Welcome to a list of commonly found middle keys fish, provided by the best place to buy bait in Marathon! New to fishing in the middle keys? This is a great place to start your journey! While our list is not all inclusive, it is growing- we appreciate your patience and understanding as our site grows! Until we’re able to compile clear photos of each fish, a fish identification poster will be found at the head of each section. For a detailed description on tackle, spots and techniques, check out our fish targeting guide.
Pinfish are one of the most hardy and ubiquitous baits found in Marathon and the Middle Keys area. These fish are small, and silver with yellow bands and a black spot near the gill. The name pinfish comes from the pins running along the entire dorsal fin of the fish. Pinfish are great bait for Grouper, large snapper, Mahi, and generally any larger fish. Pinfish are found in grassy flats and areas in the ocean and gulf in 5 to as much as 20 foot of water. We stock live Pinfish year round in our bait shop! Click here to return to navigation!
Pilchards are known around Marathon as one of the best baits in town. There are many species of pilchards in the world, but in the Marathon area there are two main types known colloquially as “sandys” and “razer bellies”. Pilchards are not as hardy as pinfish and must be kept by themselves and handles as little as possible. They are excellent bait for Kingfish and and pretty much anything that eats. Large pilchards, or razer bellies, can be caught on hook and line or netted and their smaller and more fragile counterparts sandys are most often netted. We stock live pilchards year round in our bait shop, it’s kind of what we’re known for! Click here to return to navigation!
Mullet are larger, non-carnivorous fish that feed off algea. They are commonly found swimming in groups in canals, and do to their speed and great eyesight can only be caught with extremely large cast nets. Mullet are a Tarpon fisherman’s best friend in season, as tarpon spawning is set around mullet spawning do to the increase in available calories. Mullet can range from 3 to 4 inches to as much as a foot in length, and some species of mullet are even edible. Click here to return to navigation!
Ballyhoo is another Keys favorite bait. It is used whole or cut into chunks, and is excellent for catching all types of fish. Rigged ballyhoo is often trolled for Mahi and Wahoo in season, and it is said to be one of the best snapper baits when. the bite is on. Ballyhoo is found in large schools in the gulf and the ocean around the entire Keys area. There are several ballyhoo fisherman out of 15th St. making it a great place to buy bait in marathon. Ballyhoo are some of the best cut baits around, and many species love them check out our species targeting guide to find out which ones! Click here to return to navigation!
Blue runners are fast fish in the jack family. They are found ubiquitously throughout the Marathon area from Canals to blue water and like fast moving currents and weed lines. Blue runners are only caught by hook and line do to their great speed, sharp dorsal spine and hard fins. They are mainly used as billfish bait. Click here to return to navigation!
Goggle Eyes Bait Fish
A premium baitfish in some places and a nuisance fish in others, the Big eye Scad or “Goggle Eye” is a long slender fish used who for billfish bait. In the Keys, it can only be found out on the reef on dark nights. Here, Goggle eyes are commonly sold frozen or live, but in some areas of Florida even fresh dead. Click here to return to navigation!
Sand Perch are Members of the wrasse family commonly found in rubble along sandy bottom in the Marathon area. They are one of the more uncommon baitfish, and are mainly used for grouper bait. Sand perch can not be caught on hook and line or nets, and are only caught in traps. The efficacy of sand perch is hotly debated, but it is said to be good grouper bait. Click here to return to navigation!
Snappers of Middle Keys
Mangrove snappers are known to be one of the best eating fish around. While they are mainly found inshore in and around- as their name would suggest- mangroves large specimens can be found all the way out to the reef and further. Mangrove snappers bite best on squid and shrimp, but can bite on anything in a frenzy. Looking for for detailed information on how to catch Mangrove Snapper? Check out our species targeting guide! Click here to return to navigation!
Yellowtail snapper are an ocean fish popularized by the restaurant industry. They are a staple of Marathon cuisine, a very popular fish both around the bridge and on the Sombrero Reef. Yellowtail snapper are found in large schools and are known for frenzying on shrimp, ballyhoo, and squid. Check out our seafood market, we stock snapper in season! Looking for for detailed information on how to catch Yellowtail snapper? Check out our species targeting guide! Click here to return to navigation!
Hogfish or Hog snapper is the undisputed best fish meat by Keys locals. Hogfish has extremely white delicate meat that lacks a strong fishy taste. The fish are notoriously hard to catch by hook and line do to their small mouths but can occasionally be caught on live shrimp. The regulations for hogfish have recently changed, and can be found here. Looking for for detailed information on how to catch hogfish? Check out our species targeting guide!
Mutton Snapper, as the name indicates, is one of the fishier types of snapper. What it lacks in taste it makes up for in size, as it is also one of the biggest snapper. A more rare catch around the Marathon area Mutton snapper can be found around wrecks and bridges in deeper waters. Click here to return to navigation!
Lane snapper are another favorite and widely found fish in the Marathon Florida region. Lane snappers are small fish, reaching barely a foot. A staple in cuban cuisine, lane snapper is commonly scaled, gutted, and fried whole. These fish love to eat squid. Make sure you visit Keys Specialty Bait, the best place to buy bait in Marathon! Looking for more information on where to catch Lane Snapper? Check out our species targeting guide! Click here to return to navigation!
Groupers of The Keys
The red grouper (Epinephelus morio) is a popular saltwater fish found in the western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. It is known for its striking reddish-brown coloration and distinctive pattern of white spots on its body. Red groupers are known for hitting on pinfish and crabs, and can be fished out of holes in the gulf or on the reef. Click here to return to navigation!
The black grouper (Mycteroperca bonaci) is a large and powerful predatory fish inhabiting the coastal waters of the western Atlantic Ocean. It is characterized by its dark, mottled coloration, ranging from olive to dark gray, which helps it blend into its rocky and reef habitats. Black groupers are similar to the red grouper in that they hit on pinfish and crabs. Click here to return to navigation!
The gag grouper (Mycteroperca microlepis) is a species of grouper found in the waters of the western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. It is named for the distinct “gagging” sound it produces when caught. Gag groupers have a mottled gray or brown coloration with dark, wavy markings, allowing them to camouflage effectively among reefs and rocky structures, you can tell gag groupers from black groupers by these markings usually circles. Like blacks and reds, they commonly hit on pinfish. Click here to return to navigation!
Nassau groupers (Epinephelus striatus) are large reef-dwelling fish found in the western Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. They are known for their vibrant coloration, characterized by a mix of orange, red, and brown hues with intricate patterns on their bodies. Nassau groupers are important predators in coral reef ecosystems, feeding on a variety of fish, crustaceans, and cephalopods. Unfortunately, they have experienced significant population declines due to overfishing, making them a critically endangered species. You can identify Nassau Grouper by its circular tail fin. Click here to return to navigation!
Goliath groupers (Epinephelus itajara) are massive fish found in the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. They are one of the largest species of grouper, capable of reaching lengths of over 8 feet and weighing up to 800 pounds. Goliath groupers have a distinct appearance with a robust body, large mouth, and mottled coloration that helps them blend into their surroundings. Due to their size and strength, they are considered apex predators and play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of reef ecosystems. Despite being protected in many areas, they are still vulnerable to overfishing and habitat loss. You can tell a Goliath Grouper by the immense size, and its circular tail fin. Click here to return to navigation!