Visit Florida - Intro to Florida Fishing by Region
Beyond its pristine sun soaked beaches and over 4000 miles of pure coastline, not including rivers, lagoons, inlets and estuaries, Florida is certainly one of the top destinations in the world when it comes to fishing. With an abundance of angling opportunities nearly everywhere you look, from freshwater lakes and ponds, brackish water estuaries, vast meandering rivers of crystal clear spring fed water to black water lagoons, white sand beaches, big water inlets and passes, or the thousands of islands that dot our coastlines to name but a few, one can never run out of fishing real estate, or intriguing species to catch. It is certainly an anglers paradise, and that's just inshore fishing! As the title suggests, this is just a brief introduction to our 10 aptly named regions, starting in the Northwest Panhandle and working our way south to the Keys, then from the Northeast in Jacksonville south to Miami. I've attached various photos within each region of scenery, not targeting any subject, but just to give you an idea of the regions. There are many more inspiring locations to visit around Florida, and these images can not come close to representing even a fraction of this beautiful state.
Florida Panhandle: The Panhandle extends from Pensacola on the West end to Fort Walton Beach, Panama City, and Apalachicola to the East. From Pensacola to Panama City we refer to as the Emerald Coast, and heading east to Apalachicola is known as the forgotten coast. Along these shores you'll find pristine backwaters, bays, bayous, tidal flats, and creeks where you'll enjoy catching spotted sea trout, slot redfish and big bull reds, bluefish, flounder, mangrove snapper, Spanish mackerel, and sheepshead to name the most caught species. Paddling within the Blackwater, Suwannee, Shoal, or Yellow rivers you'll also be treated to a variety of fresh water fish such as perch, trout, catfish, and largemouth bass, along with a plethora of panfish.
Nature Coast: Heading around the well known area of Big Bend and south down the coast, Florida's Nature Coast extends to roughly Anclote Key, although many group New Port Richey in there, north of Clearwater, I just find that too far south and doesn't fit the wilderness that is the Nature Coast. As the name implies, the nature Coast leaves behind the hustle and bustle of city life and draws outdoor enthusiast and sportsmen from afar. With a wealth of opportunities along its borders, the nature Coast is a diverse stretch of unspoiled land and scenic beauty, filled with wildlife from sea to shore throughout its many secluded fishing areas, parks, preserves, springs and wildlife refuges. This part of the state still runs rich in deep Southern culture, extending down to Levy County. It is certainly one of the last of the untouched Florida landscapes where, in many parts, civilization seems to disappear, even on the days when you'd expect to see hundreds of anglers. To go along with the wilderness scenery, black drum, cobia, flounder, grouper, mangrove snapper, permit, pompano, redfish, sheepshead, Spanish mackerel, trout, and tarpon round off the most popular fish caught along this portion of the coast.
Sun Coast: Traveling just south of Tarpon Springs you'll run into the Sun Coast, originally named the pirate coast of West central Florida, but aptly named the Sun Coast to reflect its near constant daily average of sunshine, even topping Honolulu. It is also often called Florida's beach due to its yearly worldwide ranking classification of the top 10 beach destinations. It encompasses more than 2,200 square miles of land, all centered around Tampa Bay, home of the largest and healthiest open water estuary in the state with nearly 400 square miles of water. It borders three counties; Hillsborough, Manatee, and Pinellas, and extends from tarpon Springs South to Bradenton.
With more than 100 tributaries flowing into Tampa Bay from four major rivers; the Hillsborough, Alifia, Manatee, and the little Manatee, the Sun Coast offers more than 200 species of fish to enjoy from its inland shallow water flats and deep shipping channels to deeper offshore water, and with boat ramps as convenient as convenient stores, launching your watercraft close to your fishing destination is effortless, and well...convenient! Being centrally located in a subtropical climate, the Tampa Bay area is a melting pot for not only vacationers and incoming residents, but for migrating fish as well, which have a tendency to linger around much longer than any other area in Florida. The water conditions here are quite favorable for migrating fish to remain comfortable throughout much of the year, so we often find some of the species stay behind while the rest of the school migrates onward.
For those looking to enjoy fishing from land, the Sun Coast has a spot for your feet on one of our many local fishing piers. Many of these locations offer deep water and structure, and are excellent piers to catch a wide variety species, especially during the spring and fall fish migration. There are also plenty of jetties, bridges and seawalls to get a line wet from, with most located on our white sugar sand beaches spanning along a 35 mile stretch of clear blue water paradise, with 20 barrier islands for an amazing amount of scenery and fishing locations. There's a fishing spot within a stone's throw of each other along our entire Sun Coast. Inshore fishing ranks second to none, as the sun coast is teaming with snook, redfish, trout, cobia, grouper, snapper, mackerel, permit, pompono, black drum, seabass, tarpon, sheepshead, flounder, sharks, and many more.
Whether you enjoy fishing the active shoreline of some of the world's number one ranked white sand beaches while listening to a band from our many local beach bars, from one of our many land based piers, jetties, bridges, and docks, or venturing into the backcountry rivers, mangroves, and grass flats, the Sun Coast has what you are looking for. Additionally, you can try your hand at fishing the shore lines of some of our aqua clear Bahama like islands, that is if you're not tempted to bask in the beautiful water most of the day!
Lastly, the Tampa Bay shipping channel brings a bit of offshore fishing to our backyard, where many of the big offshore fish can be found year round such as grouper, snapper, king fish, and many more.
Cultural Coast: The cultural coast, named for the haven it has become for artists and musicians is often associated with the sun coast on most maps, and while technically it is part of the Sun Coast, it has taken on its own identity through the culture of its residents and visitors who choose to be a bit more secluded, and artsy. Boasting one of the finest art schools in the world, the Ringling school of Art and design, along with a 21 gallery European and American art museum, and with the multitude of galleries and weekly events, it's no wonder why they have chosen to identify as the Cultural Coast.
It is less commercialized than the Suncoast, specifically Tampa Bay, and begins to pick up on that old Florida feel. Boasting a handful of beautiful and breathtaking beaches along it's coast, particularly Siesta Key, where you'll find the world's finest white-quartz sand.
Sarasota county extends south to its borders in Venice, with a 40 mile stretch of white sandy coastline and six barrier islands. Longboat key is the northernmost and longest island on Sarasota's coast stretching 12 miles to Siesta key, and within this stretch you'll find plenty of areas to fish along the beaches of the Gulf, whether from one of the many jetties, bridges, piers, or within the passes such as Big Pass, it's full of fish and beauty. Siesta Key is the southernmost key of Sarasota County and consistent of three beaches over an 8 mile stretch, with turtle Beach being the key's southern border. Venturing further south you'll enter Port Charlotte in Charlotte County, where you'll ultimately find yourself attracted to fishing within or close to Charlotte harbor estuary, Florida's second-largest estuary. Two thirds of the harbor is in Charlotte County, while the other one third is in Lee County, the next county South. This estuary has a large watershed, fed by the Peace, Caloosahatchee and the Myakka Rivers.
With all three Rivers emptying into Charlotte harbor, the Caloosahatchee River enters south of the harbor in Lee county, but at such close proximity does it really matter, as they create one of the fishiest water systems in Florida, whether it be within the main rivers, tidal creeks, sounds, or out into the adjacently interconnected bays, a vast majority of this area is whether protected and full of fish, thus allowing an angler to escape not so favorable weather conditions when they arise while still enjoying the day. Last but not least, the well known area of Boca Grande pass is world-famous for its three months of solid tarpon fishing. The big three fish in Charlotte County are Snook, Redfish, and Seatrout, and as mentioned above, for three months we can include Tarpon.
Lee Island Coast: Continuing our travels to the next county South, Captiva and Sanibel islands, Cape Coral, and Fort Myers are the most recognizable places that first come to mind. With both counties, Charlotte and Lee seemingly staking claim to the port Charlotte area, the information above on Charlotte harbor also applies to the northern tip of Lee County. While the Caloosahatchee River sheds some of its water into the Charlotte county harbor by nature of current flow, the official mouth of the river exits on the Lee County side splitting Cape Coral to the North and Fort Myers to the South.
Just 10 miles south of Naples is Marco island, a 6 mile long by 4 mile wide island surrounded by white sandy beach; the largest of the Ten Thousand Islands. The chain of islands boasts some of the best year-round fishing in the world. The shallow waters of this area play host to Tarpon, Snook, redfish, sea trout, permit, and black drum to name the most caught species. While you won't find a cityscape of seawalls and piers, you'll find a vast wilderness of mangrove forests teeming with life and excitement. After you're done with a day of fishing and eating your catch, there are plenty of things to do and see around the islands.
Continuing south from here becomes a bit more daunting, as the highways and roads nearly disappear, as well as the population. Everglades city, plantation Island, and Chokoloskee are the last three communities on the Gulf Coast side in Collier County, with Everglades city being the largest population of around 200 homes and 400 residents. At roughly a mile long and 1/2 mile wide, this place more resembles a trading outpost as it once was than it does a city, as the waterfronts are riddled with high use boats giving certainty to a working waterfront. Surrounded by the Barron River and the waterways of the Big Cypress National Preserve, you'll find more airboats than cars, more waterways than streets, and a host of biting insects to battle along with plenty of fishing opportunities and secluded areas. You won't find traffic lights, malls, beaches, or high rises, but rather mom and pop shops, weathered cars and trucks, some self serve tiki huts for dining, and great fishing! You'll find plenty of fishy spots holding Snook, Permit, Flounder, Seatrout, Pompano and big Tarpon! This secluded community is well worth a visit for those wishing to go back in time while catching some good fish, finding a secluded backcountry patch of beach sand, or hiking one of the several preserves.
The Keys: The Florida Keys is a chain of islands stretching into the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean, carved in coral shores and surrounded by pristine blue-green water, flats, and coral reefs, with the reefs edges averaging 4 miles offshore running parallel and being the depth change to deep blue water.
At the southernmost tip of Florida sits Key West, along with its northern most known cities of Big Pine Key, Marathon, Islamorada, and Key Largo. Fishing the Keys provides a variety of fish nearly year round, and is home to five of the most sought after game fish among recreational anglers: bonefish, tarpon, permit, redfish, and Snook. Other inshore species include seatrout, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, cobia, snapper, sharks, etc.
The close proximity of fish species, as well as the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico is what makes it very intriguing for many anglers. The Atlantic side offers plenty of flats fishing and deep blue water, while the Gulf side offers plenty of uninhibited mangrove islands and deep blue water, and both bodies of water are reachable within a few minutes travel.
Additionally, being a chain of islands means there are bridges linking each island and providing plenty of bridge fishing opportunities. If you'd like to start your day fishing a skiff in the mangroves on the Gulf side catching bonefish and snook, and end your day bluewater fishing the Atlantic for marlin and tuna, then look no further than the Florida Keys. Whether you want a fishing destination, or a vacation destination, the Florida Keys will give you both, as will much of the west coast. So now let's take a look at the East Coast side of the state. Though the East coast anglers will argue their side is better, and vice versa in regards to inshore fishing, I have fished both sides and I highly recommend the West Coast of Florida, as I believe our water remains calmer, better boating and waterways, better landscape, a wider variety and better concentration of species per location, and bigger snook! Now, I am a bit jealous of the East Coast's bull redfish and gator seatrout, but they run good size here as well. As far as the Keys listed above, well we just share that between East and West Coast. Nonetheless, fishing anywhere in the state of Florida is a treat for any and all, and some places more than others have specialty areas that help boost the fishing industry such as the Indian River lagoon in which you'll read below.
First Coast: The first Coast is in Florida's North Eastern region encompassing Jacksonville and St. Augustine. It comprises of 4 coastal counties; Nassau, Duval, St. John's, and depending on the map you look at, includes Flagler, just North of Volusia County and Daytona Beach. While the Northeast area may not be prized for any one particular inshore species, it does boast a variety of salt and freshwater species to target, with the St. Johns River being a major focal point with lots of opportunity. Most inshore species targeted on the First Coast are trout, redfish, flounder, black drum, striped bass, while seabass, sharks, tarpon, bluefish cobia, whiting, pompano and more are found here. Whether you're fishing for freshwater bass in the upper St. Johns river, big bulls reds in the lower tidal influence areas, or world class gator trout, the many miles of tidal creeks, bays, coastline and Intracoastal waters will have a spot and fish to suit your needs and desires.
Space Coast: The space Coast is probably most well-known for the Kennedy space Center and Cape Canaveral, located in Brevard County; consisting of over 70 miles of coastline, stretching from roughly Titusville south to Palm Bay, but for fishing enthusiast, the Indian River Lagoon first comes to mind, and for good reason. The Indian River Lagoon, while not a river but an estuarine Lagoon, includes the Banana River (not an actual river), and the Mosquito Lagoon, which stretches roughly 160 miles along Florida's East Coast from Ponce De Leon inlet to the north in Volusia County, and to Jupiter Inlet in Palm Beach County to the South. Along this stretch are three main inlets, Sebastian on the border of Brevard and Indian River Counties, Fort Pierce Inlet in St. Lucie County, and St. Lucie Inlet in Martin County, along with many freshwater tributaries spilling into the lagoon, thus making for a very diversified climate and the highest biodiversity of any estuary system in North America.
Fishing throughout this vast system is something that every angler should give a try. You'll find large spanning grass flats, mangrove forests, salt marshes, oyster flats, canals, islands, docks, and shallow water averaging 4 feet overall, along with coastal beachfront opportunities, all of which make for an exceptional outing. Lagoon anglers most often target big gator sea trout and redfish as their primary targets, but many other species are available such as snook, tarpon, pompano, sharks etc.
Treasure Coast: In the truest meaning of the name, the treasure Coast has ye-old Spanish treasures just waiting to be discovered from one of its many offshore shipwrecks. Maintaining an old Florida feel, the treasure Coast has many state and national protected parks to go along with some unique golden sand beaches, and if horseback riding on the beach is something that strikes your fancy, well they are one of the few beaches that allow it.
Much like the Space coast, the Indian River Lagoon system is a major attraction for anglers. The treasure Coast is in the lower one third section of Florida's East Coast, stretching from Vero Beach to Boca Raton in the counties of Indian River, St. Lucie, and Martin, and depending on your map also includes Palm Beach, and includes the well know cities of Jupiter, West Palm Beach and Boca Raton. There are plenty of good fishing spots along this region in the lagoon system, inlets, mangroves, shorelines, etc. A well known area with high fishing activity takes place where the Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie River merge in the communities of Stewart, Jensen Beach, and Hobe Sound. The most targeted species in this region are snook, sea trout, and redfish, with tarpon, bluefish, and pompano rounding out the majority of noteworthy catches.
Gold Coast: The Gold Coast sits along the Atlantic Ocean just north of the Keys and consist of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, with Palm Beach often being included. The most known cities are Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Miami Beach, and West Palm Beach. The Gold Coast is full of nightlife, considered by many the playground of the rich and famous, and most known for bikinis, trendy restaurants, bistros, cafés, and celebrities. Its residents and visitors are a cultural kaleidoscope, and with that comes a diversity of culture and art.
When it come to fishing, the Gold Coast is most often treasured for its offshore fishing, but inshore fishing can also be pretty good at the right time of the year. Port Everglades is the main channel from the Atlantic to the Intracoastal waterway which feeds many canals throughout Fort Lauderdale. The canals, bridges, and docks are highly sought after locations for snook and tarpon.
Heading south to Miami-Dade's Biscayne Bay, located in Biscayne national Park, it extends the entire length of Miami-Dade County from Key Largo in the South to Aventura in the North, roughly 35 miles. Biscayne Bay is an estuary protected from the ocean by barrier islands to the east and the mainlands to the West. It is divided into North Bay, Central Bay, and South Bay. Tarpon, bone fish, permit, and snook are the most targeted species in the bay, but snapper and grouper are also available options among other species.
So hopefully you got a good feel of the lay of the land, let's get into what I feel is the first aspect every angler should know to greatly increase your success rate as an angler; The four steps to a successful angler.