Nowhere on earth compares to Florida when it comes to sportfishing. The state splits the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the deep blue of the Atlantic Ocean, with endless lakes and rivers between them. It’s just perfect. In fact, with such awesome angling, it must be tough to choose one Florida state fish.
Clearly, it is, because there isn’t just one state fish of Florida. The Sunshine State couldn’t choose between incredible deep sea fishing and an unbeatable freshwater bite, so it went for the best of both: Largemouth Bass and Atlantic Sailfish. Here’s a run-down of what they are, when to catch them, and what makes Florida such a great place to do so.
Freshwater State Fish: Largemouth Bass
You don’t need three tries to guess Florida’s freshwater favorite. Largemouth Bass are arguably the most popular game fish in America, and Florida’s warm, murky waters are home to some of the largest lunkers out there. In fact, Florida Largemouth Bass grow faster and fatter than your average fish, leading some people to see them as a specific sub-species.
The state record for Florida Largemouth Bass is 17 pounds, 4 ounces. However, the state also recognizes an earlier catch of over 20 pounds, which it can’t officially count because an FWC agent didn’t inspect the fish. Whichever one you take, it’s clear that there are some real monsters lurking in these waters.
Of course, your average catch isn’t going to be this big, but it would still be considered a trophy elsewhere. Fish in the 6–8 lb range are commonplace, and you can realistically hope for double digits on a good day. You’d better beef up your gear if you’re used to fishing farther north.
When and Where?
The general rule is: The farther south you go, the bigger the fish get. Southern waters like the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, and the Harris Chain of Lakes are serious Black Bass hotspots. Northern spots like Lake George and Lake Talquin are also outstanding, though.
There’s never a bad time to target Largemouth Bass in Florida – it’s just even better than usual sometimes. In general, the spring months of March–May offer the best Bass bite state-wide. In South Florida, the waters stay warmer longer, so you can also enjoy grade-A action from September through the end of the year.
Saltwater State Fish: Atlantic Sailfish
Sailfishing in Florida has been iconic since the days of Hemingway. However, it’s more than branding that earns them a spot as a Florida state fish. You’d be hard-pressed to find any fish that looks more dramatic or puts on more of a show. They jump. They run. They use their tail to “walk” across the surface of the water. In short, they use every trick in the book to try and throw the hook.
The Florida Sailfish record sits at an incredible 126 pounds. This monster was caught off Big Pine Key, down in the Lower Florida Keys. We’re not talking about some relic of a bygone age, mind you. It was only caught in 2009, so there’s a good chance of even bigger fish still waiting for some lucky angler to cast their way.
There are monsters out there, for sure, but the average catch isn’t nearly as big. Most Sailfish caught in Florida measure around 6–7 feet and weigh somewhere in the 30–40 lb range. That being said, even a 30-pounder is more than capable of putting you through your paces if you’re not prepared.
When and Where?
The best Sailfish bite on the mainland is along the Gold Coast, in Southeast Florida. Fish come within a couple of miles of shore as they funnel through the infamous “Sailfish Alley.” In the south, Miami’s high season runs from November–December and again from February–May. Farther north, Stuart has a long run from November–March and a second, short run in July.
Of course, the other great place to catch monster Sails is in the Keys. Key West arguably has the best bite (hence Hemingway moved there), but you can find monster Billfish along the entire length of the island chain. There’s only one high season here. It runs from November–February, with the hottest action in the cold months of December and January.
Florida State Fish: Double the Fish, Double the Fun
They say that you could spend your whole life fishing in Florida and still just scratch the surface. The state’s two signature species really do prove that. From the deep blue of the Gulf Stream to the weedy shallows of the inland lakes, you’re never far from some incredible angling in the Sunshine State.
Have you ever caught a Largemouth Bass in Florida? Ever fought a Sailfish? What are your favorite spots for each species? Let us know in the comments below!