Best Fishing Lures For Florida Keys

Paul Gonzalez
• Friday, 09 October, 2020
• 16 min read

Now you may be headed down with a very specific species goal in mind, be it tarpon on the flats or tuna on the humps. These areas have swifter current and deeper depths, requiring some weight to properly fish the water column.

fishing florida diy keys lure bass
(Source: lurefishingforbass.co.uk)


Both seem to work equally well during the day and evening, while the Black Purple Flake excels after the sun goes down. If you’re planning on catching and cooking your own meal in the Keys, snapper are going to be your best bet feeding yourself and others.

A quick look through a local nautical chart or GPS/Chart plotter will reveal wrecks, reefs and other fishing areas. There is no doubt that traditional chumming and light tackle live bait fishing works fantastic, you may want to spice things up and get some action on lures.

Pitch the jig away from the boat, let it sink toward the bottom, while paying attention on the drop as many strikes happen on the fall. Fantastic Black fin Tuna fishing lies just a few miles out past the reef.

Their depth and abundance changes with the seasons, but these basic lure techniques have proven to be effective year-round. I’ll cover a technique that uses a lure that can be trolled and cast on offshore spinning tackle.

The 7inch 1.75oz Pro Tail Eel really came to shine on a recent tip to Marathon fishing with Two Conch’s Charters on the humps. When you’ve found an area holding tuna, drop the baits back about 150 behind the boat and troll them around 4.5knts.

snapper fishing lures keys bring trip florida offshore opener grouper
(Source: theintrepidangler.com)

I’d recommend deploying at least two or more rods with them at a time, as multiple hookups are common and fill up the box when they’re biting. The exact same 1.75oz Quinn Jig recommended for snapper fishing is deadly on Black fin Tuna as well.

Owner of The Intrepid Angler, Captain Ross hails from the historic waters along the Caloosahatchee River. He has a a fishing guide and outdoor professional working the waters of Florida and Alaska over his career.

He now permanently resides in Cape Coral offering anglers exciting opportunities to target trophy game fish around Southwest Florida on a custom Pathfinder 2500 Hybrid Bay Boat. These are tropical fish that seasonally migrate thousands of miles each year.

These bright-colored carnivores are the fastest-growing fish in the world, growing up to 1 inch per week and gaining up to 3 pounds per month. Mahi-mahi live in surface waters and eat fish, crabs, squid, and shrimp.

Mahi-mahi are found scattered in the open ocean generally in warmer waters near the Gulf Stream. The general strategy to find mahi-mahi in south Florida is to travel past the reef into blue water 200 feet or deeper in-depth but the mahi-mahi will be near the surface.

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(Source: theintrepidangler.com)

Upon reaching blue water look for Sargasso Age weed lines, debris, fish surfacing or diving birds. When fishing for mahi-mahi it is also common to catch sailfish, marlin, tuna, triple tail, and Yahoo.

Once a good fishing location is found the baits can be pitched or trolled close to surface structure or activity. This can vary based on weather conditions, types of lures, and the size of the boat.

Keep the fish in the water about 20 feet behind the boat until a second mahi-mahi is hooked. The second mahi-mahi should be caught by pitching a ballyhoo hooked through the nose close to the other mahi-mahi that is on the line.

If the school is close to the boat a whole dead squid is a great pitch bait to use. Dead bait is typically all that is needed to pitch to the mahi-mahi but if the school of fish is not biting switching to live bait such as goggle eyes, cigar minnows or pilchards is a great option to have.

In some locations, additional attractants are adding to the trolling setup such as hookless spreader bars and dredges. Having good mahi-mahi trolling lures on board is very important so the first fish can be hooked which then keeps the school close to the boat.

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(Source: www.pinterest.com)

These fully rigged chiggers are six-inches in length and have soft pusher heads. Then can be used right in prop wash 15 feet behind the boat or on mid-distance lines set out on outriggers.

The chugged head is concave like a popper and makes noise, splashing action, and great bubble trails. This was in the summer and the mahi-mahi would stay close to the boat and were easily caught with pitch baits.

This C and H stubby bubble comes in pink or purple, blue, white and has silver Mylar within the skirt. This stubby bubble can be run any distance behind the boat and will always create fantastic looking bubble trails.

This lure has a plastic head and is lightweight which makes it great for staying weed-free. There was a good weed line and a frigate bird hovering low on our way in from fishing for tuna offshore.

The mahi-mahi daisy chain has a 6.5 inch Most 63 Mali Snack skirted lure with 4 flyers. This comes rigged on a 200-pound mono leader with a 6/0 heavy-duty hook.

lures fishing keys bring trip florida tuna
(Source: theintrepidangler.com)

Smaller daisy chains are typically put way back in the shotgun position. This daisy chain would work in the shotgun or on a line set a midway distance back on an outrigger.

The video above shows a common dynamic found fishing offshore for mahi-mahi. Frigate birds follow mahi-mahi until they spook flying fish out of the air.

When they hover low to the water or are swooping near the surface there is likely mahi-mahi feeding underneath the fish. In Florida mahi-mahi usually feed swimming into the Gulf Stream which flows to the north.

Sometimes the fish are scattered and the birds are traveling so fast that you can not catch them even at a nine or ten-knot troll speed. This could mean that mahi-mahi are chasing scattered bait or that the frigate bird is following, bonito, tuna, or in the worst-case porpoises.

Low slow-moving birds are the best and slowly trolling by them and pitching ballyhoo underneath and slightly in front of them has a high chance of catching mahi-mahi. In the picture, is mahi-mahi and tuna that were caught while trolling and pitching live baits.

bait keys florida shark fishing
(Source: www.pinterest.com)

These were caught about 20 miles offshore at the famous North Drop of St. John in the United States Virgin Islands. This lure is lightweight which makes it good a staying weed-free and works at any distance behind the boat.

This lure is very similar to the Williamson Dorado Catcher that I will review later in this article. We caught a bunch of mahi-mahi that day trolling chiggers and squid baits along the edges of thick weed piles about 15 miles offshore.

The Boone Gatlin jet is pink with blue spots, weighs 2-3/4 ounces and is 7 inches long. I typically start the trip when possible with two of these rigged and ready to run with strip baits.

The jet head of the lure creates awesome smoke trails underwater. This was caught on a blue and white little stubby while trolling along some weeds about 20 miles off the coast of the Florida keys.

The Williamson Ballyhoo Combo has an overall length of 10-1/2 inches and weighs 15 ounces. The lure is rigged on a 6-foot 100-pound premium suffix mono leader with VMC 9/0 hooks.

fishing florida cobia keys lures fly saltwater cool uploaded user
(Source: www.pinterest.com)

The ballyhoo combo comes in color options of black-purple, bonita-blue, evil-black, Halloween blue, pink-blue, and lampblack. Dead ballyhoo can also be bitten in half and then trolled for a long time without a chance of catching fish.

Chugged Head for Skirted Ballyhoo Rig Buy from Amazon This adds surface action to the lure and makes the ballyhoo troll more easily in the water without spinning.

When pitching ballyhoo with a spinning rod 6/0 hooks are a good size. The line on the pole has a barrel snap swivel on it that can easily be connected to the perfection loop.

It comes with 50 copper wire strands in a clear plastic tube. The Billy Baits Mini Turbo Slammer is 5 ½ inches and weighs 5/8 of an ounce, the color options include pearl-pink shimmer, pink-silver, and purple-blue Mylar.

These come rigged on a 6 foot of 100-pound grand slam mono leader with a 7/0 Mustard hook. Any skittish fish that are not willing to get close to the boat can still find these trailing in the back.

fish florida saltwater keys lures fly pound
(Source: www.washingtonpost.com)

These are just like the Billy Baits Mini Turbo Slammer but are typically sold at a lower cost. The Squid nation Slammer Chugged is three inches long and comes in color options of black, blue, blue-silver, neon green, pink, black-purple, and red.

If you ever ask a charter captain about mini chiggers you will usually hear something about catching marlin on a 3-inch lure. These are popular little baits catch fish of all types and sizes including mahi-mahi.

The squid nation slammer mini chugged is a good bait on its own but with a few modifications, it works even better. The added weight gets the chugged deeper into the water making it more visible to the fish and creates better bubble trails.

Pink Boone UV Squid Skirts Buy from Amazon The Boone duster twinkle skirt is 3 inches in length and has a weighted front.

Boone tuna treat feathers are 6 inches in length weigh 1-1/2 ounces. The cone shape head have reflective layers to add flash to this feather bait.

keys fishing florida barracuda plug dream catcher key west artificial
(Source: thefloridakeysfishingreport.com)

This lure comes in colors of black-purple, bleeding dorado, blue-pink-silver, bonito, Halloween, pink-white and red-black. The dorado catcher does come in more colors and also has a large cavity in the rear of the head designed to hold ballyhoo bait springs.

The Williamson big game catcher is an 8-inch lure and weighs 2-1/2 ounces. This lure comes rejigged on a 5-foot 175-pound test suffix leader line with a 9/0 VMC hook.

Color options include blue-pink-silver, black-purple, bleeding dorado, bonito, Halloween, Lump, pink-white, and red-black. These large baits will still catch small mahi-mahi, bonito, and black fin tuna.

Beads and crimps were used to have the hook be located just past the end of the skirt. Capt Jay big game trolling lures are 9 inches in length and weigh 3.8 ounces.

Capt Jay lures is a company run by charter fishing captains. There is also a size 8 high-speed planer that gets tied off to the boat and acts similar to a down rigger.

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(Source: fishingsiestakey.com)

A snap swivel from the pole connects to the front metal ring. A snap swivel with a 30-50 foot leader then connects to the back of the planer.

Drone spoons are typically used inshore on planners and skirted baits like sea witches are used offshore. When the planer is placed in the water the metal ring slides toward the back and sets the planner pulling down.

When a fish strikes the ring slide forward stopping the planer from diving. If the planer pole releases without catching a fish, raise the rod and drop it quickly to put slack in the line.

When a fish bites the line tension may decrease so be ready to reel in the slack like when using down riggers. The Papal x-rap 30 magnum diving plugs is 6-1/2 inches in length and weighs 2.5 ounces.

Good color options for mahi-mahi include hot pink, bonito, blue sardine, red-head, and silver. The easiest way to run a line deep is with a plug that has a large diving lip.

florida keys artificial fishing
(Source: www.youtube.com)

However, with planers baits need to be rigged and when a fish is caught pulling in the long leader can be a pain. For mahi-mahi a smaller 80 gram, 2-3/4 ounce is a good size since these will be used to fish the top 150 feet of water.

These jigs are a good option to drop around floating debris and thick patches of weeds. Color options include pearl pink-yellow, ballyhoo, chrome sardine, dorado, holographic blue, mackerel, and red-head.

These can be cast far and makes great surface action and noise that can get the attention of any nearby fish. Most people pitch ballyhoo, squid and live bait fish but shrimp can be just as effective.

Also chumming with shrimp rather than live bait can work better because it can keep the fish from scattering when they chase the bait fish away from the boat. This DOA shrimp also works well for triple tail that are frequently found on the same offshore structures that hold mahi-mahi.

The Malay cedar plug is 6 inches in length and weighs about 2.5 ounces. Unfortunately, the wood in low quality and many of the leaders come defective, so I can not recommend the colored cedar plugs.

snapper florida fishing keys yellowtail
(Source: www.youtube.com)

This is a quality made rig and the natural wood color is a good option. If you are taking a kid fishing having them paint the lure would be a fun task.

If the custom cedar plug catches the big mahi-mahi or tuna it would make the trip that much more fun and memorable. Ancient Mariner Tackle 4-inch blue and white cedar plug daisy chain.

This comes rigged on a 150-pound mono leader with a 9/0 Mustard 2x strong needle eye hook. This is a nice small 4-inch cedar plug that has matching color squid baits to create a basic daisy chain.

Th's Most daisy chain has three USA Pink Manchu skirts from Elite Tackle and a hand made Most #63 Mali Snack lure that is 6.5 inches in length. This comes custom rigged with a 200-pound test mono leader and a Mustard hook.

The Mali Magician daisy chain has three, 4.5-inch double-skirted and weighted teasers on a 9 foot, 150lb test leader. The lure is about 7 inches in length and comes with a black nickel 8/0 Mustard hook.

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(Source: www.delphfishing.com)

If these daisy chains get tore up they are pretty easy to rebuild assuming you have crimps. This can also be built with plastic beads rather than egg weights in the teasers which can be better lighter option if there are lots of weeds.

When the front squid is bouncing in and out of the water it is a good distance back on the outrigger line. Most other predator fish such as Yahoo, sailfish, tuna, and marlin will also bite this lure so it is good to have in the spread.

The spreader bar can be run just as a teaser and once fish are raised it is pulled out of the spread. There is also a snap swivel coming off the last bait that can be connected to a lure with a breakaway rubber band.

On slow days these teasers can help raise all types of fish including marlin and sailfish. Color options include black-purple, blue-pink-silver, bonito, dorado, Halloween, lump, and pink-white.

These Boone dolphin rigs are 6-1/2 inches in length and weigh 1.5 ounces each. The colors include purple-pink, squirrel fish, blue Mack, red-black, dolphin, and purple-black.

fishing pompano sarasota florida bait charters siesta key jigs fresh
(Source: fishingsiestakey.com)

Because they are rigged with wire they are good to run when king fish, Yahoo, and barracuda might be biting. However, I feel much more confident that I am going to catch fish when a war bird which is also called a frigate bird is found hovering low near the water.

When trolling four lures are set out on 30 class conventional fishing reels. When pitching live or dead baits large spinning reels with 30-50 pound line are.

Pitch the bait just behind the fish on the line using ballyhoo, squid, goggle eye, cigar minnow or pilchard. Pitching a full-size dead squid or ballyhoo is a great option when there is a school of mahi-mahi near the boat.

Pitching live goggle eyes or pilchards are great baits to use when mahi-mahi are behind the boat. On the other side, a stubby bubble, daisy chain or lure set deep could be used.

These can be caught in grass patches on the reef by putting chum in the water and throwing a large cast net. Sometimes a small change in Rpm allows the lures to be more visible relative to the boat wake.

keys fishing fl bait fish lures florida lighthouse poles ready boat
(Source: www.pinterest.com)

It is a good idea to have a deep-diving plug or baited skirt on a planer to draw any deeper schools of mahi-mahi to the surface. If there is no surface structure mahi-mahi are typically found near temperature breaks where currents come together and ledges where upwelling currents can bring nutrient-rich plankton and bait fish to the surface.

A typical offshore trolling spread has lines set at three distances behind the boat. One line is set close about 25 feet behind the boat basically right in the prop wash.

This line is easy to keep weed-free and mahi-mahi can be attracted by the prop wash and find this bait. A small daisy chain is a great option for the shotgun position.

Mahi-mahi are a fish that are found offshore near the Gulf Stream in that Atlantic Ocean. Mahi-mahi are also found offshore of California, Mexico, and Central America in the Pacific Ocean.

Mahi-mahi seasonally migrates thousands of miles each year and typically spawn in waters around 83 degrees. The best live baits for mahi-mahi are goggle eyes, cigar minnows, ballyhoo, pilchards, and scaled sardines.

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The best dead baits for mahi-mahi are ballyhoo, squid, bonito chunks, and shrimp. Lures that are the best for mahi-mahi include chiggers, stubby bubbles, and daisy chains.

There is a pompano dolphin fish that is found is Central American that is commonly mistaken for small mahi-mahi. This means there is less time for mercury and heavy metals to build up in the fish.

Captain Cody has worked on charter fishing boats in the Floridness, Virgin Islands, and Alaska. Cody strives to provide detailed information about the best fishing gear and tactics to help both novice and experienced anglers have a more productive and enjoyable time on the water.

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1 www.fisheries.noaa.gov - https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/black-grouper
2 en.wikipedia.org - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_grouper
3 www.liveabout.com - https://www.liveabout.com/amberjack-charter-captains-friend-2929250
4 www.chowhound.com - https://www.chowhound.com/post/parasites-veins-red-snapper-fillet-961814
5 www.gameandfishmag.com - https://www.gameandfishmag.com/editorial/fishing_ra_0408_05/244473