Sun. Vibrant shorelines. An eclectic culture and year-round warmth. There’s nothing better than cruising Florida’s coast—except, maybe, landing one of these photo-worthy catches along the way!
Take a look below as we highlight 10 popular Florida sport fish worth fishing for on your next excursion.
When it comes to sport fish, the sailfish reigns supreme in a number of ways. For starters, it’s the official saltwater fish of the Sunshine State—it graces everything from license plates to t-shirts to our favorite seafood spots’ wall décor. But that’s nothing compared to the actual thrill of spotting one of these whoppers in the wild. Known for a long, spear-like jaw and flared blue dorsal fin, sailfish are typically found offshore. However, during the summer spawning months in Southeast Florida, they may toward shallow inshore spots, where females’ fins can be seen above the water (with male sailfish sure to be nearby).
In addition to its classically cool look—there’s nothing more “Florida” than posing with a prize-worthy sailfish before tossing it back in the water—sailfish are so beloved because they’re fast and up for a fight. With their jumps and bobs, they prove an awe-inspiring sight even before you land the big catch.
Depending on the catch, you might need a few people to help hoist up your tarpon for the photo! This hefty fish can be spotted as a silver flash beneath the surface of shallow-water spots, making it a top choice for anglers fishing the flats. The FWC specifies that this is a catch-and-release fish, so be sure to use barbless, single hooks and heavy tackle that lets you catch the tarpon in a snap (preventing it from getting tired so it can smoothly return to the water). Don’t remove the fish from the water if it’s longer than 40 inches across—slip out of your boat shoes and into the water for the perfect photo. There’s a reason why hands-on anglers love the tarpon, as it really lets them get in the water and enjoy the experience in a close-up, personal way.
The Mutton Snapper is a local favorite. The Mutton Snapper more or less takes over for the Red Snapper in South Florida, the Bahamas and Caribbean. On the Atlantic Coast of Florida, Mutton’s are common on the reefs as far north as, roughly, Fort Pierce, but gradually give way to Red Snapper after that. In the Gulf, few Mutton’s are caught north of the Keys, although they turn up now and then in the bags of offshore bottom fishermen all along the Gulf Coast.
One of the ocean’s fastest swimmers, the wahoo is a serious thrill to catch (or try to catch—even if you don’t cruise away victorious, any wahoo encounter is sure to be a good time anyway). Trolling is the best way to catch one of these quick-movers, known best for their long body and shimmery blue and silver stripes that wouldn’t look out of place on a sports car.
A delicacy to bring to the dinner plate, the swordfish are by far the tastiest of the billfish family. Swordfish can be identified by their long flat sword like bills and their elongated rounded bodies. They are found in the canyons right off our coast ranging from 1400-2000 feet of water. Daytime deep dropping, on electric reels, is the most popular way to target this species or people typically use big conventional reels at night. They commonly reach a length of 9ft and can get as big as 14ft weighing 1,500lbs. A catch definitely for the record books and a memory that will last you a lifetime.
A strong, spritely fish, cobia is the ideal catch for anglers who crave a thrilling catch closer to shore. Brown, white and long, cobia can be found inshore—including inlets and bays—where it likes to hang out around buoys, wrecks and pilings. Opt for baits like small fish and live crabs, two of cobia’s preferred snacks, and be sure to bring your catch home. Cobia is regarded for its top-tier white meat that’s as delicious as it is versatile.
Also known as dolphin or dorado, mahi-mahi is known for its one-of-a-kind color—a flash of glittery green and blue makes it a vivid addition to any angling scrapbook or social site where you show off your proudest catches. Look for this unique fish in warm offshore waters, with younger mahi-mahi hanging out among floating seaweed. If one of your crew catches a mahi-mahi, look around for the rest of it school nearby—but be prepared for a workout, as mahi actually means “strong” in Hawaiian, and for good reason! Once all is said and done, mahi-mahi makes for an excellent addition to your Floribbean-style dinner, and is often regarded as the best-tasting sport fish.
Another vibrant catch, yellowfin tuna, sports a yellow stripe and finlets for an easy identifier. Almost as impressive as its color is its size, with the Florida yellowfin tuna record weighing in at 240 pounds. You can find this fish offshore, especially near drop-offs, and will want to employ go-to tuna techniques including trolling and chunking, where you toss bait chunks off the side of your boat to work up a frenzy for hungry sport fish nearby.
Gag grouper and red grouper are the most common types of grouper seen in Florida, and they share some similar characteristics. In addition to their preferred habitats, which include rocky or muddy bottoms and reefs, both gag and red grouper call for heavy tackle and baits down low. Sure, they may not be quick movers or flashy fighters, but even the challenge of pulling a hefty grouper up from below is a rewarding task of its own.
They don’t call the king mackerel “king” for nothing! While common catches fall around the 20-to-35-inch mark, others have measured up to 72 inches, making the king mackerel an exciting opportunity for adventurous anglers. Bluish silver with a forked tail, you can find king mackerel in both offshore and coastal environments, including next to piers. Come spring, you’ll catch king mackerel moving north from South Florida, so they’re a popular choice for anglers cruising up past Palm Beach and beyond. Opt for, ideally, live baits (including herring, ballyhoo and Spanish sardine) or flashy lures that fall below the surface.
We hope that today’s guide helps inspire your next angling adventure! Now that you know what to look for, find the perfect boat to kick off your journey. We here at South Florida Yachts can help you choose from center consoles, bay boats and everything in between for achieving fishing fun (and much more).