Offshore Fishing in Florida
It’s no wonder why Florida offshore fishing has captivated anglers from far and wide. You’ll find world class sportfishing everywhere you turn, whether it’s the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, or the Straits of Florida.
A collection of wrecks and reefs and the warm underwater current of the Gulf Stream host game fish large and small, from Snapper and Grouper to Marlin. Add to that Florida’s world famous sunshine and you have the recipe for a saltwater fishing paradise.
What to Catch and When
The waters surrounding The Sunshine State will keep you busy year-round. Bottom fish like Snapper and Grouper are always biting, anywhere from the deep sea to the wrecks and reefs just minutes from the dock.
If you’re after a big game trophy, it’s best to head out between spring and fall. These warmer months see large numbers of sport fish like Marlin, Mahi Mahi, and Tuna. On the other hand, you’ll find Sailfish and Wahoo off the south coast in winter.
Every part of this state has something special to offer, you just need to be in the right place at the right time. Of course, this is no secret to the avid angler, which is why you’ll find countless Florida offshore fishing charters to help you make the most of it!
Local fishermen will tell you that Florida’s Gulf coast affords some of the best weather in the state. Panama City, Naples, Tampa, Clearwater, St. Pete Beach, Sarasota, and other destinations on this coast provide the perfect opportunity for some serious sport fishing 20+ miles offshore. Even when the weather doesn’t cooperate, you’ll find excellent bottom fishing within state waters, just nine miles out.
Considered the Grouper capital of the world, there may be no better place for bottom fishing than right here on the west coast of Florida. You can also catch for Hogfish, various kinds of Snapper, and other bottom dwellers throughout much of the year.
Keep in mind that many Grouper species see seasonal closures, as do Red Snapper and Triggerfish. Red Snapper season typically opens for a couple of months in June or July. This is when the season for Gag Grouper also opens, usually for the rest of the year. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission posts these regulations and more online each year.
The best time to target pelagic game fish in the Gulf is between March and November, when you can find King Mackerel, Spanish Mackerel, Barracuda, Tuna, Sailfish, Bonito, and Sharks ready for the taking. In some months, you may even catch Wahoo and Mahi Mahi on a half day trip.
For a chance to catch the biggest and most prestigious fish in these waters, plan on a trip of eight hours or more. A full day trip will take you 25 miles out and beyond, where you can cast lines for Amberjack, Blackfin Tuna, and possibly Sailfish.
For some of the best deep sea fishing in Florida, charter a trip to the Bluewater 45+ miles offshore (often 10 hours or more). Fishing out here will bring you Wahoo, Marlin, Sailfish, Tuna, Mahi Mahi, and Swordfish. If you head out of Destin, Pensacola, and other destinations along the Panhandle you’ll reach deep water even sooner, meaning you can catch these deep sea pelagics on a shorter trip.
While Florida’s west coast is known for unparalleled bottom fishing, the Atlantic side offers quick access to some intense big game fishing. St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, Port Canaveral, Fort Lauderdale, Jupiter, Stuart, and Miami are just a few of the hot spots you should add to your list. Fishing from many of these destinations will have you hooking into a pelagic prize within minutes of leaving the dock.
State waters on the Atlantic side of Florida stretch just three miles offshore—and in some cases, you won’t need to travel any farther than that for a chance to bring home bragging rights. Toward the south of Florida, the warm current of the Gulf Stream can come as close as 2-5 miles from shore, carrying large pelagic fish with it. This is why you’ll find anglers from Stuart to Miami fishing for Sailfish just 3 miles from shore in winter months!
A typical half day trip on this side of the state will see you fishing anywhere from half a mile to 20 miles offshore. You can enjoy a steady catch of various Snapper and Grouper throughout the year. In warmer months, these waters host King Mackerel, Cobia, Barracuda, Bonito, Sharks, and the occasional Mahi Mahi. If you’re lucky, you may even catch the odd Sailfish, Tarpon, Wahoo, or Blackfin Tuna this close to shore.
Full day trips take you into deeper water, where you can target Amberjack, Mahi Mahi, Wahoo, and Sailfish along with Snapper and Grouper. Depending on where you fish, you’re likely to see these species peaking in spring and again in fall. The farther south you travel, the more productive the fishing becomes in winter months.
The Keys are home to some of the best fishing in Florida, whether you plan on hitting the reefs or the open water offshore. With the reef line running roughly 4 miles from the coast, you can take advantage of these abundant waters year-round, often within minutes of leaving the dock.
Yellowtail Snapper, Grouper, Pompano, Cobia, Barracuda, Mackerel, and even Sailfish flock to the wrecks and reefs surrounding the Keys. The prime time for this fishery runs from October through April, and you can make the most of it whether you're fishing for a few hours or a full day (of course, local captains recommend a full day trip for a chance to catch more fish).
If your sights are set on the open waters, rest assured this little corner of the sea has something spectacular to offer no matter the season. Fishing between April and September is the perfect chance to land a Mahi Mahi, whereas Sailfish are consistently caught between November and March. In winter months you’ll also have a fair chance at landing Tuna, Wahoo, and much more.
For one of the most sought-after Billfish known to sport fishermen, book yourself a Swordfishing charter. You might catch this prize any time of year, but locals recommend fishing between May and November, when the waters are at their calmest. In the Keys you can target Swordfish just 25-45 miles offshore. Daytime and nighttime specialty charters for this species are both available.
How to Fish
When it comes to offshore fishing in Florida, there’s no technique more tried and true than live bait trolling. This method will help you catch a wide variety of species, from Mahi Mahi, Barracuda, and Kingfish to Marlin. Depending on your target fish, Ballyhoo is a common choice of bait in addition to a variety of lures.
Many consider reef fishing to mean bottom fishing, but this tactic involves much more. While fishing in the Keys, where a large variety of bottom fish and pelagic fish gather near the wrecks and reefs, you might find yourself bottom fishing, jigging, trolling, kite fishing, or even sight fishing.
Castling lines near the reefs will bring you Snapper, Grouper, Mackerel, Jacks, Pompano, Barracuda, Sharks, and Cobia. In the Keys, you might even hook into a Wahoo or Sailfish while you’re at it!
Bait for bottom fishing includes Pinfish, Mullet, Sardines, and frozen Squid. It’s common to target Snapper and Grouper with cut bait, though live bait may be more effective if you find yourself casting lines in a heavily fished area.
There are several ways to catch Sailfish, but kite fishing with live bait (Ballyhoo or Mullet) tends to be the method of choice. This technique can even catch multiple fish at once.
You can also sight fish, drift fish, or slow troll for Sailfish. For exceptional Sailfishing, head to Miami, Jupiter, Stuart, or the Keys.
While Swordfishing in the Keys, you are likely to cast your line in 1,500-1,800 feet of water. Targeting this trophy involves a hand crank or an electric reel (often both) and you can expect the fight to last anywhere from 15 minutes to an entire day.
In the Gulf, you might target Swordfish 500-1,000 feet below, typically 60+ miles offshore.
Top Targeted Offshore Fishing Species in Florida
- Size 10 to 20lbs
- Food Value Average
- Game Qualities Average
- Habitats Inshore, Nearshore, Offshore, Reef, Wreck
- Size 10 to 30lbs
- Food Value Good
- Game Qualities Good
- Habitats Inshore, Nearshore, Offshore, Reef, Wreck
What People Are Saying About Offshore Fishing in Florida
"5 hr offshore trip with Capt. Joseph "
We went 3-9 miles offshore and caught a ton of fish in every spot Capt Jospeh took us to! We had an awesome time with an experienced captain, beautiful weather, and super strong fish!
"Split with Jake"
Took my son on a half day. Got to go offshore and troll then hit the reef on the way back in. Jake was awesome.
"Half day with Captain Willie "
Great day on the water with Captain Willie. We were inshore and hooked up on some bonito and blue runners and lost a sailfish, but all well executed and aligning us for success the whole day. Headed offshore on the hunt for dolphin, while we found a couple small ones, nothing big, but Captain Willie guided us through everything and explained everything in detail. Again, a great day on the water.