Drift Fishing in Fort Lauderdale: A Complete Guide
Aug 25, 2021 | 8 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 8 minutes

Many consider South Florida to be one of the top fishing destinations on the planet. Fort Lauderdale, one of the jewels in its crown, is known as the “Venice of America” and the “Sailfish Capital of the World.” No wonder anglers flock here for incredible fishing action. If you’re looking for a place to start, drift fishing in Fort Lauderdale is the perfect introduction.

A boat coming towards you on the water with Fort Lauderdale downtown in the background.

In addition to its impressive canal system and proximity to the Gulf Stream, this area is also renowned for its coral and artificial reefs and wrecks. These structures offer both abundance and variety of marine life – from bait fish to monsters.

What can you expect from drift fishing in Fort Lauderdale?

When you’re drift fishing, you’re basically allowing the current and the wind to carry your bait through the water. This allows it to move more naturally and not scare your possible catch. When you book a drift fishing trip, expect a lot of action in a relaxed setting. This is one of the most popular techniques suitable for all ages and skill levels. It’s also versatile and can be used to land just about every nearshore and offshore superstar.

When you hit the Fort Lauderdale waters, know that you’ll be fishing the reefs in a matter of minutes. Before you even realize you’ve left the marina, your captain will turn the engines off and let the wind carry the boat over the reefs and wrecks.

A large group of people with Red Snapper aboard a shared charter.

Bear in mind that drift fishing is circumstantial, so the crew will help you choose the right tackle and technique. Depending on the weather, currents, and what’s in season, bottom, mid-depth, and surface drifting are all an option. Warm days without much wind will see you drift fishing the bottom. On the other hand, fast currents and strong winds are better for surface fishing. 

Live and frozen bait give the best results, but you can also use lures, jigs, and artificial flies. Sardines, squid, and ballyhoo are the most productive choices. The bait can either be weighted for deep dropping, or you can use popping corks and bobbers. It all depends on the depth you’ll be fishing.

Most of the charters will take you fishing in 70–150 feet of water, usually up to two miles offshore. This means that you could have your lines wet in 20 minutes after leaving the dock. 

Big drift fishing party boat in Fort Lauderdale.

This classic technique goes hand in hand with drift fishing party boats. These spacious vessels provide a unique fishing experience and are perfect for shared charters. If you’ve never been drift fishing in For Lauderdale, party boats are a good place to start.

Seasonality

Thanks to its proximity to the Gulf Stream and an abundance of reefs and wrecks, Fort Lauderdale doesn’t have a low season. There’s always something biting in these waters!

A crew member helping the customer while drift fishing.

If you’re after a particular species, you should plan your trip according to its peak season. Every 2–3 months, different species are migrating through the Fort Lauderdale waters. Sailfish reach their peak in December–January and winter is also great for Kingfish, Sharks, Mahi Mahi, Wahoo, and Tuna.

Come in spring and you can focus on all the pelagics plus Amberjack and Grouper. Summer is all about Mahi Mahi and Wahoo, while fall will see you targeting Snapper, Kingfish, and more. Make sure to ask your captain about what’s currently biting, so that you know what to expect.

Top Catches

When you’re drift fishing in Fort Lauderdale, you can hook into a slew of different species, which is why everyone loves this technique. You can drift your line around the reefs and wrecks or head to the bluewater in search of trophies. Whatever your choice, here’s what you could find on your hook.

Snapper and Grouper Take the Lead

The waters are filled with structure in Fort Lauderdale, and are rich in plankton, shrimp, and bait fish. All these make for favorite snacks of lots of predatory fish, especially Snapper and Grouper. These species are available all year, they make for a delicious meal, and they’re fun to catch. What more can you ask for?

People drift fishing for Yellowtail snapper and Mutton Snapper.

Florida has an abundance of Snapper and Grouper to offer, and Fort Lauderdale waters mirror it perfectly. Drift fishing gives you quick access to Yellowtail, Vermilion, Mutton, and Red Snapper, which is already an excellent lineup that will keep you busy. Yellowtails are usually smaller and there’s more of them, while Vermilion and Mutton Snapper are hunted at greater depths (around 200 feet). Red Snapper are one of the most coveted catches, but they’re strictly regulated and only available in the summer.

Grouper fishing is just as enticing. Black, Gag, and Red Grouper are on the menu, but be careful, because you’re usually not allowed to keep them until May. Summer is the best time to go after juicy Grouper, but winter fishing can be very good as well, especially for Gag and Black. Basically, whenever you got to Fort Lauderdale, there will be something on the reefs for you.

Different Shades of Mackerel

When you’re drift fishing in Fort Lauderdale, King Mackerel is one of the most common species you’ll find on your line. Also known as Kingfish, these bad boys can weigh dozens of pounds, and they’ll wow you with their strength and size.

A smiling charter captain in a cap and sunglasses, standing on his boat, holding a big King Mackerel

The best time to fish for King Mackerel is in the winter months – this is when the waters are full of monster specimens. You can chase Kings all year, though, and you won’t be bored. The best chance of scoring a brag-worthy catch is to drift your live bait beyond the reefs, in the waters that are over 90-foot deep.

Maybe you’d prefer to catch smaller fish that make for amazing table fare. If so, both Spanish and Cero Mackerel will serve that purpose. Additional bonus – they’re perfect for your little ones to learn how to fish and enjoy the experience. Mackerel is fun for all ages!

Wahoo and Mahi Mahi – Pelagic Royalty

Looking for species that’ll give new meaning to the words “fishing battle”? Look no further than Mahi Mahi and Wahoo. Both fish are favored by local anglers for their incredible fighting abilities and fast strikes that will make you hold on tight to your rod.

A woman holding a colorful Mahi Mahi.

Both Mahi and Wahoo are in the cards year-round, but their seasonalities differ. Mahi Mahi prefer warm offshore waters in the summer when multiple hookups on private and shared charters are the norm. There’s no shortage of Bull Mahis around Fort Lauderdale and if you’re looking to break your personal record, you’re in the right place.

The size and feisty nature of Wahoo put them at the top of the desired catches as well. Unlike their colorful pelagic neighbors, Wahoo visit Fort Lauderdale in great numbers during the coldest time of the year. Outmatched in speed only by Sailfish, the Wahoo’s bite will feel like an explosion, and it’s one you’ll need to withstand to get your prize into the boat. But what a catch that will be!

Sailfish – Always a Good Find

Everybody loves the idea of a nice big Sailfish. Arguably the strongest and most aggressive species you can target when drift fishing, Sailfish will give you a run for your money. They’re not as common as the other fish we mentioned, but you can still stumble across one easily enough.

Customers with a Sailfish they've caught.

If you’ve got Sailfish on your mind, then you’re best bet is to visit Fort Lauderdale in spring, from February–May. They can be mostly found in “Sailfish Alley,” a water passage located beyond the reefs. You’ll be fishing just a mile from the coast in waters 120–180-foot deep. This hotspot, located on the inner edge of the Gulf Stream, is your go-to place if you’re after Sailfish.

While Sailfishing is one of the most exciting feats for passionate anglers, it’s not for the fainthearted. These Billfish are worthy opponents and they don’t give in easily when hooked. All that being said, they’re probably one of the most rewarding catches you can land while drift fishing.

There’s So Much More…

Drift fishing in Fort Lauderdale gives you quick access to a beautiful range of species. Whether you’re in the mood for pelagics, reef fish, or both, this technique can be very productive.

Two smiling anglers in caps and sunglasses holding a big Amberjack while standing on a boat

Around the reefs and wrecks, you’ll be surprised by the sheer number of monster Amberjack, as well as Almaco Jack and African Pompano. Add to that huge Barracuda, Cobia, Grunt, Porgy, Triggerfish, Grunt, and Hogfish, and you’ve got a smorgasbord of possible catches.

Just a bit further from the coast, you’ll come face to gills with a variety of Sharks, including Blacktip, Hammerhead, Bull, and the list goes on. There’s plenty of Bonito for everyone, and let’s not forget about Blackfin Tuna, who come by in spring and fall.

Top Drift Fishing Spots in Fort Lauderdale

There’s a huge number of wrecks and reefs (natural and artificial) around Fort Lauderdale, and a lot of them are excellent fishing spots. Some might take minutes to get to, others longer, but the trip will pay off. Here are some of the hotspots your drift fishing charter might take you to.

An aerial view of one of Fort Lauderdale's canals
  • Beaches: Sometimes, the reefs are only a few hundred feet away from land, so the best way to reach them is from the beach. Take off from Dania, Deerfield, or Pompano Beach and you might be fishing so close to shore that you can swim back to it.
  • Johnny Morris Wreck: This shipwreck is a known gathering place of Snapper, Barracuda, Little Tunny, and Amberjack. If that’s not enough, add big Wahoo to the list.
  • 1000 Mermaids Reef: This eerily beautiful artificial reef earned its name. Sunken statues of mermaids have turned into the perfect hanging spot for excellent Snook, Snapper, Grouper, and Lionfish.
  • Joe’s Nightmare Barge: Don’t let the name scare you off! This wreckage is actually a popular fishing spot, where you can hook into a good number of local favorites. Anything from Porgy to Grouper is fair game.
  • The Gulf Stream: The bluewaters are the hunting grounds of fishermen looking to land a trophy of a lifetime. You’ll find both private charters and party boats going deep sea fishing in the inner edge of the Gulf Stream in search of Sailfish, Wahoo, Mahi Mahi, and King Mackerel, to name a few.

Rules & Regulations

A blue infographic with a Florida flag and words Fort Lauderdale drift fishing regulations

If you’re fishing from a licensed charter boat in Fort Lauderdale, you won’t need to bring your own fishing license. Most of the charters in the area include rods, tackle, and bait. Live bait is sometimes charged extra, depending on the boat.

Some species have seasons that change every year, so make sure you’re informed about regulations and creel limits. If there are any specific regulations you need to be aware of, your guide will inform you before the trip.

Drift Fishing in Fort Lauderdale: You Just Can’t Miss It!

A grandpa with his grandson next to a Sailfish caught while Fort Lauderdale drift fishing.

Picture miles of breathtaking beaches, reefs teeming with fish, and having fun with your friends and family. The Venice of America offers all that and more, and when you’re ready to spice things up, drift fishing in this gorgeous area will blow your mind!

Have you ever been drift fishing in Fort Lauderdale? How did you like it? Do you have any tips for our angling community? Share your stories with us in the comments below!

Comments (4)
  • Saundra McMinn

    May 29, 2020

    Love drift fishing or any fishing, enjoyed every trip so far.

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      Sean

      Jun 1, 2020

      Hi Saundra,

      We believe you! Drift fishing is a lot of fun, isn’t it?

      Thanks for sharing, and tight lines!

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  • Joel S Steinberg

    Dec 18, 2019

    Weather can make a difference between a pleasant and annoying fishing experience. Best to check the local marine forecast, as calm seas are preferred for a comfortable trip on the water. Waves under 3′, with winds under 5 mph are likely ideal but not always available. Check with the local party boat facility if they can provide info in the weather.

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      Albert

      Dec 19, 2019

      Hi Joel,

      Thanks for the comment.

      You make a good point. Weather can be make or break for fishing charters, especially for people who haven’t spent a lot of time on the water. Sadly, it’s not something that you can predict very far in advance.

      What’s everybody else’s top drift fishing tip?

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