Florida has some of the best-tasting fish in the entire world. If you're lucky enough to live here or visit, you should be taking advantage of this second-to-none food source by fishing as much as life will allow you to!
The first Florida fish I caught and ate was a lowly flounder. Having lived in Pennsylvania and caught bass, crappie, and trout for years, I wasn't expecting much from a saltwater fish, but I was way off the mark. Flounder was excellent table fare and I began a lifelong adventure to catch more of Florida's amazing-tasting fish in all kinds of habitats.
This list of best fish to eat in Florida is from our team and we all voted on the ones we wanted to make the list. One of mine didn't make it. Can you guess which one? Sheepies! So, I'd add sheepshead to the list and I think you should hit the nearest pier, docks, bridge, or structure and see if you can catch yourself some!
I can't argue against any of the fish on this list. These are some of the best fish to eat in Florida and your personal preference decides in the end, doesn't it?
Let's see what Florida has to offer in the way of the best tasting fish!
In This Guide
Top 10 Best Tasting Fish in Florida
Hogfish are pink, red, or orange and ornamental-looking fish that resemble fancy aquarium fish but they get too big for that. They're much better on a plate anyway! They have extended tips to their fins that make them look a little bizarre compared to most fish you're used to catching. There's no mistaking them, that's for sure. The closest fish in comparison is one of the snappers, but it isn’t a snapper, it's in the Wrasse family.
Best Way to Prepare: Hogfish are typically fileted and pan-fried or grilled, and are often served with a lemon butter or garlic sauce. They are also delicious when baked or broiled with herbs and spices.
Best Bait: Hogfish can be caught using live bait like shrimp or small crabs. They can also be caught on artificial lures, such as jigs or soft plastics if you prefer.
They are also frequently harvested by spear fisherman.
Where to Catch: In Florida catch them year-round in 30-80 ft. of water near reefs, rocky bottom, and other structure. They prefer strong water currents.
Despite its name, the hogfish is one of Florida's best-tasting fish, some even swearing it is better than mahi or grouper! Hogfish are highly sought after by saltwater anglers and are prized for their delicate flavor.
Hogfish (Lachnolaimus maximus) are found all over the USA's East Coast from Massachusetts down to Bermuda, the Bahamas, and throughout the Caribbean and Florida. The best areas to find hogfish in Florida are in the Florida Keys, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic coast of South Florida.
In Florida, hogfish are generally caught year-round, but the best time to catch them is during the winter from around October to May when the water is cooler. During this time, they move closer to shore and are easier to catch from boats or shore.
The average size of adult hogfish is around 16 inches long and around 2-3 pounds. The maximum size for hogfish is around 30 inches long and they can weigh up to about 21 pounds.
An average adult hogfish can feed 1 to 2 people.
Most people along the coast are familiar with grouper having eaten it in some form or other over the years. It is one of my top 3 favorite fish to eat! Grouper are thick bottom-dwelling fish with mild-tasting chunky white meat and a lot of tasty fat. This means pan frying is the ultimate way to cook them!
Best Way to Prepare: A blackened grouper sandwich prepared at home or at a restaurant on the beach with she-crab soup is undoubtedly the best way to enjoy this heavenly fish. Pan-sear the thick filets, or grill them with lemon and garlic. Don't broil this one as the flavor really pops with frying in a pan with some cajun seasoning. Sandwich it all together with mayo or mustard sauce, tomatoes, onions, and lettuce for the ideal grouper meal to share with friends.
Best Bait: The best live bait to use for grouper fishing are pinfish, grunts, and other small bait fish. They can also be caught on cut bait, such as squid, mullet, or ballyhoo but then you're going to catch some other fish species as well as grouper.
Though most people use live bait, you can catch them on artificials as well. Jigs, soft plastics, and deep-diving crankbaits can all be used.
Where to Catch: Grouper can be found in a variety of marine habitats along the East and West Coasts of the USA. In Florida, the easiest place to find grouper is on a big pier that gets out into some deeper water like at the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers.
From a boat, we find them on rocky inlets, reefs, wrecks, ledges, over rocks, and in other hard-bottom areas. They prefer areas with structure and cover where they can hide and ambush their prey. The depth where grouper can be found varies with the species but figure water from 30 to 300 feet deep is ideal so, find some structure and drop your baits!
Some of the best areas to find grouper in Florida are the Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Keys, and the Atlantic coast. In the Gulf of Mexico, popular spots include the wrecks and reefs off of Tampa Bay, Sarasota, and Naples. In the Florida Keys, popular spots include the wrecks and reefs off of Key Largo, Islamorada, and Marathon.
The best time of year for grouper fishing in Florida is toward the end of the year with October through December being the high point of the year. Keep in mind that there are different seasons for grouper based on species. Some grouper can be caught year-round in Florida, but the best time to catch them varies depending on the species and the location.
Average-sized groupers range from around 20 to 30 inches long and they can weigh from 5 to 15 lb. Of course, this varies considerably with the species. Goliath grouper can grow to 800 lb.!
An average grouper can feed a couple of people.
Tripletail are sometimes mistaken for floating trash, but they are one of the best-tasting fish to come out of the ocean. Don't pass it up if you get the chance! They are fun to catch and not too hard to find if you come upon something floating on the water.
Best Way to Prepare: Tripletail has a delicate, white flesh that is firm and flaky. It can be prepared in a variety of ways, including grilling, baking, broiling, and frying. Some popular ways to prepare tripletail in Florida include grilled tripletail with butter and garlic, baked tripletail with lemon, butter, and herbs, and you can always throw it on a sandwich for one of the best eating experiences.
Best Bait: As with most fish, live bait works well. Shrimp, small crabs, or baitfish are your best bets. They can also be caught on artificial lures like jigs, soft plastic lures, or topwater plugs.
Where to Catch: You won't need to go too far to find tripletail. They can be found in nearshore waters, open water, bays, inlets, and estuaries. They often hang out near floating objects such as buoys, weed lines, or floating debris. They often resemble floating debris like a garbage bag! They can be found in waters ranging from 10 to 80 feet (3 to 24 meters) deep but are most frequently seen on or just under the surface.
Some hotspots in Florida are the inshore waters along the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Coast, especially around the St. Johns River and Indian River Lagoon.
The best time of the year to fish for tripletail runs from late spring to early fall. They are very active then and can be caught in shallower water during this period. Don't pass up a chance to fish for them if you're out on a boat because they can be caught all year round with no specific season specified.
Tripletail can grow to 3 feet long and weigh up to about 40 pounds. The average size for most adult tripletail caught in Florida is about 18 to 24 inches long and 5 to 10 lb. Big ones can reach 3 feet long and 40 lb.
One average tripletail can feed two people, and almost everyone who tries it loves the taste of this fish.
There are more than 10 species of snapper swimming around Florida and all of them are delicious to eat and shouldn't be passed up.
Yellowtail snapper are one of my favorites and can be caught on the reef in the florida keys.
Grey (mangrove) snapper are easy to catch in shallow water near piers, bridges, docks, and any structure.
Red snapper are considered the most tasty of all the species and can be found in much deeper water 30 to 600 feet deep offshore along the southern coasts. They are rarely found north of the Carolinas.
Best Way to Prepare: All snapper has a mild, white meat that is firm and flaky and can taste good with just some butter in a pan but most people go to further extremes to prepare it. You can grill it, bake, broil, or fry it. Many people add mango salsa to it for a nice blend of flavors. Blackened snapper tacos and baked snapper with lemon and herbs are also good choices.
Best Bait: Live or dead bait is best for snapper. Small baitfish and shrimp inshore work well and larger pinfish, squid, and pilchards work well for bigger offshore fish. Snapper also strike lures like jigs or soft plastics resembling small fish.
The best way to catch snapper is with some chum. Buy frozen blocks of chum and put them in a chum bag hanging in the water. In short order you will have baitfish coming to the chum and there will be snapper and other gamefish following the baitfish.
Send a live shrimp free lining into the chumline and you will have all the snapper you can eat!
Where to Catch: Snapper can be found in a variety of habitats and depths in Florida waters, including reefs, wrecks, and hard bottom areas. Most species can be found in water 30 to 300 feet deep, but some inshore species only need a couple of feet of water. Find them around boat docks and piers in huge numbers.
Snapper can be caught year-round in Florida, but the best time to catch them is during their peak season, which goes from late spring to early fall. During this period they are more active and can be caught in shallower waters.
Adult snapper can grow up to 4 feet long and weigh up to 50 pounds. The average size is much smaller and around 12 to 20 inches is normal with weights around 1 to 5 lb.
Catching mahi mahi (dorado, dolphin) on the surface with topwater plugs or live bait is great fun. They are super-fast fish that hit hard and give a great fight. These are reasons enough to catch them, but the better reason is that they are excellent table fare when prepared as a meal. Mahi is certainly one of my top 3 most delicious fish I've ever had the pleasure of eating.
Best Way to Prepare: Mahi mahi has a mild, sweet flavor and the texture is firm and flaky. It's great pan-fried, grilled, baked, or broiled. Some popular ways people prepare mahi in Florida include grilled mahi with tropical salsa (mango or papaya), blackened mahi mahi tacos and baked mahi with lemon and herbs.
Best Bait: Mahi mahi are usually caught with live bait like ballyhoo, pilchards, or squid on the surface. Floating or just under the surface artificial lures of hard plastic resembling fish can also be used. Skirted trolling lures work very well and come in a variety of bright colors to get their attention.
Where to Catch: Mahi mahi can be found in warm waters around the world, including off the coast of Florida. They typically inhabit open ocean waters, particularly around floating debris such as logs, seaweed, or buoys. They are usually found in waters ranging from 120 to 500 feet deep, but I've caught them in shallower water from piers on Tampa Bay at night with surface lures.
If you're going out to catch mahi, the best time to catch them is from late spring to early fall. The best months are from April to October when they come closer to shore on the Atlantic side of the state. You can find them less than 10 miles off the coast. As I said, on the Gulf side, they routinely come in closer and you can reach them from some of the piers.
Mahi are nice-sized fish. They can grow up to around 6 feet long and weigh up to 90 pounds. Average adult fish are much smaller and average more like 3 to 10 pounds and reach 2-4 feet in length typically.
Wahoo are long torpedo-shaped fish that resemble king mackerel and barracuda and can be caught offshore. One of the fastest fish in the ocean, they are great fun to catch and the fact that they are excellent table fare makes them a prime target for a lot of anglers.
Best Way to Prepare: The best way to prepare wahoo is broiled and with a walnut sauce. This preparation blew my mind more than twenty years ago and I've never found it again. Another of my favorites is Macadamia Nut-Crusted Wahoo with Mango Lime Butter. Find a recipe for either of these and you're sure to have a smile on your face.
Wahoo has a firm, white flesh with a mild, slightly sweet flavor. It can be prepared in many ways like grilling, baking, broiling, or frying. Some of the more common ways to prepare wahoo in Florida include grilled wahoo with pineapple salsa, blackened wahoo tacos, and baked wahoo with lemon and spices.
Best Bait: Wahoo crush live bait like ballyhoo, goggle eyes, pilchards, and cut bait of all kinds. You can also catch them on diving plugs or surface lures resembling a large bait fish. If you're on a boat, high-speed trolling lures are very effective.
Where to Catch: Wahoo can be found in warm waters around the world, including off the coast of Florida. They typically inhabit open ocean waters, particularly around reefs, drop-offs, and other underwater structures. They are commonly found in waters ranging from 100 to 500 feet deep.
Wahoo can be caught year-round in Florida, but the best time to catch them is during their peak season, which runs from November to April. During this time, they are more active and can be caught in shallower waters.
Wahoo can grow to huge lengths, even close to 8 feet long and 180 lb. The average size for most fish caught in Florida is from 20 to 50 lb. and measures less than 5 feet long.
Snook are easy inshore fish to catch and one of the best eating fish you can catch from shore. As usual, the best-tasting snook is on the lower end of the legal scale and the big ones don't taste nearly as good.
Anyone with a fishing rod and a small pinfish for bait can go catch snook in the mangroves around Florida, and especially on the Gulf side near Fort Myers and St. Petersburg areas.
Best Way to Prepare: Florida snook has a mild, sweet flavor with a firm, white flesh. Like most saltwater fish, you can prepare it by grilling, baking, broiling, or frying. Some ways you can prepare snook include grilled snook with garlic butter, blackened snook with mango salsa, and broiled snook with butter, lemon, garlic, and other herbs.
My favorite way to prepare snook is pan seared with garlic, tomatoes, white beans and spinach.
It is important to remember that you need to remove the skin before cooking snook. The skin gives the snook an unpleasant flavor that is completed eliminated by removing the skin from the filet.
There are often changes in regulations covering snook, trout, and redfish in Florida because they can be affected by red tide and other issues. Stay up to date with the intensive regulations before targeting them, especially on the west coast.
Best Bait: Dropping a small pinfish near the mangrove roots in the shallows can land you snook all day. They also can be caught on big shrimp or small mullet in the mangroves or under docks on residential canals.
RELATED: Best Bait For Surf Fishing
For artificial lures you can choose from soft plastics, topwater lures, or jigs. DOA Shrimp work well as do soft plastics that look like baitfish.
Where to Catch: Florida snook can be found all over Florida coastal waters, especially around mangrove-lined shores, inlets, bays, estuaries, piers, and docks. They spend most time in shallow water from 3 to 30 feet deep near some sort of structure.
The best time to catch snook is during the warmer months when they are more active, from April to October. It can be very easy to catch them in shallow residential canals during cold fronts, but please avoid fishing during this time as snook are very vulnerable to cold temperatures and many don't make it through cold weather.
Average-sized adult Florida snook grow to around 20 to 30 inches in length and weigh between 5 and 10 lb. On the high end, they can reach nearly 4 ft. long and 50 lb.
Another easy fish to catch inshore is the red drum or redfish. These are thick fish resembling carp in shape. They are excellent on a plate and can fight pretty hard. You can catch them from the beach or in other shallow water areas along Florida's coast.
Best Way to Prepare: Florida redfish has a mild, sweet flavor with a firm, white flesh. Some great ways to prepare it are blackened redfish, redfish on the half shell (scales left on), and redfish court-bouillon.
My favorite way to prepare Florida Redfish is simply pan seared.
Check often for updates to redfish, trout, and snook seasons and areas in Florida because they can be affected by red tide and other issues. Stay up to date with the dynamically changing regulations before targeting redfish, especially on the west coast.
Best Bait: Florida reds are often caught using live or dead shrimp, crabs, small pinfish, or other baitfish. I have caught a lot of reds by dragging shrimp across the bottom slowly behind my kayak as I float down a residential canal toward the open ocean on an outgoing tide.
Artificial lures like DOA Shrimp or crabs and other soft plastics can be used successfully as well as topwater lures, and jigs.
Where to Catch: Red drum can be found in shallow coastal waters, estuaries, and backwaters, especially over oyster bars, near mangroves, and in seagrass beds. They don't require deep water at all and they can be caught in 1 to 10 feet regularly.
They can also be caught in the surf, fishing off the beach.
The best time of year to catch reds in Florida is during the cooler months from late summer to fall (September to November).
Florida red drum can reach 45 inches long and weigh up to 51 pounds. The average size for adult reds is around 18 to 27 inches and weighs around 3 to 8 lb.
Spotted Sea Trout
Spotted sea trout have very soft white flesh that is delicious in just butter and pan-fried or broiled quickly. I rarely eat them any other way, but there are many ways to prepare it. Sea trout are common around Florida and not difficult to catch.
Best Way to Prepare: Speckled trout (Cynoscion nebulosus) have soft flesh that separates easily from the bones. Pan fry with butter, lemon, and black pepper or broil briefly to cook the thin filets in minutes. I typically leave the skin on because the filets are so thin. Another of my favorite ways to prepare these trout is broiled in a pan in the oven at 500° F for 5 minutes once the oven is preheated.
Best Bait: A shrimp freelined (no sinkers) on a 1/0 hook over grass flats is the best way to catch your limit of trout in Florida. Any small baitfish common in the area can be used, including small pinfish and mullet. Huge trout will eat a good-sized pinfish or 8-inch mullet if you want to go for the big ones.
Where to Catch: Fort De Soto Park in Pinellas County in St. Petersburg is my favorite place to wade-fish and catch spotted sea trout in the shallow areas with seagrass.
These great-tasting fish can be caught in shallow water inshore anywhere along the Florida coast with water less than 15 feet deep in beds of seagrass.
The best time of year to go sea trout fishing in Florida is October through December when the water is cooling down and trout get hungry. Wade-fishing during this time will be chilly but if you need to get in the water to reach the trout in the slightly deeper water, it will be worth the effort!
Spotted sea trout adults are usually in the 18 to 26-inch range with larger fish reaching up to 39 inches.
Pompano are small, hard-fighting fish that are absolutely delicious to eat. They can easily be caught surf fishing on the beach in shallow waters on jigs, crabs, or shrimp. Pompano are typically in small or large schools so if you catch one, you can be sure there are more available.
Best Way to Prepare: Pompano fish has a mild, sweet flavor with tender, white flesh. They have an uncomplicated bone structure and it isn't hard to eat around the bones. Prepare it with any of the popular methods for saltwater fish. I enjoy it fried quickly in a buttered pan with herbs and spices.
Best Bait: Pompano jigs are excellent for catching these small fish. Tip the jig with shrimp, or use a whole small shrimp or sand flea for the best fishing experience.
Here on Florida's Gulf Coast, we like to use pompano jigs. We cast along troughs with small bucktail jigs with a small piece of shrimp. Or, if we're motivated, we head to the beach to scoop up some sand fleas, the ultimate pompano live bait.
RELATED: Best Surf Fishing Rigs
Where to Catch: Pompano fish can be found over sandy and grassy areas inshore, especially near inlets, jetties, and piers. Find them most often in shallow water from 3 to 10 feet deep, but occasionally in deeper water up to 30 feet deep.
Pompano are also caught surf fishing off of the beaches of Florida.
RELATED: Best Surf Fishing Reels
The best time to catch Florida pompano is from April to November when they are most active in shallow areas.
Pompano can grow up to 25 inches long and weigh up to 8 pounds for the biggest fish. The average size for most fish is closer to 10 to 18 inches long and 1 to 2 lb.
Best Freshwater Fish to Eat in Florida
Crappie (speckled perch or specks) are small and fun fish to catch that just happen to be excellent to eat as well. Many freshwater anglers swear crappie are the best freshwater fish to eat in Florida. It isn't unusual to catch a dozen of them, and the limit at the moment is more than double that but you probably don't need that many unless you're feeding your neighborhood!
These are excellent fish for children to fish for as they are usually not difficult to catch in shallow water.
Best Way to Prepare: Crappie fish has a mild, sweet flavor with a very soft, white flesh. I like it best frying in butter with garlic and some lemon, but I've also had it breaded with cornmeal breading and it's great that way too. Crappie tastes similar to bluegill and other sunfish, and some people are addicted to the taste and fish for it often.
Best Bait: Crappie are caught using minnows, small worms and nightcrawlers, and crickets. You can also use artificial lures shaped like insects on topwater or little jigs or spinners you pull through the water slowly. Some crappie will hit anything, but sometimes you'll run up against some hard-to-catch fish! Try everything you've got and you'll eventually come up with a winning bait.
Where to Catch: Lakes, ponds, and rivers across Florida hold large populations of crappie and other sunfish. They much prefer areas with cover, like weed beds, fallen trees, rocks, docks, and piers. They can be caught in waters ranging from 2 to 20 feet deep depending on the water temperature and where their prey is.
The best time to catch crappie in Florida is during the spring when the water is heating up and insects are hatching out during and after the spring thaw. You can catch them at night even easier than daytime.
Surprisingly, crappie can grow up to 19 inches long and weigh up to 5 lb. The average size of adults caught in Florida is more like 8 to 12 inches and they weigh up to about a pound.
Best Fish to Cook and Eat In the Florida Keys
If you’ve fished inshore around the Florida coast, you’ve probably (absolutely!) caught snapper whether you were targeting them or you caught them by accident. They are all over the state and it’s hard not to catch some to be honest. The good news is, they are really delicious fish on a plate!
Best Way to Prepare: Mangrove snapper has a mild, sweet flavor with a firm, thin, white flesh. I usually just pan fry them with some butter. It can be prepared in a variety of ways, including grilling, baking, and frying. Some popular ways to prepare mangrove snapper in the Florida Keys include grilling with a citrus marinade or frying with a light cornmeal breading.
My favorite way to prepare mangrove snapper is simply frying it while it is fresh.
Best Bait: These snapper can be caught using live or dead bait on the bottom like shrimp, pinfish, and small crabs. They can also be caught on artificial lures like jigs, spoons, and plugs.
Where to Catch: Mangrove snapper can be found in the Florida Keys and surrounding areas in a variety of habitats, including reefs, wrecks, piers, docks, bridges, and mangroves. They prefer structures with cover, such as rocks, coral, and seagrass beds. They can also be caught in channels and inlets.
Mangrove snapper are usually found in shallow water from 2 to 30 feet deep but they can be much deeper.
Mangrove snapper can be caught year-round in the Florida Keys, but the best time to catch them anywhere in Florida is from April to November when the water is warm. Mangrove snapper are the best fish to cook and eat in the Florida Keys because they’re so consistently available and not too difficult to catch, even for those just learning how to fish.
They can grow up to 24 inches long and weigh up to 12 pounds at their largest. The average size of adult mangrove snapper in the Keys is much smaller and more like 10 to 18 inches and from 1 to 3 lb.
Best Place to Eat Lionfish in the Florida Keys
We've eaten lionfish at a number of restaurants over the last few years, and the best place to eat lionfish in the Florida Keys is Castaway Restaurant in Marathon Key, FL. Not only is the lionfish delicious, but they have a huge menu that makes it quite hard to choose from.
Lionfish are an invasive species of fish with venomous barbs that have taken over Florida reefs. They've been found in 1,000 feet of water and are pervasive from North Carolina to Southern Florida. There is an open season on them and you can spear as many of them as you possibly can. They are competing with Florida's native sport fish for bait fish and they consume huge numbers of fish.
Luckily, they are good to eat, like snakehead fish, which makes it easy to get fisherman to harvest them, and reduce their numbers.
Lionfish have been put on many menus at Florida restaurants because it is easy to find and delicious to eat. The taste is similar to snapper and some restaurants have it on the menu regularly.
Filleting a lionfish is dangerous because the person preparing the fish must avoid the spines located along the dorsal, pelvic, and anal fins. If you put the fish on its side, you can easily hold the fish by the bony gill plates or soft pectoral fins without getting stuck with a venomous spine.
That said, Castaway Restaurant in Marathon serves it daily and if you're in the area you should make it a point to stop and eat some lionfish sashimi (raw sliced fish) or Nigiri (hand-molded over a ball of rice).
Though you might think this list of the best fish to eat in Florida is exhaustive, it isn't by a long shot! We didn't even cover tuna, swordfish, sheepshead, mackerel, or porgys! Florida's saltwater is filled with great-tasting and hard-fighting species of fish that would make anyone's fishing trip well worth the time, money, and effort.
If you haven't yet visited Florida and fished inshore and offshore, do yourself a favor this year and put it on your bucket list. It's closer than you think and so much better than you'd ever guess!