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Fish Species - Freshwater

Species > Freshwater

There are dozens of species of freshwater fish in Florida. Knowing where
the fish are, what they feed on, and their predators improve your chances
of catching a big one! Most illustrations are by Duane Raver, Jr, and you can purchase a CD of his artwork on US Fish and Wildlife.
Bait button=Bait Fish Indicates nuisance species=Nuisance SpeciesIndicates Native Species=Native (The following list is presented by species in alphabetical order with no regard to habitat.)

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Black Acara
Source:http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/

Acara, Black Indicates nuisance species

The Black Acara is found in shallow, stagnant, roadside ditches or similarly disturbed habitats that normally contain few other fishes but can also be found in larger canals and lakes. This fish grows to 8 inches and weighs 4 ounces. It has a low tolerance for brackish water, so you won't find it there. This species is omnivorous, feeding on whatever is available. Black Acara are very territorial, reacting aggressively toward any fish in their proximity. This species has been classified as a nuisance species so if you catch him, discard it.

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Bass

Butterfly Peacock BassBass, Butterfly Peacock

The Butterfly Peacock Bass is a tropical freshwater fish from the Amazon River and can be found in Southeast Florida canals and rivers under shady cover. The Peacock was introduced into Florida waters in the 1980's by FWC to help control the evasive African Spotted Tilapia, in Southeast canals. The Peacock grows to over 25 pounds. The Butterfly Peacock Bass is more aggressive than the Largemouth and will target prey larger than itself. It does not respond to plastic worms but live Shiners or fish shaped lures get their attention. They are good eating but FWC encourages anglers to release fish over 17 inches so they can keep doing their important job of devouring unwanted species. PDF icon Butterfly Peacock Fishing Tips

 

live largemouth bass caught in northern florida
Source: FWC's Florida Wildlife Magazine

Bass, Largemouth Indicates Native Species

The Largemouth Bass is one of Florida's most popular game fish. Largemouths prefer clear, non-flowing waters with aquatic vegetation where food and cover are available, but can tolerate a wide range of water clarities and bottom types. In Florida, Largemouths live in almost every body of fresh water. They also occupy brackish to freshwater habitats, including upper estuaries, rivers, lakes, reservoirs and ponds. The Largemouth BassLargemouth Bass is commonly 12 inches but can grow as large as 24 inches. This bass feeds on fish, snails, crawfish, frogs, snakes, salamanders, bats and even small water birds, mammals, and baby alligators. Use live bait, such as night crawlers, minnows, frogs, or crawfish. Threadfin shad is a popular live bait to catch this popular Bass.

Consumption Advisory: Relatively low levels of mercury in largemouth bass have been found to occur in Lake Okeechobee and in canals throughout southwest Florida. All individuals should follow Department of Health (DOH) guidelines.

Bass, Redeye

The Redeye Bass can be found in small to medium-sized upland streams, often found in water willow (Justicia) or other aquatic vegetation, near a submerged stump or boulder, or along an undercut bank. They usually are found in the 14 to 17 inch range and their diet includes aquatic and terrestrial insects, crayfishes, and small fishes.

Bass, Shadow

The Shadow Bass can be found in southeastern states in slow-flowing rivers and streams that have sand, gravel, and pebbles on the bottom and brush or vegetation for cover. They are 6 to 8 inches long and can weigh a pound. The Shadow Bass eats aquatic insects, crayfishes, and an occasional small fish.

small shoal bass held by 2 hands
Source: FWC Shoal Bass Study

Bass, Shoal Indicates Native Species

The Shoal Bass averages 12 to 18 inches in length and up to 2 pounds. The shoal differs from the largemouth bass by the tiger-like stripes on its back. Their numbers has declined significantly in Florida, the best place to catch this Bass is the Chipola River - read about their spawning on FWC. The Shoal Bass lives in moderate to fast flowing streams and avoid reservoirs but can be found in deep pools that have limestone ledges. They have a diet of aquatic crustaceans, insect larvae, crayfish, and small fishes.

 

 

Smallmouth BassBass, Smallmouth

The Smallmouth Bass is the smaller cousin of the Largemouth. This aggressive fighter can grow to 27 inches and weigh 11 pounds. Smallmouth Bass are carnivorous, their diet consists of crayfish, insect larvae, amphibians, and smaller fish.

 

Bass, Spotted Indicates Native Species

The Spotted Bass can be found under cover in the cooler streams and reservoirs from the Apalachicola River to the Perdido River with a big concentration of Spotted on upper part of the Blackwater River. They feed on insects, crustaceans, frogs, worms, and smaller fish. Often confused with the Largemouth Bass, the Spotted Bass has a smaller mouth and grows to a maximum 16 inches and up to 2 pounds.

Striped BassBass, Striped

Striped Bass are normally found in saltwater but come into freshwater rivers to breed. This quick and powerful fish can grow to 40 pounds in freshwater. In freshwater they live in fast moving rivers not tolerating waters above 75 degrees. In Florida, Striped Bass can be found in the St. Johns River and some Panhandle rivers and best targeted from Fall to Spring - in the warmer months they become less active and seek cooler, deep pools. Freshwater Stripers will feed on Threadfin Shad which is the best bait to use.

comparison of sunshine bass and striped bass
Source: FWC's Florida Wildlife Magazine

Bass, Sunshine aka Whiper

The Sunshine Bass, sometimes called Whiper, is a hybrid fish that is a cross between a Striped Bass and a White Bass. You can distinguish them from Stripped Bass due to their broken horizontal stripes. They are a popular fish for stocking in lakes or waters with an abundance of shad because they grow very fast and are strong fighters making them popular with anglers. They average 2 pounds with the record 27 pounds. Whiper are voracious feeders that consume any kind of small fish including young fish also feed on mayflies and crustaceans. Sunshines travel and feed in schools in early morning or evening. They are good eating with a white, flaky, firm texture fillet. Threadfin and gizzard shad are good baits.

Suwannee bassBass, Suwannee Indicates Native Species

The Suwannee Bass is an aggressive fish that inhabits fast moving water in shallow, rocky streams, springs, and pools. This bass seldom exceeds 12 inches in length. The Suwannee can be found in the Suwannee and Ochlockonee rivers, and in the Santa Fe, Ichetucknee, St. Marks, Aucilla and Wacissa systems. The Suwannee feeds on insects, crustaceans, crayfish and small fishes. Crayfish is a popular bait to catch this fish.

Bass, White

Preferring brown lakes, ponds, streams, and large rivers where they travel in open waters in schools and seldom seek cover. In Florida, White bass are found in the Apalachicola and Ochlockonee river systems. They average from 10 to 16 inches in length and usually weighs from 1 to 4 pounds. White Bass are aggressive visual feeders preferring insect larvae, crustaceans, fish. Look for feeding schools in the early evening and use worms and minnows for bait.

 

live bluegill fish
Source: FWC's Florida Wildlife Magazine

Bluegill

The Bluegill is commonly found throughout Florida in lakes and ponds, preferring shallow, quiet waters with lots of vegetation. BluegillThe state record in Florida is 11 inches and 1 1/4 pounds. The Bluegill feeds on insects, crayfishes and vegetation. Live bait of crickets, grass shrimp, and worms works best. Bluegill are excellent eating with sweet white meat.

 

bighead carp live
Source: USGS Image Library

Carp, Bighead Indicates nuisance species

The Bighead Carp is a very large species that has been found in recent years in Panhandle rivers. This species comes from east China, can tolerate brackish waters, and is on FWC's prohibited species list. If you catch this large fish, please destroy it.

 

 

Common carp showing scales, fish is laying in the grass
Source: USGS Image Library

Carp, Common

The common carp can only be found in Florida in the Apalachicola and Ochlockonee rivers with the largest caught in Florida just over 40 pounds. Common CarpThis large bodied Minnow has an acute sense of hearing, smell and taste, and is very skittish in clear water. Not the most popular eating fish because it is very bony but it can be prepared by boiling and smoking them. omnivorous, the carp feeds by sucking up bottom silt and removes insect larvae, crustaceans, snails, and other small food items. The common carp has a sweet tooth and will consume marshmallows, canned corn or peas, or sweet bread dough balls.

Grass Carp
Image courtesy of MyFWC.com

Carp, Grass

The Grass Carp is originally from Asia and was purposely stocked in Florida waterways to control exotic vegetation since this is fish consumes large amounts of aquatic plants. It is illegal to take this fish in Florida, so if you accidently catch a Grass Carp, please release it. The largest Grass Carp caught in Florida was 15 years old, 56 inches and weighed 75 lbs.

 

 

 

 

Highfin carpsucker in the water
Image courtesy of USGS, Robert Rice

Carpsucker, Highfin (Carpiodes velifer)Indicates Native Species

The highfin carpsucker is a rare catch in Florida where their range on the Gulf Coast is from Louisiana eastward to the Choctawhatchee River of Florida. This schooling fish found in moderately flowing clean waters can reach 20 inches and weigh three pounds. This schooling species occurs primarily in rivers and reservoirs and occasionally in moderate or large streams.

 

 

 

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Catfish

Using their long barbels, Catfish feed off the bottom on insects, snails, clams, mussels, crayfishes, and fish (live, dead or rotting). Catfish are not very picky, common bait and chum mix includes dried blood, chicken liver, worms, minnows, and aquatic plants. Catfish love stinky presentations, chumming with chicken livers, rotten cheese, hot dogs, rotted fish scraps, fermented grain, Range Cubes and fermented Milo chum is very popular and effective to catch a catfish.

blue catfish live
Source: FWC

Blue CatfishCatfish, Blue Indicates Native Species

Blue catfish is the largest catfish in America growing to 5 feet and weigh as much as 100 pounds with the average being 60 pounds and 20 inches. Found in clear backwaters and large channels leading to large bays, the blue catfish prefers water with good current and sandy bottom. This warm water species prefers 70 to 80 degree water.

The blue catfish is found in Northwest Florida in the Escambia, Yellow, Apalachicola and the Suwannee rivers. This catfish is a predator that will eat any species plus crayfish, freshwater mussels, and even frogs. The most effective baits are cut fish, live fish such as shiners, herring, shad, and night crawlers.

 

 

 

 

Bullhead Brown CatfishCatfish, Bullhead Brown Indicates Native Species

Brown Bullhead Catfish's biggest catch in Florida is 16 inches and over 5 pounds. They can be found in clear, very slow moving waters of ponds, lakes and streams with a lot of vegetation. This nocturnal bottom feeder uses it's sensitive barbels to seek out insects, vegetation, fish, snails, crayfish, worms and leeches. The Brown Bullhead will bit during the day, but fishing at night is best using chicken part, worms, minnows, and stink baits

Yellow Bullhead CatfishCatfish, Bullhead Yellow

Yellow Bullhead Catfish is commonly found at 12 inches, 2 pounds but can grow to about 18 to 24 inches. They live in shallow, slow-moving freshwater streams, lakes, reservoirs, and ponds and are usually found in thick vegetation. This scavenger prefers to feed on crayfish, minnows, snails, and shrimp. Catch the Yellow Bullhead using worms, cut bait, crickets, or dough balls.

channel catfish in water
Source: USGS Image Library

Channel CatfishCatfish, Channel Indicates Native Species

Channel Catfish usually grows to about 2 feet, but can be as long as 4 feet and weigh more than 50 pounds. They prefer deep, slow-moving channel waters in large rivers, streams and creeks that have a sandy, rocky or gravel bottom but are also found in lakes, ponds and reservoirs.

Catfish, Electric Indicates nuisance species

Electric Catfish have the ability to produce an electric shock of up to 350 volts. Electric Catfish originated from tropical Africa and the Nile River. This catfish is usually nocturnal and feeds on other fish, incapacitating their prey with electric discharges. The Electric Catfish may reach a length of four feet and weigh up to 45 pounds. This fish is prohibited in Florida, so if caught, discard it.

Flathead CatfishCatfish, Flathead Indicates Native Species

Flathead Catfish can be found in the Apalachicola and Escambia rivers and inhabit long, slow-moving rivers. You can usually find them near submerged logs and roots that collect at bends in rivers. Flathead Catfish are large, up to 4 feet and can weight 90 pounds. This catfish is excellent tablefare, one of the best tasting catfish but they are solitary fish so they can be hard to find. Live bait is best - fish (Herring, Shad, Sunfish) insects, worms and crustaceans.

Catfish, Walking (Airbreathing) Indicates nuisance species

The Walking Catfish is an air-breathing catfish from Southeast Asia that can walk across land to find food. This fish lives in slow, stagnant canals, storm drains or swamps with muddy bottoms, often encountered in the Everglades. In central and south Florida, walking catfish are known to have invaded aquaculture farms, entering ponds where these predators prey on fish stocks. In response, fish farmers have had to erect fences to protect ponds. Handle this fish carefully as it has a hidden embedded sting or thorn-like defensive mechanism hidden behind its fins (including the middle ones before the tail fin, just like the majority of all catfish). If you catch this prohibited fish please discard it or grind it up for chum.

White CatfishCatfish, White

White Catfish is the smallest of the American catfish, usually 12 inches with the state record 22 inches, 5 pounds. In Florida they can be found statewide in brackish coastal rivers and streams. White Catfish feed at night preferring fish but do eat insects to crustaceans. Live bait of minnows and worms is popular with shrimp, chicken liver, and processed bait next in popularity.

Creek ChubsuckerChubsucker, Creek

The Creek Chubsucker can be found in the Escambia River drainage. This fish can reach 14 inches and weigh 2 pounds. This Chubsucker feeds on algae, insects and small crustaceans.

Chubsucker, Lake Indicates Native Species

The Lake Chubsucker averages 8 to 10 inches in length. This fish is found in natural lakes and slow water areas of large streams with clear water, vegetation and sandy or fine gravel soft bottoms. Lake Chubsuckers are bottom feeders and omnivores consuming insect larvae, aquatic plants, and small crustaceans.

Cichlid, Jewel Indicates nuisance species

The Jewel Cichlid is a popular aquarium fish from Africa, not native to Florida. Their size can range from 3 to 12 inches (8 to 30 centimeters) in the wild. The Jewel is found in creeks, streams, rivers and lakes in a variety of water qualities including brackish. If you catch this nuisance fish please discard it, cut it up for bait, or grind it up for chum.

Cichlid, Mayan Indicates nuisance species

The Mayan Cichlid is native to Mexico and Central America where it is popular as a food fish. The Mayan inhabits lakes, rivers, rocky shorelines, lagoons, estuaries, coastal islands, red mangrove swamps, and turtle grass flats off the mainland. It can be found in oxygen-rich areas near submerged vegetation and over muddy substrates. If you catch this nuisance fish please eat it but most certainly discard it, cut it up for bait, or grind it up for chum.

Cichlid, Midas

Midas Cichlid's are large fish from Costa Rica and Nicaragua that arrived in Florida for the aquarium trade and released into the wild by hobbyists. They have powerful jaws, sharp teeth their diet consists of plant material, molluscs and smaller fish.

Black CrappieCrappie, Black (Specks)Indicates Native Species

 

The Florida Crappie, weighing from 1 to 2 pounds, is sometimes called Speckled Perch or "Speck" throughout the state and is the most sought after panfish on Lake Okeechobee. Black Crappie are found offshore around weed beds or submerged objects in lakes or in large slow, clear water rivers. They feed in schools at dawn and dusk on small fish, insects, and crustaceans. Although the Black Crappie can be caught year round, they really are at their best from late fall to early spring on Lake Okeechobee.

Good bait for catching the Florida Crappie is frogs, crickets, worms, grasshoppers and pretty much any fish smaller than itself. Use Minnows or Grass Shrimp below a float for bait on #4 hooks and drifting your boat through deep water in the center of lakes work best. Try setting out many rods with the bait set at different depths and you should soon find a school. Another good method is to fish for Specks at night under lights, they are drawn to the light source that attracts bait fish. Considered excellent tablefare and are very active in the winter months.

American EelEel, American Bait button Indicates Native Species

American Eels are freshwater fish that migrate to saltwater bays to breed. They are considered a delicacy in Europe and are often collected for export. They can grow from 2 to 5 feet long. They usually live in creeks, ponds, rivers, streams and can be found in deep, swift channels. The American Eel feeds on worms, small fishes, soft-shelled crabs, Macoma clams and other mollusks.

Asian Swamp EelEel, Asian Swamp Indicates nuisance species

The Asian Swamp Eel is an invasive species that grows to 3 feet long and was first found near Everglades National Park in the year 2000. This species eats shrimp, frogs, crayfish, turtle eggs, insects, and other fish. This Eel has the ability to breath air allowing it to survive the dry winters in south Florida by slithering across land to find water. If you find this fish please destroy it.

 

Electric Eel drawing
Source: Source: http://etc.usf.edu/clippix/

Eel, Electric Indicates nuisance species

The Electric Eel is not actually an eel, it belongs to a family of bony fish known as Knifefish. The Electric Eel can produce a current of up to 650 volts—enough to severely shock a human. The eel uses this current to stun or kill the smaller fish it eats, and to defend itself against enemies. Electric Eels live in muddy rivers, calm stagnant waters, and originated in South America. They most likely arrived in Florida waters through the aquarium trade. They grow to 8 feet (2.4 meters) long. This eel consumes fish and small mammals, but juveniles eat crabs and shrimp. If you catch one uses care in handling it and do not return it to the water as it is a prohibited species in Florida.

Alligator GarGar, Alligator

The largest Gar is the Alligator Gar which can reach 10 feet and weigh 200 pounds and is the largest freshwater fish in North America. It lives primarily in southern states in slow moving large rivers amongst vegetation. Like all Gars, the Alligator is carnivorous and ambushes it's pray while hiding in vegetation. The Alligator Gar has two rows of sharp teeth and is excellent tablefare, served in restaurants in the south.

Florida Spotted GarGar, Florida (Spotted)Indicates Native Species

The prehistoric Florida Gar can be found in Ochlockonee River and southeast streams, canals and lakes with muddy or sandy bottoms near vegetation. Like all gars, they use an air bladder to breathe air in poorly oxygenated water. They grow to 28 inches and 5 pounds eating fish, shrimp and crayfish. Use Minnows or artificials to catch this powerful fighter.

Longnose GarGar, Longnose Indicates Native Species

Longnose Gar grow to 40 inches, weighing 15 pounds inhabiting rivers, streams and backwaters. The Longnose Gar feeds on Perch, Sunfishes and bait fish. They are ambush predators with big appetites, hunting prey by lying motionless until a fish comes into attack range where they use their long beak full of teeth to trap and swallow their prey head first.

blueback herringHerring, Blueback Bait button

The Blueback Herring is found in the St. Johns River in Florida and further northern waters. This Herring is used for bait and is caught with dip nets in shallow waters. This fish commonly found in brackish waters and spends it's winters in deep offshore waters. The Blueback can grow to 15 inches and weigh 3 pounds.

 

Hoplo, Brown Indicates nuisance species

The Brown Hoplo grows up to a foot in length and is native to eastern South America. Brown Hoplo primarily feed on invertebrates and detritus. This fish is found in a variety of freshwater habitats including muddy bottom and slow moving rivers, streams, side channels, ponds, marshes, and man-made waterways such as ditches and borrow pits. Brown Hoplo is highly sought after as food by Floridians with cultural ties to Trinidad and parts of South America. This fish is considered a nuisance fish, so discard it or eat it.

live jaguar guaporte fish in florida
Source: FWC's Florida Wildlife Magazine

Jaguar Guaporte (Cichlasoma managuense)

Jaguar Guaporte are a non-native fish found in Southeast canals from Palm Beach to Miami. Jaguar Guaporte is a small fish that tollerates very poor water quality - the largest recorded by FWC was 16 inches weighing 2.8 pounds. This species is excellent tablefare with no bag limits. Catch the Jaguar Guaporte with live worms or small fish.

 

Killifish, Pike Indicates nuisance species

Knifefish, Clown

This Asian transplant is only found in Florida in Lakes Osborne, Ida, and their canals in southeast Florida. This fish travels in schools and has been caught at 10 pounds, 31 inches. In Asia this bony fish's flesh is ground up, made into balls and used in curry dishes.

 

sea lamprey fish
Source: FWC

Lamprey, Sea Indicates nuisance species

The Lamprey is a very scarey looking sucker fish that is rare in Florida. This fish is a parasite that sucks on fish, dead or alive. It lives in both salt and freshwater. If you come across this nusiance fish, please report its capture to FWC. For more information and pictures visit Sea Lamprey at FWC.

 

Molly, Sailfin Bait button

This common aquarium fish can be found throughout the Everglades growing to 5 inches and comes in many beautiful colors. Catch this fish with a hand held bait net and put it on your hook, and don't feel guilty, they thrive in our waterways.

mosquitofishMosquitofish Bait button

The Mosquitofish is the most common freshwater fish in the Everglades and is even found in the brackish waters of Florida Bay. Birds and larger fish feed on this fish that grows to 2 inches. Catch this fish with a hand held nets are used to collect this fish then stored in bait buckets to use as live bait.

Oscar

Oscar's are ornamental fish that can grow to 18 inches and weigh over 3 pounds. Oscar's are not native to North America but the Amazon. They have been introduced into local waters by aquarium hobbyists who could not house this species due to their large size. They live in slow moving clear waters in southern states; they cannot tolerate cold waters. This fish feeds on crayfish, worms, and insects such as flies, grasshoppers, or crickets.

White PerchPerch, White Bait button

White Perch are a nuisance that can destroy fisheries by aggressively consuming fish eggs and their rapid reproductive cycle. Use the White Perch for bait or discard them to help reduce their evasive populations.

 

Chain PickerelPickerel, Chain (Esox niger)

The Chain Pickerel is found throughout Florida in vegetated lakes, swamps and backwaters of rivers. The Chain Pickerel's averages 24 inches and 3 pounds. This fish has very sharp teeth and will ambush its prey of smaller fish and insects. They are powerful fighters and The Pickerel nice white, flaky meat and is good to eat but very bony. This fish responds well to spinners, crank bait, spoons and live Minnows and is usually caught by Bass anglers.

Pleco, Sailfin Indicates nuisance species

The Sailfin Pleco is a type of catfish that is sold in the aquarium trade as an algae eater. Because this fish can grow from 1 to 2 feet in length, many hobbyist have discarded them into freshwater bodies due to their large size. If you catch this nuisance fish please do not return it to the water, discard it.

Redhorse, Blacktail Indicates Native Species

Blacktail Redhorse are widespread and often abundant in rivers, reservoirs, small to large streams, and swamps. They occur in swift to standing water over sand, silt, rock, or gravel substrates and around aquatic vegetation. Blacktail's range from 10 to 16 inches (254 to 406 mm) and feed on small crustaceans and aquatic insect larvae. This fish will readily feed on pelleted food as chum.

Sawfish

The Sawfish is a critically endangered species with a distinct long, toothy nose or snout and can be found as large as 23 feet long with a 16 foot adult weighing in at 700 pounds. Sawfish live only in shallow, muddy water in both freshwater and saltwater in tropical and subtropical regions. They inhabit coastal areas such as bays and mangrove estuaries and frequently venture far into rivers and major lakes. Sawfish feed on crabs, shrimp and other bottom dwelling organisms. They swim like Sharks but are actually in the Stingray family. Sharks and man are the Sawfish's only predators. Capturing sawfish is illegal in Florida and FWC would appreciate sighting to be reported to them.

American ShadShad, American Indicates Native Species

The American Shad is a schooling fish found in very deep coastal waters, sometimes almost a mile down and grow to about 20 inches, but can be up to 30 inches and weigh up to 12 pounds. They come ashore to freshwater inlets and rivers to spawn. The American Shad is primarily a plankton feeder, but will eat small shrimp and fish eggs.

Threadfin shad live image
Source: USGS

Shad, Threadfin Bait button

Threadfin Shad are a bait fish that can reach 5 to 7 inches long but most are 1 to 2 inches long and dine on plankton. The Threadfin Shad live in large rivers and lakes and can tolerate waters to 70 degrees and are a favorite food of Bass and Catfish.

 

 

Golden ShinerShiner, Golden Indicates Native Species Bait button

The Golden Shiner is a bait fish that that averages 3 to 5 inches but can grow to 12 inches. The Golden Shiner eat mostly small fish and is found in calm waters of lakes, ponds, sloughs, and ditches.

 

Snakehead fish live on blue paperSnakehead, Bullseye

Bullseye Snakeheads are air-breathing allowing them to be tolerant of stagnant waters and resembles a Bowfin but is distinguished by a long anal fin. In canals, the Bullseye Snakefish are found under overhanging shoreline vegetation, dense submersed vegetation, and debris. This bottom dwelling, ambush predator feeds on small fish and crayfish, but occasionally eats turtles, toads, lizards, snakes, and insects. The largest captured in Florida by FWC was 31.5 inches and weighed 9.2 pounds.
Source: USGS

 

Snakehead and bowfin illistration to show difference in species
Source: USGS

 

BowfinBowfin Indicates Native Species

The Bowfin can be found in swamps, backwaters of lowland streams near vegetation. They live in poorly oxygenated waters and has an air bladder so they will surface to gulp air occasionally. Bowfin can grow to over three feet long but in Florida the record is 30 inches, 10 pounds. This species is a strong fighter and is usually caught by Bass anglers. The jelly-like flesh is not normally eaten but if you want to try, it can be smoked or cut up and put in patties or stews.

 

Shad, Skipjack (Alosa chrysochloris)

The Skipjack shad can be found in the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee, and Flint River basins. Skipjack's are schooling fish that prefer fast moving water where they can be seen jumping out of the water chasing their prey of small herrings and shad. This large shad is commonly 12 to 18 inches in length with a large specimine 20 inches.

 

Snook in waterSnook Indicates Native Species

Snook can be caught in brackish estuary waters where they come in from the saltwater to spawn. If you catch one in brackish water remember you need a saltwater license to keep it if it is legal. For more information on Snook jump to our Saltwater Species page.

 

Stingray, Atlantic (Freshwater)

The Atlantic Stingray is the same fish common along the coast; they are the ones where we see signs to shuffle your feet to avoid getting stung. This species inhabits shallow coastal waters over sandy or silty bottoms, estuaries, and lakes. It has been know to venture into brackish waters where it is called the Freshwater Stingray. This ray is one of the smallest stingray species, it attains a maximum length of 24 in (61 cm) and a weight of 11 lb (4.9 kg). You will often see large schools swimming into bays during the spring and summer months in tropical waters. This stingray feeds on bivalves, tube anemones, amphipods, crustaceans, and Nereid worms. Numerous species of sharks, such as the tiger shark and the bull shark, are major predators of the Atlantic Stingray. In freshwater habitats, they may be preyed upon by American Alligators.

Atlantic SturgeonSturgeon, AtlanticIndicates Native Species

Sturgeon occurs in Florida in the northeast Atlantic south to Cape Canaveral. The Atlantic Sturgeon is primarily a freshwater species that has been found in brackish waters and inshore backwaters. The Sturgeon ranges from 7–12 feet in length and some can grow to18 feet. Sturgeons are bottom-feeders who use their long wedge shaped snout to stir up the bottom using their barbels to find crustaceans and small fish. They do not have teeth so prey is swallowed whole. Sturgeons are considered at risk of extinction and are protected by both state and federal laws.

Gulf SturgeonSturgeon, Gulf Indicates Native Species

The Gulf Sturgeon has been known to be a native of the Suwannee and the Florida Panhandle rivers and has been found in Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbors on rare occasions. This large Sturgeon grow from 6 to 8 feet and can weigh 200 pounds. This species looks identical to the Atlantic Sturgeon; it's DNA is used to identify it's species.

Shortnose SturgeonSturgeon, Shortnose

Rarely encountered, the Shortnose Sturgeon has been known to be in the St. Johns River in the north Atlantic. This endangered species grows to 3 to 4 feet long and lives in fresh and brackish waters. Shortnose Sturgeon are bottom-feeders, using their snouts to root through the mud to find their prey. They feed on crustaceans, clams, mollusks, worms, and insects.

Spotted suckerSucker, Spotted

The Spotted Sucker is in great decline in Florida due to the reduction of water flow caused by human developments. This Sucker reaches 19 inches and weighs 4 pounds eating mostly insects and algae.

Flier SunfishSunfish, Flier Indicates Native Species

The Sunfish Flier is a panfish that inhabit heavily vegetated, dark, acidic coastal swamps, creeks, ponds, and canals and are often found under floating vegetation. Fliers feed on aquatic insects, worms, crustaceans, mollusks, leeches, small fish, and some phytoplankton. This fish grows very slowly and can attain a maximum length of about 7 inches and a weigh a half pound. Cypress trees, stumps, brush piles, and at the mouths of small creeks and canals are good places to catch a Flier. Worms, small minnows, or insects are the best live bait. The Flier's are excellent tablefare with sweet flesh.

Green SunfishSunfish, Green

The Green Sunfish lives in slow moving backwaters and lakes on the Gulf counties of Florida and can tolerate poor water conditions. Green Sunfish hides around rocks, submerged limbs and vegetation that provides cover. This species of Sunfish can grow to 12 inches and weigh 2 1/2 pounds. The Green Sunfish feeds on insects, crayfish, snails, and small fish. Green Sunfish can be caught with live night crawlers, wax worms, and mealworms. You can also catch this fish with pieces of hot dog or corn kernels.

Longear sunfishLongear Sunfish

The Longear Sunfish is found in west Florida in rivers feeding on insects and small invertebrates. This Sunfish can grow to 10 inches and weigh 2 pounds.

 

 

Mud SunfishSunfish, Mud

The Mud Sunfish can be found in muddy, slow moving lakes and ponds with weeds. This small Sunfish species is usually 6 inches and weighs 3/4 a pound. The Mud Sunfish feed on saids, aquatic insect larvae and crustaceans.

 

Pumpkinseed SunfishSunfish, Pumpkinseed

Pumpkinseed Sunfish live in slow-moving waters, such as lakes, ponds, streams and river coves, with lots of aquatic vegetation, and in the winter they often school in deeper river channels. They grow to about a foot long, but are typically 4 to 6 inches long. Pumpkinseeds feed on snails, worms, insects, mollusks, small fishes and vegetation.

 

redbreast, redbelly sunfish live held in hand
Source: Phil Chapman, FWC

Redbreast SunfishSunfish, Redbreast (River Bream / Redbelly)

The Redbreast Sunfish is brightly colored Sunfish found in backwaters or rivers with sandy bottoms and slow moving water. The Redbreast can grow to 10 inches and 3/4 a pound in Florida but mostly found at 4 inches. Redbellies feed on insect larvae, snails, clams, shrimp, crayfish, and bait fish. Use for bait worms, crickets, or grasshoppers.

 

Redear sunfish

redear sunfish live held in hand
Source: Phil Chapman, FWC

Sunfish, Redear (Shellcracker)

Redear Sunfish can be found on hard bottoms and in deep water. The Redear prefer snails and clams hence their nickname Shellcracker. The Shellcracker can reach 12 inches in Florida and weigh 2 pounds. The best bait is earthworms and they are mostly caught during a full moon in the winter months.

 

 

Orange Spotted SunfishSunfish, Orange Spotted (Stumpknocker)

The Spotted Sunfish can be found in slow moving, vegetated streams and rivers with limestone, sand, or gravel bottoms. The Stumpknocker averages 3 to 5 inches. This Spotted Sunfish feeds on small crayfish and aquatic insects.

 

Tarpon

Tarpon can be caught in brackish estuary waters where they come in from the saltwater to spawn. For more information on Tarpon jump to our Saltwater Species page.

Tilapia, Blue Indicates nuisance species

The Blue Tilapia is not native to North America and is considered invasive, has no natural predators, and has a high tolerance for brackish water. They are usually 5 to 8 inches (130 to 200 mm) in length and weigh 5 to 6 pounds (2.3 to 2.7 kg). It is now the most widespread foreign species in Florida and they ask if you catch the Blue Tilapia, please don't return it to the water. They are very good eating though and can be caught on hot dogs, worms, dog food, and bread balls.

Tilapia, Spotted Indicates nuisance species

Spotted Tilapia are mangrove cichlids with a rapid growth rate allowing them to rapidly populate many areas. They also have simple food requirements and extensive tolerance of environmental variables such as water temperature, salinity, and pollution. Typically spotted mangrove cichlids tend to be an aggressive and territorial species. This species is a nuisance and should not be released back into the water if caught to help curb their populations.

Warmouth fishWarmouth

The stout bodied Warmouth inhabits swamps, marshes and shallow lakes with muddy bottoms and lots of vegetation. The Warmouth feeds in the morning hours on crayfish, shrimp, insects and small fish. This fish can be up to 10 inches and weigh 3/4 of a pound in Florida.

 


WORMS & OTHER BAIT

Worms are popular bait for freshwater anglers. Worms are very important for agriculture as they aerate the soil. They are also an important food source for birds and other animals. They are both inexpensive and plentiful, and you can gather or grow your own supply. Use them in your chum mix for an excellent attractant.

Crawfish (Crawdad) Bait button

Crawfish are usually found hiding in rocks in rivers, streams and lake in Florida. They are a relative of the lobster and have a very tasty tail which is usually all that is eaten. After your meal of crawfish, use the rest of the carcass for your chum mix and watch the action you get. You can collect your own Crawfish by using a window screen, fine mesh net or a crawfish trap. Locate the Crawfish in the hiding hole, stir the water to chase the Crayfish into the net. Store in a bait bucket until you are ready to use them. Crawfish are great bait for Largemouth and Sunshine Bass.

CricketCrickets Bait button

Frabill Bucket Style Cricket Cage
Click Picture to Buy

Crickets are popular bait for Bass, Trout, Panfish, and Crappie and are the best live bait for Bluegill. You can purchase crickets dried or live. If you have them live a Cricket Bait container is best for transporting them.

You can catch your own crickets by making a trap from a box with a small hole in it and place bread inside to lure the crickets into the trap. You just place it outside in a likely spot in the evening and collect it the next morning. You can also raise your own crickets, even make a few bucks in the process. Here is a link on direction on how to raise crickets on a budget.

 

 

LeechLeeches Bait button

Leeches live in most creeks, rivers, and lakes. The Ribbon Leeches are the best leech bait that feed on dead animals and prey on aquatic insect larvae worms. The Horse Leech is undesirable for bait and fish will not bite them.

Leeches are great bait and can be collected easily by putting a coffee can filled with rocks and a fish head into the water and leave it for a day. Another method is to tie a piece of liver to a string and drop it in the water; come back the next day and slowly retrieve your liver that should have leeches attached to it. Store Leeches in a Leech Tamer bag in the refrigerator to keep them alive and ready for your next fishing trip. Jumbo Leeches are used for Bass and small ones used for panfish.

 

Maggot pile yuck!Maggots Bait button

Maggots are fly larvae and make excellent bait. They can be many colors and sizes. Single Maggot closeupThey have been known to attract anything from a small minnow to 50-pound carp. You can raise your own maggot bait if you can stomach it. Store Maggots in a bedding of yellow corn meal which helps to de grease them and make them sink if you chunk chum with them. You can buy 250 maggots for around $7 at a bait shop.

 

ShrimpIndicates Native SpeciesShrimp (Prawns) Bait button Indicates Native Species

There are many varieties of Shrimp, both freshwater and saltwater around the world, that live close to the bottom, but are frequently found drifting on the surface with the tide. Shrimp are filter feeds that live in schools and can swim rapidly backwards. They are the world's most famous bait and are an important food source for both marine creatures and humans. Shrimp can be caught with a shrimp net or cast net, see our Bait Catching Equipment page for more information.

 

Earth WormsEarth Worms (Night crawlers) Bait button

The common Earth Worm can be gathered in your yard, garden, and are abundant on farms in rich dark soil. They are inexpensive in bait shops too. This fishing bait worm requires no refrigeration, just keep them out of the sun and in some soil. There are many varieties such as the European or Canadian Night crawler which vary in the thickness of their skin and size. All Night crawlers are excellent bait and make a great chum mix. Buy a worm farm and have fun raising your own bait. You can buy worms and choose from many worm farms on our Shopping page Fish Chum and Attractants.

 

 

Wax WormWax Worms Bait button

These hardy bugs can last a couple weeks at room temperature or longer in the refrigerator. They are very easy to breed, so you can setup your own stock for bait or mashing up for chum. They are great for fishing with kids as they are tough and last for more than one fish. You can buy wax worms on our Shopping page Fish Chum and Attractants.

 

 

 

Caution SignCONSUMPTION ADVISORY: Relatively low levels of mercury in largemouth bass have been found to occur in Lake Okeechobee and in canals throughout southwest Florida. All individuals should follow Department of Health (DOH) guidelines. 2011 Florida Fish Eating Advisories

 

Here is a link to a webpage with excellent images of non-native fish caught on this authors fishing trip to Southwest Florida.
star icon FWC's List of Non-Native Species in Florida

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