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Offshore Fishing

Man with black tip shark on boat

 

Offshore fishing can be an exciting and rewarding fishing adventure. Some very large fish make these reefs their permanent home and others are seasonal. You can find great fishing a few miles offshore or you can venture out 50 or 60 miles to catch some real big fish.

Most anglers go offshore with their own boats; vacationers usually hire one of our experienced local fishing charter captains.

The offshore towers, reefs, and wrecks offer excellent fishing year round and contain some very large fish such as the Goliath Grouper, Cobia, giant Permit, Snapper, Amberjacks, Dolphin, Sharks, Barracuda, etc. Offshore your will find:

Pelagic Fish - species that swim the open oceans and congregate closer to the surface - Billfish, Tuna

Bottom Dwellers - species that live in cracks and crevices near the bottom - Grouper, Snapper

Bait Fish - smaller species that usually reside in large schools that larger fish feed on - Pilchard, Ballyhoo

July and August are the start of the prime months when Permit and Kingfish arrive at the wrecks. You need heavy duty fishing line to land one of these large fish and a lot of strength to reel them in. The coral on the reefs is the home of these fish and once they are hooked they will bolt back to the reef. You must reel hard to keep the fish away from the reef because the coral can easily slice your line. Be careful when handling these fish, they have very sharp spines and teeth.Reef location Naples Florida

Thousands of Reefs & Wrecks

We have thousands of reefs, both natural & artificial, located both near shore and offshore around the state. Because Florida waters have mostly a sandy bottom with little natural structure, we have been blessed with the addition of artificial reefs provided by local, state, and federal entities.

There are also sunken ships and planes providing additional habitat for our beloved marine life. We also have the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary that is North America's only natural coral reef and the third largest coral reef in the world. Visit our Fishing Reefs and Shipwrecks page for more on reef and wreck fishing.

Tips icon

Get reef GPS Coordinates from Florida Go Fishing by visiting our offshore Reef GPS Coordinates page.

Blue Water Fishing

Man all geared up to catch big fish stands with a broken fishing rod
Image Courtesy of Beast Charters of Miami

Deep water seamounts, ledges, and humps can be found in depths ranging from 500 feet to well over 1,000 feet offshore. Seamounts are close to the Continental Shelf in the warm waters of the Gulf Stream that runs through the Straits of Florida in the Keys up the east coast of Florida. Bait fish tend to school closer to the surface as a result of the strong currents of the Gulf Stream pushing them to the surface. When you find schooling fish you will find the pelagic predators targeting the bait schools.

The seamounts and ledges are full of the deep water larger migratory pelagic predator fish like Billfish. Salifish, Tuna, Shark, and bottom fish like Tilefish, Queen Snapper, Yellow Eye Snapper, Snowy Grouper, and Yellow Edge Grouper. Water tempurates change drastically as your line drops into the depths - when you drop your line down 1,000 feet into a black abyss, you have no idea what you will catch.

 

Tackle & Bait Recommended for Fishing the Deep Blue Waters:

  • Medium action rod, 40-60 lb. test line, 6 oz. sinker, 5/0 to 7/0 hooks for Snapper and small fish
  • Heavier action rod, 60 to 80 lb. test line, 6 to 8 oz. sinker, 7/0 to 9/0 hooks for Grouper, A.J.'s and large fish
  • Live Pilchard, Ballyhoo or Mackerel as bait works great

man holding 40+ pound wahoo on a boat

The Gulf Stream

Man on a boat offshore holding a Dolphin fish on a gaff
Image Courtesy of Beast Charters of Miami

The Gulf Stream flows through the Gulf of Mexico then by the Straits of Florida skirting the Florida Keys then flowing north up the East Coast. This large underwater river has a water temperature is generally 75 degrees at the surface and can be 45 degrees 2,000 feet down in the Straits of Florida. The width of the Gulf Stream is between 40 and 50 miles and does not have defined banks, it generally shifts seasonally and annually. This swift current flowing north at 2 to 4 knots around Florida's coast, on occasion flowing as fast as 8 knots. This is not a place for small boats to get close to as you will find yourself a hundred miles away if caught in the current.

The swift current of the Gulf Stream is a feeding ground for large game fish that you can catch trolling, kite fishing, downrigger fishing or with hook and line. Common species like Blue and White Marlin, Mako Shark, Amberjack, Dolphin (Mahi Mahi), Sailfish, and Blackfin Tuna arrive seasonally. You never know what you will pull up from the deep when deep drop bottom fishing in the Gulf Stream - Queen Snapper, Snowy Grouper, Yellow Edge Grouper, Yellow Eye Snapper, or Tilefish to name a few.

Marathon Hump (West Hump) Barracuda underwater

The Marathon Hump is a popular fishing ground 27 miles SE of Marathon on the edge of the Gulf Stream starting at 480 feet and dropping to 1,000 feet, one of the deepest seamounts in The Keys. The Gulf Steam flows through this hump causing bait fish to mass at the surface attracting migratory species, especially Billfish. Sailfish and Blue Marlins patrol the surface and can be found patrolling depths between 20 to 80 feet.

Islamorada Hump

The Islamorada Hump is 15 miles offshore of Islamorada in The Keys in the middle of the Gulf Stream. This large sea mound rises almost 200-feet of the surface and drops to over 700 feet. Before venturing to this area be sure to get the GPS Coordinates for the nearby Federally regulated MPA zone called East Hump and learn the current rules to avoid hefty fines.

The Florida Keys offers a variety of offshore fishing environments. Choosing the type of fish you plan on targeting dictates the area to fish. Watch this video to get a good idea of the vast underwater landscape and the fish that inhabit these areas.

Deep Water Marine Zones MAP symbol means Marine Protected Zone HAPC icon means Habitat Area of Particular Concern

Boat offshore with storm in backgroundThere are four Marine Protected Zones on the Altantic, three in the northern Atlantic and one in The Keys. There are also several marine zones on the Gulf of Mexico.

MAP symbol means Marine Protected Zone Federal Marine Protected Area - No Fishing except Trolling for Pelagic Species - Tuna, Dolphin, Billfish, etc.

HAPC icon means Habitat Area of Particular Concern Habitat Area of Particular Concern - No anchoring, bottom trawling, bottom traps

You must know these Federal rules before wetting a line in these areas. It is very easy to enter these areas and break the rules if you do not get the GPS Coordinates before you go. We have detailed information and links to current rules in our Special Marine Zones section.

 

Middle Grounds - Gulf of Mexico

Girls offshore with a large red grouperThe Middle Grounds is located in the northern Gulf of Mexico about 100 miles offshore. This popular fishing area has an average depth of 90 to 200 feet. You need heavy tackle to bring in the large Mangrove Snapper, 50 lb Gag & Black Grouper, 16" Vermilion Snapper, and large Amberjack. Most fish caught here tend to be large adults including Grouper, Amberjack, Mangrove Snapper, Mutton Snapper, Hog Snapper, Cubera Snapper, King Mackerel, Dolphin (Mahi Mahi), Cobia, Tilefish, Porgies, and Triggerfish. Large live Pinfish is the bait of choice in the Middle Grounds, especially if you want to catch a large Gag Grouper. There are long range overnight trips on chart boats that offer great fishing in the Middle Grounds if you don't have a very large boat to get there.

 

Caution SignWhat is Obstn Fish Haven on a nautical chart?
Fish havens are artificial shelters or reefs constructed of rocks, concrete, car bodies, and other debris and put on the sea floor to attract fish. Fish havens are often found in the vicinity of fishing ports or major coastal inlets and are usually considered hazards to navigation. Generally these area's are great fishing spots.

 

Seagrass Meadows and Holes

Seagrass bed underwater

Seagrass meadows and hold occur throughout the coastal waters of Florida in protected bays and lagoons as well as along the continental shelf in the Gulf of Mexico. They are most abundant from Tarpon Springs northward to Alalachee Bay. Florida's estimated 2.7 million acres of seagrass meadows are important natural resources providing food and shelter to our marine life.

There are area's offshore where there are small grass meadows and holes nestled in the sandy bottom. These spots are far and few, but are frequent destinations to migrating fish. Many fish stop by for a bite of algae, to feed of small fish, or to rest as they journey from one reef to another. Grouper are famous for taking a siesta in the many dips in the sand or as us landlubbers call holes. You can spot these areas on your GPS and if you see fish on your fish finder, drop anchor and try your luck. Please try to drop your anchor outside the grass beds to avoid damaging them. I have hear a charter captain or two speak of these great fishing areas but they will never reveal where they are.

Navigation Towers

Offshore tower CP2 with boat cast nettingOffshore navigation towers are very popular for catching bait and for fishing. These large towers draw bait fish who stay close to the surface, so anglers on their way offshore usually stop and cast net for bait. Once caught, the bait is stored in their boat bait wells or bait buckets that have oxygen.

You can fish near these towers too. Since the towers areCast net wide open over water near offshore tower active with anglers in search of bait, it best to fish away from the tower, especially on busy weekends. The best method is to position your boat up current of the tower, turn off your boat motor, and fish while drifting by the tower.

 

Marine & Mooring Buoy's

We have live Buoy data on our Weather page along with a map of the location of marine buoys around Florida.

We also have tips for using mooring buoys that are available in many areas around Florida. When mooring buoys are in the area you are required to uses them. Learn about the Mooring Buoys available in Florida on our Reefs & Shipwrecks page.

Anchoring

Before you throw your anchor in the water you need to know the rules for the area you will be anchoring. For tips on anchoring offshore visit our Reefs & Shipwrecks page section Anchoring & Mooring Buoys.

 

Fishing Methods

Caution SignRemember, Divers share our offshore reefs. Florida law requires boaters to make reasonable efforts to remain 300-feet away from a boat displaying a divers-down flag. If divers are on the reef you are about to fish, you must fish 300-feet away from the dive flag; it is best to relocate to a different site.

Chumming Offshore Reefs & Holes

Chumming Diagram showing currentChumming is usually necessary and commonly practiced in Southwest Florida offshore. The chum gets the fish in feeding mode and sometimes creates a fishing frenzy! Most anglers leave the dock with many boxes of frozen chum or their own homemade brews. To be successful you must know where the current is going and anchor up current from the reef or hole you will be fishing.

If you arrive at a reef and someone else is chumming and fishing, DO NOT drive over their chum line. It is advised as a courtesy to the angler(s) that have been chumming this spot that you leave and find another spot. If this is not possible, then anchor off at a considerable distance from the boat.

For more information visit our Fish Chum & Chumming pages.

Trolling

Boat trollingTrolling for mackerel and kingfish from a boat entails using multiple lines attached to outriggers to spread the lines more widely and reduce their chances of tangling. Downriggers are used to keep the lures or baits trailing at a desired depth. You can also Slow Troll using just your heavy rods. Watch the video below to see Slow Trolling in action.

You can also troll inshore with a a single rod equipped with heavy line.

One method commonly used is to anchor near a reef or wreck and chum heavily for a short time. Then pull your anchor and slow troll back and forth the area you just chummed. This can also be done inshore around a point or structure.

For a great article on the gear needed for trolling visit Bass Pro Shops article Saltwater Trolling Basics.

Kite Fishing

Kite Fishing
Click Image to Enlarge

Kite fishing for Sailfish, Blackfin, Wahoo, Dolphin and even Yellowfin Tuna is more common in the Keys and east coast, but it is done in other areas of Florida too.

Hart And Hart MFG. Drogues 32
Drouge - Click Picture to Buy

Using the same principles of trolling, you drag a kite in the air behind your boat the simulates a bird in flight which signifies bait fish are near. With your line attached to the kit you can hook up some big fish.

You can slowly troll or drift using a drogue to slow your boat down. For a great article on the gear needed for kit fishing visit Bass Pro Shops article Kite Fishing Basics. Click the picture to the left for the PDF file to download and print.

 

 

 

Downriggers

Cannon Easi Troll Hs Manual Downrigger
Click Picture to Buy

Offshore fisherman will attach a chum dispenser to a downrigger or put a weight in the dispenser to drop the chum to their desired fishing depth. They have manual cranks and the more expensive units are motorized. Depth markers and heavy weights on cable are standard features. The downrigger can drop your bait from 100' to 300'.

Downrigger use diagram

Source: West Marine

For chumming, attach your chum dispenser to the downrigger weight and lower this down to your desired depth. You can also attach your fishing line to the downrigger.

Use metal cage dispensers to keep the large fish from stealing your dispensers.

Watch this video for a presentation on how to setup and use a downrigger.

 

For details on how downrigger's work, click this link for an article on West Marine's website.

 

Fuel Considerations

Gas Pump purchase 200 gallons for $942Marine fuel is always more expensive at a marina than at the gas station but it is the only place to purchase non-ethanol gasoline these days.

Always top off your tank and know how far you can go on a tank so you do not run out of fuel.

The fuel sales pictured here was after a trip to an offshore reef 110 miles out with the total trip of 230 miles. The boat was a 36 foot Yellowfin with 3 Mercury 300's. On this 100 mile out trip they caught Mutton Snappers, Grouper, African Pompano, and the catch of the day was an 80 pound Wahoo caught on 50 lb Power Pro line.

Read our story of this trip The $1,000 Wahoo.

 

 

 

 

A Word on Ethanol

Due to the recent addition of Ethanol to gasoline, you must purchase gas for your boat from a marina that sells non-ethanol gas. Ethanol rapidly separates in the heat and fouls your fuel supply, it also rapidly deteriorates your fuel lines and fuel tank. The conditioners they sell to treat the ethanol gas only work if you use your boat several times a week; if you don't use your boat that often, you will have problems. So be safe and use only non-ethanol gasoline available at your local marina.

Special Fishing Rules for Vessels

Boat offshore with land in backgroundFishing in Florida can be a very rewarding experience. Locals know the rules well and follow them because law enforcement is very strict and always watching you. See our Fishing Regulations page for more details. Here are a few important rules to know when fishing on your boat.

Each person on board a vessel who is fishing must have a fishing license unless they are on a fishing charter or Exempt.

Your catch must remain in whole condition until landed ashore (heads, fins & tails intact). If your catch a fish in federal waters that is legal but not legal in state waters, you must return to port without stopping in state waters. Please refer to the Florida Saltwater Regulations guide for the specifics on each species and area..

Always know what your fish is and the rules that apply to it before keeping it. You should also refer to the list of Prohibited Species before fishing.

Do NOT bring Tarpon or Goliath grouper on board your boat. New state and federal guidelines PROHIBIT this activity. Release them while still in the water.

All vessels fishing in federal waters (nine miles on the Gulf, 3 miles on the Atlantic and the Keys) must have aboard venting and dehooking tools and non-stainless steel circle hooks when using natural baits for the purpose of reducing mortality in reef fishes, including snapper, grouper and Goliath grouper. Fish caught in waters deeper than 30 feet can experience barotrauma (swollen swim bladder). It is the law, you must deflate the fish's swim bladder before releasing it by means of venting (Gulf & Atlantic) or recompression (Atlantic only). For information on these tools, see our Catch & Release page.

And we recommend you visit our section Special Marine Zones on our Fishing Reefs and Wrecks for areas that have no-fishing no-anchoring rules offshore.

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