Florida Gulf Coast Fish Species
These are the species of fish we hunt with flyrod and spinning rod in the Gulf Coast areas of Boca Grande, Charlotte Harbor, Punta Gorda, Pine Island Sound, Gasparilla Sound, Placida FL, Englewood FL, and Port Charlotte FL.
The Silver King is available from late winter to early fall. Prime time is May and June. Tarpon are the ultimate fly rod target. These migratory giants weigh in at an average 100 lbs, but despite their size they most often eat small crabs, shrimp and bait fish. Big fish such as Tarpon require lots of oxygen. But the waters have the lowest oxygen content early in the morning on quiet, still days. That is when the tarpon “Daisy Chain” on the surface, making for excellent targets for flyfishing. Tide and moon phase also affect them. Strong tides, usually around the new and full moon phases, make them more willing to eat our fly patterns. Spawning takes place in May and June, but after that the fish return hungrier than ever, just like us after an intimate moment. July and August have fewer anglers and plenty of fish.
Snook are one of our primary target species. They are wily, fast, fun and furious. They jump when hooked and run for bushes to try to break you off. They love top water flyrod poppers and small pinfish imitations, their primary food source. Although they do not tolerate cold water they can usually find places to hide, such as creeks, rivers and deep basins. I search for moving water with good ambush points near deep water flats. Sweeping sub surface flies past these points often bring explosive strikes. Snook are always an option regardless of your target species. We flyfish for them whenever possible.
Redfish are available all year. They school on the flats in late summer and early fall and are found tailing all through the winter. Our area is the “hood” for reds. Small reds grow in the mangrove swamps and move to our flats as adolescents. Fish from 2 to 12 lbs. are often side by side. When they reach 10 lbs or more they will migrate to the northern gulf to spawn. The young come back and grow in the deep back-country. Tailing redfish are targeted on the lowest tides of late fall and winter. During the summer the fish begin to school up in large herds. We often see large schools showing the distinctive red or bronze on our flats just before they leave to spawn. It makes fall and winter the prime time for fly fishing for Redfish.
Seatrout are another fun species, especially for novice fly fishers. They are usually abundant, eat every time you cast to them and can be found in beautiful places. If you are teaching yourself or your sons and daughters how to fly fish, this is a great target. They are not really “trout”, but are members of the drum family, like Redfish and Black Drum. They eat almost anything and really love flies. Occasionally large seatrout give you a good tussle. Although the average is about 16 inches, you could find them as large as 30 inches. The best time for them is school vacation when you can bring the kids, although they are available all year.
Pompano move from place to place rapidly. Sarasota seems to have a great run in Sept. and Oct. and Boca Grande sees a run in the early spring. Water temperature seems to be the answer. When the water reaches about 68 to 70 degrees we start looking for them. When it reaches 78 to 80 they are gone. They are crustacean eaters and like bright colors. They also eat some bait fish, so flies like Clouser minnows in pink, chartreuse and white all work. I find them in deeper basins along the edge of the shallow flats that surround the area.
False Albacore (Bonito)
Fall, winter and spring are the best times for the fastest of our species, the False Albacore (often mistakenly called bonito). This pelagic fish can put a 10 wt. in the backing is seconds. We find them in schools in the near shore gulf. They attack shoals of bait busting them into the air and scattering parts all over the place. A quick cast and a fast strip will bring on vicious strikes that burn your hands and tear up your drags. They are one of my most favorite fish. We use surprisingly small flies because the feed on Cuban anchovies that are abundant in our area. For these fish water temperature is critical. I like 68 degrees and above, but you have to watch for them every time you go out.
Permit are sporadic and usually show in the Summer. They're not a fish you can count on, they just show up. However, we have seen many more permit in the last few years than we used to. This is most likely due to the net ban we have in place in Florida. I have encountered schools of smallish fish to about 5 lbs. with an occasional 7 or 8 pounder. Only far offshore do we have big ones. The well known crab and shrimp fly patterns work well for them here and they are not nearly as spooky as the Florida Keys fish.
Ladyfish are an abundant species closely related to tarpon. If you’ve been a fresh water trout anglers all your life, ladyfish will teach you the difference between fresh and saltwater fish. I often target them for first time anglers because they almost always bite, are plentiful and fight hard while jumping all the time. They eat most patterns but love olive and white Clouser minnows. The faster you move the fly the more aggressive they get. A super fish for novice salties.
Jack Crevalle are a member of the tuna family and have all the traits that make tuna a great fish to catch. Most of our fish are under 5 lbs. but occasionally schools of 10 to 12 pounders show up in our passes or along the beach. A quick flycast, fast retrieve and a strong hook is the recipe for success when we find them.
Bluefish run the gulf coast like crazy banshees. I have taken them throughout the year and can never rely on them except in winter. They bite! We often catch them when fishing for seatrout or ladyfish. Fast moving Clouser minnows do the job, but hang on, they are tough. Their sharp teeth and forward mouth linked with a sharply fork tail make them superior bait fish eaters. I most often find them when baitfish are present.
Triple tail are strange creatures. They look like a shell cracker or other pan fish, they get big and they don’t scare easily. We find them on calm days with their noses up against crab trap buoys or other structure. The eat small crabs and shrimp chewing them off the buoys. I once found two in a floating 5 gallon bucket. A cast close to their nose almost always is successful.
Flounder are here. We catch a fair number of them throughout the year but I can never target them. They don’t always live on the sand. I often catch them on hard bottoms where they search our small baitfish like killifish. A sinking line and fly fished slowly can sometimes bring a flounder to the boat. I say this in an incidental by-catch at best.
Cobia are another species that come and go. They like warm clear water and are unafraid of boats and people. They are often seen following the big Eagle rays that come in the summer. Late winter occasionally finds them in the upper harbor where the water is a bit warmer and there is more bait. A large fly fished directly in front of them will draw a strike. These shark look a likes are strong and tough. Handle with care.
We even catch a few on flies. Hard to get a big one.