Florida Gulf Coast fishing can be red hot, but where are the hottest spots?
Fishing the Florida Gulf Coast is incredibly popular, and considering how many awesome bites an angler can enjoy between the Alabama border and the Everglades, it’s no wonder why. But with dozens and dozens of different places to fish from, which are the best fishing spots in Florida along the Gulf? Here are our five top fishing destinations along the Florida Gulf Coast:
- Boca Grande
- Crystal River
- Marco Island
- St. Petersburg
1. Boca Grande
Is there an angler out there who hasn’t heard of the famed Boca Grande tarpon run? We didn’t think so. Tens of thousands of these giant beasts migrate here every spring to spawn, and when they arrive, they’re hungry— very hungry.
The tarpon bite can be among the best anywhere in the world, and while the peak action may only last for a few weeks, the fishing can remain good for months at a time. Boca Grande is known as the “tarpon capital of the world.”
On top of all the tarpon action, the backwater bays of Charlotte Harbor, Gasparilla Sound, and Pine Island Sound offer excellent fishing for a slew of inshore species. Speckled trout, redfish, and snook are all on the menu and present in excellent numbers. Why not rent a fishing boat near Boca, and find out for yourself?
2. Crystal River
Located north of Tampa and west of Orlando, Crystal River seems more or less like many other Florida Gulf Coast fishing ports. What sets it apart and makes this place worthy of being ranked among the best fishing spots in Florida? Rent a fishing boat in Crystal River, and you’ll discover it has a few unusual aces up its sleeve.
For starters, the spring-fed rivers feeding the Gulf here are crystal clear as the name implies. And the nearshore waters are often darn close. It’s common to sight-cast to the fish, and no one will complain about the scenery here.
Then, there’s the Crystal River Power Plant. In the middle of the winter, when water temperatures drop, fish sometimes flock here because the plant discharges warmer water. Anglers naturally follow. On top of that, there’s excellent fishing for gag grouper nearby in the Gulf, solid numbers of cobia migrate through these waters, and the area’s also known for producing lots of tripletail.
Destin, FL, is located up on the panhandle, and many would argue that nearby Pensacola should edge it out for top angling honors in this area. There’s a solid argument to be made there, but we say Destin wins out because it has the shorter run to deeper water. It also has plenty of inshore opportunity and fishing boats for rent in and around Choctawhatchee Bay.
It’s the offshore action, however, that’s the biggest big draw in this section of the Florida Gulf coast. About 20 miles from here, you’ll be in deep waters, among pelagic species like tunas and billfish. On top of that, the drop-offs closer to home are lined with wrecks and artificial reef sites that swarm with everything from red snapper to grouper.
4. Marco Island
Marco Island has awesome inshore fishing action among the countless cuts and creeks winding through the island itself, but even more important, it’s the gateway to the Ten Thousand Islands. We can’t swear there are actually 10,000 islands here (no, we didn’t count), but there are certainly few places on Earth with this many miles of uninhabited shoreline.
This is where the 99-mile Wilderness Waterways runs and is indeed unspoiled wilderness. It’s also riddled with fish like red drum, speckled sea trout, tarpon, snook, and more.
Pro Tip: Navigation here can be challenging! If you aren’t familiar with the area and decide to fish at the Ten Thousand Islands, you must be extremely cautious not to get lost. For this reason alone, many people who fish here hire a professional fishing charter instead of heading out on their own.
5. St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg is a peninsula that extends into the Gulf with epic angling activity. This is one of the largest bays along the Gulf coast, and it allows targeting some of the big oceanic species, such as king mackerel and cobia — but without ever leaving the bay’s protection. This can be a big deal to people who don’t have much experience on the water or for those who rent a boat in St. Petersburg and may hesitate to run out into the open waters of the Gulf.
Conversely, if you want to fish the Gulf, that’s no problem. From the southern portion of town, it’s a short trip to Egmont Channel and then out into open water. Though the slope to deep water is slow here, it isn’t far to reef and wreck fish like snappers and grouper. Point the bow west and keep going, and all bets are off.
There are countless special Florida Gulf coast fishing towns that can make for fishing memories of a lifetime. But few can argue that these five fishing destinations don’t deserve top rankings.
Boatsetter is a unique boat-sharing platform that gives everyone — whether you own a boat or you’re just renting — the chance to experience life on the water. You can list a boat, book a boat, or make money as a captain.
With over three decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to dozens of boating and fishing publications and websites ranging from BoatU.S. Magazine to BDOutdoors.com. Rudow is currently the Angler in Chief at Rudow’s FishTalk, he is a past president of Boating Writers International (BWI), a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.