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Sports and Game Fishing in Florida


Understanding the seasons and conditions in whatever waters you intend to fish is vital. Types of fish, their behaviours and the rules governing catch size, permits and licences vary by state, region and country. Pursuing different species will dictate your choice of equipment, tactics, rigs and baits. Learning about this helps you respect the environment, stay on the right side of the law and enjoy a successful trip.


This first of a new series on the World of Simrad provides an essential guide to what you need to know for sports and game fishing off the coast of Florida. Let's start by looking at some of the basics for fishing off this state's Atlantic and Gulf coasts; then, we'll move on to a walk through common species of fish and crustaceans.

Marine electronics and fishing


Marine electronics and digital cartography have transformed sports and game fishing and made this hugely popular leisure pastime a science as well as an art.


Take the Simrad® range of multifunction displays. The chartplotter functions of this screen can open a whole new world when fishing via C-MAP REVEAL™ bathymetric imagery which shows every underwater feature as a clear full colour relief image. The use of the shaded relief on the C-MAP® Reveal feature is a game changer for anglers, allowing them to study the underwater terrain, and features such as rock, structures, sand bars or drop offs where ledges can hold fish. You can even set your own colour coding to readily identify territory which favours specific fish species you are targeting.

You can also make user-created and sharable charts using C-MAP Genesis® to ensure repeatability of getting back to fruitful fishing grounds.

Combine that with ultra-detailed real-time imagery through advanced Simrad® depth and fish-finding technologies to create the basis of a successful day's fishing. Check out our article on Understanding Sonar to learn more.

An additional aid to finding fish is the SiriusXM WM-4 weather module which is an excellent aid to assist with fish mapping and have an easier time targeting specific fish species.

Fish Mapping is Sirium XM Marine’s most comprehensive package that delivers fishing data and weather service to your boat’s display.

It defines specific locations with the highest likelihood of finding the fish you are seeking to target, providing regularly updated, science-based data to help you locate fish faster – saving time and fuel. 

This service includes all of SiriusXM Marine's weather data, plus 8 dedicated features for offshore anglers some examples being:

  • Fishing Recommendations - Locations where oceanographers recommend the ideal conditions for finding specific types of game fish. The recommended areas can be overlaid on your chart and viewed in combination with any of the other Fish Mapping features.
  • Weed Lines - Updated every 24 hours, Weed Lines allows you to view concentrations of floating algae and plants. These provide nutrients and cover, creating habits for bait fish such as shrimp which attract larger, predatory fish. Weed Lines drift and shift over time, so the regular updates locate their current position.
  • Sea Surface Temperature Contours - This feature highlights sea surface temperatures as contour lines to quickly illustrate water temperatures in your area and help locate target species based on their preferred temperature range.

Check out Sirius Communications for more details.

Who can help me try fishing in Florida?


By any measure, Florida is the busiest US state for recreational fishing. More than 3-million resident anglers and 1-million visiting leisure fishing visitors were active in and around Florida's extensive waters during 2021, so there is no shortage of expertise to be found in fishing stores and by strolling around the dock.


Further information about fishing hotspots, tackle choice, and bait can also be obtained from your local marina or by speaking with local fishermen. Don't expect them to give away their long-held secrets about best fishing spots, though!


For an overview of species, likely size, catch quotas and reporting requirements, download the really handy Quick Chart on the FWC's Recreational Fishing page.


If you are still getting familiar with fishing in Florida and want to gain experience or your own boat is out of the area you want to fish, check out the sports and game fishing charter scene. There are thousands of charter operations available to choose from. You can search them out online, obtain local recommendations or use a directory such as Fishing Booker


Consider hiring a fishing guide – members of the Florida Guides Association are dedicated to explaining the proper fishing techniques and boating methods to use for enjoying and protecting the environment.

Permits and licences


Legal conditions relating to licences, rules and regulations can change frequently, for example when specific fish stocks are recorded as being below allowed limits. It is the responsibility of those fishing to ensure their understanding is current, and that all paperwork is in order. Be sure to check your local country law for the most up-to-date information.


Information about required licences and permits for specific species is available on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) website. You can find the Atlantic and Gulf Seasons calendars on the FWC's Recreational Fishing page.


Popular Florida fish and shellfish


Florida offers a rich spectrum of reef fish, deep ocean pelagics and crustaceans to tempt your rod-equipped boat off the dock. What follows is an overview of just a few notable species.







Red snapper


A member of the snapper family, of which there are several species in Florida waters, red snapper is a popular game fish in the Gulf and also prolific off Florida's Atlantic seaboard. The best time to fish for them depends on the specific location, the season, and the fishing regulations in place. The red snapper season in Florida is typically open from June through September, though the exact dates can vary from year to year.


In general, red snappers are most active during the warmer months, typically May through September – specific timing will vary depending on the actual location and water temperature. With sustainable fishing high on the list of priorities, there are also size and bag limits to protect the population.



Red snappers prefer habitats with cover and protection, with moving water that offers protection from apex predators – such as offshore reefs, shipwrecks, and oil and gas platforms. Depths range from 60ft to 120ft, though don't take this as the absolute rule, as they can be found in shallower or deeper water. This varied habitat makes catching them a good challenge.  


Rigs, tackle and baits – the recent introduction by NOAA Fisheries of new regulation to protect reef fish caught at depth has brought the need for new compulsory equipment and practices. The DESCEND Act sets out the requirements for descending devices and/or venting tools to be used on commercial, for hire and private recreational vessels. This is to prevent barotrauma – the expansion of gas inside a fish from the rapid pressure decrease that occurs when it is retrieved from the bottom.


There are also certain rules on hooks – see them on NOAA's page on gear modifications for the Snapper-Grouper South Atlantic fishery


You can read more information about current fishing regulations for red snapper in Florida on the FWC snappers page.


Snappers will turn and run hard when hooked, retreating into cover, so strong terminal tackle is paramount. Your set-up for rods and reels can vary, whether spinning using a 40lb class rod and 6000 or 8000 series reel with 65lb braided line or selecting heavier gear using cut bait such as squid or live bait like pinfish on a 50lb-100lb class rod matched with a 4/0-6/0 reels and 60lb-80lb monofilament line.



Hogfish is a species popular with spear and reef fishermen, renowned for being delicious to eat. Hogfish are are usually found around hard bottom areas, such as coral reefs, rocky ledges, and wrecks. Their food sources include clams, urchins and snails.


In Gulf Federal waters, there is a year-round season which differs from the Atlantic Federal waters where the season runs from May 1-October 31.


Rigs, tackle and baits Size limits in both regions apply with bag limits and rules about rigs and gear, non-stainless steel hooks and non-offset circle hooks are mandatory in prescribed regions, particularly when fishing for reef fish.


The FWC website sets out these specific details.



Grouper is a popular game fish in the waters off the coast of Florida, with several different species to be found. Specific rules and regulations apply to each species concerning recreational bag limits, size limits and seasons to protect the populations. As with all fishing activity, release any undersized or excess fish you catch.


Groupers are often found around natural or artificial structures, such as reefs, ledges, and shipwrecks, in water at depths ranging from 30ft-300ft. When searching them out, look for areas offering plenty of cover.


Rigs, tackle and baits – groupers are known for their size and strength, so it's essential to use heavier-duty fishing gear. This includes a strong rod, a high-quality reel, and a braided line with a breaking strength of at least 50lb.


The regulations that we outlined above for snappers also apply to groupers. You must ensure you use the right gear and practices to prevent harm to the fish and remain compliant with regulations.


Groupers are opportunistic feeders and will often take a variety of baits, including live or fresh baitfish, squid, and crustaceans. Try using live baitfish, such as sardines or pilchards, or fresh-cut bait, such as bonito or mullet. Alternately use a bottom rig or a jig to get your bait down to the correct depth.

Greater Amberjack


This predatory game fish is greatly prized, and the largest examples can grow to more than 6ft, although less than half that length is more typical. Unfortunately, the species' appeal has resulted in overfishing in Gulf waters, resulting in emergency measures and a restricted 2022-23 season. The Atlantic stock is higher in number and currently remains open for year-round fishing.


Greater Amberjacks are typically found around structures such as buoys, towers, piers and wrecks.


Rigs, tackle and baits – rods can vary from trolling to stand-up rods with 50lb-80lb lines. Lighter rods and lines can be employed where smaller fish have been located. Fish can be caught on baited hooks, lures, jigs and flies.



Marlin is a species of billfish highly prized for its size, strength and fighting ability, testing the most ambitious rod and boat adventurer. The blue marlin is the largest of the species.


The optimum time to target marlin in Florida depends on the specific species and the location. They are most active during the warmer months of May through to October. However, this can vary depending on water temperature and availability of their prey, typically smaller fish and squid.


Marlin are often found in deeper water at depths ranging from 100ft-1000ft or more, returning to shallower water when feeding. They can be found in a variety of habitats. Offshore reefs, shipwrecks and oil and gas platforms are good areas to target. There is a hot spot off the Florida Keys – Woods Wall, where the continental shelf ends and the bottom plunges from 950ft to 2000ft, making it a perfect feeding ground for hungry blue marlin.


Using Bird Mode on a Simrad® Halo® radar will give clues to the location of marlin. Diving or congregating birds often indicate fish being driven near the surface by marlin and other predators.


The new Simrad® Halo® 3000 pulse compression radar has the developed Bird+ Mode feature.


This gives the angler an extended range of 8nm to seek out birds and target specimen fish.

Marlin have several conservation measures in place to help protect the species. These include size and bag limits, catch reporting and seasonal closures. It is vital to check the current fishing regulations when planning a marlin trip. You can read more about that on the FWC page on billfish and tuna and at NOAA's Highly Migratory Species Permit Shop.


Rigs, tackle and baits – trolling is typically used to catch marlins. The biggest examples will run for hundreds of feet and fight for hours, so you will want a line of at least 50lb-80lb and plenty of it, plus a suitably heavy-duty rod and reel and all of the human and equipment support required to sustain such an engagement. Charter boats often come equipped with a fighting chair with a large rod bucket to assist in managing the inexperienced angler, who can often tire before the fish does! Having someone on the helm is essential as the boat must work harmoniously with the action.



Wahoo is an exciting, powerful, hard-fighting fish that is hydrodynamically crafted for speed in the water.


The best time to fish for wahoos depends on several factors, including the location and the time of year. In general, they can be found in Florida waters year-round, but they are more commonly caught during winter when they migrate to the state's southern waters.


Wahoos prefer areas where the water is at least 100ft deep with a strong current. They are often found in the Gulf Stream along the eastern coast of Florida. They are also commonly caught in the Keys, off the coast of Miami and in the Tampa Bay area.


Rigs, tackle and baits – Wahoos are known for their speed and agility, so you must use correspondingly fast-moving lures or live bait to attract them. Trolling is a popular method, but other effective tactics include jigging and, less commonly, kite fishing (using a kite to fly bait above the water).



Lobstering – or 'bug hunting' – is one of the most popular activities each year in the waters surrounding the sunshine state. 


The most abundant is the Caribbean spiny lobster, identified by its gray and brown striped body with yellow spots on its tail. A recreational saltwater fishing licence and permit are required to harvest spiny lobster - see the FWC’s spiny lobster page for details of minimum size, weight and catch


Any egg-bearing or soft shellfish must be returned to the water immediately.


We note the misconception that is often referenced being that Florida spiny lobsters don’t have claws (compared to perhaps and Maine lobster) making their own defensive mechanism their quickness to retreat when threatened, or ability to quickly burrow deep in a hole or rock formation.


There are two lobster seasons – the two-day mini-season, which is always the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in July, and an eight-month regular lobster season which is always August 6 through March 31.


Fishing technique – there are several methods to lobster when you have located them under a rock or in a hole. A 'tickle stick' is typically used to slide behind the lobster, tapping it on its tail and causing it to slowly walk forward into a waiting net.