Spearfishing the Florida Keys on a Budget Guide

Spearfishing the Florida Keys on a Budget

This past May I took a month long trip with my wife to Marathon Key in the Florida Keys. This was the first time I had ever been to the keys so I wanted to do some exploring, and of course go spearfishing.

Since we had never been to the Florida Keys before we didn’t have any idea of where to go spearfishing, and since we were on a budget we couldn’t afford to hire a charter boat to put us on spots.

Spearfishing Gear Preparation for the Florida Keys

We were flying to the keys, so I first needed to figure out how to get my gear to our Airbnb. After looking at the weight and dimension of all our diving gear I was worried about the price of flying with everything, it seemed like it would be hundreds in oversized baggage fees. I decided to look into my other opportunities.

Shipping Spearfishing Gear

After checking the price of flying with our gear I checked with UPS and saw it would be a lot cheaper to send everything with them, and have it arrive at our rental house. I believe the total price was around $130 each way.  The price savings let me also pack some fishing poles. Using UPS was nice since they have reasonably priced shipping insurance also, so I wasn’t very worried about something happening. FedEx would work great too I’m sure, I would stay away from USPS since they lose your stuff 5x as often.

Consolidating Spearfishing Gear

When we started packing for our trip we noticed our dive flags seemed like the largest piece of equipment. We decided to order some inflatable dive flags. This was perfect for what we needed. We got some full size inflatable flags and floats. I’m really happy we did this. While I prefer my hard dive floats, the inflatable ones are so much better for traveling. If you’re curious about a good dive flag set up you can check out my dive float and flag set up.

Do You Need a Wetsuit for Spearfishing Marathon Florida in May?

I wasn’t too sure if we would need wetsuits since we had never been. Online forums seemed to have mixed feelings about what to expect from the water temperature. We opted to bring our 2 / 3 shorties. I think shorties were perfect, we never got cold, but were never too hot. The biggest annoyance with using a shortie is we still had to bring weights on our weight belts. Mainly because of the cost increase from UPS.

What Speargun to Bring to Marathon Florida?

If you have read my other articles it won’t surprise you that I brought my Rob Allen 800 Series Snapper Railgun and you guessed it, my Rob Allen 800 Series Aluminum Tuna Railgun as back up.. Since I had never been to the keys before I didn’t overthink the gun part. I know there are tons of fish much too big for these guns, but I wasn’t expecting to do any blue water spearing. Also there are a lot of smaller snapper that these guns are actually big for. We were mainly diving from shore or a kayak, so the biggest shootable fish we ran into was 30”.

Packing Our Gear

To be honest when it came to actually packing the gear I just shoved everything into 2 cardboard boxes. I probably could have consolidated a little better but I was so excited I just packed everything fast. Since UPS mainly uses weight as the determination for price I don’t think it made that big of a difference.

Finding Spearfishing Spots from Shore in the Florida Keys

Finding spots was 100% the hardest part about the whole trip. I spent countless hours searching online for anything. The best I could find was a couple Reddit threads that gave very little information. Not a surprise since no one is going to give up their spots. I ended up finding some guy's email on Reddit and sent him an email asking for spots. He shared with me some information on how to find potential spots. Lucky for you, I’m going to share that information with you.

How to Look for Reefs close to shore in the Keys

Before I jump into this, I can guarantee you a Keys local will be much better at explaining this. But this is what I did to find spots and it brought me some nice fish.

Using Google Maps to Find Spearfishing Spots

If you are going to use Google maps you need to make sure you are on the “satellite” view. Keep in mind that you can really only use Maps for the Atlantic side, the Gulf side doesn't show much. The other thing to realize is Google maps stops working at about 30’ water depth. After 30’ you can’t see the bottom well enough to find reefs. 

Sand is easy to see on Maps, bad news is you aren’t looking for sand. Just like Spearfishing for Striped Bass, you are looking for structure. Another thing you’ll see while you’re looking is sea grass, and seaweed. 

The difference between sea grass, seaweed, and coral is that coral have much stronger edges. They usually come off the sea floor 3-4 feet so it creates a harder edge than you’d see on seaweed or grass.

Another characteristic of coral is they often have a sand halo around them. The fish in the coral swim around creating paths. They will look like halos around the coral. If you find a sand halo and hard edges, you’re looking at coral. 


The image belows shows the halos around the coral. Also if you zoom in you can see some nice crisp edges.

Using Google Maps to Find Spearfishing Spots

Using a Nautical Depth Chart to Find Spearfishing Spots

The other tool that is incredibly important when searching for spearfishing spots is a Nautical Depth Map. If it’s your first time going you will want to plan how deep you will need to dive. NOt everyone can dive 60’ deep, so it’s better to plan and not go to a spot and realize it’s way too deep.


Using a Nautical Map to Find Spearfishing Spots in the Florida Keys

Plan How To Get to a New Spearfishing Spot

After finding some spots, I noticed it was going to be around a mile swim from shore to get to where I wanted to dive. While this is okay, it definitely gets tiring. I knew renting a boat wasn’t in my budget, but I thought a kayak might work perfectly. Spoiler, it did.

Renting a Kayak for a Month in the Florida Keys

Before I get into this, I should mention I rented a truck when we landed at the airport in Miami for the month. Regardless of being able to get a kayak I thought having wet spearfishing gear in a normal rental car wouldn’t be a great idea. I am not sure if it is only me, but renting the truck was the same price as a compact car. The only price difference was of course the amount of gas I had to use. I rented through Avis with no problems, if you’re curious about your options. They also have an office at the small airport in Marathon if you have any problems or want to switch cars during your trip.

Where to Rent a Kayak in Marathon Key Florida

I am not affiliated with any Kayak place I mention, I am only stating my experiences.

I first went to Keys Kayaks and the price was going to be pretty high. The owner didn’t have a deal for a month long kayak rental, the best they had was a weekly rate. So he quoted us on 4 weeks of rent. I understand this, but I was pretty bummed that the price was high and the owner didn’t seem to care about doing business with us. Something else I didn’t like about this was the owner was very pushy trying to sell us on a kayak tour. Saying stuff like alligators will come get you if you gte lost in the mangroves. He must have mentioned the kayak tour 25 times in the 10 minutes we were there. We decided to look for another rental place.

I then went to Wheels-2-Go and didn’t get the owner, but a manager was there. The manager was incredibly friendly and gave us a great deal on a tandem kayak for the whole month. He also threw in a free single kayak for the week my father was going to come visit. I was very happy with the deal he gave us and he also gave us some tips on cool mangroves to check out. I highly recommend them for price and service. 

Before renting the Kayaks we went to Home Depot to get some nice straps. Probably spent $12 on them and also got a long cable cord and a lock so we could lock the kayak on our truck since our Airbnb had HOA rules that didn’t let us store the kayaks anywhere but the truck. 

So now we have our kayak, and some ideas of where to go spearfishing, you better believe we went out that day. The first time we went out we put our kayaks in at Sombrero beach and started paddling out to some reef heads we found on Google Maps. 

Spearfishing The Florida Keys From a Kayak

This was my first time spearfishing off of a kayak, honestly it went really well, 100 times better than swimming out from shore. Most reef heads I could find in the keys seemed to be about a mile out. 

Gear Needed to Spearfish from a Kayak

Take in mind we did not rent fishing kayaks, these were regular ocean kayaks, with no fishing rod holders or anything. If you are on a budget, I assume this is what you will rent also. A couple things you will need to figure out before you take your rental kayak out, an anchor and straps to secure your gear.

DIY Kayak Anchor

Renting an anchor at Keys Kayaks was something like $15 a day or something outrageous. At Wheels-2-Go we forgot to ask. So we went into our Airbnb’s recycling and found an old gallon milk jug, as well as some other plastic bottles. We filled these containers up with small pebbles and then added sand to them. 

We then brought about 100’ of 200 lb cord from Home Depot and made 2 separate anchors. When we went out and tossed the anchors in they worked great. Keep in mind the ocean is very calm in Marathon during May.

Securing Spearfishing Gear To a Kayak

In order to make sure we didn’t lose any fins, masks, weight belts or guns we knew we had to secure everything to the kayak. While at Home Depot we also bought a pack of bungee cords. I think we got a pack of 6 or 8 of them. This was perfect, the kayaks had a rope line going around their perimeter, letting us secure stuff to the kayak with ease.

Securing the Spearguns

I secured the Spearguns to the perimeter line using bungee cords. I ran the guns parallel to the kayak, wrapping the bungee cord around the gun and the line multiple times. The below picture isn't great it but it shows what I mean by wrapping the speargun with the bungee cord.

Securing a Speargun to a Kayak

Securing Fins and Masks

Fins and masks were very easy to secure as well. I simply put the bungee cord through the foot holes in the fins and the strap of the mask, then secured them to the perimeter line.

Securing a Weight Belt On a Kayak

The key to the weight belt is to close it into its belt form. Now that it’s in a loop I could run the cord through it and secure it to the kayak.

Tow Your Dive Flag

Towing the dive flag behind the kayak was effortless. It easily strap on to the kayak's handle with the tuna clips form the float line.

Towing a Dive Flag and Float from a Kayak when Spearfishing

The above picture shows many of the aspects I just talked about. The fins are attached to the front of the kayak, the float is towing behind. And all the other spearfishing equipment is being straps to the kayak, and around my father's legs. For the Tandem kayak we did the same exact thing.

Getting Back Into the Kayak After Spearfishing

This may seem obvious to some people, but understanding it takes real effort to get into a kayak while it’s in the water is important. I found it most helpful to keep my fins on in order to get a couple strong kicks in order to get my body out of the water and into the kayak. My wife and father were both able to do it quite easily also, but someone a little bigger or out of shape might have a more difficult time.

Storing the Fish on the Kayak

Again this may seem obvious, but since I had never spearfished with sharks around or off of a kayak before it wasn’t. When you spearfish in the keys there will be sharks, maybe not every dive, but they are around. This is especially true if you are shooting fish, as everyone knows sharks can smell blood, also the movement of an injured fish seems to bring them in a lot faster than blood.

Since sharks are around you need to store your fish in the kayak. This means you need something to keep them out of the hot sun. We didn’t have much room left on the kayak so we had a bag and brought some ice. This worked for our 2-3 hour dives, but would not work for much longer as the ice melts fast in that sun. This was a new concept for me since I’m used to shooting a fish and putting it on a stringer attached to my dive float.

Don’t be Afraid to Ask Locals

The locals in the keys were incredibly friendly. It seemed like if you showed a local respect they went out of their way to show you a good time. The bait shop in Marathon didn’t seem super friendly, but the people at the dive shop were very nice and helpful with what to expect when we went out.

My wife and I started talking to some neighbors at our Airbnb and even gave them some fish. A couple days later they ended up inviting us to go out on their boat with them. They took us fishing in the gulf side and we even got to jump in with our spearfishing gear and shoot a nice Snapper.

You might not always get invited on a boat, but don’t be afraid to be friendly and ask locals for advice, it will likely get you on a better spot that you are able to find yourself. Also don’t be afraid to leave a comment under this post or ask me a question about diving the Florida Keys on the Contact Page. Thanks for reading!

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1 comment

I loved your story. I practice spearfishing but I’m a few good years away from this fascinating sport. I was looking for information on spearfishing in the Florida Keys when I found your article. I’m Brazilian, but I’ve lived in Orlando for a few years and I’m planning my first trip to the Keys in June, when I’ll be back to practice spearfishing. I will still need information about places allowed for this activity, if there is a way to find some points very close to the coast to go swimming, etc.

Jose Eduardo Cuzzuol

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