Florida has always been known as a top kayak fishing destination. It is also one of the world’s best kayak fishing locations. With more than 7700 lakes, 10550 miles of rivers and 2276 miles of tidal shoreline, it’s no wonder this is one of the United States most popular kayak fishing destinations.
Florida has produced more than 900 fishing world records, more than any other state or country for that matter. The following species are all found in and within Florida waters at some time of the year. So what are you waiting for? Get your rods, kayak, paddle and hit the water. Here are some of the top Florida fish to catch on your Black Bass or Manatee or Voyager Fishing Kayaks.
1) Kayak Fishing For Largemouth Bass
Florida’s official freshwater fish, the legendary largemouth has an international reputation. Florida is a top destination for black bass fishing (External Link: https://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/things-to-do/florida-fishing/black-bass-fishing-tips.html). Anglers come from all over the world just to add a 10-pound bass to their “life list” of big fish. The king of the lakes and rivers, a big bass will eat just about anything, even squirrels or baby ducks.
2) Spotted Sea Trout
Commonly known as speckled trout (External Link: https://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/things-to-do/florida-fishing/speckled-trout-fishing-florida.html), it’s a schooling species usually found in the shallow waters of bays and estuaries. It has two large canine teeth in the upper jaw and feeds mainly on shrimp and small baitfish in grassy areas.
Look for the spotted seatrout in grassy areas, around structure, in the mangroves or in deep holes with a sandy bottom. Speckled seatrout feed on crustaceans, shrimp, crabs and bait fish. Free line, live pinfish or shrimp near the edges of mangroves or over grass beds to attract them out of deep holes. This species is fun to catch and quite tasty, best eaten fresh, not frozen.
A general term to describe a number of different species – including spotted sunfish, bluegill, redbreast sunfish, redear sunfish, warmouth – these fish are the mainstay for many young anglers. Catch these Florida fish on worms, popping bugs and spinner baits.
A generic name for several deepwater species, these bottom dwellers are important to both recreational and commercial fishermen. Red grouper and gag grouper (sometimes called black grouper) are most popular with anglers. Anglers typically “bottom fish” for these species, but during the cooler months, they can be caught in shallow water by trolling artificial lures.
4.1) Grouper, Goliath (Jewfish)
The Goliath Grouper is an endangered species that has been making a come back. They are found on artificial and natural reefs at depths anywhere from 15 to 165 feet. This is a large Grouper weighing up to 800 pounds and can grow up to eight feet in length. Many anglers catch this giant while fishing for other species. The Goliath is known for stealing anglers catches as they reel them in. The Goliath feed on mostly slow moving creatures, and rarely do they target large fish, as the Goliath is a very lethargic species that spends most of it’s time hiding out in caves waiting to ambush it’s next meal. If you catch this fish, do not try to bring it aboard your boat, it is illegal in Florida.
5) Kayak Fishing For Snappers
5.1) Snapper, Queen
The Queen Snapper is a rare catch and a unique snapper with a long, slender body tipped by a big forked tail, and yellow eyes. The Queen snapper grows to three feet long and can be found in very deep water, 600 feet or more. The Queen can be found amongst very large rocks, so you cannot anchor and target this species; dropping your line deep and drifting by rocks is the only way you can hopefully catch this great eating fish.
5.2) Snapper, Red
Red Snapper can live 25 years and weigh more than 25 pounds, with the record in Florida caught at 46 pounds near Destin. This Snapper is more abundant in the colder northern Florida offshore deep wrecks and reefs, but can be found statewide.
The Red Snapper feed on crab, shrimp, fish and worms. Chumming with crushed blue crab or mussels can drive the Red Snapper into a frenzy. There are federal and state fishing restrictions on this species so be sure to know the current rules before taking this very tasty fish home for dinner.
6) Barracuda, Great
The Great Barracuda is the only species of this large family located in Florida waters. The Great Barracuda can grow to 51 pounds and over six feet in length; most caught in Florida average two to three feet and weigh five to 20 pounds.
Barracuda’s are found offshore all over Florida traveling alone or in loose schools in open waters and lurking around reefs looking for the opportunity to surprise their prey. This fish has been know to jump in boats chasing after your fish as you reel it in or after something shinny they desire. So be careful when you know they are in the area, especially when kayak fishing. Barracuda is good eating, most cut them into steaks and grill, or you could smoke the meat which a popular way of eating it.
The elusive Bonefish travel in loose schools feeding on shrimp, shellfish, crabs, bottom dwelling fish, and mangrove roots. The Bonefish inhabit shallow backwater among mangroves moving onto shallow mud flats to feed with the incoming tide, and retreating to deeper waters as the tide goes out. During the hot summer months Bonefish will move into deeper channels adjacent to flats.
Chumming with bits of shrimp up current from their favorite hangouts proves very successful especially in very hot or cold temperatures. Bonefish a favorite for fly angers and are not commonly eaten. Since Bonefish feed by smell, crushing live shrimp to release more scent is a proven method to attract them. The best times to catch a Bonefish is during overcast sky, a rising tide, water less than three feet deep and water temperature higher than 70 degrees. The average size of Bonefish in South Florida and the Florida Keys range from six to nine pounds, and 10-12 pound Bonefish are common.
8) Kayak Fishing For Dolphin (Mahi Mahi)
The schooling Dolphin fish can be found in deep offshore water close to the surface near floating objects such as buoys, or drifts of floating sargassum weed. This fast swimming species lives only five years and is one of the fastest growing species, and thus have ferocious appetites. Dolphin’s favorite food are flying fish and they also eat shrimp, squid, crustaceans or even baby dolphin fish.
This is an incredible fish to get on your line and will make for a memorable fight when kayak fishing. It is also considered one of the best eating fish in Florida.
9) Amberjack, Greater
The Greater Amberjack is a big, strong fish that grows well over 100 pounds and is primarily targeted for their quick and feisty action once hooked. They travel in schools and are commonly caught from bridges, piers, or docks as they travel by. Amberjack eat small fish, especially bigeye scad, as well as crabs, squid, crustaceans, and invertebrates.
Chum for Amberjack should be made with herring, menhaden, mullet, pinfish and blue runners. Set out your chum slick and if Amberjacks are nearby, you are guaranteed a fun time. Amberjacks are not commonly table fare but make for an exhilarating catch when kayak fishing. They will certainly make your Florida experience a wild one.
10) Jack, Rainbow Runner
The fast swimming, brightly colored rainbow runner inhabits both inshore (close to shore) and offshore (deep Water). Highly migratory, the Rainbow travels in large schools feeding on small fish, shrimp and crabs. Reaching sexual maturity at 24 inches, this runner in the Amberjack species is a formidable opponent when hooked.
Often hooked while trolling, this species is commonly used as trolling bait for billfish and tuna. Catch a few, keep them in your bait box as live bait and start the hunt for the big game fish.
11) Kayak Fishing For Mackerel, King (Southern Kingfish)
King Mackerel travel in large schools near the surface of the water, close to shore over sandy bottoms. King Mackerels can also be found near reefs, wrecks and other hard structures. Fishing off of a kayak is one of the best ways to catch a Kingfish.
The King Mackerel are heavy feeders preferring herring, shad, sardine, pilchard, menhaden, jack, anchovy, ladyfish, mullet, drum, and will also eat shrimp, sand fleas and squid. Use live bait on the surface, or just below, trolling behind your kayak for great results.
12) Pompano, African
The African Pompano is also known as, Pennant-Fish and Threadfin Trevally, Cuban Jack, Atlantic Threadfin, Pennantfish, Threadfin Mirrorfish, and Trevally. Adults travel solitary in tropical waters, both inshore and offshore, in the first 200 feet of the water column, sometimes 300 feet deep, generally swimming deep over sandy bottoms, adjacent to rocky structures.
African Pompano grow to a length of five feet but are normally in the 18 to 24 inch range and it can grow to 50 pounds with 20 to 30 pounds common in Florida. African Pompano feeds on slow-moving crustaceans, small crabs, and occasionally on small fish. This fish is a great fighter and excellent table fare.
These fish are exceptionally strong and will drag you for miles before being landed. If you are going kayak fishing for these, be prepared.
Snook can be readily found in bays usually around structures and in shallow water off beaches, but mostly in southern Florida. On the east coast, from Sebastian south you have great numbers of Snook. Further north Snook are limited due to the colder waters. Snook cannot survive in water temperatures below 60 degrees.
They are excellent eating and fun to catch but do have strict catch limits and closures, so be sure to read up on current rules.
14) Tarpon (Megalops)
Tarpon are found mostly in coastal waters and estuaries where the water is warm and shallow with sandy, mud bottoms. In the Keys you can find Tarpon lurking around docks in large numbers and around seawalls. This large species is commonly six feet and weighing over 100 pounds in south Florida and get as large as 280 pounds. Often encountered solitary, they frequently travel in schools, especially in the Keys.
Tarpon feed on stingrays, mullets, silversides, catfish, blue crabs, sardines, anchovies, and pinfish. They are a sought after species for sports fishing but make terrible table fare, so catch n’ release is the game with this fish. Beware of the Great Hammerhead shark when reeling in Tarpon, as this shark loves to steal your Tarpon catch.
They are are famous for their aerobatics once hooked. They are going to take you and your fishing kayak for a wild ride that will ensure you never forget your Florida fishing trip.
You need a Tarpon stamp on your fishing license to catch a Tarpon, so be sure to get one if you plan on stalking this catch and release only fish.
Wahoo are very fast. They can swim up to 50 mph and have been found at up to eight feet in length, and weighing up to 180 lb. They can sometimes be found in small schools, but they mostly are solitary swimmers several feet below the surface, not far from land in tropical and subtropical waters.
The Wahoo tend to be more active near sunrise and sunset, and are sought after as a sport fish for their speed and fighting ability. They have excellent white fillets that have a delicate flavor. The Wahoo feeds on whole small fishes, such as sardines, scads, mackerel and squid. They will attack surface bait, so chunking is a great chum method using the bait fish above.
Worthy Mentions for Kayak Fishing
You might be wondering why there is no mention of Tuna, Sailfish or Marlin on this list. While these are truly amazing game fish, they generally are caught offshore and should only be on your target list if you are a very experienced at kayak fishing. We will cover catching these top order, game fish in a later article.
Get out there and catch!
You now have an extensive list of some of Florida’s best fish species for kayak fishing. Remember to do your research on the best areas for each species, what bait they like and very importantly, what tackle works best for that species, especially when fishing off of your kayak.