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Saltwater Fishing Tips

Check out these saltwater fishing tips to get you well on your way to catching a Florida memory! Also learn fishing basics and where to fish, find our saltwater fishing checklist and fishing resources, browse the Fishing Lines field guide and watch saltwater fishing how-to videos, and you'll be off on a new fishing adventure in no time. Then share your catch with us at CatchaFloridaMemory.com to earn recognition and prizes for your fishing achievements!

Ethical Angling and Fishing Regulations

As the number of anglers continues to grow, it becomes more important than ever to be a marine resource steward as well as show others respect when on or near the water. By respecting the marine environment and the people in it, we can help ensure good fishing for generations to come and safe fishing experiences. After all, respect for nature and for other anglers is what fishing is all about.

Some ways you can help be a marine resource steward and make the right kinds of waves include:

  1. Be an ethical angler: Ethical angling means knowing when to keep and when to release your catch while always handling fish with care. This includes knowing and abiding by regulations and being able to identify the fish you target.
  2. Be ready at the ramp: Prepare your boat and equipment before launch. At a fuel dock, get fuel, pay and move out of the way.
  3. Wear your life jacket: Set a good example for others and stay safe.
  4. Watch the wake: Stay at least 200 feet from shoreline and other boaters and follow no wake zones. Always yield to wade fishermen. 
  5. Boat safely: Know who has the right of way and when.
  6. Be courteous on shore: Don’t shoreline fish in areas or during times of day when there are a lot of swimmers. Don’t crowd anglers who are fishing from shore.
  7. Stash your trash: Recycle fishing line and dispose of trash in a proper receptacle ashore
  8. Coming in for a landing: When anchoring up, watch how other boats tie off and do the same. If you think you are too close to other boaters or anglers, you are probably too close. Mind the current and be patient and wait for others to move before docking.
  9. Keep the noise down: Sound is amplified over the water, which can disturb other boaters and those who live near the water.
  10. Give anglers space: The sounds or wake from your boat can cause an angler to lose their catch or drive fish away.
angler holding fish using proper fish handling technique

Knowing the limits and executing the appropriate way to catch and release a targeted fish is called ethical angling. Ethical angling means knowing when to keep and when to release your catch while always handling fish with care. This enables sustainable fisheries for generations to come.

Before you go, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the current regulationsbest practices for handling fish and important marine habitats. In addition to the recreational fishing regulations, you should familiarize yourself with the marine life regulations

  • The best general rule is to handle the fish quickly and as little as possible.
  • Leaving fish in the water during release is the safest option.
  • If you must remove the fish from the water, wet your hands first to minimize damage to their protective slime.
  • When photographing your catch, keep the fish held horizontally and support its full weight.
  • A landing tool like a lip grip helps control the head of the fish and avoids damage to the gills and eyes common to careless handling.
  • If the fish appears lethargic upon release, resuscitation may be needed. The goal is to force water gently through the mouth and over the gills. This can be done by using the current, taking the boat in and out of gear while holding the fish in the water, or moving the fish forward in a figure-8 motion.

Do you buy fishing gear? Fuel up your boat? Purchase a fishing license? Every time you do, you help improve your fishing experience by supporting the Sport Fish Restoration Program (SFR).

Types of Regulations

Saltwater Recreational Fishing Regulations Cover 2021
  • Bag limit - How many fish a person can harvest during a given time. This is often measured per person, per day and occasionally also includes a daily vessel limit.
  • Minimum size limit - Rules that state a fish must be larger than a certain size for them to be harvested. These rules allow fish to reach a size that enables spawning before being harvested.
  • Slot limit - Similar to the minimum size limit, slot limits have both an upper and lower size limit, and only fish that are within that slot may be harvested. This tool allows young fish to mature, while also protecting larger spawning fish.
  • Season - Times of year that are open or closed to fishing for a certain species. This tool is used to protect fish from harvest during sensitive times of the year such as spawning periods or times of heavy fishing.

Learn more about saltwater and freshwater fishing regulations.

Proper fish identification practice

Knowing the fish that you want to catch helps maximize your time on the water. More importantly, knowing your desired species gives you an idea of where to go and what to bring. One great option to help identify your catch is a copy of a fishing field guide like Fishing Lines. This will provide you with pictures, names and even handling tips. You could also opt to purchase a more detailed field guide or try out different fish identification mobile apps and websites, like our saltwater species profiles.

The best way to identify your catch is to look at the shape, colors, fins and any distinct markings. Also, consider what you know about your catch. Compare your observations with the information found in the guide.

Barotrauma Tools

Photo of an inverted hook descending device

Barotrauma is a condition seen in many reef fish caught at depths greater than 50 feet caused by pressure changes leading to an expansion of gases in the swim bladder. These devices should only be used when fish show signs of barotrauma.

Barotrauma tools such as descending devices (require a designated rod or rope and a large weight to help bring fish back down) and venting tools (allow air to escape so the fish can swim down) can help increase a fish's chances of survival if they are used quickly and effectively. 

Watch a quick demonstration on how to treat barotrauma.

Dehooking Tools

Photo of dehooking tools

Dehooking tools can make it easier to unhook fish while minimizing handling time. Watch a video on how to use a dehooking tool.

If a fish is gut hooked, cut the line as close to the hook as possible to avoid further damage to internal organs. 

Reel in and Recycle

The Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program (MRRP) is an innovative statewide project dedicated to reducing the environmental damage caused by discarded fishing line. MRRP aims to educate the public on the problems caused by monofilament line left in the environment, encourage recycling through a network of line recycling bins and drop-off locations, and help citizens host volunteer monofilament line cleanup events. 

You can make a difference by disposing of your used monofilament fishing line in a designated bin. You can also cut all your fishing line into small 6-12 inch sections and dispose of in a lidded trash receptacle to keep it from entangling wildlife. 

Hooked a Bird?

Don't Cut the Line! logo

Don't Cut the Line! Reel. Remove. Release. Watch how to safely handle and unhook a bird.

If a bird has swallowed a fishing hook or is severely injured, use our app to find the nearest seabird rehabilitator to care for the bird and/or transporter to take the bird to a rehabilitator. Please stay with the bird until help arrives. You can also report an injured bird to the FWC using our FWC Reporter app for Apple or Android smartphones or tablets. You can download the free app from the App Store or Google Play.

https://ocean.floridamarine.org/SeabirdRehabilitators/

Where to Fish for What?

Before you head out on your next fishing adventure, you’ll need to plan where to fish. You can even check out FWC’s Boating and Angling Guide Series and artificial reef map to help you decide the best way to access fishing near you. 

Shore Fishing

No matter how good your tackle is, if you’re not in the right spot at the right time, then you still might strike out. This means considering moon phases, tides, time of day, water temperatures, and more (TIP: colder water temperatures can lead to more lethargic fish, try slowing your jigging during the colder months). Keeping detailed notes of successful fishing days is essential to knowing where each species of fish will tend to gather.

Knowing which habitats and food sources fish prefer is also key. Some species are more commonly found in the high action wave zones of beaches, while areas that offer reliable food sources and shelter such as mangroves or salt marshes are popular with other species. Seagrass, oyster bars, and other structures such as rock piles and docks can also provide good fish habitat.

Fishing the beach is an inexpensive and fun way to spend the day. Besides enjoying the beautiful Florida beaches, you could catch snook, pompano, red drum, sharks (you’ll need a no-cost shore-based shark fishing permit) and more. Using a longer surf rod is key to casting your bait into the surf, where many of these fish tend to school. If you’re fishing with weights, you will want one that is designed to stick in the sand like a pyramid or sputnik weight.

Beach fishing can be done year-round; however, snook tend to populate beaches more frequently during the summer months. Remember to be courteous to other beach goers when fishing from the beach. Watch a video on how to set up your own surf rig!

Pier fishing is a great option to get further from shore without the expense of a boat. This can open a whole new world of species such as king mackerel, tarpon, cobia, sharks (you’ll need a no-cost shore-based shark fishing permit), croaker, black drum, sheepshead, and much more. Dropping dead bait or shrimp down to the bottom is a common method for catching whiting and croaker. It’s likely that you’ll end up catching catfish or stingray if you spend enough time pier fishing. Use caution and a dehooking tool to remove the hook while avoiding the spines. Watch this video to learn how to use a dehooking tool!

Perhaps one of the most iconic places to fish in Florida, fishing flats can bring in red drum, snook, spotted seatrout, flounder, tarpon and even the occasional cobia. There are many flats around Florida accessible from shore, meaning you don’t need a boat to fish a flat. Paddle crafts and wade fishing are both viable options that can even get you closer to the fish than a boat. Fishing a flat can be a puzzling task but the reward is well worth it. The incoming tide (several hours before high tide) may be preferable as many fish gather closer to the shore or middle of the flat. Outgoing tides give anglers the opportunity to reel in some fish while schools are forced to leave the flat for deeper water. Every flat is unique, so it is important to keep a lookout for signs of life such as mullet jumping and birds diving. Being in the right spot on the flat at the right time is the key to success.

Mother's Day Boating Safety

If you have a boat, try fishing over an artificial reef or trolling in open water. No boat? Consider hiring a charter to get you offshore and help you learn about commonly caught fish in your area and ways to target them.

Saltwater Fishing Techniques

Discover various techniques you can use while saltwater fishing. Plus, view more saltwater fishing basics and learn how to fish.

Still Fishing

Photo of a girl fishing

Still fishing or bait fishing are the most basic fishing techniques. Still fishing is dropping your baited line in the water and waiting for a fish to bite. Still fishing can be done from anywhere: a boat, a pier, or simply standing on shore.

In Florida, anchoring offshore and dropping live or cut bait to the bottom is a popular method for many desirable species including grouper and snapper. Bottom fishing means you need to add a weight to your rig. It should be heavy enough to beat the current and get to the desired depth. The key is being ready for changing conditions and using the lightest possible weight to get your bait down to the bottom. Do not bottom fish in areas where your gear might get snagged such as over oyster beds.

Drift Fishing

inshore fishing and boating

When drift fishing, the motion of the boat moves the bait through the water slowly as you drift along. You can also drift a bait under a bobber or popping cork. Both natural and artificial bait can work well when drift fishing. Some weight is required to get the bait down.

Trolling

Trolling for fish from a boat

Trolling is a popular fishing technique which can be done with live bait or artificial lures and requires a boat. Let your bait out behind the boat and put the boat in gear. Slowly trolling live baits has proven a favorite method for many Florida anglers, especially for king mackerel and other pelagic species. A downrigger may be used to adjust the depth while outriggers can spread out bait.

Jigging

Photo of angler with vermilion snapper

Jigging, one of the oldest and most popular fishing techniques, gives the appearance of an injured fish. To jig, cast out and let your jig sink to the bottom. Using your wrist quickly snap and flick your rod either horizontally (side to side) or vertically (up and down). Afterward, proceed to let your jig sink back to the bottom. Repeat the process. This is a popular inshore and offshore method that can lead to success with many different species by simply adjusting the weight of the jig and speed of the motion.