What Fish Are in Season in Florida?

            Here in Florida the variety of species of fish wildly varies along with the season to harvest each species. When deciding when to book a fishing trip, who to choose for your guided charter and what species you would like to target here are some things to consider.

In our area, Destin, Florida, we are located in the Northwest region of Florida. Among our breathtaking white sand beaches, resides some of the best inshore bay, nearshore gulf and offshore gulf fishing in the world. Here is a breakdown of the different guided fishing charters you can book while visiting our area.

  1. Offshore Gulf Fishing – For the unlimited package and open-minded angler, there is the offshore gulf fishing option. The length of trip you book will determine the distance offshore you fish along with what species you are able to target during that time frame and water depth you will be fishing in. Most all these trips will take place on a large sport fishing boat equipped with all the amenities of home such as bathroom, a/c cabin, dining area, indoor seating, etc. This allows for you to fish for a long period of time all while being comfortable. All-day, overnight and multi-day trips will fall into the offshore gulf category. Species targeted will range from Red Snappers, Amberjacks, Gag Groupers, Scamp Groupers, Wahoo, Mahi-Mahi, Swordfish, Yellowfin Tuna, Blackfin Tuna, Marlins, Yellow-edge Groupers, Snowy Groupers, Tilefish, and Barrel fish. The longer the trip you book, the wider variety of fish species you will be able to target depending on area in which the captain decides to fish. Most all-day trips will be 12, 14 or 16 hours. Overnight trips will start at 24 hours and continue into multi-day trips of 30, 36 and even 48-hour trips.
  • Nearshore Gulf Fishing – These guided fishing trips are half day 6 or 8 hour trips that will take place out in the Gulf of Mexico where you are still be within eyesight of land. Guided fishing trips in Destin, Florida that fall into the “nearshore” category take place 3 to 10 miles off the beach. This is a perfect choice for family groups looking to have constant action for their kids of any age in a short period of time. Fishing tactics used during this trip will be bottom fishing and trolling. Average depth for bottom fishing in open water will be about 100 to 200 ft on a nearshore trip. For trolling you will often use live bait that is cast behind the boat as the boat stays in constant motion at a slow speed to allow for the pelagic fish to find it and attack. The species of fish targeted will be determined by the month you book your trip and what is biting best. Among some of the most common species targeted nearshore are Triggerfish, Mingo snapper (Vermillion Snapper), White Snapper (Red Porgy), King Mackerel, and Spanish Mackerel. 
    • Gray Triggerfish – As of January 2022, Triggerfish season is open in the Gulf from March 1st– May 31st and August 31st-December 31st. Minimum size is 15” to the fork of the tail and you can harvest 1 per person per day. 
    • Mingo Snappers or Vermillion Snappers – Vermillion Snappers are open to harvest year-round in the Gulf. They must be a minimum of 10 inches in length and the daily bag limit is 10 per person (not considered part of the snapper aggerate bag limit) 
    • White Snapper or Red Porgy – Red Porgies are open year-round. They have no minimum harvest size in the Gulf. Daily bag limit is 100 pounds per person.
    • King Mackerel – King Mackerel are open year-round. They must be a minimum of 24 inches to the fork in length and have a daily bag limit of three per person daily.
    • Spanish Mackerel – Spanish Mackerel can be harvested year-round and must be a minimum of 12 inches to the fork to be harvested. The daily bag limit per person is 15 per day.

In searching for a guided fishing trip that is not too short and not too long, the nearshore gulf option is by far the best for your needs. It is a great option for you to experience bottom fishing and trolling in the Gulf no matter your age. Usually on a half day trip nearshore, you will harvest enough fish filets for about four fish dinners.

  • Inshore Bay Fishing – This style of fishing can be compared to lake or bass fishing. While you are not fishing fresh water, you will still be using light tackle and fishing around structures such as docks, bridges, jetties, oyster beds etc. Most inshore bay fishing will take place on a center console boat with an outboard motor. Most of these boats will range in size from 22ft to 26ft. Comfortable family or group size of four or less is ideal for this style of fishing and boat size. In Destin, FL the guided fishing trips booked for inshore bay fishing will take place in the Choctawhatchee Bay. The main species targeted on this trip will be Redfish (Red Drum), Speckled Trout, and Black Snappers (Mangrove Snapper). 
    • Red Fish can be harvested every month except February. They have a slot limit and can be no less then 18” but no more than 27” in total length. One fish per person, per day with a four fish vessel limit.
    • Speckled Trout or “Spotted Sea Trout” can be harvested year-round. They have a slot limit of no less than 15” but no more than 19” in total length. Anglers may possess one fish over 19” per vessel included in bag limit. Daily bag limit is three per harvester.
    • Black Snappers or “Mangrove” Snappers are open to harvest year-round. In state waters, there is a daily bag limit of five per person. They must be a minimum of 10 inches in length to harvest.

If you are a first timer, have fear of being seasick, or just prefer to cast and fish with light tackle such as 15lb test or less, inshore bay fishing is the option for you. This laid-back leisure fishing, usually yields enough fish for one or two nights of fish-filet dinners. 

When Should I Book a Guided Fishing Trip?

When deciding WHEN to book your guided fishing trip, the two main factors to consider is specific species season and weather. For example, if you are looking to target Red Snappers, historically the past three years the Federal Red Snappers season has opened June 1st and usually ends the second week of August. To target Red Snappers for the 2023 Red Snapper season, I would recommend booking during the months of either June or July to ensure they are in season while you are here. Here is a chart to help break down when is the best time to fish according to species and regulations:

Species:                       Best Month to Target:

Red Snappers              June & July

Scamp Groupers         Year Round

Amberjacks                 May, September, October

Almaco Jack                Year Round

Triggerfish                  March, April, May, August

Vermillion Snapper     Year Round

Swordfish                    Year Round

Tilefish                        Year Round

Mahi-Mahi                  July & August

Wahoo                        April – August

Yellowfin Tuna            Year Round

Blackfin Tuna              October & November

King Mackerel             May – November

Marlins                        June – August 

Gag Groupers              June – November

Who is the Best Charter Boat in Destin?

Last and certainly not least the most important aspect of booking your fishing charter here in Destin, Florida is WHOM to book your trip with. Over the past decade the number of charter boats in our area has tripled. We are the largest charter fishing fleet in the country. With this being said, be sure to do your homework and research what boat, company, and captain is the best for you. Google and Facebook reviews are your best friend. Do not be fooled by pop up charter companies who are not seasoned and will leave a bad taste in your mouth. DO NOT USE A THIRD-PARTY BOOKING SITE. Be sure to book your trip directly with the owner to avoid any miscommunications or misinformation about the boat and crew. Also keep in mind, the best in boat in Destin will book up ahead of the competition. You will need to book your trip well in advance of your arrival to ensure you are on a reputable boat.

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