Fish Species Guide

GREATER AMBERJACK – Seriola dumerili
Family Carangidae, JACKS AND POMPANOS
Description: dark stripe (variably present) extends from nose to in front of dorsal fin and “lights up” when fish is in feeding mode; no scutes; soft dorsal base less than twice the length of the anal fin base.
Similar fish: other Seriola.
Where found: OFFSHORE species associated with rocky reefs, debris, and wrecks, typically in 60-240 feet of water; sometimes caught NEARSHORE in south Florida; juveniles associate with floating objects and may occur in water less than 30 feet deep.
Size: common to 40 pounds.
Remarks: largest of the jacks; thought to spawn OFFSHORE throughout much of the year; feeds on squid, fish, and crustaceans.
Florida record: 142 lbs.

BLUEFISH – Pomatomus saltatrix
Family Pomatomidae, BLUEFISHES
Description: color blue or greenish blue on back, sides silvery; mouth large; teeth prominent, sharp, and compressed; dorsal and anal fins nearly the same size; scales small; lateral line almost straight.
Similar fish: blue runner, C. crysos.
Where found: young usually INSHORE spring and summer, moving OFFSHORE to join adults fall and winter; strong migration of northeast Atlantic stock to Florida east coast in winter.
Size: most west coast catches under 3 pounds, much larger on east coast.
Remarks: travels in large schools, following schools of baitfish; cannibalistic; all members of a given school about the same size; spawning occurs OFFSHORE in spring and summer.
Florida record: 22 lbs., 3 ozs.

BLACK SEA BASS – Centropristis striata
Description: basic color dark brown or black; dorsal fin has rows and stripes of white on black; large males have iridescent blue and ebony markings, and fatty hump in front of dorsal fin; females may have indistinct vertical barrings; topmost ray of caudal fin much elongated in adults; caudal may be tri-lobed; sharp spine near posterior margin of gill cover.
Similar fish: bank sea bass, C. ocyurus; other Centropristis.
Where found: structure-loving fish, associated with reefs and rubble OFFSHORE; smaller specimens often found in
INSHORE finger channels.
Size: common to 1.5 pounds (13 inches).
Remarks: spawns January through March; protogynous hermaphrodites, older females becoming breeding males; omnivorous bottom feeders, diet including small fish, crustaceans, and shellfish.
Florida record: 5 lbs., 1 ozs.

BLACK DRUM – Pogonias cromis
Family Sciaenidae, DRUMS
Description: high arched back; 10 to 14 pairs of chin barbels; gray or black colored body in adults; young have 4 to 6 vertical bars; has cobblestonelike teeth capable of crushing oysters; scales large.
Similar fish: red drum, Sciaenops ocellatus; the vertical bars on juvenile black drum are somewhat similar to those on sheepshead, Archosargus probatocephalus; and spadefish, Chaetodipterus faber.
Where found: INSHORE fish common to bays and lagoons; bottom dweller often found around oyster beds; also OFFSHORE.
Size: common to 30 pounds.
Remarks: largest member of the drum family; spawns nearshore in winter and early spring; feeds on oysters, mussels, oysters, crabs, shrimp, and occasionally fish; longevity to 35 or more years. Florida record: 93 lbs.

COBIA (ling) – Rachycentron canadum
Family Rachycentridae, COBIA
Description: long, slim fish with broad depressed head; lower jaw projects past upper jaw; dark lateral stripe extends through eye to tail; first dorsal fin comprised of 7 to 9 free spines; when young, has conspicuous alternating black and white horizontal stripes.
Similar fish: remora, Eceneis naucrates.
Where found: both INSHORE and NEARSHORE inhabitating inlets, bays, and among mangroves; frequently seen around buoys, pilings, and wrecks.
Size: common to 30 pounds.
Remarks: spawns in spring and early summer; feeds on crabs, squid, and small fish.
Florida record: 103 lbs., 12 ozs.s

GREAT BARRACUDA – Sphyraena barracuda
Family Sphyraenidae, BARRACUDAS
Description: gray, with a greenish cast above, whitish below; many irregular, small black blotches on lower side; 18 to 22 diagonal dark bars on upper side (not always evident); caudal fin dark with white tips; 75 to 87 lateral line scales; no fleshy tip on jaw. Young (not shown): dark stripe on side; stripe breaks into dark squarish blotches as fish grows.
Size: to 2 m (6 ft.) and 48 kg (106 lbs.); reports of larger fish unverified.
Where Found: young live in inshore seagrass beds; adults range from inshore channels to open ocean.
Remarks: most attacks on people have occurred when they were wading or swimming in turbid water while wearing bright objects, attempting to spear a barracuda, or carrying speared fish; flesh of smaller fish apparently not poisonous, but larger fish sometimes very toxic due to ciguatera; no safe, reliable way of recognizing toxic fish.

GULF FLOUNDER – Paralichthys albigutta
Description: body color brown, its shade depending on color of bottom, with numerous spots and blotches; 3 prominent eye-like spots forming a triangle; one spot on lateral line, one above, one below; numerous white spots scattered over body and fins (albigutta, white spotted); strong canine-like teeth; caudal fin in shape of wedge, its tip in the middle.
Similar fish: southern flounder, P. lethostigma (no eye-like spots; color pattern is key to distinguishing the two species).
Where found: INSHORE on sandy or mud bottoms, often ranging into tidal creeks; occasionally caught on NEARSHORE rocky reefs.
Size: common to 2 pounds, generally smaller than southern flounder.
Remarks: hatches into usual fish form, but right eye migrates overt to left side early in life; a bottom dweller; thought to spawn offshore; feeds on crustaceans and small fishes.

GAG – Mycteroperca microlepis
Description: brownish gray in color with dark worm-like markings on sides; strong serrated spur at bottom margin of preopercle, less noticeable in large specimens; fins dark, with anal and caudal having white margin; often confused with black grouper; most noticeable differences are brassy spots on black grouper; tail of gag is slightly concave, black grouper’s tail is square; gag has white margin on anal and caudal fins, black does not; under 10 pounds, gag’s spur on preopercle is distinctive, where black is gently rounded.
Similar fish: black grouper, M. bonaci.
Where found: adults OFFSHORE over rocks and reefs; juveniles occur in seagrass beds INSHORE.
Size: common to 25 pounds.
Remarks: forms spawning aggregations in water no shallower than 120 feet in Middle Grounds area, January through
March; current research to identify similar aggregations off the Atlantic coast is ongoing; young gags are predominantly female, transforming into males as they grow larger; feeds on fish and squid.
Florida record: 71 lbs., 3 ozs.

RED GROUPER – Epinephelus morio
Description: color brownish red; lining of mouth scarletorange; blotches on sides in unorganized pattern; second spine of dorsal fin longer than others; pectoral fins longer than pelvic fins; squaredoff tail; margin of soft dorsal black with white at midfin; black dots around the eyes.
Similar fish: nassau grouper, E. striatus.
Where found: bottom dwelling fish associated with hard bottom; juveniles OFFSHORE along with adults greater than 6 years old; NEARSHORE reefs.
Size: common to 15 pounds.
Remarks: spawns in April and May; prefer water temperatures between 66 and 77 degrees F; undergoes sex change, young individuals female, becoming male as they age, lifespan of at least 25 years; feeds on squid, crustaceans, and fish.
Florida record: 39 lbs., 8 ozs.

GRAY SNAPPER (mangrove snapper) – Lutjanus griseus
Family Lutjanidae, SNAPPERS
Descriptions: color dark brown or gray with reddish or orange spots in rows along the sides; dark horizontal band from snout through eye (young only); two conspicuous canine teeth at front of upper jaw; dorsal fins have dark or reddish borders; no spot on side underneath dorsal fin.
Similar fish: cubera snapper, L. cyanopterus.
Where found: juveniles INSHORE in tidal creeks, mangroves, and grass beds; adults generally NEARSHORE or OFFSHORE on coral or rocky reefs.
Size: offshore catches common to 10 pounds.
Remarks: spawns June through August; feeds on crustaceans and small fish.
Florida record: 16 lbs., 8 ozs.

PINFISH – Lagodon rhomboides
Family Sparidae, PORGIES
Description: small mouth with incisor-like teeth; distinctive black spot behind the gill cover; body bluish-silver with blue and orangeyellow horizontal stripes, yellow fins.
Where found: seagrass beds, bridges, piers, marker pilings, and around natural and artificial reefs; spawn offshore.
Size: usually less than 8 in.
Remarks: popular live bait, notorious bait stealers.

CREVALLE JACK – Caranx hippos
Family Carangidae, JACKS AND POMPANOS
Description: color bluish-green to greenish-gold back and silvery or yellowish belly; soft dorsal and anal fins almost identical in size; prominent black spot on operculum (gill cover); black spot at the base of each pectoral fin; no scales on throat.
Similar fish: other Caranx.
Where found: common to both INSHORE waters and the open sea.
Size: usually 3 to 5 pounds.
Remarks: tolerates a wide range of salinities; schools corner a pod of baitfish at the surface and feed with commotion that can be seen for great distances; feeds mainly on small fish; peak spawning occurs OFFSHORE from March through September.
Florida record: 51 lbs.

KING MACKEREL – Scomberomorus cavlla
Family Scombridae, MACKERELS AND TUNAS
Description: color of back iridescent bluish green, sides silvery; streamlined body with tapered head; no black pigment on front of the first dorsal fin; lateral line starts high and drops sharply below the second dorsal fin; young fish often have yellowish spots like those of Spanish mackerel.
Similar fish: cero, S. regalis; Spanish mackerel, S. maculatus.
Where found: NEARSHORE and OFFSHORE; occasionally taken from piers running into deep water.
Size: common to 20 pounds.
Remarks: schooling fish that migrates from south Florida waters in winter to more northerly waters in spring; Gulf population thought to be separate from Atlantic population, with considerable mixing in winter from Cape Canaveral past Key West; spawns in mid summer OFFSHORE; feeds on small fish and squid.
Florida record: 90 lbs.

LADYFISH – Elops saurus
Family Elopidae, TARPONS
Description: terminal mouth; slender body; small scales; last dorsal ray not elonged; head small and pointed.
Similar fish: juvenile tarpon, Megalops atlanticus.
Where found: INSHORE fish, in bays and estuaries; occasionally enters freshwater, occurring in tidal pools and canals; often forms large schools and harasses bait at the surface.
Size: 2 to 3 pounds.
Remarks: known to spawn OFFSHORE; ribbon-like larvae very similar to Albua and Megalops, peaking in fall; adults feed predominantly on fish and crustaceans; leaps when hooked.
Florida record: 4 lbs., 10 ozs.

PERMIT – Trachinotus falcatus
Family Carangidae, JACKS AND POMPANOS
Description: color gray, dark or iridescent blue above, shading to silvery sides, in dark waters showing golden tints around breast; small permit have teeth on tongue (none on pompano); no scutes; dorsal fin insertion directly above that of the anal fin; 17 to 21 soft dorsal rays; 16 to 19 soft anal rays.
Similar fish: Florida pompano, T. carolinus; the permit is deeper bodied; dorsal body profile forms angle at insertion of second dorsal fin; pompano rarely grow larger than 6 pounds, permit common to 40 pounds.
Where found: OFFSHORE on wrecks and debris, INSHORE on grass flats, sand flats, and in channels; most abundant in south Florida, with smaller specimens from every coastal county.
Size: common to 25 pounds.
Remarks: feeds mainly on bottom-dwelling crabs, shrimp, small clams, and small fish.
Florida record: 51 lbs., 8 ozs.

GRAY TRIGGERFISH – Balistes capriscus
Family Balistidae, LEATHERJACKETS
Description: entirely olive-gray; dorsal and anal fins marbled; caudal fin lobes elongate in large adults; one or more enlarged scales behind gill opening; 26 to 29 dorsal fin rays; 23 to 26 anal fin rays.
Young: large darker saddles on back (these saddles sometimes persit in adults); blue spots and short blue lines in dorsal fin and on upper half of body, becoming white below and in anal fin; upper rim of eye blue.
Where found: hardbottom, reefs, ledges.

FLORIDA POMPANO – Trachinotus carolinus
Family Carangidae, JACKS AND POMPANOS
Description: greenish gray on back, shading to silvery sides; fish in dark waters showing yellow on throat, pelvic, and anal fins; deep flattened body with small mouth; no scutes; 22 to 27 soft dorsal rays; 20 to 23 soft anal rays; origin of anal fin slightly behind origin of second dorsal.
Similar fish: permit, T. falcatus; palometa, T. goodei; the permit is deeper bodied; dorsal body profile not strongly angled at insertion of second dorsal fin; pompano rarely grow larger than 6 pounds, permit common to 40 pounds.
Where found: INSHORE and NEARSHORE waters, especially along sandy beaches, along oyster bars, and over grassbeds, often in turbid water; may be found in water as deep as 130 feet.
Size: usually less than 3 pounds.
Remarks: spawns OFFSHORE between March and September; feeds on mollusks and crustaceans, especially sand fleas; local movements are influenced by the tide, and seasonal movements are influenced by temperature.
Florida record: 8 lbs., 1 oz.

RED DRUM – Sciaenops ocellatus
Family Sciaenidae, DRUMS
Other local names: redfish
Description: chin without barbels; copper-bronze body, lighter shade in clear waters; one to many spots at base of tail (rarely no spots); mouth horizontal and opening downward; scales large. Similar fish: black drum, Pogonias cromis.
Where found: juveniles are an INSHORE fish, migrating out of the estuaries at about 30 inches (4 years) and joining the spawning population OFFSHORE.
Size: common to 20 pounds.
Remarks: red drum are an INSHORE species until they attain roughly 30 inches (4 years), then migrate to join the NEARSHORE population; spawning occurs from August to November in NEARSHORE waters; feeds on crustaceans, fish, and mollusks; longevity to 20 years or more.
Florida record: 51 lbs., 8 ozs.

SHEEPSHEAD – Archosargus probatocephalus
Family Sparidae, PORGIES
Description: basic silvery color, with 5 or 6 distinct vertical black bars on sides, not always the same on both sides; prominent teeth, including incisors, molars, and rounded grinders; no barbels on lower jaw; strong and sharp spines on dorsal and anal fins.
Similar fish: black drum, Pogonias cromis; Atlantic spadefish, Chaetodipterus faber (black drum have barbels on lower jaw, sheepshead do not; vertical barring on sides of black drum and spadefish disappear as fish mature; spadefish have small, brush-like teeth).
Where found: INSHORE around oyster bars, seawalls and in tidal creeks; moves NEARSHORE in late winter and early spring for spawning, gathering over rocks, artificial reefs, and around navigation markers.
Size: INSHORE, 1 to 2 pounds; OFFSHORE, common to 8 pounds.
Remarks: feeds on mollusks and crustaceans such as fiddler crabs and barnacles; famed nibblers, prompting the saying that “anglers must strike just before they bite.”
Florida record: 15 lbs., 2 ozs.

COMMON SNOOK – Centropomus undecimalis
Family Centropomidae, SNOOKS
Description: distinct black lateral line; high, divided dorsal fin; sloping forehead; large mouth, protruding lower jaw; grows much larger than other snooks; pelvic fin yellow.
Similar fish: other Centropomus.
Where found: from central Florida south, usually INSHORE in coastal and brackish waters, along mangrove shorelines, seawalls, and bridges; also on reefs and pilings.
Size: most catches 5 to 8 pounds.
Remarks: spawns primarily in summer; cannot tolerate water temperatures below 60 degrees F; can tolerate wholly fresh or saltwater; schools along shore and in passes during spawning season; feeds on fish and larger crustaceans.
Florida record: 44 lbs., 3 ozs.

LITTLE TUNNY – Euthynnus alletteratus
Family Scombridae, MACKERELS AND TUNAS
Description: diagonal, sometimes wavy, dark bars on bare areas on each side of back; 4 to 5 dark spots below pectoral fin; no dark stripes on belly; dorsal fins connected at base; pectoral fin short.
Size: to 1 m (3.25 ft.) and 12 kg (26 lbs.), but usually much smaller.
Where found: common offshore, but also occurs regularly in bays and over reefs.
Remarks: probably the most common tuna in the w. Atlantic; popular sport fish, it is also used as bait for marlin; occurs in large schools.

SPANISH MACKEREL – Scomberomorus maculatus
Family Scombridae, MACKERELS AND TUNAS
Description: color of back green, shading to silver on sides, golden yellow irregular spots above and below lateral line; front of dorsal fin black; lateral line curves gently to base of tail.
Similar fish: cero, S. regalis; king mackerel, S. cavalla.
Where found: INSHORE, NEARSHORE, and OFFSHORE, especially over deep grass beds and reefs; absent from north Florida waters in winter.
Size: average catch less than 2 pounds (20 inches).
Remarks: schooling fish that migrates northward in spring, returning to southerly waters when water temperatures drop below about 70 degrees F; spawns OFFSHORE, spring through summer; feeds on small fish and squid.

TARPON – Megalops atlanticus
Family Elopidae, TARPONS
Description: last ray of dorsal fin extended into long filament; one dorsal fin; back dark blue to green or greenish black, shading into bright silver on the sides; may be brownish gold in estuarine waters; huge scales; mouth large and points upward.
Similar species: (as juveniles) ladyfish, Elops saurus.
Where found: primarily INSHORE fish, although adult fish spawn OFFSHORE where the ribbon-like larval stage of the fish can be found.
Size: most angler catches 40 to 150 pounds.
Remarks: slow grower, matures at 7 to 13 years of age; spawning occurs between May and September; female may lay more than 12 million eggs; can tolerate wide range of salinity; juveniles commonly found in fresh water; can breathe air at the surface; feeds mainly on fish and large crustaceans.
Florida record: 243 lbs.

SPOTTED SEATROUT – Cynoscion nebulosus
Family Sciaenidae, DRUMS
Description: dark gray or green above, with sky-blue tinges shading to silvery and white below; numerous distinct round black spots on back, extending to the dorsal fins and tail; no barbels; no scales on the soft dorsal fin; one or two prominent canine teeth usually present at tip of upper jaw.
Similar fish: other seatrout.
Where found: INSHORE and/or NEARSHORE over grass, sand, and sandy mud bottoms; move into slow-moving or still, deep waters in cold weather.
Size: common to 4 pounds on west coast, larger on east coast.
Remarks: matures during first or second year and spawns INSHORE from March through November, often in association with seagrass beds; lives mainly in estuaries and moves only short distances; adults feed mainly on shrimp and small fish; prefers water temperatures between 58 and 81 degrees F, may be killed if trapped in shallow water during cold weather; longevity 8 to 10 years.
Florida record: 15 lbs., 6 ozs.

WHITE GRUNT – Haemulon plumieri
Family Haemulidae, GRUNTS
Description: body color light bluish-gray, head with horizontal blue stripes, white underbelly; black blotch on preopercle; margin of each scale bronze; large bright orange mouth; scales above lateral line larger than scales below lateral line.
Similar fish: other grunts.
Where found: from SHORE to the outer reef edge or on OFFSHORE hard bottom to 115 feet; most abundant in water less than 80 feet deep; juveniles INSHORE.
Size: most catches 1.5 pounds (15 inches).
Remarks: audible grunting is produced by grinding of the pharyngeal teeth, with air bladder acting as amplifier; spawning occurs on OFFSHORE hard bottoms or reefs from May through June; feeds on crustaceans, mollusks, and small fishes.