Tricks and Tips on Fishing Dry Tortugas Head Boats

I hope this helps some one.

The trick on overnight head boats is to fish where there are less people. You will be able to move around once people start going to sleeping. Remember when fishing in the Tortugas more than likely you are paying a premium to fish there. I do not go there to sleep, but since your body does need it the trick is to sleep only when the boat is changing spots. Regardless of who knows this many will still choose to sleep so there will always be some extra elbow room available on these kind of trips.

The baits you can gather in the bridges or piers on the way to the head boat or charter boats will work; keep them iced down. Take a small cooler filled with ice and put a bucket of salt water to make a natural brine that will not burn the fish (using too much kosher salt may burn the eyes of the fish). Big pinfish, blue runners, rainbow runners, barjacks, small barracudas, almaco jacks, will all be good backup baits. Once the bait has been iced down for 10 minutes to half hour remove it and place it in water tight freezer or storage bags (the ones with zippers that lock water out). Layer the bottom of the cooler with ice, place the bait bags on top then add another layer of ice and keep doing so until there is no more bait. This should keep the bait fresh and will prevent it from getting too soft.


Presentation is key, a well butterflied bait is almost irresistible to the fish. Make sure you extract the bone spine and trim the fins to allow the bait to have a natural swimming presentation that will not be spining getting your line tangled up.

 For mutton snappers:

The best bait will be what you catch on the boat itself and that is flying fish, kingfish, blue runners,  mackerels, and bonitos (bleed the bonitos a bit so the strips will not attract sharks as much as they normally would). Yellow tails, lane snappers are also great. Use big steaks for big fish.

For groupers:

Big legal live yellow tails, lane snappers, (look at the fish pool rules since some boats do not count fish caught on live bait). Butter flied big yellow tails, lane snappers, mackerel, kingfish head, speedo heads, and big goggle eyes will work for groupers.

Buying Fresh Bait:

Fresh bait is key, not the rule. You have better chances using fresh caught bait than the old freezer burnt bait. If you need to purchase bait (goggle eyes and speedos) below is a list of Captains that sell it in Key West and near it. Sometimes the cheapest you can find live goggle eyes is at $40 bucks a dozen (which you will just put in an iced down cooler). Fresh is key! If for some reason you cannot find live gogs and or would get speedos just make sure that their eyes are not dried out. That is a good indication that the bait has not been in the freezer for months. Old frozen bait is a big shark attractor. Premium bait is not necessary, fresh ballyhoo and pinfish will do well too. I do like to bring a small amount of premium baits just in case the fish are picky. A variety of fresh bait is always good to have.
1. Don, Dangerous One, (Key West), 305.923.0468

2. Capt. Jeff D’ Stephano (Key West) 305.587.7644
3. Conrad (Marathon) 305.896.8763.
4. Capt George (Marathon) 954.296.0645
5. Capt. Bruce Anderson (Marathon) 305.360.2120


For ice you can go to Fanci Seafood Mile Marker 22.3 Overseas Hwy, Cudjoe Key 305-745-3887 tell them you are going on the Yankee capts the price should be 5 dollars for 50 pounds of ice. You will need to take your coolers with you. Ask if they have blocks of ices as well. A combination of a block of ice and cubed ice makes for longer ice retention.

Keep a cooler up on top of the boat filled with ice. You will be out there several days, ice is crucial to keep your bait fresh. Only ice in that cooler, it is to be opened only when you need more ice for your bait or food coolers.

You may already know most of this but just in case here it is:

To catch the bait on the boat, when things get slow assign one of your party at a time to catch bait when bait is present:

 Flying fish: Shrimping net or a small cast net. On the first night and if they get close to the boat, concentrate on catching them. These are valuable bait on these trips. Must be fresh from same day, they will dry out quickly. Butterflied flying fish are great but if the get big create plugs from them.

Kingfish, mackerels, and bonitos: you can use whole ballyhoo rigged with 3 hooks (flat lined) or with a bullet jig (red/white works great). Take one of each bullet head sizes: 1oz, 2oz, 3oz. You can also vertical or horizontally jig for them all day and at night, flashy 5 to 8 inch jigs will work in the day time and glowing ones or dark ones too at night.

 Blue runners and goggle eyes: You can vertical jig for blue runners with 2 to 5 inch jigs and you can also catch them with the gog sabikis, and Gogs with gog sabikis off course.

 Yellow tails and lane snappers for bait: Small strip pieces of kingfish, bonitos, shrimp, or squid will do.

© 2013


7 thoughts on “Tricks and Tips on Fishing Dry Tortugas Head Boats

  1. Dear Cudaman. I’m heading to Fort Meyer in Aug. I’m looking to book A spot on an overnight party boat to the Dry Tortuga’s. Year’s ago I went with the M.V. Fishfinder .Fishing was great. Paid for our trip selling our Black Fin tuna blitz. I can’t locate the Fishfinder . Who should I go with now?

  2. These are some great tips for fishing. I didn’t know that the best bait to attract sharks is old frozen bait, and that fresh bait is key. If I were to guess, it’s important to go the extra mile to make sure the bait is fresh in order to get the best catch. I’d be interested in learning more about how to keep your bait fresh.

  3. Cudaman you been very helpful I’m going down to tortugas in June 14 on the Andy Griffith 6 pack one thing I haven’t seen is was size sinkers to bring to hit bottom I know it depends on current and stuff but what is most common weight to use

  4. Cudaman, thanks for all the info you provide.
    I’m going on a Halfway Ledge trip on the Yankee soon, This is my first Yankee trip, I’m planning to concentrate on Slow Pitch most of the time but want to bring a bait rod as a plan B, what do you recommend me? Line, Leaders, Hooks, Bait etc…


    • Hi Homero, for slow pitch use 30 to 50 lb braid and 40lb leader. Use jigs that are 180 to 300 gram jigs. I prefer 200 gram jigs my self but you never know how the current will behave. For bait fishing use 50lb braid and 40 to 50 lb leader. Hooks size 5/0 to 7/0 straight line circle hooks are great. For bait take some oily baits like speedos and king mackerel. Ballyhoo will work and squid is provided in the boat. For weights a few 8 and ten ounce weights but always take a couple of 16 and 32 ounce bank sinkers. Hope that helps, good luck.

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