A List of Florida's Most-Wanted Fish

By: Terry Tomalin


With more than 7,700 lakes, 10,550 miles of rivers and 2,276 miles of tidal shoreline, Florida has no shortage of places to fish.

It's no wonder the state has produced more than 900 world records, more than any other state or country for that matter. So what are you waiting for? Get your rod, reel and hit the water.

Tarpon: Sometimes called the "silver king of sportfish," the tarpon is highly prized for its fighting ability but not valued as food. One of the state's most popular gamefish, tarpon, can tolerate a wide range of salinities and are found throughout the state’s waters. Hot spots: Lee and Charlotte counties, Florida Keys.

Sailfish: Florida’s official state saltwater fish, this tackle buster inhabits tropical and subtropical waters. Sailfish usually travel alone or in small groups. The outstanding feature is the long, high first dorsal fin. Known for its high, acrobatic jumps, the sailfish is a favorite of blue-water anglers. Hot Spots: Key West, Miami, Palm Beach.

Spotted Sea Trout: Commonly known as speckled trout, it's a schooling species usually found in the shallow waters of bays and estuaries. It has two large canine teeth in the upper jaw and feeds mainly on shrimp and small baitfish in grassy areas. One of Florida’s most popular sportfish, spotted sea trout will hit everything from top water plugs to saltwater flies. Hot Spots: Tampa Bay, Indian River Lagoon.

Snook: Highly sensitive to changes in water temperature, snook are found in the state’s warmer waters. A strong, voracious predator, the species will rip a fishing line to shreds. Great sport on light tackle, snook are a cagey prey but well worth the time it takes to catch them. Hot Spots: Tampa Bay, 10,000 Islands, Charlotte Harbor, Jupiter Inlet.

Red drum: Commonly known as redfish, this shallow-water schooling fish is found in both salt and brackish water. It can be distinguished from the black drum by its lack of chin barbels and its more elongated body. It also has a large black spot (sometimes several spots) just before the tail. Once heavily over-fished, this species is now a conservation success story. Hot Spots: Northwest Florida, Northeast Florida and Tampa Bay.

Largemouth bass: Florida’s official freshwater fish, the legendary largemouth has an international reputation. Anglers come from all over the world just add a 10-pound bass to their “life list” of big fish. The king of the lakes and rivers, a big bass will eat just about anything, even squirrels or baby ducks. Hot Spots: Lake Tarpon, Lake Toho, Lake Okeechobee, Lake Kissimmee.

Panfish: A general term to describe a number of different species – including spotted sunfish, bluegill, redbreast sunfish, redear sunfish, warmouth  – these fish are the mainstay for many young anglers. Catch them on worms, popping bugs and spinner baits. Hot Spots: Harris Chain of Lakes, Winter Haven, Kissimmee River.

Grouper: A generic name for several deepwater species, these bottom dwellers are important to both recreational and commercial fishermen. Red grouper and gag grouper (sometimes called black grouper) are most popular with anglers. Anglers typically “bottom fish” for these species, but during the cooler months, they can be caught in shallow water by trolling artificial lures. Hot Spots: Tampa Bay, Ft. Myers.

Snappers: An offshore species usually found in 60 to 440 feet. Red snapper is pinkish to red in color, and its pointed anal fin distinguishes it from other members of the snapper family. Juvenile red snapper once died by the millions in shrimp trawls, but new regulations have helped this species bounce back. Red snapper are considered one of the finest food fish found in Florida waters. Hot Spots: Northwest Florida, Tampa Bay.

Mackerels: This family includes both king mackerel and its smaller cousin, Spanish mackerel. These fish can be found in the western Atlantic Ocean from Maine to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and into the Gulf of Mexico. One of the state’s top ocean predators, kingfish are the favorite target of tournament fishermen. This species can be distinguished from the Spanish mackerel by the sharp dip in the lateral line under the second dorsal fin. Both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts; Key West.


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