Florida Surf Fishing – A Quick Guide

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.

Pompano

Pompano are a very popular target for Florida surf fisherman. Pompano are fun to catch for and they taste great. They put up a great fight, despite their size.

Live bait, such as sand fleas and shrimp, work best for Pompano. The pompano rig is a great setup for catching pompano and a bunch of other species too.

Great Barracuda

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

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.

Bonefish

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.

Atlantic Bonito

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.

Blue Bonito

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.

Atlantic Croaker

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.

Red Drum

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.

Ladyfish

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.

Permit

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

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 

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.

Best Time to Surf Fish

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 two most popular are the fish finder rig and the double dropper loop 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you need a license to surf fish in Florida?

Yes. If you’re fishing from the shore you’ll need a shoreline fishing license (unless you have a saltwater fishing license). Licenses can be obtained in person through a licensing agent or online here.