It’s no secret that Florida’s Gold Coast has great fishing. The area is impressive even by Floridian standards, with huge fish right in town and deep waters just a stone’s throw from the shore. If you’re planning on fishing Fort Lauderdale, you’re in for a treat – especially if you know what to do.
In this article, we’ll break down Fort Lauderdale’s top species and fishing spots, as well as how and when to get the most out of these waters. You can learn about local regulations, tournaments, and much more. In short, here’s everything you need to know for your perfect angling adventure.
What to Catch in Fort Lauderdale
Fort Lauderdale has a problem. There are so many fish here that choosing your target can be almost as tough as catching it. To keep things simple, we’ll focus on the “must-hook” species. Check out our fishing calendar if you want a full month-by-month breakdown of what’s on offer.
If you can only target one fish while you’re in town, it has to be Snook. These hard-fighting hunters are one of the world’s most prestigious inshore species. They’re on the bucket lists of fly anglers worldwide, and can be just as much fun on trolled plugs, live baits, or cast lures. They also taste great, although most anglers prefer to release them.
Snook spend the whole year in Fort Lauderdale, wintering in the city’s canals then making for bays and passes as the weather warms up. Your best chance of landing a trophy is in the summer, when big fish crowd the beaches to spawn. However, even the depths of winter can be productive here.
Tarpon are the real heavyweights of Fort Lauderdale’s inshore waters. Fish over 100 pounds are common in high season, and trophies hit double that each year. Again, you can technically catch them all year round. Your best chance is in the spring and early summer, though, when huge schools of Tarpon roll pile into the shallows.
For many people, the ultimate dream is to fight a “Silver King” on the fly. However, natural baits conventional tackle are just as effective. Whatever you go for, avoid using overly light line as this will overtire the fish. Trust us, Tarpon are no easy catch even on heavy tackle.
“All these game fish are great, but I want something I can eat!” Don’t worry, you won’t go hungry after a day at the local reefs. You can catch a variety of Snappers in Fort Lauderdale, from small Vermilions and Yellowtails to brutish Cubera and the tastiest of them all: Red Snapper. Snapper fishing is best in summer, but most species are around all year.
Snapper are the main event, but they’re not the only fish on the reef. You can also catch delicious Gag, Black, and Red Grouper, as well as Amberjack, Triggerfish, Hogfish, and more. You never know what might take your bait and that’s half the fun. The other half is enjoying a fishy feast at the end of the day.
A dozen different bluewater species deserve to make this list. Fort Lauderdale’s winter Wahoo are the stuff of legends. The Tuna fish here is outstanding. You can also catch monster Mahi Mahi (Dolphin), and even Marlin in the heat of summer. So why is it Sailfish that get a special mention?
Simply put, nothing beats Sailfish for drama. From their wild mohawk of a sail to their incredible aerial acrobatics, these guys are real show-stoppers and they know it. Sailfish also reach incredible sizes in the deep waters off Fort Lauderdale. And because the water gets so deep so fast, you don’t need to travel far to find them. What more could you want?
Freshwater anglers, we haven’t forgotten you. In many ways, we’ve saved the best for last. Peacock Bass came to Florida in the ‘80s to deal with an invasion of Tilapia. They excelled at the job and made lifelong friends with local anglers along the way. Peacocks are now a signature catch in Fort Lauderdale’s canals, loved for their looks and respected for their fight.
Peacock Bass fishing is best in the summer months, when the water is nice and warm. This is also a great time to target invasive species like Clown Knife Fish and Snakehead. Visiting in the winter? Not a problem. Target Largemouth Bass instead. South Florida is home to huge Largemouth, which tag out the Peacocks to make sure the action is red hot all year round.
These are a few of Fort Lauderdale’s main fish species, but there are so many more out there. From Permit and Barracuda to Sharks, Cobia, and potential world-record King Mackerel, you’ll find action everywhere you turn. It all depends on how you prefer to fish.
How to Fish in Fort Lauderdale
After that convenient segue, let’s have a look at the different ways to enjoy these waters. Obviously, how you fish is largely decided by what you want to catch. It can also come down to your budget. Here’s a summary of what to expect from the main styles of fishing in Fort Lauderdale.
This is a cheap, simple way to wet a line and catch a few fish for dinner. You probably won’t hook a monster fishing from shore, but you can have a ton of fun. The main downside to shore fishing is that you need to bring all your own gear. Either that, or rely on cheap rental rods that might not be in great shape.
There are two main ways to fish from shore. You can explore the canals in search of Bass, Snook, and exotic invaders like Clown Knife Fish. Otherwise, head to the beach to cast for Trout, Redfish, Snook, and small Sharks. By law, you can only fish on Fort Lauderdale Beach between 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m., but the fishing is better at night, anyway.
If your main priority is catching fish, go to a fishing pier. It’s a one-stop shop for everything you need, from rods and bait to cleaning stations and benches. Pier fishing may not have the same outdoorsy vibes as surf fishing, but you’re much more likely to catch something thanks to the structure the pier provides.
The closest fishing pier to Fort Lauderdale is Anglin’s Pier. The far end of the pier is currently closed, so you can’t reach the deepest waters. You can still catch a wide variety of fish here, though. Expect everything you’d find on the beach plus Mackerel, Cobia, and even small Snappers.
No matter what you’re after, fishing on a charter is the best way to get it. Your captain will take you to the best spots for each species and supply you with high-quality equipment to catch them. They’ll teach you their top tricks for tempting in fish and be on hand to help you once you wrestle your prize to the boat.
There are dozens of charter boats in Fort Lauderdale. Some boats are set up for big game, bluewater angling. Others are best at combing the shallows or exploring the city’s canals. You can even hire an on-foot guide if you want to catch big Bass from land. Whatever you’re after, there’s a guide or a captain who specializes in it.
Party Boat Fishing
Party boats, or drift boats, are bigger, shared charters that offer a slice of ocean angling on a budget. As you might guess from the name, you’ll mainly be drift fishing around reefs and wrecks. Your main targets will be Snappers, Groupers, and other tasty bottom fish. Some boats will also run longer trips, heading out in search of big pelagic predators.
We’ve written at length about drift fishing in Fort Lauderdale so we won’t go over it all again here. In short, it’s a great way to reel in some fish if you don’t have enough people for a private trip. However, you don’t get anywhere near as much help as you would on a charter, which can be frustrating for inexperienced anglers.
Where to Fish in Fort Lauderdale
There are hundreds of great fishing spots around Fort Lauderdale. Even if you’re after one specific species, you’re spoiled for choice on where to catch it. To narrow things down, here are the main fishing areas near town:
- Intracoastal Waterway: The main target here is Tarpon, but you can also find Snook, Redfish, Trout, and more. Fish from shore in spots like Hugh Taylor Birch State Park or jump on a boat to reach more secluded areas. Keep an eye out for manatees in the winter!
- Fort Lauderdale Inlet: Another spot that’s great on a boat or from shore. Cast from the jetties on the north side of the inlet for Jacks and Snook. Otherwise, take to the water for even bigger Snook and the added chance of hooking Tarpon, Cobia, and much more.
- Anglin’s Pier: It costs $7.00 to fish from the pier. You can also rent rods and buy bait here. Depending on when you visit, you could catch Snook, Pompano, Permit, Cobia, Bluefish, King and Spanish Mackerel, and more. With so many fish about, something will bite before long.
- Canals: Fort Lauderdale is a maze of canals, most of which are full of fish. Fish around bridges and docks in your nearest canal for Largemouth and Peacock Bass, Snakehead, and Bowfin. You can also find big Snook, Tarpon, Redfish, and more in saltier waters.
- Reefs: There are almost 100 reefs around Fort Lauderdale. You need a boat to reach them, but they’re well worth the journey. Shallow spots hold Yellowtail and Mutton Snapper, Mackerel, and Cobia. Deeper reefs are home to big Snappers, Groupers, Amberjack, and more.
- Gulf Stream: If you’re after real bucket-list fishing, this is the place to go. The Gulf Stream comes right past Fort Lauderdale, bringing Wahoo, Tuna, Mahi Mahi, and Sailfish within 10 miles of the shore. You can even catch Marlin and Swordfish out here!
When to Visit Fort Lauderdale
There’s no bad time to visit Florida’s Gold Coast. The weather’s always warm and the fish are always biting. However, there are a few angling events that you don’t want to miss. At the same time, some species are off-limits for part of the year.
Most tournaments in the Fort Lauderdale area run out of nearby Pompano Beach. The season starts off in February with the Sailfish Challenge, a serious bluewater event with hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes. Expect some fierce rivalry if you sign up for this one.
If you’re looking for something more relaxed, check out the Saltwater Summer Series. Three tournaments run from May to August: the Shootout, Slam, and Showdown. These are more fun-focused events, targeting Kingfish, Mahi Mahi, Wahoo, and Tuna. They still offer plenty of friendly competition, though.
Do you love fishing, charity, and wine? Ever wished that you could enjoy them all at once? Sounds like the Line, Vine, and Dine Tournament is for you. This charitable event benefits local causes with a Billfish tournament and auction. There are no big prizes, but you can expect some seriously good food and plenty of fine wine.
Seasons and Regulations
Before you start reeling in fish, you should be aware of some important closed seasons. Most Grouper species are protected from January 1 to May 1, while Hogfish are closed from November 1 to May 1. Snook have two closures around Fort Lauderdale: December 15 to January 31, and June 1 to August 31. Finally, Tarpon and Goliath Grouper are release-only all year round.
Whenever you visit, make sure you buy a fishing license if you need one. All freshwater anglers aged 16 and up need a license. In saltwater, you don’t need a license on a charter or a licensed pier. Check out our Florida license guide for exceptions and common questions.
Why Fort Lauderdale? Because It’s All on Your Doorstep!
Fort Lauderdale offers some serious variety. Bass, Snook, Tarpon – you don’t even need to leave the city to enjoy the trip of a lifetime. The offshore bite is just as impressive, with deep-water Snappers and even Billfish biting within sight of land. Throw in a large charter fleet and Florida’s famous weather, and you just sorted your vacation plans for the next decade!
Have you ever been fishing in Fort Lauderdale? What did you catch and how? Let us know your stories or drop us a question in the comments below. We look forward to hearing from you!