Fishing the Backside of Paradise in Key West and the Lower Keys

A Bonefish caught on the backside of paradise in the Lower Florida Keys

Key West and the Lower Keys is a special place. Stories I have heard include topics such as fishing in the waters surrounding Key West and drinking in the legendary bars made famous by characters like Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Jimmy Buffett and Captain Tony. Many of these stories involve fishing offshore for big game fish. Successful trips always end with pictures at the dock highlighting the catch and stories of the Marlin and other big species caught in deep ocean water just a few miles off of the island in the Atlantic Ocean.

These trips are a lot of fun and folks enjoy the day on big sport fishing boats. Chartering is big business in the Keys and can be costly, but there are alternatives to consider that are less expensive. It’s time to talk about the backside of paradise.

The backside of paradise is the water and small islands that lay behind Key West and the Lower Keys on the Gulf side, north of the Atlantic. It is a place where fish are plentiful and the tourists are few.

Many who visit the Florida Keys often stay in the crowded tourist areas and never get to see and appreciate the natural beauty of this area. Backwater fishing provides people with an opportunity to get close to the aquatic life, enjoy the splendor and catch fish at a reasonable cost.

Fishing in the backwater behind Summerland Key and Sugarloaf Key with an experienced guide provides both catch and release game fish as well as fish to eat. Fly fisherman understand the beauty of this place. It is popular with those who love to throw a fly, although the technique is slightly different than using dry flies on mountain streams in the north.

However, the backside of paradise isn’t just for fly fishing. People who like to use spinning rods and baitcasters will have just as much fun and will enjoy their time on the water. On recent trips, the group I fish with has caught plenty of fish including; Jack Crevalle, Pompano, Sea Trout, Ladyfish, Yellowtail Snapper, Mutton Snapper, Snook, Barracuda, Sharks, Permit and Bonefish.

In a typical half day charter on a small flats boat that can accommodate two or three people, exhaustion may set in from reeling in all the fish. The water is pristine with a beauty seldom seen elsewhere in the world. Trips here have always been relaxing and productive. I heard that time spent on the water in Key West and Lower Florida Keys does not count against your time here on Earth and I believe it.

Quite honestly, I really don’t care if I catch fish or not. Watching wildlife in its natural habitat, breathing in the salt air and watching the sun sink into the water is well worth the cost of a charter. This place truly is the backside of paradise! Give it a try and see if the backside of paradise changes the way you look at fishing in Key West and the Lower Florida Keys.

For more information on fishing on the backside of paradise contact Capt. Steve Hancock of Key West Fly and Spin Fishing Charters at or Capt. Justin Rea of StingRea Charters at

Howard Livingston & the Mile Marker 24 Band, a local musician who relocated to Summerland Key, sing songs about this area, it helps those of us living in the north get through winter. One of his songs is titled the Backside of Paradise. Check out all of his music at

Go Have Some Fun Out There!


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