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September 02, 2011

Fishing the Key West Wrecks

The misfortunes of ships in the southern Gulf of Mexico have become a blessing for opportunistic anglers.

Cobia and Sharks
Trosset adds that the big bull sharks that inhabit the Gulf often have large schools of cobia tagging along with them. “You should always have a rod rigged and ready to cast at a passing cobia,” he said. Being opportunistic is key when maximizing your opportunities in this situation.

RT often deploys a kite with a live bait or two dangling beneath it, drawing explosive strikes from kingfish on the surface. He likes to drop a live pinfish down on a weighted rig to entice strikes from grouper, African pompano or amberjack, and he usually keeps a couple of rods rigged with top-water lures for casting to fish. There’s typically a lot going on in this kind of fishing and that’s what makes it so much fun.

If you want a sure thing, stick with the live bait. It’s hard to miss when presenting a well-rigged threadfin or pilchard over one of these wrecks, but if you prefer the purity of casting artificials, that works well too. Whether you like the excitement of a surface strike on a top-water plug, or the primal tug you get on the strike when deep jigging, it’s all possible over a wreck. You can even experience all of the above in a single day.

Second Generation

Over the years, we’ve caught more than a dozen different species on Key West wrecks, and some truly large fish. Most of that fishing occurred on Trosset’s boat, and his kids and ours grew up fishing together. Now, RT’s son Chris has become a world-class Key West captain himself, so you have two Trossets to choose from when booking a trip!

At the end of our latest day with RT, Poppy and I had a dozen or more large king mackerels on our score sheet, along with amberjacks, sharks and barracudas. If that sounds like something you’d like to experience firsthand, try Key West wreck fishing. It’s one of the most exciting fisheries found in Florida or anywhere else, and it's but one aspect of Key West angling, among many others.

The Wrecks of Key West
Many boats have gone to a watery grave near Key West. The GPS numbers on some are well-kept secrets, while others are widely known. The four best-known wrecks are all ships sunk in 1942 by Allied mines. These include:

  • Edward Luckenbach, an American freighter.
  • Sturtevant, an American four-stack destroyer.
  • Gunvor (spelled Gunbor on some charts), a Norwegian freighter.


  • Bosiljka, a Yugoslavian freighter.

The coordinates for these four ships, and for many other wrecks, can be found on this chart:

Waterproof Charts #9F

Many shrimp boats have sunk out there too, including Cyclops, Craig, Teaser and Pot Boat. These may be marked on charts simply as “wreck,” so trial and error when fishing on your own can sometimes pay big dividends.

Rods: Stout spinning rods capable of applying pressure to large fish and handling 30-pound braid.

Reels: Large-capacity spinning reels with ample drag to handle 30-pound braid.

Line: 20- to 30-pound braid or monofilament.

Leaders: 30- to 50-pound fluorocarbon for permit, snapper and cobia, 60- to 80-pound mono for grouper. Wire leader for king mackerel and barracuda.

Hooks: 3/0 to 5/0 circle hooks. Florida law requires the use of a venting tool and a dehooking device when fishing for reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico, and you must use nonstainless-steel circle hooks when using natural baits.