Key West Wreck Fishing

Deep water wreck and reef fishing is the most common type of fishing charter that I run. About 8 out of every 10 days fishing will be spent anchored near a ship wreck or drifting over it with live bait. Most of the deep wrecks are within 15 miles from the dock.

The most shallow wreck I fish is in about 90 ft., and the deepest is in over 300 ft. of water. The reason I fish this way so often is due to how consistent the action is. I also love the hands on nature of bottom fishing. You, the charter, are in full control; holding the rod, feeling the bite, and hooking your own fish. Not only is the action great, but the pure size of fish we are landing is amazing

There are countless shipwrecks in the waters off of Key West which are teeming with fish just waiting for you to catch them! While the sheer number of Key West wreck fishing sites is incredible, there are a few places which are well-known to anglers as hot spots.

The reason is that these shipwrecks act as artificial reefs for fish, who take shelter in and around the wrecks. This makes each site a miniature ecosystem brimming with life.

Here are four of the best Key West wreck fishing sites for your next vacation.


The Vandenberg is an artificial reef sitting just seven miles offshore. It was sunk in May 2009 in order to relieve the pressure of fishing and recreational diving from the other local reefs and wrecks.

The ship itself is massive; 522 feet from bow to stern and another 100 from the keel to the top of the superstructure. It sits in 140 feet, meaning that the top of the wreck rests at about 40 feet under water.

When angling at lower depths near the Vandenberg, you can reliably catch mutton snapper, grouper and african pompano. Nearer to the surface, you can find plenty of aggressive barracuda, yellowtail, kingfish, blackfin tuna, mackerel and bonita.

USS Curb

The Curb is another ship that was purposely sunk to serve as an artificial reef. The 213-foot long ship sits slightly deeper than the Vandenberg at 180 feet and went down in 1983.

The top of the wreck rests at 120 feet, so this would be an excellent choice for anglers looking for the larger species of fish like amberjacks, blackfin tuna, wahoo and lots of snappers and groupers.


The Airplane wreck is located in 180 feet of water southwest of Key West. The C-54 aircraft was sunk as another artificial reef, this time in 1985. Shortly after her sinking, a ship’s anchor damaged the airplane’s fuselage. This is a hot spot for cubera snappers and african pompano.


The Sub, or the USS S-16, was sunk 18 miles south of Key West in 1945. The 231-foot long craft rests 260 feet underwater, which makes it a great option for some of the larger game fish. Very popular spot to target blackfin tuna.

At this depth, you will find plenty of mutton and red snapper, two of the Key’s most popular table fish, as well as a plethora of amber jacks. The presence of these fish definitely makes the Sub worth the one-hour trip from port.

Key West Wreck Fishing Techniques

As you can plainly see Key West wreck fishing offers a huge variety of angling options. The only thing left to do is to get out there and land the big one!

When fishing the wrecks themselves it is best to anchor up-current from the site. This is where the schools of bottom fish like to congregate, so you will find plenty of success catching snapper, grouper and jacks this way.

Remember to use heavy tackle when fishing near the wreck as you will need the extra strength to pull your catch all the way up to the boat. Lighter tackle is fine for angling in the middle of the water column for smaller species. Don’t forget that sharks are always lurking so getting the fish up and in the boar fast is key.

Live bait is generally recommended for Key West wreck fishing. Crab, pinfish, threadfins, pilchards and blue runner are among the most popular live bait options.