Welcome to the Sunshine State, where the waters teem with diverse and fascinating fish species! As a unique aquatic ecosystem, Florida boasts a rich array of native fish that are not only prized by anglers for their sporting qualities but also celebrated for their ecological significance.
From the iconic Florida largemouth bass to the colorful and elusive peacock bass, Florida’s native fish are as captivating as the state’s picturesque landscapes.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the remarkable fish species that call Florida’s waters home, shedding light on their natural history, distribution, and importance in the state’s aquatic ecosystems.
Note: If you plan on fishing in Florida, please review all laws and regulations. Purchase a fishing license or permit before you head out on the waters. Some of the fish species listed here are endangered. Please visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for more information.
Be sure also to check out the list of shark species in Florida!
Freshwater Fish in Florida
Florida’s freshwater bodies are teeming with an astonishing diversity of fish species, making the state a haven for freshwater anglers and nature enthusiasts alike.
Beyond their recreational value, freshwater fish in Florida play a crucial role in the state’s freshwater ecosystems. They serve as important prey for other predators, help maintain ecological balance, and contribute to the overall health of lakes, rivers, and wetlands.
Conservation efforts, such as catch-and-release practices, size and bag limits, and habitat restoration projects, are in place to ensure the sustainability and protection of these valuable fish populations.
(Anguilla rostrata) has a slender, snake-like body and can grow up to 3.5 feet in length. It can be identified by its olive-brown coloration along the dorsal side and yellowish-white on its belly. Its head is narrow and long, with a pointed snout and large eyes.
The American Eel is a freshwater and estuarine species found throughout the eastern United States and parts of Canada. It is an important food source for many birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and crustaceans.
The American Eel has been overfished in recent decades, leading to its inclusion on many international lists of threatened or endangered species. In order to protect the species, there are regulations on fishing for American Eel in many areas.
(Alosa sapidissima) is a species of herring native to the Atlantic Ocean, from northern Canada to Argentina. It is anadromous, meaning it migrates between freshwater rivers and estuaries for spawning and saltwater for feeding. They have an oval-shaped body with silvery blue coloration on its back and white on its underside. They can grow up to 3 feet long and weigh up to 10 pounds.
American Shad is an important food source for many birds, mammals, fish and other species. It is particularly important as a prey species for large predatory fish like striped bass and bluefish in the ocean and many freshwater species such as bass, walleye and northern pike.
(Istiophorus platypterus) is a species of billfish found in tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean. It has an elongated body with a long dorsal fin that runs along its entire length. Its coloration is metallic blue on the back and silvery white on its underside. This fish can reach lengths of up to 11 feet and weigh as much as 220 pounds.
The Atlantic Sailfish is an important predator in its marine ecosystem, feeding on a variety of prey including other fish species, squids, crustaceans and mollusks. It has a fast swimming speed that allows it to outrun most of its prey and
(Acipenser oxyrinchus) is a species of fish that is to the coastal and estu waters of the western Atlantic Ocean from to Argentina. It has an elongated body with five rows of bony plates running along its back and sides, which protect it from predators. Its coloration can vary depending on its environment, but usually consists of olive green or gray on its back and yellowish white on its underside. It can grow up to 14 feet long and weigh up to 800 pounds.
(Pomoxis nigromaculatus) is a species of fish native to the eastern and midwestern United States. It has an elongated body with distinctive dark spots on its back and sides. Its coloration can vary depending on its environment but usually consists of gray or black on its back and light yellow or white on its underside. It can grow up to 10 inches long and weigh up to one pound.
Black Crappie is an essential species in many aquatic ecosystems, as it feeds on various prey, including insects, small fish, and crustaceans. This makes it a valuable food source for larger predatory fish such as bass, catfish, and walleye. In turn, it serves as an essential predator that helps to keep its prey population in check.
(Micropterus salmoides) is a species of freshwater fish native to the United States and Canada. It has an elongated body with dark olive green coloration on its back, fading to white on its underside. Its fins have distinctive black tips. It can grow up to 24 inches long and weigh up to 15 pounds.
Florida is renowned for its “Trophy Bass Fishing,” with many lakes and rivers throughout the state providing prime habitat for these impressive fish to grow to exceptional sizes. Anglers from around the world flock to Florida’s waters in pursuit of the elusive double-digit largemouth bass, with some of the biggest bass ever caught in the United States coming from Florida’s freshwater bodies.
Salt Water Fish in Florida
Florida’s pristine coastline and warm, turquoise waters are a haven for a dazzling array of saltwater fish species. From the iconic game fish that draw anglers from around the world to the colorful reef-dwellers that grace Florida’s coral reefs, the state’s saltwater fish offer an unparalleled fishing experience.
Amberjack, also known as “AJ” among anglers, are a popular and prized fish species found in the waters of Florida. These powerful and aggressive fish are known for their impressive size, strong fights, and delicious taste, making them a sought-after target for recreational anglers.
There are two species of amberjack commonly found in Florida’s waters: the Greater Amberjack (Seriola dumerili) and the Lesser Amberjack (Seriola fasciata). The Greater Amberjack is the larger of the two species, with individuals capable of reaching up to 6 feet in length and weighing over 100 pounds. Lesser Amberjack, on the other hand, are smaller, typically ranging from 20 to 30 inches in length and weighing around 10 to 20 pounds.
Amberjack are typically found in offshore waters, particularly around wrecks, reefs, and other underwater structures. They are known for their preference for depths ranging from 60 to 240 feet, making them a popular target for anglers who venture into deeper waters for big game fishing.
Black Drum is also one of the most popular saltwater fish in Florida. These fish are characterized by their gray to black coloration and a distinct “drumming” sound they make when hunting or spawning. Black drums can reach up to 60 pounds, making them incredibly strong fighters and an exciting catch for any angler!
Black grouper are one of the most sought-after fish in Florida waters. These large, handsomely colored fish can grow to over 50 pounds and are prized for their tasty white flesh. Black grouper have a wide range throughout Florida’s coastal waters and can be caught using various methods, such as bottom fishing or trolling.
Florida also has a diverse array of smaller saltwater fish, such as the white grunt and snappers. Though these fish may be smaller, they offer an exciting fishing experience. Snapper species can often be found around coral reefs and wrecks, while grunts are commonly encountered near bridges or structures.
Blackfin Tuna is another crucial species of saltwater fish in Florida. This fast-swimming predator is found throughout the state’s coastal waters, feeding on smaller fish and invertebrates. Blackfin Tuna can grow to over 50 pounds, making them an exciting game fish for inshore and offshore anglers.
Dolphinfish, also known as mahi-mahi, is a popular species of fish found in Florida’s warm waters. Dolphinfish are renowned for their delicious flavor and firm texture, making them a favorite among chefs and seafood connoisseurs alike.
In addition to their culinary appeal, dolphinfish are known for their intelligence and playful nature, often jumping out of the water to feed or interact with humans.
The gag grouper is an iconic species of fish found in the waters off of Florida. Gag grouper are large and stocky, often growing up to 3 feet long and weighing up to 50 pounds. These bottom-dwellers have a brownish-gray bodies with dark spots that help them blend in with their environment.
(Scomberomorus cavalla) is a species of migratory fish found in tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and Caribbean Sea. It has an elongated body with a long dorsal fin that runs along its entire length. Its coloration is metallic blue or green on the back and silvery white on its underside. This fish can reach lengths of up to four feet and weigh as much as 60 pounds.
King Mackerel is a significant predator in its marine ecosystem, feeding on various small fish species, such as anchovies, sardines, and herrings. It is also an essential prey for larger predators such as sharks and dolphins. In turn, it is vital in keeping these predator populations in check.
Little Tunny (Euthynnus alletteratus) is a species of mackerel typically seen in warm waters off the coast of Florida. It has a slender, streamlined body with silvery blue-green sides and a white belly. The back is dark blue to black, with yellow spots that run along its length. Little Tunny can reach up to 60 inches in length and weigh up to 22 pounds.
Little Tunny feed on small fish, squid, shrimp, and other invertebrates that live near the ocean surface. Both commercial and recreational fisheries target this species for its excellent table fare and abundant populations throughout Florida’s coastal waters.
Mangrove Snapper (Lutjanus griseus) is a species of fish found in Florida’s warm, shallow waters. It has a laterally compressed body with yellowish-brown sides and dark spots scattered across its back. Mangrove Snapper can reach lengths up to 24 inches and weigh up to 8 pounds.
Mangrove Snapper is a prized game fish for their excellent table fare. They can often be found around structures such as shipwrecks, reefs, and mangroves. Anglers catch them using live bait, jigs, lures, or cut bait. This species is also widespread among commercial fishermen due to its abundance in the waters off of Florida.
Red Drum (Redfish)
Red Drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) is a species of fish found in the shallow, coastal waters of the eastern Gulf Coast. It has a distinctive red or bronze coloration, with a large black spot on its tail and elongated pectoral fins. Red drum can grow to over 40 inches long and weigh up to 50 pounds.
Many anglers belove red drum due to their size, strength, and fighting ability. They can be caught using various methods, such as trolling or bottom fishing with live bait. Red Drum is also renowned for its flaky white flesh, considered a delicacy in the South.
(Epinephelus morio) is a species of fish found in tropical and subtropical waters of the western Atlantic Ocean from Virginia to Brazil. It has an elongated body with a distinctive red or reddish-brown coloration on its back and sides, with yellow accents around its fins. Its maximum size can reach lengths of up to three feet and weigh as much as 30 pounds.
Red Grouper are famous among anglers due to their fighting ability and delicious flavor. They can be found in numerous habitats, including coral reefs, rock jetties, grass beds, and sandy flats. This species is also important for its role in the food web, preying on smaller fishes such as shrimp and crabs.
(Lutjanus campechanus) is a species of fish native to the waters of the western Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts to Brazil. It has an elongated body with a deep reddish-pink coloration and distinctive dark spots running along its sides. It can grow up to three feet long and weigh up to 20 pounds.
(Scomberomorus maculatus) is a species of fish found in the waters off Florida and the Caribbean. It has an elongated body with iridescent blue-green coloration on its back and sides, marked with distinctive dark stripes along its flanks. It can reach up to four feet long and weigh up to 15 pounds.
Spanish Mackerel is an important predator in its ecosystem, feeding on small fish species such as anchovies, sardines, and herrings. It is also an important food source for larger predators like sharks, dolphins, and sea birds. In turn, Spanish Mackerel helps to keep these predator populations balanced and healthy.
(Xiphias gladius) is a species of migratory fish found in tropical and subtropical Atlantic, Pacific, and Mediterranean waters. It has an elongated body with a long sword-like snout, hence its name. Its coloration is dark blue to black on its back and silvery white on its underside.
Swordfish are powerful predators, and they feed on a variety of fish species as well as squid, octopus, and other invertebrates. They can reach lengths of up to twelve feet and weigh up to 1,400 pounds.
(Thunnus albacares) is a species of fish found in tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean. It has an elongated body with yellowish-silver coloration on its back and sides, and white accents around its fins. It can reach lengths up to eight feet long and weigh over 100 pounds.
(Ocyurus chrysurus) is a species of fish found in the waters off Florida, the Caribbean and parts of the Gulf of Mexico. It has an elongated body with yellowish-orange coloration on its back and sides, and distinct black stripes along its flanks. It can reach up to two feet long and weigh up to four pounds.
Yellowtail Snapper is an important predator in its marine habitat, feeding on small fish species such as silversides and gobies. It is also an important food source for larger predators like sharks and dolphins. In turn, this helps to keep the balance of the marine ecosystem healthy.
(Acanthocybium solandri) is a species of fish found in the subtropical and tropical waters of the western Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. It has an elongated body with a dark blue-gray coloration on its back and sides, marked with distinctive white markings along its flanks. It can reach up to three feet long and weigh up to 60 pounds.
Wahoo feeds mainly on small fish species such as herring, anchovies and sardines. It is also an important prey item for larger predators such as sharks and dolphins. This makes it an essential part of the marine ecosystem, helping to keep predator populations in balance.
Non-Native Fish in Florida
In recent years, the Florida waters have seen an increase in non-native species due to climate change and human activities such as fishing, aquarium trade, and ballast water discharge from ships.
(Oreochromis aureus) is a species of fish originally from Africa that has become established in Florida’s waters. It is an aggressive predator and competitors with native fishes for food and space.
Lionfish (Pterois volitans) is another non-native species that has been introduced to Florida’s waters. It is an aggressive predator that feeds on small fishes and invertebrates, leading to reduced populations of native species.
Another notable freshwater fish in Florida is the peacock bass. Although not native to Florida, these exotic fish were introduced to the state’s waters in the 1980s and have since established thriving populations.
Peacock bass are known for their striking appearance, with vibrant colors and unique body patterns. They are also highly prized for their aggressive nature and thrilling fights when hooked, making them a popular target for anglers seeking a unique and challenging freshwater fishing experience.
The most notorious non-native fish species in Florida waters is the Northern or Bullseye Snakehead (Channa marulius). This invasive species has been causing havoc to the state’s ecosystem since its first sighting in 2000, primarily due to its rapid reproduction rate and high adaptability.
Snakeheads have an aggressive nature and are known to feed on a variety of native fish species, as well as small mammals and amphibians. They can also survive in unfavorable habitats due to their air-breathing ability, which enables them to colonize areas with little oxygen or other environmental stressors.