Top 5 Fish to Fish for at Hawks Cay

October 05, 2020





For the last 16 years, Hawks Cay Resort has been the home to the television show, Saltwater Experience.  Co-host Tom Rowland has fished all over the world in pursuit of both fresh and saltwater species. Professional fishing tournaments have led him to some of the best locations in the United States in pursuit of Redfish. When asked what his favorite location is to fish and why, he’ll tell you it’s the Florida Keys and all that this location offers.  However, it’s not just anywhere in the Florida Keys. He’ll tell you the very best place to fish in the Keys is right in the middle, which is why he considers Hawks Cay a home away from home. Read on to learn why Hawks is a great fishing destination, and Tom’s top fish to fish for on your next visit.

Located on Duck Key, Hawks Cay Resort is a perfect location for fishing, sight-seeing, and diving to both ends of the Florida Keys chain. Offshore fishing at Hawks Cay is easily accessible with the reef being only a few miles away. Inshore fishing begins right outside the marina with tarpon, bonefish, permit, barracuda, snook and redfish being available within sight of the Resort. Though there is a great variety out in the water, here are my top five favorite fish to catch near Hawks Cay:


The Bonefish is a fish that is sought after worldwide, and we have some of the biggest bonefish in the Florida Keys. Bonefish range from Key West to Biscayne Bay and Hawks Cay is located exactly in the middle of the Florida Keys making any area accessible within a day trip. However, some of the best bonefish flats in the Florida Keys are located right in front of the Resort or within sight of the resort. I used to drive 1 1/2 hours from Key West to fish right next to the resort specifically for bonefish. Permit also inhabit the same flats and there are even places where you could catch a grand slam without moving the boat within 1000 yards of the marina. Seasons for bonefish are good weather days all winter long, but the best bone fishing is found from March-November.


The Florida Keys is fortunate to have the tarpon migration flood through and Hawks Cay sits at the epicenter of Florida Keys Tarpon fishing. We have shot many shows on tarpon fishing and so many of them have been shot with the marina in the background. Catching the tarpon on the flats is very popular with fly tackle but many people prefer to fish at the nearby Long Key Bridge where the tarpon stack up like cord wood. Additionally, the surrounding areas hold large tarpon during the migration, and you will see lots of giant tarpon right in the marina. The migration of the largest tarpon begins in February (weather dependent) and gets really going in March-June. Large fish can be caught all year round, but the numbers start to thin out for the large migrating fish and anglers begin to focus on the smaller, baby tarpon. These fish are 5-50 lbs and inhabit the bridges, flats, mangrove shorelines and even the Hawks Cay Marina for the rest of the year.


This is my favorite fish to fish for. The permit makes up the third leg of the Grand Slam (Bonefish, Tarpon, Permit in one day is a Grand Slam). They are mostly crustacean eaters so we use live crabs or live shrimp for the best results. Fly fisherman also target the permit and it is known as the most difficult fish to catch on fly. The flats surrounding the Hawks Cay Resort are some of the best in the Florida Keys, but sometimes fishing for these fish can be really hot in other locations either closer to Key West, 7 Mile Bridge or Biscayne Bay. Being located in the exact middle of the Florida Keys makes a trip up or down the keys in search of permit very easy with either putting the boat on the trailer at the ramp at the resort or taking a boat ride to find the best tides and flats for permit.

Located a few miles offshore from Hawks Cay, the USS Thunderbolt wreck is a perfect spot for catching permit during spawning season in the month of April. During this month, the permit will gravitate towards deeper waters, and can be seen near wrecks, and reefs.


Snapper are a foundational gamefish in the Florida Keys. These fish are fun for anglers of all ages and skill levels. The Grey Snapper was each of my children first fish to ever catch and they are the first fish of countless other beginning anglers. The snapper is fun for everyone because the small ones are aggressive, and anyone can catch them but the big ones require a lot more skill and stealth. There are many species of Snapper found in the Florida Keys and they are all very good to eat.


If you think you’re ready for this challenge, shark fishing at Hawks Cay should be at the top of your list. We fish for Nurse, Lemon, Blacktiph, Bull, Hammerhead, Bonnethead, and Tiger Sharks throughout the year around Hawks Cay. Sharks are a fun fish to fish for because there are some that are very easy to catch and others that are much more difficult to catch making them great for all anglers. We operate 100% catch and release on the sharks. Sharks fishing is a great activity out of Hawks Cay and anglers and non-anglers both enjoy seeing them in the crystal-clear water of the Florida Keys.

Don’t forget to watch Saltwater Experience  or subscribe to The Tom Rowland Podcast at

See you on the water,

-Tom Rowland