Florida Inshore Fishing Tips

Florida Inshore Fishing Tips

Florida Inshore Fishing Tips is a comprehensive article that will cover all aspects of Florida saltwater fishing. Tackle, species, techniques, seasons, and locations will all be covered along with great pictures of our fishing ladies and action! Florida is known as to saltwater fishing capital of the world, and for good reason. With over 1300 miles of coastline, Florida offers anglers endless inshore fishing opportunities.

Anglers saltwater fishing in Florida on the inshore waters have many options. The shallow flats and bays, passes and inlets, and near shore Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico waters offer anglers the chance to catch many different species and diverse environments.

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Florida is flat, there is no denying. The geography of the land extends underwater. This results in very large but shallow open waters. The shallow, clear water is the perfect environment for grass to grow. Florida anglers term these areas of submerged vegetation “grass flats”. They are the life blood for anglers inshore fishing in Florida in the shallow waters.

Passes and inlets

Passes and inlets connect the inshore waters with the open Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. These are virtual “fish highways” that game fish and bait fish use to migrate back and forth from the base to open water. Many different species can be caught in the passes and inlets year-round. Most passes and inlets also have some type of structure such as rocks, rip-rap, docks, and bridges.

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The inshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean within a mile or two of the beaches can offer fantastic action at certain times of the year. Pelagic species such as Spanish mackerel, false albacore, cobia, tarpon, sharks, jacks, and more will migrate along the beaches close to shore within the reach of anglers and small boats.

Tackle for inshore Fishing in Florida

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 and reports can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.

One great thing about fishing the inshore waters of Florida is at the same basic set up will be fine for the vast majority of species targeted. A 6 1/2 foot to 7 foot medium action spinning rod paired with a 3000 series reel spooled up with 20 pound braided line or 10 pound to 12 pound monofilament line will do well in most applications. This combination is light enough to cast lures and live baits while stout enough to handle a large fish.

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Anglers choosing a second outfit will do well to step it up a notch or two and go with a 7 1/2 foot heavy action spinning rod with a 5000 series reel, 40 pound braid or 20 pound monofilament line. A third and final choice would be a light conventional outfit that would be great for light inshore trolling, bottom fishing, and free lining large live bait fish for larger species such as tarpon, snook, sharks, and cobia.

fishing for snook

Once the outfit is purchased and spooled up with line, it is time to rig it. Most Florida fish species have either teeth or raspy gill covers. This requires the use of a leader. For most fishing, a fluorocarbon “shock leader” is used. This is a 24 inch to 30 inch piece of heavier fluorocarbon leader. Leader strength will depend on water clarity and the fish being targeted, with 30 pound test being a great all round choice. Toothy species such as sharks and king mackerel will require a steel leader.

Fishing the Florida flats

As previously mentioned, most inshore waters in Florida are fairly shallow. The term “flat” is a broad one. It basically is an area that is fairly large area of similar depth. Grass flats range from ankle-deep to 10 feet deep, depending on the area. Certain species will be caught either in the shallow grass or the deeper grass, and several species will be found in both environments.

Anglers seeking action and variety will do well to target fish on the deep grass flats. This refers to submerge grass beds in water between 4 feet deep and 10 feet deep. Many different species will be found over these grass beds, feeding on bait fish and crustaceans. Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, pompano, jacks, cobia, snapper, grouper, flounder, sea bass, and more will be found on the deep grass flats.

Drifting the deep grass flats

As these can be fairly large areas, drifting is an excellent way for anglers to locate fish and the technique is fairly simple. The boat is idled upwind and up current of the flat that is desired to be fished. The engine is then cut off in the boat is allowed to drift with the wind and tide. Anglers cast artificial lures and live bait in search of fish.

fishing for bluefish

Once fish are found, anglers have a choice of whether to continue drifting or to anchor. Both approaches can be effective. Anglers who choose to anchor should have the anchor out with 20 feet of line tied off to a cleat in the stern. Once the fish are located, the anchor can be quietly lowered into the water. Anglers who choose to drift simply continue fishing until the bite slows, then motor back around and re-drift the area.

Both live bait and artificial lures work very well when drifting the deep grass flats. Live shrimp are undoubtedly the number one live bait. Live shrimp are available year-round at every bait shop in Florida. They also catch every species. Live bait fish such as pin fish, grunts, croakers, mullet, sardines, and herring can also be used.

Fishing with live bait on the flats

Live shrimp can be either free line or fished under a float. A live shrimp under a popping cork has accounted for many many trout over the years. A popping cork is a noisy float that when twitched sharply simulates the sound of a feeding fish. These are deadly on speckled trout! This rig is particularly effective and water 6 feet deep or shallower. Anglers fishing live shrimp in deeper water will often do well to free line them. This means to simply hook the shrimp and let it swim naturally with no weight.

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Anglers fishing with live bait fish on the deep grass flats normally fish them under a float. Free lined bait fish such as pin fish will often dig down into the grass without the float. One deadly technique on the deep grass flats is live bait chumming. Anglers fill the live well with sardines are herring and then anchor up and use these live bait fish as chum to draw in the game fish. This technique is labor-intensive, but incredibly effective.

Fishing with artificial lures on the flats

Artificial lures are very productive, often times out fishing live bait. Lures have several advantages over bait. Anglers casting lures can cover more water then can those using live bait. Lures can also excite or aggravate fish into biting when they’re not particularly hungry.

The top artificial lure for anglers saltwater fishing in Florida is the jig and grub combo. A jig is a hook with a piece of lead molded into it near the eye. This gives the lure both casting weight and action. One quarter ounce is a very good all-around size for fishing the deep grass flats in Florida.

A grub body of some type is then attached to the jig. These bodies come in countless shapes, sizes, and colors. However, they all basically work the same, imitating either a bait fish or a crustacean. 3 inch to 4 inch grub bodies and either a shrimp tail or a shad tail are the most popular. Light colors such as white, glow, and silver work best in clear water. Darker colors such as olive, root beer, and gold work well in stained water.

Fishing with plugs

fishing on Siesta Key

Plugs are another excellent artificial lure that are effective when fishing the deep grass flats. Plugs are plastic lures that imitate bait fish. Top water plugs float on the surface and entice fish to come up from the bottom and attack them. However, most fish on the deep grass flats are caught by subsurface plugs. The either have lips on them which causes them to dive to a desired depth or are suspending plugs which slowly sink through the water column.

Spoons are another effective artificial lure. They are basically a curved piece of metal, usually shiny, that imitate wounded bait fish. Spoons are heavy and cast a long way and have a great natural action as they wobble through the water. Silver and gold are the two most popular finishes. It is important to use a swivel when using a spoon, otherwise line twist will result.

Fishing the shallow flats

When the term “flats fishing comes up, many anglers envision site fishing for bonefish, permit, redfish, or other species in the shallow clear Florida water. It is a bit ironic, but often times the larger fish are actually found in shallower water. Along with the above-mentioned species, snook, barracuda, sharks, cobia, jacks, and other species can be found in water less than 2 feet deep.

fishing for snook

Fishing these very shallow waters requires a different approach. Anglers must be quiet and stealthy in order to succeed. Special shallow draft boats are often used to sneak up on the fish. Wading is another great way to catch fish on the shallow flats.

Artificial lures are often used for anglers saltwater fishing in Florida on the shallow flats. Top water lures can be very effective as they ride up over the bottom and do not get snagged. Light buck tail and soft plastic tail jigs can be used to either sight cast or blind cast as well. Weedless spoons are a very effective artificial lure, particularly for redfish.

Live bait can certainly be effective on the shallow flats as well. Anglers targeting bonefish and permit in the Keys use live shrimp and live crabs with success. These species on the shallow flats can be very spooky and difficult to catch. A live bait will increase the angler’s chances. Live shrimp and bait fish can also be used to fish potholes (small areas of slightly deeper water) in the flats.

Florida Inshore fishing tips; bottom fishing

Bottom fishing is one of the oldest, simplest and to this day most effective fishing techniques. As the name implies, it is simply using a live or dead piece of bait fished on the bottom to entice a bite. While it is relatively uncomplicated, there are techniques and rigs that will help anglers be more successful.

The most common rig used when bottom fishing is the sliding sinker rig. Some anglers refer to this as a “Carolina rig”. It consists of an egg shaped sinker with a hole in the middle. The running line slides through the whole and then a swivel is attached. The swivel stops the sinker and allows for a leader to be attached. A 24 inch to 30 inch piece of fluorocarbon leader followed by a live bait hook finishes the rig.

Another variation of this is the “knocker rig”. With this rig the egg sinker is allowed to slide right down to the eye of the hook. This has a couple of advantages. When the sinker is on the bottom, the angler knows the bait is on the bottom as well. Also, the sinker banging against the eye of the hook will help dislodge it in case a hook get snagged. This is how the rig got its name.

Bottom fishing rigs and techniques

Another popular rig for bottom fishing is the dropper rig or “chicken rig”. This is best used when fishing vertically. The sinker sits at the bottom with a couple of hooks suspended just above the bottom, tied at intervals. This is a great rig when targeting bottom fish in open water but can be effective in all bottom fishing applications.

bottom fishing rigs

When bottom fishing, the goal is to use the least amount of weight possible to hold bottom. As conditions such as current flow and depth change, successful anglers will change the sinker weight along with them.

Hook size should be matched to the size of the bait being used and not the size of the fish being targeted. A #1 or #1/0 short shank live bait hook will do well in most applications. Anglers using larger live baits or cut baits will need to increase the hook size. Anglers fishing the inshore reefs in the Gulf of Mexico are required by law to use circle hooks. Many anglers you circle hooks all the time, it is just a matter of personal choice.

Fishing Florida passes and inlets

Passes and inlets are terrific spots to fish. Many different game fish species use them to migrate between the inshore waters in the open Gulf of Mexico or ocean. Most passes and inlets have abundant structure such as rock jetties, docks, fishing piers, bridges, and underwater ledges. They can also be a great option for anglers without a boat.

fishing for snook

On the West Coast of Florida, these channels are called passes. On the East Coast of Florida they are called inlets. While they are virtually the same thing, they are a little bit different and will be covered separately. Tides are generally stronger on the Atlantic Ocean side of Florida.

Passes

Passes on the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida are often sandy and can be quite shallow. Anglers drifting the center of the passes or along the shoals and bars catch pompano, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish, sharks, and even tarpon. Vertically jigging as the boat drifts along is a very effective technique in water over 10 feet deep. Free lining a live shrimp is also effective when the current is not too strong.

Often times, fish will be seen feeding on the surface in the passes. This is great fun and very exciting is almost any lure or bait that is well presented will get taken. Spanish mackerel, bluefish, and ladyfish are most often seen working the surface in the passes.

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Most passes also have some type of structure, whether it be a jetty, seawall or some other barrier. These are prime spots to bottom fish for sheepshead, snapper, grouper, and other bottom fish. Live or frozen shrimp are the most popular bait, but live bait fish can be used as well. Snook will school up heavily in the deeper passes all along the west coast of Florida from Tampa Bay South.

Inlets

While inlets on the East Coast are similar to passes, there are a couple differences. The primary difference is the size of the inlets and the current flow. Inlets on the East Coast of Florida are generally wider, deeper, and faster, with heavier boat traffic. This makes fishing in the pass itself fairly difficult at times. Anglers must be constantly aware and put safety first.

That said, fishing the East Coast passes can be fantastic! Huge snook school up in the inlets in the summer time with many of the fish being over 20 pounds. Anglers fish with live bait fish such as grunts and mullet using fairly heavy tackle. When the current is running, it takes a lot of weight just to get the bait to the bottom. A 20 pound snook will put up a heck of a fight when aided by a for not current.

Just about every other inshore species can be caught around inlets as well. Schools of redfish will migrate through at times. Speckled trout will be found around the rocks. Flounder, snapper, grouper, sheepshead, and other bottom species will be found around the structure.

Fishing Florida bridges and docks

Bridges and docks hold a lot a fish for anglers inshore fishing in Florida. Docks provide shade, cover from the current, and forage. Docks and bridges can be productive in any depth of water. While artificial lures can be used, most anglers fishing docks and bridges use live or natural bait.

guide to inshore saltwater fishing

The best approach when targeting these structures is to present the bait to the up current side of the structure. Anglers in boats anchor up current a cast or so away. Then, they cast the bait towards the pilings. Anglers fishing from bridges and piers take the same approach and fish the up current side of the structure.

Night fishing for snook around the bridges is very popular in the southern half of the state. Lighted docks and bridges attract shrimp and bait fish which in turn attracts the snook and other game fish. They can often times be seen stacked up in the lights. Anglers free line a live shrimp and cast lures and flies in the shadow lines to catch them.

Florida inshore species

Tarpon

Tarpon are arguably the top inshore game fish in the world. They can be caught in shallow water from small boats. They grow VERY large, over 200 pounds. Tarpon are caught all along both coast of Florida from early spring through the fall.

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Tarpon fishing in the Florida Keys is legendary. Fish are thick in the spring and are caught around bridges and on the flats. Anglers sight fish to rolling and moving schools of fish along the beaches throughout the state. Inlets and the mouths of large bays such as Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor will concentrate tarpon.

Tarpon are caught using live baits such as crabs, mullet, shrimp, and bait fish. Cut bait fished on the bottom works well, too. Larger versions of artificial lures that catch most Florida game fish will produce tarpon as well.

Snook

Snook are a terrific inshore game fish! They hit lures, live baits and fly, pull hard, and usually leap out of the water when hooked. Snook are found in the southern half of the state. They are very similar to largemouth bass; they are ambush predators with large mouths that inhale their prey. Snook are usually found near some type of structure. In fact, most of the most popular snook lures were originally designed to catch bass.

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Snook have a distinct seasonal migration. In cooler months snook migrate up into creeks, rivers, as canals to escape the harsh conditions on the flats. As it warms up, they move out into the back waters and bays to feed. By summer, many of the fish are in the passes, inlets, and out on the beaches to spawn. By late summer, the pattern begins to reverse itself.

Redfish

Redfish are an extremely popular game fish for anglers inshore fishing in Florida. They are widely distributed and available to just about every saltwater angler in Florida and beyond.

Many anglers target reds on the shallow grass flats. They can be seem tailing and waking as they feed in water that is a foot deep. Stealth and patience are required to get close enough to cast to them. Artificial lures such as jigs, soft plastics, weedless spoons, and topwater plugs are used to fool them. Live bait, especially shrimp, can be used as well.

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Reds can also be caught around structure. Docks in particular hold a lot of redfish. A large live shrimp tossed under a dock is a great way to catch them. Inlets on the east coast are top spots to catch large bull redfish. Jetties, piers, and bridges are also good spots.

Redfish can be scattered out in the spring. As late summer approaches, they school up in large numbers as they prepare to spawn. Once they school up, reds move out of the passes and inlets and into open water. Anglers finding one of these schools of mature reds in open water will have a remarkable experience.

Bonefish

Top 25 Florida game fish

Bonefish are found in the southernmost part of Florida. They are incredible game fish! Bones are among the fastest of all inshore species. They are targeted on the shallow flats in the Keys. They feed on shrimp and other crustaceans. Anglers fly fish for them as well as casting small jigs and live bait. This is challenging, but rewarding, fishing.

Permit

top game fish in Florida

Permit are often targeted on the flats near Key West. They are famous for being very difficult to catch. Live crabs are the best bait. Permit are considered to be the toughest fish to catch on fly on the flats. Unlike bonefish, permit have a much wider range. They are caught in the open water along both coasts. They will school up over wrecks and artificial reefs.

Speckled trout

Speckled trout are an extremely popular inshore game fish. While not the strongest battlers in the world, they are aggressive, hit hard, are beautiful, and are great eating. Speckled trout are widely distributed and fond in all of the coastal waters of Florida. The Indian River on the east coast is famous for trophy speckled trout.

Gator trout Sarasota

Small and medium sized trout are found in schools. Anglers drifting grass flats in 4′ to 10′ of water catch them casting jigs with a soft plastic tail, plugs, spoons, and live bait. A live shrimp under a noisy float has probably accounted for more speckled trout than all other baits combined.

Larger trout, known as “gator trout” are more solitary. They are also often times found in shallow water. They are more difficult to catch in this skinny water. Larger live baits such as mullet and grunts are top baits. Top water plugs and larger swim baits will fool them as well.

Spanish mackerel

Spanish mackerel are a terrific and often times under rated game fish. They are fast, aggressive, beautiful, and very good on the dinner plate when eaten fresh. Mackerel school up and are found in good numbers in the bays, passes and inlets, and out on the beaches.

Sarasota chumming techniques

Spanish mackerel can often be seen feeding on the surface as they terrorize helpless bait fish. This is an anglers dream as they will hit just about any bait or lure that gets near them. Spring and fall are normally the best times to find them, as they prefer water temperature from the upper 60’s to mid 70’s.

Spoons, jigs, and plugs are all productive lures for Spanish mackerel. Trolling is a very productive technique for locating them when they are not seen on the surface. Live bait such as shrimp and sardines are also effective. Mackerel will respond to chum and can be lured to an anchored boat.

Pompano

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Pompano are a small, but feisty little fish. They resemble permit and mostly feed on the bottom on crustaceans. Shrimp, fiddler crabs, and sand fleas are top baits. Pompano are a favorite of surf fishermen. They are also found in bays and especially passes and inlets.

Pompano will certainly hit a jig as well. Small, compact lures bounced off the bottom produce pompano as their mouths are fairly small. Drifting with the current in passes and inlets while vertically working a jig is a proven technique.

Sheepshead

inshore fishing for sheepshead

Sheepshead are a hard-fighting bottom fish. They are a member of the porgy family. Sheepshead have very distinct “human” looking teeth. They feed on barnacles, crabs, shrimp, and other crustaceans. Sheepies are almost always found near structure such as bridges, docks, oyster bars, and rip-rap. They are seldom caught using artificial lures. Sheepshead are very good to eat!

Black drum

Florida saltwater fishing in winter

Black drum are related to redfish but look more like sheepshead. They are a bottom feeding, structure oriented fish that feeds on crustaceans. Crabs and shrimp are the top baits. Black drum grow very large. They can be found in water that is quite shallow as well as deeper structure. Smaller fish are good to eat but larger drum can be wormy.

Mangrove snapper

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Mangrove snapper are a fish species that is available both inshore and offshore in Florida. They are found throughout the state near structure. Docks, bridges, rocks, oyster bars, and mangrove shorelines will hold them. Most snapper are caught by anglers bottom fishing with live bait.

Mangrove snapper are often caught on the flats as well. They will school up on grass patches and on the edges of flats. Live shrimp, small bait fish, and cut bait will fool them. They are also aggressive at times and will take lures such as jigs and small plugs.

Grouper

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Grouper are another species that many anglers consider an “offshore” species. They are found in the same structure as other bottom fish such as snapper and sheepshead. Some anglers target them but many grouper are hooked by accident. The larger fish will tear up the lighter tackle used for smaller fish.

Cobia

Sarasota fishing reefs

Cobia spend most of their lives offshore, but will wander into the inshore bays and can be caught just off the beach as well. They grow very large, over 100 pounds. Cobia can often be seen cruising just under the surface and can be sight fished. They will hit live shrimp, pin fish, and other bait fish as well as jigs and other artificial lures.

Flounder

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Flounder are a very popular and plentiful species in the northern part of Florida. They are less numerous further south, the water may be a bit warm. Flounder put up a nice tussle but more importantly, they are fantastic eating! They lie on the bottom and ambush prey as it washes by in the current. Most Florida flounder caught are southern Gulf flounder.

Live bait works very well for flounder. Mud minnows and shrimp are the top baits. They will also take jigs bounced along the bottom. They will lie in likely ambush spots, near structure where possible. The tidal rivers are great flounder habitat.

False albacore

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False albacore migrate along the coast of Florida in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. They rarely come into the inshore bays. These fish are related to tuna fish and are very fast and powerful. The are sight cast to when breaking on the surface. False albacore move fast and can be surprisingly fussy at times. They are a terrific sport fish on spin or fly!

jack crevalle

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Jack crevalle are another hard-fighting game fish targeted by anglers inshore fishing in Florida. Jacks are found all over the world in warmer climates. They school up and can very very aggressive at times. Jack crevalle grow large and will put up a tremendous battle on light tackle. They hit lutes and flies with reckless abandon. They certainly are caught using live bait as well. Jacks are great fun when they are schooled up and feeding on the surface. no food value, but a terrific game fish!

Ladyfish

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Ladyfish are looked down upon by many local anglers. However, from a game fish standpoint, they are a fun fish. Ladies are aggressive, school up in large numbers, and usually jump often when hooked. Jigs are a great lure to use, they often times out fish live bait. Shrimp and bait fish will catch them as well. Ladyfish are found in the bays and passes as well as out on the beaches. They are not good to eat, but are used often as cut bait for redfish and other species.

Florida fishing by region

Florida offers anglers some great fishing all year long. However, the species and seasons are different throughout the state. Some species are only available in the southern part of the state, Others have different seasons that are productive. The regions will be broken down into sections.

Northeast Florida

Jacksonville is the center of fishing in northeast Florida. The inshore waters consist of coastal rivers with big tide differences. Redfish, speckled trout, and flounder are the top inshore species. These tidal rivers are rich with forage such as shrimp, crabs, and minnows. Oyster bars are prime spots.

Huge redfish school up at the mouth of rivers in the Jacksonville area. Fish to over 40 pounds are caught regularly. Anglers bottom fish with fresh cut bait and heavy tackle to catch these bull redfish.

Sheepshead and black drum are also popular fish targeted by northeast Florida anglers. These fish hit live shrimp and crabs and are rarely caught on lures. Structure such as bridges, docks, inlets, jetties, oyster bars, and ledges hold these fish. Reefs in the Atlantic Ocean hold these fish as well.

Spanish mackerel, bluefish, redfish, tarpon, false albacore, and jack crevalle are available of of the Jacksonville beaches. They move through in the string and early summer, then back south in the fall. The mullet run in September and October can be insane.

East Central Florida

Titusville and the Canaveral National Seashore are the center of this region. The inshore waters are dominated by Banana River, Mosquito Lagoon, and Indian River. These are really bays, very shallow and full of grass and oyster bars. Speckled trout and redfish are the top species. This area is known for having the largest speckled trout in Florida.

Reds and trout are spooky in the very shallow water. Anglers need to be quiet and stealthy in order to be successful. Live shrimp and mullet are the top live baits. Cut crabs fished on the bottom catch some very large redfish. Edges of bars and potholes in the grass flats are prime spots. Schools of redfish can be found tailing and waking on the flats.

Snook become available in decent numbers in this area. They can be caught in the back waters on the flats in the spring and fall. In winter, snook migrate up the rivers and residential canals to keep warm. In summer, snook school up heavily in all of the inlets. They are out of season, but this is the best time to catch, and release, a trophy snook. Anglers also sight cast to them on the beaches.

Action off of the east central beaches can be fantastic! Tarpon, snook, jacks, redfish, mackerel, false albacore, sharks, and more are caught close to shore off of the area beaches. Bait is the key, anglers finding the bait will likely find some action with larger game fish. Pompano and flounder are also caught off the beaches.

South Florida and the Keys

Inshore fishing in south Florida and the Keys focuses around the “big three”, tarpon, bonefish, and permit. Anglers from all over the world come here to try their hand at the premier saltwater gamefish. Anglers in shall draft skiffs quietly pole around in search of fish. This is a challenging and demanding style of fishing. However, the reward is great!

Sight fishing with fly rods was basically “invented” in the Keys by legendary anglers years ago. It remains very popular today and many consider it the ultimate angling challenge. Professional guides are plentiful in the Keys.

Other species are available as well. Snook are caught in the back waters as well as the numerous canals and in the inlets. Pompano and whiting are targeted in the surf. Snapper and grouper please anglers on bars and around structure. Mackerel and false albacore are caught just off the beaches.

Southwest Florida

The area from Boca Grande and Charlotte Harbor south to the Ten Thousand Islands offers some fantastic inshore fishing. The Ten Thousand Islands is a huge area where the Everglades dumps into the Gulf of Mexico. This area gives anglers the true remote “back country” experience.

Snook, redfish, and tarpon are the top game fish in this area. They are caught in the backwater bays and cuts all season long. Oyster bars and mangrove shorelines abound, offering perfect cover for these species. Anglers cast lures, flies, and live bait in pursuit of these fish. Modern navigation technology has made it much easier for anglers to explore this area.

More Southwest Florida species

Other species are available as well. Speckled trout, pompano, bluefish, jack crevalle, flounder, Spanish mackerel, jacks, sharks, sheepshead, grouper, snapper, drum, and even more species are caught regularly. Mangrove shorelines, oyster bars, flats, passes, bays, and reefs all hold fish.

Boca Grande is famous for giant tarpon. The run begins in April and goes into July. Anglers flock to Gasparilla Pass where tarpon congregate in huge numbers. Boats drift through the pass very close to each other and vertically fish with jigs and live bait. Anglers seeking a little elbow room can go out on the beach and sight cast to rolling fish.

West Central Florida

The west coast of Florida from Venice north to the Panhandle is a diverse area, with Tampa Bay being the most prominent estuary. It offers anglers incredible diversity and a number of species that can be caught. There are barrier islands from Tampa Bay south. North of that, the islands are gone and in the inshore Gulf of Mexico is very shallow with massive grass flats and oyster bars.

Snook,speckled trout, redfish, and tarpon are the top game fish in this area. However, mackerel, bluefish, pompano, snapper, grouper, sheepshead, flounder, drum, flounder, sea bass, whiting, cobia, sharks, false albacore, and other species are found in good numbers. Anglers visiting Sarasota can take out a Sarasota fishing charter while in the area.

Anglers cast lures such as jigs and plugs as they drift the flats and cover shore lines. Live shrimp fished under a popping cork catch a ton of fish. Chumming with live bait fish is very productive in the warmer months. Snook school up heavily in the passes and out on the beaches. Tarpon are caught off of the beaches and at the mouth of Tampa Bay in the summer.

Panhandle

The Panhandle is similar to other parts of Florida. It has back water shallow bays, barrier islands, and the inshore Gulf of Mexico. Trout, reds, sheepshead, and flounder are very popular inshore species. Shallow flats and oyster bars hold fish.

Surf fishing for pompano and other species is popular and effective. There are numerous fishing piers out in the Gulf of Mexico as well. Action on the beaches can be very good for a variety of species. Destin is known as the “Worlds luckiest fishing village” and does offer excellent inshore fishing, though it is perhaps better known for offshore fishing. Florida fishing regulations change often, view current regulations on the FWC website.

In conclusion, this article on Florida inshore fishing tips should help anglers catch more fish while visiting the Sunshine State!

Top 25 Florida game fish

Fishing for the Top 25 Florida game fish

This article focuses on fishing for the top 25 Florida game fish species, featuring some of the best female anglers! Florida is known as the sports fishing capital of the world and offers anglers the opportunity to catch a wide variety of freshwater and saltwater game fish.

The list of the top 25 Florida game fish is in no particular order. For the most part, it will list the fish species that are most abundant and available to more anglers. This in no way diminishes or is a reflection of the attributes at the game fish towards the bottom of the list. Enjoy the pictures of the lady anglers in action! Anglers should check the FWC website for current fishing regulations. There are links to more extensive articles for most species.

Top inshore saltwater Florida game fish

1) Tarpon

Tarpon, also known as the Silver King, are an incredible game fish. They grow to well over 200 pounds and can be caught using a variety of live and artificial baits as well as on fly. Tarpon can be caught in deeper water but from a game fish standpoint, it is much more challenging and exciting to target them in shallow water.

top 25 Florida game fish

Tarpon can be caught in the state of Florida all year long. In the wintertime, they are found in the southernmost part of the state, the Florida Keys in particular. As it warms up, tarpon migrate up both coasts and can be caught throughout the summer.

Sight fishing for tarpon is very exciting. There are very few fishing opportunities in the world were anglers can sight cast to fish that approach 200 pounds with spinning or fly tackle. The tarpon’s habits of milling about in schools in shallow water and surfacing in schools in deeper water provide this opportunity.

Many anglers consider tarpon fishing the ultimate challenge. About one in 10 tarpon that takes a bait or lure is actually landed. Tarpon have very hard and bony mouths in their practice of leaping multiple times and shaking their head violently results in most of the fish tossing the hook. However, “jumping” a tarpon can be just as memorable as landing one!

2) Snook

Snook are the premier saltwater inshore game fish in Florida. They are very similar in habits to largemouth bass. Snook are ambush predators with very large mouths that can inhale large prey easily. They are a tropical species that is temperature sensitive and inhabit the southern half of the state.

Sarasota fishing charters

Snook have a very distinct migration pattern. In the cooler months, they are found in rivers, creeks, and residential canals where they escape the harsh conditions of the open flats. As the weather warms, they move out of these areas and scatter out over the inshore bays and flats. By May, most fish are out in the passes and inlets and along the beaches as they spawn. As the weather cools, the pattern reverses itself.

Snook can be caught using a wide variety of artificial lures and live baits. Many of the best lures were originally designed for largemouth bass. Top water and shallow diving plugs, jigs with a soft plastic trailer, weedless spoons, and spinnerbaits are just a few of the lures that will catch snook. Live baits are also productive including shrimp and bait fish.

3) Redfish

Redfish are another very popular saltwater inshore game fish, perhaps second only to the mighty snook. Reds are more widely distributed, being found throughout the entire state. Reds are found in a variety of environments, but are most notably sought after by anglers fishing shallow water.

top 8 Sarasota fish species

Redfish have an inferior mouth which means that it is basically on the bottom of the head pointing downward. This gives anglers a great indication of how it feeds. Reds love crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs and their hard nose and under slung mouth are designed for rooting them out in the bottom. Oyster bars and flats are prime habitat for redfish.

They are also found in the passes and along the beaches. Redfish school up in large numbers in the late summer. Many of these are oversize fish, also known as bull redfish. They are well over the maximum size limit of 27 inches. Jacksonville in particular is well known for holding schools of these over-sized redfish.

4) Jack crevalle

Jack crevalle are the bar room brawlers of the inshore waters. They are mean and nasty with broadsides and forked tails and put up a tremendous fight. Some anglers do not rate them as highly because they are not great eating. However, from a game fish point of view, they do everything but jump. They are found throughout the entire state of Florida.

fishing for jack crevalle and bluefish

Jacks are an aggressive, schooling fish. Seldom is one found all alone. They can often times be seen foraging actively on the surface. Jacks will hit artificial lures and flies with reckless abandon. They can certainly be caught by anglers using live bait as well. They are found in the inshore waters, creeks and canals, passes and inlets, and out on the beaches.

Jack crevalle can be temperature sensitive. Prolonged cold snaps can actually kill them. For this reason, when cool weather descends on Florida, jacks often times move up into rivers, creeks, and residential canals. This is a great time to target them as a are confined in a relatively small space and easier to locate. It can also be a time of year when weather conditions make it difficult to fish the open flats. This makes fishing for jacks in the winter a great alternative.

5) Spanish mackerel

Spanish mackerel are a terrific, and often times underrated game fish. They are fast, aggressive, beautiful, hit lures, baits, and flies, and taste great when eaten fresh. What more can an angler look for in a game fish? Spanish mackerel are another schooling fish that are usually found in bunches. Mackerel are found in the inshore bays, passes and inlets, and out on the beaches throughout the state.

Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing

Spring and fall are generally the best time to target Spanish mackerel. They prefer water temperatures but between the high 60s in mid 70s. They often migrate along with the schools of bait fish. While mackerel feed primarily on bait fish, they can be caught by anglers using shrimp as well. Any artificial lure such as a spoon, plug, or jig that mimics a bait fish will produce Spanish mackerel.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of Spanish mackerel fishing is that it is oftentimes a visual experience. Mackerel can often be found working just off the Florida beaches as they feed voraciously on the surface. Small bait fish such as pilchards and glass minnows along with herring are the normal forage. Anglers targeting Spanish mackerel will bump up the monofilament leader to 40 pounds or 50 pounds or use a short piece of wire to help reduce cutoffs.

Anglers can also catch Spanish mackerel drifting the inshore bays, passes, and inlets. Drifting with a live shrimp or bait fish will produce as will casting artificial lures such as jigs, spoons, and plugs. Trolling is a great way to locate them when they are not feeding on the surface. Inshore artificial reefs are also Spanish mackerel hot spots.

6) Speckled trout

Speckled trout are not the greatest fighting fish in the sea, however they are an extremely popular game fish throughout the entire state of Florida. Their official name is spotted sea trout. This species is beautiful, plentiful, can be caught using just about every angling method, and is fantastic eating.

Gator trout Sarasota

Speckled trout are most often caught in the inshore waters over submerge grass beds. Speckled trout and grass just go together. The submerge grass beds hold shrimp and other crustaceans along with bait fish. Trout will school up in decent numbers, usually of fish of the same size, over these flats.

Anglers drifting the flats while casting artificial lures and live bait. A 3 inch to 4 inch grub on a 1/4 ounce jig head is the top artificial bait for speckled trout. Undoubtedly, a live shrimp, usually fished under a noisy cork, is the top live bait. Larger trout will take a live pin fish, grunts, or mullet. Trout will be at times found out on the beaches and in the passes and inlets.

7) Bluefish

Bluefish are very familiar to anglers who have spent any time saltwater fishing in the Northeast United States. They are extremely aggressive and will actually regurgitate when full just so they can feed some more. Florida bluefish are generally not as large, but have the same disposition. They are found throughout the state and 5 pounds is a good fish.

Sarasota jig fishing

Most Florida bluefish are caught by anglers targeting other species. They are found in the same types of spots as are Spanish mackerel. Deep grass flats, passes and inlets, and the inshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean are were most bluefish will be found. Like mackerel, they can often be seen feeding on the surface.

Florida bluefish are an aggressive, schooling fish. They prefer a fast-moving, erratic artificial lures. Jigs, spoons, and plugs are the top baits. Anglers will sometimes add a short piece of wire leader to help reduce cutoffs from the toothy bluefish. Smaller blues are good eating when put on ice immediately and prepare that evening.

8) Permit

Permit are the most prized game fish species on the flats in the Florida Keys. There extremely spooky and difficult to catch and water barely deep enough to cover their backs. They normally travel around in singles or very small numbers. Anglers cast live baits such as shrimp or crabs towards fish. A permit on the fly is considered to be a terrific accomplishment.

top game fish in Florida

Fortunately, permit are also found offshore. They will hover in large schools over wrecks and artificial reefs. They are much easier to catch in this deeper water. A small live crab is considered to be the top bait, but they will sometimes hit shrimp and other small artificial lures.

9) Bonefish

Bonefish are a fantastic saltwater game fish. The “ghost of the flats” as they are called are found in the United States in the Florida Keys as they live in tropical waters. Bonefish are most often caught in very shallow water as they move with the tide in search of shrimp and crustaceans. As with redfish, bones have an inferior mouth which makes them well-suited for routing out forage on the bottom.

Top 25 Florida game fish

One of the most satisfying and challenging aspects of targeting bonefish is that much of it is visual. Bone fishing is as much hunting as it is fishing as anglers prowl the flats while stalking their prey. Once a fish or school of fish is seen, the lure, bait, or fly is cast out in front of the fish in hopes of a take.

Many anglers target bonefish on fly rods, and this is great sport. Bonefish are extremely fast and once hooked will dump the spool, whether it be spin or fly. Small flies that imitate crabs and shrimp work best. Anglers casting artificial lures use small buck tail jigs. Live shrimp and crabs are also productive.

Top Florida freshwater game fish

10) Largemouth bass

Largemouth bass are arguably the most popular game fish in the United States. Florida takes second to no other state when it comes to size and numbers of largemouth bass. In fact, most of the larger bass stocked in Texas, California, and other states are Florida strain largemouth bass. They grow larger than any other largemouth bass in the world.

top 25 Florida game fish

Florida is flat was very little elevation. This result in countless shallow lakes, ponds, and slow-moving streams. This is perfect habitat for largemouth bass. They prefer shallow, weedy bodies of water with structure such as docks and fallen timber. Largemouth bass prefer waters with a sluggish current. Also, the warmth of Florida offers a longer growing season than any other state. For all of these reasons, Florida offers anglers excellent largemouth bass fishing.

While bass fishing can be productive all year, most anglers target trophy bass in the cooler months when the large females are on the beds. Depending on the part of the state that one is fishing, this can range from December to February. This also coincides with the dry season, resulting in lower water levels in lakes and rivers. This tends to concentrate bass and make them easier to locate and catch.

11) Bluegill

Anglers reading this might be surprised to see bluegill so high on the list of Florida game fish. However, they meet all the criteria when matched with the proper tackle. Inch for inch, they fight as hard as any other species. Bluegill are found in just about every freshwater body throughout the entire state.

Sarasota freshwater fishing

Just as with largemouth bass, warm, shallow, weedy bodies of water are the perfect habitat for bluegill. With the 12 month growing season and the abundance of food, bluegill fishing throughout the state of Florida is terrific. Anglers casting lures and using live worms and crickets on ultralight tackle enjoy great action. Light fly rods are great fun as well.

12) Crappie

Crappie are an extremely popular freshwater game fish. They are also known in Florida as “speckled perch” or “specks”. While they might not put up the greatest battle, they are fun on ultralight spinning tackle. Crappie are also fantastic eating and this is certainly part of their appeal in popularity. They are also the largest of the pan fish family. Crappie are found throughout the state in lakes, ponds, and slow moving rivers.

Sarasota freshwater fishing

Crappie primarily feed on minnows. Therefore the best baits to catch them on our live minnows and artificial lures that imitate small minnows. Curly tail jigs, tiny plugs, and small spinner baits are the top artificial lures used to catch crappie in Florida.

13) Catfish

Catfish are gaining in popularity and being recognized and appreciated more as a game fish throughout the country, and Florida is no exception. Lakes and rivers in Florida, particularly the northern portion, offer anglers the opportunity to catch flathead catfish, channel catfish, and blue catfish. Flathead catfish and blue catfish grow quite large, approaching 100 pounds. Channel catfish are smaller, yet much more widely distributed.

top 25 Florida game fish

Catfish have obtained an unfair reputation over the years for being scavengers. In reality, most catfish prefer to forage on live prey. They are opportunistic feeders that will feed on bait fish, crawfish, worms, and just about anything that can provide a source of protein. Of course, cut baits and stink baits produce catfish as well. Most anglers targeting catfish use medium conventional outfits and fish right on the bottom.

Top near shore Florida game fish

14) King mackerel

King mackerel are one of the fastest fish that swims. They are found in the inshore waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico off of both Florida coasts. They come in close to shore at times, often within a mile or so of the beach. This is a great advantage to anglers fishing in smaller boats as they have the ability to catch a large fish so close to shore.

Sarasota offshore fishing

King mackerel, or king fish, grow to over 50 pounds. They are very aggressive and are caught on live and artificial baits. Most king fish are in fact caught by anglers trolling. Large, live baits are slow trolled to catch trophy king mackerel. Anglers seeking more numbers of school sized fish do well using spoons and plugs. King fish are most often found over reefs and hard bottom areas in 30 feet of water to 60 feet of water.

15) False albacore

False albacore are a fantastic game fish that can be found just off the beaches along both coast of Florida. They are also known as “Little tunny” and “bonito”. False albacore are a pelagic species that is found found in schools. They are incredibly fast and usually make a long initial run that will test an angler’s drag. False albacore are generally not considered very good to eat.

Sarasota fishing forecast

Most anglers target false albacore are looking for “breaking fish”. These are schools of fish that are foraging aggressively on the surface. This action can be seen quite a distance on a calm day. False albacore will actually turn the water white as they terrorize schools of helpless bait fish. Birds are usually seen working overhead as well.

The key when sight casting to false albacore is to determine the direction their moving and set up an intersection point. While live bait can be used, especially to chum them up, most anglers prefer artificial lures or flies. Small spoons, jigs, and plugs along with flies that imitate small bait fish work best. False albacore often times feed on glass minnows and can be fussy when it comes to the size of the offering.

16) Cobia

Cobia are another popular Florida game fish. They can be found just about anywhere in the state. Anglers can catch cobia in 2 foot of water on the flats as well as over a wreck in hundreds of feet of water in the Atlantic Ocean. However, most cobia are caught in the inshore waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico in water between 20 feet and 50 feet deep. They are delicious eating and grow to over 100 pounds.

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Cobia are famous for their odd habit of swimming right at or just below the surface. This makes it possible for anglers sitting high up in the bridge to spot them and sight cast to the fish. This is great sport and is done quite often up in the Panhandle of Florida. Cobia also have an affinity for wrecks, artificial reefs, and ledges and will often hold over the structures.

Once located, cobia are not particularly difficult to catch. Top baits include live pin fish, mullet, large live shrimp and other live bait fish. Top artificial lures include jigs with a long plastic trailer as well as plugs and spoons.

17) Sharks

Sharks are great fun in the shallow inshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. They have saved the day for many a charter boat captain when action on the other species was slow. There are quite a few different species of sharks available and anglers desiring to keep a short need to know the current Florida fishing regulations.

top 25 Florida species

Sharks are generally fairly easy to catch. Many anglers actually consider them a nuisance when targeting grouper and snapper on the offshore wrecks. Basically, anchoring up tide of a likely area and putting some chum in the water will draw sharks to the stern in short order. A chunk of cut bait on a large hook with a wire leader is all that’s required. Anglers need to match the size of the tackle to the size of the shark being targeted.

Florida bottom fish

18) Grouper

Grouper are king when it comes to bottom fishing in Florida. Anglers come from all over the country to sample this hard fighting and fantastic eating fish. There are multiple species of grouper, with gag grouper, red grouper, black grouper, scamp, and Goliath grouper being the most commonly caught. Most grouper average 5 to 10 pounds, with Goliath grouper growing very large, well over 300 pounds.

Grouper are a structure oriented fish that are found on the bottom around ledges, wrecks, reefs, and hard bottom areas. Very seldom will grouper be found over sand bottom. Most grouper fishing is done in water between 50 feet deep and 200 feet deep. However, gag grouper can be caught much shallower than that, even in the inshore bays.

The vast majority of grouper are landed by anglers using live or cut bait fish right on the bottom. Any live bait fish such as a pin fish, grunts, sardine, mullet, or herring will produce grouper. Top frozen baits are Spanish sardines and squid. In the wintertime, particularly on the West Coast, anglers do well trolling for grouper on hard bottom areas using large deep diving plugs.

19) Snapper

Snapper are a close second to grouper when it comes to popularity for anglers bottom fishing in Florida. There are quite a few varieties of snapper with red snapper, mangrove snapper, yellowtail snapper, and mutton snapper being the most popular. All species of snapper are fantastic eating.

Offshore bottom fishing in Sarasota

Snapper are found in a variety of sizes. Small mangrove snapper between 6 inches and 10 inches are common in the inshore waters around structure and on the flats. As they move offshore, specimens to 10 pounds are landed. Yellowtail snapper average around a foot with “flags” to 5 pounds being landed offshore. Mutton snapper and red snapper are larger, growing over 20 pounds.

Most snapper are caught by anglers using some type of natural bait, whether it be live or frozen. Every angler has a favorite bait for their favorite snapper species. Cut squid, frozen sardines, small live bait fish, live shrimp, scaled sardines, threadfin herring, and more will all produce snappers.

20) Amberjack

Amberjack, also known as “AJ’s” and “reef donkeys” are a large, hard fighting game fish that is found on the deeper wrecks. They are generally found in water that is fairly deep and like pronounced structure such as wrecks and artificial reefs over natural ledges. Amberjack are often times found in schools. Many consider them very good to eat.

Sarasota bottom fishing

Amberjack are most often caught over wrecks by anglers using heavy tackle and vertically fishing with live bait fish. Amberjack grow large and pull very hard, thus the need for heavy tackle. Anglers also do well using heavy flutter spoons and the deep water.

Florida deep water game fish

21) Sailfish

Sailfish are a top game fish found in the offshore waters of Florida. The Gulf Stream turns in very close to the Florida coast from the Keys north to about Stuart. This is the prime area for anglers targeting sailfish in Florida. However, they can be found in the deeper waters off of the entire Florida coast.

Florida game fish

Most to sailfish are caught by anglers off of the Florida coast by either trolling or live lining live bait fish, with goggle eyes being the top bait. South Florida anglers have developed a special technique using kites to catch sailfish along with other species. Anglers can sometimes sight cast to sailfish with live baits as well.

22) Dolphin

Dolphin fish, also known as “dorado” and “mahi-mahi”, are arguably the most popular open water Atlantic Ocean species. They are beautiful fish that are very fast, fight hard, and are fantastic eating. While dolphin occasionally come in close to shore, most are found in the deep blue waters in water deeper than 150 feet. They are found on both coast but are more prevalent in the Atlantic Ocean.

top Florida game fish

 

Many anglers troll for dolphin as they are found in open waters. They are famous for relating to weed lines, patches of weeds, and any other structure such as a board or even a bucket that might be found floating in the water. Dolphin have an unusual practice of following hooked fish to the boat. Therefore, once a fish is hooked it is allowed to stay in the water at the stern and give the other anglers a chance for multiple hookups.

23) Tuna

Tuna are a highly prize and terrific game fish found in the offshore waters of Florida. While the Gulf of Mexico does produce some smaller yellowfin and blackfin tuna, the vast majority of tuna landed by Florida anglers are done so in the Keys and in the waters and the Atlantic Ocean off of the East Coast of Florida. Tuna simply prefer the deeper water of the Atlantic Ocean. Tuna put up a tremendous fight and are one of the fastest fish in the sea. They are also highly prized as table fare.

Top 25 Florida game fish

 

Tuna are caught in two basic ways, trolling and free lining. Anglers often use a double barrel approach and trolled to locate the fish, then once found they will stop and chum and bring them up to the back of the boat. This way they can enjoy the strike as well is fighting the fish on lighter tackle. Yellowfin tuna are the most highly desired with blackfin tuna right behind.

24) Wahoo

Wahoo are one of the fastest fish in the sea! They are also the largest member of the mackerel family. While they are found in the Gulf of Mexico well offshore, South Florida is the prime area to catch them. Wahoo are also fantastic eating!

offshore fishing in Sarasota

Most anglers associate wahoo with high speed trolling, and rightfully so. Trolling skirts and plugs at speeds up to 12 knots will allow anglers to cover a lot of water as well as catch some trophy wahoo. Full moons in the cooler months are the prime time to fish for wahoo.

25) Swordfish

Swordfish are taken by anglers fishing very deep with squids and other baits. Both marlin fishing and swordfish are very specialized forms of angling that require great skill and a fair amount of money and special equipment.

top 25 Florida game fish

In conclusion, this article on fishing for the top 25 Florida species lists the best species and how and where to catch them. What is your favorite Florida game fish?

Florida Offshore Fishing Tips

Tips for Offshore Fishing in Florida

This article on Florida offshore fishing tips. The state of Florida offers anglers some incredible offshore fishing opportunities!

There are two distinct techniques that are used when fishing the offshore waters of Florida; trolling and bottom fishing. While some game fish can be caught using both techniques, generally speaking, each technique targets different species. Billfish, wahoo, king and Spanish mackerel, tuna, dolphin, and barracuda are most often caught while trolling. Grouper, snapper, amberjack, triggerfish, grunts, and other species are caught by anglers bottom fishing in Florida.

top Florida game fish

Tackle for offshore fishing in Florida

Offshore fishing tackle can run the gamut. Light spinning tackle is the best choice for yellowtail snapper and other small bottom fish. 80 pound conventional gear is required to winch up a large grouper from a deep water wreck. Trolling for bill fish requires fairly expensive conventional outfits. Therefore, anglers offshore fishing in Florida will need several outfits in order to be successful.

Spinning tackle

The same spinning tackle used to target snook and redfish in the inshore waters will work fine on the shallow reefs and wrecks in water less than 40 feet deep. A 7 foot medium action spinning rod with a 3000 series reel and 20 pound braid or 12 pound monofilament line will work well. The same rig works fine if a school of smaller fish such as Spanish mackerel or peanut dolphin are located working on the surface.

Anglers should also keep a heavier spinning outfit on board. A 7 foot medium heavy spinning rod with a 5000 series reel spooled with 40 pound braid or 20 pound monofilament line is a good all-around rig. It can be used to free lined baits for sailfish and cobia as well as heavier bottom fishing for anglers who prefer spinning tackle. Here is a link to a Penn Battle combo that works well for offshore fishing. Click on the link to shop.

Conventional tackle

Conventional tackle is best suited for most offshore fishing situations. In most offshore fishing, casting is not required. Therefore, the strength of conventional tackle really shines. Conventional reels are basically winches, as opposed to spinning reels where the line turns 90° at the spool. Conventional reels have more power and better drags then do spinning reels. They also hold a lot of line.

trolling with planers

Anglers will need several different conventional outfits to cover the various fishing situations. A light conventional outfit with a 7 foot to 7 1/2 foot rod and matching real works great for light tackle bottom fishing as well as trolling for smaller species such as Spanish mackerel and smaller tuna and dolphin.

Several larger conventional outfits will be required as well. Anglers will find medium conventional rigs in the 40 pound class to be very versatile. They work well when bottom fishing for larger fish in deeper water as well as when trolling large plugs and planers for king mackerel and other species. Finally, a heavier rig in the 6/0 class can be used when targeting larger game fish as well as for trolling large planers. It can also be used for bottom fishing for very large fish. Here are some recommendations for Penn outfits at an affordable price. Clink on the links to shop.


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Florida offshore fishing tips; bottom fishing

Bottom fishing is a very basic technique, perhaps the first one ever used to catch a fish. In it simplest form, it is baiting a hook and dropping it to the bottom. However, there are many nuances and tactics that spell the difference between success and failure when bottom fishing.

There are several different rigs that are commonly used when bottom fishing in Florida. One of the easiest to use and effective rigs is a sliding sinker rig, also known as a “Carolina rig” in some areas. It consists of an egg shaped sinker with a hole through the center. The running line passes through this hole and then a swivel is attached. A leader is attached to the other end of the swivel followed by the hook.

Leader lengths and strengths vary depending on water depth and species being targeted. Anglers fishing in shallow water will do fine with a 30 pound test fluorocarbon leader of around 3 foot in length. Anglers fishing deep water wrecks and reefs for grouper and snapper will often times use leaders as long as 20 feet and up to 100 pound test fluorocarbon.

Florida bottom fishing rigs

One variation of this rig is called a ”knocker rig”. With this rig the sinker is placed between the swivel and the hook. This allows the weight to ride right on the eye of the hook. It may look a bit odd, but is very effective. The advantages this rig has is that when the weight is on the bottom, the bait is on the bottom. Also, the weight sliding against the hook I can help dislodge it if it gets snagged. This is how it earned its name.

bottom fishing rigs

Another popular and effective rig is called the “spreader rig” or “chicken rig”. It consists of a swivel at the top, a sinker at the bottom, and multiple hooks tied at intervals. This is a great rig to use when drifting in open water. It also has the benefit of presenting multiple baits at various distances off the bottom. A bank sinker is normally used with this rig.

The general rule regarding sinker weight is to use the minimum amount of weight required to return hold bottom. The less weight used the better in most applications. That will result in a more natural presentation as the bait slowly flutters down versus rocketing down to the bottom and making a loud noise.

Bottom fishing hooks

Hooks are the final component in the rig. There are endless choices when it comes to hook sizes and styles. Anglers fishing the Gulf of Mexico are required to use circle hooks. These hooks have been proven to reduce gut hooking and thus mortality in fish that are to be released. While anglers fishing the Atlantic Ocean are not required to use them, many do for the same reason.

Offshore bottom fishing in Sarasota

Hook size should be matched to the size of the bait being used, not the size of the fish being targeted. A very large fish can be caught on a small hook when the drag is set correctly. Anglers fishing for small snapper in shallow water will use a hook a small as a #4. Bottom fishing for large grouper and amberjack require the use of a hook as large as a #10/0.

Florida bottom fishing baits

Baits used when bottom fishing in Florida vary by location and season. Shrimp, either live or frozen, are an excellent bait when fishing shallow water reefs all season long. They produce snapper, grouper, sheepshead, triggerfish, porgy, flounder, and just about every fish that swims. They are easily obtained at just about every Florida bait shop. Live shrimp can be hooked through the horn while frozen shrimp are usually threaded on.

Sarasota fishing excursions

The vast majority of bottom fishing in Florida is done using either live or cut up fish. The reason is simple, big fish feed on little fish. Frozen baits such as Spanish sardines, mullet, false albacore, menhaden, and other fish work well. Again, baits will vary by location. Frozen squid is another universal and effective bait that will catch a variety of species.

Many serious offshore anglers prefer using live baits. Pin fish and grunts can be purchased at some bait shops. Special traps can be used on the shallow grass flats to catch them as well. Many offshore trips begin with the catching of bait at buoys and hard bottom areas close to shore. Anglers use a Sabiki rig (a special rig that uses a half dozen flies) or small baited hooks to fill up the bait well. Cast nets can also be used to procure pilchards on the flats or other bait fish close to shore.

Florida bottom fishing structure

There are several types of structure that will hold bottom fish in Florida. These include natural ledges, artificial reefs, wrecks, and areas of hard bottom. Generally speaking, bottom fish will hold to some type of structure. Rarely will they be found in open water on sandy bottom. While there are many artificial reefs and ledges where the locations are public, putting in time and finding “private”little spots will result in more fish being caught.

fishing Siesta Key

Boat positioning is crucial when it comes to bottom fishing. Most anglers like to place the stern of the boat upwind and up tide of the spot being fished when possible. This results in a natural presentation as the bait eases back towards the structure with the tide. Also, luring the fish out of its structure will result in a better chance of landing versus being cut off on the bottom.

Anchoring techniques

Anchoring correctly is an art that only experience will teach. The general approach is to put the bow of the boat into the wind and tide, drive over the spot, the drop the anchor and drift back. Hopefully, the boat will be in the right position. Once the boat settles on the anchor, it is best to look at the heading on the compass. Unless the current or when changes, this compass heading should work on the next drop.

bottom fishing techniques

GPS trolling motors have revolutionized bottom fishing for anglers using bay boats. When conditions are calm, the angler uses the “anchor” or “spot lock” feature to keep the boat in perfect position. This works extremely well and eliminates the need for heavy anchor equipment.

Once the boat is in the desired location, it is time to fish! Regardless of the depth, the technique is basically the same. Hooks are baited and dropped to the bottom. Rod tips are held low close to the water surface. Some fish will tap the bait several times, while others will simply inhale it. In either event, once a steady weight is felt the angler reels fast and hard to eliminate any slack in the line than the rod tip is lifted up.

Don’t set the hook!

This technique of reeling and lifting works much better when bottom fishing than setting the hook. This is especially important when using circle hooks. A steady pull will result in the hook ending up in the corner of the mouth. The first few seconds of the fight are crucial as the angler tries to get the fish a few feet away from the structure. Once accomplished, the angler can take his time and work the fish to the surface.

offshore fishing in Florida

Many anglers use chum when bottom fishing in Florida. This can be an extremely effective technique to get the bite going. Chum is considered essential when targeting yellowtail snapper. Frozen chum is most often used as it is easy and convenient. A block of chum is placed in a mesh bag either at the surface or can also be lower to the bottom. As the block melts, the chum disperses in the water attracting bait fish and game fish.

It is important not to overdo the chum. The idea is to attract and excite the fish, not to fill them up. Anglers can also cut up small pieces of the same bait being used on hooks to attract fish. Spanish sardines are especially effective. It is a good idea to keep a spinning outfit rigged and ready in the event that fish show up at the surface in the chum. A hook with no weight can be baited and free lined out and will usually draw a strike.

Florida bottom fishing regulations

Anglers bottom fishing in Florida will catch a wide variety of species. Several different species of grouper will be caught including red grouper, gag grouper, black grouper, scamp, goliath grouper, and more. Snappers are just as varied with red snapper, mangrove snapper, yellowtail snapper, and mutton snapper being the predominant species. In addition, cobia, triggerfish, porgy, sheepshead, amberjack, and other species will also be taken.

Sarasota bottom fishing

It is very important to be able to identify the species that is landed and to know the current Florida fishing regulations. Seasons, sizes, and bag limits are constantly changing as Florida does its best to manage the resource. It is up to the angler to stay up to date on these regulations which also include tackle requirements and fish releasing procedures. All of this information can be found on the FWC web site.

Offshore fishing tips in Florida, trolling

Trolling is simply driving around while dragging lures or baits behind the boat and waiting for fish to strike. However, as with bottom fishing, it is not nearly that simple. Speed, depth, lures used, and locations all play a part in whether an angler is successful when trolling in Florida.

offshore fishing in Sarasota

Most anglers that troll use artificial lures. Artificial baits can be trolled fairly quickly, allowing anglers to cover a lot of water in search of fish. Anglers targeting wahoo often troll as fast as 20 knots! Skirted baits, spoons, and plugs are the most commonly used artificial lures.

Trolling with plugs

Plugs are very effective and productive lures to use when trolling offshore in Florida. Plugs have a lip on them which to a great degree determines the depth that they will dive when being trolled. Other factors such as line diameter and speed will also affect the depth, but the lip on the plug is the primary factor.

Sarasota offshore fishing

This is advantageous in that it allows anglers to cover a certain depth without the use of other devices such as weights and planers. The plug is simply attached to the leader and then it is ready to be deployed. In many applications a 6 foot long 80 pound test fluorocarbon leader works well. Anglers targeting toothy species, particularly king mackerel, will often use a wire leader or a short piece of wire in front of the plug.

Most plug manufacturers will let anglers know the depths that the plugs are designed to run. Often times, these specs can be a tad optimistic. However, they are a good guide. Plugs work very well in open water for king mackerel, cobia, false albacore, blackfin tuna, barracuda, dolphin, and other species.

Trolling with plugs produces grouper

Deep diving plugs are deadly in shallow water when targeting grouper. This is particularly true in the Gulf of Mexico where the water gradually gets deeper the further and angler gets out from shore. The Gulf is littered with rocky ledges and hard bottom areas in depths between 30 feet and 60 feet. The Mann Stretch 30 plug was one of the first lures used for this technique.

In the cooler months gag grouper move into the shallower areas. They are very aggressive and will attack these plugs with gusto. Anglers simply tie the lures on 40 to 50 pound class conventional outfits and troll around at 4 kn or so. This is also a terrific way to locate other bottom fishing spots.

Trolling with spoons

Spoons are very effective lures for anglers trolling in Florida. Trolling spoons are designed a bit differently than casting spoons. They are long and slender and have an outstanding action when pulled through the water. They work best at trolling speeds of 5 kn to 8 kn. Most are silver in color and imitate bait fish. Many come with a brightly colored prism finish to add flash.

As with all artificial lure fishing, the spoon should be matched to the size of the available forage and not the size of the fish being targeted. Spoons come in quite a few different sizes and angler should stock up on all of them in order to “match the hatch”. Generally speaking, smaller spoons do well on Spanish mackerel and false albacore while larger spoons are better for king mackerel.

Trolling spoons are fairly light and do require some device to get them down in the water column. Anglers have two choices in this regard, trolling sinkers and planers. Trolling sinkers are easier but will limit the depth that the spoon will dive. Planers are more involved, however will take a spoon down as deep as 30 feet.

Trolling sinkers

Trolling sinkers are simply weights that are designed to be trolled. The two basic types are keel sinkers and torpedo sinkers. Both work basically the same. The sinker is tied to the end of the running line. Then, a leader, usually around 10 feet long, is tied to the other end of the sinker. A spoon completes the rig. 30 pound test leaders work well with smaller spoons while 50 pound test leaders are better for the larger spoons.

Trolling sinkers are effective but will only get the spoon down in the water column several feet. The good news is that this is often ideal as many pelagic species feed very close to the surface. Once a fish is hooked, it is reeled and until the sinker is a foot or so from the rod tip. Then, the fishes hand lined in the rest of the way.

Planers

Planers are a bit more cumbersome but will get the spoon much deeper in the water column. They allow anglers to troll spoons at a brisk pace. Planers are ingenious devices that use the tension of the water to dive down to a certain depth. They have a sliding ring that once a fish strikes allows the planer to “trip”. This then allows the angler to fight the fish without the drag of the planer.

guide to inshore saltwater fishing

Planers come in sizes. The larger the number, the deeper the planer will dive. #1 planers will dive 5 to 7 feet, #2 planers will dive 12 to 15 feet, and #3 planers will dive down to 30 feet. There is a #4 planer, but it puts up such a drag that it is too big for most fishing rods and is used attached to a cleat on the stern of the boat.

The running line is attached to the sliding ring on the planer. A black snack swivel is attached to the rear of the planer, reducing line twist when trolling. Then, a 20 foot long fluorocarbon leader is attached to the snap swivel. The spoon is attached to the other end of the leader.

Planer size, spoon size, rod and reel outfit, and leader strength should be matched together. A #1 planer works well with a 30 pound test leader and a 2 inch to 3 inch spoon on a light 20 pound class conventional outfit. A #2 planer works well with a 50 pound test leader and a 4 inch to 5 inch spoon on a 40 pound outfit. Finally, a #3 planer, which will put up a very strong drag, will require a heavier 80 pound class outfit, a 6 inch or larger spoon on an 80 pound test fluorocarbon leader.

Trolling spreads

Anglers can run multiple lines at once when trolling offshore in Florida. The key is to run the lures at different depths and different lengths out behind the boat. This will allow the boat to make turns without the lines being tangled. Generally speaking, the best approach is to have the deeper lines close to the boat and the shallower lines out further from the boat. It is also best to deploy the shallow, longer lines out first.

fishing report for Sarasota

A good spread for anglers targeting king mackerel, false albacore and other species may go as follows. Counting back is a good technique to use. A shallow diving plug is deployed first, with the line being let out for 25 seconds. A #1 planer rig is then put out, let out for 20 seconds. A #2 planer rig is then deployed, let out for 15 seconds. Lastly, a #3 planer rig is let out for 12 seconds. This is a good all-around spread that will cover the water column effectively.

Anglers can certainly mix-and-match planers and plugs as both are effective when trolled at similar speeds. Optimum speed for plugs and planers is between 4kn and 7 kn. For example, a plug that dives down to 15 feet can replace the #2 planer outfit. A deep diving plug can replace the #3 planer rig. The idea is just to avoid trolling baits at the same depth and especially at the same distance behind the boat. This will almost certainly result in a tangle of lines.

Skirted baits

Skirted baits are productive lures used by anglers offshore fishing in Florida. They are most often used by anglers targeting wahoo, dolphin, and billfish. Unlike plugs and spoons, they can be trolled at much higher speeds, up to 20 kn. These lures stay on the surface and attract fish up from the depths.

Skirted baits can also be used in conjunction with natural baits. Ballyhoo are the most commonly used bait with skirts. They are kind of the best of both worlds as the skirt attracts the fish and the sent and taste of the natural bait will add further enticement. These are often times available as package units at bait and tackle shops.

Trolling with live bait

Trolling with live baits is an incredibly productive technique! It is most effective when fish are located in a certain area. Anglers trolling live baits do so at a much slower speed than when using artificial lures. Often times, the boat is simply bumped into gear and idle along at the slowest possible speed.

Live baits are caught using Sibiki rigs, small hooks and pieces of bait, or cast nets. Live bait fish can sometimes be purchased from bait boats or from bait shops. Most anglers trolling live bait fish use a “stinger rig”. This is a two hook rig where the bait is hooked in the nose with the front hook and a second hook either hangs freely or is inserted into the bait further back. This is deadly on such fish as king mackerel which like to chop the back half of the bait.

offshore chumming

Anglers targeting sailfish will do better using a 60 pound to 80 pound fluorocarbon leader. Slow trolling a live goggle I in the winter months is a deadly technique in Southeast Florida. On breezy days, anglers can simply drift a live baits and Lou of using the motor as propulsion. The key is to achieve the proper speed where the bait moves through the water but does not look unnatural.

Species and structure

Trolling is no different than any other form of fishing and that anglers will target specific areas. While pelagic species generally do not need to relate to structure, bait fish do. Therefore, anglers will generally be more productive when trolling structure such as artificial reefs, wrecks, hard bottom areas, and ledges. In addition, other spots such as temperature changes, watercolor changes, and weed lines can be productive areas.

Anglers trolling off of the Florida coast will catch a variety of species. The four members of the mackerel family includes Cero mackerel, Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, and wahoo. False albacore, blackfin tuna, and yellowfin tuna are taken by trollers as well. Billfish such as sailfish and marlin are at the top of the game fish. Dolphin may be the most popular of all of the offshore game fish caught by anglers trolling.

South Florida wahoo fishing with Capt Angelia

This article focuses on South Florida wahoo fishing. Wahoo are one of the fastest fish that swims. They are a terrific game fish that is also great table fare.

Wahoo are a prized catch for offshore anglers. These speedsters are found in tropical and subtropical waters throughout the world. In Hawaii, they are known as “ono”. Wahoo are incredibly fast and can reach speeds of 50 knots. In the United States, they are found along the eastern seaboard and in the Gulf of Mexico. The Florida Keys and Bahamas are top spots. They generally travel either alone or in very small packs.

Florida offshore fishing tips

High-speed trolling is the best technique to catch wahoo. Trolling allows anglers to cover a lot of water in search of these predators. It is not uncommon to troll as fastest 20 knots for wahoo. Trolling this fast requires special tackle and techniques.

Angelia Coniglio Swanson is an expert when it comes to catching wahoo. She owns Florida Salty Cowgirl in Islamorada, Florida. Her company hand makes and sells her own wahoo lures. She also has her USCG Masters license and runs charters for clients desiring to catch a trophy wahoo. Angelia is generous enough to share her years of experience to help our fishing ladies catching wahoo.

South Florida wahoo locations

While wahoo may be encountered at any time and any place, there are generally areas and times that are more productive. Wahoo can be caught shallow, but most are encountered at depths between 90 feet deep and 400 feet deep. The best times of year to catch them are in fall and winter. Full moons really increase the chance for success!

Wahoo, like most game fish, prefer “edges”. This can be the edge of a current break, a temperature change, or a change in bottom contour. Isolated structure such as a wreck, reef, or drop off may hold wahoo. Weed line edges are famous for holding dolphin, but they will also attract wahoo as well, especially in deeper water.

Tide changes can trigger a wahoo bite as well. An area that did not draw a strike in the morning may produce in the afternoon and vice versa. Catching wahoo consistently requires patience. Persistent anglers who put in their time on the water will be rewarded.

As with any type of offshore fishing, birds working are often an indication of feeding fish. Many offshore anglers associate birds with tuna and dolphin. However, it is not uncommon for a big wahoo or two to be found under birds and other feeding fish.

Wahoo fishing tackle and baits

Tackle and rigging for fishing ladies catching wahoo needs to be in tip top shape. These incredibly fast fish will quickly find any weakness in the line or tackle that is not up to par. Line test on reels can be as light as 30 lb and up to 80 lb. However, the secret is in the leader. Wire leaders that are 4′ to 5′ in length will ensure that the razor shark wahoo teeth don’t slice through the leader, losing both the fish and the rig. Also, pay close attention to the drag. These fish have very soft palates. If the drag is not set loosely,allowing the fish to tire out, the hook will likely pull, releasing the wahoo.

Florida offshore fishing tips

While many artificial lures produce wahoo, Angelia’s to favorite are the diving Rapala and her 5 ounce signature skirts over a rigged ballyhoo. Colors vary, but brightly colored lures have proven to be reliable. These two lures cover the water column well and troll straight and true behind the boat. Other productive wahoo lures are traditional, double hook set wahoo rig tipped with bonita strips or simply running naked ballyhoo. Wahoo anglers can get all of the required LURES from Angelia’s site.

Wahoo trolling spreads

Every successful wahoo angler has his or her favorite “spread”. Spread is the term for the number of lines put out, length that they are put out, and lures that are used. Many a spirited conversation has ensued in the evening at the local watering hole when discussing the “best” wahoo spread!

Angelina prefers a five line spread. Her combination includes two rigged ballyhoo, two diving plugs, and if needed a flat line. She feels that this combination covers water column well while still being relatively easy to manage. Like all fishing, there are nuances that spell the difference between success and going for a boat ride.

South Florida wahoo fishing, setting up the spread

The general rule when trolling multiple lines is for the shallowest lines to be the furthest back. Angelina likes to run the rigged ballyhoo on the outriggers. She places one at 300 feet back on the left rigger and another at 400 feet back on the right rigger. Once these lines are out behind the boat and running well, she deploys the diving plugs.

Rapala makes an excellent series of diving plugs. They are designed to dive down to a fairly specific depth. Of course, the amount of line out, diameter of the line, and speed will affect the depth that which they dive. Angelia puts a 10 foot diving plugs on one corner transom at 600 feet back and then another 20 foot diving plugs on the other transom corner at 800 feet back.

If she feels the need, and Angelia will finish out her spread by putting a flat line down the middle of the spread. This is almost always some type of surface lure. A plastic worm is a great choice. It is put well back, usually about twice the distance of the furthest rigged ballyhoo.

Wahoo trolling techniques

It is very important to set up the spread with those depths and lengths staggered. This accomplishes two things. First, it allows anglers to cover the water column effectively. It also allows the captain to make turns without having the lines tangle. This is very important when surface activity is seen in the boat needs to be redirected.

Many anglers troll for wahoo at 15 knots to 20 knots. While this can be productive and it does allow anglers to cover a lot of water, Angelina prefers to troll at 9 to 10 knots. Trolling at the slightly reduced speed allows anglers to better control the lines without sacrificing strikes. This is particularly true in less than ideal see conditions.

Another advantage of trolling a bit slower as that other species will be taken. While wahoo are the primary targets, very few anglers will turn down the opportunity to put a nice dolphin or yellowfin tuna in the box!

Boat handling is crucial once a wahoo is hooked, particularly if it is a big fish. Like most experienced wahoo trollers, Angelina does not immediately slow down when a fish is hooked. The reason for this is the opportunity to “double up”. Wahoo are known to travel in small packs and often times multiple hookups will ensue.

Wahoo landing procedures

Assuming that only one fish is hooked, we now get all of the other lines reeled in so that the hooked Wahoo will not tangle in the other lines and the angler can concentrate on the hooked fish. We keep all of the Wahoo we are able to due to them being such great table fare, so as long as we have not reached our limit of 2 per person, per day, they all get gaffed and brought on deck.

Sometimes, to keep from being spooled by these fast swimmers, you have to chase them with the boat a bit. One these fish are gaffed and on deck, beware! Their teeth may not look menacing, but are razor sharp and have ruined many a fisherman’s day, so stay clear of their mouths and always wear gloves when removing hooks. Anyone on the boat not actively involved with securing the fish on deck should stay completely out of the way!

While you are one of the most exciting fish that any angler will catch. Very few game fish can match the blistering speed that it angry wahoo attains on its initial run. Any angler that is interested in this challenge can contact one of our fishing ladies catching wahoo, Capt. Angelina at Florida Salty Cowgirl.

In conclusion, this article on offshore fishing in Florida will help anglers understand the techniques and locations use to be successful. What is your favorite fish species and technique?

Fishing Ladies Offshore Fishing Northeast Florida

The subject of this article will be offshore fishing Northeast Florida. While this part of Florida does not receive the attention that Southeast Florida does, it offers anglers some excellent deep water action.

Anglers offshore fishing Northeast Florida has the opportunity to catch quite a few species. Trolling and bottom fishing are the two most commonly used in productive techniques. Anglers trolling offshore will target king mackerel, wahoo, dolphin, tuna, and sailfish. Bottom fishing produces grouper, snapper, porgy, triggerfish, amberjack, and other species.

Tackle used by anglers offshore fishing Northeast Florida is similar to that used in other areas of the state. Conventional tackle in the 20 to 40 pound class will cover most angling situations. Bottom fishing for large grouper and amberjack may require tackle that is a bit stouter. Medium spinning tackle can be used when light tackle bottom fishing in shallower water or casting to breaking fish as well as free lining cut bait into a school of dolphin or tuna.

Anglers offshore fishing Northeast Florida do need to make a longer run then do those in other parts of the state. The Gulfstream is generally about 40 miles offshore of Jacksonville. This requires a longer run to get to the deep water pelagic species. However, there is good bottom fishing much closer than that for a variety of species.

Offshore fishing northeast Florida Fishing Ladies expert Jill

Jill Carter is our fishing ladies Northeast Florida offshore expert. Jill grew up in Jacksonville, Florida. She started fishing offshore about 10 years ago, mainly tournament fishing on a 32 ft Contender every summer & fall on Team Reel Quick, consisting of her husband and father in law.

“Since I was a little girl, I have always had a fishing pole in my hand, whether it be fresh or salt water. It’s not just the thrill, but it’s always a new challenge & I love challenges. The not knowing what you will catch that day…or will you catch a trophy fish…or will you catch a fish at all.

Offshore fishing tips in Florida

“One of my favorite memories of being on the water king fishing was reeling in my biggest kingfish which was a 41 pounder. Then caught a 48 pounder a couple hours later and won Ancient City Tournament in St Augustine in 2014”.

Jill specializes in catching big Kingfish mostly by slow trolling live bait. She shares some of her tips and techniques with us here.

Trolling for king mackerel

Live bait trolling

“There are a few key things that you need to catch the “smoker”. The right rigs, live bait, and a nice spread. Of course there’s more to just those 3. We fish as many as six lines at a time including: 3 on the “T” top, two on down riggers and one other from the transom. I like to troll hard tails (blue runner) which is kingfish candy! Ribbon fish also work, we like to drop those down on the down rigger. You can also slow troll on the surface. Don’t troll too fast, that’s one mistake a lot of anglers make.

“Kingfish are known for biting the tail off the bait to inhibit its ability to swim and escape, then turning back around the eating the rest of the bait, and that’s why most anglers use a double hook or “stinger rig.” I use 25 pound test Diamond Illusion monofilament line to catch kingfish.

“Kingfish are generally pelagic, meaning they swim in the open ocean. They prefer to hang out near offshore structures, such as deep ledges, natural reefs, artificial reefs, shipwrecks, oil rigs, or any other type of structure, as this is where the bait fish will be. Predator species such as king mackerel, along with tuna, wahoo, dolphin, and even bill fish will never be far behind.”

Trolling with lures

Anglers catch plenty of fish trolling artificial lures as well. The three most effective lures to use when trolling offshore are spoons, plugs, and skirted baits. Serious anglers will employ all three and their trolling spread, depending on the number of rods that they can run at one time.

Florida offshore fishing tips

Diving plugs are very easy to use. They come in a myriad of sizes and colors. The lip on the bill will determine the depth the plug will run, as will the speed of the boat. Plugs will produce just about every pelagic species including king mackerel, tuna, wahoo, and sailfish. Grouper anglers use special deep diving plugs to work ledges and structure in shallow water as well.

Spoons are another very effective artificial lure to use when trolling offshore. There are especially effective on king mackerel and Spanish mackerel. Spoons do not weigh very much and some type of device must be used to get them down in the water column. Trolling sinkers and planers are the two most commonly used methods to do so.

Trolling with planers in northeast Florida

Planers are an ingenious device that are like the lip on a plug. They dig down in the water to a certain depth. However, they have a sliding ring which “trips” when a fish takes the spoon. This allows the angler to fight the fish without having the drag of the planer. Most anglers troll between five and 7 knots when using planers and spoons.

Trolling sinkers can also be used to get spoons down in the water column a bit. Trolling sinkers come in a couple different shapes in a variety of weights. These will generally get the spoon down in the water column between five and 10 feet. A 20 foot leader is used between the planer or sinker and the spoon.

Skirted baits are also used for anglers fishing offshore Northeast Florida. These baits run right on the surface and are generally trolled very quickly, up to 10 knots and faster. They are often times accompanied with a natural bait, with ballyhoo being the most popular. These lures are favored by anglers seeking tuna and dolphin.

Offshore fishing northeast Florida, bottom fishing

Anglers bottom fishing off of Northeast Florida do well plying the ledges and artificial reefs from 5 miles to 20 miles offshore. There are quite a few artificial reefs along with areas of good hard bottom and natural ledges. Grouper and snapper are the primary targets, with grunts, cobia, porgy, triggerfish, and other species also being taken.

The most common rig consists of a sliding egg sinker on the main line, a swivel, followed by a fluorocarbon leader in a circle. Leader lengths vary, with 4 foot being a good length in shallow water and 10 foot being better and water over 100 feet deep. Sinker weight will depend on water depth and current. As with most bottom fishing, the best approach is to use just enough weight to hold bottom.

Circle hooks have become very popular among offshore anglers. There is no need to “set the hook”with these; steady pressure is all that is required. Also, fish mortality is reduced as most fish are hooked in the corner of the mouth. When a bite is felt, the angler simply keeps the rod tip low and reels, the fish will hook itself with circle hooks.

Bottom fishing baits and techniques

Bait choice varies by preference. Anglers using frozen baits do well with Spanish sardines, mullet, and squid. Frozen bait often times works better in colder water as fish are less apt to chase down a frisky live bait. Any fresh caught fish cut up into strips or chunks will produce as well.

Live baits are certainly very effective, and are favored by many anglers. Just about any live bait can be used to to catch fish. Pin fish, grunts, and croakers are caught inshore and are terrific bait for grouper, snapper, cobia, and amberjack. Sardines and other silvery bait fish are jig debit markers using speaking rigs. They are great Bates to be used on the bottom as well as being slow trolled.

Boat positioning is crucial when bottom fishing

Anchoring is critical when it comes to bottom fishing. Anchoring properly is as much art as science and experience is the best teacher. The best technique is to try to place the stern of the boat a little up current of the area to be fished. This will result in the baits floating back to the ledge or structure. GPS trolling motors have revolutionized boat positioning on smaller and mid-sized Bay boats. They allow anglers to hover directly over the spot without the hassle of anchoring.

West Palm Beach Fishing

West Palm Beach fishing offers offshore anglers a variety of angling opportunities. The Gulf Stream comes very close to shore at this point. It is only five miles or so offshore, depending on conditions. This is as close to shore as anywhere in the country. The result is an excellent mix of pelagic and bottom species to target and catch.

Larissa is our Fishing Ladies West Palm Beach correspondent. She was born and raised there and knows the fishing quite well. While Larissa mostly fishes offshore, she does hit the back country as well.

“I was born and raised in Florida . I grew up catching fish off the docks of my grandfathers home and my dad took me fishing inshore. Then I found offshore fishing and a whole other level of love for the sport was born! My favorite part is seeing that initial color and see what is on the end of the line. Or, while back country fishing, waiting for the tip to bounce. It makes me so excited!

West Palm Beach Fishing lady Larissa

“Here is my swordfish story. We were fishing a tournament and I just rigged and put out the bait, weight and buoy all by myself for the first time and worked the line. That’s when I saw the the buoy bounce and we decided to pull it in. I took the buoy off and sure enough we were hooked up! We used electric reels so once the fish came up it was harpooned and then dive down 500 feet. So, I ended up having to hand reel the harpoon line which left a blister the size of my palm. After 3 1/2 hr fight we got her on board and she was “banana’d” in the boat! It was my first and I got to keep the bill. We won tournament and beat the record for the tournament!

West Palm Beach fishing; trolling

Trolling is the most effective technique when fishing for pelagic species in the open Atlantic Ocean. Pelagic species (those that constantly are on the move in the upper portion of the water column) require anglers to cover a lot of water. Trolling does just that. Trolling is the technique of driving the boat while dragging artificial lures or live baits behind the boat. It sounds simple, but is in fact quite technical.

Anglers trolling can either present their lures and baits on the surface or down deeper. Many lures are manufactured that are designed to skip on the surface. Some have a concave face that makes a commotion. Others are skirted and skip along the surface. Natural baits, especially rigged ballyhoo, can be fished alone or in conjunction with a skirt.

Trolling deeper

While surface trolling is visually exciting, most fish caught trolling will take baits that are below the surface. There are several techniques that allow anglers to get their offerings down in the water column. Planers, downriggers, and diving plugs all are effective methods to ply the deeper sections.

Planers

These are clever devices that will take a lure down in the water column. Planers come in sizes, with #1, #2, and #3 being used most often. A #4 planer is quite large, some anglers tie them off to the stern. The larger the planer, the deeper the lure will dive. A #1 will go down 5-7 feet. A #2 planer will dive 12-15 feet. A #3 planer can hit 30 feet.

Planers allow anglers to troll fairly fast. This is especially beneficial when targeting king mackerel, which like lures at 5-7 knots. A 20 foot long leader connects the lure and planer. When a fish hits, the planer “trips”. This allows the angler to fight the fish without the drag of the planer. Spoons are most often used with planers. However, plugs with a small lip can be used as well.

Diving plugs

Trolling with diving plugs is an easy and very effective technique. Also, no other hardware is needed. Plugs come in a wide variety of colors and sizes. The proper plug can be chosen based on the available forage. Plugs have a lip on the front. This lip determines the depth that the plug will dive along with the action. Charts provided by the manufacturer can help anglers choose the plug that will dive down to the desired depth.

Downriggers

Downriggers are a bit cumbersome, but are extremely effective at presenting baits at a desired depth. They are like a small rod and reel with a heavy ball. This allows for precise bait presentation. The line is inserted into a clip. When a fish strikes, it pulls the line free of the clip. Anglers are limited to slower trolling speeds, as the ball will swing up at faster speeds. Downriggers are deadly when used with live bait.

Live bait trolling

Slow trolling with a live bait fish is a deadly technique! It allows anglers to cover some water while presenting a struggling bait fish to the predators. Many anglers employ a ‘stinger rig”. This has two hooks. The front hook is used to hook the bait fish, usually through the nose. The second hook either swings free or is inserted into the back of the bait. These are usually wire as king mackerel and wahoo will be targeted. Anglers can use flourocarbon rigs when targeting leader shy species.

Florida fishing regulations are constantly changing. Anglers need to be up to date on the size and bag limits along with the seasons. The FWC website is a great resource for this along with some great fishing information.

West Palm Beach bottom fishing

The lower east coast of Florida offers anglers some excellent bottom fishing opportunities. Reefs, natural ledges, and wrecks are plentiful, providing excellent habitat for predator fish. Grouper and snapper are the most commonly targeted bottom species. However, grunts, triggerfish, amberjack, cobia, and other species will be encountered when dropping a live or cut bait down on a good piece of structure.

While bottom fishing is relatively straight forward, there are nuances that will prove to be the difference between a fair day and a great one. One issue that Palm Beach anglers face is deeper water and strong currents. This makes accurate bait presentation a bit tricky. Boat positioning is crucial. Often times, anchoring is not practical. Therefore, drifting is a great option. The boat is positioned up-tide and up-wind of a likely structure. Then, baits are lowered to the bottom as the boat drifts. Heavy weights are often required to reach the bottom.

Light tackle bottom fishing

Bottom fishing closer to shore in shallow water is very productive as well. Anglers anchor up tide of a patch reef, ledge, or wreck and drop baited hooks to the bottom. The fish are often smaller, but the tackle can be lightened to to match the fish. Cut bait works well for this. There is no need to spend a bunch of time catching and keeping live bait. This style of fishing is great for “family fishing” and for less experienced anglers.

Chumming will kick start the bite. Chum is live or dead fish used to attract fish to the boat. The most simple method is to use blocks of frozen chum. These are blocks of oily fish that are ground up and frozen. The block is placed into a mesh bag and tied off to the stern. As the chum melts, is is dispersed into the water, slowly sinking and drawing bait and predators up in the “slick”. This technique is favored by anglers targeting yellowtail snapper.

Night fishing

Anglers looking to beat the Florida summer heat often fish at night. Most species bite at night, some better than during the day. Snapper are famous for their night time bites around the full moons in summer. Many other species are caught as well. Sharks are plentiful and feed in the dark. Anglers putting out some chum and a chunk of fresh fish will have success. Even small sharks are fun on light tackle.

Fishing Pensacola Florida offshore

Pensacola offers some of the finest big-game fishing and offshore fishing in the world. The key to this great fishing is the fact that the water in the Gulf of Mexico gets deeper, faster here than in any other part of Florida. That puts not only an abundance of structure for bottom fish in range of fishing boats, but also the larger pelagic big-game species as well.

Anglers bottom fishing have multiple species available to them. Grouper and snapper top the list. Red grouper, gag grouper, red snapper, mangrove snapper, are targeted. Triggerfish, amberjack and other species will be taken as well. Bottom fishing offshore is productive all year, but fall is probably the best time to fish.

Pensacola bottom fishing

Boat positioning is crucial when bottom fishing offshore. Anglers can choose to anchor, draft, or motor fish. The method use will be dictated by the wind, waves, and current. It is not practical to anchor in water much over 150 feet deep. Drifting works well on calm days while motor fishing will be required to keep the boat in position on days with a little more breeze.

The basic bottom rigs work fine for anglers fishing Pensacola, Florida. Sliding sinker rigs are used with long leaders. #3/0 to #7/0 circle hooks are used. Circle hooks are required for fishing offshore. Sinker weight will depend on current, wind, and depth. “Chicken” rigs are also popular, especially for snapper. This is a couple of hooks inline, 3-4 feet apart, with the sinker at the bottom.

Both live and frozen baits produce for anglers fishing Pensacola, Florida. Top frozen baits are Spanish sardines and squid. Any fresh or fresh frozen cut fish with catch bottom species. Live shrimp work well. Live bait fish such as pinfish and grunts are often preferred for grouper anglers.

Trolling offshore in Pensacola

Trolling is basically the act of putting some lines out and driving the boat around. But again, there is much more to it than that. Many anglers are surprised at how fast saltwater anglers troll for game fish. For that reason, there are special tools and lures used to troll effectively at those speeds.

Anglers do very well trolling for king mackerel using planers and spoons. Brightly colored spoons such as pink and even chartreuse work well. Trolling spoons are long and slender and are designed be trolled at a brisk pace. They have a very tight wiggle and will not spin. Brittany likes to troll at 5 to 7 knots when targeting king and Spanish mackerel.

Trolling with planers

A planer is a metal device that digs down into the water causing it to dive. Planers come in several sizes, the smaller the number, the smaller the planer. A #1 planer will go down 5 to 7 feet. A #2 planer will go down 12 to 15 feet. A #3 planer will go down 25 feet or so. The larger the planer, the heavier the tackle needs to be as it puts quite a strain on the rod.

A #1 planer with 20 feet of 30 pound fluorocarbon leader and a small spoon is a good combination for Spanish mackerel and for catching hard tails for bait. A #2 planer with 20 feet of 50 pound fluorocarbon leader in a medium king spoon works well for both king mackerel and Spanish mackerel, along with false albacore. A #3 planer 20 feet of 80 pound fluorocarbon leader in a large spoon will catch the big king mackerel and maybe even a wahoo!

The approach that works best when trolling is to have the deepest lines closest to the boat. Therefore, the #3 planer will be put out and counted back 10 to 12 seconds. The #2 planer will be put out 15 to 17 seconds, and the #1 planer put back about 22 to 25 seconds. Separating the distances in depths like this will keep the lines from tangling when the boat makes a turn.

Plugs are very effective lures to use when trolling as well. Plugs have a lip on them which will determine the depth that which they will dive. One effective strategy is to put a plug with a fairly big clip on it right in the prop wash. That means that the plug is running only 20 feet or so behind the boat. Surprisingly, fish will hit at that close. A shallow running plug can be put way back, a little behind the number one planer.

Pensacola offshore species

Patient anglers willing to put in their time offshore trolling can be rewarded with some trophy fish when fishing pensacola Florida. Wahoo, yellowfin tuna, large king mackerel, cobia, dolphin, and even Bill fish such as sailfish and marlin will please offshore anglers. Anglers targeting these species fish water depths from 200 feet and deeper. Anglers should look for bottom contour changes, water color changes, water temperature changes, and as always when offshore fishing, bird activity.

In conclusion, this article on Florida offshore fishing tips should help anglers catch more fish, whether bottom fishing or trolling. Anglers can find all Florida fishing regulations on the FWC site.

Sarasota Offshore Fishing

Sarasota Offshore Fishing Tips

The waters offshore in the Gulf of Mexico offer anglers a wide variety of angling opportunities. Both bottom fishing and trolling produce a wide variety of species. This article on Sarasota offshore fishing will help anglers catch more fish! Many thanks to Marissa for the great pictures and tips!

Sarasota offshore fishing

The Gulf of Mexico on the west coast of Florida near Sarasota slowly and gradually deepens as anglers head west. At ten miles, the water is 60 feet deep, at 30 miles it is 100 feet deep. The bottom is relatively flat, sandy, and featureless. This means that any ledge, coral, hard bottom, wreck, or reef is very likely to be an oasis in the otherwise barren landscape. Just about every species caught in the Gulf of Mexico will relate to some type of structure. Mangrove, red, lane, and yellowtail snapper are caught at these locations. Red, gag, scamp, and black grouper along with huge goliath grouper are found there as well. Triggerfish, porgy, grunts, amberjack, flounder, sea bass, and other species will be caught on these structures.

Pelagic species such as king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, false albacore, tuna, and even wahoo will be found over structure, particularly larger reefs. The reefs will attract bait fish, which in turn brings in the game fish. Ledges and other hard bottom will also hold kings and other species. Sarasota County has an extensive artificial reef program. Anglers can find the GPS numbers HERE.

Near shore fishing in Sarasota

Anglers can experience some outstanding fishing quite close to shore in Sarasota when conditions are right. East winds will have the Gulf water smooth and clear. This will attract bait fish, which in turn brings in the game fish. King and Spanish mackerel, false albacore, bluefish, cobia, sharks, and even tarpon are found in the inshore waters off of the Sarasota beaches.

False albacore fishing

The techniques used in shallow water are basically the same as those used by anglers fishing many miles offshore. The tackle is similar, though generally a bit lighter as the fish are smaller. Several artificial reefs are located withing two miles in thirty feet of water. These are fish magnets! Ledges are small, rare, and difficult to locate in the shallow water. However, anglers who do find some good bottom close to shore will experience some excellent bottom fishing!

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Offshore fishing in Sarasota; trolling

Trolling is a great way to locate productive bottom fishing spots, particularly on a calm day. Experienced anglers like to start trolling 5 to 10 miles before reaching the bottom spot that she is heading to. Then, with the lines put out, anglers keep their eyes on the bottom machine. Any bottom irregularity is saved on the GPS. These spots can the be explored later that day or on another trip.

Sarasota offshore fishing

The trolling spread consists of planers, plugs, and flat lines. On a large vessel, six lines can easily be put out. A planer is a device that digs down into the water, taking the lure down into the water column while allowing the boat to be driven fairly fast. Planers have a sliding ring where the planer “trips” when a fish hits. This allows the angler to fight the fish without the resistance of the planer.

trolling with planers

Spoons are very productive offshore fishing lures

Spoons are most often used behind planers. They work well when trolled at higher speeds. Plugs can be used, however if they are too large, they will trip the planer. Trolling at 5-7 knots is effective for most Gulf of Mexico species. Several sizes and colors should be used until a productive pattern emerges.

Planers come in sizes, the smaller the number, the smaller the planer. A #1 planer dives 5-7 feet and is used with a 20′ piece of 30 lb flourocarbon leader and a small spoon. A #2 planer dives 12-15 feet and is used with 20′ of 50 ln leader and a medium spoon. A #3 planer will get down to 30 feet. It is used with 20′ of 80 lb leader and a large spoon. Conventional tackle is used as the planer puts a strain on the rod as it is trolled. A #3 planer requires a stout outfit!

Trolling with plugs

Plugs are also very effective when trolled. Plugs come in many different sizes and colors. The lip on the front of the plug determines the depth that it will dive down to. Most manufacturers have a chart that gives anglers an idea of how deep the plug will run. Rapala and Bomber both make excellent lures for offshore trolling.

Trolling in shallow water with plugs is a very effective technique for anglers targeting gag grouper in the cooler months.

Trolling with skirted lures

Skirted lures are also effective lures for offshore trolling. These are often combined with a ballyhoo or other natural bait. The skirt adds action and color while the bait adds scent and texture. These lures are often fished right on the surface or just below it by our ladies offshore fishing.

Trolling for dolphin

 

The general rule when putting out a trolling spread is that the shallower running baits are put out the farthest behind the boat and are put out first. Marissa likes to put out a skirted ballyhoo on a flat line, way back and right down the middle. Then, she will put out a shallow diving plug, not quite as far back. The 3 planer outfits are then deployed, the #1, first, followed by the #2 and #3, each a little closer to the boat. Finally, a diving plug is put out 20 feet behind the stern, right in the prop wash.

Once the lines are put out, it is time to sit back and enjoy the day. Again, keeping an eye on the bottom machine will help locate other spots, along with bait and fish. Many anglers like to put a fairly small spoon on the #1 planer outfit. This will often result in blue runners and small mackerel being caught, which are excellent baits.

Offshore fishing in Sarasota; bottom fishing

Bottom fishing is extremely popular in the Gulf of Mexico. The primary reasons for this are simple; grouper and snapper! These much-desired bottom species are plentiful on the ledges and reefs offshore of Sarasota. Many other species are landed as well, including amberjack, triggerfish, grunts, porgies, sheepshead, flounder, and more.

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Sarasota County has an extensive artificial reef program. This is a boon to anglers. While they are productive, the most successful anglers find their own “private” fishing spots. An isolated ledge or piece of hard bottom that nobody else fishes is an angling gold mine! Once an angler finds a handful of these spots in various depths, there will be very few fish-less days.

It does take time to find these hidden gems. Many of these ledges or “breaks”, as they are termed locally, are small. A two foot rocky ledge in an otherwise barren, sandy area will hold a lot of fish. Trolling on a calm day is an excellent way to locate these spots. Also, there are usually multiple ledges that protrude from the bottom in an area. So, once a piece of bottom is found, that area should be explored to see if other ledges can be located.

Sarasota offshore fishing tips; anchoring

Anchoring properly is crucial to success when bottom fishing offshore. The deeper the water, the more difficult it is. Anglers must take the wind and current into account, then position the boat just up-wind and up-tide of the structure. Many anglers toss out a buoy of some sort to make the spot, providing a visual reference. Experience is the best teacher when it comes to anchoring. Dragging the anchor through a spot and ruining it is a terrible feeling!

Offshore bottom fishing in Sarasota

The best approach is to mark the spot with a buoy. Then, anglers idle around back to the buoy, going straight into the wind. After traveling a short distance (which is determined by the wind and depth), the anchor is lowered and the boat eased back to the spot. Ideally, the boat will rest a short distance up-wind and up-tide of the spot.

Pro tip: once the boat comes to rest, take note of the compass heading. Unless the wind or current changes, this heading should work on the next spot or two if moving is necessary.

Sarasota bottom fishing

Smaller bay boats are now using GPS trolling motors to hold their position, especially on calm days. These powerful electric motors have revolutionized bottom fishing. The motor will hold the boat precisely over a spot. The angler can easily move 10-15 feet and fish another piece of the same structure. Obviously, it needs to be relatively calm to use a bow mounted trolling motor.

Bottom fishing techniques

Once properly positioned, it is time to fish. The first order of business is to put out some chum. Most anglers tie a bag of frozen chum, to the stern. As it thaws, the chum will disperse into the water. This will often times bring fish, especially snapper, up off the bottom. A handful or two of fresh chopped bait will slowly sink down and stimulate the fish.

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Most anglers opt for basic bottom rigs. A sliding egg sinker is placed on the running line. A swivel it tied on the end of the line. A leader is tied on the other end of the swivel, followed by the hook. Leader lengths vary by preference and depth. A three foot leader is fine in shallow water while a ten foot leader might be better in over a hundred feet. Anglers fishing in the Gulf of Mexico are required to use circle hooks. Florida fishing regulations can be found at the FWC site.

Another very simple rig is the “knocker rig”. The angler slides the sinker on the running line, followed by the hook. Not only is this simple and re-rigging very fast, it is very effective as well. The bait will rest right on the bottom, near the sinker. The line will freely move through the sinker without feeling any resistance. Finally, snags are easy to free up as the sinker knocks against the hook. Thus the name, “knocker rig”.

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Offshore fishing tackle for Sarasota anglers

Conventional tackle and spinning tackle can be used offshore. Spinning tackle in the 20 lb class works well for snapper, which can be line shy at times. A 7′ to 8′ spinning rod, matching reel, and 20 lb monofilament or braided line is a good outfit. Anglers using braid will need a long flourocarbon leader. The lightest sinker that will reach the bottom is used. A slowly sinking bait will produce on the snapper.

Mangrove snapper will often “rise up” into the surface chum. This is fantastic! The fish can be caught using fairly light tackle as they are so far from the protection of the structure. A hook baited with a piece of bait floated back naturally will get the job done.

Sarasota mangrove snapper fishing

Serious grouper diggers use heavy conventional tackle. This is required to winch and angry grouper up and out of it’s hole. The same is true if amberjack are present. These hard-pulling fish are not called “reef donkeys” for no reason, their nick name is well-earned.

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Sarasota offshore fishing baits

Every offshore anglers has a favorite bait. Marissa has found that as an all-round multi species bait that catches everything, it is hard to beat frozen Spanish sardines. They are available at every tackle shop. Sardines, and other frozen bait, need to be thawed out. It is best to use salt water to thaw out bait. Using fresh water will make the bait mushy. Anglers should thaw out a little at a time, keeping it firm.

Other frozen baits such as squid and mullet work well, too. Any fresh caught legal fish can be cut up and used as bait. Fresh cut bait works very well for grouper and red snapper, along with just about every other species.

Live baits are effective offshore

Live baits are a little more trouble, as in most instances they must be caught, but many anglers find them worth the effort. Pinfish are a terrific bait for grouper, snapper, and amberjack when bottom fishing offshore. Many anglers feel that a large, live shrimp is the best bait for mangrove snapper.

The technique for fishing both live and cut bait is the same. Anglers drop the bait to the bottom, then reel up the slack. They stand ready, with the rot tip down near the surface. When a fish bites, the angler waits until until a steady pull is felt. Then, he or she reefs fast and hard, pulling the fish up away from the structure.

Once the angler gains a few feet, a steady lifting of the rod tip, then reeling down to pick up the slack, will usually result in a landed fish. Setting the hook does NOT work with circle hooks anywhere, especially in deep water.

In conclusion, this article on Sarasota offshore fishing tips should help anglers achieve success out in the deeper waters of the Gulf of Mexico.