Top 17 South Florida Game Fish
Fishing Ladies list of the Top 17 South Florida Game Fish
This post lists the top 17 South Florida game fish species. Anglers fishing in South Florida have the opportunity to catch many different fantastic game fish. The offshore fishing in this area is legendary. Anglers troll for bill fish and tuna and bottom fish for grouper and snapper offshore. Snook and tarpon top the list of inshore species.
Fishing Ladies South Florida expert Jenny Schmitt
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Jenny lives in West Palm Beach where she was born and raised. Like most native Floridians, the water and fishing is a major part of her life. While Jenny does some inshore fishing, chasing big fish in the deep blue waters offshore is her passion. She is a well rounded and skilled angler, catching most of the available offshore species. She is sharing her pictures along with her local knowledge.
South Florida offshore game fish species
South Florida is the offshore fishing capital of the United States, and perhaps the world. It offers anglers a wide variety of fishing opportunities and species. Fishing is usually good all year long. The fact that the Gulf Stream comes so close to shore is a huge component in the great fishing that this area experiences. Different seasons provide different opportunities. This section will cover the species and best time of year to encounter them.
South Florida pelagic game fish
Several of the top South Florida game fish are found in open water. Bill fish, dolphin, tuna, and mackerel are examples of these types of fish. They roam the open ocean, following bait fish and drifting with the Gulf Stream currents. While this sounds random, and is, there are features which will hold fish. Current rips, temperature changes, color changes, and drastic changes in bottom contour are all features which can concentrate these fish.
No other fish represents South Florida fishing better than the sailfish. Many tournaments center around this fantastic game fish! They average fifty pounds, but fish to a hundred pounds are encountered. Anglers troll with lures and baits and cast or free line live baits. The kite fishing technique was invented here for catching sailfish. The deep, clear water of the Gulf Stream is a prime factor. Winter is the prime time. Many anglers like to fish when the seas are up on a strong north east wind.
There has been a huge increase in the success of anglers targeting swordfish in the last few years. Previously, the only time these fish were caught was at night. However, daytime techniques have developed. Anglers fish very deep during the day. This has dramatically increased the popularity of this type of fishing. It is still difficult, but the success rate has dramatically improved. As with sailfish, winter is the best time to target them.
Dolphin fish, also known as mahi-mahi, are one of the most popular South Florida game fish. They are beautiful, fast, grow to fifty pounds, and are terrific eating. Most anglers troll for them with feathers, lures, and rigged ballyhoo. However, once a school is located, they can be lured to the boat with chum and cast to with lighter tackle. Dolphin are caught year round. However, April, May, and June are generally the best times. Fall can be good as well.
Wahoo are the largest member of the mackerel family and are one of the fastest fish in the sea. They are VERY fast! Most wahoo are caught by anglers trolling with lures. They often exceed ten knots when doing so. The occasionally take live baits meant for king mackerel and other species. Wahoo will relate to current breaks, water temperature breaks, and bottom contour changes. Full moons in summer are the prime times to target wahoo, though they can be caught all year long.
5) Blackfin tuna
Black fin tuna are a very hard-fighting and popular game fish in South Florida. These smaller cousins to the yellowfin tuna are caught year-round, though spring and early summer are the best times to target them. Blackfin tuna often relate to structure such as reefs, wrecks, and hard bottom ledges. Ten pounds is a decent fish. They are caught trolling and by chunking with cut fish.
6) Yellowfin tuna
Yellowfin Tuna are a terrific pelagic game fish! They are caught in good numbers in South Florida from April through August. They are similar in habits to blackfin tuna. However, they grow much larger, to several hundred pounds. Most yellowfin tuna are caught by anglers trolling. They can be chummed into range and fooled with cut bait. There are few things on the planed that are better eating that a fresh yellowfin tuna steak!
7) False albacore
False albacore, also known as bonita and fat alberts, are a very fun, hard-fighting fish. They resemble tuna, however they are not considered good to eat. False albacore are often found quite close to shore. They are a terrific game fish on light tackle. False albacore also are favored by experienced anglers for bait. They are a year-round species, with spring and fall being best.
8) King mackerel
King mackerel are a very popular pelagic species in Florida. They do take a bit of a back seat in South Florida, as they are so many other species available. They are good to eat, but most anglers have them behing dolphin, tuna, and other fish. However, they are great fun to catch on medium tackle. Kings make a long, blistering initial run. Large specimens are called ‘smokers” for this reason. King mackerel tournaments are plentiful throughout the state. This increases their popularity. Spring and fall are best, and they are found deeper in the summer and winter.
9) Spanish mackerel
These smaller cousins to the other mackerels are excellent game fish in their own right. They put up a great battle on light tackle. Spanish mackerel average around 3 pounds and grow to over 10 pounds. Fast moving shiny lures such as spoons will entice them. Small live bait fish are productive as well. Chumming over the inshore reefs will draw them to the boat. Schools can be seen feeding on the surface close to shore. Inlets will hold fish as well. They are very good to eat when put on ice immediately and prepared that day.
South Florida bottom fish species
Bottom fishing is very productive for South Florida anglers. Grouper and snapper are the primary targets, though amberjack and other species will also be taken. While these fish are great fun to catch, many anglers do it for their fantastic food value. Grouper and snapper are terrific eating! Bottom fishing is very basic, as anglers drop a baited hook with some weight down to bottom structure. However, it is not nearly that simple. Presentation, anchoring, baits, and tackle all need to be spot-on.
Grouper and snapper are available to South Florida anglers all year long. However, they do migrate in and out from shore, depending on conditions. Generally speaking, when it is hot, they will move offshore. As it cools off, these species will move to the reefs and ledges closer to shore. Water clarity and forage availability are also factors.
Grouper are a very popular bottom fish in South Florida. They are found on all types of bottom structure. Grouper are caught on natural ledges, wrecks, and reefs. They feed on bait fish and crustaceans. There are over a dozen different grouper species. Black grouper, red grouper, and gag grouper are the three most abundant and popular South Florida grouper species. Grouper are fantastic table fare!
Gag and red grouper are caught in relatively shallow water. Many of the other grouper species are found in much deeper water. Anglers can anchor in shallow water. That is not practical in deeper water, so most anglers drift over likely spots. Live bait fish and cut bait work well. Heavy tackle is used to winch the fish up out of the heavy cover.
Bottom fishing rules and regulations change constantly. Anglers can check the current Florida Fishing regulations on the FWC website. Grouper are taken all year long. They tend to move shallow in cooler weather and offshore in the warmer months.
South Florida is blessed with outstanding snapper fishing. Like grouper, there are quite a few different snapper species. The top snapper species include yellowtail snapper, gray (or mangrove) snapper, lane snapper, hogfish, mutton snapper, and red snapper. Mangrove snapper can be found both inshore and offshore. Yellowtail, hogfish, and mutton snapper can be caught in fairly shallow water. Red snapper are caught in fairly deep water. All snapper species are terrific on the table!
Snapper are caught by anglers using live or cut bait. Most are caught on bottom structure, though some snapper, yellowtail and mangrove in particular, can be chummed up to the surface. The same bottom structures that hold grouper will attract snapper as well. They can be a bit fussy and at times lighter tackle is required to fool them.
Hogfish, also known as hog snapper, are an unusual looking fish. They are also incredibly good eating. For years, anglers thought they would not eat and were only taken by anglers spearfishing. However, techniques evolved and anglers not catch them on rods and reels. Slowly lowering a shrimp on a light jig head will fool them.
Amberjack, known by locals as “reef donkeys”, are one of the hardest fight South Florida game fish. They are mostly associated with larger wrecks, but can be found over ledges as well. Live and cut bait lowered to the bottom will catch them. Some anglers use butterfly jigs to catch them as well. They are very good eating. They are available year round.
Cobia are a kind of nomadic game fish. They are found all along both coasts in the southeast. Cobia are normally found over wrecks and reefs, but can be anywhere, even inshore on the flats. They are terrific eating with firm, white meat. These fish grow to over 100 pounds. Cobia are often targets of opportunity as they have a habit of just showing up on the surface. They are also seen on the surface around navigational markers. Late winter and spring are the best times to target them in South Florida.
South Florida inshore game fish species
Snook are a prized inshore game fish in South Florida. They are a structure oriented species that grow quite large. The state record is 44 pounds. Bridges, docks, seawalls, jetties, mangrove shorelines and oyster bars are all structure that attract and hold snook. They can be caught on both artificial lures and live bait. Snook feed at night and fishing around lighted docks and bridges is a very productive technique.
Snook are very sensitive to the cold. This is one reason that they flourish in South Florida. The myriad of backwater areas, rivers, residential canals, inlets, and bridges are perfect snook habitat. The current flow along with the abundance of forage are also factors. South Florida offers perhaps the best snook fishing in the United States.
Tarpon are perhaps the premier inshore game fish in Florida and throughout the world. They inhabit back water bays, inlets, and the coastal waters. Tarpon school up and are quite often sight cast to. This is tremendous sport! There are few opportunities in the world to cast to a fish that weighs over a hundred pounds with spinning or fly tackle. South Florida and the Florida Keys are often associated with tarpon fishing!
The sport of sight fishing originated in this area. Tarpon migrate north from the Keys, up the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. They can seen seen in “pods” of fish ranging from a half dozen to over a hundred. Anglers position the boat in front of the fish and present their lure, bait, or fly.
Redfish are perhaps the most popular inshore species in the southeast United States. They are often targeted by anglers sight fishing in shallow water. In South Florida, most redfish are caught by anglers fishing structure such as docks, bridges, and jetties. Live shrimp and baitfish, especially mullet are top baits. Artificial lures such as soft plastic baits on a jig head will fool them as well. Reds school up in big numbers in late summer. They move out into the inshore Atlantic Ocean. Late summer and fall are the best times to locate these schools of bull reds.
Flounder are not the hardest fighting fish, but they are prized non the less. The reason for their popularity is their very tasty fillets. They are a fish that lie on the bottom and ambush prey as it washed by with the current. They also relate to structure such as oyster bars, bridges, and docks. Live baits and lures that are fished close to the bottom work the best. Cooler months are generally the most productive.
16) Spotted sea trout
Spotted sea trout, known locally as “speckled trout” are a popular saltwater inshore game fish. They prefer grass flats, so the area just south of Miami is the best spot to target them. Trout can be found in other areas on the Intracoastal Waterway. Live shrimp, small bait fish, jigs, and plugs are the top baits.
17) Jack crevalle
Jack crevalle are the bar room brawlers on the inshore waters. Finesse is not in their vocabulary. The extensive canal system is a great spot to catch jacks in the winter on a breezy day. They are often found out on the beach on calm days, feeding on bait fish. The mullet run in the fall can attract some monster jacks!
In conclusion, this article on the top 17 South Florida game fish will help anglers catch more fish. What is your favorite South Florida species?