By David A. Brown
The biggest challenge of creating a list of the best places to fish in Florida is whittling the numerous options down to a manageable group. We’re not trying to summarize the entire state; rather, the goal here is to offer a representative sampling of Sunshine State delights.
As with all lists, exclusion implies not disrespect, so save the hate mail. This roundup simply highlights some of Florida’s more notable destinations. Look an hour or so in either direction and you’ll likely find similar opportunities, so it you prefer a spot closer to home, book a charter or go solo to enjoy what you want to enjoy.
Best Places to Fish in Florida: Saltwater
Starting with the Florida Panhandle’s massive Choctawhatchee Bay—a major estuary fed by multiple rivers, creeks, and bayous—anglers find good numbers of speckled trout, redfish, black drum, sheepshead, striped bass, and Spanish mackerel. Here, seagrass beds, oyster mounds, sand bars, docks, the Choctawhatchee River Delta, and publicly accessible jetties offer something for every angler.
Where stunning beaches meet sparkling Gulf waters, the surf/coastal zone holds pompano, mackerel, bluefish, and whiting, tarpon, cobra, and sharks. Offshore reefs, wrecks and rocks are renowned for gag and red grouper, mangrove and red snapper, triggerfish, amberjack, kingfish, and Spanish mackerel. Run deep and you’ll find tuna, wahoo, dolphin, and billfish.
A mix of inshore faves—redfish, trout, snook, pompano—inhabit the countless rock islets and mangrove shorelines, while the St. Martins Keys north of the river channel offer a truly unique inshore look (mangroves, grass flats, limestone/sea fan bottom) in the offshore range.
Coastal waters littered with rock reefs offer arm-stretching, shallow-water (10-12 feet) grouper action, along with ample opportunities for Spanish mackerel, seabass, and sheepshead.
During the summer season, this is one of the hotspots for scallop diving. Culinary tip: Fresh scallops make a fine topping for grilled or blackened redfish.
Charlotte Harbor-Pine Island Sound
This mangrove-laden estuary fed primarily by the Myakka and Peace rivers holds a bounty of the inshore all-stars—snook, trout, redfish, flounder, and respectable mangrove snapper. Lots of oyster bars, mangrove creeks, and potholes define fish-friendly habitat.
Winter’s extreme low tides create a cool scenario where fish pile into the scattered deep water troughs and holes that become cut off by receding water. Snook, trout, and reds are easy pickings for waders and kayakers.
Owning the title “Tarpon Capital of the World,” Boca Grande Pass flows between Cayo Costa to the south and Gasparilla Island to the north. This is one of the best places to fish in Florida between May and June, as this window creates prime-time fishing for tugging on silver giants that pack into the pass prior to their offshore spawning run. Throughout the summer, tarpon schools offer tons of fun on the beaches, while nearshore reefs abound with grouper, snapper, hogfish, and permit.
The pass is a major flushing point with tons of bottom structure holding keeper gag grouper, mangrove snapper, and giant Goliath Grouper (particularly at the old phosphate docks on the north side). Smoker kingfish and hefty Spanish mackerel commonly venture well inside the pass.
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