Visitors may think Florida has just one season — warm and sunny — but anglers know that we have four distinct seasons, and each one has its own featured fish. With the right planning, you can ensure that you not only get to fish, but also catch most species you’re after.
January & February
During what is traditionally considered a tough time for recreational anglers, it’s actually one of the best times of the year to catch sheepshead, one of Florida’s tastiest fish, off bridges and piers. The sheepshead is often called the “convict fish” because its striped body looks a little like a prison uniform, but this fish also has a well-deserved reputation as a bait thief (you can do the math). These cooler winter months are also a great time to head offshore and fish for sailfish. These prized billfish are known for their spectacular leaps and are a mainstay for charter boats in South Florida and The Florida Keys.
March & April
In March and April, the king mackerel (kingfish) migrate up both coasts from their wintering grounds off The Florida Keys. Tournament anglers from all over the U.S. flock to Florida for this spring run. Hot on the heels of the kingfish, you will find their smaller cousins, the Spanish mackerel, schooling in large numbers off local fishing piers and jetties. The spring is also prime time for redfish, trout and snook, the top inshore species on both coasts. Offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, grouper and amberjack fishing heat up. Freshwater fishing also peaks with the bass spawn on Florida’s lakes. And if that isn’t enough to get the blood pumping, head to northwest Florida for the legendary spring
cobia run along local beaches.
May & June
In May and June, tarpon season arrives with a bang in Boca Grande and other southwest Florida venues. Anglers from all over the world cram into this tiny fishing village for a chance to do battle with these chrome-bodied brutes, the silver king of game fish. You also won’t find a better time to pursue snook, the legendary Florida linesider, which, pound for pound, is perhaps the strongest-fighting sportfish in the U.S. This highly popular recreational fishery has no commercial harvest. Red snapper season also opens in the Gulf of Mexico. This offshore species is a conservation success story, valued not only for sport but also for table fare. In The Florida Keys and South Florida, the dolphinfish (mahi-mahi) and wahoo fishing explodes, while billfish – including white and blue marlin – can be caught in blue water from northwest Florida to Key West.
July & August
In July and August, lobster season gets into gear in The Florida Keys, while kingfish are still being caught off the beaches of northeast and northwest Florida. Deepwater fish, including various species of grouper, hammer baits in the Florida Middle Grounds, while yellowtail snapper fishing heats up in The Florida Keys.
September & October
September and October see inshore fishing for trout, redfish and snook improve with the cooling weather. The kings begin to move south again to The Florida Keys, while the grouper bite swings closer to shore. In freshwater, largemouth bass and panfish begin to feed more aggressively, fattening up for the winter months.
November & December
In November and December, the kingfish return to Central Florida beaches (both coasts), and inshore fishing is at its best from Pensacola to Miami Beach. The sailfish action heats up in South Florida and The Keys, while gag grouper have settled close to shore making them within reach of recreational anglers on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Rules & Regulations
Non-residents and Florida residents between the ages of 16 and 65 need a saltwater fishing license, although some exemptions apply. Anglers may also need additional permits, tags or stamps if they want to catch and keep such individual species as spiny lobster, snook or tarpon.
Bag and size limits for such species as trout, red drum and snook vary from region to region.
For a complete list of requirements and regulations, go to MyFWC.com.