Gulf of Mexico Fishing: The Ultimate Guide
Dec 14, 2020 | 11 minute read
Reading Time: 11 minutes

The Gulf of Mexico is an angling mecca if ever there was one. Making the pilgrimage to this world-famous locale is something that tops most anglers’ bucket lists. Why? It’s a prolific saltwater playground brimming with a host of beloved fish species, and there’s a bounty of inshore, nearshore, and offshore fisheries to explore. Yep, we feel confident saying that your first Gulf of Mexico fishing adventure is something that’ll stay with you for life!

The sun sets over a fishing pier along the Gulf of Mexico

Cradled by five American states, known as the “Gulf States,” this locale has earned itself a place in angling history – and it’s easy to see why. Some anglers are looking to explore the rich shallow inlets, bays, and coastal waters that the Gulf Coast provides. Others want to reef hop further from shore, plumbing the depths of underwater structure for tasty table fare.

Then you have those anglers just brimming with grit and determination, ready to battle notorious big game fish out near the continental shelf. The glory of fishing the Gulf of Mexico is that nothing is off the table. From chasing Redfish to battling Billfish, it’s all waiting for you. Read on to discover our favorite Gulf species, how you can catch ’em, and where you can go…

What can I catch in the Gulf of Mexico?

What a question! A huge part of the reason why the Gulf of Mexico has endured as a top fishing location is the fish you’ll encounter here. Below, we’ve listed some of our favorite catches…

Redfish, Speckled Trout, and Flounder: The Terrific Trio

If you know anything about the Gulf Coast’s inshore fishing opportunities, chances are you’ve seen these names crop up quite a lot. They’re shallow-water royalty, after all, especially in this region.

A woman holds a Redfish aboard a charter on the shallow waters of a bay in the Gulf of Mexico

Thanks to the Gulf Coast’s jaw-dropping number of marshes, bays, and inlets, you’ll find these species anywhere from east Texas to the Florida Keys. Mobile Bay, Galveston Bay, the Ten Thousand Islands, and the Barrier Islands are top spots. Sight fishing is a popular shallow water technique all along the coast, usually paired with light tackle.

A man holds a Speckled Trout aboard an inshore charter, with water and greenery behind him

The beauty of inshore fishing for these species along the Gulf Coast is that anyone can enjoy it! Speckled Trout are a perfect fridge-filling starter species. Redfish put up an impressive fight that even hardened anglers will enjoy. And if you want something a little different, you can indulge in some traditional Texan Flounder gigging.

Snook and Tarpon: Inshore Hard-Fighters

Okay, so you’re looking for some inshore action, but let’s say you want to ramp things up a notch. What could be better than targeting two of the feistiest fish this side of the Gulf?!

A child holds a Snook on a boat with the marshy waters of a Gulf bay behind him

Tarpon and Snook often go hand-in-hand, and it’s easy to see why. They both put up an incredible fight at the end of a line. Reeling one in is definitely a way to earn bragging rights. They’re also easily spooked, which means stealth is of the utmost importance.

The most plentiful spots for these species tend to be in clear, shallow waters. The Florida Keys and the Everglades are popular locations. You’ll also find ’em along the Panhandle and, perhaps surprisingly, in the shallow waters around Mississippi’s Long Beach.

Three men lean from a shallow water vessel to hold a large Tarpon out of the water

The most popular way to chase these fish involves poling quietly across the waters, keeping an eye out for your target. When you spot your fish, it’s game on!

Snapper, Grouper, and Other Reef-Dwellers

The Gulf of Mexico is chock-full of reefs, wrecks, and oil rigs – all of which attract some of the most famous (and often tasty!) species around. Firstly, we have to tip our hat to the Red Snapper. For many anglers, Gulf Coast fishing is synonymous with these beasts.

A man holds a large Red Snapper to the camera with a charter boat and the Gulf behind him

In fact, they’re so popular that they’re subject to strict open seasons. This is especially true of the federal varieties, which tend to be much bigger than their state water counterparts. Make sure you keep an eye out for updates, and book your charter early to avoid disappointment!

It’s not just about Red Snapper, though. From Texas to Florida, the Gulf’s underwater structure are bustling with other Snapper species. Grouper varieties, tough-fighting Cobia and Amberjack, Kingfish, Hogfish, and plenty more join them.

Two men hold a Hogfish on board a charter boat with the Gulf behind them

Looking for a mix of rod-bending action and tasty table fare? A reef-hopping adventure ticks all the boxes. Depending on where you depart from, you may have to spend a full day on the water, but it’s worth it.

Mahi Mahi and Wahoo: Pelagic Predators

The Gulf Coast is perhaps most well-known for the incredible big game angling action it provides. This is thanks, in part, to these two hard-fighting fellas!

A man holds a Mahi Mahi up to the camera on a charter boat with the Gulf of Mexico behind him

The Mahi Mahi is prone to majestic leaps out of the water, whereas the Wahoo is one of the fastest species around – and likes to show off about it, too. Either way, when you find one of these fish at the end of your line, you’ll be in for plenty of fun.

These fish inhabit the waters of the Gulf all along the coast. If you’re looking to save on travel time, Florida’s Gulf Coast is located closer to the deep waters of the continental shelf. This means a much shorter journey out to the hotspots.

Two anglers posing with a nice Wahoo on a boat

No matter where you choose to depart from, you’ll likely be trolling the open waters for your catch, watching and waiting for the reels to start screaming. When they do, it’s all hands on deck – grab your rod and brace yourself!

Tuna and Billfish: A Bluewater Bonanza!

Along with those fish-filled reefs, wrecks, and rigs, the Gulf of Mexico is home to underwater canyons and the deep waters of the continental shelf. And what will you find lurking there?

Two men hold a large Sailfish aboard a fishing charter with the Gulf behind them

Huge Tuna varieties and a whole host of Billfish! Around Mississippi and Florida, Yellowfin Tuna are especially popular, but Blackfin and Bluefin are on offer, too. Sailfish and Marlin are the most sought-after Billfish species all along the coast.

No matter where you depart from, it’s generally best to dedicate a whole day to battling these beasts. Even if the journey is shorter, such as from the Panhandle, you’ll want enough time to troll for and reel in your catch. They don’t give up the fight easily!

A man holding a large Yellowfin Tuna caught while fishing out of Venice, Louisiana

The DeSoto and Mississippi Canyons are popular big game playgrounds, as well as “The Shelf.” This is where the continental shelf drops off and gets seriously deep.

How can I fish the Gulf of Mexico?

The Gulf of Mexico’s fishing opportunities are diverse, so it makes sense that there’s a fair number of ways you can explore these waters. However, the methods that remain a firm favorite along the Gulf Coast are some of the most accessible, for newbies and experienced anglers alike.

From a Boat

Whether you’re trolling in Texas or angling in Alabama, the most popular way to explore these prolific waters is aboard a local charter vessel. The states that border the Gulf are full of captains waiting to take you out on an adventure. There’s a whopping variety of trips on offer, and the level of professionalism shown by local captains remains the same no matter where you fish.

Fishing charters docked at a marina in Tampa, Florida

What does change, however, is the type of fishing vessel you’ll be departing on. Head out on shallow water adventure along the coast or in the bays, and you’ll be expertly guided across your chosen fishery on a skiff or flats boat.

Want to reef hop, or hit the deep waters of the continental shelf? Captains here take pride in their sportfishing machines, which are generally speedy and decked out with all the necessary angling accruements!

A kayak fisherman fishing from his kayak at sunset

Want to head out on a vessel that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish (pun intended!)? You can explore the Gulf’s bays and coastal waters aboard a kayak. You’ll need a fair amount of skill to navigate your kayak, keep an eye out for your fish, and cast a line at the same time. If you’re confident in your abilities, the thrill of hooking a fish completely under your own steam is pretty unbeatable.

From Land

Whether you’re looking to wade the waters, cast a line around the jetties, or fish from a pier, on-foot angling is abundant along the Gulf Coast. You need to be ready to move with the fish and change up spots quickly to get the most out of your day.

The species you’ll be targeting differ depending on where you go. For example, while a Sailfish was once hooked off a 1261-foot-long pier in Florida, smaller piers usually provide access to inshore fish.

Anglers fish off of Texas City Dike

If you’re new to on-foot fishing, the many piers that dot the Gulf Coast are your best bet. Gulf State Park Pier, 90th Street Pier, Venice Fishing Pier, Skyway Fishing Pier, Texas City Dike… Generally, wherever you choose to fish along the Gulf Coast, you’ll find a pier to fish from!

If you have more experience under your belt, you can head to local bridges to fish underneath them, or fish from the beach. Just be aware of local rules.

What are some of the top fishing spots?

A better question would probably be, “Where can’t I cast a line along the Gulf Coast?” We’ve decided to guide you through each Gulf State, highlighting our favorite places. But these are by no means the only hotspots on offer!

Texas

An aerial view of Port Aransas, Texas, at sunset
Port Aransas
  • Port Aransas: Huge Bull Redfish and Speckled Trout are the name of the game on this island city. Hit the grassy inshore patches of the bays for multiple hookups. Looking to head further offshore? The nearshore reefs are a hotspot for juicy Red Snapper. During June–July, federal waters are open for business, which means huge Reds!
  • Galveston Bay: The Gulf empties into this brackish bay, which is often praised as being one of the most beautiful locales along the entire Gulf Coast. You’ll be able to target that trifecta of Redfish, Speckled Trout, and Flounder year-round. And if you’re angling for offshore action? You can hop on a deepwater charter from the southern side of Galveston.
  • South Padre Island: All about getting back to nature on your fishing adventure? Head to South Padre Island in the summer for a spot of wade fishing for Redfish and Speckled Trout. When you’ve had your fill of inshore action, just turn the boat around and you’ll have the open waters of the Gulf at your disposal – along with tasty Snapper and Grouper!

Louisiana

A view of New Orleans' cityscape at sunset
New Orleans
  • Venice: This town has achieved mythical status, and for good reason. Head just a few miles from the coast, and you’ll encounter Mahi Mahi, as well as Grouper, Snapper, Amberjack, and Kingfish. And then there’s the incredible, year-round Yellowfin Tuna action around the rigs. You’ll need to spend at least eight hours on the water, but it’s worth it!
  • New Orleans: If you want to mix up your angling action with some unforgettable on-land excitement, New Orleans is where you need to be. Packed full of bayous, marshes, and estuaries, it’s also the perfect place to experience some of the Gulf’s famous inshore fishing. Speckled Trout, Black Drum, Flounder, and Jack Crevalle are year-round residents.

Mississippi

A serene beach located in Gulfport, MS on a sunny day
One of Gulfport’s beaches
  • Gulfport: This coastal city has it all. Bays, marshes, reefs, wrecks, barrier islands, and the open waters of the Gulf are all at your disposal. You’ll find anything from huge Redfish on an inshore adventure to huge Tuna and a variety of Billfish on an offshore trip. When you’ve had your fill, you can head back to land and try your hand at the slot machines, too!
  • Biloxi: There’s light tackle action aplenty along Biloxi’s shallow coastal waters, reefs and wrecks bustling with tasty bottom fish, and the mighty open waters of the Gulf. You can cast a line off one of the many piers, or spend 12+ hours deep sea fishing for huge Yellowfin Tuna. There’s plenty of charters docked all along its shoreline, so you’ll be spoiled for choice!

Alabama

An aerial view of Orange Beach, AL at Perdido Pass
Orange Beach
  • Orange Beach: The angling action on offer here is one of this city’s biggest tourist attractions. You’ll be able to target prized inshore Gulf species in Perdido Bay, and the nearshore reefs are home to huge Red Snapper. Willing to head up to 120 miles out? Get ready for a Billfish bonanza.
  • Dauphin Island: This locale is perfectly situated right between Mobile Bay and the open waters of the Gulf. It’s a great starting point no matter whether you want to chase Redfish in the shallows, reef hop for huge Snapper and Grouper, or head further offshore for Billfish, Mahi Mahi, and many more!

Florida

An aerial view of Destin, FL's cityscape, showing the Gulf to the left
Destin
  • Destin: Located in Florida’s Panhandle region, this city is a real staple of fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Located close to the Continental Shelf, you’ll find waters as deep as 600 feet just 10–12 miles from shore. What does this mean? Monster Mahi Mahi, Grouper, Snapper, Cobia, and more. Pier fishing is also popular – a Sailfish was even caught from Okaloosa Island Pier!
  • Tampa: If you’re looking for family-friendly light tackle action, Tampa Bay offers up plenty of Redfish, Tarpon, and Snook, especially during the summer. The reefs and wrecks are brimming with Permit, and if you head out onto the open waters of the Gulf, you’ll be rewarded with Mahi Mahi, Tuna, Wahoo, and many more.
  • The Keys: Depart from the northern side of the Keys and you’ll be greeted with unparalleled access to the Gulf of Mexico. Expect to target a whole host of Florida-famous inshore, nearshore, and offshore species. There’s Tarpon, Bonefish, Snapper and Grouper, Mahi Mahi, Tuna, and plenty more to cast a line for…
  • Pensacola: Want to return from your Gulf of Mexico fishing trip with a trophy-sized Red Snapper? Head to Pensacola, which is known as the “Red Snapper Capital of the World!” Head to the reefs for this prized fish, as well as other Snapper and Grouper. If you have time to spare, you’ll find hard-fighting Mahi Mahi and more around 30 miles from shore.

Anything else I need to know?

Fishing Tournaments

A close-up of a Marlin half-pulled out of the water on a fishing line

There’s a whopping variety of tournaments to indulge in if you want to take your Gulf of Mexico fishing adventure to the next level. Here are just a few of the best:

Rules and Regulations

Depending on where you choose to embark on your Gulf of Mexico fishing adventure, the rules differ slightly. Below, we’ve outlined our guides to getting a fishing license in the Gulf States, bar Mississippi:

In Mississippi, anglers between the age of 16–65 require a valid fishing license to cast a line in the Gulf. If you’re fishing with a local captain, however, this will be covered for you.

The Gulf of Mexico: An Angling Mecca

So there you have it. Hopefully, a Gulf of Mexico fishing adventure has jumped to the top of your bucket list, and you’re ready to make the pilgrimage to these waters.

The sun sets on a fishing pier in Naples along the USA's Gulf Coast

While the opportunities on offer here are so diverse, one thing remains the same throughout – you’ll experience some of the best fishing action of your life. Grab your rods and reels, and come discover why the Gulf of Mexico has rightfully earned itself a place in angling history!

Have you ever fished the Gulf of Mexico? Where did you go? Did you head offshore, or cast a line in the shallows? Any tips or tricks to share? Let us know – we love hearing from you!

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