A Tackle Box Guide to:
COMMON SALTWATER FISHES
OF SOUTHWEST FLORIDA
Captain Ralph Allen
James Seagle illustrator
Florida Sea Grant Program -
research, extension and education for a better coastal environment
CODE OF ETHICAL ANGLING
Help fish stocks increase through catch and release.
Limit your take, don't always take your limit.
Observe regulations and report violations.
Only keep fish for trophy or dish.
Escape tradition, try a new catch in the kitchen.
Get hooked on fishing's thrill, not alcohol or drugs that kill.
Bring all garbage in, don't teach it to swim.
Captain your boat, practicing safety afloat.
Show courtesy and respect, others' rights don't neglect.
Share what you know to help your sport grow.
Commit yourself to ethical angling; the future
of your sport depends on it. Pass it on!
- National Marine Fisheries Service
A Tackle Box Guide to:
COMMON SALTWATER FISHES
OF SOUTHWEST FLORIDA
Captain Ralph Allen'
Copyright 0 1993 by The University of Florida
(See back cover for information on how to order.)
Charter Boat Captain, King Fisher Fleet, Punta Gorda, FL.
2 Sea Grant Marine Extension Agents for Charlotte County; Hillsborough, Manatee,
Sarasota and Collier counties; and Citrus, Hernando, Pasco and Pinellas counties;
3 Fisheries Biologist and Artist, Port Charlotte, FL.
The idea for this book began with a desire on the part of numerous individuals, Sea Grant Extension
advisory committees, and local Florida Conservation Association Chapters to help anglers better
understand and appreciate the fishery resources of Southwest Florida's inland waters. The West
Coast Inland Navigation District shared our interest in producing a handy-to-use fish identification
guide, and funded development of this publication.
Information about the fishes in this book came from a variety of sources, including local lore. The
challenging part involved linking my many years of observations with scientific facts not readily seen
or known by fishermen. This task was performed admirably by two Florida Sea Grant Extension
Agents: John Stevely and Don Sweat. Their professional expertise as marine biologists, coupled with
years of field experience working with fishermen, proved invaluable.
Sea Grant Extension Agent Will Sheftall developed the project proposal and coordinated the writing
and editing of the text. His editorial expertise in format, style and usage was indispensable. Special
thanks goes to Carmen Sours of the Charlotte County Cooperative Extension office, who patiently
typed and re-typed the many draft versions of the manuscript.
Finally, this book would be of little interest without the illustrations that form the basis for identifying
each of the 86 species described within these pages. James Seagle, noted wildlife artist for many
years, employed his considerable talent in creating illustrations that ensure the usefulness of this
publication. All who make this book their tackle box companion are indebted to James for his
selfless personal donation of these outstanding drawings.
Let's go fishing!
Captain Ralph Allen
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Catch and Release
Using the Descriptions:
Parts of a Fish
Cow Nosed Ray
Spotted Eagle Ray
Black Sea Bass
Index of Common Names
Preventing Fishing Injuries
Releasing Hooked and
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Florida is an angler's paradise. Our wide variety of fish makes fishing a popular activity. More than 5
million Florida residents and tourists spend in excess of $2 billion each year on the sport (Florida Sea
Grant College Program, 1993). The number of recreational fishermen has grown tremendously, and
a continuing increase in the number of anglers over the next 20 years is expected--particularly along
Florida's southwest coast. This growing pressure on fisheries resources within the West Coast Inland
Navigation District and beyond makes information that can aid conservation of our fisheries timely as
well as useful.
The rich diversity of Florida's marine fish species presents a challenge to the angler wishing to identify
his catch. Obviously, identification is a must if one is to participate in proper conservation practices.
In many instances the first question asked by an angler upon catching a saltwater fish is: "What the
heck is it?" A stream of other questions often follows: "Can I keep it? Can I eat it? Can it hurt me?"
This book is designed to answer these questions and others at the time the fish is caught. Learning
more about the fish you catch should improve your chance of properly applying the regulations and
conserving our fishery resources. Because fishing regulations change frequently, they are not covered
in this book, but should be obtained from state and federal agencies referenced on page v.
There are well over 150 species of fish caught by hook and line in local waters. The 86 species
included in this book were selected by the author and editors because they are the most frequently
encountered. For each species, important information about distinguishing features, biology/habitat, and
fishing methods is provided. The often confusing common nicknames applied to each fish are noted,
as well as the fish's preferred common name.
We hope that the information included in this book will not only add to the angler's enjoyment of fishing,
but that it will also motivate anglers to take a more active role in conserving Florida's outstanding fishing
The Florida recreational angler is confronted with a complex set of state and federal regulations for a
wide variety of fish species. These regulations include size limits, bag limits, gear restrictions, closed
seasons and special licenses. Even the experienced angler should keep the most recent summary of
regulations handy. Please remember: Understanding and abiding by these regulations is vital to the
protection of our fishery resources for present and future generations.
A common complaint from anglers is that fishing regulations are too complex. Unfortunately, developing
effective and fair regulations is no simple task. Developing one regulation which fits all species is
impractical because of differences in habitat requirements, growth rates, age at reproductive maturity,
number of offspring produced, abundance, and harvesting effort.
Fishing regulations for Florida waters (out to 3 nautical miles on the Atlantic coast, out to 9 nautical
miles on the Gulf coast) are developed by the Florida Marine Fisheries Commission. Federal
regulations for Gulf waters are developed by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.
Copies of the latest state and federal regulations are sometimes available from regional Florida Marine
Patrol offices, county Sea Grant Extension offices, county tag offices, bait and tackle shops, and stores
where fishing gear is sold. Copies can always be obtained by writing to:
Gulf of Mexico Regional Fishery Management Council
Lincoln Center, Suite 331
5401 West Kennedy Boulevard
Tampa, FL 33609-2486
(813) 228-2815 FAX (813) 225-7015
Florida Marine Fisheries Commission
Douglas Building, Room 106
2540 Executive Center Circle West
Tallahassee, FL 32301
Note: There is a saltwater fishing license requirement for fishing in Florida, with
some exceptions. Information and licenses can be obtained from county tag
offices, some bait and tackle shops, and some stores where fishing gear is sold.
CATCH AND RELEASE
One of the best ways an angler can contribute to the conservation of fish along Florida's southwestern
coast is to use catch and release techniques. There are indications that Florida's fish populations are
beginning to be stressed from angling, as well as by habitat loss. Anglers can help maintain healthy
fish populations by releasing their catch. Here's how to do it properly:
Reeling in the Catch
* Use barbless hooks or hooks with the barbs flattened or filed down.
* Set the hook immediately--this prevents the fish from swallowing the bait.
* If the fish is in deep water, work it to the surface slowly to allow it to adjust to pressure changes. If
in shallow water, land the fish quickly--don't play it to exhaustion.
Keep pliers, hook removers, and other release tools handy. Use hooks made of materials that rust
quickly in case the fish has to be released with the hook in place.
Handling the Catch
Minimize physical contact with the fish. If possible, leave the fish in the water and use a tool to
remove the hook or cut the leader. Don't use a net unless it's the only way you can control the fish.
* If you must handle the fish, wear wet gloves or use a wet rag. Never use a dry rag to grasp a fish:
it will remove too much slime and may eventually kill the fish.
* Keep the fish from thrashing by turning it on its back or by covering its eyes with a wet rag. Be careful
not to stick fingers in the fish's eyes or gills. Be careful not to remove scales and mucus from the fish.
* Return the fish to the water as quickly as possible.
Removing the Hook
* Back the hook out the opposite way it went in.
* Use needle-nose pliers, hemostats or a hookout to work the hook out.
* If the hook can't be removed quickly or if the fish is hooked deep inside its body, cut the leader as
close as possible to the fish's mouth.
* For a large fish in the water, slip a gaff around the leader ancrslide it down to the hook. To release
the hook, lift the gaff upward as the angler pulls the leader taut.
Releasing the Fish
* Place the fish in the water gently, supporting its mid-section and tail until it swims away.
* Revive exhausted fish by moving it back and forth in the water or towing it beside the boat to force
water through its gills.
* Use an ice pick, needle or hook point to puncture the expanded air bladder of fish taken from deep
* Observe the fish. If it doesn't swim away, retrieve it and try again.
A released fish has an excellent chance
of survival when handled carefully and correctly.
-- Adapted from National Marine Fisheries Service
USING THE SPECIES DESCRIPTIONS
Parts of a Fish
SDo-- rs I Fins
Gill Cover \- Pectoral Fin
'4 rVentral Fin
Preferred Common Name
other common names
* Distinguishing physical characteristics
* Confusion with other species
* Cbmmonly-caught weight; top-of-range weight
* Where the species occurs, according to life cycle and season
* Habitat requirements
* Age/size at which reproductive maturity is reached
* Feeding habits
* Habitats where commonly caught
* Baits used
* Unusual behavior
* Hazards to the angler
* Protection status
robalo, old linesides, soapfish
Description: Pointed head with
strongly protruding lower jaw (1).
Distinctive black lateral line (2).
Usually under 10 lbs., can be over
Biology/Habitat: Commonly an
inshore fish, but can be found off-
shore. Tolerates a wide range of
salinities. Moves from bay and fresh
waters to Gulf beaches and passes in May-July (spawning season). Freshwater and brackish tidal
creeks, salt marshes and seagrass beds are important nursery habitat. Juveniles begin spawning
migrations when they start maturing (12-14 inches). Closed seasons protect easily caught spawning
fish (summer) and fish stunned by cold weather (winter).
Fishing Notes: Caught under docks and piers, along mangrove shorelines, at mouths of tidal
creeks, and along beaches and Gulf passes. Offshore, caught around shallow wrecks and reefs. At
higher tides, caught in bays near structures, mouths of rivers, tidal creeks, and mangrove shorelines.
Bait: live fish, shrimp, and crabs; lures. A regulated species. Prime eating fish with firm, mild meat,
but must be skinned before cooking to avoid a soapy taste.
redfish, red, channel bass
Description: Bronzish-red with
down-turned snout, tiny teeth, and
prominent black spot at upper base
of tail (1). Occasionally with more
than one black spot, rarely a dozen
or more. Very rarely with no black
spot. Most commonly under 10 Ibs,
can reach 60 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: Rapidly growing juveniles under 24 inches (1-3 years old) inhabit canals and
mangroves along bays and creeks. Larger juveniles to about 34 inches that are beginning to
sexually mature move to more open bay waters, schooling on grass flats, along bars, and around
Gulf passes. Adults (about 34+ inches) become fish of the open Gulf where they roam in large
schools of similar-sized individuals. When small, consumes mostly shrimp and crabs; diet changes
to other fish as it grows larger. Spawning generally occurs near Gulf passes in late summer and
fall, peaking during September and October. May live 30+ years.
Fishing Notes: Popular gamefish noted for striking a wide assortment of baits, lures and spoons.
Often spotted in very shallow water by "tailing" -- a behavior in which the top of the tail comes out of
the water as the fish roots for food along the bottom. A regulated species. Edibility is good.
2) speckled trout, speck, trout
Description: Two "fangs" in upper
jaw (1). Pronounced black spots
along back and on tail fin and sec-
ond dorsal fin (2). Commonly 1-5
Ibs, but can be up to 15 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: Closely associat-
ed with seagrass beds; feeds on
small fish and shrimp. Spawns from
spring to fall, probably in deeper
portions of bays. Can be sexually mature by end of 1st year; generally mature by three years of
age. Attains 14-15 inches when 3 years old. Larger fish tend to be females and can produce over
1,000,000 eggs. Can live to age of 8-10 years. Conservation laws (minimum size, bag limits)
intended to ensure adequate spawning.
Fishing Notes: Most are caught over shallow seagrass beds during higher water; deeper edges
of grass beds at lower water. Found in channels, holes, and canals when water is cold. Common
to find schools of fish similar in size; if undersized, move on! Most commonly takes live bait
(especially shrimp), but jigs and slow-moving lures are very effective. A regulated species. Edibility
good; flesh gets mushy if not iced quickly.
silver trout, trout
Description: Two "fangs" in upper
jaw (1). Light colored fish without
distinctive markings. Rarely larger
than 12-14 inches and 1 lb. Another
species (silver trout) is even smaller
and tends to be found in deeper,
more saline waters. Distinguishing
these two species is difficult, and
often the names are used interchangeably.
Biology/Habitat: Prefers deeper water than spotted seatrout. Found on bare bottom and channels,
often schooling around minor bottom features in bays or just off gulf beaches. Not much known of
its biology, but is thought to spawn in spring and summer. Juveniles are thought to prefer lower
Fishing Notes: Caught primarily on shrimp and shrimp-imitating jigs fished along the bottom.
Edibility good if iced immediately.
Description: Underslung mouth.
Many tiny barbels along inner edge -
of lower jaw (1) distinguish croaker
from whiting -- another member of
the drum family -- which has a sin-
gle rigid barbel. Silver gray body
with distinct pattern of wavy diagonal
markings on upper sides. Name de-
rived from noises it makes. Gener-
ally under 1 Ib, rarely over 2 Ibs.
BiologylHabitat: Juveniles generally occur in shallow bay waters; adults more common in Gulf
waters. More abundant on the east coast. Spawns offshore in fall-winter. Lives 2-4 years. A
Fishing Notes: Usually caught while fishing for other bottom fish. Best caught with small hooks
and bits of shrimp or squid. Handle with care due to sharp gill cover edges. Edibility excellent.
Description: Several similar spe-
cies occur in southwest Florida wa-
ters. For all, lower jaw does not
extend as far as upper jaw (1).
Distinctive single chin barbel always -
present (2), Silvery-white color; may
be darker on back and upper sides 2)
depending on species. Almost uni-
versally known as whiting in south-
west Florida; widely known as kingfish elsewhere. Usually less than 1 Ib, but can be up to 3 Ibs.
BiologylHabitat: Most common along Gulf beaches. Also found on sand and mud bottom areas of
bays. A bottom feeder that uses its small mouth and chin barbel to locate prey.
Fishing Notes: Most often caught on sand fleas or bits of shrimp on small hooks. Fish bait on
bottom. Edibility excellent.
/ sand bream
,* S _Description: High dorsal fin. Body
; dark olive green above, tan to sil-
-. very on sides. Conspicuous, dark
horizontal stripes on body sides, ex-
cept toward belly. Small mouth;
S ^ flexible membranes enable the lips
to be extended outward. Usually
under 1 Ib, can reach 3 Ibs.
BiologylHabitat: An inshore,
schooling fish most common on sandy or other open bottoms; often found in canals and waterways.
Uses its extendable mouth to probe the bottom for small invertebrates (worms, shrimp, crabs, etc.).
Fishing Notes: Will readily take bits of shrimp or other cut bait. Due to small mouth size, best
caught on small hooks. Schools of like-sized fish can often be seen in shallow water and can be
caught with a hand-thrown cast net. Edibility is very good.
- , ,
sugar trout, croaker, sand perch
Description: Underslung mouth
with tiny teeth which often go un-
noticed. Silvery-white in color, dark
olive green to bluish on top. Fins
may be tinged with pale yellow. A
small fish generally under 1 lb.
Biology/Habitat: A bottom feeder
of open inland waters; also found in
creeks and canals. Seldom found offshore in the Gulf. When young, feeds on small shrimp and
shrimp-like animals. Diet changes to baitfish such as anchovies as the fish grows larger. Spawns
spring to early summer. Three-year-old fish may be only 7 inches in length.
Fishing Notes: Often found in large schools, so if you catch one there may be more. Best caught
on very small natural baits: pieces of cut shrimp or squid work well. Small mouth means that a
small hook works best. Makes good live bait for many species of larger fish. Edibility excellent.
Description: Heavy-set fish with
distinctive barbels under chin (1).
Young fish (up to about 10 Ibs) have
pronounced black vertical bars that
gradually fade with age. Often mis-
taken for sheepshead which has
narrower and more numerous black
bands and has no barbels. Often
30-50 Ibs; can be well over 100 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: Principally found inshore over sand and sandy-mud bottoms and near bridges,
docks, piers, seawalls and oyster bars. Young, at about 4 inches, move from muddy shallows to
deeper water. Bottom-feeder: uses barbels to locate food by feel. Grinding throat teeth enable it to
crush clams, oysters and crabs. Schools form in spring and migrate to spawn near mouths of rivers
and bays. Can attain 20 Ibs by age 5, 60 Ibs by age 10.
Fishing Notes: Fish natural baits (broken crab, clams, shrimp) on bottom, usually within a few feet
of bridge and pier pilings. Best fishing is in cooler months. Deep drumming noise often heard when
landed. A regulated species. Small fish (up to 10-15 Ibs) good to eat; large fish tend to be tough
and to have parasitic infections.
convict fish, zebra fish
Description: Large head with -.
prominent teeth. Human-like inci-
sors in front, rounded grinding teeth .
behind them. Distinctive black and "'.
white vertical bars on body sides.
Often confused with juvenile black
drum. Usually under 5 Ibs, can
reach nearly 20 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: Can tolerate a
wide range of salinity. Usually found around docks, piers, reefs, rocks, mangroves, oyster bars, and
anywhere else barnacles and oysters are found. Often found in coastal rivers. Feeds on shellfish
such as crabs and shrimp, barnacles and small bivalves. Young often inhabit grassy flats before
dispersing to adult habitat. In winter, larger adults migrate offshore to spawn near ledges and reefs
in water depths up to about 50 feet.
Fishing Notes: Most commonly caught during winter, especially at height of spawning season.
Fish baits on the bottom for best results; use small hooks. Good baits include fiddler crabs, sand
fleas, shrimp, bits of clam or oyster. Be alert for small nibbles; sheepshead are notorious for
stealing bait. Small fish less than one pound do not yield much meat and should be released.
Edibility excellent; difficult to clean due to tough scales and bones.
I Description: Small mouth, high
blunt forehead, large eyes, long
continuous dorsal fin, and forked tail
,...' fin. Front incisor-like teeth and rear
S grinding teeth in both jaws. Light or
white body sides. There are several
similar species of porgy which are
difficult to distinguish; most are un-
der 3 Ibs though the jolthead porgy
can exceed 20 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: Most porgy species of southwest Florida are Gulf bottom fishes. Found singly or
in small groups, usually around edge of natural or artificial reefs. Strong teeth used to crush hard-
shelled animals such as crustaceans, snails, and clams; occasionally eats small fishes.
Fishing Notes: Usually caught on or near bottom using small hooks and shrimp or squid for bait.
All have firm white meat,
Description: Small mouth with
prominent, nipping teeth. Bluish-
brown above, white body sides.
Prominent black spot at base of tail
(1). Juveniles have faint vertical
bars on body sides. Usually less
than 1 lb, but can reach over 2 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: Juveniles found
near jetties and piers in bay waters not far from the Gulf. Adults occur around reefs in Gulf. Sharp
teeth used to pick food items from bottom; strong molars used to crush a variety of prey.
Fishing Notes: Uses small mouth to steal baits. Best caught on small hooks baited with bits of
shrimp fished on bottom. Light tackle enables the angler to better detect nibbling bites. Usually not
eaten due to small size.
Description: Small mouth with 4'
incisor-like teeth. Distinctive black L t A
spot behind the gill cover (1). Body t
bluish-silver (back darker than belly) _
with blue and orange-yellow horizon-'
tal stripes overlaid by 4-6 gray-shad-
ed vertical bars. Called pinfish be-
cause of sharp dorsal spines. A
member of the porgy family. Small fish; usually less than 8 inches, but can reach 3 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: One of the most common fish associated with seagrass beds. Also found around
bridge, pier, and marker pilings and around natural and artificial reefs in bays and Gulf. Spawning
thought to occur in offshore waters. Can grow to six inches in first year. Eats a wide variety of
worms, crustaceans and mollusks. Small individuals also consume plant matter. A major food item
of the bottlenose dolphin.
Fishing Notes: Popular live bait. Caught on very small hooks baited with tiny bits of just about any
bait. Notorious bait stealers, due to small mouth and sharp teeth. Not usually considered a food
Description: Small mouth with tiny,
barely noticeable teeth. Gray body;
tends to have bluish cast to back.
Gold to bronze dashes and broken
line markings tend to form horizontal
patterns on sides, often forming
oblique lines on cheeks and upper
back. A member of the grunt family.
Small fish usually less than 8 inches,
but can reach over 1 lb.
Biology/Habitat: Smaller specimens common on seagrass beds; larger specimens more common
around natural and artificial reefs in the Gulf to about 60 foot water depths, Bottom feeder that
searches through sediments for worms, crustaceans, and mollusks.
Fishing Notes: Popular live bait, Caught on small hooks with tiny bits of bait. Often makes
grunting sound when handled in the boat; hence the name pigfish. Good to eat though not often
eaten due to small size.
Key West grunt, gray snapper,
flannel mouth grunt,
Description: Bright orange mouth
lining. Gray body with blue horizon-
Stal stripes on sides of head. Scales
above lateral line noticeably larger
than scales below lateral line. Pro-
duces sound by grinding "throat
teeth"; hence the name grunt. Com-
monly to 1 lb; sometimes to about 3 Ibs, can reach 8 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: Primarily a Gulf resident, found near reefs and wrecks. Grows slowly: sexual
maturity reached during third year at size of about 10 inches. Roots through sediment for worms,
crustaceans, and mollusks; also eats small fish.
Fishing Notes: Often taken in large numbers around Gulf reefs. Live bait or cut bait will work.
Fish bait on bottom. Edibility excellent.
I) silver grunt
Description: Bright orange mouth
."". ".- lining. Light colored: gray to tan on
back. Yellow to brown stripe from
head to base of tail fin (1). Black
blotch at base of tail fin fades away
in larger specimens. One of the
smallest grunts: can reach 10-11
inches and weigh less than 1 lb.
Biology/Habitat: A Gulf bottom fish found around reefs and hard bottom areas. Often in large
schools of similar sized fish. Preyed upon by snappers and groupers.
Fishing Notes: Readily caught on a variety of cut bait. Schools of tomtate grunt will often plague
reef fishermen by monopolizing bait, sometimes forcing an angler to change location. Frequently
used as bait for larger fish. Not usually eaten, due to small size.
sabalo, silver king (2)
Description: Bluish-gray back with
silver sides. Large, heavy scales.
Strongly protruding lower jaws (1). '
Last ray of dorsal fin elongated (2).
Specimens from inland waters can_
take on a yellowish or golden tinge.
Specimens under about 40 Ibs are
juveniles; adults average 70-100 Ibs
and can reach 300 lbs.
Biology/Habitat: Juveniles prefer low-salinity backwaters often ranging many miles inland.
Move into larger streams and estuaries as they grow. Most adults leave the Southwest Florida
coastal area in winter, return for spring spawning. Huge schools form in Gulf passes in May and
June. Often seen "rolling" (surfacing to gulp air). Disperse throughout the area in summer and fall.
Reach sexual maturity at approximately 6-7 years of age (around 4 feet in length).
Fishing Notes: Prized game fish due to size, strength and spectacular leaps when hooked. Most
fish are caught March through October, especially during spring spawning. Live baits and artificial
lures are used. A highly regulated species; usually released alive. Edibility poor; very oily and
poor man's tarpon, ten-pounder --r
Description: Long slender fish
with large eyes and abrasive jaws i.
for grasping prey. Single dorsal fin
occurs relatively far back on the
body (1). Uniformly silver body with
slightly darker, greenish-blue back.
Usually under 3 Ibs; can reach 10
Biology/Habitat: Closely related to
tarpon. Like tarpon can tolerate a wide range of salinity: can be found from Gulf waters -- generally
less than 20 ft deep -- inland to fresh water. Usually found in open water, but also in canals and
waterways. Feeds primarily on small fish.
Fishing Notes: Popular sport fish because of aggressive strikes and spectacular tarpon-like leaps
(called "poor man's tarpon" due to smaller size). Sometimes found in schools of similar-sized fish.
Schools often located by flocks of feeding seabirds. Will hit just about any natural or artificial bait.
Fishing up off the bottom provides best results. Abrasive jaws can wear through light fishing line:
use heavy leader. Not generally eaten.
Description: Long slender fish with
a needle-pointed jaw full of sharp
teeth. Dorsal and anal fins far back
n bon body. Greenish to bluish on
back, shading to silvery on belly.
Similar in appearance to ballyhoo
and halfbeak, but has a distinguish-
ing elongate upper jaw. Usually
under 12 inches long, can exceed
Biology/Habitat: Found in inland
waters around mangroves, in canals around docks and piers, and in the Gulf particularly along
beaches. Often seen just under the surface where it looks much like a floating stick. Also seen at
night near lighted piers and bridges. Aggressive predator; feeds on other fish and shrimp. Evades
predation by skipping along surface.
Fishing Notes: For its size will take amazingly large baits, sometimes lures. Sometimes used as
live bait for snook and other inshore gamefish. Handle carefully since tiny sharp teeth can slice a
finger. Generally too small to eat.
Description: Bluish-green, torpedo-
shaped fish with extremely elongat-
ed pectoral fins used as "wings" to
enable gliding over the water's sur-
face. Related to ballyhoo and half-
beaks. Small fish: can reach 1 Ib.
Biology/Habitat: Found primarily in
the Gulf 15 miles or more away from
land; rarely found in bay waters.
Often seen "flying" away from a
moving boat. Makes a rapid leap into the air, spreads large pectoral fins, and glides for a long
distance, sometimes finning its tail furiously for added boosts. Known to fly into boat lights at night.
Fishing Notes: Sometimes used as bait. Can indicate the presence of larger fish: a school of
flying fish taking to the air may be trying to escape a predator. Although sometimes consumed in
remote island communities, not generally considered a food fish.
Description: Small mouth. Lacks
long dorsal and pectoral spine fila-
ments found on gafftopsail catfish.
Has three pairs of barbels ("whis-
kers") one on the upper jaw, two
on the lower jaw (1). Maximum size -1)
is about 3 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: Feeds along the
bottom, using barbels to assist in
locating prey. Prefers marine environments, but occasionally enters brackish and fresh waters.
Inhabits turbid waters over sand and mud bottoms. Males brood young in their mouth.
Fishing Notes: Opportunistic bottom feeder that takes just about any bait. Not generally consid-
ered a game fish, but has recreational value as a catch-and-release species. As with other catfish,
handle with extreme caution; barbed spines in dorsal and pectoral fins are poisonous. Flesh is
Description: Long 'whiskers" on 2)
each side of wide mouth (1).
Distinguished from hardhead catfish .
by extremely long filaments on the
dorsal and pectoral spines (2).
Color is uniform steel-blue above,
white below. Can reach up to 8 Ibs.1
Biology/Habitat: Prefers intermedi-
ate salinity and is primarily an inshore fish of the bays and rivers. Sometimes found up to several
miles out in Gulf. Males brood young in their mouth and do not feed during brooding.
Fishing Notes: Aggressive feeder that will take any bait fished on bottom. Will strike topwater
lures. Handle with care; there is a rigid, poisonous, barbed spine in the dorsal fin and each pectoral
fin. These are well positioned to injure an angler's hand. Punctures cause excruciating pain and
swelling in some cases. Contrary to popular belief, edibility is good.
black mullet, striped mullet,
silver mullet, lisa, finger mullet
Description: Three similar mullet
species occur in southwest Florida.
Black mullet is predominant; silver
mullet is not uncommon. All have
cylindrical body, with small toothless
mouth and widely separated dorsal
fins. Series of dark spots form con-
spicuous stripes on sides. Upper
body bluish-gray, shading to a white belly. Usually under 3 Ibs; sometimes over 10 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: Tolerates a wide range of salinity and occurs from fresh water streams to Gulf
waters. Large schools of black mullet congregate in Nov.-Dec. and migrate offshore to spawn. In
southwest Florida, starts maturing sexually at size of 9-14 inches (1 to 2 years of age). Moderately
long-lived fish that attains length of 24 inches after six years. Feeds by sucking up bottom surface
mud which contains algae and organic material. Often jumps for no apparent reason.
Fishing Notes: Commonly caught recreationally with cast nets. Sometimes taken from freshwater
with tiny, baited hooks. Juveniles (finger mullet) are popular sportfishing bait. A regulated species.
A good eating fish when fresh. Spoils easily; should be quickly iced.
flounder, flatfish, fluke
Description: A flat fish with both
eyes on top side. Large sharp
Teeth. Top side mottled brown;
S. bottom side white. Dorsal and anal
fins run almost full length of body.
:V Most common species among sever-
al found in SW FL; can be distin-
guished from others by three promi-
nent spots in triangular pattern on
top side. Can reach 5 Ibs. Southern flounder is more common on Florida's east coast; can reach
Biology/Habitat: Found on sandy bottoms both inland and out in the Gulf to about 60 feet of water,
Lies flat on the bottom in wait for passing prey. Will aggressively chase after passing fish, shrimp,
etc. Camouflages itself by changing color to match surroundings and by covering itself with sand,
leaving only eyes exposed.
Fishing Notes: Aggressive feeder which will chase a passing bait or lure. Generally caught within
a few feet of the bottom. Live shrimp and small fish make excellent baits as do jigs and spoons. A
regulated species. Edibility excellent.
Description: Broad flattened head
with fleshy protrusions from head
and around large mouth (1). Muted
in color with dark browns and yel-
lows predominating. Small fish up
to maximum of 2 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: Commonly an
inshore fish, but can be found in offshore waters. Conceals itself around pilings, oyster reefs, rocks,
or in any hole or hiding place it can find. Ambushes a variety of passing prey; will also crush
oysters and crabs. Unusual fish in that males brood young. Male prepares nest in which one to
several females may deposit eggs. Male emits a boatwhistle-like call to attract females. Male
protects and cleans eggs until young fish become free-swimming (5-12 days).
Fishing Notes: Will take any type of bait fished on bottom. Handle with care! Powerful jaws used
to crush oysters can deliver a vise-like bite. Reported to be edible, but rarely eaten because of
small size and unusual appearance.
Description: Broad, armor-plated
head adorned with spikes. Triangu- ;:
lar, tapered body. Large pectoral .
fins spread like bird wings (hence
the name sea robin). Lower pecto-
ral fin-rays appear leg-like (1) and
are used for walking and probing.
Several different species occur local-
ly. Small fish, generally under 1 lb.
Biology/Habitat: A bottom fish
found in both bay and Gulf waters. Uses fins to fan and probe the bottom in search of worms,
mollusks and crustaceans.
Fishing Notes: Young anglers are fascinated by this strange-looking fish. Caught by baits fished
on bottom. Flesh is edible, but seldom eaten as there is very little meat.
snakefish, sand diver
) Description: Pointed "lizard-like"
head with tiny sharp teeth (1). Cy-
lindrical body. Dull brown with white
spots on back; darker brown dia-
mond-shaped markings on lower
side. Belly and throat usually white.
Usually a small fish; up to about 2
Biology/Habitat: Found in rivers,
bays, shallow saltwater creeks, along beaches, and offshore to a depth of several hundred feet.
Lies on bottom or buries itself with only eyes exposed. Aggressive feeder; darts up from bottom to
Fishing Notes: Often caught with live or dead bait on the bottom, but will also take a lure. Anglers
are often surprised to catch lizardfish not much larger than the lure. Not considered a food fish, but
eaten in some parts of the world.
Description: Disk-shaped. Blunt
Il head with small mouth. Silvery to
dark tan in color. Dark brown verti-
cal bar pattern is sometimes striking-
ly distinct and sometimes barely
noticeable. Larger fish generally
have a darker background, with less
distinctive bars. Usually under 3 Ibs;
can reach 16 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: Schools of spadefish (a few individuals to several hundreds) are generally
associated with structure (reefs, wrecks, pilings, bouys, etc.). On calm days schools sometimes can
be seen lolling at the surface with the tips of their dorsal fins out of the water. During summer
months such behavior may indicate spawning activity. Consumes a diversity of food items, including
jellyfish, sponges, and sea squirts.
Fishing Notes: Difficult to hook because of small mouth and unusual diet. Doesn't venture far
from structure. Best caught on light tackle and very small hooks. Good baits are small strips of
squid and bits of shrimp. The school may follow a hooked fish back to the boat. Edibility is good.
Rich meat spoils rapidly.
Description: Tiny mouth with sharp. '
protruding teeth (1). First spine of
dorsal fin a rigid spike (2). When
this spine is erect, it can be
"unlocked" only by depressing the
smaller spike just behind it (the)
"trigger"). Olive green to gray body
color. Tough, sandpapery skin.
Averages under 2 Ibs, can reach 5
Biology/Habitat: Found around reefs and wrecks in the Gulf. Seldom caught in bay waters.
Primarily a bottom fish, but sometimes will slowly swim up and down through the water column.
Lays eggs in guarded nest. Powerful teeth enable it to crush and feed on heavily-shelled animals
such as crabs, barnacles and even spiny urchins.
Fishing Notes: Usually caught on or near bottom. Because of small mouth size, very small hooks
work best. Whole or cut shrimp preferred, but cut squid or fish can be effective. Will sometimes
take a very small jig bounced along the bottom. Tough hide makes cleaning a chore, but flesh is
Description: Tiny mouth with pro-
truding sharp teeth. Serrated dorsal..
spine almost always bent or irregu-
lar. Tough, sandpaper-like skin with .. :.. .
light orange splotches on a brown to "
grayish background. Can weigh up
to 3 lbs.
Biology/Habitat: Usually found in
inshore waters. Most common
around structure (pilings, docks and
reefs), occasionally on seagrass beds. Widely varied diet includes sponges, sea whips, hydroids,
and soft-bodied invertebrates. To avoid predators, can tightly wedge itself into crevices by
distending its belly.
Fishing Notes: Often rises up from the bottom to pick at baits being retrieved; will then hang just
beneath the boat. Very sluggish, but adept at removing bait with quick nips of small teeth. Best
caught with very small hooks and bits of shrimp or other cut bait. Edible although not commonly
blowfish, blow toad
Description: Beak-shaped mouth
with two powerful teeth above and
.- 3.two below. Light colored fish with
pale tan rings and splotches;
smooth, scaleless skin, Several
species of puffer fishes occur in
local waters. Small fish, usually less
than 1 Ib.
Biology/Habitat: Can occur in wide
range of habitats, including Gulf waters, but most common around inshore sea grass beds.
Powerful teeth are used to crush any small animal it can capture, including crabs, clams, shrimp,
worms, etc. When alarmed, inflates with water or air to prevent being swallowed by larger fish.
Fishing Notes: A small mouth and heavy teeth make it difficult to hook this fish (infamous for its
ability to "steal" bait). Take care when handling: sharp teeth can deliver a nasty bite. Difficult to
distinguish from other species of puffer fishes, many of which produce an extremely toxic poison and
can only be eaten if correctly and carefully cleaned. Meat is delicious.
porcupine fish, spiny puffer
Description: Small beak-like
mouth similar to southern puffer,
Easily distinguished by the numer-
ous spines covering the body. Usu-
ally less than 1 Ib, but have been
reported to reach 18 inches in
Biology/Habitat: Found on inshore
seagrass beds. Able to inflate itself with water (or air) to discourage predators.
Fishing Notes: Sometimes caught by anglers seeking trout or other sportfish on seagrass beds.
Can be difficult to handle because of spines, Can deliver a nasty bite. Produces croaking sounds
when out of the water. Not usually eaten.
Description: Trademark "horns"
over the eyes (1). Tiny mouth with
parrot-like beak. Body colored with
blue lines and scrawls. Called box-
fish because head and most of body
are enclosed in a hard boxlike
"shell." The "shell" is so rigid that
the fish is able to move only its tail
and fins, and its eyes and mouth. Small fish: generally under 1 lb.
Biology/Habitat: Usually found around inshore seagrass beds. Occasionally found in Gulf waters
around patch reefs.
Fishing Notes: Often seen in shallows by anglers trout-fishing. Seldom caught due to small size
and small mouth; sometimes caught in nets. There is a small but very good finger-sized piece of
meat in the lower body.
Description: Very thin body; re-o --
sembles a small mackerel. Sides *...
generally light-colored or white; tail "c;,
bright yellow (1). Sharp dorsal and
anal fins. Rear parts of dorsal and
anal fins consist of a series of finlets
(2) characteristic of mackerels and
tunas. Finlets are modified, sepa-
rate rays behind the main part of
dorsal and anal fins; they serve to control turbulence when swimming. Generally under 1 lb.
Biology/Habitat: Common both around inshore seagrass beds and in the Gulf around bars and
reefs. Very aggressive feeder which preys upon small fish and shrimp. Related to the jack family.
Fishing Notes: Due to aggressive nature, is often caught on baits and lures intended for much
larger fish. Occasionally used for bait for larger fish; most are released. Handle with extreme
caution: fins carry a poison, making punctures very painful. Aching and throbbing from such a
wound can persist for hours. Edibility not known.
o *^ Description: Short, blunt snout (1).
,- Small mouth with soft, rubbery lips.
Silvery white body color. Commonly
i ..1-2 Ibs; can reach about 8 Ibs.
Extremely difficult to distinguish from
young permit. Sometimes confused
with jack crevalle.
Biology/Habitat: Pompano feeds at
the bottom, commonly along Gulf
beaches and around passes. For-
ages for coquina clams and sand fleas in the surf zone. Sometimes found far up in bays, and
occasionally several miles out into the Gulf. Grows rapidly; attains maturity in 1-2 years. Lives 3-4
Fishing Notes: Spring and autumn runs are common along southwest coast beaches. Best baits
include sand fleas, fiddler crabs, shrimp or small jigs worked with a slow retrieve on the bottom. A
regulated species. Highly sought as a food fish.
Description: Disk-shaped, silvery-
colored fish, sometimes with yellow
highlights on belly and lower fins.
Small mouth with rubbery lips and
tiny teeth. Nearly identical in ap-
:. pearance to pompano when small;
grows much larger than pompano
and has a deeper, more disk-shaped
body. Usually under 15 Ibs, can
exceed 40 lbs.
Biology/Habitat Smal individuals
under about 3 pounds often school with pompano along Gulf beaches and in inland waters around
reefs and piers. Larger individuals gather in schools around Gulf wrecks and reefs out to about 100
feet of water. Primarily eats crabs, shrimp and other crustaceans.
Fishing Notes: Fish on bottom along the beach or around passes for smaller permit. Best baits
are crabs and shrimp. Gulf wreck fishing is best done by suspending crabs just under the surface,
even in 100 feet of water. A regulated species. Edibility is very good: much like pompano.
amberjack, jack, A.J.
Description: Head bluntly pointed;
heavy jaws. Dark amber colored
bar extends through eye to begin-
ning of dorsal fin (1). Olive green -C
on back, tan to white on sides and
belly. Often with broad, diffuse
yellowish stripe along midside.
Commonly to 50 Ibs, can reach 150
Biology/Habitat: Inhabits the open Gulf, usually in 40 feet or more of water depth. Almost always
found around structure with high vertical relief. Schools throughout the entire water column. Larger
fish become more solitary. Feeds primarily on a wide variety of fish; also eats crabs and squid.
Fishing Notes: Most are caught around wrecks in the Gulf. Fish at various depths to locate. Just
about any small live fish makes a good bait. Occasionally will hit dead baits and lures. Famous for
its tenacious fighting ability. Good eating; best if bled immediately. A regulated species. Large fish
often harbor harmless worms in flesh; these can be easily seen and cut out.
yellow jack, jack ,
Description: High blunt head.
Powerful jaws with pronounced .
teeth. Prominent black opercular
spot (1). Olive colored above; can
have yellowish lower body and anal "2
fin (2). Pronounced hard ridge
along center of body near tail (3).
Commonly weighs 2-5 Ibs., but larg-
er fish can reach around 15 Ibs
inshore, as much as 50 Ibs offshore.
Biology/Habitat: Free roaming fish that can appear along Gulf coast at anytime, often in large
schools of similar sized fish (large fish tend to become increasingly solitary). A common feeding
tactic is to corner bait fish against a seawall or other structure. Tolerates a wide range of salinities
and may venture into fresh water. Thought to spawn offshore.
Fishing Notes: Schools of jack crevalle are indicated by jumping fish and "boiling" water when they
go into a feeding frenzy. Bait: live fish and shrimp. Rapidly retrieved spoons and lures work well.
Powerful fighter. Although its dark flesh is not appreciated by every angler, it is easily filleted and
especially good smoked.
Description: Bluish-green to olive
green on back, silver to brassy
.^ '---- below. Distinctive black opercular
..... .',,- spot (1). Pronounced hard ridge
along centerline of body near tail.
SUsually under two Ibs, can reach 4-6
Biology/Habitat: Common in
nearshore Gulf waters out to about 10 miles, often along bars and around passes. Occasionally
found in bay waters around artificial reefs and piers. Often found in large schools of similar-sized
Fishing Notes: Frequently caught by anglers fishing for spanish mackerel with which blue runner
school. Aggressive feeder. Hits live baits and lures. Used as live bait for sharks and barracuda.
Edibility fair; dark rich meat has strong flavor.
3 blue, snapper (small fish),
-- ,, .,^ chopper (large fish)
1 Description: Large mouth with
powerful jaws and large sharp teeth
(1). Greenish to bluish along back,
Silver on sides and belly. Usually
2 has a blackish blotch at base of
pectoral fin (2). First dorsal fin
separated from second dorsal fin
(3). Medium-sized fish: most under
5 Ibs. Commonly reaches 10 Ibs; can exceed 20 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: Bluefish school by size and make seasonal migrations. All sizes are more
common along Gulf beaches and passes. Larger fish feed in more open waters, smaller fish enter
bays and rivers. Voracious predator that feeds on small fish. Can attain 7 Ibs in 5 years, and 15
Ibs in 10 years.
Fishing N.tes: Readily takes most live and artificial baits; will take cut natural bait also. Some-
times taken in large numbers when schooling. Some anglers use wire leaders to avoid cut-offs from
sharp teeth. Be wary of teeth when handling. A regulated species. Edibility of smaller fish is good,
but larger specimens are considered by many to be too oily.
Description: Mouth located on un-
derside. Very broad, wing-like pec-
toral fins (1). Slender tail longer
than body (2). Venomous barbed
spine at base of tail (3). Generally
tan to brown in color, but undersides
are always white. Usually under 5
Ibs but can exceed 100 Ibs.
/ --l 'tK
BiologylHabitat: Inhabits coastal
waters. Most common along Gulf
beaches during warmer months. Bottom feeder which preys on worms, clams, shrimp, crabs and
small fish. Powerful grinding teeth for crushing shells. Locates prey by digging with its pectoral fins.
Shallow, bowl-shaped depressions in bottom surface often result from such feeding activity. A few
fully-formed young are born live each year. Hides by partially burying itself in the bottom.
Fishing Notes: Use dead or live bait fished on the bottom. Cleaning meat from pectoral fins can be
a chore; fins must be skinned and meat separated from cartilage. Handle with extreme caution to
avoid painful puncture wound from spine; waders should shuffle feet along bottom (injuries result
from stepping directly on the stingray). Soak injury in hot water. Seldom eaten, but is edible.
Description: Tan colored with white
underside. Mouth located about un-
der the eyes. Similar in appearance
to southern stingray, but with a tail
only as long as the body and meaty
all the way to its end with fleshy
lobes (1). Unlike the stingray, does
not have a poisonous barb near the
base of the tail. Smaller relative of
the ray; usually under 3 Ibs, but can
Biology/Habitat: Exclusively a bottom feeder. Generally found in 5-100 feet of water, both in bays
and in the Gulf. Each developing egg encapsulated in a dark, leathery case (referred to as devil's
or sailor's purse). Reaches sexual maturity at about 2 feet in length.
Fishing Notes: Use dead or live bait fished on bottom. Good eating, but like stingrays, e difficult
A Cow Nosed Ray
N\,' bat ray, bat
Description: Similar to other rays
and skates in appearance. Head is
S-blunt, square-shaped, and similar in
appearance to a cow's nose (1).
Uniform dark brown on top and
S(2) lighter on the bottom, sometimes
(1) with a yellowish tinge. Tail is usually
not longer than the body, and has a
basal spine (2). Commonly under
25 Ibs, but can reach 60 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: Tolerates a wide range of salinities: can be found in bays, estuaries and Gulf
waters. Often seen swimming near the surface in large schools. When wing tips of this fish come
out of the water as it swims, they can be mistaken for shark fins. Bottom feeder. Primarily eats
crustaceans. Gestation period is 11-12 months. Young are born live.
Fishing Notes: Will take baits fished on the bottom. However, many caught on hook and line are
actually snagged as they swim by and pick up the line with their wide wingspan. Requires careful
handling due to barbed spine. Edibility is considered poor compared to other rays and skates.
Spotted Eagle Ray
Description: Easily distinguished
from other rays by light spots on the
dark back (1). Underside white.
Can measure over 7 feet across and
weigh up to 500 Ibs. Black tail can
be twice as long as body.
Biology/Habitat: Occurs in warmer
1 waters throughout the world. Usual-
ly seen swimming singly cruising the
flats in several feet of water, but can
be seen in pairs or in large schools. Like other large rays, can be seen executing spectacular leaps
out of the water. On rare occasions, eagle rays have landed in boats on such leaps.
Fishing Notes: A protected species. Any spotted eagle ray caught must be returned unharmed to
Description: Resembles a long thin
stingray with a shark-like tail: ray-
like flat head; thick, tapered shark- -. 2 .
like body. Mouth and gill slits on
underside. Two well-developed dor-
sal fins. Brownish above, with
numerous small light spots.
Underside light or whitish. Rough
shark-like skin. Related to rays and
sharks. Commonly about 2 1/2 feet
BiologylHabitat: A bottom feeder of inland waters, much like stingrays. Probes bottom for
crustaceans. Young are born live.
Fishing Notes: An unusual catch: guitarfish are not abundant and it is possible to fish for years
without catching one. Most are caught on shrimp fished on bottom.
Description: Unmistakable 'saw"
bill in front resembles a double-
edged hedge trimmer! Mouth on
underside below the eyes. A spe-
cies of ray that is related to the
sharks. Has rough scaleless skin
like a shark, Large fish: lengths well
over 10 feet have been reported.
Biology/Habitat: Generally a shal-
low water fish of inshore bars, man-
grove edges, and seagrass beds. Occasionally found along Gulf beaches. Bottom feeder that
locates prey by stirring the bottom with its "saw." Also attacks schools of small fishes by slashing
sideways with its 'saw" and then eating the wounded fish.
Fishing Notes: Occasionally caught on the bottom on shrimp or cut bait; is somewhat sluggish. A
protected species now rarely seen. If caught must be released unharmed.
Almost all sharks caught by recreational anglers in Southwest Florida waters will be among the 12
species treated in this book. Species illustrations have been grouped for ease of comparison.
Characteristics common to all sharks are described below; features particular to each of the 12 spe-
cies are covered in the individual descriptions.
Description: A skeleton of cartilage distinguishes sharks and rays from bony fishes. Skin has a
tough, sandpapery texture. Sensory abilities include smell, motion detection, sight and electro-
location (the ability to detect electrical currents generated by the nervous system of living organ-
Biology/Habitat: Sharks are slow growing, long-lived fishes which produce small numbers of
offspring. Young of most species are born live; others (such as nurse shark) hatch from a leathery
egg case laid on the bottom.
Fishing Notes: Due to excellent sense of smell, can be attracted by chumming, Will scavenge
dead baits but usually take live baits best. Like most predators, are attracted by weakened or
struggling prey. Can be found from top to bottom of the water column, so fish at a variety of depths.
Wire leader recommended to avoid cutoffs from sharp teeth. Rough skin can wear through mono-
filament line, so use a leader longer than the length of the shark being sought. All species are
under management regulations. All sharks are edible, but must be bled and iced promptly after
capture to maintain quality.
Silky Shark A medium-sized shark. Second dorsal fin has long, trailing free tip. Skin smoother
than most other sharks. Found in Gulf waters, usually well offshore. Feeds on fishes, crabs and
squid. Can reach 10 ft.
Dusky Shark Usually found in Gulf waters, sometimes in deeper Gulf passes. Most often
caught in the cooler months. Young born live at a size of about 3 ft. Can reach 12 ft.
Brown Shark Also called sandbar shark. Usually found just outside Gulf passes. Most
frequently caught in cooler months. Migrates south in schools to wintering grounds from N.C. to
Florida. Can reach 10 ft.
Tiger Shark Young have "tiger" stripes which become less distinct on larger specimens. Usually
found in Gulf waters. Live-born pups measure 18-19 inches at birth. One of the largest of the
sharks: can reach up to 18 ft and over 1,000 Ibs.
Hammerhead Shark Easily recognized "hammer" shape of head. Sometimes confused with
bonnethead shark. When small, found in bay waters, especially during spring months; larger
hammerheads more common in the Gulf. Often basks nearly motionless at the surface on calm
days. Known to form large schools. One of the most difficult sharks to get to bite a bait. Can
reach 20 ft and 1,000 lbs.
Bonnethead Shark A small shark with a spade-shaped head; often mistaken for a juvenile
hammerhead. Sometimes called shovelnose shark. Common in both bay and Gulf waters year
round. Feeds on crustaceans including shrimp and crabs. Can reach 5 ft.
Blacktip Shark Distinguishing black tip on dorsal and pectoral fins; often confused with spinner
shark which has similar black tip on anal fin. Probably the most commonly caught shark in bays
and rivers during summer months. Popular sport fish; will jump when hooked. Medium-sized shark
to about 8 ft in length.
Spinner Shark A slender shark. Longer, more pointed snout; smaller eyes; and black on anal fin
distinguish it from the blacktip shark. More commonly found in offshore waters. Known for making
impressive spinning leaps. Can reach 8 ft.
Blacknose Shark Distinctive black moustache on tip of snout. Often mistaken for lemon shark
due to its yellowish color. One of the most common small Gulf sharks. Sometimes found in bay
waters near Gulf passes. Can reach 5 ft.
Bull Shark Stout-bodied with short, broad, rounded snout. Young common inshore; larger fish
more common in Gulf. Tolerates a wide range of salinity and can be found up rivers into nearly
fresh water. Will follow spring tarpon runs into Gulf passes. Can reach 11 ft.
Lemon Shark Yellow-gray shark with 2 dorsal fins of about equal size positioned relatively far
back on body. Found in both bay and Gulf waters. Often caught near ledges or wrecks.
Nurse Shark Rusty-brown or yellow-brown. Fleshy barbel at the front edge of each nostril.
Small mouth. Dorsal fins nearly equal in size. Common in both bay and Gulf waters. One of a few
sharks that regularly lies motionless on the bottom. Will hide under rock ledges and wrecks.
Sluggish fighter when hooked. Can reach 14 ft.
-( .. .
Smooth feeling skin
1 i Smooth feeling skin
Dorsal fin starts
about middle of
Note: Silky, Dusky, Brown and
Tiger Sharks have a thin, dis-
tinctive ridge of raised skin
between the two dorsal fins (1).
Broad, blunt snout --
eyes on outside
'head, eyes on outside
SNo black on anal fin
Distinctive black mustache
on tip of snout
Short, broad snout
i: Jet black tips on dorsal
pectoral fins (1).
nner Black tip
Inner on anal fin
Black on some fin tips
Dorsal fins almost
the same size
Fleshy barbel near each
corner of mouth
. ------ (1)
Several species of small, densely-schooling fish are commonly referred to as "baitfish." Because of
similarities in their behavior, habitat and methods of capture, they are treated here as a group.
They are not all closely related, however.
Biology/Habitat: Found in both bay and Gulf waters over seagrass beds and around pilings and
piers. Sardines, menhaden and herring have gillrakers which allow them to filter plankton from the
water. Baitfishes represent a critical link in the marine food chain between microscopic organisms
Fishing Notes: Some can be caught on very small hooks, but all are more commonly taken with
cast nets for use as live bait.
Scaled Sardine (shiner, razor belly, white bait, greenback, pilchard) -- Tan to greenish back,
silvery-white sides. Single dorsal fin located at mid-body. Deeply forked tail fin. Deep belly
compared to Spanish sardine. Popular bait. Can be chummed into cast net range. Maximum size
Spanish Sardine -- Back bluish gray, sometimes greenish. Sides silvery to brassy. Slender body;
depth equal to head length. Single dorsal fin located at mid-body. Deeply forked tail. Maximum size
Menhaden (shad, pogy, mossbunker, bunker) -- Greenish to bluish back with silvery sides.
Single dark shoulder spot. Considered good bait alive or dead. During colonial times was called
candle fish: dried fish are so oily they can be ignited at one end and will burn like a candle. Mostly
under six inches but can reach nearly 2 Ibs.
Threadfin Herring (thread herring, threadfin, greenback, shiner, white bait) -- Bluish or greenish
back, silvery sides. Dark spot behind gill cover. Black dots along top of back toward tail. A
distinctive "thread" trails along the back from the rear of the dorsal fin. Can reach 10 inches.
Bay Anchovy -- Short, rounded fish with underslung mouth. Relatively large eyes. Narrow silvery
stripe along sides. Dorsal fin far back on body. Can reach 4 inches.
Atlantic Bumper (hatchet shiner) -- Small disc-shaped fish with pearly-white sides and golden fins.
Conspicuous black saddle at base of tail. Not exclusively a plankton feeder; will eat small live fish.
Can reach 6 inches.
j 3) ling, lemonfish,
2) crab eater, bonito
Description: Wide head with
i protruding lower jaw (1). Dark
Horizontal band, wider than eye,
extends from snout to base of tail fin
(2). Spines in front part of dorsal fin
are all separated (3). Brownish
color. Large fish; commonly 10-40
Ibs, but can weigh over 100 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: Found in bay and open Gulf waters. More common in bay waters during warmer
months. Often found near channel markers, buoys and other structures. Will also cruise in 2-3 feet
of water, following large rays, manatees or turtles. Out in Gulf, usually found near the surface
around wrecks, reefs, and buoys. Eats fish but bulk of diet is shrimp and crabs. Sexually mature at
2-3 years (2-3 feet in length). Lives 10-15 years.
Fishing Notes: Will take almost any live, dead or artificial bait, but live fish like pinfish and squirrel
fish are probably best. A regulated species. Excellent eating when small; large specimens can
have tough meat.
Description: Most distinctive fea-
ture is suction disk on top of head
-- '(1). A long slender fish with hori-
zontal brown and tan stripes (2).
2) Due to body shape and horizontal
stripes, this fish can be confused
with juvenile cobia. Commonly
about 1 Ib, but can reach several
Ibs. Known to reach 3 1/2 ft in
Biology/Habitat: Found in bays and Gulf waters. Uses suction disk to attach itself to larger ani-
mals--particularly sharks, but also sea turtles, any larger fish, and even divers. Does not harm the
animal it attaches to; is simply catching a free ride to feed on "table scraps" when the larger animal
is eating. Can be seen free swimming.
Fishing Notes: Opportunistic feeders that will take just about any bait. Although seldom eaten,
they are good table fare if you catch one large enough to be worth cleaning.
black snapper, mango
Description: Oblique stripe
through eye is usually apparent (1). '
Back and upper scales typically dark ',
gray to gray-green. Lower sides
and belly typically grayish with a
reddish tinge. Body coloration and
shading vary greatly from almost
black to almost white on the sides.
The most common inshore snapper. Sometimes confused with white grunt or red snapper.
Commonly weighs 1 Ib or less, but can be 16 Ibs in offshore waters.
Biology/Habitat: Juveniles usually found inshore near rock outcroppings, pilings, docks, mangroves
or anywhere they can find structure. Larger fish occur near reefs and structures in offshore waters
up to 300 ft deep. Attains sexual maturity at about 9 inches (approximately 3 years old).
Fishing Notes: Extremely wary fish: small hook and light leader may be required to produce
strikes. Live baits are best. Unhook carefully: will snap at fingers moving near its face, and teeth
are needle sharp. A regulated species. Edibility is excellent.
Description: Pale greenish to pink-
ish in color. Horizontal blue stripes
on side of head below eye. Small
but distinctive dark spot on mid
upper-back (1). Anal fin distinctly
pointed (2). Usually under 10 Ibs,
can reach 25 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: Bottom fish found
on Gulf reefs and wrecks. Rarely
occurs inshore along southwest Florida coast. More common farther south. Spawning occurs in
July and August.
Fishing Notes: Will take live or dead baits, including shrimp, squid and just about any small fish.
A regulated species. A prized catch: edibility excellent.
^ / ~..... _-1
j^- .--., ..) .. -.
., ,, .... .
yellowtail, flag (large specimens)
Description: Trademark yellow
stripe extends from snout to tailfin
(1). Light blue to tan on back, white
on belly. Yellow spots above, nar-
row yellow horizontal stripes below.
Deeply forked bright yellow tail (2).
Usually under 2 Ibs, uncommon
above 5 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: Found near Gulf
reefs and wrecks, usually at depths of 50 feet or more. Primarily a tropical species, more common
farther south. Often found in schools of similar sized fish. Inhabits mid-water; unlike most other
snappers, is not primarily a bottom feeder.
Fishing Notes: Chum continuously to bring fish up where it can be caught just under the surface.
Will also take baits fished on or near bottom. A wary fish: light tackle and small hook may be
required to produce strikes. A regulated species. Regarded as a delicacy.
Occurs and feeds in the water column up off the bottom.
day. Spawns from April through September.
Description: Streamlined body.
Large red eye. Almost uniformly
pink in color: darker on back, lighter
toward belly. Usually around 1 lb,
can exceed 6 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: Deep water Gulf
fish associated with hard bottom and
reefs in greater than 70 ft of water.
Active at night, but also feeds during the
Fishing Notes: Best caught on small hooks baited with shrimp, squid or cut bait fished near
bottom. A regulated species. Edibility very good.
Description: Brightly colored; or-
ange and yellow horizontal stripes.- ', ..-.
Large black spot on mid-back above ... .
lateral line (1). Rear edge of tail fin ,.... .. -
black (2). Specimens to several '
inches in length often confused with -,- --- -:
pinfish and other baitfish. One of 2
the smallest snappers at maturity:
commonly to 1 Ib, can reach 5 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: Adults are primar-
ily bottom fish found around Gulf reefs and wrecks. Juveniles (less than about 6 inches) are widely
distributed in bays and inland waters, Feeds on a variety of marine animals.
Fishing Notes: Among the easiest snappers to catch; will hit a variety of cut baits fished near
bottom. A regulated species. Edibility excellent.
Description: Deep-bodied fish.
Color highly variable, but usually ., ...
reddish-orange. Large canine teeth i .'
project outward (1). First 3 spines.
of dorsal fin elongated to form dis-.
tinctive "rooster comb" (2). Juve- -
niles usually lighter with pink, gray '
and white mottling along sides.
Large males develop long, piglike
snout and pronounced forehead with dark "mask." An unusually large member of the wrasse family.
Generally under 3 Ibs, can reach 25 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: Gulf bottom fish associated with reefs and wrecks. More common farther south.
Changes sex with age: begins reproductive life as female; later changes to male. Feeds on a wide
variety of slow-moving animals such as mollusks, crabs and sea urchins.
Fishing Notes: Caught on shrimp and other crustaceans fished on bottom. Check regulations.
Firm white meat; edibility excellent.
Description: Like all groupers has
protruding lower jaw (1). A stocky
"broad-shouldered" fish with mottled
pink-orangish blotches and orange
mouth lining. Front portion of dorsal
fin's top edge is smooth (2) as op-
posed to jagged. Usually under 10
S)ibs, but can reach 50 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: Found in reef
and hard bottom areas of the Gulf.
Occasionally found in passes and around bridge pilings. Estuarine habitat is thought to be vitally
important for several grouper species; younger juveniles are known to occur in sea grass beds.
Favorite prey include shrimp, crabs, fish, octopus and squid, which are ambushed from a hiding
place and swallowed whole. Like other groupers, changes sex during its life. Female red grouper
begin changing to males at 18 to 26 inches in length (4-10 years old).
Fishing Notes: Caught on just about any kind of bait fished on the bottom. Sometimes will hit a
lure fished near its hiding place. Larger fish require heavy tackle; a hooked fish will immediately try
to dive back into its lair. A regulated species. Edibility excellent; firm mild flesh.
black grouper, grass grouper
"' Description: Brownish to gray with
S" varying darker patches that often
S. ,. look like lip-prints. Like most group-
'.;-s '' -. ers, can change color pattern for
- ':'t "" camouflage. Coloration of landed
fish can change quickly. Often con-
fused with the relatively uncommon
black grouper which has small yel-
low or gold spots on its lower sides.
Commonly under 10 Ibs, but can reach up to 70 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: Adults dependent on reef or hard bottom habitat in Gulf waters out to depths of
250 ft; occasionally inhabit inshore reefs. Adults migrate from deeper water in summer to shallow,
near-coastal waters in winter. Spawns in Gulf during winter (Jan.-Mar,). Small juveniles common in
shallow water seagrass beds (hence nickname grass grouper). Reaches sexual maturity at age 5-6
years and size 27-30 inches. Like other groupers, changes sex (female to male) as it grows, with
transition usually occurring at age 10-11 years. Preys primarily on fishes and crabs.
Fishing Notes: Prefers live natural baits, but can be taken on dead baits and artificial lures. Will
swim away from structure to take bait-even to the surface, but heads for cover when hooked. A
regulated species. Edibility excellent.
broomtail grouper (large
--u N: r
Description: Similar to and often 37.
confused with the much more com- t'tz.r'';: .
mon gag grouper. Main difference -'-'' ..
is in color pattern. Scamp has nu- ''
merous small dark freckles while
gag has larger markings. Large
specimens develop extended, rag-
ged-looking rays on the tail fin,
hence the nickname broomtail grouper. Commonly 5-10 Ibs, can exceed 20 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: A bottom fish of the open Gulf, more common in water depths over 100 ft. Small
specimens occasionally caught in water as shallow as 40-50 ft. Occurs around reefs and wrecks
with prominent vertical relief. Spawns in April and May. Known to live as long as 20 years.
Fishing Notes: Caught by fishing on bottom in relatively deep water. Will take live and dead baits.
A regulated species. Considered by many to be the most desirable of the groupers to eat.
Description: Yellow-green blotches (1
or bands with dark freckles (blackish
brown spots) distinguish smaller '
individuals of this species from other
groupers. Streamlined silhouette .-
becomes football-shaped as fish ,_ -' "
ages. Older fish have pale brown
blotches or bands. Head and fins
are covered with distinct freckles.
Less distinct freckles cover the
body. A rounded tail (1) distinguishes the jewfish from other grouper species. Largest of the
groupers. Weighs up to 700 Ibs; weights over 100 Ibs common.
Biology/Habitat: Like other groupers, inhabits reef or hard bottom with crevices and holes to hide
in. Its large size limits the number of such spots to wrecks and large ledges in the Gulf. Not a deep
water species; seldom found in water deeper than 100-150 feet. Near shore, can be found around
artificial reefs, bridge pilings, fishing piers and deep channels. Eats fish and crustaceans. Long
lived; largest specimens are thought to be 30-50 years old.
Fishing Notes: Caught on live or dead baits fished on or near the bottom. Sluggish feeder
compared to other groupers. Seldom hooked on artificial lures. Will not travel far from cover to take
bait. Will try to dive into its lair when hooked. A protected species; all harvest prohibited.
Black Sea Bass
(2 (3 sea bass, black will
Description: Dark colored fish--
black to dusky brown, belly only
slightly lighter than sides. Dorsal fin
marked with white spots and bands
(1). Viewed from the side, appears
to be mottled with pale dots. Larger
fish have a pronounced hump above
the head (2) and develop filaments
trailing from the tail fin (3). Com-
monly 1 lb or less, maximum in Gulf 3-4 lbs.
Biology/Habitat: Dependent upon rocks or reefs in bay and Gulf waters for holes or crevices in
which to hide. A close relative of the groupers and shares much of the same habitat. Thought to
be a long lived, slow growing fish reaching 5 inches its first year and 12 inches by age 5. Changes
sex as it grows: reaches reproductive stage as a female; eventually develops into a male.
Fishing Notes: Larger fish usually caught in Gulf waters. Inshore, artificial reefs also produce
black sea bass. Aggressive feeder that will take live or dead bait and strike lures. A regulated
species. Edibility excellent; very mild, white, firm meat.
: '.-,, ,'
Description: Appears to have three
tails because the rounded dorsal
and anal fins extend far back on the
body (1). Color varies from quite
dark to mottled yellowish-brown, de-
pending upon surroundings. Most
commonly 1-10 Ibs but can exceed
Biology/Habitat: Drawn to cover
such as floating debris, navigation buoys, crab trap floats, channel markers, and even pier and
bridge pilings. Tends to get right next to cover, nosing against floats (hence the name buoy fish)
and pilings as it waits in ambush. Often floats near the surface on its side, and can easily be
mistaken for a clump of algae or a floating leaf. Can attain age of 7-10 years; thought to reach
sexual maturity by the end of the first year.
Fishing Notes: Generally caught in bays and rivers in summer months and near-shore Gulf waters
in winter months. Most are caught on live shrimp or small live fish worked close to buoys and
channel markers. Slow moving lures also work. Excellent eating fish; don't be discouraged by the
tough skin and heavy scales.
Description: Small fish with dis-
tinctive coloration. Tan background -
with vertical brown bars on sides '
and bright blue horizontal lines on
snout, cheeks, and sides. Dorsal fin "
has orange horizontal stripes. Nick-
name squirrelfish causes confusion;
true squirrel fishes are small, pre-
dominantly red, nocturnal species
inhabiting tropical reefs (seldom found in our area). Usually less than 1 Ib.
Biology/Habitat: Bottom fish usually found near rocks, reefs, and jetties, but also on sand bottom.
Found in Gulf waters more often than in bays. Relative of the seabasses and groupers. An
individual can function as either male or female-both sperm and eggs can be produced simulta-
neously in a mature fish. Grows slowly: attains size of only 10-11 inches after 6 years.
Fishing Notes: Aggressive feeder which will hit bottom-fished lures or natural baits. Often used
as bait for other larger fish. Handle with care due to sharp jagged edge on gill covers. Edibility is
good; because of small size, is not often considered a food fish.
Description: Long, sloping nose.
Brownish-green with lighter spots.
Tail fin rounded. Very soft to the
touch. Called soapfish because an
angler can work up a lather by rub-
bing hands together after handling
soapfish body slime. Generally
under 10 inches in length.
Biology/Habitat: Gulf reef fish
most common in 30 to 100 feet of water.
Body mucous contains substance toxic to other fishes.
Fishing Notes: Usually caught by anglers targeting snapper or sheepshead. Other fish are
repelled by soapfish body slime: rinse hands thoroughly after handling or soapfish might be the last
catch of the day. Not considered a food fish.
Description: Large, torpedo-
shaped body. Pointed jaw with
closely-set razor-sharp teeth. Gray
back; light silver sides and belly.
Gold spots on lower sides of small
king mackerel cause misidentifica-
tion as Spanish mackerel; spots
fade as fish grows. Can be distin-
guished from Spanish mackerel by a
lateral line which drops abruptly (1). Commonly to 10 Ibs, often to 40 Ibs, can exceed 100 lbs.
Biology/Habitat: Migratory, schooling fish of the open Gulf, usually in 20-60 ft of water; seldom
found in bay waters. Small king mackerel often school with similar-sized Spanish mackerel. Very
large individuals are usually solitary. Migrates northward along southwest Florida coast in spring;
southward in fall. Grows to 18-24 inches in first year! Preys primarily on schooling baitfish.
Fishing Notes: Schools often indicated by baitfish near bottom, or by diving sea birds. Fish at
various depths to find school. Most often taken by trolling. Will strike a variety of spoons, jigs and
plugs as well as live bait. Wire or heavy monofilament leader recommended. A regulated species.
Dies quickly: follow guidelines for releasing. Edibility good.
1) Description: Long thin fish with
Srazor-sharp teeth. Upper body blue-
__ grey, sides and belly silver-white.
S; Gold spots on upper body and
sides, but not on belly. A smaller
relative of king mackerel; can be
distinguished from small king mack-
erel by difference in lateral line (1).
Usually under 3 Ibs; can reach 14
Biology/Habitat: Migratory fish of open Gulf and bay waters often found in large schools that may
travel many miles in a day. Schools may number thousands of fish. Generally, schools migrate
northward along the coast of southwest Florida in spring, then return southward in fall. Small
numbers are present year-round. Feeds on small schooling baitfish. Often found near rocky areas
and artificial reefs which attract baitfish. Fast growing fish that can reach 12-15 inches in its first
year. Can live to a maximum age of 5-8 years.
Fishing Notes: Schools feed aggressively at varying depths. Often located by flocks of sea birds
feeding at the surface. Readily takes live baits, but most are caught by trolling or casting spoons or
other lures. Teeth are sharp: use wire or heavy monofilament leaders. A regulated species. A
desirable food fish, but spoils quickly if not iced down immediately.
bonito, false albacore
Description: Streamlined, football-
shaped body. Blue to greenish back
with silver belly. Intricate pattern oft
wavy lines along mid to upper back
(1). Several dark spots below short"-
pectoral fins (2). Small finlets be- 3)
hind dorsal and anal fins (3). Slot in
top of back allows dorsal fin to re-
cess and streamline for speed.
Generally 5 to 10 Ibs, can exceed 25 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: Usually found from surface to bottom in open water deeper than 20 ft. One of the
most abundant tunas; sometimes found in massive schools. Fast growing, short-lived migratory
schooling fish (moves northward in spring, southward in fall). Feeds primarily on small fish,
crustaceans, and squid.
Fishing Notes: Diving birds may indicate presence of a feeding school. Powerful fighter. Often
taken by trolling or casting spoons or jigs. Also taken by floating baits near surface. When one is
caught, others are usually nearby. Dark red meat edible when immediately bled and iced.
Description: Blue to gray back, sil- 1)
ver sides and belly. Distinct pattern
of oblique dark stripes on upper
back (1). Sometimes confused with '
little tunny. Generally under 2 Ibs,
but can reach over 20 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: A migratory fish of
the open Gulf often found with blue-
fish, little tunny, Spanish mackerel
and king mackerel in schools of
similar-sized fish. Much more common on the east coast. Grows rapidly, reaching more than 1 ft in
length the first year. Spawns May July. Primarily eats fish but also preys upon squid and shrimp.
Fishing Notes: Best caught by trolling small jigs or spoons around the edge of schools visible at
the surface. Meat is dark and oily. Edibility good if bled and iced immediately.
S Description: Cigar-shaped body.
Long jaws with rows of closely set,
S, -, '. razor-sharp teeth. Dorsal fins far
--apart. White belly shades toward
dark gray or black along the back.
Random pattern of black spots on
rear half of body is different for each
fish. Usually under 15 Ibs; often to
30 Ibs, can exceed 60 Ibs.
Biology/Habitat: Adults almost always found in the Gulf, usually around high profile wrecks and
reefs. Young barracuda sometimes found inshore near Gulf passes. At one year of age, is slightly
under 1 ft in length; attains 30 inches after 5 years. Can live as long as 14 years. Aggressive
predator; feeds on other fish.
Fishing Notes: A live bait in distress will often provoke a barracuda hit, as will artificial lures
moving very quickly at or near the surface. A wire leader is necessary to prevent cut-off. Use
extreme caution when unhooking since sharp teeth can quickly sever a finger. Smaller barracuda
considered edible. Larger fish from tropical reef areas can carry ciguatoxic poison harmful to
humans; consumption of larger barracuda from these areas should be avoided.
mahi-mahi, dorado, bull dolphin
(large males), cow dolphin
(large females), chicken dolphin
Description: Beautifully irridescent
blue, green and yellow sides; colors
fade rapidly after death. Large
males develop high, blunt forehead.
Females have smaller head that is
more rounded in front. Long, contin-
uous dorsal fin (1). Commonly under 10 Ibs, can reach 85 Ibs.
BiologylHabitat: Usually found at least 15 miles offshore in schools of similar sized fish. Larger
adults often found alone or in pairs. Feeds on marine life associated with floating mats of sea-
weeds; also pursues other fishes. Fast-growing, short-lived fish; may not live much longer than 5
Fishing Notes: Often congregates around "weed lines" and mats of debris. Caught at or near the
surface by trolling lures; will also strike baits. Sometimes a school will follow a hooked fish to the
boat. Many anglers leave a hooked fish in the water to keep the others nearby. A regulated
species. Edibility excellent.
INDEX OF COMMON NAMES
Angel fish 14
Atlantic bonito 39
Atlantic bumper 28
Atlantic croaker 3
Bat ray 22
Bay anchovy 28
Black drum 5
Black grouper 34
Black mullet 12
Black sea bass 36
Black snapper 31
Black will 36
Blacknose shark 25
Blacktip shark 25
Blow toad 16
Blue runner 20
Bonito 39, 30
Broomtail grouper 35
Brown shark 24
Bull dolphin 40
Bull shark 25
Buoy fish 36
Channel bass 1
Chicken dolphin 40
Convict fish 5
Cow dolphin 40
Cow nosed ray 22
Crab eater 30
Croaker 3, 4
Dusky shark 24
False albacore 39
Finger mullet 12
Flying fish 10
Gag grouper 34
Grass grouper 34
Gray snapper 31, 8
Gray triggerfish 15
Gulf flounder 12
Gulf snapper 8
Hardhead 3, 11
Hatchet shiner 28
Hog snapper 33
Jack crevalle 19
Jolthead porgy 6
Key West grunt 8
King mackerel 38
Kingfish 3, 38
Lane snapper 33
Lemon shark 25
Little tunny 39
Mutton snapper 31
Nurse shark 25
Old linesides 1
Orange filefish 15
Oyster cracker 13
Oyster toad 13
Porcupine fish 16
Razor belly 28
Red drum 1
Red grouper 34
Sailors choice 7
Sand bream 4
Sand diver 14
Sand perch 37, 4
Sand seatrout 2
Scaled sardine 28
Sea bass 36
Sea catfish 11
Sea robin 13
Silky shark 24
Silver grunt 8
Silver king 9
Silver mullet 12
Silver perch 4
Silver trout 2
Soaptish 37, 1
Southern puffer 16
Spanish sardine 28
Speckled trout 2
Spinner shark 25
Spiny puffer 16
Spottail bream 6
Spottail pinfish 6
Spotted seatrout 2
Striped mojarra 4
Striped mullel 12
Sugar trout 4
Thread herring 28
Tiger shark 24
Tomtate grunt 8
While bait 28
While grunt 8
Yellow jack 19
Yellowtail 17, 32
Zebra fish 5
PREVENTING FISHING INJURIES
Fishing is far from being a dangerous sport, but accidents can happen. Fishermen can encounter a
number of fishes and other marine animals that can cause painful injuries. Often, simple first aid will
be sufficient, but more serious injuries may require professional medical attention.
Hooks and Barbs: A common angling injury results from getting snagged on a hook. In some
cases, the hook can easily be backed out of the skin and first aid can consist of nothing more than
applying an antiseptic. However, for a deeply imbedded hook, medical assistance for removal as
well as treatment is commonly required.
Fins and Gill Covers: Several species of fish described in this book have sharply pointed fins.
These fins, some of which contain venom, can cause painful injuries. Gill covers, also, are some-
times sharp and can cause cuts if the angler is careless. Handle fish with a wet glove or towel.
Puncture wounds and cuts should be cleaned and medicated.
Teeth: Sharks, barracuda, and other predatory fish can cause serious injuries with their razor-
sharp teeth. In addition, many types of harmless-looking fish can also inflict a painful bite.
Jellyfish: Stinging jellyfish are often encountered while wade-fishing. If stung, flush and then
soak the injury, using hot water if possible, until the pain subsides.
Stingrays: The bony spine at the base of a stingray's tail can deliver a slashing wound or
puncture that is made worse by the injection of venom. If wounded by a stingray, seek medical help
immediately! The pain can be reduced by soaking in hot water or by applying a heat pack (sold in
camping equipment stores) directly to the wound. Medical treatment can include an x-ray to see if
pieces of the spine are still imbedded, a tetanus vaccine, and antibiotics.
WARNING: Sunshine can be hazardous to your health!
Skin cancer and cataract cases are increasing rapidly in Florida, and damage to the
skin and eyes from solar radiation is the prime cause. To minimize the effects of sun
exposure while fishing:
Keep as much of the body covered as possible and always wear a hat.
Wear sunscreen. Use an adequate protection strength.
Avoid fishing during the middle of the day when possible.
Wear sunglasses. Polarized sunglasses are recommended. Sunglasses not only
help protect the eyes, they also reduce glare and make it easier to see submerged
objects especially bay bottom and fish.
RELEASING HOOKED AND ENTANGLED SEABIRDS
Most anglers would be surprised to learn that a major cause of death for Florida seabirds is en-
tanglement in monofilament fishing line. Birds entangled in fishing line are often condemned to
death by slow starvation when the line gets snagged in the mangroves. In addition, fish hooks
cause painful injuries that result in infection and death. Many of these deaths and injuries could be
prevented if anglers would be a little more careful. For instance:
ALWAYS dispose of fishing line properly. Discarding line over the side of a boat or pier, or even
just leaving it on the dock, creates a deadly snare for seabirds.
Don't feed seabirds. Feeding birds, especially tossing fish remains to them, encourages birds to
stay close to anglers and greatly increases the likelihood that the birds will get hooked or
Avoid casting when seabirds are present. Some birds will actually try to snatch your bait in mid-
air. If successful, they may be firmly hooked to your line.
If you lose tackle and line in the mangroves from casts that go too far, RETRIEVE it. Many
pelicans, cormorants and wading birds become fatally entangled in monofilament left where these
birds routinely perch and roost.
If you hook or encounter a hooked or snared bird:
1. DON'T CUT THE LINE! If you simply cut the line, the bird will fly away with the line trailing
behind. It won't take long for the bird to become fatally snared.
2. Carefully capture the bird, preferably in a hand net or large hoop net. Do not lift or pull the bird
by the hooked line. Get someone to help you. It is virtually impossible for one person to control
a wild bird while removing a hook or fishing line.
3. USE CAUTION! Unless in a weakened condition, a snared bird will try to defend itself with its
bill. It will instinctively aim for your eyes.
4. Grasp and maintain a grip on the bird's bill before removing it from the net.
5. Place a towel or other cloth over the bird's eyes to help calm it.
6. Carefully remove all the line wrapped around the bird; even small pieces can cut off circulation
and result in the loss of legs or wings. If no hooks are caught in the bird, carefully release it.
7. If a hook is embedded in the bird, gently push it through until the barb is exposed. Clip the barb
off and back the hook out. (Cover the barb with a cloth before clipping it; the barb will fly off and
could hit you in the eye.) Don't leave the barb in the bird!
8. If the bird doesn't seem especially strong and healthy, it should be taken to a veterinarian or
other specialist for treatment. (See inside back cover for listing of telephone numbers for
To LEARN MORE, VISIT...
Clearwater Marine Science Center
249 Windward Passage Clearwater, FL
Open: M-F 9-5; Sat. 9-4; Sun. 11-4
Admission: $3.50 Adults; $2.00 ages 3-11;
Tour Group Rate of $1.25 per person for
groups of 10 or more (must be pre-arranged)
Major Attractions: Features "Sunset Sam,"
an injured dolphin. Visitors can see injured
turtles being treated. Feedings occur every
two hours. Exhibits describe local marine life.
The Pier Aquarium
800 2nd Avenue NE St. Petersburg, FL
Open: Mon.-Sat., 10-8; Tues. 1-8; Sun. 12-6
Major Attractions: Features several tanks
ranging in size from 450-900 gallons housing
marine gamefish from the Tampa Bay area,
Califomia sharks, and coral reef tropical fish.
South Florida Museum and Planetarium
201 10th Street West Bradenton, FL
Open: Tues.-Sat. 10-5; Sun. 12-6; Closed M
Admission: $5 Adults; $2.50 5-12; 1-5 free
Major Attractions: Features 'Snooty" the
manatee. Exhibit called Charting a Course
Through History has navigation charts for the
Tampa Bay area from 1722 to 1910.
Mote Marine Laboratory
1600 Ken Thompson Parkway Sarasota, FL
Open: Sun.-Sat. 10-5
Admission: $6 Adults; $4 students 4-17;
under 4 free
Major Attractions: Aquarium features a
135,000 gallon shark tank. A 1,000-gallon
"touch tank" allows visitors to handle various
marine animals from the local area.
Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center
10941 Burnt Store Road Punta Gorda, FL
Open: School year, Mon.- Sat., 8-3. Summer
hours, Mon. Fri., 8-12.
Admission: Donations accepted
Major Attractions: Saltwater aquarium fea-
tures estuarine life. Three miles of nature
trails through coastal marsh and forest habi-
tats. Guided trail walk 3 times each week.
Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
1 Wildlife Drive Sanibel, FL
Open: Wildlife drive open every day except
Fri., sunrise to sundown. Visitor Center open
9-4, May-Oct., closed Fri. & Sun. Nov.-Apr.
Visitor Center open 9-5, closed Fri.
Admission: Wildlife drive $4.00 per car; visi-
tor center free
Major Attractions: Premier location for view-
ing and photographing wading birds in their
natural habitat. Visitor Center has orientation
video and exhibits.
Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation
3333 Sanibel-Captiva Road Sanibel, FL
Open: 9-4 Dec.-May, Jan-Nov. 9-3
Admission: $2 Adults; under 12 free
Major Attractions: Exhibits include a detailed
explanation of barrier islands. Features ma-
rine 'touch tank" and 4 miles of nature trails.
Ostego Bay Foundation
718 Fisherman's Wharf
Fort Myers Beach, FL
Open: Sat. 10-4; Sun. 1-4; Closed Aug.
Admission: Donations accepted
Major Attractions: Touch tank and exhibits
explain local marine environment. Seagrass
bed exhibit. Guided tours for groups by appt.
FOR ASSISTANCE, CONTACT ..
and Emergency Assistance
911 for Emergencies
Pinellas County 813-587-6200
Hillsborough County 813-272-5960
Manatee County- 813-745-3717
Sarasota County 813-364-4400
Charlotte County 813-743-1222
Lee County- 813-335-2477
Collier County 813-774-8428
Florida Marine Patrol:
Fort Myers 813-332-6971
(to report fishing violations, harassment of
manatees, and injured wildlife)
Florida Game and Freshwater Fish
(to report harassment of wildlife, poaching or
environmental crimes) 1-800-342-8105
U.S. Coast Guard:
Fort Myers Beach 813-463-5754
Florida Sea Grant Marine Extension
Pinellas County- 813-582-2100
Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota, and
Collier Counties 813-722-4524
Charlotte County- 813-639-6255
National Estuary Programs:
Tampa Bay National Estuary Program
Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program
National Estuarine Research Reserves:
Rookery Bay 813-775-8845
Department of Environmental Protection:
Boca Ciega and Terra Ceia Aquatic
Southwest Florida Aquatic Preserves
813-283-2424 or 813-283-2929
Shellfish Assessment Office 813-255-0083
West Coast Inland Navigation District:
Manatee and Turtle Hotline:
(To report injured, dead or tagged manatees
and sea turtles, or harassment of these ani-
Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitators:
Humane Society of No. Pinellas
Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary 813-391-6211
Karen Green Wildlife Rehab 813-737-1436
Beach Vet Clinic 813-792-2838
Wildlife Rescue 813-753-9620
Wildlife Rescue & Rehab. 813-778-2385
Pelican Man's Bird Sanct. 813-388-4444
TLC for Wildlife 813-924-0273
Amber Lake Wildlife Refuge 813-475-4585
Peace River Wildlife Center 813-637-3830
Southwest Florida Native Wildlife Ark
Conservancy Wildlife Clinic 813-262-0304
Funds for Development of this Publication Provided by:
West Coast Inland Navigation District
Copies may be purchased by contacting:
Florida Sea Grant College Program
P.O. Box 110409
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611-0409
Printed on water-resistant.ittar-*asiant avper and bound with Btnmlt s pttel staples.