Fishing Key West in January can be paradise. While the rest of the country is digging out from the snow and cold, Key West has tropical weather on tap most days making a great destination for folks looking to warm up.
The first of January can be busy here in Key West with higher room rates after the first of the year till about the 10th then things to slow down through the end of the month. A great time to visit Key West for all of its charms. The night life is perfect as the weather is cooler making visits to downtown restaurants and bars nicer and the sunsets spectacular.
Almost the middle of our cooler months (our winter) January has its weather. We typically get the tail end of the cold fronts that are affecting the rest of the country. This results in winds from the North West for a few hours as the front approaches then the North for a day followed by the North Easterlies as it cools off to the mid 60s most times and occasionally the high 50s. As this cycle progresses the winds come around to the South East ushering in the mid 70s and sometimes 80 degree air temperatures for several days in a row. I cannot say I enjoy fishing Key West in a North West wind but the rest of it is fine by me for several of our options, there is always something I can do in our fishing.
Cooler air temps will affect the shallows the fastest. The inshore waters of Key West are super sensitive to the temp changes especially if the winds were strong and the water gets agitated during the front that cooled things down. This holds true also when the warm South Easterlies kick in. Fish love a warm up but a cool down can put some to be lethargic for a day or two and in the shallows this needs to be considered.
Backcountry fishing can hold all the cards in January as being the best bet for fishing Key West and our most popular fishing charter this month. Mostly due to the fact our backcountry fishing charters, because they are conducted in and around the islands and protected from the winds, are not affected as much by inclement weather. Our winter cast of fish species we fish for in January are not as affected by the temperature fluctuations as some of our tropical species. Fishermen also love this trip because the casting and catching can be consistent using live bait and artificial lures.
A great trip for kids, new fishermen, bass fishermen or anyone that doesn’t want to see big waves yet go fishing. Our January inshore backcountry fish species are Speckled sea trout, jack crevalle, pompano, blue runners, lady fish, sharks, mutton snapper, mangrove snapper, cobia, redfish, snook and barracudas.
Flats fishing is a discipline of sight or target fishing here in Key West. A windy day or colder waters can turn a flats fishing trip into a deeper water backcountry fishing trip in a quick hurry this is why I use a bay boat in the winter time for both my flats fishing and backcountry fishing charters. I do not need to get super shallow in January and my bay boat rides nice in a chop keeping my folks comfortable.
On the flats in January when the conditions are right we typically sight fish for permit using crabs or fly rod. It can be very popular and rewarding to go top water fishing for barracudas as well. Jack crevalle and small cobia can be targeted behind the rays as well as mutton snappers. My anglers and I also enjoy beating the trees for snook and reds occasionally if the conditions allow.
Deeper waters do not get affected as much by the cooler weather in January, especially in the Atlantic Ocean side of Key West. The deep sea waters are fed mostly by the warm currents of the Gulf Stream. The reef cools and warms throughout the day as the tides move water in and out.
The Gulf Stream just to the South of Key West can dictate the Deep Sea Fishing during January. It can be great and not so great. The Gulf Stream is like a snake, its East bound flow meanders in and out from the reef off Key West as far as 40 miles and as close as 1. When the Gulf Stream is close it can be anyones guess what the tropical conveyor belt may bring in the way of pelagic fish species such as mahi mahi, white marlin, blackfin tuna, skipjacks (skippies) and wahoo. Its not uncommon at all for our deep sea fishing boats to bring in a nice load of January dolphin (mahi mahi).
Not so much related to the Gulf Stream we have the occasional sailfish run in January that is just off and sometimes right up on the reef as they chase the copious amounts of bait available. Just off the reef our daily routine when deep sea fishing is to look for wahoo and tunas inside 300ft along with kingfish (king mackerel), cero mackerel, bonito and blackfin tunas in various depths all to entertain our anglers.
The reef fishing can be on fire in January. There is a TON of ballyhoo and other types of natural bait available keeping all the reef species happy and attentive. Grouper season for the South Atlantic is closed in January but our mutton snapper, mangrove snapper, lane snapper and yellowtail snapper fishery is amazing putting loads of great food fish in our anglers coolers. On the reef in January it is not uncommon to get into a sailfish bite or a big Kingfish along with yellow jacks, cero mackerel and barracudas. Our reef fishing charters do not need to run far to make things happen.
Many folks watch the weather before booking here because January can be windy. However this practice can cost a good charter as most of the center console boats we use for January reef fishing will be sold out weeks before the dates anglers might want to go. Roll the dice.
Fishing in the Gulf in January can be rewarding in a few ways. The first thing that comes to my mind is the fantastic cobia fishing. A full day of wreck fishing can land an angler some nice size hard fighting cobia up to and exceeding 50lbs off the over 50 gulf wrecks that are scattered yet numerous North and North West of Key West. One or two of the draw backs to fishing the Gulf in January is the blue fish and Goliath groupers. It can be hard to get a bait to the trophies without them either stealing your bait or your fish.
The kingfish and Spanish mackerels can be thick in January out in the Gulf waters. It might be worth a mention that Gulf rules for grouper are open season when the South Atlantic is closed. A charter boat with a federal permit is allowed to fish for grouper in gulf waters. (I have that permit).
January is a great time to visit Key West and go fishing. Room rates can be low, the crowds are not so bad and the weather is truly awesome, especially compared to the rest of the country that time of the year. Our sunsets go down early in the evening and are spectacular making a nice backdrop for a great seafood dinner at one of our top 10 Key West restaurants.