11 Useful Florida Offshore Fishing Tips
This article will list 11 useful Florida offshore fishing tips that will help anglers be successful in the open Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico. 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.
Read more about the top Florida saltwater game fish species
11 Useful Florida offshore fishing tips
- Spinning tackle has a place in Florida offshore fishing
- Conventional tackle is best for Florida offshore fishing
- Offshore bottom fishing rigs include sliding sinker, chicken, and knocker rigs
- Circle hooks are best for bottom fishing offshore
- Florida bottom fishing baits vary
- Proper boat positioning is critical to success
- Don’t set the hook when bottom fishing offshore
- Trolling with plugs is productive when offshore fishing in Florida
- Trolling with spoons is best for king and Spanish mackerel.
- Planers are effective for offshore trolling
- Trolling with live bait offshore in Florida produces trophy 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.
1) Spinning tackle has a place fishing offshore in Florida
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.
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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.
2) Conventional tackle is best for fishing offshore in Florida
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.
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.
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.
3) Offshore bottom fishing rigs include sliding sinker, chicken, and knocker 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.
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.
4) Circle hooks are best for bottom fishing offshore
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.
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.
5) Florida bottom fishing baits vary
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.
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.
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.
6) Proper boat positioning is critical to success
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.
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.
7) Don’t set the hook when bottom fishing offshore!
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.
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.
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.
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.
8) Trolling with plugs is productive when offshore in Florida
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.
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.
Read more about trolling in saltwater in this article by Capt Jim
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.
9) Trolling with spoons is best for king and Spanish mackerel
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 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.
10) Planers are effective for trolling offshore
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.
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 and techniques
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.
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 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.
11) Trolling with live bait offshore
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.
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 strategies when fishing offshore in Florida
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 portion of the 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.