Florida King Mackerel Fishing, Tips and Techniques

Florida King Mackerel Fishing Tips

This article covers Florida king mackerel fishing. King mackerel are a very popular game fish. They are found in the coastal waters all along the entire Gulf of Mexico coast and up the East Coast of the United States to the mid Atlantic. They are also plentiful in the Caribbean.

King mackerel are a pelagic species. This means that they spend the majority of their time in the upper portion of the water column. They are constantly on the move, though they do relate to structure. King mackerel are one of the most popular offshore game fish in Florida. Their migration patterns mirror those of the bait fish that they feed on. The world record king mackerel is 93 pounds and was caught in Puerto Rico. Kings are very good to eat when prepared fresh, though they do not freeze well.

Florida king mackerel fishing

1) Finding bait is critical to catching king mackerel

King mackerel will never be very far from the groceries. They feed in schools in open water, foraging on bait fish. The type of fish they feed on will depend on location and time of year. Scaled sardines, threadfin herring, blue runners, cigar minnows, pogies, and mullet are just a few of the more popular bait fish species that king mackerel feed on. Bait schools can either be seen dimpling on the surface or located using a bottom machine.

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

The two basic methods for catching bait are cast nets and Sabiki rigs. Anglers using cast nets can catch a LOT of bait in short order. Special heavy nets sink quickly in deeper water. Anglers who prefer to chum with live bait do need a large quantity of it. Bait fish can be chummed up behind the boat. They are also spotted “dimpling” on the surface. Large scaled sardines can be caught on the grass flats and along the beaches.

king mackerel fishing in Florida

Sibiki or gold hook rigs catch bait individually. Most rigs have a half dozen gold hooks or tiny flies on them. The rig is lowered down through the bait fish or around structure. Then, it is jigged gently until fish are hooked. Experienced anglers wait until several bait fish are hooked. Care is needed to keep the rig from tangling. This method works great for anglers looking for several dozen baits for trolling or free lining. It tends to catch larger baits as well.

2) King mackerel love structure

While king mackerel are an open water fish, they will often times relate to some sort of structure. Part of the reason for this is that structure tends to attract the bait fish that they feed upon. Areas of hard bottom, ledges, reefs, wrecks, and oil rigs will all attract and hold kings. Generally speaking, structure in water depths between 30 feet deep and 75 feet deep are the best spots. However, they can be found right along the beach as well as very far offshore.

king mackerel fishing

Wrecks and artificial reefs are plentiful off of both Florida coastlines. The most effective spots are generally in water that is between 40 feet and a hundred feet deep. The good news is that most of these spots are public knowledge. Anglers can easily find the GPS numbers online or at local government websites. When the kings are thick, it is easy to spot the cluster of boats around productive reefs.

Light Tackle Trolling in Saltwater video

Natural ledges should not be overlooked by anglers Florida king mackerel fishing! While these spots won’t usually hold the larger schools of kings, they also get less fishing pressure. An added bonus is that anglers can bottom fish for grouper and snapper while waiting for a king to show up in the chum.

Florida king mackerel fishing

3) King mackerel fishing rods and reels

King mackerel are one of the fastest fish species in the sea. Large kings are called “smokers” because of their blistering initial runs that can literally “smoke” the drag. Reels, whether conventional or spinning, need to have a high capacity of line as well is a very smooth drag. Fast retrieve ratios are also helpful in retrieving the line back on the spool.

Fishing in Florida

Both spinning tackle and conventional tackle work fine for anglers Florida king mackerel fishing. Very seldom will casting be required. Most kings are caught by anglers trolling or free lining baits. Long, limber rods work best, especially when using live bait fish. Limber tips will help keep the small treble hooks that are used with stinger rigs in the fish. Stouter conventional rods are best for trolling #2 and #3 planer rigs. Below are a couple of Penn combos that work well at an affordable price. Clink on the image to shop.

Anglers can click on this link to shop Amazon for a Penn Battle combo

Anglers can click on this link to shop Amazon for a Penn Squall conventional outfit

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

4) Planers are an effective tool for trolling

Most king mackerel are caught by anglers trolling. Planers are a clever device which allows anglers to get the lure down into the water column to the desired depth while still maintaining the 5 mph to 7 mph speed that is most productive. Planers come in several sizes. A #1 planer will dive down 5 to 7 feet, a #2 planer will dive down to 12 feet, and a #3 planer will go down as deep as 25 feet. Planers work great when looking for numbers of fish as opposed to big fish. They also allow anglers to cover a LOT of water.

Sarasota Trolling Techniques video

Spoons are most often used in conjunction with planers. A long leader is used between the planer and the spoon, with 20 feet being a good all-around length. Fluorocarbon leaders a 50 pound test to 80 pound test work well. Black snap swivels on both ends will help reduce line twist. The spoon should be matched in size to the type of bait fish that are local to the area. Large spoons are most often used. Plugs can also be used, as long as they have a small lip which will not trip the planer.

trolling with planers

5) The correct leader is important when fishing for king mackerel

Like all mackerel, king mackerel have a mouth full of very sharp teeth. However, this does not mean that wire leaders always need to be used. Anglers trolling spoons do well with a 20 foot section of 50 to 80 pound fluorocarbon. Very few cutoffs occur when trolling with these larger spoons.

Light tackle trolling in Saltwater

Anglers trolling plugs usually use a small trace of wire leader combines with a shock leader. The best rig has 5 feet of doubled line using a Bimini Twist or spider hitch. A 5′ piece of 80 lb flourocarbon leader is added. Finally, a short piece of wire completes the rig. This works well when using a hook to free line live bait or chunks of cut bait.

6) Use stinger rigs with live bait when targeting kings

Anglers slow trolling with live bait fish often use a stinger rig. They can also be used while drifting or fishing from an anchored boat This rig consists of two hooks on a 2 foot to 3 foot piece of wire leader. The front hook is either a treble or single hook. It is used to secure the bait fish through the nose. The rear hook is almost always a treble hook. It either swings free or is lightly hooked into the back of the bait fish. King mackerel often attack the rear half of the bait. Stinger rigs drastically increase the hookup ratio.

7) Troll plugs for king mackerel

Plugs work very well when trolling for king mackerel. Plugs come in a myriad of sizes and colors, making it very easy for anglers to mimic the locally available forage. In addition, plugs have lips which will determine the depth that which they dive. This allows anglers to cover the water column thoroughly when trolling with plugs.

Anglers Florida king mackerel fishing with plugs will experience a high hookup rate. Most plugs sport a pair of treble hooks which should hook the king securely. Plugs allow anglers to thoroughly cover the water column. Several plugs that work different depths can be used at the same time to determine where the fish are. As with all trolling, anglers can cover a lot of water efficiently and quickly.

9) Trophy king mackerel love live bait

Live bait fish work extremely well when fishing for king mackerel. Blue runners, sardines, herring, cigar minnows, and mullet are the top live bait fish. These bait fish are difficult to keep alive. Therefore, most anglers catch their bait fish the morning of the fishing trip using either a cast net or a Sibiki rig. Large recirculating live wells are standard on kingfish boats.

Sarasota offshore fishing

Anglers using live bait for king fish can troll, drift, or anchor. All three techniques can be effective. Slow trolling with a large live bait on a stinger rig accounts for some of the largest king mackerel taken by anglers. Drifting works well when the current and wind will move the bait along at the desired pace. Anchoring is usually done in shallower water when king mackerel are located over a small piece of structure.

9) Trolling feathers and skirts will produce fish

Skirts and feathers are lures that are used to troll for king mackerel and other species. They are troll right at the surface and put up a commotion which attracts game fish up to them. They are most often brightly colored. Often times they are used in conjunction with some type of natural bait, especially ribbon fish and ballyhoo. These lures are used more commonly in South Florida and the Keys.

Florida king mackerel fishing

10) King mackerel are seasonal fish

As mentioned earlier, king mackerel are a migratory species. In the wintertime, they will be found in the warmer climates such as the Florida Keys and Mexico. As the water warms up, this triggers the migration of both bait fish and mackerel. Spring and fall are prime times in Florida. However, fish can be taken all year long, especially in the Florida Keys.

11) Local information is the best information

King mackerel are notorious for being here one day and gone the next. Successful anglers use a networking system to keep abreast of the current king mackerel hot spots. Local bait and tackle shops are great resources. They will generally speaking be up-to-date on the most productive lures and locations. Online fishing forums and social media reports can also be excellent sources of quality information.

Sarasota offshore fishing

Fortunately, king mackerel migrate parallel to the coast lines. Anglers who trailer their boats can follow the migrating fish north in the spring and south in the fall. In most cases, fish can be found within ten miles from shore.

12) Handle king mackerel with care

King mackerel have a mouth full of razor sharp teeth. Anglers need to be very careful when handling them. Fish that are going to be kept to eat are normally gaffed. Special release tools work very well on small king mackerel. They allow anglers to pop the fish off without even touching them. Larger fish are generally grabbed by the tail and laid along the gunnel of the boat while the hooks are removed.

13) Chumming is a very productive technique

Chumming is one of the most effective angling techniques used and saltwater fishing. It is the act of putting bait in the water in hopes of attracting fish. Anglers can chum from an anchored or drifting boat and use either live, fresh cut, or frozen chum. Chumming with live bait fish is incredibly effective though requires a lot of bait. King mackerel respond very well to live and frozen chum.

Most anglers opt for commercially available bags of frozen chum. These are blocks of ground up fish and often times come in their own mesh bag. This bag of chum is tied off to the stern. As it thaws, the chum is dispersed into the water column. This will at first attract bait fish and then hopefully the larger game fish.

chumming with live bait

Serious king mackerel anglers will use live chum as well. This does require a lot of bait. Scaled sardines, also known as pilchards, are a popular bait for this. They can be caught in large numbers on the shallow flats and just off of the beaches. Pilchards are also very hardy and will remain alive all day.

14) King mackerel pier fishing

There are times when king mackerel can be taken by anglers without a boat. Anglers saltwater fishing from piers on the east coast, the Sunshine Skyway Pier in Tampa Bay, and in the Panhandle near Destin will catch them from the piers at times. Anlers often times use a rod with just a sinker and make a long cast. Then, they use an outrigger clip and slide a live bait down the line on another outfit. When a king strikes, it pulls the line free of the sinker line. It is a bit complicated, but effective.

15) King mackerel are terrific eating

Kings have a bad reputation in some areas when it comes to table fare. However, when handled correctly and prepared properly they are fantastic eating. King mackerel are oily and do not freeze well. Their flesh can also be a bit soft. Therefore, the best approach is to immediately ice down any fish that are destined for the table. They can be cut into steaks or fillets. King mackerel are fantastic baked, broiled, grilled, or smoked.

In conclusion, this article on Florida king mackerel fishing will help anglers catch more of these terrific game fish!

Top 21 Florida Saltwater Game fish

Top 21 Florida Saltwater Game Fish, tips to catch

This post lists the top 21 Florida saltwater game fish, featuring some terrific female anglers! Locations, seasons, tips, and techniques that will help anglers catch them are also included. Florida is blessed with a wide variety of species. There are many different lures, baits, and techniques that are used successfully.

snook fishing in Tampa Bay

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

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

Top Florida pelagic game fish

Several of the top 21 Florida saltwater game fish are found in open water. Bill fish, dolphin, tuna, and mackerel are examples of these types of fish. They roam the open ocean, following bait fish and drifting with the Gulf Stream currents. While this sounds random, and is, there are features which will hold fish. Current rips, temperature changes, color changes, and drastic changes in bottom contour are all features which can concentrate these fish.

1) Sailfish

Florida game fish

No other fish represents South Florida fishing better than the sailfish. Many tournaments center around this fantastic game fish! They average fifty pounds, but fish to a hundred pounds are encountered. Anglers troll with lures and baits and cast or free line live baits. The kite fishing technique was invented here for catching sailfish. The deep, clear water of the Gulf Stream is a prime factor. Winter is the prime time. Many anglers like to fish when the seas are up on a strong north east wind.

2) Swordfish

top 25 Florida game fish

There has been a huge increase in the success of anglers targeting swordfish in the last few years. Previously, the only time these fish were caught was at night. However, daytime techniques have developed. Anglers fish very deep during the day. This has dramatically increased the popularity of this type of fishing. It is still difficult, but the success rate has dramatically improved. As with sailfish, winter is the best time to target them.

South Florida is really the only spot in the United States where anglers can target swordfish with any degree of reliability. However, it is far from a sure thing. Anglers put in a lot of hours to catch a fish of a lifetime. It is also expensive; large baits and specialized gear are required.

3) Dolphin

top Florida game fish

Dolphin fish, also known as mahi-mahi, are one of the most popular offshore Florida game fish. They are beautiful, fast, grow to fifty pounds, and are terrific eating. Most anglers troll for them with feathers, lures, and rigged ballyhoo. However, once a school is located, they can be lured to the boat with chum and cast to with lighter tackle. Dolphin are caught year round. However, April, May, and June are generally the best times. Fall can be good as well.

Dolphin are most often caught off of the east coast of Florida in the Atlantic Ocean. They prefer the deep blue water there. The Gulf of Mexico does hold some fish, though not as large or as numerous. Also, anglers generally have to travel farther to find them. Most anglers troll with feathers or spoons in search of dolphin. Running while looking for weed lines or floating debris is another proven tactic.

4) Wahoo

Florida offshore fishing tips

Wahoo are the largest member of the mackerel family and are one of the fastest fish in the sea. They are VERY fast! Most wahoo are caught by anglers trolling with lures. They often exceed ten knots when doing so. The occasionally take live baits meant for king mackerel and other species. Wahoo will relate to current breaks, water temperature breaks, and bottom contour changes. Full moons in summer are the prime times to target wahoo, though they can be caught all year long.

Once again, South Florida is the prime area for anglers targeting wahoo. However, they are found in open waters throughout the entire state. Deeper water is found closer to shore in the panhandle area, making that an option for Gulf anglers seeking a wahoo.

5) Blackfin tuna

Top 25 Florida game fish

Black fin tuna are a very hard-fighting and popular game fish in Florida. These smaller cousins to the yellowfin tuna are caught year-round, though spring and early summer are the best times to target them. Blackfin tuna often relate to structure such as reefs, wrecks, and hard bottom ledges. Ten pounds is a decent fish. They are caught trolling and by chunking with cut fish.

Blackfin tuna are available to most Florida offshore anglers. Reefs and offshore structure in water over 100′ deep will attract them. The “humps” in the Florida Keys are famed blackfin tuna spots. Another very productive technique to to fish near commercial shrimp boats. These boats dump they by-catch, effectively chumming the area. This attracts blackfin tuna along with false albacore, sharks, and other species.

6) Yellowfin tuna

Top saltwater fish in Florida

Yellowfin Tuna are a terrific pelagic game fish! They are caught in good numbers in South Florida from April through August. They are similar in habits to blackfin tuna. However, they grow much larger, to several hundred pounds. Most yellowfin tuna are caught by anglers trolling. They can be chummed into range and fooled with cut bait. There are few things on the planed that are better eating that a fresh yellowfin tuna steak!

Yellowfin tuna are not as common in the Gulf of Mexico off of Florida as are blackfin tuna. They just prefer the deeper, cooler water of the Atlantic Ocean. Yellowfins migrate north from the Keys and anglers can follow the migration up the coast. They do move north up the mid Atlantic, pleasing anglers all along the east coast.

7) False albacore

Sarasota false albacore fishing

False albacore, also known as “bonita” and “fat alberts”, are a very fun, hard-fighting fish. They resemble tuna, however they are not considered good to eat. False albacore are often found quite close to shore. They are a terrific game fish on light tackle. False albacore also are favored by experienced anglers for bait. They are a year-round species, with spring and fall being best.

Sarasota fly fishing charters

These diminutive tuna provide fantastic sport for light tackle anglers! Fly fishing for them is great fun as well. False albacore are often found close to shore, making them a favorite of anglers with smaller boats and skiffs. Much of the fishing is visual as they are seen feeding ferociously on the surface. Spanish mackerel and sharks are often mixed in with them. This combination of sight fishing along with the terrific fight make for the popularity of false albacore fishing.

8) King mackerel

Sarasota offshore fishing

King mackerel are a very popular pelagic species in Florida. They do take a bit of a back seat in South Florida, as they are so many other species available. They are good to eat, but most anglers have them behind dolphin, tuna, and other fish. However, they are great fun to catch on medium tackle. Kings make a long, blistering initial run. Large specimens are called ‘smokers” for this reason. King mackerel tournaments are plentiful throughout the state. This  increases their popularity. Spring and fall are best, and they are found deeper in the summer and winter.

Florida king mackerel fishing

King mackerel are very popular all along the Gulf Coast of Florida. They are found over structure and hard bottom, often times within ten miles from shore. In many cases, they are the largest game fish available. Spring and fall are prime times as the migrate alongside the hordes of threadfin herring and sardines. Trolling, either with lures or live bait, produces the vast majority of king mackerel. However, anglers do catch them anchored up on the reefs and free lining live baits or chunks.

9) Spanish mackerel

Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing

These smaller cousins to the other mackerels are excellent game fish in their own right. They put up a great battle on light tackle. Spanish mackerel average around 3 pounds and grow to over 10 pounds. Fast moving shiny lures such as spoons will entice them. Small live bait fish are productive as well. Chumming over the inshore reefs will draw them to the boat. Schools can be seen feeding on the surface close to shore. Inlets will hold fish as well. They are very good to eat when put on ice immediately and prepared that day.

One great thing about Spanish mackerel is that anglers may encounter them anywhere. While mackerel school up thick in the inshore Gulf and Atlantic waters, they are also found inshore. Passes and inlets will attract Spanish mackerel. Grass flats in deeper water, 8′ to 10′ deep, will also hold fish. Anglers catch them by casting flash lures such as spoons and plugs as well as by free lining live baits.

Florida Spanish mackerel fishing

Fishing for Spanish mackerel with artificial lures

Artificial lures work quite well for Spanish mackerel. They are quite aggressive and will often hit a lure that is moving very fast. For this reason, trolling is an outstanding way to locate and catch Spanish mackerel. Small spoons and plugs are the top baits to use when trolling. Those baits, along with jigs are a good choice for anglers who like to cast. Spanish mackerel will certainly take live bait, including any small bait fish and a live shrimp.

trolling for mackerel

The most exciting way to catch Spanish mackerel is when they are foraging on the surface. This is known as “breaking fish”and just like with the jacks, I hookup is almost a certainty. Spanish mackerel will often times feed on the surface, staying in one location for long enough for an angler to get in position and make a good cast. Mackerel are toothy critters and anglers will loosen tackle when fishing for them.

South Florida bottom fish species

Bottom fishing is very productive for South Florida anglers. Grouper and snapper are the primary targets, though amberjack and other species will also be taken. While these fish are great fun to catch, many anglers do it for their fantastic food value. Grouper and snapper are terrific eating! Bottom fishing is very basic, as anglers drop a baited hook with some weight down to bottom structure. However, it is not nearly that simple. Presentation, anchoring, baits, and tackle all need to be spot-on.

grouper fishing

Grouper and snapper are available to South Florida anglers all year long. However, they do migrate in and out from shore, depending on conditions. Generally speaking, when it is hot, they will move offshore. As it cools off, these species will move to the reefs and ledges closer to shore. Water clarity and forage availability are also factors.

10) Groupers

Grouper are a very popular bottom fish in South Florida. They are found on all types of bottom structure. Grouper are caught on natural ledges, wrecks, and reefs. They feed on bait fish and crustaceans. There are over a dozen different grouper species.  Black grouper, red grouper, and gag grouper are the three most abundant and popular South Florida grouper species. Grouper are fantastic table fare!

Gag and red grouper are caught in relatively shallow water. Many of the other grouper species are found in much deeper water. Anglers can anchor in shallow water. That is not practical in deeper water, so most anglers drift over likely spots. Live bait fish and cut bait work well. Heavy tackle is used to winch the fish up out of the heavy cover.

gag grouper in Texas

Bottom fishing rules and regulations change constantly. Anglers can check the current Florida Fishing regulations on the FWC website. Grouper are taken all year long. They tend to move shallow in cooler weather and offshore in the warmer months.

gag grouper fishing tackle

11) Snappers

bottom fishing techniques

South Florida is blessed with outstanding snapper fishing. Like grouper, there are quite a few different snapper species. The top snapper species include yellowtail snapper, gray (or mangrove) snapper, lane snapper, hogfish, mutton snapper, and red snapper. Mangrove snapper can be found both inshore and offshore. Yellowtail, hogfish, and mutton snapper can be caught in fairly shallow water. Red snapper are caught in fairly deep water. All snapper species are terrific on the table!

Snapper are caught by anglers using live or cut bait. Most are caught on bottom structure, though some snapper, yellowtail and mangrove in particular, can be chummed up to the surface. The same bottom structures that hold grouper will attract snapper as well. They can be a bit fussy and at times lighter tackle is required to fool them.

Offshore bottom fishing in Sarasota

Hogfish, also known as hog snapper, are an unusual looking fish. They are also incredibly good eating. For years, anglers thought they would not eat and were only taken by anglers spearfishing. However, techniques evolved and anglers not catch them on rods and reels. Slowly lowering a shrimp on a light jig head will fool them.

12) Amberjack

Sarasota bottom fishing

Amberjack, known by locals as “reef donkeys” and “AJs”, are one of the hardest fighting Florida game fish. They are mostly associated with larger wrecks, but can be found over ledges as well. Live and cut bait lowered to the bottom will catch them. Some anglers use butterfly jigs to catch them as well. They are very good eating. They are available year round.

Reefs and wrecks in both the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico will hold amberjack. Unlike snapper and grouper, larger structure tends to be better when targeting amberjack. They are at times unwelcome guests when bottom fishing. They are aggressive and it can be difficult getting a bait past them. However, there are worse problems that an angler can face! Heavy tackle is generally required to keep them out of the structure.

13) Cobia

fishing charters in Sarasota

Cobia are a kind of nomadic game fish. They are found all along both coasts in the southeast. Cobia are normally found over wrecks and reefs, but can be anywhere, even inshore on the flats. They are terrific eating with firm, white meat. These fish grow to over 100 pounds. Cobia are often targets of opportunity as they have a habit of just showing up on the surface. They are also seen on the surface around navigational markers.

Cobia are found in the cooler months in the southern portion of the state. As the water temperature rises, they move north and can be caught all season long. The Destin area is famous for having excellent sight fishing for trophy cobia, often quite close to shore. Anglers need to make sure a fish is of legal size (33″ to the fork at present) before gaffing one. A large landing net might be a better option.

14) Sharks

top 25 Florida species

Sharks provide anglers with some excellent fishing action! They can often be targeted using relatively light tackle. Many different species of sharks are available in Florida. They are found in water from 2′ deep to hundreds of feet deep. Most are taken by anglers fishing with fresh cut or live bait, though they will fall for a lure on occasion. Sharks will even take a fly. They grow large and are fantastic sport.

Top Florida inshore game fish

The state of Florida offers visitors a wide variety of angling opportunities. One of the most enjoyable aspects of fishing in Florida is the number of species that are available year-round. This article will list the top 8 Florida inshore game fish.

15) Tarpon

top 25 Florida game fish

Tarpon did not get their nickname “the Silver King”, without merit. They are found along the entire coast of Florida on both sides of the state as they migrate north from the Keys. Tarpon are most often targeted by anglers sight casting, whether it be in the Florida Keys, or to milling fish in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.

tarpon fishing in Florida

Tarpon grow very large, averaging 75 pounds and growing to well over 200 pounds. They are caught by anglers in the Florida Keys starting in March. The further north in the state one goes, the later the fishing season. Most anglers consider June and July to be prime times throughout the state.

As mentioned above, most tarpon are caught by anglers sight fishing. This results in an incredibly exciting fishing opportunity! It is rare to be able to cast to fish that weigh over 100 pounds using spinning tackle or fly tackle. Most spin anglers use live baits such as mullet, bait fish, large shrimps, and crabs. Many anglers consider tarpon fishing the ultimate challenge! It is hard to disagree with that assessment.

16) Snook

fishing for snook

Snook are number two on the list of the top 8 Florida inshore game fish. They grow very large, take artificial lures and live bait, fight hard, and leap high out of the water. Snook are very similar in habits to freshwater largemouth bass. They are structure oriented and are normally caught around docks, seawalls, mangrove shorelines, oyster bars, bridges and other structures. Snook are found in the southern two thirds of the state.

Snook have a distinct seasonal migration. This is true on both coasts of Florida. They spend their winters in the creeks, rivers, and residential canals. They can tolerate absolute freshwater. As it warms up, they migrate into the bays to feed. By summer, snook are schooled up in the passes and inlets as well as out on the beaches. This is part of their spawning ritual. After summer, the process reverses itself.

Snook will readily take artificial lures such as plugs and jigs. It is very exciting watching a large snook blowup on a top water plug! Subsurface plugs are very effective as well. Soft plastic baits whether fished on a jig head or on a special hook take plenty of fish, too. Weedless spoons will fool snook on the shallow grass flats.

Many snook are taken by anglers using live bait, and in many cases the trophy fish. Top live baits include mullet, pogies, pilchards, pin fish, grunts, threadfin herring, and live shrimp. Chumming with live pilchards is a deadly technique. Anglers catch many many baits and then toss live unhooked baits out to attract the snook.

Top Florida saltwater game fish

17) Redfish

fishing for bull redfish

Redfish are an extremely popular inshore game fish. I have them number three on my list of the top 8 Florida inshore game fish. Redfish are found throughout the state. Most of the state of Florida has excellent redfish habitat. Reds prefer large shallow bodies of water with a mixture of grass and sand bottom with oyster bars and mangrove shorelines.

Read this article on fishing for redfish

Anglers in the Northeast part of Florida do well catching reds in the title creeks. Moving south, mosquito Lagoon and Banana River offer anglers the chance for trophy redfish. The Everglades, Charlotte Harbor, and Tampa Bay are huge estuaries with countless acres of prime redfish habitat. The entire coastline of Florida from north of Tampa to Alabama offers excellent fishing for redfish.

Redfish are often found in shallow water

Sarasota fishing calendar

Redfish are found most often on shallow grass flats. They have an inferior mouth, which means it is on the underside of the fish behind the nose. This makes them perfect for routing in the grass, sand, and mud for crustaceans. While shrimp and crabs are their primary diet, reds will most certainly feed on bait fish as well.

Redfish are often times found in large schools, particularly in the fall. The water can actually turn red when a school of large redfish moves through in clear water. These fish can be fussy on the shallow flats in a stealthy approach is required. Weedless spoons, soft plastics on a light jig head, and live bait are all productive.

18) Speckled trout

Sarasota fishing charters
Sarasota speckled trout

Speckled trout are again found throughout the entire state. They might be the most popular fish in Florida and in the South. The only reason I have them number four on my list of the top 8 Florida inshore game fish is that they are not known for their terrific fight when hooked. Speckled trout are beautiful fish, aggressive, plentiful, and fantastic eating.

Live shrimp are a top bait for anglers targeting speckled trout. Many a speckled trout has fallen prey to a live shrimp dangled beneath a noisy popping cork. This is an old method that continues to produce to this day. Shrimp can also be free lined in deeper water. Trout are found most often on the open grass flats, but will drop down into deeper holes and channels if the water dips below 60°. Live pin fish, grunts, pilchards, and finger mullet are also productive live baits.

Top Florida saltwater game fish

The number one artificial lure for anglers targeting speckled trout is the jig and grub combo. This is a very effective lore that is versatile and cost-effective. One quarter ounce jig heads are the most popular as most of the trout are caught in waters between 3 feet deep and 10 feet deep. A soft plastic body of some sort, be it a shrimp, paddle tail, shad tail, or jerk worm is then adorned onto the jig.

Other artificial lures will certainly produce speckled trout as well. Top water plugs fished on a high tide first thing in the morning or in the evening will catch some trophy trout. Suspending plugs are deadly on trout as they hang seemingly helpless in the middle of the water column. Gold spoons can also work well for trout in open water.

Top saltwater species in Florida

19) Jack crevalle

Jack crevalle are number five on my list of the top 8 Florida inshore game fish. The only downside to jacks as far as the fight is concerned is that they seldom jump. Otherwise, they are right up there with the top game fish in the world. Jacks have broadsides and deeply forked tales and pull incredibly hard. They school up in large numbers which often times as to their competitiveness and aggressiveness.

Sarasota fishing report

Often times, jacks will be seen foraging on the surface. This is great fun and very exciting! As long as the bait or lure remotely resembles the forage that the jacks are feeding on, a bite is almost a guarantee. Plugs, jigs, spoons, and soft plastic baits are all productive lures when targeting jack crevalle.

Live bait will produce jacks as well. However, it is so much fun catching them on artificial lures that most anglers targeting jacks do so using lures or even a fly rod. Jacks are found along the coastlines and in the passes, inlets, and bays in the warmer months. In the cooler months, they often times move into the same canals in creeks as snook. Anglers can catch them blind casting while trolling plugs is a great way to locate fish.

20) Pompano

Top Florida saltwater game fish

Pompano do not grow very large, but put up a terrific fight for their size. They are also considered one of the finest eating fish on the planet. Due to the fact that they don’t grow very large, I have them ranked as number seven on my list of the top 8 Florida inshore game fish.

Pompano are found in the surf, passes and inlets, and inshore bays throughout the state. Many are caught by anglers fishing off of Florida beaches using shrimp or sand fleas as bait. Anglers and boats catch them on shrimp as well. However, most anglers and boats targeting pompano use small jigs. Pompano have small mouse and feet on the bottom. A jig bouncing along closely mimics the crustaceans that they feed on.

21) Bluefish

fishing Siesta Key

Bluefish are no stranger to northern anglers. Here in Florida, we get a smaller version as a average between one and 5 pounds. However, they have the same tenacity and aggressive tendencies as their northern cousins. Bluefish are usually found in schools. They are also quite aggressive, and will often times displace other fish in the area. It is not uncommon to experience multiple hookups when encountering a school of bluefish.

Most bluefish are caught by anglers using artificial lures. The motion, speed, and flash of a lure will excite and attract bluefish. Plugs, jigs, and spoons are all very effective. Live bait such as shrimp and small bait fish will produce on the flats. Anglers surf fishing and fishing from peers and bridges do well using fresh fish as cut bait. Bluefish have very sharp teeth and anglers fishing for them will experience lost lures and hooks. Bluefish are #8 on my list of top 8 Florida inshore game fish.

In conclusion, this article on the top 21 Florida Saltwater Game Fish will help anglers have success when fishing in Florida. All current Florida fishing regulations can be found on the FWC website.

A Guide to Kayak fishing for beginners

A Guide to Kayak fishing for beginners

This article, “A Guide to Kayak Fishing for Beginners. It is about getting anglers on the water in a kayak. There are several considerations including water being fished, size, weight, and propulsion type. Kayak fishing is gaining in popularity. There are several factors for this increase. Kayaks are relatively inexpensive to buy and operate. They are lees work than larger boats. Finally, kayaks are quiet, giving anglers a more serene experience.

kayak fishing for beginners

“My name is Kelly, a West Texas gal that has fished since she could walk. I began as a bank cat fisherman with my family and was hooked on bass when I snagged my first one off my Ranger boat in college. I moved to Austin TX in 2014 and was suddenly surrounded by abundant fishing opportunities. It didn’t take long to jump into a kayak and begin learning the ropes. Since then, it’s been my biggest passion beyond my kids and I get on the water as much as possible.

“What is the hardest thing about kayak fishing? Finding other ladies to fish with! One of my goals is to encourage other women to enter the sport and hit the water with confidence. Kayak fishing can help bring busy moms and other women much needed stress relief, physical activity and cardio, as well as a whole lot of fun and camaraderie.

kayak fishing for beginners

Kayak fishing for beginners, what to look for in a kayak

“A kayak will open up a whole new world of fishing opportunities for you. For me, bank stomping is almost a thing of the past, but I do still on occasion. Once you have a kayak for fishing, you’ll never look back. But first – it’s important you get the right one for you! For women, the right kayak may be slightly different than for men. Here are some things to consider, from my female perspective.

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

Kayak weight is an important factor

“Will you be loading it yourself most of the time? How much weight can you lift? For me – I prefer to stay under 70 pounds and not over 80. Some kayaks can weigh much more! I paddle a Diablo Amigo which weighs 75 lbs, is 12’8” long, and 37.5” wide. 75 lbs is pushing it for loading on top of a roof rack (for me). Keep in mind that after a long day on the water, even 70 lbs will feel more like 100+. Keep it light enough that you can easily lift one end up from the floor to your shoulders.

a guide to kayak fishing

“When looking at kayaks, ask a sales associate to lay one down flat for you on the sales floor if it’s not already. Then actually try lifting one end. You’ll be surprised how heavy some of them can seem. If you struggle to get it more than a foot off the ground, look for a lighter one.

Sit-in kayak or sit-on-top kayak?

“For fishing, I recommend a sit-on-top, not sit-in. I started out with a small 10’ Pelican sit-in. It was great for small lakes and I caught many bass in it. However, I quickly learned that one bad wave can sink you quickly. This happened when I was playing around on the beach going beyond the breakers. As I came back in, a huge wave came and rolled me. As you can imagine, it quickly filled with water and was stuck in the surf under water.

“Luckily for me, a very strong guy that looked like he could’ve been a sumo wrestler happened to be chilling on the beach nearby. Miraculously, he came to my rescue and pulled the kayak out of the water. It was tough lifting for even him!

beginners kayak fishing

“For fishing, always go with a sit-on-top kayak so that you don’t have to worry about a large wave overtaking you. Yes – learn from my mistakes! This is especially critical if you plan to ever venture beyond the breakers on the coast with your kayak. Even big lakes on windy days can pose a threat.

Kayak stability factors

“The older you are, the more stable kayak I recommend. More narrow kayaks will be less stable and wider kayaks will be more stable. However, you will always trade off some speed for stability. I’m 41 and I like to be able to stand and stretch and fish as opposed to sitting all day, which is why I went with one that is over 3’ wide.

fishing in a kayak

“However, if you have a need for speed and don’t mind sitting all day, go for something skinnier that will cut through the water easier. There are quite a few great and stable kayaks on the market these days. Look for one that features a pull-up leash. Those are there specifically for being able to stand and fish. Find your balance!

Kayak rod holders

“When investing in a fishing kayak, be sure it has, at minimum, a spot for two rods to be securely placed. Most fishing kayaks will come with two rod holders behind the seats. However, some will not as they have room for a fishing crate behind the seat. People typically will have fishing rod holders installed on the crate. But keep this in mind – either your kayak needs to be stable enough for you to stand, turn and grab the rod, or you need to be flexible enough to twist in your seat to access the rods.

“Some kayaks now offer swivel seats – so that is another option for being sure you can access your rods. I do highly recommend having gear track installed on your kayak with an extra rod holder that rests near your seat. That rod holder should be reserved for placing your rod in after landing a fish, which keeps you from dropping your rod in the water when removing, measuring, and releasing a fish. (Personal experience)

 Seating on kayaks

“Test the seat out before you buy! I cannot say this enough. Being in the kayak fishing world, I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve heard about people’s backs hurting after fishing all day due to the seat not being comfortable. When looking at and testing the seat, keep in mind that typically you want the seat to sit lower for paddling, as that helps you go faster. Paddling from up higher can be more challenging.

kayak fishing for beginners

“Some kayaks come with seats that adjust from a higher to lower position, and vice versa. Some even swivel! But I also have at least one friend that literally got a small lawn party chair for his kayak and it works fine too. Just make sure the seat is comfortable enough to sit in for hours.

Pedal or paddle the kayak?

“That is the question of the century. Basically, you’ll pay more money for a pedal drive. A pedal drive can serve you well if you’re a serious fisherman because it allows you to hold your position in varying conditions while working your bait. With only paddles, it’s a lot more challenging to hold your position and work your bait, unless you’re able to anchor.

“However, bass fishermen and women are constantly moving and working the water looking for the fish – so pedal drives have a huge advantage when it comes to tournament fishing. Plus, a pedal drive will get you to your honey hole a lot quicker. I’ve been to some places where a pedal drive won’t get you anywhere because it’s either too shallow or there’s too much hydrilla that the pedals get hung in.

bass fishing in a kayak

“Paddle only kayaks definitely have their place! Bay fishing in low tide is one of those times I wouldn’t use a pedal drive, as the water can be super shallow. I’m talking inches.

Just consider where you’ll be doing most of your fishing and if you prefer your hands free all the time or not. Just be ready to pay more for a pedal drive if you go that route.

Kayak fishing for beginners, transporting and storing

“You can’t talk about getting a fishing kayak without talking about how you will transport your kayak. You can buy a roof rack for just about any small car or SUV. I personally have Thule bars installed on mine and they work great for loading a basic kayak on. Most sporting goods stores sell kayak racks as well as cradles that you can add to “cradle” your kayak(s).

“A trailer is another great option. My father bought me a small utility trailer from Lowes, and I had it custom welded with crossbars to load two Diablo Amigos on with lots of storage space underneath. This option can run up to $1,000 unless you can find a good used trailer for cheap. A utility trailer can cost anywhere from $400-$900 depending on size, quality, and location.

“You can expect custom welding to run you $200 – $400 more. But I have to say, it is well worth the money as I can’t imagine being without this trailer now. Plus, there is no way I would be able to load two Diablo Amigos on top of my car. The fact that storage and camping boxes slide right underneath the kayaks is icing on the cake!

Kayak carts

“Another great investment I made was a C-Tug cart, which helps me get my kayak to the water without dragging it and scraping the bottom. Of course, you don’t need a cart if you are backing right up to the water. But mine has paid off in many instances, especially if you’re fishing alone and don’t have help getting your kayak to the water.

trailer for fishing kayaks

“There are many different kayak carts available and you may want to check prices. If you go with a heavier kayak, a cart is pretty much a must have to get your kayak transported around without damaging the bottom. But if your kayak is lighter, you just might can do without one – especially if you mostly back right up to the water.

Kayak fishing for beginners, safety equipment

“Otherwise known as your personal floatation device, this is an absolute must or you simply do not need to be on the water. You can buy a traditional PFD/lifejacket which can come with all kinds of cool pockets and clips, or an auto-inflate. Auto-inflate will automatically inflate when immersed in water. They work, I’ve accidentally tested mine.

“For lakes and still water, I recommend the auto-inflate as it is smaller, less bulky, and more comfortable honestly. But for moving water like river fishing or going beyond the breakers, I’d always wear a traditional PFD. They are more heavy duty and not subject to puncture holes like an auto-inflate. Additionally, when the auto-inflate life vest deploys, it will cost you $20 to re-arm it every time. On a river or going beyond the breakers, you’re likely to take a spill eventually. Kayaks must have a whistle, and a 360 light for night time kayak fishing, and for late evening and super early morning.

Kayak storage

“Storage , that is a good consideration. Where will that huge thing go?! I keep mine on the trailer in the garage. And when I travel I lock them up to the trailer with a cable lock, a few of them. Some people get chains and also run through a scupper and wrap around the trailer. The more locked down the better. Sometimes when staying in hotel rooms, I just drag them into the room with me.

Time to go kayak fishing!

“Hopefully you’re ready to jump on a kayak and chase some fins! I hope this article on kayak fishing for beginners will help you get started! Texas is a great place to do just that, with year-round fishing opportunities and so many species to choose from.

Bottom fishing from a kayak in northern California

The subject of this article is bottom fishing northern California. The rugged coast line of California from San Francisco north offers anglers the opportunity to catch a wide variety of bottom fish. Know locally as “groundfish”, these are species such as rockfish and lingcod. They live and feed in the bottom structure.

kayak fishing

The water in the Pacific Ocean gets deep fairly quickly off of the northern California coast. There is also quite a bit of rocky structure that holds fish. The best spots are underwater “humps” that rise up from deeper water to around 75 feet deep. The best area along the coast is from Bodega Bay to Crescent City. The most popular launches for kayakers are Fort Ross, Albion River and Shelter Cove.

Many anglers access this great fishing from shore using kayaks. Amanda Brannon is our correspondent who is familiar with this type of fishing. She is relatively new to this type of fishing, but quickly became enamored with it.

Bottom fishing northern California, tackle and baits

Most anglers opt for light to medium conventional tackle for this type of fishing. There are a couple of reasons for this. Casting is seldom required, most fishing is done vertically. Conventional tackle is also better for winching large, strong fish up off the bottom. Shimano Trevala 7 foot jigging rod, Shimano Calcutta 400B reel, and 25 pound P-Line Original co-polymer line.

kayak fishing for rockfish

Some anglers use braid to shock leader when bottom fishing northern California. Rockfish and lingcod have sharp teeth and the jagged bottom requires this. Most anglers use 50 pound braid to a 20 pound flourocarbon leader. Anglers can then fish with lures or bait. Jigs are the top artificial lure while squid and anchovies are the best natural baits.

A jig and a swim bait is a great combination for this style of fishing. Amanda’s “go to” combo is a 4 oz Pitbull Tackle Shad Jig Head with a 6.5” Senorita Big Hammer Swimbait slathered in Pro-Cure Squid Super-Gel. She has caught a bunch of fishing using these and there is less mess and hassle with these versus live or cut bait when fishing from a kayak.

California bottom fish identification

Fish identification and current fishing regulations need to be taken into consideration. Many of these species are similar in shape, size, and sometimes color. Here are a couple of links that will help anglers identify the species caught and obey the current laws. RESOURCES and California Department of fish and wildlife.

kayak fishing for beginners

Amanda was introduced to bottom fishing northern California just a few years ago. She found both the kayaking and fishing to be very exciting. She shares her story with other anglers here on the Fishing Ladies site.

Amanda’s introduction to bottom fishing northern California

“July 8 2016, it was before sunrise and the first time I had ever driven the famous tourist Highway 1 route. As we began our trek north along the Sonoma coastline, I felt my stomach begin to flutter with excitement in anticipation for what I could not see to the west of me just beyond the cliffs. As the sun began to rise and cast shadows on the heavy fog bank that was still lingering from the night before, I begin to start questioning my commitment to go rock fishing for the first time.

“My sights were fixed on waves crashing onto boulders just offshore from the beach, the ocean disappearing into the fog into no man’s land and then there was the thought of whales, sea lions, seals and the horror stories of the Great White sharks. If I was fishing from a boat, I knew I would have a chance to get back to shore safely. But, I wasn’t going to be in a boat, I was going to be in a 14-foot kayak!

Safety concerns when bottom fishing northern California

“After making it to our launch destination, Matthew, now my husband but at the time boyfriend, went over all safety precautions with me. The water temperatures in Northern California are cold year-round. A dry suit or wet suit is recommended for safety when fishing out of a kayak. On my first trip out I rented a wet suit from a local dive shop.

“A PFD (personal floatation device) is worn at all times. A whistle, light and flag for the kayak, marine radio and a first aid kit are all in our kayaks and more importantly we know how to use them. Don’t get yourself into an emergency situation and then not know how to use something.

lingcod in a kayak

“Matthew went over the launch technique with me several times; wait for the wave to come in, hop in the boat and then go. If you don’t, the waves will roll the kayak over. Once you are in you immediately start paddling to get out over the rolling beach waves. My first launch wasn’t perfect and to be honest, to this day I still feel more comfortable with him helping me launch.

“Once the paddle out began my stomach flutters started to settle and I was excited to get to our fishing spot. After paddling about half a mile off the shoreline we started using our depth finders to look for rocky bottoms in 75-100 feet of water. Once we found the structure we were looking for, we would drop our line, let it sink all the way to the bottom, reel it up a turn or two and wait.

Bottom fishing northern California for rockfish and lingcod

“Oh boy, when the first fish hit my line I squealed like a little kid in excitement! I had no clue what I was going to be reeling up, which turned out to be a decent lingcod. We caught a decent number of fish but the 7-foot swells ended up forcing us off the water.

“On each trip we took out I became more and more independent on the water and not

afraid to handle fishing. There are over 90 different species of rockfish that inhabit the Pacific coast of California. Of course, I only caught a handful or two of those species. My favorite species to catch are lingcod and vermillion rockfish.

“My first trip out led to my obsession for rockfishing along the coast of Northern California. I caught some amazing fish out there and captured even more amazing memories on the water with my husband. Our journey has taken us back to the east coast for now, where we are chasing redfish and continuing to fish for bass! Until we get back out there, I will have to reminisce and live vicariously through our west coast friends the Baumbach’s who now share the same obsession.”

In closing, this article, “A Guide to Kayak Fishing for Beginners” will help anglers catch some of these delicious fish species.

Top 15 sheepshead fishing tips

Top 15 Sheepshead Fishing Tips for Anglers

This article lists the top 15 sheepshead fishing tips. Sheepshead are a very popular and tasty bottom fish. They are members of the porgy family. In the United States, they are found all along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico as well as the eastern seaboard up to the mid Atlantic. Sheepshead school up in large numbers. Once located, anglers can put a lot of fish in the boat in a short amount of time. Sheepshead are very good to eat, though they have a large rib cage and are difficult to clean.

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


Best 15 sheepshead fishing tips

Sheepshead are a structure oriented fish. They are found around bridges, jetties, docks, oyster bars, seawalls, and submerged ledges and rocks. They feed almost exclusively on crustaceans. Very few sheepshead are caught by anglers using artificial lures. Fishing with live, fresh dead, or frozen baits on the bottom near structure produces the most fish. They are a staple of captains running fishing charters throughout the southeast United States.

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

Sheepshead range all along the Gulf Coast and east coast as far north as Canada. However, the greatest concentration is found from North Carolina south and around to Texas. Cooler months are generally best as this is when they spawn. In the northern parts of their range, sheepshead will school up and spawn in the summer.

1) Live bait is best

As mentioned before, very few sheepshead are caught by anglers using artificial lures. It does occur, but rarely. Some fish just prefer the “real thing”, and sheepshead are one of those species. Live, freshly dead, and frozen baits account for the vast majority of sheepshead that are landed by anglers. Live and frozen shrimp are the most readily available and thus popular sheepshead baits.

Sarasota fishing excursions

In most angling situations, live bait is the best choice. Preferred baits vary by region. Shrimp, mole crabs (commonly known as sand fleas), and fiddler crabs are the top baits. Live shrimp are the most universally used bait for sheepshead. They are available at just about every coastal bait shop. Some serious sheepshead anglers prefer fiddler crabs and sand fleas over shrimp. However, in most instances these baits must be procured by the angler. Oyster crabs and worms are caught by anglers looking around rocks on a low tide.

2) Sheepshead fishing tackle

Fortunately, no special tackle is required when targeting sheepshead. The same inshore fishing tackle used for speckled trout and redfish will work fine when bottom fishing for sheepshead. A 7 foot medium action spinning rod match with a 3000 series reel is perfect. Many anglers prefer braided line and its increased sensitivity as sheepshead will often times bite very lightly. Anglers targeting very large sheepshead around heavy structure may need to bump up the tackle and use light conventional gear.

The Penn Fierce 3000 rod and reel is a very good choice for anglers targeting chasing sheepshead and most all other inshore species.

Anglers can click this link to shop Amazon for Penn combos

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

Sarasota family fishing charters

In many instances, vertical presentations work best. This means that no casting is required. This makes sheepshead fishing a great option for anglers with less experience. Slightly heavier tackle can be used in these instances.

Read more about sheepshead tackle and baits

3) Terminal tackle for sheepshead

Basic bottom fishing tackle is all that is required for anglers sheepshead fishing. A selection of egg sinkers and bank sinkers from one quarter ounce to 2 ounces, split shot, live bait hooks in several sizes, swivels, and several spools of leader material between 20 pound and 40 pound test are all that is required.

How to Catch Sheepshead video

Every angler has his or her favorite hooks for bottom fishing. Circle hooks work well for patient anglers who can resist the urge to set the hook. Live bait hooks work well, too. Whichever hook style used, anglers should make sure that the hook is stout. They are required to turn a nice fish in cover as well as being easier to remove from the sheepshead’s mouth.

4) Hide the hook

Sheepshead can be very fussy at times. For most fishing applications, a #1 or #1/0 short shank live bait hook works best. Some anglers prefer circle hooks as well; a #3/0 circle hook is a good all round size. In either case, anglers should try to hide the hook in the bait as much is possible. This is easy with shrimp as it can be threaded onto the shank. Anglers using sand fleas and fiddlers should hide as much of the hook in the bait as possible.

5) Fishing sinker weight is important

top 15 sheepshead fishing tips

As in most fishing situations, the rule of thumb when bottom fishing is to use the least amount of weight needed to get the bait to the bottom. This results in a more natural presentation as the bait slowly sink through the water column that settles on the bottom. Anglers fishing shallow water with little current will do fine with just a split shot or two. Anglers fishing in passes and inlets with a lot of current will need several ounces.

Sliding egg sinkers are the most popular sinker used by anglers sheepshead fishing. They allow line to slide through as the fish moves off with the bait, feeling no resistance. They can also be used in the chicken rig or “high-low” rigs. Bank sinkers do work well for anglers that drift and fish in heavier currents.

6) Sheepshead are structure oriented

Sheephead will rarely be found very far from some type of structure or cover. Seldom are they encountered in open water or grass flats. Bridges are well-known to produce plenty of fish. Docks can also be extremely productive. Other productive structure would include oyster bars, submerged rocks and ledges, jetties, and artificial reefs.

top 15 sheepshead fishing tips

Current also plays a role in fish position on the structure. Generally speaking, fish will face into the current as they feed. This is true whether stationary or moving around. Often times, sheepshead will form schools and move about as a bunch in search of food. Anglers should not stay at a spot too long if no action is found. This is especially true when fishing docks. Ten docks may provide very little then the eleventh one will be loaded with fish!

7) Leader diameter can make a difference

Though not really thought of as leader shy, there are times were anglers will need to go to a lighter leader. This is particularly true in clear water which often occurs in the cooler months. 30 pound test fluorocarbon leader’s work well in most instances. However, if the bite is slow, dropping down to 20 pound test may result in more action. Conversely, if the wind blows and churns up the water, anglers fishing heavy structure can bump it up to 40 lb or 50 lb leader.

Florida saltwater fishing in winter

8) Sheepshead bottom fishing rigs

There are several bottom rigs that work well when sheepshead fishing. The sliding sinker rig, also known as a Carolina rig, is probably the most popular. It consists of an egg sinker with a hole in it which the running line goes through. A swivel is then tied on, followed by a 2 foot piece of leader and the hook. This rig allows the sheepshead to pick up the bait and move off with it without feeling any resistance.

Sheepshead Fishing Tips video

A knocker rig is a variation of the sliding sinker rig. The difference is that the leader goes through the sinker below the swivel. This allows the way to sit right on the eye of the hook. There are two advantages to this rig. One, it results in the bait being right on the bottom with the weight. Secondly, the weight at the eye often results in anglers freeing the hook from underwater snags more easily.

bottom fishing rigs

Another popular ineffective sheepshead fishing rig is the high low rig or chicken rig. Many anglers are familiar with this setup. The sinker, usually a bank sinker, is tied to the bottom of the leader. A hook or multiple hooks is tied at various levels above the sinker. This allows anglers to fish multiple baits at various points in the water column. It is an excellent presentation went fishing vertically. This is also a great choice when drifting a likely sheepshead fishing spot.

9) Frozen baits will produce when sheepshead fishing

Fortunately for anglers, there are times when sheepshead are not all that fussy. Also, there will be times when shrimp boats can’t get out and live bait become scarce. While live bait is often preferred, frozen shrimp, sand fleas, and fiddler crabs will produce sheepshead. It is important to thaw a little bait at a time as anglers fish. Bait that is completely frozen will often break. Conversely, bait that is thawed out too long can get soft and fall off the hook easily.

10) Other sheepshead baits

sand flea

While fiddlers, shrimp, and sand fleas are the three most popular sheepshead fishing baits, there are other baits that will produce. Some areas have oyster crabs. These are found around rocks and jetties on a low tide. They resemble stone crabs to a degree. However, they do have a different color. Mollusks such as oysters and clam strips can also be used.

Sarasota fishing report

11) Sheepshead hooking techniques

It is often said by veteran sheepshead anglers to “set the hook just before they bite”! Of course, this is an exaggeration. However, Sheepshead are notorious for being very light biters. They will often remove the bait from the hook while the angler feels nothing at all. That said, there are some techniques which will help anglers improve their percentage converting bites to fish. Just keep in mind that this will be lower when targeting sheepshead that it will be when targeting other species.

The best approach is to cast the bait out or lower to the bottom and allow it to settle. The angler should then remove all slack from the line and keep the bait motionless with the rod tip low. The bite often begins with a few subtle “taps”. It is very important not to move the bait at all while this occurs.

Siesta Key fishing charters

At some point, the sheepshead will move off with it and the angler will watch the rod bend. At this point the angler should real quickly while slowly raising the rod. It is important to not try to set the hook. As a charter boat captain in Florida, I have found that this is the best technique for hooking and landing sheepshead.

12) Tide considerations when sheepshead fishing

As in most saltwater fishing applications, tide is a crucial element. Current flow will often times position fish on structure. The best approach is to anchor up tide from the structure that is to be fished. The angler can then present the bait back with the current. This results in a natural presentation. It also lets the sent continue down current, hopefully pulling other fish off of the structure.

Sarasota sheepshead fishing

Passes and inlets are great spots to catch sheepshead. Here on the West Coast of Florida, they school up in huge numbers and structure in the passes to spawn. However, it can be very difficult to fish the passes and inlets when there is a strong current flow. Anchoring is difficult and a lot of weight will be required to get the bait to the bottom. Finally, there is the safety factor as these can be busy boating spots, particularly on the weekends. The best times to fish the passes are on the changes of the tide, as this is when the current eases up enough to fish and anchor more easily.

13) Fishing for sheepshead offshore

While Sheepshead are plentiful in the inshore waters, angler should not neglect ledges, wrecks, and artificial reefs. Most coastal areas have this type of structure, often close to shore. These can be sheepshead hot spots in the late winter and spring.

Sarasota sheepshead fishing

Many anglers overlook natural ledges when targeting sheepshead. This is a mistake! While larger artificial reefs attract many sheepshead as well as anglers, ledges will hold some very nice fish. They also get less fishing pressure due to the fact that they are smaller and more difficult to locate. Another benfit is that other desirable species such as snapper, sea bass, and flounder are commonly caught on these smaller ledges.

14) Sheepshead cleaning tips

While sheepshead are fantastic eating, they are difficult to clean. They have very sharp dorsal fins and large, thick rib cages. I have found that the best fish to keep for dinner are the nice fat, chunky fish between 14 inches long and 18 inches long. It is just my preference, but I generally release the larger specimens. Most of these are females that are full of eggs at the time of year that we target sheepshead.

best Sarasota fishing charter

The best way to clean sheepshead is to insert the tip of the fillet knife between the dorsal fin in the back of the fish. Anglers will find a little “flap” here that facilitates this process. Then, the knife is worked down the backbone in both directions. The tip of the knife can be pushed all the way through emerging from the bottom of the fish. In order to save the blade of the knife, the fillet can be ripped off of the rib cage by hand once at that point.

15) Cooking sheepshead

Sheepshead are a very versatile fish. Once cooked, the meat is firm and white. It is a great fish for chowder! It also does very well fried, grilled, baked, and broiled. Blackened sheepshead is delicious and very easy to prepare. There really is no wrong way to prepare these tasty bottom dwellers, as long as they are not overcooked. Florida anglers can find current sheepshead regulations on the FWC website. They do change occasionally.

In conclusion, this article listing the top 15 sheepshead fishing tips will help anglers catch more of these tasty and hard fighting bottom fish. What is your favorite sheepshead bait?

Fishing for Florida Panfish and Crappie

Fishing for Florida panfish and crappie

This article focuses on fishing for Florida panfish and crappie. They offer anglers both great sport on ultralight tackle and fine eating! Freshwater panfish are very popular throughout the entire United States.

There are quite a few different species of panfish in Florida. Bluegill, redear sunfish, war mouth, spotted sunfish, and red breast sunfish are just some of the different species. Crappie are the largest of the panfish and arguably the most popular. Just about every species of panfish is delicious! In Florida and the South, they are also known as “bream”. most are caught on live bait, but Florida panfish can be caught on artificial lures as well.

fishing for Florida crappie and panfish

Florida anglers are never very far from the closest spot to catch panfish. There is water everywhere here. Some species of panfish or another live in just about every body of water that is fresh. Most Florida waters are shallow and weedy which is prime habitat for catching panfish.

Fishing for Florida panfish

For many Florida anglers, fishing for panfish is a very simple affair. They grab a 12 foot cane pole with a piece of line and a hook. Some type of live bait such as worms or crickets is acquired and they head down to the local fishing hole. This type of fishing is very relaxing and is still productive to this day.

fishing for Florida panfish and crappie

While cane poles work fine, spinning tackle is much more versatile. Spinning rods allow anglers to cast very light baits and lures a fair distance. And, ultralight spinning outfit is relatively inexpensive. A decent rod, real, and line can be purchased for around $60. Here is a link to a good, affordable spinning outfit.

Anglers can click the link below to shop Amazon for an ultra light combo

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

Catching Florida panfish using bait

Live bait is very effective for targeting panfish. Most panfish eat insects, crustaceans, and small bait fish. Live worms are tough to beat for catching a wide variety of species. Crickets are very popular and are available at many freshwater bait shops. They are particularly good when targeting bluegill. Freshwater grass shrimp are a deadly bait for panfish! Few bait shops sell them however and anglers must catch their own with the net in the weedy vegetation.

fishing for Florida panfish and crappie

Most anglers fishing with live bait use a float of some sort. This allows the bait to be suspended over the weeds at the desired depth. It also gives anglers a visual indication of a strike. If the float disappears, a fish has taken the bait! This is a very practical rig since many Florida lakes and ponds are quite shallow. On deeper lakes and rivers anglers remove the float and add a small split shot a foot above the hook to get the bait down deeper.

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

While live bait probably accounts for most of the panfish that are caught, I actually prefer using artificial lures. I enjoy casting out a lure and reeling it back in, anticipating a strike. Lures also allow anglers to cover water much more quickly than live bait does. As an added bonus, largemouth bass often hit these tiny lures meant for panfish. A 1 1/2 pound bass will put up a tremendous fight on ultralight tackle!

Catching Florida panfish using lures

My go-to lure for Florida panfish is a 1/16 ounce black Beetlespin. It is basically a tiny spinner bait with a small grub body. Every angler has his or her favorite color. I have found the darker colors such as black and green to be the most effective in the tannin stained waters of Florida. In reality, just about any tiny in-line spinner or spinner bait will catch most species of Florida panfish.

Sarasota trolling techniques

Jigs are another very popular and effective panfish bait. Ultralight jig heads can be purchased as light as 1/64 ounce. However 1/32 ounce and 1/16 ounce baits are the most commonly used. Crappie anglers may bump it up to 1/8 ounce when fishing and trolling in deeper water.

Here is a link to an article on the best fishing lures for bluegill and panfish.

One great thing about the jig and grub combo is that the grub body is easily replaced. The jig head is tied on to the line in some type of body adorns the jig hook. These little grubs come in countless colors and in several shapes. Twister tail and shad tail baits have great built in action and are probably the most popular. If I had to pick one jig and grub combo, it would be a 1/16 ounce jig with a chartreuse twister tail.

Fly anglers are certainly not to be left out when it comes to Florida panfish. Since much of a panfish’s diet includes insects, fly fishing is a natural. A 3wt to 4wt outfit with a floating line is perfect. Any small buggy looking fly or tiny baitfish imitations will produce panfish. My favorite fly is a #10 black Wooly Bugger. That fly will catch just about every freshwater fish on the planet.

Fishing for Florida panfish; techniques

The fishing technique for panfish is basically the same whether you are using lures, flies, or live bait. Panfish prefer some type of cover, with vegetation being their primary hiding spots. Bluegill and other panfish love wood, so any fallen tree should be given extra attention.

Sarasota freshwater fishing

Panfish tend to group up in an area. The best approach is for an angler to move around while fishing likely looking spots. If the action is slow, keep it moving. Once a productive area is located, it is time to slow down and fish that area thoroughly. This is especially true when panfish are on the spawning beds.

Florida panfish like cover such as weeds and fallen timber

Anglers fishing with live bait in shallow water will generally have the float a couple feet above the float. They cast the rig out towards the edge of a weed line, over submerged vegetation, or near some submerged timber. The bait is allowed to sit for a little bit, giving the fish plenty of time to find it. When the float disappears the slack line is reeled tight and the hook is set.

fishing for panfish in Florida

Artificial lures and flies are cast out to the same spots. They are allowed to sink for a moment in the retrieved back in. The most productive retrieve when pan fishing will be a slow steady retrieve. Anglers using spinners or spinner baits want to real just fast enough to turn the blade and keep the bait out of the bottom. Anglers jig fish in can give the rod tip a slight twitch to make the jig top and fall.

Florida panfish locations

Bottom composition can be a huge factor when targeting Florida panfish. Hard, shell bottom will be very productive areas if found. This is especially true for redear sunfish, AKA shellcrackers. They get their name because of their affinity for eating mollusks and crustaceans. But all fish prefer a firmer bottom over mucky bottom, especially when it’s time to spawn.

Florida bluegill fishing

I really enjoy fishing Florida rivers for panfish. They are often overlooked by anglers. Here in Sarasota, Florida, we have the Manatee River system Braden River system, and the Myakka River system. The river inside Myakka State Park is beautiful with fantastic scenery and wildlife. It offers great pan fishing for anglers with small boats, canoes, and kayaks.

One advantage to panfish in rivers is at there is limited water. This makes finding panfish easier. This is especially true during periods of low water. Outside bends in the river almost always have deeper water and fallen trees. These types of spots are magnets for panfish and other game fish.

Sarasota fishing report

Trolling is another extremely effective technique for panfish. It is especially efficient on larger open bodies of water. Trolling a small Beetlespin or jig along a weed line is a great way to locate a school of panfish. Trolling is very popular among crappie anglers. It is a terrific way to locate a school of fish in deeper water.

Florida panfish species


Sarasota freshwater fishing

Crappie are the largest member of the panfish clan and grow to several pounds. Anything over 12” is a decent fish. Crappie school up in fall and winter. Many anglers troll in deeper water for them. As it warms up in spring, they move to the shallow banks. Crappie prefer small bait fish, so live minnows and artificial lures that mimic bait fish work best.


fishing for bluegill in Florida

Bluegill are probably the most abundant and prolific species of fish in the panfish family. Many southern anglers call them “bream”. It is pronounced “brim”. No matter what name you give them, they are great fun to catch and put up a good fight for their size. The running joke is that if bluegill got to be 5 pounds, you would never be able to land it!

Bluegill are fairly aggressive and can be caught on just about any live or artificial bait and while fly fishing. They prefer shallow weedy areas with sandy bottom and are very much attracted to wood. This would include trees and docks. Florida bluegill spawn around the full moons and summer.

Redear sunfish (shellcrackers)

fishing for Florida shellcracker

Redear sunfish (AKA shellcrackers) are the largest members of the bream family. They prefer slightly deeper water than most other panfish. While they will hit artificial lures, anglers targeting redear sunfish will have more success using live worms.

Spotted sunfish (stumpknocker)

Fishing for stumpknocker in Florida

Spotted sunfish or “stumpknockers” are another popular Florida panfish. They get their name from their affinity for woody structure. Spotted sunfish mostly feed on vegetation, but due to their aggressive nature are easily caught using lures. They do not grow quite as large as bluegill, but have a firm, white meat.


fishing for Florida warmouth

Warmouth are very aggressive and more solitary than other panfish. They are broad and put up a very good fight. They tend to prefer smaller bodies of water such as streams and swampy areas.

Fishing for Florida crappie

This section will focus on our fishing ladies catching Florida crappie. Crappie are an extremely popular freshwater fish, right up there with largemouth bass bluegill. They are a bit larger than most freshwater panfish and are available throughout much of the United States.

Fishing for Florida crappie

Florida fishing gets a lot of attention, though not as much is directed towards crappie and other panfish. However, Florida offers anglers excellent crappie fishing! Crappie are locally known as “speckled perch”or “specks”. They are most often targeted in medium-sized to larger lakes.

Here in Sarasota, Florida where I guide in fish, saltwater species are the focus of most anglers. However, Sarasota has some underutilized freshwater angling opportunities. There are several lakes within a short drive of Sarasota that offer excellent crappie fishing. Upper Myakka Lake, Lake Manatee, Evers Lake, and Benderson Lake are the top spots in Sarasota.

Best times to fish for Florida crappie

While crappie can be caught year-round, the prime times are from middle of October till the middle of March. Crappie will start to school up in slightly deeper water along the edges of channels and and other deeper holes. As the weekly cold fronts begin to descend on Florida, these fish will move up to the banks to spawn. By April, most fish will have spawned out and migrated to the deeper water for the summer.

The two most productive techniques for crappie fishing are trolling and casting. Many successful anglers use a combination of the two. Early in the season when the schools are staged out in deeper water, trolling can be very effective. This allows anglers to cover a fair amount of water in search of fish. Once located, anglers will often slowly and thoroughly fish that area.

Most anglers choose to troll with artificial lures. However, live minnows can be trolled very slowly as well. Jigs are the preferred lure when trolling for crappie. A jig is a hook with a weight at the front near the eye. Jig heads come in many different weights and anglers can use the proper weight to get down to the desired depth.

Jigs produce crappie

The jig is then adorned with some type of plastic body or hairdressing. Marabou jigs have been popular ineffective for crappie fishing for a long time. Many anglers choose for soft plastic bodies for several reasons. They are inexpensive, effective, and it is very easy to change the colors and styles of the tails. Grubs come in many different styles and colors, and all of them will produce fish at one time or another.

top freshwater species

The Blakemore Road Runner is a very productive lure for trolling in deeper water. It is basically a jig like described above except that it has a little spinner coming off the head. Many of Florida’s lakes are dark and tannin stained. The extra flash of the spinner can prove to be the difference between success and failure when trolling for crappie.

As it cools off in the fish move up to the bank, many anglers switch over to casting lures and live baits. The same jigs used for trolling work fine when cast and retrieved towards the bank and other likely fish holding structure. Crappie love submerged trees and downed timber. Tiny spinner baits such as the beetle spent work very well on crappie and other panfish. Tiny plugs will produce as well, and will normally catch larger fish.

Crappie fishing with live bait

Live bait is often used in the circumstances well. The number one live bait by far is a live minnow. Most tackle shops that service freshwater anglers keep these on hand. The Missouri minnow is commercially raised and is very hardy. A couple dozen will live just fine in a small bucket of water. Most anglers fish the minnow several feet under a bobber. Red worms and nightcrawlers will also produce crappie.

Florida crappie fishing

Anglers can still troll when crappie move into the banks. In fact, this is a terrific way to locate a school of fish. Since the water will be shallower, very light jigs, small spinner baits, and tiny plugs are the best choice. As with the deep water trolling, once a school of fish is located anglers should turn back around and fish that area thoroughly.

Crappie are a very mild flavored fish with white flesh. They are fantastic eating! During these periods when crappie school up, it is easy to catch a bunch in a few hours of fishing. While they do freeze well, I encourage anglers to be judicious in the size and number of fish that they keep. I personally let the very big ones go and of course the smaller ones as well, keeping the chunky fish and the tenants to 12 inch range to eat.

Best Florida crappie fishing lakes

Lake Okeechobee

Lake Okeechobee is world-renowned for its bass fishing, but offers anglers excellent crappie fishing as well. Winter and early spring are the prime times to target crappie in Lake Okeechobee. While any part of the lake can be productive, many anglers focus on the north end where the Kissimmee River comes in. Vegetation is the primary cover and anglers will do well to move around until fish are located.

Lake Arbuckle

Lake Arbuckle is a 3800 acre lake in Polk County. It is a very productive lake for crappie year-round. There are three deeper basins in the lake which tend to concentrate crappie. As in most Florida lakes, trolling is productive in the cooler months while anglers target fish in the shallower grass in the spring. There is a park, but ramp and campground there. The area is gated, so anglers fishing early and late would do best to call ahead. The phone number is 863-534-4340.

Lake Istapoga

Lake Istapoga is another lake known more for bass fishing, but offers excellent crappie fishing as well. This is a 28,000 acre lake in the south-central part of Florida. Traditionally, the best crappie fishing spots are in the deeper areas east and north of Big Island along with the west side of Long Island. Vegetation is fairly thick and Lake Istapoga. Anglers tend to concentrate on the deeper areas in the winter as opposed to fighting the heavy vegetation they encounter by mid spring. There are several boat ramps offering crappie anglers access to this lake.

Lake Talquin

Lake Talquin holds the Florida state record crappie at nearly 4 pounds. It is an 8800 acre lake near Tallahassee, Florida. Anglers troll the channel area in fall and winter, then concentrate on the shallow water vegetation and spring. The lake is full of submerged stumps, trees and other structure and obstructions. Lake Talquin is also a very good lake for bluegill.


Lake walk-in water is an 8000 acre lake in Polk County. This lake has less vegetation than many of the other Florida lakes do. This lake has plenty of deep water for anglers who prefer to troll. Also, seven fish attractors were placed in the lake to help concentrate the crappie in the deeper water. These are well marked with orange and white buoys. There is one boat ramp on the western side of the lake off of Walk-in-Water Road.

Lake Monroe

Lake Monroe is part of the St. Johns River chain of lakes. It is close to 10,000 acres and lies between Orlando and Daytona Beach. Lake Monroe is known to give up good-sized fish in the cooler months. Anglers will do well to troll as it allows them to cover a lot of water. Lake Monroe is large and the crappie can be difficult to locate. However, once they are located, anglers can expect larger than average catches.

Lochloosa Lake

Lockloosa Lake in Alachua County is best known for numbers of crappie. Many anglers limit out on fish in the 10 inch range. Again, as with most Florida lakes, anglers fish the deeper open water in the cooler months than concentrate on shoreline vegetation as it warms up. This lake is also known for some very large bluegill. There is a county ramp located near the post office as well is a couple of fish camps. There are tagged crappy in this lake, anglers to catch one can call the number on the tag to claim their prize.


Walk-in Water is an 8000 acre lake in Polk County. This lake has less vegetation than many of the other Florida lakes do. This lake has plenty of deep water for anglers who prefer to troll. Also, seven fish attractors were placed in the lake to help concentrate the crappie in the deeper water. These are well marked with orange and white buoys. There is one boat ramp on the western side of the lake off of Walk-in-Water Road.

Lake Monroe

Lake Monroe is part of the St. Johns River chain of lakes. It is close to 10,000 acres and lies between Orlando and Daytona Beach. Lake Monroe is known to give up good-sized fish in the cooler months. Anglers will do well to troll as it allows them to cover a lot of water. Lake Monroe is large and the crappie can be difficult to locate. However, once they are located, anglers can expect larger than average catches.

Lochloosa Lake

Lockloosa Lake in Alachua County is best known for numbers of crappie. Many anglers limit out on fish in the 10 inch range. Again, as with most Florida lakes, anglers fish the deeper open water in the cooler months than concentrate on shoreline vegetation as it warms up. This lake is also known for some very large bluegill. There is a county ramp located near the post office as well is a couple of fish camps. There are tagged crappy in this lake, anglers to catch one can call the number on the tag to claim their prize.

Lake Griffin

Lake Griffin is a 10,000 acre lake in Lake County near Leesburg, Florida. It is part of the Harris Chain of Lakes. There are several marked fish attractors in the center and southern parts of the lake. There is a 10 inch minimum size for crappie on Lake Griffin. This has resulted and good numbers of ten inch plus fish. There are ramps at Herlong Park and out Lake Griffin State Park.

Mosaic fish management area

There are 12 lakes in the Mosaic Fish management area, ranging from 10 to 200 acres. The Mosaic Fish management area is 1000 acres and is located in Polk County near Fort Meade, Florida. These are reclaimed strip pits and are deep for Florida lakes. These lakes very and offer crappie anglers a wide variety of structure. They have a mix of brushy weedy shorelines and deeper water. SP 12 N SP 12 S and Hall Road are perhaps the best crappie lakes. These mosaic lakes have special regulations. There is a 10 inch minimum and a 10 fish per person fish limit. These lakes are only open Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday from 6 AM until 2 PM. These restrictions result in some excellent fishing for crappie.

Newnans Lake

Newnans Lake in Alachua County was very low in 2017. However, heavy summer rains and Hurricane Irma brought the water level up quite high. There is an excellent population of crappie with a high percentage of quality fish as well. 16 inch fish are not uncommon. The same pattern of fishing deeper open water in cooler months and shoreline vegetation and cover and spring and summer holds true to this lake as well. There are tagged crappy in this lake. There are a couple boat ramps allowing anglers to access Newnans Lake.

Top Florida panfish spots

Florida panfish fishing

Florida is blessed with countless ponds, creeks, rivers, and lakes that have excellent panfish populations. Most Florida residents live withing a couple miles of panfish that are just waiting to be caught. Some of the top panfish lakes in Florida are Lake Kissimmee, Lake Toho, Lake Talquin, Lake Istopoga, Lake Panasoffkee, Winter Haven Chain of Lakes, Lake Weohyakapka (Walk-inWater), Lake Pierce, Lake Seminole, Lochloosa Lake, Lake Okeechobee, and Everglades Conservation Areas #2 and #3.

In closing, this article on Fishing for Florida panfish and crappie will help anglers catch more fish. Anglers can find Florida fishing regulations on the FWC site.

Best 6 Saltwater fishing lures

Best 6 Saltwater Fishing Lures, Tips and Techniques to Succeed Anywhere

Many anglers go saltwater fishing with artificial lures instead of live or cut bait. This is a list of the best 6 saltwater fishing lures. Artificial lures have been used by anglers to catch fish for a very long time. Lures are designed to mimic the forage that fish feed on. In saltwater, that is primarily bait fish and crustaceans such as crabs and shrimp.

snook fishing tackle and lures

The best 6 saltwater fishing lures are:

  • the jig and grub combo

  • buck tail jigs

  • Gulp! baits

  • shallow diving plugs

  • spoons

  • topwater plugs

These six lure types are very versatile and will cover every situation than a saltwater angler will encounter. They will also catch every species that will take a lure.

Anglers are often surprised to find that lures commonly out fish live bait. While live bait is effective when fish are hungry, lures have other advantages. They will trigger reaction strikes from fish that are perhaps not feeding but can’t resist the chance for an easy meal. Artificial lures also allow anglers to cover a lot more water than those fishing with live bait. Finally, there is a convenience factor of not having to purchase, catch, and keep bait alive.

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

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

Best 6 Saltwater Fishing Lures

There are many artificial lures on the market that will catch fish. These are Capt Jim’s top 6 saltwater fishing lures that he uses on his Sarasota fishing charters.

Saltwater fishing with artificial lures

1)  Saltwater fishing with the jig and grub combo

The jig and grub combination is arguably the most popular saltwater fishing lure. It is #1 on Capt Jim’s list of the top 6 saltwater fishing lures. It is economical, versatile, and will produce anywhere on the planet. This lure basically consists of a hook with a lead head molded into it near the eye. This weight at the front causes the lure to hop and fall in a jigging fashion. That is how the lure got its name. Jig heads come in many different sizes, shapes, and colors. However, they all work the same.

inshore saltwater fishing

The jig head is chosen based on the conditions the angler is facing. Depth of the water, speed of the current, and size of the forage are the primary considerations. Anglers fishing in water shallower than 10 feet deep will find a quarter ounce jig to be a good all-around size. Anglers fishing in deeper water and in current will need to bump up the jig head size accordingly.

Some type of soft plastic grub body is added to the jig head. These tails come in a myriad of styles, sizes, and colors. The goal is for the grub body to match the forage. The most popular tail shapes are shrimp tails, shad tails, and curly tails. All three designs are effective, however the latter two have more built in action. A 1/4 ounce jig head with a 4 inch shad tail body is a great all round saltwater fishing lure. However, it is not uncommon for anglers seeking large fish such as striped bass to go much larger.

Jigs are economical and versatile

Versatility is one of the key components to the popularity of the jig and grub combo. They can be retrieved in a variety of ways throughout the entire water column. A jig with a shrimp tail can be bounced off the bottom, imitating a shrimp or crab. Jigs with a bait style tail can be retrieve steadily through the water. They can be cast to fish that are breaking on the surface and worked quickly. Trolling with these lures can be quite productive.

bluefish fishing

The most common and productive retrieve for most anglers is the “jig and fall”retrieve. The lure is cast out and allowed to sink several seconds. The rod tip is then jerked sharply upwards, causing the lure to shoot up through the water column. With the rod tip held high, the retrieve is paused, allowing the lure to flutter helplessly through the water. Most strikes occur on the fall as the jig resembles a helpless or wounded bait fish.

Anglers can click this link to read a comprehensive article on saltwater fishing with jigs.

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

The jig and grub combo is a fantastic lure for anglers targeting breaking fish. These are fish that are actively feeding on the surface such as bluefish, striped bass, and Spanish mackerel. As long as the grub remotely resembles the size of the forage, they will usually draw a strike. The jig and grub is also very effective when trolled. Striped bass in particular fall prey to a shad tail jig trolled along a channel edge. Anglers can scroll down to read more about fishing with jigs.

Capt Jim’s preferred saltwater soft plastic artificial lure is the Bass Assassin 4″ Sea Shad.  It comes in a huge variety of colors and has an excellent swimming action in the water. His favorite colors are Glow/chartreuse, New Penny, and Red/gold shiner, but ever angler wil have her or her personal favorite baits.

bass assassin

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

2)  Bucktail jigs

Bucktail jigs are extremely productive for anglers fishing saltwater. In fact, they are one of the first saltwater fishing lures. White is a most popular color. They are very effective and are fished in the same manner as the jig and grub combo. As with the jig and grub, sizes determined by the water being fished and the available forage. Anglers can combine the two and add a soft plastic tail to add even more action. This is deadly on striped bass. There are a couple of factors that put them slightly behind the jig and grub.

saltwater fishing with artificial lures

Bucktail jigs are a bit more expensive and less versatile than the jig and grub combo. Anglers catching toothy species such as mackerel and bluefish can spend a lot of money quickly as these fish will tear up a buck tail jig. Plastic grub tails are inexpensive and easily replaced. Also, bucktail jigs are less versatile. While it is very easy to change the color or shape of a plastic tailed lure, this is not the case with bucktail. However, bucktail and synthetic hair jigs have great action and the water and you catch a lot of fish. They are #2 on the list of top 6 saltwater fishing lures.

Capt Jim’s preferred saltwater buck tail jig is manufactured by Spro. These are high quality lures that are as durable as a buck tail jig can be.

bucktail jig

Anglers can click on this link to shop Amazon for Spro jigs

3)  Gulp! Baits

While they may seem to just be another soft plastic bait, that is not the case. The Gulp line of baits are extremely productive. They have a built-in scent that makes fishing them almost like using live bait. In Florida, the 3 inch Gulp Shrimp is a deadly bait on the shallow grass flats. Anglers all over the country use them with success. As with all lures, the key is to match the color and size of the bait to the available forage.

Florida saltwater fishing in winter

Anglers fishing shallow water can fish the Gulp Shrimp under a cork. This is an extremely productive technique for speckled trout and redfish on the grass flats between 2 feet deep and 6 feet deep. The cork makes a pop or rattle which attracts game fish. When fish come to investigate, they see the shrimp below the cork and eat it. Most anglers fish the Gulp Shrimp on a jig head, just as they would with any soft plastic bait. This certainly is the best approach in deeper water.

Sarasota fishing report

The 5″ Gulp Jerk Shad is a very versatile bait. It is effective on the deep flats and tends to catch larger trout and other species. It is also very productive for anglers fishing shallow for snook, reds, and jacks. It also works great when fishing docks. They can be worked shallow on a swimbait hook or deeper on a jig head. Gulp! baits are #3 on the list of top 6 saltwater fishing lures.

gulp shrimp

Anglers can click on this link to shop Amazon for Gulp Shrimp

Anglers can click on this link to shop Amazon for Gulp Jerk Shad

4)  Shallow diving plugs are effective saltwater fishing lures

These lures are extremely effective for anglers saltwater fishing. They imitate bait fish. Plugs vibrate and wobble, mimicking a wounded or injured bait. This triggers the natural instinct and fish to attack. Rapala X-Raps and Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnows are examples of popular shallow diving plugs. Some anglers refer to these as twitch baits or jerk baits due to their action and the water. They are #4 on the list of top 6 saltwater fishing lures.

Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing

Shallow diving plugs can be cast or trolled effectively. Anglers working shoreline cover or casting open flats catch a variety of species. The best retrieve is generally an erratic one. The lure will float on the surface at rest, then dive down when retrieved. Several cranks of the reel handle followed by a twitch and a pause is a very effective retrieve. At other times a steady retrieve, either slow or quite fast, will produce. Once again, it is important to match the size and color of the lure to the bait fish that are prevalent in the area. Local tackle shops will have a good selection of baits that work well in their local waters.

Sarasota trolling techniques

These plugs really come into their own when fish are working on the surface. Spanish mackerel, bluefish, stripers, false albacore, and other species will devour them.  Plugs come in many sizes and colors, making it easy to “match the hatch”.

Capt Jim’s favorite plug is the Rapala X-Rap Extreme Action Slashbait. He prefers the 08 size when fish are feeding on smaller bait and the 10 size when larger forage is present. White and olive are his top colors.

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

5)  Spoons are effective saltwater fishing lures

Spoons are a very simple looking artificial lure, yet one of the most productive. A spoon is basically a curved piece of metal with a hook in it. Spoons resemble a wounded bait fish. Metallic finishes such as silver, copper, brass, and gold are popular. Spoons can also be painted or have reflective material on them. Casting and trolling both produce a lot a fish. They are #5 on the list of top 6 saltwater fishing lures.

Saltwater fishing with artificial lures

Spoons cast a long way. They are relatively heavy and aerodynamic. 1/2 ounce to 3/4 ounce spoons are very popular as they mimic small shiny fish such as sardines. The spoon is cast out, allowed to sink, then worked back using either a steady or erratic retrieve. As with all lure fishing, it is best to experiment with retrieves until a productive pattern emerges.

Click this link to read Capt Jim’s article on the best 7 saltwater fishing spoons

Anglers fishing very shallow water do well with a weedless spoon. The Johnson Silver Minnow is an example of this. It is an established lure that has been around for decades, starting out in freshwater for anglers targeting largemouth bass. The weedless spoon is a staple of flats anglers in the south targeting redfish on shallow grass flats. It has a single hook that rides up, resulting in less snags on the bottom.

Capt Jim’s favorite casting spoons are the Johnson Sprite and Johnson Silver Minnow. The Sprite is an open water spoon with a treble hook while the Silver Minnow is weedless.

sprite spoon

Anglers can click on this link to shop Amazon for Johnson spoons

Swivels required when fishing with spoons

Anglers using spoons will need to use some type of swivel. Spoon will spin in the water, causing line twist. There are two options when choosing a swivel. Anglers can tie a barrel swivel onto the end of the running line, then use a short section of leader between the spoon and the other end of the swivel. Another option is the snap swivel right at the lure. This allows for easy changing of the spoon. Either method will work fine in eliminate line twist.

Spoons can also be used for vertical jigging. The Hopkins Jigging Spoon is an example of this lure. This is an extremely effective technique when fish are schooled up in deep water over structure such as a wreck or a channel edge. Just about any game fish can be caught on these lures.

Trolling spoons

There is a special type of spoon designed specifically for trolling. These are long and slender and have a very tight wobble, allowing anglers to troll at speeds approaching 10 knots. They are extremely productive for striped bass, Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, false albacore, bluefish, and other species.

trolling for mackerel

Trolling spoons generally need some type of device to get them down in the water column. The three methods used most often are downriggers, trolling weights, and planers. All three methods work and have their advantages and disadvantages.

Trolling sinkers are the easiest method to get a spoon down in the water column. The specially designed sinker is tied to the running line and then a leader is used between the sinker and the spoon. Leader lengths vary, but are generally fairly long, around 20 feet. As the angler reels the fish in, they must stop when the sinker hits the rod tip and the fishes in hand lined in the rest of the way.

clark spoon

Anglers can click on this link to shop Amazon for Clark spoons

Trolling with planers

Planers are a clever device that will take the spoon down to a specific depth. A #1 planer will go down 5 to 7 feet, a #2 planer down to 12 to 15 feet, and a #3 planer will go down to 25 feet. The larger the planer, the more stout the tackle is required as the planer puts quite a strain on the rod. When a fish hits, the planer “trips”allowing the angler to fight the fish without the drag. As with the sinker, the fish must be hand lined in the last 20 feet or so.

fishing report for Sarasota


Anglers can click this link to Amazon to shop for planers

Downriggers are expensive, complicated devices that will take the lure down to the desired depth. However, fast trolling speeds will result in the ball swinging up, reducing the depth. Downriggers are expensive and complicated and are generally only used by fairly serious anglers.

6)  Saltwater fishing with artificial lures; topwater plugs

Topwater plugs are lures that float on the surface and stay there when being retrieved. Most are made of plastic though a few are manufactured out of balsa wood. There are several different styles; poppers, prop baits, and walk-the-dog baits. Top water plugs can be very effective at times and will draw some explosive strikes. Many anglers prefer using top water plugs just for the sheer fun of it. they are # 6 on the list of top 6 saltwater fishing lures.

guide to inshore saltwater fishing

Poppers have been around a long time and are very effective. They also have the most built in action. They have a concave face which results in a loud “pop” when the lure is twitched sharply. Many fish find this action irresistible. Surf casters targeting striped bass and bluefish on the East Coast beaches will use very large versions of these. They are effective and saltwater all over the world.

Anglers can click this link to read a comprehensive article on the best 6 topwater plugs for saltwater fishing

Prop baits have propellers on them, either for, after, or both. They put out a lot of commotion when twitched sharply. Prop eight seem to work best when fished along shorelines and other structure. They have been catching largemouth bass in freshwater for many years.

saltwater fishing with artificial lures

Walk-the-dog baits are cylindrical with a tapered nose. They do not have a lot of built in action. The angler must impart the action in order to draw strike. The retrieve is a bit more difficult to master than other top water baits. The rod tip is held low and twitched gently as the reel handle is turned. This results in the lure moving a few inches and darting side-to-side. This action is deadly, particularly over shallow flats.

Capt Jim’s favorite topwater plug is the Rapala Skitter Prop. It puts out a lot of commotion and noise and is very easy to fish. Chrome is a good all round color.

skitter prop


Anglers can click on this link to shop Amazon for Rapala Skitter Prop plugs

Jig fishing tips and techniques

This article shares jig fishing tips and techniques. Jigs are a simple but very effective lure that will catch just about every freshwater and saltwater species.

Sarasota anglers

There is evidence pointing to the jig as being the first artificial fishing lure. A jig is basically a hook with some type of weight near the eye and a plastic tail or hair dressing. The lure is retrieved using a twitch and pause. This causes the jig to hop up then fall seductively through the water column. That is how it gets its name. Jigs can imitate both bait fish and crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs.

Jigs come in countless sizes, shapes, and colors. However, there are two basic styles. There is the jig and grub combo and buck tail style jigs. Both have their advantages. Jigs also come in numerous weights and lengths. Heavier jigs allow anglers to fish deeper water. As in all fishing, the jigs should match the available forage.

Jig and grub fishing techniques

The jig and grub is very versatile. With this system, anglers purchase the jig head in the plastic body separately. This allows for constant changing of colors and lengths as well as styles. This is a very productive system that works well anywhere on the planet.

Here on the Gulf Coast of Florida where I fish, the jig and grub is the most popular artificial lure. One quarter ounce jig heads are the most popular as the water is fairly shallow. Anglers fishing deeper water or places were current is present will need heavier jig heads. Red, white, and chartreuse are three of the more popular jig head colors.

Sarasota jig fishing

Soft plastic tails are used with the jig. These also come in endless styles and colors. Shad tail, curly tail, paddle tail, and jerk worm styles all produce. While there are many different varieties, they all imitate either a bait fish or a crustacean of some sort. A jig head with a shad tail body is probably the most commonly used combination.

Shad tails and curly tail grubs have a great built in action. The tails look very natural when they are moving through the water. Curly tails are more popular in fresh water while shad tails are the choice in salt. Paddle tails and jerk worms require the action to be imparted by the angler.

Fishing with hair jigs

Hair jigs are also very popular. Buck tail jigs were the original types used and were made from dear hair. They are still available and are still very effective. Freshwater anglers have used marabou hair on their jigs for decades. It has great action but does not hold up as well as buck tail does. Synthetic care jigs have become very popular in the last 10 or 15 years. They work well and are more durable than some of the other dressings.

saltwater fishing with artificial lures

Jig fishing catch just about every species on the planet. A jig can be used to mimic just about any type of forged that a fish feeds on. There are also several different techniques that anglers jig fishing use to be productive. Jigs can be cast, vertically fished, and trolled.

Vertically fishing with jigs is effective

Vertical presentations catch a lot of fish. This technique is very easy to master. Vertical jigging is done in deeper water. The jig is simply dropped down to the bottom and then the lure is worked vertically. This action, where it hops up and falls naturally, is an excellent presentation. I do this often on my fishing charters in the passes. Clients do not even have to be able to cast to catch fish.

This is often done from a drifting boat. Drifting allows anglers to cover a lot of water efficiently. No time is wasted as the bait spends the entire time in the strike zone. Most fish are found on or near the bottom. Anglers can also use a trolling motor to work a drop off or other structure.

fishing Sarasota Florida

Freshwater anglers have been employing this technique for decades. Bass, walleye, striped bass, trout, and really any species that holds on deeper structure can be caught using this approach. However, it is not practical in shallow water as the boat will spook the fish.

Casting jigs for success

Most fish caught on jigs are done so by anglers casting jigs. This is the most effective technique when fishing water ten feet deep or less. The jig is cast out, allowed to sink, and then worked back to the boat. The most productive retrieve is usually one where the jig is worked near the bottom.

However, as with all lure fishing, the retrieve should be varied until a productive pattern emerges. At times a steady retrieve will produce well. When fish are working on the surface, a fast, erratic retrieve will usually work the best.

guide to inshore fishing

The jig and grub combo is by far the most popular lure along the southeast coastal United States. Anglers from Virginia to Texas use these baits to fool a variety of species. The low cost and versatility of the jig and grub combo makes them an easy choice.

Speckled trout are arguable the most popular inshore Gulf species. The jig and grub is well suited to target trout. Most specks are found over submerged grass beds in 4′ to 10′ of water. Jigs cast and retrieved over these grass flats produce trout, reds, and other species. I find them especially productive I cooler water.

Live bait fishing with jigs

Jigs can also e used in conjunction with live bait. This is a long proven technique in both fresh and salt water. In Florida where I guide, we often add a piece of shrimp to the lure. We call this “tipping the jig”. It can really make the difference when the water is cold or dirty. The extra scent helps the fish find the bait.

The jig and minnow has been producing fish for freshwater anglers for a long time. A marabou jig with a small minnow hooked through the lips is a terrific combination. The lure bait combo is deadly when slowly bounced along bottom structure. It can be cast out or vertically fished.

Trolling with jigs is a productive technique

Anglers jig fishing also do well when trolling. I grew up in fishing the Chesapeake Bay. Anglers trolling white buck tail jigs for striped bass achieve success. Bluefish and other species will take a trolled jig. The primary issue when trolling jigs is to make sure the lure does not spin, which will cause line twist.

Freshwater anglers recognize the value of trolling jigs as well. Crappie fisherman have mastered this technique. A small jig trolled over submerged structure is deadly on these largest members of the panfish family. Anglers use long, specially designed rods to present multiple baits out in a spread.

Sarasota chumming techniques

There are many lure manufacturers out there. They are will produce fish when presented properly. My personal favorite line of baits in from Bass Assassin. They make a wide variety of baits and colors that cover every angling application, from pan fish to salt water.

Scented jigs are very effective fishing lures

Scented soft plastic baits have become very popular, and with good reason. These baits produce for ladies jig fishing! The Gulp! Line of baits is the industry leader, in my opinion. The Gulp! Shrimp has produced many fish for me and my clients over the years. Freshwater anglers experience similar results. They do cost a little bit more money, but on days when the bite is tough, they can make all of the difference.

My favorite freshwater jig is the Blakemore Road Runner. This unique little bait not only is a jig, but also has a spinner blade offset on the head. The extra flash can be deadly in the dark, tannin stained Florida water. It is a great bait when cast out but is a deadly trolling lure, especially for crappie and walleye.

top freshwater species

In conclusion, this article on the best 6 saltwater fishing lures will help anglers become more versatile and more importantly, catch more fish!

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.

fishing for snook in Tampa Bay

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.

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

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

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!

tarpon fishing in Florida

Fishing for juvenile tarpon

Juvenile tarpon are great fun as well. They put on all of the acrobatic activities without the need to battle one for a long time. The same inshore tackle used for other species works well. In fact, many juvenile tarpon are caught by anglers fishing for other species. These smaller tarpon are almost always found in the backwater areas.

Tampa Bay tarpon

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.

Sarasota game fish species

Snook can be very challenging. That translates to “frustrating” at times. They can be notoriously finiky. However, when they turn on to feed, the action can be fantastic. One of the most reliable times to catch snook is in the summer when they school up in the passes and linlets. Deep water, current flow, structure, and bait will attract and hold fish. Live bait fished on heavy tackle works best in this situation.

Top Florida saltwater game fish

While many anglers seek trophy snook, there is great action to be had on the “schoolie” sized fish. These are more apt to hit artificial lures and can be pursued by anglers using fairly light tackle. This is very similar to bass fishing as anglers work shorelines with plugs or jigs. Of curse, live bait such as shrimp and bait fish will produce as well.

best live baits for saltwater fishing in Florida

Docks are prime snook-holding structure throughout the state. Florida is fairly developed and snook have adapted to living with humans. Docks are often found in deeper water. They offer shade, structure, safety, and forage. Docks with current flow are good. In the winter, docks in the back ends of coves can hold schools of snook. Night fishing around lighted docks can be very productive.

live bait fishing in Florida

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.

best redfish fishing tackle

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.

redfish lures

Anglers can catch redfish on both live bait and artificial lures. The op live bait is a nice, big shrimp. Redfish love crustaceans! Shrimp are available at bait shops year round. Crabs are popular in some areas, particularly in northeast Florida.

Tampa Bay redfish

The top two artificial lures used for redfish are weedless spoons and soft plastic baits. A 1/2 ounce gold Johnson Silver Minnow spoon is a proven lure. Spoons cast well and run in shallow water, they are terrific search baits. Soft plastic baits can be fished quite shallow and weedless on special hoohs. Anglers also fish them on a light jig head.

redfish lures

4) Jack crevalle

Jack crevalle are the bar room brawlers of the inshore waters. They are mean and nasty with broad sides 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 except 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.

fishing in Tampa Bay

Jacks can be found near inlets and out on the beaches in the warmer months. Their location depends primarily on the bait. The old adage, “find the bait, find the fish”, certainly applies to jacks. They won’t always be seen on the surface and will hold on deep structure.

fishing with live bait in florida

Jacks will take just about any artificial lure or fly when they are feeding aggressively. Even when not seen on the surface, fast moving erratic lures and presentations are the best for hunting down jacks. Lures allow anglers to cover more water than they can with bait. Many jacks are hooked by anglers working shorelines for snook and redfish.

fly fishing

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.

Florida 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.

Spanish mackerel fishing in Florida

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. These areas concentrate bait and have stronger current flow.

Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing

Trolling is a great way to locate them when they are not feeding on the surface. This can be done both inshore over the flats and outside in the open ocean or Gulf. The key in open water is finding large schools of bait. Inshore artificial reefs are also Spanish mackerel hot spots.

Spanish mackerel fishing in Florida

Plenty of Spanish mackerel are caught by anglers casting lures and drifting bait on the grass flats. Generally speaking, submerged grass beds in slightly deeper water will attract mackerel. Flats close to the passes are usually best.

Spanish mackerel and false albacore fishing tips

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 submerged 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.

Sarasota speckled trout fishing

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.There are a ton of soft plastic baits that are effective lures for spotted sea trout. The Gulp! line of lures is extremely effective as it combines the action of the lure with scent.

Florida saltwater fishing in winter

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.

Best Speckled trout fishing lures

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.

fishing with jigs

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.

Florida saltwater fishing in spring

The sameequipment used by anglers for normal inshore fishing will work fine for anglers fishing for bluefish in Florida. With a 2-3 pound average, light spinning tackle is the best choice. Obviously, they are also great fun for anglers who prefer a fly rod.

fishing for bluefish

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.

largemouth bass fishing in Florida


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

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

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.

bluegill and panfish lures


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.

Bradenton fishing forecast

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.

best Sarasota fishing charter

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.

fishing charters in Sarasota

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.

Cobia Sarasota Bay

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.

best shark bait

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.

grouper fishing

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.

mangrove snapper fishing in Florida

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 game fish 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

best saltwater fishing reel under $100

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

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

Anglers 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.

Anglers can shop Amazon for a Penn 5000 spinning outfit

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.

snapper fishing

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.

Anglers can shop Amazon for Penn Senator and Squall outfits

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.

red snapper fishing

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.

chumming with live bait

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.

grouper fishing

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.

trolling for grouper

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.

clark spoon

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.

Bradenton fishing forecast

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 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.


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 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!

Sarasota sheepshead fishing

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.

Sarasota fishing charters

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.

Sarasota fishing charter

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”.

best Sarasota fishing charter

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.

Here are some recommendations for Penn combos that work well at a reasonable price. Click on the link to shop.

“Fishing Lido Key is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon”

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.


Florida Saltwater Fishing in Winter

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

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

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

Florida inshore winter fishing tackle

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

Florida winter weather patterns

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

Florida saltwater fishing in winter is often best in the afternoon

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

Florida inshore winter fishing techniques

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

Fishing bridges and docks

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

Winter fishing the Florida flats

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

Winter canal fishing

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

Fishing Florida creeks and rivers in winter

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

Sheepshead and black drum fishing

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

Sheepshead and black drum characteristics

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

Sheepshead and black drum fishing tackle

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

Sheepshead and black drum fishing techniques

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

Sheepshead and black drum locations

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

Sheepshead and drum fishing in inlets and passes

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

Winter Snook Fishing Tips

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

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

Winter snook fishing tips, trolling

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

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

Top snook trolling lures

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

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

Winter snook fishing techniques

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

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

Casting for winter snook fishing

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

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

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

Snook fishing with live shrimp

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

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