Want to go fishing in Florida? Here are our tried-and-true picks for expert fishing guides that cover a wide variety of species and experiences.
With apologies to everywhere else in the U.S., Florida has perhaps the widest diversity of fishing opportunities in the country.
From sailfish and swordfish offshore to tarpon, bonefish, and permit on the flats, Florida’s fisheries attract thousands of tourists each year. In fact, if you’re halfway serious about fishing, there’s a better chance than not that a fishing trip to the Sunshine State is already on your list of things to do. (It’s on mine — twice in the next 3 months!)
But how do you determine which kind of fishing is right for you? And once you know what you’d like to catch, how do you find the right charter guide?
Here’s how to find the right trip and the right guides to help you tackle the state’s most awesome aquatic quarry.
Florida Fishing Trips: What Experience Do You Want?
When it comes to fishing, Florida quite literally has something for everyone. From the sugar-white-sand beaches of the Panhandle to the mangrove islands of the Keys to the mullet run of Southeast Florida, the state has incredible fish to catch and some beautiful places to catch them.
Plus, the sheer ease of fishing in Florida makes it unlike many other destinations. In places like the Northeast and the Gulf Coast, you might have to run 80 miles to have a realistic shot at catching swordfish or sailfish. Off of South Florida, you can often catch sailfish a mile off the beach. And the swordfish grounds start at about 8 miles off of Miami.
In most parts of the country, tarpon are mythical creatures that are seldom encountered — let alone caught. In the Florida Keys, you can hand-feed 100-pounders right off the dock. And you can do that every day of the week.
Unless your trip is motivated by the urge to catch a specific type of fish, your best bet might be to match the overall experience you’re looking for with the fishing trip that suits you.
Captain Adam Peeples (Destin): One Shot Charters
Captain Adam Peeples is an accomplished swordfish fisherman who specializes in putting clients on swordfish in the daytime.
His boat record is nine swords in a day. If you visit him in the right time of year — spring and summer — you might expect between three and five swordfish bites per day.
The consistency of swordfish fishing is great for many reasons. Unless your “normal” fishing involves over-targeting quarry of 100 or 150 pounds, you have a realistic shot at catching the biggest fish of your life. Swordfish fight hard, taste great, and keep well in the freezer. They make for awesome pictures too!
Depending on the time of your visit, Captain Adam can round out your trip with yellowfin tuna and some pretty respectable bottom fishing options for snapper and grouper.
Destin also provides a great setting for a family vacation. Its white sandy beaches are among the most beautiful you will find anywhere, it has plenty of lodging, and it’s as accommodating to vacationers as you can get.
Captain Ray Rosher (Miami): Miss Britt Sportfishing
Ray Rosher is a veteran charter captain. In addition to his decades of experience running a charter boat, Rosher owns a tackle manufacturing business and has won more than his share of sailfish tournaments.
The offshore fishing out of Miami is both accessible and incredibly diverse. With blue water visible from the beach, it’s not uncommon to catch double-digit sailfish and be home in time for happy hour.
Perhaps the most interesting way to target sailfish is while kite fishing. This approach involves dangling live baits on the ocean’s surface, where it proves irresistible to passing sailfish. The strike is a visible one, and you can catch all manner of other species. These include king mackerel, blackfin tuna, mahi-mahi, and sometimes sharks.
If you’ve never kite fished, here’s how it works. A specialty fishing kite attaches to a dedicated kite rod. A series of clips are then strung at intervals on the braided line that spools the kite reel. The line from each live bait rod (most boats fish three lines per kite) is then run through a clip on the kite line.
While the line passes through the clip freely — permitting the bait to be deployed and kept in position — the clip releases under tension when the bait is consumed. Once you reel the slack out of the line, you fight the fish free of the kite.
It’s a technical and exciting way to fish. Captain Ray and his crews are as accomplished of kite fishing crews as they come.
Tarpon, Snook, Redfish, Permit
Captain Mark Cockerham (Islamorada): Keyhopper Charters
The Florida Keys are one of my favorite places in the world. And there are few people I’d rather fish them with than Captain Mark Cockerham.
An accomplished guide, Cockerham not only grew up in these waters, but he also holds multiple light tackle and fly world records for bonefish and permit. His exploits include catching more than 400 redfish in a day — in a tournament.
Cockerham expertly targets permit, tarpon, bonefish, redfish, and sharks around the flats and channels of Florida Bay and the Everglades. While you can target a specific fish, perhaps the best option is to let Captain Mark put you on the action. He’s an expert at targeting what’s biting best at the time.
An area of the Florida Bay known as Flamingo is where the Everglades enter into the Gulf of Mexico. The sights and action you’ll see here are incredible. From 12-foot saltwater crocodiles, manatees, porpoises (in 2 feet of water), and sawfish, the mangrove islands and channels are as spectacular as the fishing opportunities they provide.
Catching a 100-pound tarpon on the flats — watching it crash and explode from the water — is a truly addicting experience.
If you’re not careful, all you’ll want to do is go fishing with Captain Mark.
Inshore Fishing, Exotics
Captain Abie Raymond (Miami): Go Hard Fishing Charters
Captain Abie Raymond fishes out of Miami. His operation illustrates the diversity of fishing opportunities that are available here and how accessible everything is.
While Raymond catches saltwater fish including sailfish, kingfish, and snapper offshore, he also targets the many exotic species of freshwater fish (from around the world) that inhabit the Everglades and freshwater canal systems around South Florida.
Some of the interesting, foreign invasives Raymond catches include peacock bass (from South America), clown knifefish (from the Amazon), and snakeheads (from Southeast Asia).
Depending on where he’s fishing, Captain Abie can catch you a big peacock bass and a giant snook or tarpon on the same day. You might see some other crazy, exotic non-aquatic animals on your trip — iguanas, pythons, and parrots!
South Florida provides world-class fishing opportunities. And Raymond’s operation shows you can fish your way around the world — all from the easy access of offshore fishing.
You can get to blue water in a bay boat, which is something you can’t do if you have to run 50 miles to find sailfish. And you have access to the incredible diversity of inshore and freshwater targets available in South Florida.