Family Sciaenidae, DRUMS
Description: high arched back; 10 to 14 pairs of chin barbels; gray or black colored body in adults; young have 4 to 6 vertical bars; has cobblestone-like teeth capable of crushing oysters; scales large.
Similar Fish: the vertical bars on juvenile black drum are somewhat similar to those on sheepshead, Archosargus probatocephalus; spadefish, Chaetodipterus faber; red drum, Sciaenops ocellatus.
Where found: INSHORE fish common to bays and lagoons; bottom dweller often found around oyster beds; also OFFSHORE.
Size: common to 30 pounds.
*Florida Record: 93 lbs.
Remarks: largest member of the drum family; spawns NEARSHORE in winter and early spring; feeds on oysters, mussels, crabs, shrimp and occasionally fish; longevity to 35 or more years.
* The Florida records quoted are from the Department of Environmental Protection's printed publication, Fishing Lines and are not necessarily the most current ones. The records are provided as only as a benchmark.
Family Serranidae, SEA BASSES AND GROUPER
Description: olive or gray body coloration with black blotches and brassy spots; gently rounded preopercle.
Similar Fish: gag M. microlepis; yellowfin grouper, M. venenosa.
Where found: OFFSHORE species; adults associated with rocky bottoms, reef, and drop off walls in water over 60 feet deep; young may occur INSHORE in shallow water.
Size: common to 40 pounds, may attain weights exceeding 100 pounds.
Florida Record: no Florida record because of identity confusion with gag, which are mistakenly called "black grouper.
Remarks: spawns between May and August; protogynous hermaphrodites, young predominantly female, transforming into males as they grow larger; larger individuals generally in greater depths; feeds on fish and squid.
Family Serranidae, SEA BASSES AND GROUPER
Description: basic color dark brown or black; dorsal fin has rows and stripes of white on black; large males have irridescent blue and ebony markings, and fatty hump in front of dorsal fin; females may have indistinct vertical barrings; topmost ray of caudal fin much elongated in adults; caudal may be tri-lobed; sharp spine near posterior margin of gill cover.
Similar Fish: bank sea bass C. ocyurus; other Centropristis.
Where found: structure-loving fish, associated with reefs and rubble OFFSHORE; smaller specimens often found INSHORE finger channels.
Size: common to 1.5 pounds (13 inches).
*Florida Record: 5 lbs., 1 oz.
Remarks: spawns January through March; protogynous hermaphrodites, older females becoming breeding males; omnivorous bottom feeders, diet including small fish, crustaceans, and shellfish.
Family Pomatomidae, BLUEFISHES Pomatomus saltatrix
Description: color blue or greenish blue on back, sides silvery; mouth large; teeth prominent, sharp, and compressed; dorsal and anal fins nearly the same size; scales small; lateral line almost straight.
Similar Fish: blue runner, C. crysos.
Where found: young usually INSHORE spring and summer, moving OFFSHORE to join adults fall and winter; strong migration of northeast Atlantic stock to Florida east coast in winter.
Size: most west coast catches under 3 pounds, much larger on east coast.
Florida Record: 22 lbs., 3 oz.
Remarks: travels in large schools, following schools of baitfish; cannibalistic; all members of a given school about the same size; spawning occurs OFFSHORE in spring and summer.
Photo Above: We caught this Bluefish in New Pass, not far from our dock. It was 36 inches long and weighed 18 pounds. This was a very large blue for Florida! The average size for Florida bluefish is about three pounds and a large fish may go six pounds.
General: A wide ranging pelagic species which travels in large schools. Predatory and very voracious; schools of bluefish destroy large school of anchovies, mackerel, etc. The bluefish is a favorite hard-biting sport fish and also an important commercial species. Bluefish have a strong flavor but is eaten by many who love stronger testing fish.
Size: Up to 48 in, 31 lb. The average for the north east coast is 10-15 lbs.
Distribution: Worldwide in warm seas; may be found in the open sea, off ocean beaches, and in estuaries.
Cero, cero mackerel, painted mackerel
The cero is an elongate, strongly compressed member of the Scombrid family that reaches 32 inches (81 cm) in length and may weigh up to 5 kg (11 pounds), though most average under 3 kg (6 pounds). Body color is typically dark blue to blue-green dorsally, becoming silver along the sides and ventrally. Similar to the Spanish mackerel, but with a yellow lateral stripe.
The spinous portion of the dorsal fin is separated from the soft rays by a deep notch. The first dorsal fin is black in the anterior third and white posteriorly. The second dorsal fin is somewhat falcate. Yellow to yellow-orange spots form ovals and streak-like lines on either side of a yellow-brown stripe that runs laterally from the pectoral fins to the base of the caudal fin. The lateral line curves downward at the second dorsal fin and oscillates somewhat as it extends to the narrow caudal peduncle, which has 3 keels on each side. Eight to nine finlets are set behind both the second dorsal fin and the anal fin. The caudal fin is deeply forked. Scales cover the entire body, including the pectoral fins. The head slopes gently to a short snout, and a large, terminal mouth. The maxilla reaches the rear edge of the eye. No swim bladder is present.
Family Rachycentridae, Cobia
70 pound cobia Description: long, slim fish with broad depressed head; lower jaw projects past upper jaw; dark lateral stripe extends through eye to tail; first dorsal fin comprised of 7 to 9 free spines; when young, has conspicuous alternating black and white horizontal stripes.
Similar Fish: remora, Echeneis naucrates.
Where found: both INSHORE and NEARSHORE inhabiting inlets, bays, and among mangroves; frequently seen around buoys, pilings, and wrecks.
Size: common to 30 pounds, up to 150 lbs.
Distribution: Worldwide in tropical and subtropical seas, and in warm temperate seas.
General: A very powerful sport fish well known in Atlantic and Indo-Pacific seas. It often frequents shallow coastal waters throughout its range. Food consists of shrimp, squids, a variety of fish, and crabs from which it earns one of its popular names. As a sport fish the cobia may be caught either by surface trolling or deepwater lure and bait fishing along with plug and jig casting. An excellent table fish, raw or cooked.
This is a 70 pound Cobia that was caught by the Joe Nohra family on the 13th of June. We were in 25 feet of water catching herring for bait when he came up to the boat. I dropped a live herring over the side attached to a 20 lb. test spinning rod rigged for tarpon. The cobia made about six circles under the boat and behind the motor before he took the bait. Then he would have emptied the spool of line if I did not run after him. About 25 minutes later and a few turns at the rod they landed him. This was a very large cobia to be that close to the beach but it is not the first one. 40 pounds is considered to be large along the beach in this area. The way most of the big fish are caught is by being ready when they come along. If you only fished for them it could get boring. It would sound impressive if I was hawking my goods but the big ones are usually a bye-catch.
Family Carangidae, JACKS and POMPANOS Trachinotus carolinus
Description: greenish gray on back, shading to silvery sides; fish in dark waters showing gold on throat, pelvic, and anal fins; deep flattened body with small mouth; no scutes; 22 to 27 soft dorsal rays; 20 to 23 soft anal rays; origin of anal fin slightly behind origin of second dorsal.
Similar Fish: permit, T. falcatus, palometa, T. goodei. The permit is deeper bodied; dorsal body profile not strongly angled at insertion of second dorsal fin; pompano rarely grow larger than 6 pounds, permit common to 40 pounds.
Where found: INSHORE and NEARSHORE waters, especially along sandy beaches, along oyster banks, and over grass-beds, often in turbid water; may be found in water as deep as 130 feet.
Size: usually less than 3 pounds.
Florida Record: 8 lbs., 1 oz.
Remarks: spawns OFFSHORE between March and September; feeds on mollusks and crustaceans, especially sand fleas; local movements are influenced by the tide, and seasonal movements are influenced by temperature.
Feeding: only on crustacean like sand fleas, shrimp and small crabs. For artificial bait, a 1/4 -1/2 ounce jig with a short tail, not longer than the bend of the hook is preferred. Yellow is the most popular color and white would be the second best. Tipping the hook with a whole sand flea or a small piece of shrimp will improve your fishing. Bounce the jigs along a sandy bottom or just above the grass. Bouncing the jigs on a sandy bottom will simulate crabs digging in and kicking the sand up.
The pompano in the photo, (top left), was caught by Pat Ricciardi of Longboat Key. She caught the fish on the grass flats with live shrimp. At four pounds, this is a better than average size pompano for Sarasota Bay. The average pompano would be 2-3 pounds.
Pompano are highly valued and found in only the best restaurants but it is a fatty fish and should not be fried. The flesh is firm and has a distinct flavor that some do not care for but others love.
Family: Serranidae, SEA BASSES AND GROUPER
The gag grouper (Mycteroperca microlepis) is a drab, mottled gray fish lacking the distinguishing features of other groupers. It has a pattern of markings which resemble the box-shaped spots of the black grouper. It lacks the streamer-points on the tail fin that scamp (Mycteroperca phenax) and Yellowmouth grouper (Mycteroperca interstitialis) have and lacks yellow coloration around the mouth.
Ten- to twenty-pound (5 to 10 kg) fish are common. The world record is 80 lb. 6 oz. (36.45 kg). The gag grouper is a bottom feeder and is often caught by fishermen seeking bottom-dwelling species such as snappers. It has flaky white meat that is considered quite delicious.
Members of this species are known to be (protogynous hermaphrodites), schooling in harems with the most aggressive and largest females shifting sex to male, probably as a result of behavioral triggers, when there is no male available. Commercial and sport fishing have created tremendous selective pressures against the largest animals, typically male, restricting the reproductive capacity of the entire breeding population. Recently, a small closure in the Gulf of Mexico was established to provide this and other species a refuge from commercial fishing pressure, however, this data is highly in dispute and is currently being challenged for inaccuracies. They are found in hard bottom with an uneven bottom. Things they like are ledges, rocks, coral reefs, etc. They also like structure, like wrecks, artificial reefs, and sunken barges.
Similar Fish: black grouper M. bonaci.
Where found: adults OFFSHORE over rocks and reefs; juveniles occur in sea grass beds INSHORE.
Remarks: forms spawning aggregations in water no shallower than 120 feet in Middle Grounds area, January through March; current research to identify similar aggregations off Atlantic coast is ongoing. Young gags are predominantly female, transforming into males as they grow larger; feeds on fish and squid. The gag has its home in shallow, coastal waters and on the banks and reefs.
The gag grouper looks and taste very similar to black grouper and you will find both sold under the same name "Black". Gag grouper tend to be a coastal fish, while large black grouper can be found at more than six hundred feet, but the smaller black grouper are often found it shallow water and it takes an experienced eye to tell the difference.
Distribution: Southern part of the western Atlantic, north to North Carolina.
IGFA: all-tackle record is 80.6 lbs. caught in Florida.
Family Serranidae, SEA BASSES AND GROUPER Epinephelus itajara
Other common name: Spotted jewfish.
Description: head and fins covered with small black spots; irregular dark and vertical bars present on the sides of body; pectoral and caudal fins rounded; first dorsal fin shorter than and not separated from second dorsal; adults huge, up to 800 pounds; eyes small, largest of the groupers.
Similar Fish: other grouper.
Where found: NEARSHORE often around docks, in deep holes, and on ledges; young often occur in estuaries, especially around oyster bars; more abundant in southern Florida than in northern waters.
Remarks: spawns over summer months; life-span of 30 to 50 years; feeds on crustaceans and fish. NOTE: jewfish are totally protected from harvest in Florida waters.
Distribution: West Atlantic, tropical and subtropical coastal waters, ranging Florida, West Indies, South America, Indo-Pacific.
IGFA All tackle: 680 lb., Fernandina Beach, Florida.
General: The common name "jewfish" is a name loosely applied to several unrelated fish with worldwide distribution. A powerful bottom-dwelling fighter and an excellent food fish.
Family Lutjanidae, SNAPPERS Lutjanus griseus
Description: color dark brown or gray with reddish or orange spots in rows along the sides; dark horizontal band from snout through eye (young only); two conspicuous canine teeth at front of upper jaw; dorsal fins have dark or reddish borders; no dark spot on side underneath dorsal fin.
Similar Fish: cubera snapper, L. cyanopterus.
Where found: juveniles INSHORE in tidal creeks, mangroves, and grass beds; adults generally NEARSHORE or OFFSHORE on coral or rocky reefs.
Size: offshore catches common 2 to 6 pounds.
Florida Record: 16 lbs., 8 oz.
Remarks: spawns June through August; feeds on crustaceans and small fish.
Light tackle, live bait or small jigs are a must if you want good numbers of gray snapper. Eight to twelve pound test line is a good match. A small lead or jig of a quarter ounce is best but no more than a half ounce when the current is strong. You must have patience for the slow descent of your bait. I like to use light leader material, twenty to thirty pound test mono with a small hook size 2, 1, 1/0 with a small lead attached just above the eye of the hook. Slowly bounce this on the bottom as you would a jig. Some areas in Florida, like my home town of Hollywood, have much larger Mangrove (gray) snapper along the beach in September, so you would need to beef up your tackle.
With a little bit more skill, using small jigs can be deadly and more economical. You can tip them with pieces of shrimp or small, fresh, dead pilchards or glass minnows. Again, bounce the jig on the bottom. If fishing in heavy structure, you must lock your drag. Letting the fish run is not an option. The exception to this is when fishing with cut bait along the beach or any sandy bottom with little or no structure. Snapper like to drag and drop the cut bait once before taking it. You should let him take line the first time and set the hook when he picks it up the second time.
Summer Snapper in Sarasota:
During the summer, you can find plenty of keeper size snapper on the bay and larger snapper as you move offshore. Inshore snapper fishing usually peeks in September. You can find them around most structures and along the beach. A couple of hot spots in the past have been the Twin Bridges just west of Bird Key and the south side of Big Pass. You will need to fish the tides and catch the current before it gets too strong.
Of course, snapper may not always be on a particular reef or in that depth of water or maybe they are just not on the bite at that time. Before I move off of a structure, I fish both sides of the structure by adjusting my anchor line. Also, the catching of other fish like grunts may stimulate or draw the snapper in.
I am always glad to see Key West grunts on the structure! Finding Key West grunts on the bite tells me that the structure has potential for snapper or grouper fishing. If I find an abundance of Tomtate grunts, I move out of the area all together. If there is an abundance of triggerfish, I know I will never get a bait down to the fish I want. If I find only sand perch, I know I missed the structure all together and need to remark it.
I need to add that Key West grunts are just as good if not better to eat as gray snapper and that triggerfish and sand perch are also good. It is just a matter of size. On the other hand, Tomtate grunts are just bad news to me.
If you need to go to cut bait, catch your own by using a Gold Hook Bait rig. You can often find schools of cigar minnows, Spanish sardines and other baitfish offshore. Fresh Bait Rules.
Of course if you find larger fish like keeper size grouper on the structure, you will need to beef up your rigging.
Live shrimp is best for snapper but economically speaking, sometimes you would be better off to have eaten the shrimp than what you had caught. Chumming for snapper works very well in some areas but here I find that it may attract too many of the wrong species, triggerfish and/or pinfish etc. Having large clouds of triggerfish under your boat makes it very hard to get a bait to the snapper.
Another method is one I grew up with on the South East coast of Florida, (not for Sarasota). It was surf fishing with cut bait (Mullet) along the beaches at night or during first light. Here you want to use a sliding sinker rig, probably a 3 oz. pyramid for casting and holding the bottom. First the snapper like to grab the end of the cut bait and run with it for a short distance and then they will drop it. They will soon come back and take the whole bait with the hook on a second run. Then you can set the hook. September was the best time to fish for snapper in the surf. I would fish first light just south of Port Everglades for snapper averaging between 4 to 10 pounds. When the sun hit me in the eyes, the bite was over.
You need to use caution when handling these fish. They are called snapper for a reason, they bite! They can lunge forward even when being held (faster than the eye can see). They have two canine like teeth that can easily pierce a finger nail and they won't let go. I often needed to use a screw driver to pry open there mouth to get myself or someone else loose.
Food value: Very good, lean white flesh and can be prepared in any fashion you like.
Sometimes it has a strong reddish hue that causes people to mistakenly call it a red snapper.
Family Sciaenidae, DRUMS - Cynoscion regalis
Description: dark olive or blue-green back; sides covered in tones of blue, purple, lavender, gold and copper; irregular diagonal rows of vaguely-defined dark spots appear above the lateral line; 1 to 2 prominent canine teeth usually present at tip of upper jaw; black margin on tip of the tongue; pelvic and anal fins yellow; pectoral fins olive on outside, yellow underneath; mouth yellow inside.
Similar Fish: other seatrout.
Where found: an Atlantic coast fish, possibly found in the extreme southeastern Gulf; adults move INSHORE and north during warm months inhabiting the surf, inlets, bays, channels and estuaries; adults move OFFSHORE and south during cold months; juveniles inhabit estuaries which serve as nurseries.
Size: 2 to 3 pounds.
*Florida Record: 10 lbs.
Remarks: may mature as early as age 1; spawns in NEARSHORE or estuarine areas between April and October; schooling fish; feeds primarily on shrimp and fish.
Barracuda fishing with my daughter, CindyGeneral: The great barracuda is the largest of twenty or so barracuda species that form a worldwide distribution. TheyBarracuda fishing in Sarasota Florida are eagerly sought by anglers wherever they are found.
Fishing for Barracuda: Most barracuda are probably caught while trolling for other species and are unwanted by most fishermen who have their sights set on something grander. As with other species of the same size, trolling leaves a lot to be desired in how well the fish can fight.
Casting to barracuda with live or artificial baits on twelve to fifteen pound test line is an awesome sport. Their surface strike is explosive, their jumping acrobats are chaotic and their runs are strong and unpredictable. They are about the smartest fish that I know of. They are always watching you, in the water or out. They may lay under your boat and wait, striking only the better fish like a snapper or mackerel, letting the jacks and grunts go by.
I use live sardines and herring free lining them out on a 5/0 hook and a 6" light wire leader. Sometimes they will only hit the bait on the first run or I may need to take the wire leader off to get them started. My favorite way to fish them is with a tube lure when the water is flat calm and you can sight fish them. I use bright pink or green and retrieve the lure as fast as I can. They will strike with a roar and an explosion of water you seldom see. In this area, you can find barracuda all over the Gulf but they stack up in large numbers over the artificial reefs in 40 to 60 feet of water for most of the summer. The average size is about 15 to 20 pounds but it is not uncommon to get a 30 pounder.
People do eat them here and call them "Poor Man's Grouper". In some areas they can be poisonous to eat due to Ciguatera fish poison but we don't seem to have that in this area. I don't eat them because I don't like the smell from their slime when they are put in the fish box. I must also admit that the word "poisonous" used in any context with my food is a deterrent to my appetite.
Size: Up to 6 ft. but the average fish is much smaller.
IGFA ALL TACKLE: 85 lb.
Distribution: World-wide in tropical and subtropical waters.
Family Sciaenidae, DRUMS
Description: similar to the Southern Kingfish but caudal fin has a blackish tip; side silvery, without dark marks; tip of spinous dorsal fin often dusky; lining of gill cavity silvery; scales on chest noticeably smaller than those on side.
Size: to 46 centimeters (18 inches)
Where found: at water's edge, in surf
Other Names: Channel Mullet, Black Mullet, Sea Mullet, Ground Mullet, King Whiting, Whiting, Southern Whiting, Southern King Croaker, Southern Kingfish
Range & Habitat: This species is found Gulf-wide on sand and sandy-mud bottoms inshore in estuaries and offshore out to depths of about 30 feet.
Identification & Biology:
While many of its local names refer to both this fish and the Gulf kingfish as 'mullets', they are not mullets at all, but elongated members of the drum family. The body of the southern kingfish is somewhat triangular in cross-section and a single rigid barbel is located under the chin. Its background color is silvery gray to grayish-tan, and is heavily overlaid by darker bars.
Southern kingfish are bottom-feeders, preying on shrimp, crabs, worms, small fishes, amphipods, and crustacean larvae. They typically spawn offshore during the summer months, and depend upon tides and currents to carry their larvae into the estuaries they need to thrive and grow. Its small underslung mouth makes it very difficult to hook with artificial lures. Anglers pursuing kingfish do best with small hooks and natural baits.
Size: Can reach 16 inches and 2 pounds, but most average under 1 pound.
Food Value: Excellent, one of the firmest-fleshed fish in the drum family. When filleted, it has a high meat yield.
Family Labridae, WRASSES
Description: body deep, strongly compressed; color varies, but never bi-colored; usually reddish, sometimes bright brick red; soft dorsal fin with a large dark spot at base; entire top of head nape purplish brown in lare males; this patch of color continuous with blackish area that extends along entire base of dorsal fin; large blackish crescent through base of caudal fin; pelvic fin with dusky tip; 14 spines in dorsal fin - first 3 elongate, bladelike; rays at front of soft dorsal and anal fins and lower lobes of caudal fin elongate; mouth very protrusible
Size: to 91 centimeters (3 feet)
The hogfish has a long, pig-like snout, and protrusible jaws with thick lips and strong canine teeth. The first three spines of the dorsal fin, as well as the upper and lower tips of the caudal fin, are extended into long filaments. Color is highly variable and changes with size. The scales on the back are often edged in yellow, and a dark spot is at the rear base of the dorsal fin. This spot disappears with age. Males possess a dark oblique band that covers the top portion of the head, extending to the tip of the snout. Juveniles are much lighter in color overall, usually of a pink or gray with white mottling along the sides.
Hogfish is most commonly found throughout the Caribbean, although its entire distribution is from North Carolina to Bermuda and the northern coast of South America. Usually hogfish are found in loose aggregations around hard bottom areas, such as coral reefs, rocky ledges and wrecks. The species is a protogynous hermaphrodite that spawns from September to April off the coast of Florida. The time of spawning in other areas is unknown. The smallest size at which females are capable of reproducing is about 8 inches, although most mature at a larger size. Like most reef fish species, hogfish are opportunistic feeders, eating whatever may be available from clams or urchins that can be crushed with their teeth to slow moving or sessile snails.
Remarks: esteemed as a food fish in some areas, but has been implicated in ciguatera; usually marketed as Hog Snapper.
Family Carangidae, JACKS and POMPANOS - Caranx hippos
Description: color bluish-green to greenish-gold back and silvery or yellowish belly; soft dorsal and anal fins almost identical in size; prominent black spot on operculum (gill cover); black spot at the base of each pectoral fin; no scales on throat.
Similar Fish: other Caranx.
Where found: common in both INSHORE waters and the open sea.
Size: usually 3 to 5 pounds.
*Florida Record: 51 lbs.
Remarks: tolerates a wide range of salinities; schools corner a school of baitfish at the surface and feed with commotion that can be seen at great distances; feeds mainly on small fish; peak spawning occurs OFFSHORE from March through September.
Family Sparidae, PORGIES
Description: generally silvery to brassy, with a bluish cast; front of head brown, with blue line along lower rim of eye; a whitish stripe below eye, and another between eye and mouth; corner of mouth orange
Size: to 60 centimeters (2 feet) and 3.6 kilograms (8 pounds)
Where found: coastal waters to 45 meters (150 feet)
kingfish, King mackerel
Description: color of back iridescent bluish green; sides silvery, streamlined body with tapered head; no black pigment on front of dorsal fin; lateral line starts high and drops sharply below the second dorsal fin; young fish often have yellow spots like those of the Spanish mackerel.
Similar Fish: cero, S. regalis; Spanish mackerel, S. maculatus.
Where found: NEARSHORE and OFFSHORE, occasionally taken from piers running into deep water.
Size: common to 20 pounds. *Florida Record: 90 lbs.
Remarks: schooling fish that migrates form south Florida waters in winter to more northerly waters in spring; Gulf population thought to be separate from Atlantic population, with considerable mixing in winter from Cape Canaveral past Key West; spawns in midsummer OFFSHORE; feeds on small fish and squid.
Food value: The flesh is of very high quality when taken small, under 10 lbs and is good up to 20 lbs and is OK smoked up to 40 lbs. After that you need magic or a lot of hot chili peppers.
Other common names: bonito, LT, Hard Head, False albacore, mackerel tuna.
Size: Average up to 32 in, 20 lbs.
IGFA All Tackle: 35 lb 2 oz.
Distribution: Worldwide in tropical to temperate waters, Offshore.
General: A common pelagic schooling species and a hard-fighting sport fish. Frequently used as a baitfish for shark and marlin. The flesh is darker and stronger in flavor than that of the larger tunas. Commercially important, especially for canning.
Techniques: medium tackle, trolling.
Family Carangidae, JACKS and POMPANOS Trachinotus falcatus
Description: color gray, dark or iridescent blue above, shading to silvery sides, in dark waters showing golden tints around breast; small permit have teeth on tongue (none on pompano); no scutes; dorsal fin insertion directly above that of the anal fin; 17 to 21 soft anal rays.
Similar Fish: pompano, T. carolinus. The permit is deeper bodied; dorsal body profile forms angle at insertion of second dorsal fin; pompano rarely grow larger than 6 pounds, permit common to 40 pounds.
Where found: OFFSHORE on wrecks and debris, INSHORE on grass flats, sand flats, and in channels; most abundant in south Florida, with smaller specimens from every coastal county.
Size: common to 25 pounds.
Florida Record: 51 lbs., 8 oz.
Remarks: feeds mainly on bottom-dwelling crabs, shrimp, small clams.
Distribution: Atlantic; western Atlantic ranging from Cape Cod to Brazil, common southward but occurs northward only in the Gulf Stream. Also known off African coast.
General: Not as abundant as the related common pompano but shares the same sandy flats and reefs. A trophy game fish on light tackle. Considered good eating.
Local: During the spring we have large schools of permit prowling are coastal reefs and average 6-18 lbs.
Other common names: Redfish, channel bass. Size: Maximum up to 80 lbs. (Bull Reds) average 30 lbs. immature fish range 10-15 lbs.
Distribution: Western Atlantic, from gulf of Maine to the Gulf of Mexico, but rare north of New Jersey.
General: A bottom-feeding, schooling species and very common along the U.S. Mid-Atlantic and Gulf coast. They frequent shallow water and are easily recognized from the characteristic dark oscillated spot or spots. Food consists of small fish such as grunts, pinfish, crustaceans and mollusks. The redfish is among the most popular marine sport fish in the United States.
Food value: In most of the books today you will see it rated as "excellent table qualities" and it is if you burn it black in a frying pan with a lot of hot chili peppers and heavy spices. That is if you like hot peppers. The truth is that it had always been considered a rough fish with a low value on the market, until the Blacking Redfish recipe came along. You be the judge.
Family Serranidae, SEA BASSES AND GROUPER Epinephelus
Description: color brownish red; lining of mouth scarlet-orange; blotches on sides in unorganized pattern; second spine of dorsal fin longer than others; pectoral fins longer than pelvic fins; squared off tail; margin of soft dorsal black with white at mid-fin; black dots around the eyes.
Similar Fish: Nassau grouper, E. striatus.
Where found: bottom dwelling fish associated with hard bottom; juveniles OFFSHORE along with adults greater than 6 years old; fish from 1 to 6 years occupy NEARSHORE reefs.
Size: common to 15 pounds.
Florida Record: 39 lbs., 8 oz.
Remarks: spawns in April and May; prefer water temperatures between 66 and 77 degrees F; undergoes sex reversal, young individual females becoming males as they age; lifespan of at least 25 years; feeds on squid, crustaceans, and fish.
Distribution: Western Atlantic coast, ranging from Virginia to Rio de Janeiro; occasionally north and south of usual limits.
General: Often found in large numbers in smaller sizes, but larger fish not uncommon in some areas. An important sport fish although not a strong fighter. The fish has excellent table qualities.
Family Sphyrnidae, Hammerhead Sharks
Description: fifth gill slit shorter than 4 preceding ones and located posterior to pectoral fin base; flattened head extending to hammer-like lobes on each side; distinct indentation of the front margin of the head at its midpoint; second dorsal fin longer than tail; gray-brown to olive in color with white underbelly; teeth smooth-edged; pectoral fins tipped with black on the undersurface; tips of first and second dorsal lobes and caudal also may have dusky tips; pelvic fin with nearly straight hind margin.
Similar fish: other hammerhead sharks.
Where found: both OFFSHORE and INSHORE.
Size: common to 6 feet and can reach 14 feet.
Remarks: predatory fish, feeding mainly on fish, squid, and stingrays; male matures at about 6 feet in length.
Gafftopsail Catfish Bagre marinus
Common Name's: Bandera, Sailboat Cat, Gafftopsail Sea Catfish, Gafftop Cat, Tourist Trout
Description: The Gafftopsail Catfish is bluish-gray overall with silvery sides and a white belly. It has a robust body with a depressed broad head featuring a few flattened barbels. The dorsal and pectoral fins have greatly elongated spines. Similar Fish: Sea Catfish Feeding
Habits: Gafftopsails prefer crabs, shrimp, and various small fish, but like all catfish, they have broad dietary interests.
Range: These fish range along the western Atlantic coast from Cape Cod to Panama and throughout the Gulf of Mexico, being abundant along Louisiana and Texas. They are absent from most of the West Indies and Caribbean Islands but are present in western Cuba, and extend to Venezuela and possibly as far south as Brazil.
Habitat: Gafftopsails prefer deeper channels, particularly brackish water in bays and estuaries with sandy bottoms of high organic content. They prefer water temperatures between 68° to 95°F. Typical Size: The average size of the Gafftopsails is usually less than 1 pound to 1½ pounds and up to 17 inches in length, but they can reach up to 10 pounds and 36 inches.
World Record: 9 pounds, 10 ounces (IGFA)
Hardhead Catfish Arius Felis
Common Name's: Hardheads, Sea Catfish, Tourist Trout
Description: Hardhead Catfish have three pairs of barbels, lack scales, and can vary in color, from dark brown to dark blue.
Similar Fish: Gafftopsail Catfish Feeding Habits:
Hardhead Catfish eat crab, shrimp, and smaller fish.
Range: The Hardhead Catfish are found along the Atlantic coast, from Massachusetts to southern Mexico.
Habitat: The Hardhead Catfish can be found in muddy and sandy bays and shallow coastal waters.
Typical Size: The Hardhead Catfish can reach up to 16 inches long.
World Record: 3 pounds, 5 ounces (IGFA)
Family: Sparidae, PORGIES
Description: basic silvery color, with 5 or 6 distinct vertical black bars on sides, not always the same on both sides; prominent teeth, including incisors, molars, and rounded grinders; no barbels on lower jaw; strong and sharp spines on dorsal and anal fins.
Similar fish: black drum, Pogonias cromis; Atlantic spadefish, Chaetodipterus faber. Black drum have barbels on lower jaw, sheepshead do not.
Where found: INSHORE around oyster bars, seawalls and in tidal creeks; moves NEARSHORE in late winter and early spring for spawning, gathering over rocks, artificial reefs, and around navigation markers.
Size: INSHORE, 1 to 2 pounds; OFFSHORE, common to 8 pounds.
Remarks: feeds on mollusks and crustaceans such as fiddler crabs and barnacles; famed nibblers, prompting the saying that "anglers must strike just before they bite."
Florida record: 15 lbs., 2 oz.
Family Centropomidae, SNOOK Centropomus undecimalis
Description: distinct lateral line; high, divided dorsal fin; sloping forehead; large mouth, protruding lower jaw; grows much larger than other snook; pelvic fin yellow.
Similar Fish: other Centropomus.
Where found: from central Florida south, usually INSHORE in coastal and brackish waters, along mangrove shorelines, seawalls, and bridges; also on reefs and pilings NEARSHORE.
Size: most catches 5 to 8 pounds.
Florida Record: 44 lbs., 3 oz.
Remarks: spawns primarily in summer; cannot tolerate water temperatures below 60 degrees F; can tolerate wholly fresh or saltwater; schools along shore and in passes during spawning season; feeds on fish and large crustaceans.
Distribution: Tropical waters on both shores of the Americas; in U.S. distribution chiefly Florida, Texas, and lower California.
General: A belligerent fish with a temperament mush like that of the muskellunge of freshwater habitats. It is usually found close inshore around sandy beaches, flats, and bays, and often near bridges and pilings in tidal brackish waters. Food consists of shrimp, crabs, and small fish. Throughout its distribution it is an exceedingly popular light-tackle sport fish. Landing the fish requires some care owing to the sharp-edged gill covers. It is rated an excellent table fish.
Other common names: Fluke, flat-fish. Distribution: From North Carolina to the Gulf of Mexico and up to Texas.
Size: The usual size of this species is 12-20 inches. IGFA All Tackle: 20 lb. 9 oz. Nassau Sound Florida.
General: The southern flounder is closely related to the summer flounder of the North East coast. They are caught on the bay and along the coast. They will take all live baits and artificial bait fished deep. We catch them all year long but sometimes we have concentrations of them on the offshore reefs. Southern flounder is one of the best eating fish in the Gulf. We also have a smaller flounder that is called Gulf flounder and is not as common in this area as the southern flounder.
Fishing: Flounder can be caught all over the Bay and Gulf but when they are running, all of the ( I ) reefs will hold flounder! The ( I ) reefs are listed on my website and is my favorite place to catch large flounder. I use only live bait and fish the edges of the reef on the sandy bottom. It takes a feel for flounder. Unlike grouper and snapper, it takes a slow, steady pull to hook a flounder and it may feel like a snag at first. They have a very subtle bite and may not move until you pull them out of the sand. Flounder will take artificial baits that are fished close to the bottom and also moving cut bait. You can catch them on the grass flats but I have found them in large schools in eight to eighty feet of water. Gigging flounder at night as you walk through shallows with a lantern in hand is another method of taking these fish.
Family Scombridae, MACKERELS and TUNAS
Description: color of back green, shading to silver on sides, golden yellow irregular spots above and below lateral line; front of dorsal fin black; lateral line curves gently to base of tail.
Similar Fish: cero, S. regalis; king mackerel, S. cavalla.
Where found: INSHORE, NEARSHORE and OFFSHORE, especially over grass beds and reefs; absent from north Florida waters in winter.
Size: average catch less than 2 pounds (20 inches).
Florida Record: 12 lbs.
Remarks: schooling fish that migrates northward in spring, returning to southerly waters when water temperature drops below 70 degrees F; spawns OFFSHORE, spring through summer; feeds on small fish and squid.
Family Sciaenidae, DRUMS Cynoscion nebulosus.
General: A common southern representative of the weakfish. Although the fish is frequently referred to as spotted sea trout, it is not a trout but a typical croaker. Its sport-angling qualities coupled with its general excellence as a table fish place it among the most important marine sport fish in the eastern United States.
Description: dark gray or green above, with sky blue tinges shading to silvery and white below; numerous distinct round black spots on back, extending to the dorsal fins and tail; black margin on posterior of tail; no barbels; no scales on the soft dorsal fin; one or two prominent canine teeth usually present at tip of upper jaw.
Similar Fish: other seatrout.
Size: common to 4 pounds on west coast, larger on east coast.
Florida Record: 15 lbs., 6 oz.
Where found: INSHORE and/or NEAR SHORE over grass, sand and sandy bottoms; move into slow-moving or still, deep waters in cold weather.
Remarks: matures during first or second year and spawns INSHORE from March through November; often in association with sea grass beds; lives mainly in estuaries and moves only short distances; adults feed mainly on shrimp and small fish; prefers water temperatures between 58 and 81 degrees F and may be killed if trapped in shallow water during cold weather; longevity 8 to 10 years.
Average lifespan: 15 to 25 years
Size: Up to 6.5 ft (2 m)
Weight: Up to 790 lbs (350 kg)
Protection status: Threatened
Did you know? Ancient Greek dentists used the venom from the stingray's spine as an anesthetic.
Stingrays are commonly found in the shallow coastal waters of temperate seas. They spend the majority of their time inactive, partially buried in sand, often moving only with the sway of the tide. The stingray's coloration commonly reflects the seafloor's shading, camouflaging it from predatory sharks and larger rays. Their flattened bodies are composed of pectoral fins joined to their head and trunk with an infamous tail trailing behind.
While the stingray's eyes peer out from its dorsal side, its mouth, nostrils, and gill slits are situated on its underbelly. Its eyes are therefore not thought by scientists to play a considerable role in hunting. Like its shark relatives, the stingray is outfitted with electrical sensors called ampullae of Lorenzini. Located around the stingray's mouth, these organs sense the natural electrical charges of potential prey. Many rays have jaw teeth to enable them to crush mollusks such as clams, oysters, and mussels.
When they are inclined to move, most stingrays swim by undulating their bodies like a wave; others flap their sides like wings. The tail may also be used to maneuver in the water, but its primary purpose is protection.
The stingray's spine, or barb, can be ominously fashioned with serrated edges and a sharp point. The underside may produce venom, which can be fatal to humans, and which can remain deadly even after the stingray's death. In Greek mythology, Odysseus, the great king of Ithaca, was killed when his son, Telegonus, struck him using a spear tipped with the spine of a stingray.
General: Tarpon are found in inshore and offshore waters, sometimes in brackish and fresh water, and are capable of existing in oxygen depleted water due to their ability to take in air directly from the atmosphere with their lung like bladders. The tarpon was probably the first marine species to be declared a game fish, and is still one of the most popular of the larger marine sport fish. When hooked, the tarpon has great endurance and offers a tremendous fight with spectacular leaps. They are not recognized as an edible table fish. Tarpon are only in Sarasota during the summer and the best time to fish for them is May and June as they move along the beaches in schools.
Distribution: Tropical, subtropical, and occasionally temperate Atlantic waters.
Family: Elopidae, TARPONS
Description: last ray of dorsal fin extended into long filament; one dorsal fin; back dark blue to green or greenish black, shading into bright silver on the sides; may be brownish gold in estuarine waters; huge scales; mouth large and points upward.
Similar species: (as juveniles) ladyfish, Elops saurus.
Where found: primarily INSHORE fish, although adult fish spawn OFFSHORE where the ribbon-like larval stage of the fish can be found.
Size: most angler catches 40 to 150 pounds.
Remarks: slow grower, matures at 7 to 13 years of age; spawning occurs between May and September; female may lay more than 12 million eggs; can tolerate wide range of salinity; juveniles commonly found in fresh water; can breathe air at the surface; feeds mainly on fish and large crustaceans.
Florida record: 243 lbs.