Florida Saltwater Fishing in Winter

Florida Saltwater Fishing in Winter, Species, Strategies, and Tips

This post will focus on Florida saltwater fishing in winter. While Florida is warmer than the rest of the country, we do experience winter. Fish migrations and feeding patterns change as well. Successful anglers understand these patterns and adapt to them. Winter fishing in Florida is about the weather, pure and simple. It is not unusual for it to be 78° with sun and a light breeze one day then cold and windy a couple days later. Sarasota fishing report The key to being successful when Florida inshore winter fishing is adapting to the changing conditions. Florida fish species have both local and seasonal migrations. Anglers that understand these migrations will have more success. Many species are available to Florida anglers fishing in winter. These species would include;

  • speckled trout
  • snook
  • redfish
  • sheepshead
  • jack crevalle
  • snapper
  • flounder
  • bluefish
  • grouper
  • ladyfish
  • black drum

Florida inshore winter fishing tackle

Sarasota family fishing charters Tackle for anglers Florida inshore winter fishing is pretty basic. A 7 foot medium action spinning rod with a 3000 series reel spooled up with 20 pound braid or 10 pound monofilament line will catch all but the largest inshore fish. Most anglers use a shock leader of 24 inches to 30 inches with 30 pound test being a good all-around strength. Both live bait and artificial lures produce in the wintertime. The days of cast netting pilchards and other bait fish on the flats are over.   Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page. Sarasota sheepshead fishing Live shrimp are by far the most popular and most productive live bait. The lead head jig and grub combination is the most widely used artificial lure. As water temperatures drop, fish metabolisms slow down. Therefore, angler presentations need to be slower and more deliberate as well. For that reason, jigs are extremely productive in the winter. Fish will often stage in holes in channels and other deeper areas. A jig slowly bounced along the bottom is a very natural presentation.

Florida winter weather patterns

Florida experiences cold fronts every week or so in the winter. The cycle is as follows. As the front move through, the wind will blow northwest fairly strongly, usually in the 20 to 30 mile-per-hour range. It is generally not safe to fish during these conditions. Inshore Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean waters will be rough and the water will be turned up in muddy. Flats will also be turned up, especially those near the passes and inlets. The day following the front, winds will have shifted to the Northeast along with high pressure. This will result in those “blue bird skies”with very few clouds. Fishing can often times be tough under the circumstances. Tides will also be extremely low, as northeast winds will actually blow the water out of the bays. Flats species will drop off of the flats due to the lower water and drop in water temperature. It will be quite chilly in the morning.

Florida saltwater fishing in winter is often best in the afternoon

Often times, afternoons when it warms up a bit and the tide comes in are your best bet. After couple days, the wind will shift east and southeast and temperatures will rise back up into the 70s. The water in the passes and inlets in the bays will settle down in clear up. Fishing is normally good on these days. Florida pompano fishing If it stays warm for several days, fish may move back up on the flats. As the next front approaches, the wind will shift out of the south. This is the best time to go fishing in the winter in Florida! Fish sense the change in barometric pressure and will feed up as the front approaches. South winds of 20 to 25 miles an hour can make fishing difficult. However, keeping safety in mind, this is a very productive time to fish. As the front approaches, the wind switches to the northwest and the cycle repeats itself.

Florida inshore winter fishing techniques

Anglers Florida inshore winter fishing will do well to think “deeper and slower”this time of year. Grass flats in 4 feet of water to 6 feet of water that are normally productive may not have fish on them. Speckled trout and other species will move off the flats and seek refuge in deeper holes and channels. Navigational channels that cut through a flat are good spots to find schools of trout and other species in the winter. As the fish drop off the flats, they will school up in bunches in the deeper water. It may take a little while to locate them, but once done, the action can be fast and furious. A jig bounced on the bottom or a live shrimp with a couple of split shot will be productive. Sarasota Florida fishing charters Passes and inlets will hold of lot fish in the winter as well. The water is generally deeper in the spots with an abundance of structure. Anglers bottom fishing with live shrimp will catch sheepshead, mangrove snapper, black drum, grouper, whiting, silver trout, and other species. The best time to bottom fish inlets is during the turn of the tide when the current eases up a bit. It is difficult fishing when the title flow is very strong.

Fishing bridges and docks

Bridges and docks will also produce a lot of fish in the wintertime in Florida. Dock fishing can be a bit overwhelming as there are so many to choose from. The best docks have some current flow and are in water around 10 feet deep. A dock isolated on a point with good current flow and 10 or 15 feet of water would be a prime spot. Bridges are also productive and are fairly easy to fish. Sarasota Florida fishing charters Basic bottom rigs work well when targeting fish around structure in the inlets and passes and under docks and bridges. A sliding sinker rig works well. The main line slides through the hole in an egg sinker, followed by a swivel. A 24 inch 30 pound test leader is used, followed by a live bait hook. The hook should be matched to the size of the bait being used. Anglers can purchase Capt Jim’s E-book, “Inshore Saltwater Fishing” for $5 by clicking on the title link. It is 23,000 words long and covers tackle, tactics, and species. A #1 hook is a good all-around size. Anglers can also use a “knocker rig”. In this rig the sinker slides all the way down and rest right on the eye of the hook. It might look odd, but it works really well and results in fewer hangups on the bottom. Another simple way to bottom fish is to simply use a jig head and adorn it with a shrimp.

Winter fishing the Florida flats

The grass flats will produce for anglers Florida inshore winter fishing as well. The key is to catch the flats on the best days. This would be several days after the front move through when the water has warmed up and cleared up a bit. Here in Sarasota where I fish, the deeper grass flats in 8 foot of water to 10 foot of water are the most productive. Redfish and gator trout can be found in potholes on the shallow flats, but this will take patience and persistence in the wintertime. Sarasota fishing charter Jigs produce very well for anglers drifting the deep grass flats in the winter. A 1/4 ounce jig casts well and will get down in the water column. I prefer the Bass Assassin line of baits, but there are many other manufacturers whose products produce well. A 3 inch to 4 inch shrimp tail or shad tail bait works well. Root beer, new penny, glow, chartreuse, and pink are all popular ineffective colors. Live shrimp certainly produce on the deep grass flats as well. Free lining the shrimp with a split shot or two is generally the best approach. Again, most fish will be found on flats in deeper water. This makes fishing a shrimp under a popping cork less effective. Free lining the shrimp out behind the boat as it drifts along is generally very productive.

Winter canal fishing

Creeks, rivers, and residential canals can be wintertime hotspots! Snook in particular will migrate up into these areas to escape the harsh conditions on the open flats. Jack crevalle, redfish, juvenile tarpon, and other species will move into these areas as well. Water temperature is often significantly warmer sometimes as much is six or eight degrees, in these areas. Docks are the primary cover and residential canals. Canals that dead-end and have lots of seawalls are often the best ones to fish. Sarasota river fishing Due to the lack of current flow and the concrete, water in the back ends of these canals is often a bit warmer. This will attract the fish. Most canals have fairly uniform depth due to the fact that they are dredged by man. Anglers fishing canals and winter used to different techniques; fishing live shrimp under docks and trolling. Anglers flipping a live shrimp under docks can expect to catch snook, redfish, drum, sheepshead, snapper, and other species. Slow trolling with plugs is a time-tested technique that will produce some trophy snook as well as big jacks, particularly on the East Coast of Florida.

Fishing Florida creeks and rivers in winter

Creeks and rivers are different story. Mother Nature built these and depth will constantly change. Fish will stage in the deeper holes, particularly on the low tide stages. Outside bends in creeks and rivers are prime spots. As anglers move further in land, the water can become brackish. This results in the opportunity for anglers to catch freshwater fish such as largemouth bass, Gar, and catfish. Artificial lures work well when fishing rivers and creeks. They allow anglers to cover a lot of water in a relatively short amount of time. Shallow diving jerk baits such as the Rapala X-Raps are excellent search baits. 1/8 ounce jig heads with a 5 inch or 6 inch jerk worm work well to thoroughly fish a deeper hole or once fish are located. Sarasota river fishing

Sheepshead and black drum fishing

This article will focus on sheepshead and black drum fishing. These two species are very similar in habits and appearance. Therefore, we will tackle both species in the same article. Sheepshead and black drum are found all along the coast of the United States from Texas around Florida, and north to New York. Both species feed primarily on crustaceans. Shrimp, fiddle crabs, sand fleas, and other crabs are top baits. Sheepshead and black drum are normally found around structure such as oyster bars, bridges, docks, seawalls, and wrecks and artificial reefs. Both species put up a decent tussle and are good eating. Inshore bays, tidal creeks and rivers, passes, and ledges, reefs, and wrecks in the inshore Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean all hold fish for anglers sheepshead and black drum fishing. Bottom fishing with live or frozen bait produces the vast majority of drum and sheepshead. Occasionally one will take an artificial lure, but that is the exception to the rule.

Sheepshead and black drum characteristics

Sheepshead average a couple of pounds but grow larger. Anything over 5 pounds is a nice fish. They are very god to eat, but can be difficult to clean. They are members of the porgy family and have large rib bones. best Sarasota fishing charter Black drum grow much larger than sheepshead, though most fish are in the two to ten pound range. The world record black drum is 113 pounds! Smaller fish are very good eating. The larger black drum can be wormy, especially when taken in warmer waters. Most anglers release the larger black drum. Sheepshead are known to be terrific bait-stealers. They have an innate ability to eat the bait without being detected. However, there are a few tips that will help anglers hook these tasty saltwater panfish.

Sheepshead and black drum fishing tackle

RODS AND REELS FOR SHEEPSHEAD FISHING Most anglers opt for medium spinning tackle when targeting sheepshead. A 7 foot rod with a 3000 series reel is a great all around combination. Braided line will help anglers detect the light baits as well as getting the fish away from structure. 20 pound braid works well. Anglers can certainly use monofilament line if they prefer. Conventional tackle can be used offshore or when targeting very large black drum. SHEEPSHEAD TERMINAL TACKLE Most anglers sheepshead and black drum fishing use basic bottom rigs. These consist of a sinker, leader, and a hook. A sliding egg sinker rig is very effective. Anglers also refer to this as a “Carolina Rig”. It allows the fish to pick up the bait without feeling the weight of the sinker. The main line passes through the sinker. A swivel is then tied on. A 24” to 30” piece of 30 lb flourocarbon leader is tied on the swivel. A # 1/0 live bait hook completes the rig. Sarasota sheepshead fishing Sinker weight will depend on several factors. Water depth and current are the two main things that determine sinker size. The rule of thumb is to use just enough weight to reach and hold bottom. This can range from a split shot to several ounces. The leader strength will also vary, with water clarity being the main factor. 30 lb flourocarbon is a great all around choice. Hooks come in a myriad of sizes and styles. Since sheepshead and drum can be a bit fussy, most anglers opt for smaller live bait hooks. Circle hooks are popular and are required in the Gulf of Mexico. #1 live bait hooks and #2/0 circle hooks will work well in most applications.

Sheepshead and black drum fishing techniques

One mistake many anglers make when sheepshead and black drum fishing is trying to set the hook. Capt Jim recommends the following procedure works well when trying to hook these fish; “Cast the bait out towards the structure in shallow water or drop it straight down in deeper water. Close the bail and remove all of the slack. Sit as still as possible with the rod tip close to the surface of the water. Most times, the bite starts with a subtle “tap”. It is crucial to keep the bait still when this occurs! Moving the bait will spook the fish. Anglers may feel several “taps”. Florida saltwater fishing in winter “At some point, one of two things will happen. The fish will get all of the bait and the ‘taps” will stop. Or, and we hope this is what happens, a steady pull will be felt. At this point the anglers should reel quickly, tightening up the line, and slowly lift the rod tip. This should result in a hooked fish! It does not work all the time, but is the most effective technique for hooking sheepshead.”

Sheepshead and black drum locations

Anglers sheepshead and black drum fishing will find fish in a variety of locations. These fish love oyster bars as crabs are abundant. Tidal creeks and rivers are excellent spots to target these species. Fishing will congregate in holes on low tides and then move up on top of the bar on high tide. Often times, a hook and a split shot or two is all that is required. Florida saltwater fishing in winter Bridges are fish magnets. Pilings along with structure at the base attract and hold sheepshead and drum along with other bottom fish. Fender systems are great spots as well. They also provide a break in the current flow. Bridges also allow access for anglers without a boat, where permitted. The best approach generally is to fish the up-tide side of the piling or fender. Docks hold a lot of fish for anglers sheepshead and black drum fishing. Again, the best approach is to anchor up-tide of the dock and cast the bait back towards the structure. Chumming with a few pieces of bait will sometimes get the bite going, especially if the water is cold.

Sheepshead and drum fishing in inlets and passes

Inlets and passes are great places to go sheepshead and black drum fishing. Most have some sort of rock jetty. These will provide cover, structure, and forage. Current and deeper water will also be present. Anglers can fish from shore or in a boat. It is often times best to fish on the turn of the tide when the flow eases up. It can be difficult, and frustrating, when fishing in a strong current. Sheepshead can also be found in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. Natural ledges, artificial reefs, and wrecks will hold sheepshead and other bottom fish. Anchoring up-tide of the spot and letting the bait drift back works well. A little bit of chum can help get the bite going. Sarasota fishing report In conclusion, this article on sheepshead and black drum fishing will help anglers catch more of these fish. They are not glamorous, or even especially attractive. However, they pull hard, are fun to catch, and taste great!

Winter Snook Fishing Tips

This article will share some great winter snook fishing tips. Most of us winterize our boats as soon as the first cold front rolls through, however the fish have not stopped biting. In fact if you fish it right, it’s a great time to catch a new personal best! The key is knowing how, since summer snook fishing and winter snook fishing are two very different things. The first prime key to winter time fishing is finding the targeted species. Florida saltwater fishing in winter Since we live in a subtropical paradise, we have mostly subtropical fish which includes the snook. If you live near Florida’s panhandle you have likely never caught one, this is mostly due to the snook’s low tolerance for colder water temperatures. During the winter a prime part of survival for these guys is warmth. After the first full moon of September most of our snook head off the beaches and take cover in local rivers and canals.

Rivers and canals hold warmth due to several factors. These factors include bottom type, structure, and springs. Dark mud holds heat from the sun for long periods of time. Bridges and Docks heat up from the sun above and the heat transfers to the water below. Rocks also hold heat well from the sun, the darker the better. The best source of heat, however, is natural springs which heats the water from the aquifer.

Winter snook fishing tips, trolling

Now we know a general idea of a location, however most of us don’t know where every natural spring is hidden, so there are several effective ways to find and catch snook. My favorite is trolling. Anyone can do it with very minimal experience. To start we need our proper set up. If monster snook is the target, a good sturdy rod and reel is recommended. fishing for snook

Most rivers and canals are full of docks, pilings, and mangroves, all great areas for snook to wrap around and break you off. A 6000 to 8000 size spinning reel with a heavy power moderate fast action rod is a great roundabout combo. Fill your reel with 40 lb braid and top it off with a 6′ 50 lb fluorocarbon leader. The leader may need to be adjusted depending on the clarity of the water and amount of structure.

Top snook trolling lures

There is an endless supply of lures to troll but select the lure based on the environment. Dark colors work best in dark water while lighter colored lures work better in clear water. Try weedless lures for areas with excessive grass, such as a Live Target mullet. Try noisy flashy lures for wide areas to attract snook from a distance away, such as a rattle trap.

Rapala makes several sturdy trolling plugs for this style of fishing as well. The #10 Rapala X-Rap Slashbaits work very well.  Gold is a great color in the tannin-stained river water. An important factor in choosing the proper lure for trolling is the hook quality. Look for lures labeled with hooks at least 2x strong. You wont regret spending a few extra dollars and getting the lure with better hooks.

Winter snook fishing techniques

Now we have a set up, lets get started planning the perfect time to fish. Prefrontal conditions are the best because fish sense the barometric pressure changing and feed heavier, preparing for the cold weather ahead. We want our lure to look as natural as possible, bait fish tend to swim with the current. Not only will your lure not appear as natural trolling up current but since snook are ambush feeders, they will be waiting behind rocks, pilling, and drop-offs facing into the current waiting to strike.Your lure might get missed by the snook looking the other way. Sarasota Florida fishing charters

Now we are trolling, and suddenly the rods bends over. This is where the buddy system might save your catch. If the fish is hooked near heavy structure, have a friend take the wheel and continue forward (just bumped into gear is perfect) away from the structure as you fight the fish. Once your fish is boat side carefully net it. A rubber coated net is best for the fish. Pull your monster in and don’t forget a quick picture and measurement! Always support your fish with both hands, and be sure to revive your fish for another day.

Casting for winter snook fishing

Always remember the area in which your snook was caught when trolling, this means it is the ideal environment for survival. Evaluate the surrounding areas, look for docks, mangroves, and any structure nearby. Now find the best bottom in the areas. Deep water or dark bottom make great homes.

Once we’ve got our prime location we can try cast fishing, light gear is usually better suited for this. A 3000 to 4000 size reel with a medium heavy fast action rod works well. Pair this set up with 25 lb braid and 25lb leader. Lighter gear is easier to use for long periods of time but often isn’t heavy enough to pull decent fish off structure. Make sure you use at least a 3000-4000 size reel.

Work your lure under and around the structure. Since the water is cool slower baits work well, these fish want to put in the least amount of effort to eat. Tsunami soft plastic shrimp work great. Bump it off the bottom in a very slow motion.

Snook fishing with live shrimp

Live shrimp work well for snook in the winter time as well as for many other species that will be in the same area. These species include redfish, sheepshead, black drum, and mangrove snapper and will all eat shrimp. With live shrimp use a 1/0 to 2/0 inline circle hook with a #4 split shot. Hook the shrimp through the tail from underneath up. For added scent pinch the end of the tail off.

In conclusion, this article on Florida saltwater fishing in winter will help anglers understand the patterns and techniques that will help them catch more fish. Anglers should always check the FWC website for current fishing regulations.  

Speckled Trout Fishing- Strategies for Success

Speckled trout fishing, strategies for success!

Many anglers from Texas to the Mid Atlantic enjoy speckled trout fishing. Speckled trout are without a doubt one of the most popular inshore saltwater game fish. Anglers fishing for speckled trout mostly target them on the fertile, shallow flats. Trout species feed on a wide variety of bait fish and crustaceans. Many tactics and baits that produce other inshore saltwater species work well on speckled trout, too.

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Speckled trout are a extremely popular inshore saltwater species. Properly known as spotted sea trout, or Cynoscion nebulosus, speckled trout are plentiful in the coastal inshore waters from Texas to Chesapeake Bay. Speckled trout prefer shallow grassy flats where they feed on bait fish as well as shrimp and other crustaceans.

Anglers fishing for speckled trout need to understand their habits in order to be successful. They are found on shallow flats, around structure, in passes and inlets, and in the surf. Speckled trout make both local and regional seasonal migrations. Changing tactics and locations throughout the year is the key to having success fishing for speckled trout.

Speckled trout fishing tackle

Tackle for speckled trout fishing is pretty straightforward. The same outfits that are used for most inshore fishing situations will do fine when pursuing trout. A 7 foot medium action rod with a 3000 series real spooled with 15 pound monofilament or 20 pound braided line works well. As in other forms of saltwater fishing, a 30 inch piece of 30 pounds fluorocarbon leader is used.

Fishing lIdo Key Products

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Anglers can certainly use baitcasting tackles as well. It is much more popular along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Texas. Anglers cast heavier lures and rigs and baitcasting tackle works very well in this application. Also, there is always the chance to hook a bull redfish.

Best 12 sea trout lures

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Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so on the PRODUCTS page.

Anglers can purchase Capt Jim’s E-book, “Inshore Saltwater Fishing” for $5 by clicking on the title link. It is 23,000 words long and covers tackle, tactics, and species.

Fishing for speckled trout

Top saltwater species in Florida

Spotted sea trout, also known as speckled trout, are fun to catch, beautiful, and terrific eating! They are most often found in schools or groups of fish. Therefore, once one is caught, anglers can expect to catch more. This is particularly true in cooler weather when trout bunch up tightly. Speckled trout relate heavily to grass. They will often be found over submerged vegetation, also known as “grass flats”. Grass holds the shrimp and bait fish that speckled trout feed on. They will also be caught around docks and bridges, around oyster bars, in passes and inlets, and out on the beaches.

Average sized speckled trout will be found in schools, usually in water between five and 20 feet deep, depending on the area. However, larger trout are often loners are are caught in very shallow water. These larger fish hunt alone and are found around oyster bars, in potholes, under docks, and in any prime ambush location. Occasionally, anglers will run across schools of larger fish.

fishing with live bait in Florida

Speckled trout fishing techniques

Speckled trout are often targeted in slightly deeper water, particularly on the flats. Therefore, tactics will change a bit. Drifting expansive flats while casting lures and live bait is a very productive technique. In deeper water, drifting and bouncing a jig or bait works well. Drifting allows anglers co cover a lot of water in search of fish.

charter fishing Siesta Key

One of the oldest and still most productive techniques for catching speckled trout on the flats is a popping cork rig. A popping cork is a float that makes a noisy popping sound when twitched sharply. A live bait or even and artificial lure is then fished 2 feet to 3 feet under the float. This noise simulates the sound that fish make when feeding on the surface. It excites speckled trout and other species, calling them to the bait.

Sarasota speckled trout fishing

The most commonly used bait under a popping cork is a live shrimp. I would venture to say that more trout were landed using a live shrimp under a popping cork that all other angling methods combined. The reason is simple; it is deadly effective. The float calls the fish in to the bait and suspends the shrimp just above the grass. It also gives anglers a visual aid as the float disappears when a speckled trout takes the shrimp. Popping corks come in a wide variety of designs, colors, and shapes, but they all work the same.

Speckled trout live bait rigs and tackle

A # 1/0 live bait hook works well when fishing live shrimp for trout. If current or wind is present, a small split shot may be required a foot or so above the hook. Shrimp are hooked in the head just under the horn and in front of the brain. This keeps the shrimp alive and kicking, however, hopefully not for very long!

saltwater fishing with shrimp

Live bait fish can be used under a popping cork as well. A 2 inch to 3 inch live grunt or live pin fish works very well and will often catch larger trout that shrimp will. The smaller 12 inch to 15 inch trout will not usually take these larger baits. They are also ignored by bait stealers such as pin fish, blowfish, and other undesirable species.

Fishing for Speckled Trout (Spotted Sea Trout) video

Lastly, artificial lures are used under these noisy floats as well. Artificial shrimp such as the Gulp Shrimp work well under a popping cork. Gulp Shrimp are heavily scented and fish almost the same as a live shrimp does. Other manufacturers make very lifelike artificial shrimp. A soft plastic shad tail bait on a very light jig head can also be a productive combination.

Speckled trout fishing with lures

spotted sea trout fishing


Speaking of the jig and grub combination, it is without a doubt the most popular artificial lure for anglers targeting speckled trout. Trout love the action of these lures! The lure is cast out and allowed to fall a few feet. It is and jerked up a foot or so and allowed to fall again. Trout and other game fish find this action deadly and in most instances will take the bait as it falls. Capt Jim prefers the Bass Assassin 4″ Sea Shad, but there are many fine baits on the market.

bass assassin

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Soft plastic baits come in a myriad of sizes and colors. Don’t get overwhelmed, they are all basically the same and are all effective when fished correctly. Jigs come in weights. Most of the trout in my area are caught between 5 and 8 feet deep. This makes a 1/4 ounce jig the best choice. In my opinion, jig head color matters very little. However, white, and chartreuse are the most popular colors. I have caught countless trout using an unpainted jig head.

Best Speckled trout fishing lures

The other soft plastic bait that Capt Jim uses on his fishing charters is the 3″ Gulp! Shrimp. This lure really bridges an artificial lure with live bait. Speckled trout will find it easier and hang on a bit longer. The scent can really make a difference, particularly when the bite is tough.

gulp shrimp

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Top speckled trout fishing lures

Three inch paddle tail or shad tail grubs are the most popular. Twister tail baits can be effective, however pin fish will oftentimes dip the tail off. This can be true of shad tail baits as well. Glow, chartreuse, white, pink, olive, root beer, and new penny are the most popular colors. The “clear water light color and darker lures and darker water” theory is a good approach. But, presentation and location are the overriding factors.

guide to inshore fishing

Plugs catch plenty of speckled trout as well. One downside to using plugs are the multiple trouble hooks. This can make releasing speckled trout a bit more complicated and may damage the fish. Since most of the speckled trout caught will be released this is a factor to consider. Treble hooks can be replaced with single hooks. Suspending plugs such as the MirrOlure MirroDine are the most productive plugs. Top water plugs early and late in the day fished over shallow bars will catch some trophy speckled trout.

Spoons are another productive artificial lure when fishing the grass flats for speckled trout. Anglers fishing the deeper flats normally opt for a half ounce gold or silver spoon with an open treble hooks. Those seeking larger trout in shallow water will do better with a half ounce gold weedless spoon.

Fishing for speckled trout: Techniques

As stated earlier, anglers seeking larger fish will do best fishing shallower water. This might sound contradictory, but larger fish are found in shallower water while the schools of smaller to average sized fish are found in the deeper water. The theory is that these larger fish are loners and do not need the protection of the school.

fishing for redfish

Oyster bars and shallow flats on the higher tide stages are prime areas to catch a larger speckled trout. Top water plugs early in the morning are productive and will produce some explosive strikes. Weedless spoons and light weedless soft plastic baits are also effective. Live bait is difficult to fish in this very shallow water, with the exception being casting live shrimp into open potholes.

More speckled trout techniques

In the wintertime speckled trout may move off of the flats if the water temperature dips down into the low 50s. They will migrate to nearby channels and deeper canals where the water temperature is warmer near the bottom. Fish can be difficult to locate when this happens. However when a school is located the action will be fast and furious. A live shrimp or jig bounced on the bottom will produce.

spotted sea trout fishing

Anglers to catch speckled trout at night as well. The proven technique is to fish lighted docks but especially area bridges. Most bridges have streetlights and the shadow line where the shadow hits the lighted water on the up current side is generally the most productive spot. Anglers can anchor in the spot and cast live shrimp or jigs out. This is a great way to beat the summer heat.

Fishing for speckled trout on the shallow flats.

Many anglers targeting speckled trout do so on the shallow grass flats, particularly those up in backwater areas. Tidal creeks are great spots as well. While the deeper grass flats attract schools of smaller speckled trout along with  bluefish, Spanish mackerel and other species, larger trout often prefer the shallower water.

Spotted sea trout fishing tips

Fishing in water that shallow presents some challenges. Fish are quite spooky when there’s barely enough water to cover their backs! This means that anglers must be stealthy when approaching them. Many shallow draft skiffs are specially designed to be extra quiet on the flats. Wading is also a great way to sneak up on skittish trout.

Effect of tides when fishing for speckled trout on the flats

Tides are critical when targeting speckled trout in shallow water. Most anglers prefer a low, incoming tide. Trout will also stage in what we call “potholes”. These are slight depressions in the shallow grass flats. The difference can be minimal, but enough to make a difference. A 3 foot depression on a flat that has 10 inches of water can hold an entire school of fish. This happens in winter when tides are particularly low.

Top Florida saltwater game fish

Fishing for speckled trout on a rising tide

As the tide rises, fish will move up onto the flats and scatter out. They are feeding but are also scattered out. This can make them difficult to locate. On the highest stage, or flood tide, the trout will move way up under the mangroves. So, while it is easier to get the boat up on the flats on the higher stages of the tide, the fish are also much more difficult to locate.

Texas speckled trout

Anglers targeting speckled trout in shallow water can be successful with both artificial lures and live bait. Artificial lures are generally best when prospecting for fish. The reason is simple; lures allow anglers to cover a lot of water much more quickly than they can do with live bait. Live bait can work very well once fish are located in a certain area.

Fishing for speckled trout with artificial lures

One of the most effective lures for locating speckled on a large flat is the weedless spoon. The venerable Johnson Silver Minnow in the half ounce gold color has fooled many fish over the years. It is a simple bait that can be cast a long way, is extremely weedless, and has a great fish attracting action. It has a large single hook which rides up in a weed guard covering the tip. There are many other manufacturers who produce quality weedless spoons as well. Local tackle shops will have a good selection of the most productive baits. A small black swivel is required when using spoons to help eliminate line twist.

silver minnow

Anglers can shop Amazon for Johnson spoons in this link

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Soft plastic baits can also be very effective when searching for trout. They don’t cover quite as much water as spoons do as the bait is moved a bit more slowly. Soft plastic baits are more effective when the angler has a general idea of where the fish may be. Bass Assassin makes a terrific line of soft plastic baits in a myriad of sizes and colors. A 4” to 5” bait is about the right size with both paddle tail and jerk worms style baits being effective.

Rigging soft plastic baits speckled trout

swim bait hook


Anglers have a choice in how they rigged their soft plastic baits. The most simple technique is to rig the bait on a 1/16 ounce or 1/8 ounce jig head. The hook will ride up in the bait will generally be snag free, though it will pick up grass on the head.


Another option is a swim bait hook. These can be used to rigged the bait either Texas rigged while some have a weed guard. Both result in a fairly weedless presentation. These hooks also have a weight in the middle of the hook, resulting in the bait having a natural horizontal presentation.

Plugs are effective speckled trout fishing lures

guide to inshore saltwater fishing

Plugs can also be effective on the flats as well, particularly for large trout. If the water is very shallow, a foot or two deep, anglers will have to use top water plugs. Speckled trout will readily take a large topwater plug. Rapala Skitter Prop baits are very effective. Anglers working slightly deeper water or mangrove shorelines can score with a shallow diving plugs such as the Rapala X-Rap slashbait.

Rapala x rap

Anglers can read more about the best speckled trout fishing lures in this link

Fishing for speckled trout using live bait in shallow water

There are situations where live bait can be more effective when fishing the shallow flats. As mentioned earlier, fish will stage up in potholes on the lower tide stages. A large live shrimp fished in these holes can be deadly. Many anglers remove the tail and insert the hook in that area. This results in the shrimp’s natural juices dispersing into the pothole. A number one ought live bait hook and a light split shot is all that is required.

fishing with shrimp

There is a technique here in Florida called “live bait chumming”. Anglers use their cast net to catch several hundred lively scaled sardines or threadfin herring. The boat is an anchored in a likely spot and every few minutes a handful of bait fish is tossed out. If trout and other game fish are around, they will usually respond to the chum. Plenty of snook are caught using this method as well.

It can be a bit overwhelming searching for fish on the shallow flats. There are just so many places that the fish can be! Many anglers believe that finding schools of mullet on the flats is a key to success. The thought is that the mullet stir up the bottom while swimming along, dislodging crabs and other forage from the weeds. This is a natural chum line that will attract speckled trout. Birds, bait fish, and other game fish are also signs of a lively flat. Otherwise, it is just a matter of patience and experience.

Docks hold speckled trout!

Speckled trout are caught by anglers fishing docks as well. Docks provide both cover and forage for game fish. Areas of Florida and other states can be fairly developed, and this means many miles of residential canals and shorelines with docks. Just like with the flats, trial and error and experience will pay off in the long run.

I have found in my experience that the most productive docks are in between four and eight feet of water. Anglers who prefer casting artificial lures can use the trolling motor and slowly work a line of docks. A quarter ounce jig with a soft plastic body work well for this type of fishing. One days when the bite is tough, switching to a scented baits such as the Gulp Shrimp can make the difference.

Live bait produces when fishing docks

It is tough to beat a live bait when fishing docks for speckled trout and other species. It gives anglers the opportunity to thoroughly work a good dock. A large live shrimp is a great year-round bait. They are easily acquired at local bait shops. A #1/0 live bait hook in a split shot or two is a simple and effective rig. An added bonus to this technique is that many other species will be caught as well.

charter fishing Sarasota Florida

Live bait fish can also be used effectively when targeting speckled trout under docks. The same live bait chumming method is deadly on redfish and snook when implemented around the dock. A 3 inch pin fish or grunt can also be deadly and will usually catch larger fish. The downside to using live bait fish is that anglers in most instances will have to catch their own.

Surf fishing for speckled trout

Speckled trout are targeted by anglers surf fishing from Texas to the mid Atlantic. The same basic surf fishing techniques that produces striped bass, bluefish, and other species will catch trout.

surf fishing for speckled trout

Large redfish, known more as red drum, are caught in the surf regularly. Most anglers use heavy tackle and bottom fish with fresh cut bait. In the stirred up water, that is the most effective technique. Speckled trout can be caught this way, but many trout are caught right in the first trough by anglers casting jigs and other lures.

Click to read more about surf fishing

Fly fishing for speckled trout

Speckled trout are great fish to target on fly as well. The best all round outfit is a 7wt combo with an intermediate clear sink tip line. An 8 foot leader with a 20 pound bite tippet works well and is easy to cast. Since most trout will be caught several feet below the surface, weighted flies work best. The venerable Clouser Deep Minnow is a great choice. But, just about any waited pattern will produce.

Fly fishing Sarasota

The technique when fly fishing is pretty much the same as spin fishing. The fly is cast ahead of the drifting boat, then retrieved back and using short strips. The best cast is one that is 45° to the boat and not straight out. This makes it easier for the fly angler to keep up with the slack as the boat drifts towards the fly. Fly fishing also works very well in the lights when night fishing. Florida speckled trout regulations can be seen HERE.

fly fishing Sarasota Bay

Fishing for speckled trout in Steinhatchee Florida

This article shares Steinhatchee Florida fishing tips, with Vanessa catching speckled trout and redfish on the shallow flats. The Steinhatchee River empties into the gulf of Mexico in Florida’s Big Bend area. This is a less populated area of Florida that offers fantastic fishing!

fishing for speckled trout

The Steinhatchee River empties into the Gulf of Mexico in a spot known as Deadman’s Bay. This area of Florida does not have beaches and thus gets much less tourist traffic than other parts of the state. That equates to less fishing pressure as well. This area is a sportsman’s paradise, offering fantastic opportunities for fishing, hunting, and scalloping.

Several rivers empty into the Gulf of Mexico in this area, including the Steinhatchee, Suwanee, and St. Mark’s. These rivers bring nutrients to the fertile grass flats. The geography underwater is unique in that it has a very gradual slope. Water depth averages about 1 foot per mile from shore in this area. That means that lush grass flats extend for miles from the shoreline.

Steinhatchee speckled trout and redfish

Speckled trout and redfish are the primary game fish on the flats of Steinhatchee. This is ideal habitat for both species as countless square miles of flats abound. There are also some natural ledges offshore that hold grouper, snapper, and other species. Artificial reefs about 10 miles from shore offer anglers the same opportunities.

fishing for redfish

The flats off of the Steinhatchee River offer anglers the opportunity to catch several other species along with the trout and reds. Bluefish, Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle, pompano, and ladyfish are just a few of the species that migrate along the Florida coast.

The fertile flats off of Steinhatchee offer the species a great spot to feed on their way north and then again on their way south. While most anglers target trout and redfish, these other species can provide great action as well. Anglers seeking the ultimate challenge can choose to targed the elusive giant tarpon.

Steinhatchee fishing tackle

Tackle requirements for fishing the Steinhatchee area are pretty basic. A 6 1/2 foot to 7 foot spinning rod with a 3000 series reel spooled up with 10 pound monofilament line or 20 pound braided line will get the job done and catch just about every species available. A 24 inch piece of shock leader should be used as well. 25 pound test is a good all-around size.

Vanessa offers some advice to any angler visiting the Steinhatchee area. Quite simply, it is all about the shrimp! Shrimp are the main forage of every species that lives in her migrate through this area. Anglers using live shrimp or artificial lures that mimic shrimp will experience success.

redfish and trout fishing

No matter where an angler is fishing in Florida, is tough to beat a live shrimp. Steinhatchee is no exception. However, due to the abundance of shallow flats, angling techniques need to be adjusted. When using live shrimp, many anglers fish a shrimp for trout and redfish 2 feet under a noisy cork. The cork makes a “popping” sound which simulates feeding fish. It attracts game fish to the bait. This combination is deadly everywhere in Florida.

Shrimp are the key live bait in Steinhatchee

Vanessa prefers to free line her live shrimp. Using just a hook with no weight, the shrimp is allowed to swim naturally. Anglers must pay attention to the line and keep the shrimp up out of the grass. However, she feels that is it more fun and challenging to present a shrimp in this manner.

Vanessa enjoys casting artificial lures as well. Her favorite lure is the Gulp Shrimp. Since live shrimp are the primary forage of most game fish, it makes sense to use an artificial lure that mimics this forage. She fishes it on an unweighted, weedless #1/0 hook. The lure is cast out, allowed to sink, and slowly worked over the top of the grass.

One mistake many novice anglers make is working the shrimp too fast. Shrimp normally swim around at a fairly slow pace. They do not jerk up and down in three or 4 foot movements. A slower, more subtle approach will generally catch more fish as it is a much more lifelike presentation.

The jig and grub combo works well in Steinhatchee, as it does throughout the entire Gulf Coast. These lures mimic shrimp and other crustaceans that trout and reds feed on. Jig head weights can be matched to the depth of water that is being fished. Light 1/16 and 1/8 ounce jig heads work well in shallow water while ¼ ounce jigs are the best choice on the deeper flats. Color favorites vary, but Vanessa prefers red and white.

Pinfish produce in Steinhatchee, too

Pin fish are the other bait that Vanessa recommends to visiting anglers. Pin fish can be caught relatively quickly with a tiny hook in a piece of shrimp. However, Vanessa prefers to put out a pin fish trap, go fish for a couple hours, then come back and collect the bait. This saves some valuable fishing time.

Vanessa has a secret trick that makes a pinfish irresistible to redfish and speckled trout. She actually bites the tail (yes, using her mouth) of the pinfish off. The now injured bait fish acts erratically and this drastically increased that chance that it gets hit.

Pin fish work very well under a float. Without the float, the pin fish will dive down into the grass and get snagged. Pin fish tend to catch less fish but will generally attract larger specimens. Speckled trout in particular will be attracted to these larger bait fish as they provide more of a meal than a shrimp will.

Plugs that imitate pin fish will catch speckled trout, redfish, and other species. The venerable MirrOlure was invented in the Big Bend area of Florida. It is a slow sinking and suspending bait. When twitched, it jerks forward then hangs there motionless. This action drives fish crazy and triggers the strikes as it realistically imitates a helpless bait fish.

Steinhatchee Florida fishing tips; seasons

Spring and fall are the best times to fish the flats of Steinhatchee. Speckled trout spawn in mid to late spring and are abundant on the grass flats. Redfish will be available, but will be scattered out and not schooled up in big numbers. The deeper edges of the flats will attract bluefish, Spanish mackerel, and other species. Same goes for the offshore artificial reefs, they will hold bait fish which in turn will attract the predator game fish.

Anglers fishing Steinhatchee in the summer need to get up early, for couple of reasons. For one, it is hot! The best bite will usually be in early one, especially on the morning high tide. This is a great time to throw a top water plug for a trophy trout or big redfish. By mid-morning, the bite will slow down in the scallopers will show up. That is the second reason for getting out there early; scallop fishing is very popular in this area. It attracts many visitors which of course means more boat traffic.

Fall fishing in Steinhatchee

Fall fishing and Steinhatchee is nothing short of fantastic! Cooler weather means lower water temperatures which really turns the bite on. The bite is normally best from mid-afternoon until dark. It is also much more comfortable for anglers to be out on the water all day this time of year. It seldom rains in most morning start out a bit cool then warming up nicely throughout the day.

Redfish school up in big numbers in preparation for their spawning run in September and October. It is great sport to sight cast these large schools of fish as they wake across the shallow flats. However, they can be spooky and at times difficult to catch. Anglers who patiently stalk the fish and make long casts will have more success. A gold weedless spoon is an excellent lure for targeting redfish in the shallow water.

River speckled trout

Anglers visiting Steinhatchee in the late fall can experience something that is truly remarkable. Large numbers of big gator trout migrate off of the shallow flats and into the deeper waters of the Steinhatchee River. Vanessa can personally vouch for that! The outside bends in the rivers have deeper holes. This water is quite warmer then the water on the exposed shallow flats. Trout will seek out is warmer water as refuge from winter cold fronts.

The action can be spectacular once a school of these large trout is located. An artificial shrimp, live shrimp, or jig bounced on the bottom should provide great action. It is important to treat these fish with respect! Keeping a fish or two for dinner is fine, but these are breeder fish and are important for the future of the species. Florida fishing regulations can be found at the FWC site.

Winter river trout fishing in Steinhatchee

Winter fishing is all about the weather, pure and simple. Successful anglers will adapt to the ever changing weather conditions. As cold fronts move through, they bring when which will stir up the flats. This results in dirty, muddy water. This results in fishing on the flats being pretty slow, though persistent anglers can sometimes find clean water. Under these conditions, it is best to target fish in the river.

However, after a couple nice days, the water will settle down. As it clears up and warms up, the bite will resume on the grass flats. Oyster bars that drop off into deeper water or the edges of flats and 4 foot of water to 5 feet of water will generally be more productive than the very shallow flats. Fishing can be very good several days after the front as the fish have not fed for a couple days. As the next cold front approaches, the cycle will repeat itself.

In closing, this article on speckled trout fishing will help anglers understand the techniques and baits that will help anglers catch more fish!

Fishing for Bluefish, Tips, Tackle, and Techniques

Fishing for Bluefish, tips, tackle, and techniques for anglers to succeed

Florida saltwater fishing in spring

This blog post will focus on fishing for bluefish. Bluefish are very powerful, using their broad bodies and large, wide tails to put up a terrific fight. They are generally found in fairly large schools, and this adds to the aggressiveness. Competition forms within the group to see who can catch and devour the prey. This makes them a fantastic game fish!

Bluefish, Pomatomus saltatrix, are an unusual in that they are the only fish in the family Pomatomidae. Bluefish are widely distributed throughout the temperate and subtropical parts of the world, excluding the northern Pacific Ocean, including the Caribbean, Coast of Gulf of Mexico, and up the eastern seaboard to the mid Atlantic. Bluefish put up a terrific fight, but while edible, they are not considered the best table fare.

fishing Siesta Key

Anglers can purchase Capt Jim’s E-book, “Inshore Saltwater Fishing” for $5 by clicking on the title link. It is 23,000 words long and covers tackle, tactics, and species.

Tackle for bluefish fishing

The tackle required for catching bluefish will vary greatly depending on the region of the country being fished. In Sarasota where Capt Jim fishes, most bluefish are under 4 pounds. In this application, medium light spinning tackle is the best option. Capt Jim likes the Conflict combo. The 2500/7′ medium light outfit is perfect!

Fishing lIdo Key Products

Anglers can shop for Penn Outfits on Amazon by clicking on this link.

Anglers fishing the mid-Atlantic and northeast will need stouter tackle. Bluefish are larger there. Also, deeper water and stronger currents require a heavier rod and reel combination. The 5000 series reel on a medium action 7′ rod works well for casting lures and fishing live and cut baits. Both outfits can be accessed from the link below.

Amazon link to Penn Conflict 5000 combo

“Fishing Lido Key is a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.”

Anglers fishing off of the mid Atlantic will also want to keep a conventional rig or two on the boat. A light conventional outfit is quite versatile for bluefish and other species as well. Anglers can vertically fish spoons and jigs. Live and cut bait can be used. Conventional outfits are much better than spinning rigs for trolling as well.

fishing for bluefish

Anglers can click on this link to shop Amazon for conventional rod and reel combos.

Surf fishing for bluefish is extremely popular on the East coast from South Carolina to southern Maine. Anglers cast large artificial lures as well as cut baits in search of these terrific game fish! Surf fishing is both relaxing and exhilarating at the same time. Hours of quiet are interrupted by moments of bedlam. Anglers can shop a variety of Penn Battle outfits here. They are affordable and reliable.

bluefish surf fishing

Anglers can click this Amazon link to shop for surf fishing rods and reels.

Best fishing lures for bluefish

Bluefish are an aggressive species that will readily take an artificial lure. Generally speaking, fast moving lures with flash and vibration work best. These include jigs, spoons, and plugs. Below is a list of some of the best bluefish fishing lures.

1) Bass Assassin Sea Shad

The Bass Assassin Sea Shad bait is Capt Jim’s favorite soft plastic bait for bluefish. It is 4” long and comes in many different colors. The bait has a shad style tail which has great action. It is perfect for casting to bluefish in fairly shallow water. It is fished on a jig head. The weight of the jig head will vary depending on conditions. It works great in the surf when blues are in the foam.

bluefish fishing

bass assassin


Anglers can click this link to shop Amazon for Bass Assassin baits.

2) White bucktail jig

White bucktail jigs have been catching bluefish and just about every other saltwater species for many decades. These are versatile lures that can be cast, vertically jigged, or trolled. Many anglers add a strip of cut squid or fish to entice more bites. The only negative to these lures are the durability. Bluefish will tear them up in short order.

bucktail jig

Anglers can click this link to shop Amazon for buck tail jigs.

3) Kastmaster spoon

The Kastmaster spoon is another excellent bluefish lure. It is quite versatile, being used cast, jigged, and trolled. Kastmaster spoons are heavy and can be cast a long distance. It works great in the surf. Anglers can vertically jig over bait schools or structure. They can also be trolled. This bait has a large single hook. This makes releasing bluefish much easier.


Anglers can click this link to shop Amazon for Kastmaster spoons

4) Rapala X-Rap Saltwater Extreme Action Slashbait

The Rapala X-Rap is a very productive bluefish lure. They cast a long way and have a terrific erratic action. X-Raps float at rest then dive down several feet when retrieved. The #12 is a good size for northern bluefish. Southern anglers can drop down in size. They are an excellent trolling bait as well. The one down side is that the treble hooks can make releasing fish more difficult.

inshore saltwater fishing

Anglers can click on this link to shop Amazon for Rapala X-Raps.

5) Clark Trolling Spoons

Trolling spoons work very well for locating schools of bluefish. They are fished behind weights or planers to get the bait down. They are long and slender. Trolling spoons can be trolled very fast. They put out a ton of flash and vibration. They are great when hunting large areas for bluefish.

clark spoon

Anglers can shop Clark trolling spoons at Amazon from this link.

6) Pencil Poppers

Pencil poppers are not only effective bluefish lures, they are great fun to fish! They are cast out, allowed to settle, then twitched sharply. Poppers draw some explosive strikes. They can be used by anglers fishing from the surf, jetties, piers, and boats.

percil popper

Anglers can click on this link to shop Amazon for Pencil Poppers.

Fishing for bluefish, baits and techniques

One technique that we use here in Sarasota quite often is drifting the deep grass flats. We simply drift over the submerge grass with the wind and tide while casting out lures in search of game fish. Jacks, trout, mackerel, and pompano will oftentimes be found in such locations, even when surface activity is not present. As with bluefish fishing everywhere, they usually school up and are quite aggressive.


The jig and grub combo is a great all round saltwater bait. It is a great choice when targeting bluefish, and really any other inshore species. A quarter ounce jig head with a 3 inch- 4 inch shad tail grub is a good all-around combo. Color doesn’t matter that much, though when possible it is best to match the clarity of the water. Light-colored baits work best in clear water while darker colored baits work better and water that is stained.

Drift fishing for bluefish

Drifting with either lures, live bait, and cut bait produces plenty of bluefish all over the world. In deeper water with swift currents, heavy jigs and jigging spoons work well. They mimic wounded bait fish and stay in the strike zone the entire time. As with all lure fishing, the baits should match the size of the available forage.

fishing for bluefish

Anglers drifting with chunks or strips of fresh or frozen cut bait catch many bluefish as well. Squid is a top frozen bait. Where possible, most anglers prefer to use fresh caught cut bait. Pogies, spot, sardines, and any other oily fish make great cut baits. These can be fished right on the bottom or drifted higher up in the water column.

Fishing for bluefish with artificial lures

Anglers casting plugs enjoy some terrific light tackle action on bluefish. They will draw some ferocious strikes! Top water plugs are fun and exciting, however shallow diving plugs are generally more productive. Anglers can blind cast likely looking spots such as mangrove shorelines, seawalls, docks, and other structure. Casting plugs into breaking fish is obviously great fun. Two drawbacks to using plugs are the initial cost and having to deal with a pair of treble hooks. Some manufacturers are now offering plugs with a pair of single hooks.

Florida bluefish

Spoons are very effective lures for bluefish as well. They cast a mile, can be worked back aggressively, and closely mimic most bait fish that are in the water. They are reasonably priced and anglers can easily replace the trouble hook with a single J hook.

Fly anglers will do well with any bait fish imitations. An all white or chartreuse over white Clouser Minnow on a number one hook is a great all round choice. One of the few times that blues can be fussy is when they are feeding on tiny glass minnows. This is a circumstance where the fly fisherman can shine, as it is easier to match the hats with a small fly than it is with a heavy artificial lure.

inshore saltwater fishing

Surface feeding bluefish

Most anglers agree that the most enjoyable bluefish fishing is had when they are feeding on the surface. This is termed “breaking fish” or “busting fish”. However, whatever you call it, it is great fun! Bluefish will herd bait fish to the top, trapping then against the surface of the water. The bluefish will chase the helpless bait out of the water! This can be seen from quite a distance away on a calm day. Diving birds are a great indication of feeding fish.

Florida bluefish

This type of fishing is relatively straightforward. Fish are seen on the surface, and the boat is placed in front of them. Anglers cast lures out in front of the fish, and a strike almost always occurs as they are in an aggressive mood. This can happen close to shore for anglers surf fishing as well. Spoons, plugs, and jigs will all produce fish when they are breaking on the surface.

Trolling for bluefish

Trolling is an excellent technique that many anglers use to locate bluefish, especially when they are not found feeding on the surface. This technique allows anglers to cover a lot of water in a short time. Also, lures can be presented at several different depths to cover the water column as well. Spoons and plugs are the top trolling lures, though jigs will work, too, especially at slower speeds.

Tackle requirements can get complicated for anglers that troll. In most cases, heavier conventional tackle works best. Also, anglers will often use wire line, planers, heavy weights, and downriggers to get the baits down in deeper water. However, in shallow water, it can be as simple as trolling a lipped plug or two out behind the boat.

fishing for bluefish

The tackle an angler uses when targeting bluefish depends on the size of the fish that may be encountered. After all, the world record is almost 32 pounds! In Sarasota where I fish, most bluefish are in the to to 3 pound range with the occasional fish reaching 6 pounds. For this fishing, the same light to medium spinning tackle that is used for other inshore species works fine.

In Florida and other places where the water is clear, many anglers use flourocarbon leaders. A 30 pound to 40 pound piece of fluorocarbon leader is used between the running line and the lure to help reduce cutoffs. You notice I said “reduce”! Anglers using flourocarbon leaders will lose some tackle. Wires leaders will eliminate cutoffs and many anglers use them, especially in water that has some color or when bluefish are feeding aggressively.

fishing with jigs

Anglers who fish on the East Coast may need to beef the tackle up a bit. Schools of large bluefish are notorious for tearing up tackle from North Carolina to Maine. Light conventional tackle may be a better choice, especially when drift fishing or trolling.

Surf fishing for bluefish

Surf fishing for bluefish is very popular all along the east coast. Hatteras is a world renowned surf fishing destination. There are also many spots in New England as well as almost all of the mid-Atlantic beaches.  Surf fishing does require more patience as anglers are limited as to where they can fish. They will chase fish up and down the beach should a “bluefish blitz” occur.

surf fishing

Anglers can use both artificial lures and cut bait. Many take a two pronged approach. They will put out a chunk or strip of cut bait on a fairly heavy rod using a “fish finder” rig. This allows for the bait to float around naturally. While waiting for a fish to find the bait, anglers can cast lures out in search of a feeding fish. This works well and keeps the angler busy!

Fly fishing for bluefish

The same decision holds true for fly anglers. While an eight weight outfit is perfect for the Sarasota area, anglers on the East Coast or in the Caribbean might be better off with a 10 weight outfit. With either selection an intermediate sink tip line is the best all round choice. An 8 foot to 10 foot tapered leader with a 30 pound bite tippet finishes off the rig.

Florida bluefish

As a fishing guide in Sarasota, I’m on the water around 200 days a year. Rarely do I actually target bluefish. In most instances they are a happy interruption as we target other species on the flats and in the passes. I treat them as a target of opportunity, never turning down a chance when I see a school of bluefish foraging on the surface.

Live bait chumming, Tips to succeed!

Live bait chumming is a very effective fishing technique for many species, including bluefish. It does require some specialized equipment. Extra effort is also needed. But it pays off, big time!

Chumming is a technique anglers have been using ever since they’ve been fishing. This is simply the act of dispersing some type of food in the water to attract fish. Most anglers chum with oily bait fish that have been ground up and frozen. This does work well. Live bait chumming takes us to a whole another level.

fishing for bluefish

It is easy to see why this technique is so productive. Imagining sitting on your favorite lounge chair and then someone walks by with a plate full of warm brownies fresh out of the oven. You’re going to eat one, whether you’re hungry or not! Chumming will get fish excited and bring them up behind the boat where they can be caught fairly easily.

The technique is fairly simple, but does require some specialized equipment. The first point of order is a cast net. Live bait chumming requires a lot of bait. Catching them with a hook and line is just not practical. However, an angler can put several hundred frisky live baits in the well in short order.

Live bait chumming, cast nets

Cast nets come in different sizes and also mesh sizes. An 8 foot cast net is 8 feet long, which is the radius. That equates to a circumference of around 50 feet. That will catch a lot of bait. Obviously, a larger net will catch more bait. However, it is more difficult to cast and to unload.

Sarasota fishing report

At this point, it just becomes a matter of angler preference. I personally prefer to throw a smaller net such as the 8 foot net four or five times as opposed to a 12 foot net twice. Again, it is just a matter of personal preference, there is no wrong choice. I would consider a 6 foot net to be the smallest that will practically catch enough bait required for this technique.

Mesh size is crucial! The mesh size needs to be geared to both the size of the bait being targeted and the depth of the water being fished. A net with a small mesh will catch smaller bait fish. It will also sinks lower due to the resistance of the net.

Small mesh cast nets work well in shallow water

Here in Florida where I fish, I find a 1/4 inch mesh to be perfect. It will catch both small and large bait fish. And, since I rarely catch bait in water deeper than 3 feet, a slowly sinking that does not hinder my efforts. Anglers who cast a net with a large mass over bait that is a little too small will “gill” the baits.

Sarasota fishing report

This means that they will get caught in the middle of the mesh. This will kill the baits and the angler will spend a lot of time removing these fish that are stuck in the net. This is another reason to go with a smaller mesh. Anglers who are forced to catch bait in deeper water will have no choice but to use a larger diameter net with a larger mesh.

Other live bait chumming factors

The final factor in a cast net are the weights on the circumference of the net. Obviously, more weight per foot will cause the net to sink faster. Generally speaking, that’s are designed with the proper amount of weight. Manufacturers realize that a smaller diameter net with small mesh will be used in shallow water. This will not require as much weight. Conversely, a large diameter net with larger mesh will have heavier weights.

chumming with live bait

Once the net is procured, the angler will need to learn to cast. There are many good resources for this, so I will not go into it in depth here. There are several different methods in which to cast a net. I prefer putting the net in my teeth, but not everyone does. This is my video YouTube.

Live bait chumming requires a large bait well

The other specialized piece of equipment required for live bait chumming is a large recirculating live well with rounded corners. Putting a lot of bait fish in a confined area requires that freshwater be added constantly. A high-volume pump pushes the water in and a spray nozzle aerator. A drain then allows the old water to be removed. This constant changing of the water and adding oxygen will keep the bait alive and active.

Bait wells need to have rounded corners. Otherwise, the bait fish will swim nose first into a corner and die. The bait fish need to be constantly moving. Most boats these days have these type of wells built in. This is especially true on saltwater fishing boats. These types of systems are easily purchased for anglers fishing on boats that do not have these types of wells already installed.

Live bait chumming, catching bait

Now, let’s go catch some bait! It seems like the bait is either very easy to catch or very difficult to catch. Here in Florida, bait fish are fairly abundant in the summer time. I normally start catching bait in late spring and quit around Thanksgiving. Live bait chumming is the most effective in the summer time when the water is warm.

Sarasota fishing report

The best spot to catch live bait for chumming is on the shallow grass flats and bars. Spots such as this close to the passes are particularly effective. The bait fish tend to migrate in from the passes and inlets, especially on an incoming tide. Bridges and markers are also good places to cast net for bait.

The bait fish can often times be seen “dimpling”on the surface. This makes catching them easier. The angler can either drift up on the school of bait or use the trolling motor to get in position. The net is then cast over the bait, allowed to sink, and the net with bait pulled in and emptied into the well. If the sun is up, the bait can often times be seen flashing along the bottom. When conditions are calm, bait can be thick right on the beaches. Anglers just need to use caution in the shallow water.

Chum for the chum

There are times when the angler will need to chum. Yes, we need to chum for the chum! Every angler has his or her “secret”chum mixture. My personal favorite is a mixture of canned mackerel and wheat bread. I use about one third of a loaf of wheat bread for a 16 ounce can of mackerel. This is cheap and very effective. Anglers also use dry commercial fish food successfully. It is easier to store and not as messy.

bluefish on a jig

The approach when chumming for bait fish is to anchor up tied of the area to be finished. Small amounts of chum are then tossed over the stern. If the bait fish are around, it won’t take them long to start eating the chum. Once that happens, a larger piece of chum, about the size of a golf ball, is tossed out. Give it a few seconds, then cast the net over the bait.

As mentioned earlier, this technique requires special equipment and some extra effort. The good news is that catching the bait is the hard part. Once a well full of frisky baits is acquired, fishing is usually pretty easy.

Live bait chumming techniques

Live bait chumming is effective on a wide variety of species in addition to bluefish. In the summer time it is used on the deeper grass flats here in Sarasota. Anglers on a fishing charter will also catch speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, jacks, mangrove snapper, sharks, jacks, gag grouper, and tons of ladyfish using this technique.

This method is simple and will allow anglers with very little experience to catch a lot of fish. The boat is anchored upwind and up tied of a likely flat with a grassy bottom in 6 to 8 feet of water. Bait fish are tossed out behind the boat, about a dozen at a time. I will often times squeeze the bait, injuring it. Crippled bait fish swimming helplessly on the surface will attract the game fish in short order.

Once the bluefish and other species are seen feeding on the “freebies”, hooked baits are tossed out into the mix. It usually does not take long before a fish is hooked. Chumming gets the fish in an aggressive and active mood and catching them is relatively easy. Anglers can find all Florida fishing regulations at the FWC website.

18 awesome bluefish fishing tips

Bluefish put up a great fight on light tackle! Bluefish are aggressive, leap often when hooked, and pull incredibly hard. I also think they are underrated eating when properly handled. Here are 18 awesome bluefish fishing tips.

fishing for bluefish

Bluefish are well known to anglers all along the East Coast of the United States. They are a staple in the New England area. Our bluefish down here in Florida do not grow quite as large. However, when targeted using light tackle, they are great fun. Bluefish are available year-round but are more plentiful in the cooler months.

Most Florida bluefish are probably caught by anglers targeting other species. Here in Sarasota where I fish, we often encounter them on the deep grass flats. Clients on Sarasota fishing charters drift submerge grass beds and 6 to 10 feet of water. Jigs, plugs, and other lures along with live bait are used.

18 Helpful Bluefish Fishing Tips

1)  Jigs catch most of the bluefish for my anglers. Jigs are very effective when the water is a bit cooler, under 70°. This is the time that we normally run into bluefish on the deep flats. Often times, the bluefish will be out an 8 to 10 feet of water. Jigs are more effective as a can get down in the water column where the bluefish are feeding. Jigs are also easy to cast and have a great action.

2)  While bucktail jigs and synthetic care jigs can be used, the jig and grub combo is a better choice. There are several reasons for this. The primary reason is a practical one; bluefish will destroy an expensive buck tail jig after a fish or two. However, with the jig and grub combo, the body is relatively inexpensive and is easily replaced.

best 6 Sarasota fishing lures

3)  1/4 ounce jig heads are the best choice for fishing water of this depth. Anglers fishing deeper water or waters with stronger current may need to bump it up to 1/2 ounce or even a 1 ounce jig head. I don’t find that jig head color makes much of a difference. I often use unpainted jig heads with good success.

4)  In my opinion the shad tail grub is the most effective for Florida bluefish and other species. These tails have a great built in action that mimics bait fish. Paddle tails also work well, though they are more reliant on the angler to impart the action. I have found twister tale baits to be too fragile for saltwater fishing. They draw strikes, but the tales just do not remain intact for very long. Small bait fish can easily remove them.

Fishing for bluefish with plugs and spoons

5)  Plugs are another effective artificial lure for catching bluefish. This is especially true when the fish are working on the surface. We call these “breaking”fish. Shallow diving plugs such as the Rapala X-Rap Slashbait work very well. Often times the trouble hooks will become damaged after a few fish. I do just as well by removing both trouble hooks and adding a single “J” hook on the rear. The bait remains effective and handling and releasing fish is easier and safer.

6)  Spoons also catch a lot of bluefish. A spoon is a very simple lure. It is basically a piece of shiny metal formed in the shape of a teardrop. A half ounce silver spoon is the perfect size here in Sarasota. These lures cast a long way. This can be important on days when the fish are breaking and moving around a lot.

7)  All three of these lures are worked in a similar fashion. Bluefish for the most part are very aggressive. The jig and spoon are cast out and allowed to sink for several seconds. Most plugs float on the surface at rest. Then, the lures are retrieved back in using an aggressive twitch. The slack is then reeled up and the lure twitched again. Often times the bite will occur during that pause.

8)  When bluefish are very active, a fast steady retrieve will often produce. When fish are busting and they are in a feeding frenzy, it rarely matters what you cast at them. As long as the lure remotely resembles the size and shape of the bait fish that they are feeding on, they will generally strike it.

Catching bluefish on live bait

9)  While artificial lures catch many Florida bluefish, live bait produces as well. The number one live bait on the West Coast of Florida is the shrimp. Shrimp are available year-round at all local bait shops. The best approach when using live shrimp is to free line the bait out behind the boat and let it drift with the tide. A small split shot can be used to get the bait down on breezy days or if the current is strong.

10)  Live bait fish can be used successfully as well when targeting bluefish. The number one Florida live bait is the scaled sardine, also known as a pilchard. These bait fish are usually around from June until November. Anglers cast net them on the shallow grass flats. Anglers on the East Coast do well with pogies and finger mullet. Using a long shank hook will help anglers reduce cutoffs when using live bait.

Bluefish leaders

11)  The water is clear and Florida most of the time. While wire leader’s can be used, strikes will be significantly reduced. Most anglers choose to use a ”shock leader”. This is a 30 inch piece of heavier monofilament. 30 pound test to 40 pound test works well. Hooks and lures will still be lost to the sharp teeth of bluefish. However anglers will get more strikes, so it is a trade-off.Northern anglers fishing in stained water for larger fish often opt for wire leaders.

12)  The same rig is used with both live bait and artificial bait. I double the last 3 feet of my running line, whether it is monofilament or braided line. Then, I attach a 30 inch piece of 30 pound test to 40 pound test fluorocarbon leader using a Double Uni Knot. I then attach the lure or hook to the tag end of the leader.

Bluefish locations

13)  Bluefish are found in the bays, passes and inlets, in the inshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. They are seldom encountered very far offshore. As mentioned earlier, grass flats and 5 feet of water to 10 feet of water are prime spots. Anglers drift over the flats casting lures or live baits until the fish are located. Anglers can also choose to “run and gun”in search of breaking fish.

14)  Passes and inlets are great spots to catch bluefish. These are fish highways that connect the inshore bays to the open Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic ocean. Many of these passes and inlets offer access to anglers without a boat. Rocky jetties and peers that line these inlets and passes can be terrific spots. Anglers can drift the passes both casting lures and drifting live baits. Often times the fish will be right out in the middle. Casting to shoreline structure can also be effective. Anglers need to be careful of swift currents and boat traffic when fishing passes and inlets.

Surf fishing for bluefish

15)  Many bluefish are caught by anglers fishing right off the beach as well. This is more of an East Coast technique. While anglers on the West Coast of Florida to catch bluefish off the beach, it is less frequent than on the Atlantic Ocean side.

16)  Anglers surf fishing off the Atlantic Ocean beaches use specialized tackle. Long rods are used, between 10 and 13 feet long. They are matched with large reels and high-capacity spools. These long rods are used to achieve both casting distance and to keep the line up above the crashing waves.

17)  Most angler surf fishing for bluefish use cut bait. Artificial lures can certainly be used, especially on calm days when fish are seen breaking on the surface. Just about any freshly caught legal fish will work. Fresh mullet is tough to beat. The bait fish is either cut into strips or chunks and fished on the bottom. Strips of squid can also be effective.

Fly fishing

18)  Fly anglers love catching Florida bluefish! A 3 pound bluefish puts up an incredible fight on a fly rod. An 8wt outfit is a good all-around choice. Intermediate sink tip or sinking lines work best as bluefish are often found in slightly deeper water. The leader is a 9 foot tapered leader with a short 30 pound bite tippet. Just about any bait fish pattern will produce, with in all white Clouser Minnow being my number one all round choice

As mentioned in the beginning, I think bluefish get a bad rap when it comes to eating. However, they do require a bit more care. The meat is a little darker and the fish is a bit bloody. Bleeding the fish when it’s caught really improves the quality of the meat. While the fishes alive, the gills or cut and the fish pumps all the blood out of its body. This is best done in the bait well. The bluefish send needs to be put on ice immediately and eaten that they are the next. I find small bluefish and the to pound to 3 pound range to be very good eating.

In conclusion, this article on fishing for bluefish will help anglers catch more of these hard-fighting fish!

Prowler Trolling Motor Review

 Prowler Trolling Motor Review

This post is a Bass Pro Shops Prowler trolling motor review. My name is Capt Jim Klopfer and I have been a fishing guide in Florida since 1991. I have had several of both the bow mounted and transom mounted versions. I am going to give my personal opinion and share experiences that I have had with these products that I have used on my Sarasota fishing charters.

Both versions of the Bass Pro Shops Prowler trolling motors are 12 volt. This is one of the main reasons I chose them. I use trolling motors to work shorelines and adjust my drift. Rarely do I run it long enough or hard enough to drain the battery. These motors are made for Bass Pro Shops by Motor Guide, that is fairly obvious. The primary advantage of the Prowler trolling motors is simple; they cost less.

Bass Pro Shops Prowler TSW55/36B Transom Mount Saltwater Trolling Motor Review

I have owned several of the Bass Pro Shops Prowler 55/36 trolling motor. It has 55 pounds of thrust. The shaft is 36″ long. It is a 12 volt motor. I currently use it on my 14′ Alumacraft Jon boat for my river fishing charters for snook, jacks, and bass. It works fine and the battery will last all morning or afternoon.

Prowler trolling motor review

I also had this motor mounted on the transom of my previous bay boat. It was a 20′ Key West Bay Reef. Surprisingly, it did quite well on such a heavy boat. I mainly used it to correct the boat position as I drifted with the wind or current. However, I also used it out on the beach tarpon fishing, and it moved the boat well enough. It also has a volt meter, which is a handy feature.

Things I liked about the Bass Pro Shops Prowler transom mount trolling motor

Overall, I found this motor to be a decent unit for the price. I had a Motor Guide transom mount trolling motor and prefer the Prowler to it. It was relatively durable and reliable.  I like the tilting mechanism better than the Motor Guide. The battery meter and extending handle are convenient. I give it 3.3 stars out of 5. This is just OK, however this is as good or better than the other saltwater trolling motors from Minn Kota and Motor Guide that I have used.

Things I did not like about the Bass Pro Shops Prowler transom mount trolling motor

Prowler trolling motor review

There are a few downsides to this motor. Some of the hardware and bolts with rust. It is important to rinse it well in fresh water and lubricate the bolts and hardware. This is especially true with the large mounting screws. They will rust and seize up if that is not done. Also, the collar that adjusts the depth does not slide as smoothy as it could. Also, the bushing kinda of “walk” out of the shaft bore. No big deal, just a nuisance to slide them back in.

Click on the image to purchase a Bass Pro Shops Prowler

TSW55/36B transom mount trolling motor.

Bass Pro Shops Prowler SWB55/50B Bow Mount Saltwater Trolling Motor Review

I have had several of the Bass Pro Shops 55/50 bow mounted Prowler trolling motors. I had it on two bay boats; a 20 foot Key West and my current 22′ Stott Craft. The Key West was heavier. It is a 12 volt motor with 55 pounds of thrust and a 50″ shaft. I give this trolling motor a 3.75 out of 5, mostly for the value. It is a decent unit at a very good price.

Things I liked about the Bass Pro Shops Prowler bow mount trolling motor

Prowler trolling motor review

The first thing, obviously, was the price. At less that $500, it is a bargain for a saltwater trolling motor. It was sufficient for my needs, but again, I do not use trolling motors extensively. Anglers who run it all day into wind and current will need a 24 volt of 36 volt unit. It deploys well and I found it to be reliable. I liked the volt meter and extending handle. The breakaway bracket worked very well and is adjustable. I like the “latch and door” on the front which makes taking the motor off of the boat very easy.

Things I did not like about the Bass Pro Shops Prowler transom mount trolling motor

The brackets, hardware, and shaft showed signs of corrosion sooner than I thought it should. Anglers should constantly loosen and lubricate the bolts that adjust the breakaway bracket as well as the “latch and door. Also, the shaft length is borderline on boats with some free board. Perhaps they factor in that a 55 pound thrust motor is not going to be used on a larger boat.

Click on the image to purchase a Bass Pro Shops Prowler ow mounted

SWB55/50B trolling motor.

In conclusion, this post of my Bass Pro Shops Prowler trolling motor review should help anglers decide if this is a good choice for their boat!

Top 27 Freshwater Game fish Species

Top 27 Freshwater Game fish species

The topic of this article is freshwater fishing for the top 27 freshwater game fish species. The majority of fishing done in North America is done in freshwater, as these bodies of water are much more accessible than saltwater coastal areas. There are many different freshwater game fish they can be caught by anglers.

top freshwater game fish

The fish species outlined in this list of the top 25 freshwater game fish species will be in no particular order. However, we will start off with the most plentiful, and therefore most popular, freshwater fish species. Much of the popularity is dependent on how widely fish are distributed, and is really no reflection on its attributes as a game fish.

Top Freshwater game fish species; Panfish

Panfish are probably the most targeted freshwater fish species in North America. That is why they lead off our list of the top 27 freshwater game fish species. They are widely distributed, prolific, easily caught using a wide variety of angling techniques, attractive, and most are very good to eat. Most anglers target panfish using ultralight spinning tackle. However, there are also caught by anglers fly fishing, ice fishing, and even using a simple cane pole.

Here is a link to the best 9 fishing lures for bluegill and panfish.

1) Crappie

fishing for crappie bluegill and panfish

Crappie are the largest fish in the panfish group. They are an extremely popular and widely distributed freshwater fish species. Crappie are a schooling fish, and once located, the action can be fast. Crappie tournaments are becoming more numerous as these fish continue to gain in popularity. They are beautiful fish that put up a decent tussle and are terrific eating.

fishing for crappie

There are two varieties of crappies; white crappie and black crappie. While there are subtle differences in color patterns and fish habits, for the purposes of this article they will be treated the same.

Fishing for Florida Crappie video

While crappie can be caught using a variety of lures and baits, the vast majority of crappie are landed by anglers either using live minnows or jigs. Both are extremely effective for crappie fishing. Crappie are generally caught in shallow water in the spring and around structure in deeper water the rest of the year. Trolling with jigs and live minnows is a very effective technique to help locate schools of crappie. Ice fishermen catch them as well.

2) Bluegill

Freshwater fish species

Bluegill are a widely distributed freshwater panfish. They average 6 inches to 8 inches, with 10 inches being a very nice fish. Bluegill are aggressive and prolific. They spawn on the full moons in summer, and this is the time of year many anglers target them. The bite often peaks  on the full moons in June, July, and August. However, they are caught all year long, including through the ice.

Click on the title link to read Capt Jim’s E-book Fishing for Crappie, Bluegill, and Panfish

fishing for bluegill

Bluegill will readily take artificial lures such as tiny jigs, spinners, and flies. Bluegill are predators that are aggressive for their size. Roostertail spinners, Beetlespins, and small curly tail grubs and marabou jigs are top producing lures. Live baits are also very effective, with worms and crickets being the top choices.

3) Redear sunfish

freswater fishing

Fishing for Bluegill and Panfish with Lures video

Redear sunfish are another very popular member of the panfish family. “Shellcracker” is another name for readier sunfish. They generally grow larger than bluegill. While redear sunfish are native to the southeast portion of the United States, they have been introduced to other parts of the country where they flourish and thrive.

panfish Beetle spin

Redear sunfish can be caught using artificial lures, however the majority of them are landed by anglers using live and natural bait. They earned their nickname “shellcracker” due to their affinity to snails and other freshwater mollusks. Earthworms are an excellent choice as a live bait for readears. They often times prefer water slightly deeper than bluegill and other panfish.

4) Yellow perch

yellow perch fishing

Yellow perch are a very tasty panfish that are found in cooler water in the northern states. The Great Lakes area is pretty much the center of their inhabited area. Yellow perch average around ten inches. They school up heavily and eat minnows, crustaceans, and just about everything else. They are a favorite of anglers ice fishing. Yellow perch are one of the best eating fish the swims!

Other panfish species

ice fishing for panfish

There are numerous other panfish species available to anglers in North America. They include but are not limited to rock bass, green sunfish, pumpkinseed, red breast sunfish, longear sunfish, war mouth, and spotted sunfish. Most of these species are caught using the same baits and techniques as other sunfish.

Top Freshwater game fish species; BASS

The term “bass” can be a bit confusing. Largemouth bass and smallmouth bass are incredibly popular species in North America. However, they are not really bass, they are sunfish. Striped bass, white bass, and yellow bass are members of the true Bass family. However, since most anglers except largemouth and smallmouth as bass, we will refer to them as such in this discussion.

5) Largemouth bass

largemouth bass fishing in Florida

Largemouth bass need no introduction to freshwater anglers. It would be easy to make the argument that they are number one in the list of top 25 freshwater game fish. While originally from the East and Southeast, largemouth bass have been introduced all over North America, and all over the world!

Largemouth bass adapt well to a large variety of environments. This certainly has been a key to their success. They can be caught in large lakes and impoundments as well as farm ponds and small creeks and rivers. Generally speaking, they prefer a slower moving water than do some other fish species. They can also tolerate a wide range of water temperature. This is another factor that has made them so successful.

best soft plastic lure

Largemouth bass average a couple pounds but grow to over 20 pounds. The world record currently is 22 lbs. 4 oz. Largemouth bass can be caught in large schools or also as solitary fish. They are ambush predators with a huge mouth and a broad tail. Largemouth bass will actively chase bait in open water. Often times, bass simply flare there gills and inhale their prey.

Bass tournament influence

Tournaments targeting largemouth bass began in the 60s, and this is a major component in their popularity. Bass fishing tournaments till this day help develop and refine techniques to catch these fish. These tournaments are also often times given credit for the beginning of the “catch and release” philosophy. Anglers quickly learn that catching and killing so many fish was detrimental to the species.

list of top freshwater species

Largemouth bass spawn in the spring. Spring is a relative term, depending on what part of the country they are in. Bass spawn in January and February in the deep South and as late as June up north. Often times, the largest fish are caught during this time of year as the big females are up shallow on the beds. However, largemouth bass of all sizes can be taken year-round.

bass fishing in Florida

While some anglers catch largemouth bass using live bait, the vast majority are landed by anglers casting artificial lures. Soft plastic baits, plugs, spinner baits, spoons, and just about any other lure will produce largemouth bass when presented properly. Top live baits include various live minnows and nightcrawlers.

6) Smallmouth bass

smallmouth bass fishing

Smallmouth bass are quite different in habits than their cousins the largemouth bass. “Smallies” are kind of like a mix between largemouth bass and trout. They prefer cooler, clear water and will often be found in flowing rivers and streams. They have a beautiful brown color, earning them the nickname “bronzebacks”.

smallmouth bass fishing lures

Smallmouth bass are native to the Midwest, especially the areas in and around the Great Lakes. However, they have been successfully introduced to many parts of the country. They are not as widely distributed as largemouth bass. Smallmouth bass cannot tolerate the heat of southern waters, and are not very common in the western states.

spinnerbait fishing tips and techniques

smallmouth bass baits

Anglers targeting smallmouth bass do so using both artificial lures and live bait. Smallmouth bass love rocks and crayfish are one of their favorite foods. Crawfish are very high in protein and are often found around rocks and gravel. Many of the artificial lures use to catch smallmouth bass imitate crayfish.

9 essential smallmouth bass fishing lures

Smallmouth bass also feed on small minnows that are available in the environments that they live. Small plugs, spinners, and spoons work well. Top live baits would include crayfish, minnows, leeches, and nightcrawlers.

Anglers can view and shop for the best smallmouth bass lures in this link.

7) Striped bass

freshwater species

Striped bass are a saltwater fish species that migrates up into freshwater to spawn. Stripers can’t tolerate absolute freshwater. They were introduced into larger lakes and have become a huge freshwater success story. Many of the larger lakes in the United States were created in the 60s and 70s. They offered fantastic fishing for largemouth bass at that time. However, as much of the flooded timber rotted and deteriorated, there was less cover for the largemouth bass.

Striped bass are an open water fish and were introduced into many larger lakes and river systems. Fish biologist then added forage fish, primarily shad, for the striped bass to feed on. So now, striped bass have huge lakes to swim in along with a great forage base. This has resulted an excellent striped bass fishing and many lakes and the southern half of the United States, from coast to coast.

Lake Murray striped bass

In most of these lakes, striped bass are unable to spawn naturally. They do so in freshwater rivers, and often times dams block their access. Therefore, states continue to stock striped bass into lakes as the need arises.

Trolling for striped bass

top freshwater fish species

Trolling is a very effective technique used to catch striped bass. They are often times found in deeper water on channel edges and around other structure. Trolling is a great way to get the lures or baits down deep while covering a lot of water in search of a school of fish. Stripers school up and once fish are found the action can be hot.

Anglers can catch striped bass by casting lures as well. This is particularly true when stripers heard bait fish to the surface and feed on them aggressively. Just about any lure that remotely resembles the shad they are feeding on should produce a strike. They can also be caught in shallower water and in some rivers in the cooler months.

striped bass

Top artificial lures are jigs, spoons, and plugs. Larger lures tend to catch larger fish. However, the lure should be matched to the size of the available forage. The top live baits by far our live shad and herring. Catching these baits and keeping them alive can be tricky. Anglers slow trolling them do very well.

8) White bass and striper hybrids

striped bass hybrid

White bass are smaller versions of striped bass. They are fairly aggressive fish that school up in large numbers. Hybrids average around a foot or so and feed on small baitfish, worms, and crustaceans. They are widely distributed across the United States centering on the Midwest.

Striped bass and white bass hybrids are another fish management success story. These fish grow very quickly and to a decent size, averaging 3 to 5 pounds and growing as large as 10 pounds. Hybrids are also universally known as “wipers”. Hybrids have been introduced into many of the same lakes as have been striped bass. They are very similar in habits.

Hybrids are infertile, they do not spawn. Therefore, as fish die off and are harvested, they must be replenished. One of the things that makes them such a great fish is the fact that they grow quite quickly. Hybrids are good eating and anglers can keep them with a clear conscience, as they cannot reproduce.

Top Freshwater game fish species; Catfish

chesapeake Bay blue catfish

There are three species of catfish that stand out above the others; blue catfish yellow or flathead catfish, and channel catfish. There are many other species of bull heads and the like, but these three catfish species are most targeted by anglers. Channel catfish are the smallest averaging 5 pounds are so, with 20 pounds being a very nice fish. Blue catfish and flathead catfish can both reach in excess of 100 pounds! Catfish are prominently listed on our top 27 freshwater game fish.

All three catfish species have a fairly wide range, with channel cats being the most abundant across North America. Catfish inhabit just about any type of water including streams, rivers, ponds, and large lakes. Flathead catfish tend to prefer slow-moving rivers. Blue catfish have become very popular and are being introduced into more and more large lakes to offer anglers the chance to catch a trophy fish.

Capt Jim wrote a detailed article on Catfish Fishing Tackle and Gear, just click this link.

9) Channel catfish

fishing for freshwater catfish

Channel cats can be caught just about anywhere in the country, though they are less common west of the Rockies. They are the most numerous of the three catfish species. Channel catfish are predators and actually prefer live or fresh baits. They get a bad rap as “bottom feeders”. While they are opportunistic and will eat just about anything, live or fresh cut baits work best. Channel cats occasionally hit artificial lures, but the vast majority are caught by anglers using live, cut, or commercially prepared baits.

channel catfish bait

Like most catfish, channel catfish have an extremely keen sense of smell. Therefore, they can be caught in very murky water. Channel catfish prefer moving water where possible. They spawn by laying their eggs in the crevices of rocks in rivers and streams. While considered a “warm water” fish, catfish thrive in the northern states. In fact, the Red River runs between North Dakota and Minnesota and into Canada. It is considered the best trophy catfish water in North America.

10) Blue catfish

top freshwater species

Blue catfish grow very large, reaching 150 pounds! They are apex predators that can and will dominate the waters that they inhabit. Their native range is the Mississippi River and it’s tributaries. However, they have been introduced into many other waters, especially large lakes. This offers anglers a true trophy fishery, as blue catfish average 20 pounds and grow much larger. While they prefer fresh water, blue cats can tolerate a bit of salinity. They are becoming abundant in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Virginia considers them a problem as they may displace native species.

Blue catfish eat a lot, grow large, and have few natural predators. Like most catfish, they are opportunistic and will feed on almost anything. However, they prefer large, live bait fish. Most blue cats are caught by anglers using stout tackle and fresh cut bait such as mullet, shad, herring, and suckers. Fairly heavy conventional tackle is used by anglers who target these large fish.

11) Flathead catfish

fishing for catfish

Flathead catfish are the most predatory of the three species. They definitely prefer large, live fish to eat. Flathead cats were originally found in the middle of the country, from the lower Great Lakes to Texas. However, they have been introduced to many other areas of the country. Flathead catfish are considered invasive in some areas. They are also know as “yellow catfish” and “shovelhead catfish.” They average around 20 pounds but grow over 100 pounds.

Flathead catfish prefer live prey, especially fish. Anglers targeting flathead cats use live bluegill, sucker, shad, and other fish that are local forage for these fish. They are often caught at night in very shallow water as they cruise for food. Like the blue catfish, flathead catfish require patience and stout tackle. Slow moving rivers and large lakes are the top spots to target these big catfish species.

The “pike” family

12) Walleye

walleye pike fishing

Walleye are an extremely popular game fish in the northern states and Canada. While they are fun to catch, the reason that they are so prized is for their value on a dinner plate. Walleye are fantastic eating! They do put up a decent tussle, but will not be confused with other game fish. Anglers can read this comprehensive post on walleye fishing to get more information.

The Great Lakes and upper Midwest are the center of walleye native populations. They have been introduced into many lakes that are cool enough to support them. Walleye average around 15”, but grow to over ten pounds. Lake Erie in particular is a terrific walleye fishery.

walleye fishing tackle and lures

Walleye feed near the bottom, and that is where most fish are hooked. One look at their eyes will tell anglers that they are also nocturnal feeders. Walleye feed on small bait fish along with crustaceans. They are caught by anglers using live baits such as nightcrawlers, minnows, and leeches. They readily take artificial lures, especially jigs and crank baits.

Trolling is a popular and very effective method for taking walleye. Anglers troll both artificial lures and live baits. Slow trolling with live bait is very effective. Anglers use nightcrawlers on harness rigs to slow troll for walleye. Plugs and spoons are used behind downriggers, planer boards, and on flat lines.

spinnerbait fishing tips

Anglers can read a detailed article on Walleye Fishing Tackle and Gear in this link.

13) Sauger

top freshwater game fish species

Sauger are a close, but smaller relative of the walleye. They are similar in appearance and are also very good to eat. Many anglers consider them to be a “river fish”. Sauger are very migratory and will extend their ranges. Dams that interrupt their travels are causing issues with the species, as has over harvest.

14) Northern pike

northern pike ice fishing

Northern pike or “Northerns” as they are often called, are terrific game fish! They are found in cooler waters in the northern states and some of the top pike waters in the world are located in Canada. Pike are ambush predators that blend in with weeds and attack their prey. Pike are considered good to eat by many anglers, though they are difficult to clean.

Northern pike are found in streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes of all sizes. They prefer live prey. Larger fish will go after some big baits. Many northern pike are caught by anglers casting lures in and around weed beds in fairly shallow water. Spoons, large plugs, and inline spinners are top baits. Large live baits such as suckers and minnows also produce pike.

pike fishing lures

While a lot of pike are caught in shallow water, anglers seeking larger pike target drop-offs and other structure in slightly deeper water. Ice fishing is also very productive and popular. Pike are caught through the ice by anglers using lures such as jigs and spoons and on live minnows.

Anglers can learn more about northern pike tackle in this link.

15) Musekellunge

top freshwater game fish

Muskellunge, better known as “Musky”, is considered by many anglers to be the ultimate freshwater angling challenge. Given the moniker, “The fish of ten thousand casts”, in most situations, musky are difficult to hook. They are apex predators, growing to over 60 pounds. Therefore, there are not a lot of them.

Musky are originally from the Great Lakes area, but their range has been extended. They are caught as far south as Tennessee. Most anglers recognize their value as a game fish and release them. While live baits fool some musky, most are caught by anglers using artificial lures.

musky fishing tackle

Trolling and casting are the two most effective methods for catching musky. Anglers use fairly heavy tackle and wire leaders to cast large lures in search of a trophy. Spoons, plugs, and inline spinners are top baits. Weed beds, points, and back bays are prime spots. Anglers also troll lures and live baits along weed edges to catch musky. Musky are caught through the ice as well.

16) Chain pickerel

top freshwater fish list

Chain pickerel are smaller versions of northern pike. They are similar in shape with a “chain link” design on their body. Three pounds is a nice fish. They are widely distributed, being found as far south as Florida. Most are caught by accident by anglers fishing for other species.

Top Freshwater game fish species; Trout

trout fishinh tips

There are several different trout species that are found in North America. While there are actually quite a few strains of trout, the species that are most widely distributed and targeted by anglers are rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout, cutthroat trout, and lake trout.

Trout generally prefer clean, cold water. Most trout were originally caught in the northern states and Canada, but they have been successfully stocked in southern states including Georgia, Arkansas, Texas, and Arizona. This is especially true for rainbow and brown trout, as they are more tolerant of warmer water temperatures.

fishing for brown trout

Trout forage

Trout have a diverse diet. As young fish, they feed heavily on insects and larva. As they grow bigger, trout switch to eating larger prey such as small fish and crayfish. Many anglers fly fish for them, in fact, that is pretty much how the sport originated. Many books have been written on the subject.

Anglers using spinning tackle certainly catch a lot of fish as well. Spinners and spoons are very effective lures in streams and lakes. Small plugs will catch fewer fish, but will catch larger ones. Trolling is very effective in deep, large lakes such as the Great Lakes.

17) Rainbow trout

fishing for rainbow trout

Rainbow trout are one of the most recognizable and popular game fish in North America and all over the world. They are a gorgeous fish, with a bright red “rainbow” on the side. Trophy rainbow trout can be caught all over the United States. Some of the best spots are pretty far south, such as Lee’s Ferry in Arizona, the White River in Arkansas, and the private streams in north Georgia.

Read more about rainbow trout fishing lures in this link

Of course, when rainbow trout are mentioned, most anglers thing of a fast flowing stream or small river. Waters throughout the northern half of the country hold rainbow trout.

26 useful trout fishing tips

Steelhead trout are rainbow trout that leave streams for open water. They take on a silvery gray color, thus the name. On the Pacific coast, they go out into the ocean then return several years later to spawn. In the Midwest, they use the Great Lakes as “oceans”, returning to streams. Unlike salmon, they do not die. They are terrific game fish as they have grown very strong out in deeper water.

18) Brown trout

trout fishing

Brown trout are perhaps the most widely distributed trout species as they can tolerate the warmest water. They also grow the largest of the “river” trout. Brown trout were introduced to America from Germany in the late 1800s. Many anglers refer to them as “German Browns” for this reason.

While brown trout eat insects, they switch over to larger prey at a fairly early age. Anglers trolling plugs and spoons in large lakes catch some very large brown trout. They are also plentiful in lakes and rivers throughout North America. Fly anglers catch a lot of trout as well. Brown trout can be caught in live bait such as worms, minnows, and fish eggs.

19) Brook trout

best trout tackle




Brook trout are a beautiful fish. They have a bright orange belly with a white outline on the fins. They are originally from the northeast United States, but have been successfully transplanted across the US and Canada. Brook trout are often found in the tiniest of streams, thus the name. Brookies do not grow nearly as large, with six inches being average.

Read about brook trout fishing tackle here

While brook trout are small, many anglers enjoy the challenge of hiking up into the mountains and fooling them on very light tackle. “Native” brookies in particular are highly valued by fly anglers. Some waters in Canada do offer fishing for brook trout to five pounds.

20) Cutthroat trout

top trout species

Cutthroat trout are found in the northwest part of the United States. They are an excellent game fish that are most often caught by anglers fly fishing in streams and rivers. They are generally caught from Montana west to the coast.

21) Lake trout

lake trout fishing tips

Lake trout are a bit different than any trout species. In reality, they are in the “char” family. Lake trout are normally caught in deep, clear, cold lakes in the northern states and in Canada. However, they are caught in streams and rivers occasionally, especially in early spring when they spawn. Most lake trout are caught by anglers trolling large spoons which mimic the herring and other bait fish that lakers feed on.

Top Freshwater game fish species; Salmon

Great Lakes salmon fishing

Salmon are terrific game fish! They are only this far down on the list because of their lack of availability and limited range. Chinook (also know as “King”) salmon, Coho (silver) salmon, Atlantic salmon, and pink salmon are the top salmon species targeted by anglers. Salmon are caught by anglers fly fishing, casting lures and live and cut baits, and by trolling.

22) Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic salmon are incredible fighters and considered a top game fish in the world. However, their numbers are really down from years past. Their delicious flesh is one issue, as are habitat loss and fishing pressure.

23) Chinook salmon

top freshwater fish species

Chinook salmon, or “king” salmon are found on the west coast of the United States and Canada up to Alaska. Kings have also been successfully stocked in the Great Lakes as well. They are a fantastic game fish that grow quite large. Anglers do well in the spring and fall. They are taken by trolling and drifting with lures and egg sacks, as well as cut fish.

24) Coho salmon

salmon fishing

Coho, or silver, salmon are plentiful in the Great Lakes and are the back bone of the fishery. They are available to anglers year-round and are caught using the same methods as other salmon. They do not grow as large as chinook salmon, but they make up for it in numbers and availability.

25) Pink salmon

top almon fish species

Pink salmon, or pinks, are the smallest, but most abundant of the Pacific salmon. They range from the Sacramento River north. Like king salmon, they have been successfully introduced into the Great Lakes. They can be difficult to catch once they move into rivers to spawn.

26) Carp

fishing for carp

Carp were once considered “trash” fish and were undesirable, mostly because they are not considered good to eat. However, anglers of late have grown to appreciate them as a game fish. They grow large, are widely distributed, and put a a very good fight. Some guides actually sight fish for them using fly rods, earning them the nickname, “Midwest bonefish”. They are very challenging in shallow water. Most carp are caught by anglers using natural baits suck as worms, corn, and dough balls.

27) Sturgeon

top fish species

We saved the biggest fish for the end of the list. Sturgeon grow very large, over 12 feet in North America. There are several different sturgeon species, with the largest fish being caught in the Pacific northwest, especially the Columbia River. Sturgeon are prehistoric looking and almost all of them are caught by anglers using cut bait on the bottom.

In conclusion, this is the list of the top 27 freshwater game fish species. What is your favorite species?










Fishing Lido Key Products

Fishing Lido Key Products Page

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a full time fishing guide in Sarasota since 1991.  These are the products and equipment that he uses to catch fish every day. While he does make a small commission on each sale, he created this Fishing Lido Key products page so that anglers who are interested in purchasing the rods, reels, and lures that he uses can find everything in one location.

“Fishing Lido Key is a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. ”

2500 Penn Conflict combo spinning outfit

Fishing lIdo Key Products

The outfit that Capt Jim uses is a Penn Conflict 2500 spinning reel on their matching 7′ rod. This is a terrific rod and reel combination for just about every inshore application. It retails for around $200. Capt Jim uses it with 10-20 lb braid and works great for casting jigs on the flats for trout and other species as well as snook fishing in the back country. This is an excellent combo for anglers fishing inshore saltwater. It is very light, but strong.

Anglers can shop at Amazon for a Penn Conflict spinning combo in this link.

Penn Squall 30 light conventional outfit

This Penn Squall 30 combo is a great entry level outfit at a very affordable price. It has a level wind, is great for light tackle trolling with up to a #2 planer as well as bottom fishing. It is light enough to be fun but stout enough to handle a decent fish.

Anglers can shop at Amazon for a Penn Squall 30 rod and reel in this link.

Jig and grub combo

No other artificial lure catches more fish for inshore saltwater anglers than does the venerable jig and grub combo. It is simple, yet very effective. Jig head weights and grub tails can easily to be changed to match conditions and forage. Capt Jim primarily uses a 3/16 or 1/4 ounce head for most of his fishing. The Strike King jig head comes in 3 colors, several sizes, and has the correct hook size for speckled trout and other species found on the deep grass flats in Florida and beyond.

Anglers can shop at Amazon for Strike King jig heads in this link.

Gulp Shrimp

Sarasota fishing report

Capt Jim uses a 3″ Gulp Shrimp on a 1/4 ounce jig for most of his jig fishing. Gulp Shrimp are almost like using live bait with the advantage of covering a lot of water. Pearl white/ chartreuse and New Penny are his two favorite colors. He finds that the shrimp lasts longer; small fish will bite off the curly tails on the other Gulp products. He also likes the 5″ Gulp Jerk Shad for bot the flats and snook fishing.

Anglers can purchase Gulp! Shrimp at Amazon in this link.

Anglers can purchase Gulp! Jerk Shad baits from Amazon in this link.

Bass Assassin Shad Tail Grubs

Siesta Key fishing charters

There are applications where Capt Jim uses a shad tail style grub. These have excellent action and works well when fishing in clear water for aggressive fish such as bluefish and Spanish mackerel. The 4 1/2 inch bait fished on a 1/4 ounce jig head is the combo that Capt Jim uses most often. Glow/charteuse is the top color with red/gold shiner working better in murky water.

Anglers can shop for Bass assassin Sea Shad baits on Amazon here.

Rapala X-Raps

Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing

Capt Jim uses the #8 Rapala X-Rap Slash bait to catch a variety of species. They are very productive when either trolled or cast. Ghost and olive are the top colors in clear water while gold works best when snook fishing in the darker river waters.

Anglers can shop for #8 Rapala X-Raps at Amazon in this link.


These hooks have been around a long time and work well in most angling applications. Capt Jim uses the #1/0 size on 90% of his Sarasota fishing charters. He will drop it down when snapper and sheepshead are fussy.

Anglers can shop at Amazon for Mustad hooks in this link.

Fishing Line

Capt Jim uses Stren clear monofilament fishing line on his outfits. He uses 10 lb line most of the time.

Anglers can shop for line at Amazon in this link.

Capt Jim uses Power Pro Braided line on his outfits that use braided line. He uses 20 lb line as a good all round size.

Anglers can shop for Power Pro fishing line at Amazon in this link.

Seaguar 30 lb Leader

Anglers can shop for Seagar flourocarbon leader at Amazon in this link.