chop was too much for us. After about 30 minutes of snorkeling we tried fishing. We could only stand the chop for about 20 minutes and we were all sea sick.
So if you are going East, make sure everyone has good sea legs, or a dose of Dramamine!
Fish the Gulf Side in a Boat
Once we all got a nice case of sea sickness, we decided to run across “the cut” and head out to the Gulf side. That was the best decision for our family of 5 (and the dog). The Gulf was calm and felt more like we were in a lake than in the ocean. Much easier for everyone!
We stopped at about a dozen spots on the Gulf side, put out our chum, and immediately caught fish. Most fish we caught were on the smaller side. Loads of snapper. However, every once in a while we caught something bigger like sharks, rays, or barracuda. It was fun, it was mostly wave free, and with a little chum, we pretty much caught fish all day.
Marathon FL Fishing – Final Thoughts
when fishing in Marathon FL, you will run into many different species. All ocean fish are fighters, so you and your boat mates will have an excellent experience just reeling in fish after fish. Every once in a while you’ll get surprised what’s on your line as well!
Be prepared, have a good plan, and you’ll have an amazing experience. Let me know in the comments how you did!