With fantastic fishing grounds all across the state, Florida is already a great place for any angler. From Mahi Mahi and Red Snapper to Tuna and Tarpon, the Sunshine State has almost every important game fish on offer. But Marlin fishing in Florida is a truly special kind of adventure.
Famous for their size, strength, and spectacular fights, Marlins are not easy to reel in. But once you land your catch, you’ll have a story that you’ll tell for years to come. Read on to find out which species of Marlin you can find in Florida and how to get your hands on them.
Florida Marlin Species
There are two species of Marlin in Florida – White and Blue Marlin. But keep an eye out for the Roundscale Spearfish that looks similar to White Marlin, too. You can distinguish them by their distinct individual scales. The scales of a White Marlin are less noticeable.
White Marlins are the smaller of the two species and the smallest of all the Marlins in the world. They grow to a maximum length of about 9 feet and can weigh up to 180 pounds – so not that small! However, the average size range is between 50 and 83 inches and females are usually larger than males. White Marlins are mostly solitary and only get together in small schools when they’re feeding. They prefer waters that are over 100 feet deep but come to the surface to feed.
If you’ve never fished for Marlin before, White Marlin is a good species to start with. They’re not as big as their relatives, but be aware that they’ll still put up a strong fight. You’ll see them spectacularly leap out of the water to try and escape your hook.
Where can you find White Marlin in Florida? Pretty much anywhere the water is deep enough. White Marlin live in both the Atlantic and the Gulf, so it is just a matter of finding them. Just note that you might just have to go a bit further out on the water in some places.
If you’re looking to pick a bigger fight, Blue Marlin fishing in Florida is for you! The larger females can reach impressive sizes of 16 feet in length from bill to tail and there are reported weights of up to a breathtaking 1,810 pounds. The biggest Blue Marlin weighed under IGFA standards was 1,402 pounds, so still a very hefty catch! Even an average-sized specimen of 250 to 400 pounds is going to be a workout to reel in.
A fight with a Blue Marlin is often very aggressive. They’re known to leap out of the water and they’ll shake their head violently. This makes for a great show, but will also tire you and them out very quickly. So make sure you’re prepared and rest between the bites.
As with White Marlin, you can catch Blue Marlin anywhere off the coast of Florida at depths of 250 feet or more. In general, the best fishing spots for Blue Marlin in Florida are along the 100-fathom curve and, of course, in the Florida Keys. But let’s get into the details of where exactly to fish for both Blue and White Marlin in Florida.
Top Spots for Marlin Fishing in Florida
As we mentioned earlier, both Marlin species live in the Atlantic Ocean as well as the Gulf of Mexico. This means that you can head out to fish for Marlin from any location along the coast of Florida. The most successful spots are drop-offs on the ocean floor, since they offer feeding grounds for a variety of fish. As some locations are closer to good fishing grounds than others, we’ve put together a list of the top spots for you.
- Destin: There is no way to write about fishing in Florida without mentioning Destin. Known as the world’s luckiest fishing village, the town is the closest port to the 100-fathom curve – a 600 foot drop off along the coast of the Gulf. If you’re heading out from here, you’ll have the quickest access to deep-sea fishing and big game species. The Marlin season lasts from May to October, so you’ll have plenty of time to plan your visit.
- St. Augustine: South of Jacksonville, St. Augustine is a great place to head out into the Gulf Stream or fish along the “Rolldown” – a ledge in the ocean floor about 50 miles offshore. April, May, and September are the best months for a visit here, though the only months without recorded Marlin catches are only December and January.
- Palm Beach: Just north of Miami, this coastal town lies at the southern end of an area called “Sailfish Alley.” Migrating Spearfish are funneled along the coast between Fort Pierce and Palm Beach. Warm Gulf Stream waters come close to the shore in Palm Beach, bringing the Marlin with them. Fishing is good for most of the year, but the high season is from April through July.
- Key West: Of course, we can’t forget the Keys – Key West especially, the place where Hemingway wrote about fishing for Blue Marlin. Just 20 miles south of here lies Wood’s Wall. An underwater cliff with fantastic fishing – not only for Marlin, but for Mahi Mahi and other big game as well. Your chances of catching a Blue Marlin here are best around April to July, while White Marlins are more active between June and August.
How to Fish for Marlin
Trolling is usually the most productive and, therefore, most common way to tempt a Marlin to take your bait. To go after Marlin, you can troll with artificial lures, especially when trying to cover a large area. Natural bait, like mackerel, bonito, or barracuda, is also a good choice. If the area that you’re fishing in is on the smaller side, consider using live bait like bonito to get your catch.
Setting up your bait and lures for trolling means imitating a school of bait fish for the Marlin to chase. You do this by spreading out your lures across outriggers on both sides of the boat in a staggered manner. Usually, up to seven lures are pulled behind the boat to attract the attention of a Marlin.
Once the Marlin strikes, the boat will erupt in bustling activity. You can take the rod to the fighting chair, and strap yourself in for the task of reeling in the beast. When you’ve got it to the boat, you’ll usually leave it in the water and release it from the hook to fight another day.
Catching a Marlin on conventional tackle is already a challenging task. If you want to give yourself an even bigger challenge, why not try and hook a Marlin with a fly rod? An achievement like this is usually a team effort, with everyone on board involved. You’ll still be trolling to attract the Marlin to your boat, but with fewer lures.
As soon as the Marlin has picked a lure to chase, the others are pulled from the water. Then the fish is brought in close enough to the boat for the angler to quickly make a cast and replace the lure that the fish has been chasing with a fly. If everything has been done correctly, the Marlin will strike.
Fly fishing for Marlin involves some heavy lifting, so the tackle must be able to withstand some serious weight. You’ll most likely use a 14 or 15 wt rod, which can take some getting used to, so make sure you get some practice with it when you can. Don’t worry too much about a nice-looking cast, as long as you can get the fly where it needs to be.
Anything else I need to know?
With the popularity of Marlin fishing in Florida come a lot of Billfish tournaments. In January, you have the IGFA Light Tackle Open in Palm Beach Shores. April sees the Northeast Florida Marlin Association Bluewater Tournament in St. Augustine. And in July you can participate in the Key West Marlin Tournament.
These are just a few of the many tournaments in which you can test your Marlin fishing skills against other anglers. And we didn’t even get to mention international competitions like the Blue Marlin World Cup!
Rules and Regulations
According to the FWC, the daily bag limit for White and Blue Marlin is one billfish per person. The minimum length for a Blue Marlin is 99 inches measured from the lower jaw to the fork of the tail. For White Marlin, the minimum length is 66 inches.
If you’re keeping your catch, you should report any caught Billfish to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) within 24 hours. You can do so via phone or online. But have a chat with your captain first, to avoid double reports.
Despite this, many captains will strongly recommend the release of any caught Marlins to protect their population. To help them in that endeavor, make sure to not exhaust your fish too much when fighting it, and don’t take it out of the water once you’ve reeled it in. This way, future generations of anglers will be able to enjoy the spectacular Marlin fights as well.
Marlin Fishing in Florida: An Adventure of a Lifetime
Fighting a Marlin is truly a breathtaking experience that inspires anglers all across the globe. And in Florida, you can experience it from any point along the coast. Just hop on a boat and get ready for the fight of a lifetime.
If you’d like to read more, check out our general guide to Marlin fishing.
Have you been fishing for Marlin in Florida? Which technique do you prefer? How was it? Tell us about your experience, or ask any questions you may have in the comments below!