Big Pine Key – The Quieter Side of the Florida Keys

Big Pine Key
Photo courtesy of Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge

Just a few miles east of Key West’s raucous nightlife and high-profile fishing operations are islands known for a more low-key experience. Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys, situated where the island chain takes its westward swing past Marathon, are promoted as the perfect place for those who enjoy a more natural, quieter experience.

More than 60 years of preservation and responsible use of these islands have earned the Lower Keys the title of the Natural Keys. There are two national wildlife refuges, a national marine sanctuary and a state park in the Lower Keys that are surrounded by the marine environment the Keys are renowned for. But instead of the bars of Key West, visitors to the Lower Keys will find small resorts, quaint bed and breakfasts, vacation homes, RV parks, campgrounds and eclectic restaurants.

It’s a more relaxing scene. But while it might be calm and quiet on shore, the fishing can be off the chain.

To south lie the Atlantic Ocean and the Florida Straits. With strong Gulf currents pushing through and around these islands, the waters off the Lower Keys are one of the best kept secrets in fishing. A mere 45-minute run from the docks will put you on sailfish, dolphin, wahoo, kingfish, cero mackerel, blue and white marlin, snapper, grouper, barracuda, amberjack, sharks, tuna and bonita. And the boat traffic and fishing pressure are lighter than you’ll find anywhere else the fishing is this good.

To the north, the waters of the Gulf of Mexico provide a more sheltered fishery, where wrecks are loaded with cobia, permit, snapper, grouper, goliath grouper, barracuda and sharks.

But another thing that sets the Lower Keys apart from its neighbors are directional alignment and geography. The Lower Keys are made up of limestone strata rather than the fossilized coral of the upper and lower keys. The north to south alignment of these islands creates channels with shallow bays, flats and mangrove islands that are a flats angler’s dream. Tarpon, permit and bonefish are the primary targets, but sharks and barracuda abound as well.

At mile marker 33 on Highway 1, Big Pine Key makes a good base of operations for exploring the Lower Keys. It is about 30 minutes by car from Marathon or from the Key West International Airport. Several charter operations and fishing lodges operate on Big Pine Key, making it an ideal location to book a trip or launch your own boat.

Here, you’ll find all the great fishing you’d expect of the Florida Keys in a more natural and quiet setting.

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