Florida Surf Fishing Species and How To Catch Them

One of the coolest things about living in Florida is the sheer number of Florida surf fishing species that can be caught from the beach. There are many more we haven't added to this list of 15, but this is a good "Top 15" list of fish that can regularly be caught while fishing from the shoreline.

A surf fishing outfit usually consists of a long 10-12 foot rod with either a strong 6000-size spinning reel or a strong conventional surf fishing reel. Your main line can be a 30 to 50-lb. braid with a 20-lb. fluorocarbon leader line for many species.

Keep in mind that your leader may have to go lighter or heavier depending on what fish you hope to catch. Most of the fish below are fine on a 20 lb. leader but a tarpon, shark, or cobia is going to test the strength of that thin line!

RELATED: Best Surf Fishing Reels

Top 15 Florida Surf Fishing Species

There are lots of fish species you can catch while surf fishing from the shore in Florida but these are the ones that are either the most fun to catch, the best eating, or both. We didn't mention barracuda, snapper, ladyfish, mullet, pinfish, catfish, lizardfish, puffers, skates (rays), or seahorses, but you can sometimes catch those if you're trying or even not trying to.

Black Drum

Black Drum

Ratings: Taste 4/5, Fight 5/5

Black drum are excellent table fare when they are on the smaller side because they have fewer parasites, and sometimes you won't find any. This makes the smaller ones the best to keep for a meal. The big drum are hard-fighting fish that can surprise you when you are fishing for a different species.

They eat shrimp, crabs, and clams and some say the more foul-smelling, the better. So, dead shrimp fished on the bottom can put you on them pretty quickly.

February and March are good months to catch them as they come closer to shore. I would routinely find them in the saltwater canals off Tampa Bay during the warmer months.

RELATED: Best Surf Fishing Rods

2 Top Spots for Black Drum

  • Sea Grass Areas. Black drum feed all day and night, but in the morning you'll usually find them around the seagrass. As the sun heats up the shallow seagrass areas the drum will move to deeper areas that are a bit cooler.
  • Fernandina Beach. In the northeast, some massive black drum have been caught in deep holes with a rock or shell bottom. A depth of around 10 feet deep with a drop-off is ideal. Go deep for big drum near the rivers. Amelia, Bells, and St. Mary's Rivers all converge here and mix with seawater, an ideal spot for huge black drum.

How To Catch Black Drum Surf Fishing

Black drum are primarily bottom feeders that target crabs, but you can catch them with shrimp, sand fleas, clams, or a piece of stinky mullet or ladyfish too. They will sometimes come very close to shore to snatch crabs in the surf.

A live or dead shrimp fished on a fish finder rig can be just what you need to land a couple of these fantastic eating fish. Their taste is similar to redfish – perfect for most members of the family!

Pro Tip! Eat the smaller ones for the best taste. This seems to go for all fish.

Black drum can be as close as a couple of yards off the beach, so be alert as you walk out to cast. You may not need to cast far. Look for spots where the waves don't break, but where they roll in. This signifies a slightly deeper spot or a spot where water is coming back out into the surf from the beach. These are spots black drum prefer.

If there is any kind of structure off the beach like a bridge or pier pylon, a wreck, or some rocks, target near that area for black drum. It may not seem intuitive, but I've caught many black drum in saltwater canals in Tampa Bay. If you know where a saltwater canal is with some docks, it can be easy to find black drum in that area near the docks.

RELATED: Surf Fishing Tips And Techniques For Beginners and Experts Alike



Ratings: Taste 1/5, Fight 5/5

Bluefish are no fun to eat, but they love eating whatever hits the water! Blues are typically top-water feeders that will hit a variety of live or dead bait as well as artificial lures. If you're planning on eating one to try it, bleed it immediately, and then get it on ice. Eat it the same day so it's fresh.

Some people like them. I had a friend who insisted on keeping my smaller blues to put in his freezer when we went out pier fishing at Sebastian Inlet on Florida's east coast.

2 Top Spots for Bluefish

Bluefish are generally thought of as east coast fish, but they do make their way up the Gulf Coast, reaching the Tampa Bay area. The two best places to catch them are on Florida's east coast.

  • Sebastian Inlet. North of Vero Beach and south of Melbourne, this rocky jetty is known worldwide for the variety and consistent catches of bluefish and many more different species.
  • Cocoa Beach to Juno Beach. Literally, the entire area between these points (including Sebastian Inlet) is the best place to fish for bluefish in schools from the beach and inshore from piers and jetties.

How To Catch Bluefish Surf Fishing

Bluefish can be found by looking for schools of fish feeding just off the beach. They frequently stay close to shore, within casting distance, and can be caught with a cast from the beach. If there's a jetty, pier, or bridge close by, your chances of seeing a school of blues increase.

A 30 lb. test main line (braid or fluoro) tied to a swivel with a shiny silver spoon, jig, plug, or literally anything shiny pulled through the topwater fast and erratically in short bursts can attract strikes from bluefish. Don't worry about the thickness of the line because in the middle of a feeding frenzy, they can't see the line anyway.

These are hard-hitting fish that often bite at the tail of what you're fishing with, so be sure to have a treble hook or a stinger in the back to hook them more often.

Whole live or dead bait fish pulled through the water can elicit strikes too. Add some menhaden oil to make it smelly and increase your chances of a bite.

Blues in a school that are feeding are like gnashing piranha and it isn't hard to get a fish just by tossing a shiny lure into the middle of the mayhem. This type of fishing is ideal for beginners that are learning how to fish. They will be hooked forever after one trip fishing in the middle of a school of feeding bluefish!

Bluefish teeth are razor sharp and they will close their mouth on your fingers. Use forceps or long pliers to remove the hook. Don't take any chances.

RELATED: Best Surf Fishing Rod And Reel Combo


Florida Bonefish

Ratings: Taste (catch and release), Fight 4/5

Most anglers who have targeted them say bonefish are hard fish to catch! They are near invisible, even in clear and shallow water. They are picky in what they choose to strike and are very skittish. That means they are nervous and suspicious fish that seem to somehow realize that something isn't right when a lure or live bait is pulled along in front of them.

So, of all the fish on this page, this is the one to target if you want a challenge.

Bonefish are catch and release, so you won't be eating them for dinner. They are filled with small bones, hence the name. Be careful during releasing the fish to cause it as little stress as possible. If you really want to do the right thing, keep the fish in the water while removing the hook.

2 Top Spots for Bonefish

Bonefish are found mainly around Miami and the Florida Keys, though they have come up as far as Tampa Bay on the Gulf Coast.

RELATED: Islamorada Bonefishing Report

  • Islamorada. South of Miami's Biscayne Bay and well north of Key West is a group of islands called Islamorada, also known as the sportfishing capital of the world. This is a fishing mecca and big bonefish over 10 lb. can routinely be found here.
  • Biscayne Bay, Miami. Smaller bonefish can be found in and south of Biscayne Bay. Read up on the special fishing regulations applying to this area as there are more than a few!

How To Catch Bonefish Surf Fishing

Bonefish are often caught in the 2 to 8 lb. range on lighter tackle. Fly fishing anglers routinely target this species because their delicate presentation means less spooking the fish and more bonefish landed.

Small live shrimp with a small 1/0 hook and 8 lb. line is a good starting point. If you want to use lures, you can use 1/8 or 1/4 oz. jigs and an upright-facing hook. Bonefish have a blistering fast run so ensure your drag is set only to slow them down a little bit, not rip the hook from their mouth.

Live shrimp is the most common bait choice among anglers but you can also use crabs, cut-up shrimp, and even conch (from the big conch shells). If using lures, it's best to use skimmer jigs, 1/8 ounce, with horizontally flattened heads to keep the hook facing up. Most fly fishing anglers use tiny flies with mono line and weed guards on #2 or #4 hooks.


Florida Cobia

Photo Credit: Floridasportsman.com

Ratings: Taste 4/5, Fight 5/5

Cobia are big-headed, big-mouthed fish that pull like a truck when hooked. If you ever have a hook that's too thin and a cobia hits it, you'll know because your hook will straighten out. Your drag needs to be set correctly too or you'll lose a rod or a fish.

These are excellent fish to eat and a blast to catch. Their average size is large enough to feed a couple to a few people so catching one is often all you need. Coming in at 2.5 to 4 feet long and weighing 30 lb. plus, you're in for a heck of an afternoon if you are targeting these tough fish.

Cobia can be found well inshore around mangroves, inlets, and near any kind of structure like bridges or piers, rocks, buoys, and anything submerged like boat wrecks or artificial piers.

2 Top Spots for Cobia

  • Destin. Located in the panhandle between Navarre Beach and Miramar Beach. The beginning of the year is the right time for catching these top gamefish.
  • St. Petersburg Bridges and Jetties. I've had the most luck catching cobia around the bridges leading to Tampa Bay from St. Petersburg. Especially during a strong current. The 275 bridge and Gandy Bridge are two great places to start, but this entire area is teeming with big cobia.

How To Catch Cobia Surf Fishing

Cobia can be found in Florida's coastal waters all year round but the best time to catch them is during their migration north and south. Months of migration are from late March to early May and from late September to early November.

You can find cobia in shallow, sandy areas near bridges, piers, and other structures. If you can cast to them, they may also be found around floating objects like buoys and markers.

Cobia feed on all kinds of prey like blue crabs, shrimp, squid, baitfish, and even small eels.

Use a strong main line of 50 lb. test and a 60 lb. leader to start. The strength of your hook cannot be overstated. Use the strongest Owner, Gamakatsu, or Mustad hooks you can find.

Fish the bottom with some weight to keep it there. Let the cobia eat the bait and set the hook when the line is moving out. Once you hook a cobia, be prepared for a strong fight!

RELATED: Guide To Fishing Sarasota Bay

Crevalle Jack

Florida Crevalle Jack

Ratings: Taste 2/5, Fight 5/5

There are a few species of Jacks found in Florida, and any one of them can put a little fun in your day even though you're not targeting them. You could be fishing with anything and get hit by a nice-sized jack with a lot of energy. They are smaller than permit but are built the same way.

They are powerful and fast fish that can really put up an enduring fight that might challenge your gear. When fishing from shore you really need to have at least a 20 lb. test leader on if you're hoping not to break the line too often. Breaking line is bad for the environment too, so the heavier line you can get away with, the better.

Jacks are great fun to catch and you may not know they are in the area you're fishing. Or, you may see them as they herd a bunch of bait fish into a shallow area near a sea wall. The surface just explodes with feeding fish and it can come in an instant.

It is always a good idea to keep one small 7' rod ready with a live or dead mullet or other baitfish on it that you can cast out instantly and catch one of these fun-fighting fish.

2 Top Spots for Jacks

  • Jupiter Beach. There are even charter boats here that target jacks because they're a lot of fun.
  • St. Petersburg Sea Walls. Though you can catch jacks out in the bays and deeper water, the place I've seen them most often is on inlets and around St. Pete where there are walkways near homes with sidewalks. I'll link to one specific area that has been productive for me here.

How To Catch Crevalle Jack Surf Fishing

Fishing from a seawall, you can catch jacks with cut bait, live bait, or a fast-moving shiny lure like a Got-Cha plug or silver spoon. If fishing artificials, move the lures fast through the water and vary the depth of your lure on the retrieve.

Jacks don't need structure, they hunt in schools and tend to corral baitfish up against a seawall or other structure as they feast in a ferocious bloodbath, sort of like bluefish do on the open ocean.

Free lining a live mullet or menhaden on the surface, or just under it, is a great way to catch jacks when they're in the area. They follow schools of these fish to constantly feed so find the bait fish and you'll find the jacks.

RELATED: Best Baitcaster Under $200


Florida Flounder

Ratings: Taste 4/5, Fight 3/5

Flounder are flat fish about as big as a dinner plate with a brown pattern on top that looks like sand and a white bottom. Both eyes are on the brown side of the fish so it can lay on the bottom, covered in sand, and spring up and strike in a split second to grab fish or other prey.

Flounder are common all over Florida and it's one of the easiest fish to catch if you know how. You'll probably even catch them by accident while targeting other fish if they are close by. They love all kinds of bait dragged through the bottom sand, or just over it. Bouncing into the sand a couple of times will really get them eager to strike your bait.

Flounder is a delicious and nutritious fish popular in many dishes. It has a mild and slightly sweet flavor and delicate texture that makes it easy to prepare in many different ways. Broiled with butter, black pepper, and onions is my favorite way to eat them. Keep it simple!

2 Top Spots for Flounder

  • Jacksonville and South. Flounder are found everywhere, let's admit it. They are not difficult fish to find in Florida and a sandy patch near sea grass, or just about anywhere inshore is a great place to look for them.
  • West Coast. Flounder are on both sides of the Florida coast and again, it isn't hard to locate them! Go to a beach near where you are and throw shrimp on a weighted jig head that hits the bottom sand and drag it around a bit. BAM, instant flounder!

RELATED: Best Time Of Day To Fish

How To Catch Flounder Surf Fishing

Flounder can be found in sandy areas, especially near seagrass beds. The average size flounder is 12" to 16" in Florida with the bigger ones usually coming from the east coast.

Drag shrimp, squid, or baitfish along the bottom with a jig hook or weighted line to get flounder to strike. A light line of 6 to 10 lb. test is usually sufficient, but you may break off if a larger fish is hooked. A size #1 or 1/0 hook works well. They have large mouths. There are usually a number of flounder in the same area so if you catch one, you'll catch a bunch.

Very small bucktails worked slowly and with tiny twitches can also catch flounder, and some say they prefer it over some live bait.


Florida Pompano On The Beach

Ratings: Taste 5/5, Fight 1/5

Pompano are common fish found in and next to breaking surf along the beaches of both the east and west coasts of Florida. They prefer shallow, warm water on beaches and in bays with sandy bottom. They typically won't be found in fast currents.

Pompano feed on small crustaceans like sand fleas, shrimp, crabs, and small fish. They can also be caught using special pompano jigs. The ultimate bait for them is live sand fleas.

Pompano fishing is best in the spring and fall months when the water temperatures are not too hot or cold and the fish are actively feeding. Try fishing in the early morning and the late afternoon for the best times to catch them. They feed all day but are more active during these times.

Pompano typically range in size from 1 to 3 pounds, with the average size being around 2 pounds. Don't be discouraged, larger fish can be caught! The record in Florida is 8 lb. 4 oz.

2 Top Spots for Pompano

  • Cape Canaveral to West Palm Beach. On the east coast, the sandy beach area between these two spots is excellent for catching pompano and many people target the species there from the beach and from fishing piers.
  • Passe-a-Grille Beach and Surrounding Areas. Located near St. Pete Beach are a number of beaches like Madeira, Redington Shores, Treasure Island, Clearwater Beach, and so on. Just cast into the waves and you can catch pompano and whiting.

How To Catch Pompano Surf Fishing

You can often catch pompano within 30 yards of the beach, so you may not need a massive surf rod to reach them. It can help sometimes though! A little bullet-head jig with a short brightly colored skirt is a good way to fish for pompano.

A pompano fish's mouth is made for bottom feeding, so get your lure down to the bottom and bounce it around off the sand during your retrieve for the best action.

The best live bait for pompano, as everyone in the world knows by now, is sand fleas. Live fleas are best as they are hard to keep on a hook! Frozen sand fleas will become chum as they repeatedly fall off the hook and feed the pompano.

Shallow water with troughs on sandy bottom in the wave action on an incoming tide to high tide is a great place to find these absolutely delicious fish. They're small, so catch your limit and go back to the house and cook them up. You'll then understand why so many people target these tiny fish. They're mouthwatering!

The best time to catch pompano is in the spring and fall months, during early morning or late afternoon fishing trips.


Florida Redfish

Ratings: Taste 5/5, Fight 4/5

Redfish are known for their hard pulls on the line and they are great fun to catch. Luckily for us, redfish (red drum) are very common in Florida and they are an easy target when shore fishing from areas around the state. Once you find them, it isn't difficult to catch your limit in the same area as there are usually a good number of them in an area if you find one.

Fish live or dead bait on the bottom to find redfish. Live bait is better. The best ones are live shrimp, small pinfish, croakers, or small crabs.

2 Top Spots for Redfish Fishing

  • Mosquito Lagoon. Located on Florida's east coast near the Kennedy Space Center, Mosquito Lagoon is known for its shallow and usually clear water, and abundant redfish population!
  • Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay is surrounded by great redfish fishing spots. Try fishing saltwater canals over hard bottom just about anywhere and you are likely to find reds. The Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg areas' shallow flats, grass beds, and mangrove-filled shorelines provide ideal habitat for redfish.

How To Catch Redfish Surf Fishing

You may not need to cast out so far for reds, so a 9 ft. surf rod can be a good size. Go in the early morning as the sun is rising, or in the evening for the best time of day to catch reds, but you can catch them during the day as well.

Spots, where sandbars have built up and border deeper water troughs, can be good spots to try. Hard bottom areas are usually productive.

A 6000-size spinning reel or equivalent conventional reel is fine for most reds. They do put up a fight, but a medium-action rod is all you need. Your main line can be 50 lb. braid with a 30 lb. leader of mono or fluoro. Use weight or a weighted jig head to get your bait on the bottom. Shrimp, small mullet or cut bait, or small pinfish on the bottom can catch big redfish in the surf.

RELATED: What Size Reel For Surf Fishing?

Start fishing a low tide just as the tide is changing and coming in.


Shark On A Florida Beach

Ratings: Taste 1/5, Fight 5/5

Some people really get a kick out of catching sharks from the beach. I guess after you've done it a few times, the thrill wears off, but some people are crazy about it! There are 21 species of shark in Florida according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. I noticed they didn't count great whites, which do come into our waters every now and then.

Sharks are usually seen as a nuisance because they grab fish you've hooked and are bringing to the boat. They're also a bit scary. I remember hooking a big redfish while wade-fishing the flats in Tampa Bay and a huge 10 ft.+ hammerhead came up and grabbed my fish only four yards from my face. That put wade fishing on hold for a bit!

2 Top Spots for Sharks

  • East Coast. Sharks are found all over the coast of Florida, so it doesn't really matter much where you fish from. Fishing around piers and bridges can be good spots, especially if someone is throwing fish guts into the water.
  • West Coast. Just like the east coast, sharks are found all over the west coast. You can chum for them from the beach or just launch a big hunk of fish out with a strong 12-foot rod to reach the deeper water.

RELATED: Surf Fishing Florida's Gulf Coast

How To Catch Sharks Surf Fishing

Contrary to a lot of opinions, sharks are not difficult to catch and can easily be caught while surf fishing during the day or night. Night can be better, but there's no reason to wait until after dark except that sharks come closer to shore to feed at night.

A strong rod and conventional reel work best for catching sharks. Sharks fight very hard and are heavy fish so you'll need tough gear to land them. Make sure you have very thick hooks, a strong 100 lb. test main line, and a wire leader to keep from getting broken off. Use some weight to keep your big chunk of bait on the bottom and wait for the cowbell on the top of your surf rod to start ringing.



Ratings: Taste 5/5, Fight 2/5

Sheepsheads are a little tricky to catch, but their taste is so excellent that thousands of anglers target them each year along both of Florida's sunny coasts. These small fish reach 1-8 lb. on average and love spending time anywhere there are barnacles. So fish for them around sea walls, bridges, piers, wrecks, rocks, roots in the mangroves, oyster bars, and anything similar.

Sheepsheads have very hard bony mouths and many teeth to bite and grind down barnacles and crabs and other mollusks. They have dark bands running across the body and are unmistakable. The current bag limit on them is 15 fish, so you could feed your whole household (and possibly the neighborhood) easily with a good day of catching sheepies.

2 Top Spots for Sheepshead

The bigger 8 lb.+ sheepsheads are mostly offshore near oil rigs and shallow underwater reefs. Here are two places to catch some smaller fish from shore. You can find them all over Florida.

  • Boat Docks. Go to any boat docks along a saltwater canal to catch plenty of sheepshead. Concrete supports have more oysters and barnacles attached and are better for finding sheepshead. Wooden docks are also fine.
  • Sea Walls. Concrete walls along the ocean, by a bridge, pier, or saltwater canal or bay can be a great place anywhere in Florida to catch sheepshead.

How To Catch Sheepshead Surf Fishing

Find some structure around high tide and not in a very strong moving tide. My ideal place to fish for sheepies is along a saltwater canal where there are lots of docks and a seawall. Bring a metal shovel to scrape barnacles off into the water as a chum line.

Using any rod and reel and small long shank hooks of size 1/0 or smaller and 8 lb. test monofilament or fluoro line or leader, add a piece of crab, some barnacles, or a small shrimp piece to your hook. Small fiddlers or mangrove crabs are great bait because pinfish won't attack them. Add a small split shot 6 to 8" above the hook.

Please note, sharpen your hooks, even if they are new. You need the sharpest hooks possible.

Sheepshead, and the inevitable pinfish down there with them, are skilled bait stealers and you're better off with small baits they can't pull off the hook without getting hooked.

You can drop your bait down from bridges, piers, sea walls, docks, etc. Suspend the bait in the water column, not letting it hit bottom. With J-hooks you need to set the hook quickly, so have your left hand on the line to feel every bite, and be ready to set the hook.

RELATED: Best Baits For Sheepshead

Remember, you're not setting the hook on a tarpon, just a little fish, but that little fish's bony mouth has very few soft parts. Give it a good yank!


Florida Gulf Coast Snook

Ratings: Taste 5/5, Fight 4/5

Snook are a main target of Florida residents who love fishing. The reason is twofold. For one, they have an excellent taste and firm flakey flesh that goes well with a lot of styles of preparation, or just eaten plain with some butter.

RELATED: Best Tasting Fish In Florida

Snook are also great fighting fish and grow large. One of the best baits to use for snook is a pinfish on a hook. Pinfish can easily be caught in seagrass beds from shore with a sabiki rig or a casting net. This cuts down on your fishing costs dramatically.

Snook commonly caught in Florida range from a couple of pounds to ten pounds and are from 18" to 2' long. They can grow to around 48" and weigh around 60 lb. There are 5 species of snook caught in Florida.

2 Top Spots for Snook

  • Ft. De Soto Park, St. Petersburg. A stunningly beautiful spot for snook fishing and many other species. Fish around the mangroves for the best action. Snook are biting from the warm months and are quite inactive during very cold winter months when they'll stack up in saltwater canals to get some sun to stay alive.
  • Sebastian Inlet. This place is so good for catching snook and many other kinds of fish that we could list it for many of the species found on this page but we want to give you some variety. If you're anywhere near this jetty, or not, go and fish for a day. Watch all the fish people are catching on these two jetties and fishing pier.

How To Catch Snook Surf Fishing

Fishing from shore, or wade fishing you can start snook fishing by finding some mangroves. Snook love the mangroves where they can hide behind roots and ambush prey like pinfish.

Pins are going to be your best bait to use to catch them, and you can vary the size to vary the size of fish you want to catch. A big snook can eat the biggest pinfish, no problem. Small pins are excellent bait for smaller snook.

Click Here For Our Comprehensive Guide On Fishing For Snook.

You can target small snook with a size 1/0 or 2/0 hook and 20 lb. mono or fluorocarbon line or leader. Snook have some sharp gill plates so some anglers fish with 30 to 40 lb. test to help ensure fewer line breaks. Fishing with a heavier line around structure is also necessary as snook will wrap you around anything they can find.

For bigger fish, use a size 3/0 to 6/0 hook and at least a 40 lb. leader.

RELATED: Spinning Reel vs Baitcaster

Spanish Mackerel

Florida Gulf Coast Spanish Mackerel

Ratings: Taste 2/5, Fight 4/5

Spanish mackerel are beautiful fish, just stunning to look at, in the way redfish are too. These are much smaller fish than king macks, and they taste far worse.

Found on both coasts, Spanish mackerel prefer water in the 68 to 86°F range. They are most common in the spring and fall months.

Smacks, as they are sometimes called, feed on small fish like sardines, herring, and mullet. They range from 1-2 feet in length and usually weigh around 4 to 6 lb. The biggest one was only 13 lb. and 51" long. These are thin fish!

2 Top Spots for Spanish Mackerel

  • Pensacola. At the end of May, the Spanish mackerel usually arrive here when the water is around 80°F.
  • Miami Beach. During winter when the weather is still warm enough in Miami and surrounding areas, you can catch smacks from the beach.

How To Catch Spanish Mackerel Surf Fishing

Using a 9 to 12-foot med-light action rod with a conventional or spinning reel with 20 lb. braid and 30 lb. monofilament leader you can catch smacks all day with a shiny gold or silver spoon with a treble hook, or a flashy Rapala or Got-Cha plug. Work the artificials in fast jerky movements to attract strikes.

RELATED: How To Catch Spanish Mackerel Like A Pro

Most people fish for mackerel from bridges or piers, but you can reach them from the shore or wade fishing from most areas in Florida. Fishing in moving water is best, so catch them on incoming or outgoing tides, especially if you see any baitfish in the water.

Speckled Trout

Speckled Trout

Ratings: Taste 5/5, Fight 2/5

Speckled trout are another beautiful fish with a bonus. They taste fantastic. This is a very light, flakey, and yet flavorful fish that doesn't need more than just a little melted butter on top as you pull it out of the broiler surrounded by cooked garlic and some broccoli.

Florida trout are typically found over grassy flats in beds of seagrass where they hide from predators and attack small fish and shrimp. These are very delicate fish, so when you land them, ensure your hands are wet when you touch them. Also, don't lift them out of the water if you're going to catch and release.

Trout are not hard-fighting fish, but their taste is exquisite. Go get yourself some!

2 Top Spots for Speckled Trout

  • Ft. De Soto Park, St. Petersburg. There are some great speckled trout seagrass beds here around the camping areas. Walk out in the water a bit until you can cast to the 4 to 5' deep zone and you'll find them.
  • Mosquito Lagoon. Known for its redfish and speckled trout, this 29-mile-long lagoon stretches north from Titusville. It can be found just north of the Kennedy Space Center, on the east coast of Florida. Shallow, mostly clear water and seagrass for trout to hide make it one of the best spots on the east coast for speckled trout.

How To Catch Speckled Trout Surf Fishing

You'll need to find an area of sea grass that is clear and has a slow current. If you see pinfish around the grass, that's ideal. Big speckled trout love pinfish, so if you can net a couple as bait you might catch a huge gator trout.

Freeline a shrimp in the current down toward the seagrass and you'll start catching trout. It's that easy. If you want, you can add a very small split shot to bring it down deeper into the grass.

You can use any bait fish or shrimp. A decent-sized pinfish on a hook can entice a huge trout to strike, so you might aim for that. Even the big ones are good eating.

A lightweight line of 6 lb. mono or fluoro and a light-action rod works fine for these small trout.


Florida Tarpon Jumping Out Of The Water

Ratings: Taste (catch and release), Fight 5/5

While getting a bonefish to strike is probably more difficult than getting a tarpon to strike, actually landing the tarpon is much harder to do. Tarpon are the hardest fighting inshore fish you can catch from the beach, besides sharks. In a boat, you can maneuver to chase them down. From the beach, you may be in for an hour to ninety-minute fight once you hook one.

2 Top Spots for Tarpon

  • Islamorada in the Florida Keys. Tarpon anglers find big tarpon near bridges in Islamorada. This is the best spot in the world for catching tarpon. You can find them from south of Biscayne Bay all the way to Key West.
  • Boca Grande. Another legendary tarpon spot on Florida's west coast. This is just north of Fort Myers. The months of May and June are epic for tarpon and rival Islamorada fishing.

How To Catch Tarpon

Use 8 feet of 100 lb. test monofilament line (leader) for tarpon because you never know how big they're going to be. They go well over 100 lb.

Live bait is key, and pilchards, mullet, and ladyfish are three of the best possible baits you can use. Your hooks must be sharpened because a tarpon's mouth is hard and bony with few soft spots. Your knots, line, swivels, hooks, and everything to do with your gear must be done well in order to catch a tarpon.

Most people only catch 10-20% of the tarpon they initially hook. The hook slips, the hook straightens, the line snaps, the swivel fails, etc. If your gear isn't top-notch, you're going to lose fish.

Florida is very strict on what you can do when you catch tarpon. If you even lift your fish out of the water, they count that as harvesting it and you'll get a huge fine if they see you do it.


Florida Whiting

Ratings: Taste 4/5, Fight 1/5

Whiting (Gulf kingfish) are unregulated fish and are usually by-catch for people fishing for pompano. They look very similar to redfish (red drum) but they are smaller and don't have the copper or reddish-orange hue. They have the same body type.

They are found near pompano eating sand fleas in the sandy bottom. They are easy to catch and you'll probably catch as many or more of them as you will pompano.

These are small 1-2 lb. fish with a great taste if you freeze them overnight. There is an odd taste that goes away after that. Why that helps is anyone's guess. Just do it! This year you have a max of 100 lb. of whiting to keep per person per day. Fair enough!

2 Top Spots for Whiting

  • Jacksonville. The beaches in Jacksonville are great for catching whiting of 1-2 lb. in the surf. You can catch these fish anywhere on the east coast, and they can stand slightly cooler temperatures than some other fish.
  • Fort Myers Beach and Pier. Whiting are plentiful here as are many other fish species.

How To Catch Whiting Surf Fishing

Using clams or sand fleas, put them on a size 1 or 1/0 hook. These are small fish, so you can use a high-low setup and potentially catch two fish at once. Your rod needs to be big enough to reach them, that might be 20 yards off the beach or it might be just beyond the breakers and a good 60-yard throw. You'll need to add weight to get out far enough.

Whiting are not hard-fighting fish. When you target them, you may also catch pompano because they eat the same prey.

Here is a great video showing how to catch whiting surf fishing in Florida

Florida Surf Fishing Species By Month

For some fish, it can be easy to say when the best months to fish for them are, but for others they can be caught year-round. We pulled some of the data below from Florida State's Commercial Fisheries Landing Summaries. This tells the number of pounds of fish species caught during each month by commercial fishermen looking to sell their catch. Some non-commercial species are not represented in this data, so we pulled from other resources and our own experience.


black drum, cobia, flounder, pompano, sheepshead, Spanish mackerel, whiting


bluefish, black drum, cobia, flounder, pompano, sheepshead, Spanish mackerel, whiting


bluefish, black drum, bonefish, cobia, flounder, jacks, pompano, redfish, sheepshead, snook, Spanish mackerel, speckled trout, whiting


black drum, bonefish, cobia, flounder, jacks, pompano, redfish, snook, Spanish mackerel, speckled trout, whiting,


black drum, bonefish, cobia, flounder, jacks, redfish, sheepshead, speckled trout, tarpon, whiting


black drum, bonefish, cobia, flounder, jacks, redfish, sheepshead, speckled trout, tarpon, whiting


black drum, bonefish, cobia, flounder, jacks, redfish, snook, sheepshead, Spanish mackerel, speckled trout, tarpon


black drum, bonefish, cobia, flounder, jacks, sheepshead, snook, Spanish mackerel, speckled trout, tarpon


black drum, bonefish, cobia, flounder, jacks, sheepshead, snook, Spanish mackerel, speckled trout, tarpon


black drum, bonefish, bluefish, cobia, flounder, pompano, snook, sheepshead, Spanish mackerel, speckled trout


black drum, bluefish, bonefish, cobia, flounder, pompano, snook, Spanish mackerel


black drum, bluefish, cobia, flounder, pompano, sheepshead, snook, Spanish mackerel

Final Thoughts

Surf fishing is one of the most enjoyable ways to get out and catch fish. You don't need much of a plan if you're pressed for time. Grab your rod, some artificial lures, a cast net, a tackle box, and a rod holder, and get out there in the surf for a couple of hours.

We have outlined some of the most popular Florida Surf Fishing Species and given you some great tips on how and where to catch them.

You'll do it more if you leave some of your gear in the car so you can go when you have some extra time after work or wherever you are.

Surf fishing allows us to catch some of the best-tasting fish in the world and they're basically free. With the cost of food and everything else skyrocketing, adding fish to the dinner table a couple of times a week is a smart way to reduce spending money you don't need to spend.

RELATED: Top Texas Fish Species

Photo of author

John VanDerLaan

John VanDerLaan is the founder and lead editor at Fisherman's Authority. John is a passionate fisherman whose travels have taken him all over the country in search of different species of gamefish. He has won bass fishing tournaments, including the 1987 Candlewood Classic. He also chases winter steelhead in upstate New York, summer stripers in New England and spends a lot of time fishing the waters of Florida Keys. John is an active member of the Outdoor Writers Association Of America.

Leave a Comment