The beautiful coastlines of Florida are a surf fishing paradise. There’s a wide range of species that vary depending on which area of the state you are fishing in. Although some fish can be found on all coasts of the state, others are only present on one coastline.
Starting from Florida’s most northerly point, the Atlantic Ocean runs down the East coast of the state until it reaches the Florida Keys. At this point, it turns into the Florida Straits which is approximately a hundred mile stretch of water running along the south-south east part of Florida before meeting the Gulf of Mexico which then runs up along the whole western coast of the state.
Florida offers some of the best surf fishing in the country. Our guide will help you next time you fish from the beautiful beaches of the Sunshine State.
Species Common to the Florida Surf
There are a ton of species found near the the Florida shores. Here are some of the most popular species for Florida surf fishing.
The pompano is a common saltwater fish found in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. This species can be caught on both artificial lures and bait, making it a popular target for anglers. Pompano are typically caught from the beach or in piers, and they put up a good fight when hooked.
When fishing for pompano, use a light- to medium-action rod and reel with 12- to 20-pound test line. Use artificial lures such as spoons, plugs, or jigs in shades of yellow, white, or pink. For bait, try small pieces of shrimp or mullet. Cast your lure or bait into the surf and retrieve it slowly, letting the current carry it back to you. Be patient and keep casting until you hook into a pompano!
The pompano rig is a great setup for catching pompano and a bunch of other species too.
This large family of fish consists of many different species, but the great barracuda is the only member of this family that is present around all coasts of Florida. It is classed as an ambush predator and can be found in open water and around reefs in both loose shoals and individually. This species can grow to over 50lb but generally a 20lb barracuda is classed as a good catch.
Bluefish migrate from the North Atlantic into Florida waters during the winter months and are a very popular gamefish for anglers. They can be found swimming in shoals or individually feeding on small fish and squid around inshore bays, inlets and along beaches. Bluefish also require a high level of salinity so can not tolerate brackish water at all.
Check out the best lures for catching Bluefish.
One of the most popular species to be found around the Florida Keys is the elusive bonefish. They travel in loose shoals looking for foods such as small fish, shrimp, shellfish and crabs. They generally move into shallow water to feed with the incoming tide and retreat into deeper water as the tide recedes. Anglers fishing around the Keys can expect to catch fish up to around 8lb, but specimens of 12lb plus are possible.
The Atlantic bonito are members of the mackerel family and can be found around the coastal waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Although they can be found in the waters of the Gulf, they are rarely caught in this area. They will feed on small fish and invertebrates and grow to around 12lb in weight.
This type of bonito, also known as the false albacore or little tunny, are members of the tuna family and will put up an aggressive battle once hooked. They travel in large shoals and they feed on other fish species such as herring, menhaden, mackerel and anchovies.
Anglers can drift or troll for this species, but they are also commonly caught from piers on the Atlantic coast and around the Panhandle. They are also used by anglers as bait for large species such as billfish and sharks.
The Atlantic croaker, or hardhead as they are sometimes referred to, get their name from the noise that they make by oscillating their swim bladder and can be found on all coasts of the state.
During the fall, adult croakers move offshore to spawn and this is where they stay until spring when they return inshore and can be found in estuaries and bays over sandy or muddy bottoms. They can also be found around structure such as piers and docks and over oyster beds.
Croakers are a bottom dwelling species and they feed on a variety of foods such as worms, molluscs, crustaceans and small fish.
The red drum, or redfish as they are also commonly known, are abundant on both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and can attain weights of over 50lb. They feed primarily on other small fish such as croaker, pinfish, mullet and flounder although they will also take other foods such as crab and shrimp. They are willing to feed by both ambushing their prey from behind structure as well as sourcing foods from off the bottom.
When fishing for redfish, use a medium- to heavy-action rod and reel with 20- to 30-pound test line. Use artificial lures such as plugs, spoons, or jigs in shades of red, orange, or yellow. For bait, try live shrimp, crabs, or mullet.
These are found in inshore waters along the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico. They can tolerate a wide range of salinity and can be found in the surf and in brackish lagoons.
Young ladyfish feed on small fish, insects and zooplankton and as they mature, they become strictly carnivorous and feed on crustaceans and fish.
Anglers targeting ladyfish generally fish from piers, in bays or along the beach with baits such as live shrimp, small live fish, crab and squid. They can be caught all year round and at any time of the day and tidal conditions.
Snook are a popular fish that inhabit the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida. They can grow up to 35 inches long, with an average weight of 25 pounds. The common snook is also known as the sergeant fish or robalo. Read more on how to catch snook form the surf.
Permit feed on crab, shrimp and small fish and can generally be found in shallow water off all coasts within easy casting distance of the beach in small shoals or individually. They are easily spooked and will bolt at the slightest noise or movement so care must be taken when hunting this species. They are also aggressive fighters and will put up a long spirited fight and will run deep at any opportunity.
Striped bass, commonly known as ‘stripers,’ can be targeted from the surf all year round on both the east and west coasts of Florida, although spring and fall are generally the better times since they head into tidal freshwater to spawn and they run a lot closer to the shoreline, making it easier for the angler to reach them. When targeting bass, identify features where small prey fish might be present, such as troughs in sand bars or around rocks and docks.
Juvenile bass eat insects, small crustaceans and small fish fry. Adult striped bass eat almost any kind of fish and invertebrates such as squid, crab and lobster.
Spot can be found inhabiting the coastal waters of Florida and in estuaries. They are a short lived species that can reach the age of 5 years, but most only survive up to the age of 3 years.
Their diet consists of small fish, aquatic worms, crustaceans and molluscs. They also form the natural prey of many species including striped bass, flounder, shark, barracuda and mackerel.
When fishing for this species, anglers should use small hooks and light tackle with baits such as shrimp, clams and squid under a small bobber from the shore, dock or pier. Spot can also be caught by using small jigs and spoons.
The tarpon is a large saltwater fish that can be found in both coastal and offshore waters. This species is known for its fighting spirit, and it’s not uncommon to catch one that weighs over 100 pounds. Tarpon can be caught on both live and artificial bait, making them a popular target for anglers.
When fishing for tarpon, use a heavy-action rod and reel with 30- to 50-pound test line. Use artificial lures such as plugs, spoons, or jigs in shades of silver or green. For bait, try live crabs, mullet, or shrimp.
The flounder is a common saltwater fish found in coastal waters throughout Florida. This species can be found in both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Flounder are a bottom-dwelling fish, which means they prefer to live near the sea floor. They use their flat body to camouflage themselves from predators and prey.
Flounder can be caught using a variety of methods, including surfcasting, pier fishing, and deep sea fishing. The best time of year to catch flounder is during the winter months, when they move into shallower waters near the coast.
The most common way to catch a flounder is by using bait. Some good baits to use include shrimp, crabs, sand worms, and minnows. When using bait, it is important to use a weight to keep the bait near the bottom.
Another way to catch flounder is by using artificial lures. Some good lures to use include plastic worms, jigs, and spoons. When using artificial lures, use a light tackle rod and reel.
Flounder are a good eating fish, and can be cooked in a variety of ways. Some good recipes include fried flounder, blackened flounder, and stuffed flounder.
Best Time to Surf Fish in Florida
As a rule, the best times to surf fish around the Florida coastline is from sunrise to around 10a.m. and a couple of hours before dusk. This is due to the fact that most species prefer to hunt and feed in low light conditions because it is easier for them to ambush their prey. Plus fish find that low light offers more cover to hide. Also, during these times, the beaches tend to be quieter, so fish are more likely to approach the shoreline.
The Best Rigs For Florida Surf Fishing
Although anglers can use a variety of rigs when targeting species in the surf, the three most popular are the fish finder rig, the double dropper loop rig, and the pompano rig
Fish Finder Rig
The fish finder rig, or Carolina rig as it is commonly referred to, is a basic rig that consists of a hook tied to a length of either monofilament or fluorocarbon leader tied to the mainline via a barrel swivel with a sinker above.
The choice of sinker style and weight will be determined by the amount of current that is flowing. If there’s little or no current, you can use an egg sinker. Stronger currents may require a pyramid sinker, which will dig into the ocean floor.
This rig is also the best choice when using a live baitfish as it allows the bait to behave in a natural manner.
Double Dropper Loop Rig
The double dropper loop rig has the sinker tied to the end of the line with two loops around 12” apart further up the line with hooks tied to these. An advantage of using this style of rig is that the angler can fish with two different baits at different depths which increases the chances of success.
Also, if shoal fish are present and feeding hard, more than one fish can be caught at a time. Additional loops can also be added if the angler wishes to fish with more hooks.
When fishing in Florida, you can use a pompano rig to catch many different species of fish. The rig is very simple and pretty easy to make. The Dr. Fish Pompano Rig Making Kit has everything you need to make a bunch of rigs. Just follow the steps below and feel free to customize to your liking.
How to Tie a Pompano Rig
- Cut about five or six feet of line. The rig won’t be this long once you’re done, but that will give you more than enough line to work with.
- Tie one end of the line to the snap swivel using a clinch knot.
- Tie a dropper loop about 10-12 inches up the line.
- Tie a second dropper loop another 10 inches up the line and a third another 10 inches from the second.
- String the first dropper loop through a float, then a bead.
- Connect hook to end of dropper look using quick switch knot.
- Repeat steps 5 and 6 for the other two drop loops.
- Tie the barrel swivel to the other end of the line.
As an alternative to dropper loops, you can use a couple of three-way swivels if you do not have the time to tie the loops.
Finally, you’ll need to choose the right bait. Baitfish are the best choice for pompano rigs, so use something like pinfish, scaled sardines, or herring. Cut the bait into small strips about two inches long.
Cast your rig into the surf and wait for a bite!
Frequently Asked Questions
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Hello! My name is Tim and I’ve been fishing for over 30 years. I’ve learned a lot about fishing during that time and I love sharing that knowledge with others. I’m also a member of the International Game Fish Association (IGFA). Thanks for checking out the site!