A person holding a bent fishing rod stands on a boat in clear, turquoise waters.
Fish on! Fishing is a great way to recreate in the park.

NPS Photo

Fishing in Dry Tortugas National Park

When Ponce de Leon discovered the islands of the Dry Tortugas he noted the abundant marine life including the sea turtles, and thus named these islands "Las Tortugas". Today you will still find the Dry Tortugas filled with abundant marine life, making Dry Tortugas National Park an excellent fishing destination.

What comes to mind when you think about fishing? Patience, relaxation, challenge, and memories are a few words often associated with fishing. You will find all that and a sense of stewardship, conservation, and preservation on this page. We want you to have an enjoyable time during your visit, and for those who come after you to fish. Take some time to explore, learn what the park has to offer and learn your responsibilities before casting a line or flicking a fly into the water.


Fishing In A Nutshell

Important things to know

  • Dry Tortugas National Park is in Monroe County, Florida State waters.

  • Dry Tortugas National Park is almost exclusively in Gulf of Mexico waters.

  • Spearfishing and lobstering is prohibited. If you enter park waters, all spearfishing gear should be disassembled and stored away.

  • "J" hooks are not permitted to be used. Only "circle" hooks may be used. (NOTE: There are no gear or supply shops once you arrive to the park.)
  • Fishing in the Research Natural Area is prohibited.

  • Large yellow buoys mark the Historic Use Area.

  • Fishing is permitted outside the Research Natural Area.

  • Florida Saltwater fishing license is required, unless you are under the age of 16 or a Florida resident senior over the age of 65.

  • For a complete list of current rules of regulations please see the FWC site. Valuable catch and release information can be found on the Florida Sea Grant site.

Fishing Locations

  • The seaplane beach east of the main dock, when the seaplane is not present.
  • Main dock, when the Yankee Freedom is not present.
  • Two westernmost finger piers, when they are unoccupied.
  • Either dinghy beach provided that fishing does not occur within 50 feet of the concrete wall of the historic docs and ruins previously used for loading coal.

All other areas of Garden Key are closed to fishing. Fishing from a boat is permitted within the one mile Historic Use Area of Garden Key.



Visitors to Dry Tortugas 16 or older must have a valid Florida fishing license. Licenses and other information about fishing regulations is available online at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website.

Fishing Regulations

Florida fishing regulations apply in Dry Tortugas National Park, including the requirement that people 16 or older have a valid Florida fishing license.

For Florida fishing regulations please visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website.

The following are prohibited, as per National Park Service regulations:

  • Commercial fishing, except where specifically authorized by Federal statutory law.
  • Fishing by the use of drugs, poisons, explosives, or electricity.
  • Digging for bait.
  • Failing to return carefully and immediately to the water from which it was taken a fish that does not meet size or species restrictions or that the person chooses not to keep. Fish so released shall not be included in the catch or possession limit: Provided, that at the time of catching the person did not possess the legal limit of fish.
  • Fishing from or within 200 feet of a public raft or float designated for water sports, or within the limits of locations designated as swimming beaches, surfing areas, or public boat docks, except in designated areas.
  • Introducing wildlife, fish or plants, including their reproductive bodies, into a park area ecosystem. This includes the discarding and/or dumping of bait and bait buckets.
  • The use or possession of fish, wildlife or plants for ceremonial or religious purposes, except where specifically authorized by Federal statutory law, or treaty rights.
  • Except as designated below, fishing with a net, spear, or weapon in the salt waters of park areas shall be in accordance with State law.

The following apply only within Dry Tortugas National Park:

  • Private boaters are required to file a boat permit at Garden Key before fishing within the park. Please visit the Boating webpage for additional information.

Only the following may be legally taken:

  • Fin fish by closely attended hook-and-line.
  • Bait fish by closely attended hook and line, dip net, or cast net and limited to 5 gallons per vessel per day.
  • Shrimp may be taken by dip net or cast net.
  • Only legally obtained finfish and shrimp may be caught and reduced to harvest. This includes wildlife reduced to harvest for use as bait.
  • Spearfishing and harvesting lobster are prohibited. Legally taken speared fish or lobster obtained outside the park must be reported prior to entering park waters. Once inside the park boundary, the reporting vessel must transit through to its intended final anchoring/mooring location without stopping or allowing its passengers/crew to enter the water until said mooring location is reached.

The following are prohibited:

  • Possessing lobster within the boundaries of the park, unless the individual took the lobster outside park waters and has the proper State/Federal licenses and permits. Vessels with legally taken lobster aboard which was taken outside the park may not have persons overboard in park waters. The presence of lobster aboard a vessel in park waters, while one or more persons from such vessel are overboard, constitutes prima facie evidence that the lobsters were harvested from park waters in violation of this chapter.
  • Taking fish by pole spear, Hawaiian sling, rubber powered, pneumatic, or spring loaded gun or similar device known as a speargun, air rifles, bows and arrows, powerheads, or explosive powered guns. Operators of vessels within the park must break down and store all weapons described in this paragraph so that they are not available for immediate use.
  • Use of a hand held hook, gig, gaff, or snare, except that a gaff may be used for landing a fish lawfully caught by hook and line when consistent with all requirements in this section, including size and species restrictions.
  • Taking, possessing, or touching any ornamental tropical fish or marine life.
  • Dragging or trawling a dip net or cast net.
  • The use of nets except as provided in the previous section.

Specific fishing area regulations:

  • Fishing from the land bridge between Garden Key and the Bush Key sign on the harbor side only is permitted. To ensure safety and to avoid conflicting use, pedestrians have right of way over those engaged in fishing activities.
  • Fishing is permitted from the two easternmost visitor courtesy piers, provided that they are not occupied by a private vessel. In that case, fishing by the occupants of the boat is permissible.
  • Fishing from the main dock is allowed when the Yankee Freedom Ferry is not present.
  • Fishing from the dinghy beach immediately adjacent to and east of the main dock is allowed.
  • Fishing from the seaplane beach is allowed when the seaplane is not present.

Fishing area prohibitions:

  • Fishing is prohibited from any finger pier displaying the signage “Government Use Only” or “NPS Use Only” at Garden Key.
  • Fishing off the Garden Key Dock when the concession ferry is docked is prohibited.
  • Fishing off Bush Key is prohibited.
  • Fishing off or into any closed area is prohibited. Some of the closed areas include the designated swimming area, the “Coral Special Protection Zone” and “Shark Special Protection Zone”.

The following waters and areas are closed to fishing:

  • The Research Natural Area (RNA).
  • Garden Key moat.
  • Within any swimming and snorkeling areas designated by buoys.
  • Within 50 feet of the historic coaling docks.
  • Helipad areas, including the gasoline refueling dock.

The following areas are closed to the public:

  • The elkhorn (Acropora palmata) and staghorn (Acropora prolifera) coral patches adjacent to and including the tidal channel southeast of Long and Bush Keys and extending to 100 yards from the exterior edge of either patch.
  • Hospital and Long Keys.

Aquatic Invasive Species

Aquatic invasive species are not native to our ecosystem. Their introduction causes, or is likely to cause, harm to the economy, the environment, or to human health. Aquatic invasive species are a growing risk to parks and their values. In the United States alone, there are more than 250 non-native aquatic species.

You can help keep the Park free of Aquatic Invasive Species and protect the resources by adhering to some simple best practices outlined below.

  1. Wear reef-safe sunscreen or protective clothing in the water
  2. Dispose of trash properly to reduce marine debris
  3. Avoid touching, standing on or kicking corals, especially when snorkeling or diving
  4. Follow local fishing, diving and anchoring rules
  5. Follow clean boating principles
  6. Decontaminate dive and snorkel gear

Authorized Commercial Fishing Guides

For the most up-to-date listing of fishing guides who are authorized to operate within Dry Tortugas, please click here.

Fishing Throughout the National Park Service

We invite you to visit the Fish and Fishing website for more information about fish and fishing in the National Park Service. You will learn about conservation, different fish species, and parks that offer fishing.

Last updated: June 13, 2024

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