|Photo Credit: Adrenaline Rush Charters|
If you’re from Florida, you already know, but if you’re new to the area, a large part of experiencing everything Florida has to offer is by eating what the natives eat- FISH! Saving the best for last, here are the top 10 fish to eat in Florida!
Some may wonder why kingfish even made this list, but the truth is that South Florida consumes a ridiculous amount of it. Also known as king mackeral, kingfish is not the best fish to eat as a main course since it tastes quite “gamey” because of its high oil content. However, commercial kingfishing is a booming industry in South Florida for a big reason- smoked fish dip. Just about every restaurant in South Florida carries this delectable appetizer, which usually consists of shredded smoked kingfish, mayonnaise or sour cream, and each chef’s own blend of spices. Kingfish are most prevalent in 90’-200’ of water, and can be caught with live bait like sardines or goggle eyes. Be careful when boating these toothy critters- their teeth are razor sharp! For current recreational regulations, visit the FWC Website.
Also known as dolphin or dorado, mahi-mahi is a very mild white fish with a lean firm texture that holds together very well when grilled or fried. If you order “fish fingers” at a restaurant, it’s most likely mahi. Mahi-Mahi are usually caught trolling offshore with dead bait like rigged ballyhoo or bonita strips, and are usually found in schools feeding on baitfish under floating debris or seaweed. If a dolphin is spotted, you can also catch them by sight-casting with bucktails or ballyhoo with a spinning rod. For current recreational regulations, visit the FWC Website.
Snook is illegal to be commercially fished or sold, mainly due to its wide restaurant distribution in the early 1900s since it has a delicious meat and it’s possible to catch from a dock. Because of this, they are an extremely regulated tropical fish, which you should be well aware of by visiting the FWC Website. Once you have the proper permits and education, you may harvest a daily limit of one per day (during season), and some restaurants will clean and cook your catch for you. Its meat has a medium firmness and a mild flavor with large chunky flakes. It absorbs dressings and marinades really well, and is worth jumping through hoops to get a taste of “old Florida”. Snook are mainly caught around structures inshore with top water lures, live shrimp, or bucktail jigs.
Swordfish is considered a premium entrée, and is sold exclusively cut as thick steaks. Its thick white meat has a moderately high fat content, but has a mild slightly sweet flavor. Swordfishing is an artful form of fishing which involves extensive research and experience, so this is not a hobby to pick up overnight. Fishing for swordfish requires having a “Highly Migratory Species” (HMS) Permit issued by NOAA. For current regulations, visit the FWC Website. If you would like to catch your own swordfish, we recommend booking a charter with a professional captain like Reel Candy Sportfishing or Adrenaline Rush Charters in Jupiter, or Captain Chris Lemieux in Boynton. In my opinion, this fish is more about the experience catching it than the taste. If you pay premium price at a restaurant, you may be underwhelmed.
Cobia is hard to find in a restaurant, so if you have the chance, try it! Its meat is a little firmer than snapper, grouper, mahi-mahi, and snook, and it has a fresh, clean, buttery flavor without the high oil content found in swordfish. Catching a cobia is relatively rare. There’s a small window at the beginning of fall when they migrate south for warmer waters, and during the first warm days of spring when the rise in water temperatures around shallow wrecks bring cobia closer to shore. Cobia might pop up when first approaching a reef, but if you don’t pitch a live bait to it quickly, it’s usually gone for good. Cobia are powerful fish and would be sad to lose; if you’ve got one on, be ready with two gaffs. For current recreational regulations, visit the FWC Website.
Grouper is the most common up-sell on a dinner menu from mahi-mahi. They have delicious lean white meat with a distinct yet mild flavor, large flakes and a firm texture. Gag grouper (or black grouper) as well as red grouper are the most widely distributed in Florida, and goliath and Nassau grouper are protected from harvest in Florida waters. Grouper is usually speared by divers or caught drift fishing over a reef offshore with baits near bottom. For current recreational regulations, visit the FWC Website.
Some people may argue with me that grouper should be higher on the list than snapper, but the deciding factor for me is that snapper can be fried whole, which is one of my favorite dishes. Its skin comes out super thin and crispy, and its meat stays super moist and flaky. If you’re looking to try this dish in all of its glory, go to Captain Charlie’s Reef Grill in Juno Beach. You won’t be disappointed! There are many different kinds of snapper, but the most common snapper you’ll find on a menu is red snapper and yellowtail snapper. Snapper has firm lean white meat with a mildly sweet and fresh taste. Mangrove snapper are also pretty tasty, but they’re much smaller filets since they live and feed in the shallow mangroves so it's not as cost effective for a restaurant to serve mangrove snapper. Different kinds of snapper are caught in different areas, but most of them are caught bottom-fishing on natural and artificial reefs. Queen snapper are caught deep-dropping with squid, and mangrove snapper are caught fishing with light tackle and live shrimp on the edge of mangroves.
Also known as hog snapper, hogfish has a mild flavor with sweet undertones, much like grouper. It’s a bit flakier than mahi-mahi, and one of the best tasting cooked fish in Florida. Hogfish is found around natural and artificial reefs and most commonly speared by divers, but it’s possible to catch them by hook & line too. For current regulations, visit the FWC Website.
2. Yellowfin Tuna
Known on a menu as ahi tuna, this world famous delicacy is the most common sushi eaten in the world. Its meat ranges from dark red to light pink, and it’s usually enjoyed raw with soy sauce and wasabi or sesame-crusted and lightly seared medium rare. I almost didn’t include yellowfin tuna on this list because most are caught on day trips to the Bahamas, but considering it’s on almost every seafood menu in Florida and my personal favorite, I had to throw it on here! Tuna fishing season begins around April, when more advanced sportfishing teams use radar to find birds which indicate where schools of tuna are feeding, then they follow these powerful fish to catch them with live bait on rod and reel. If you’re looking for tuna closer to Florida, your best bet is to troll for blackfin with tuna darts in the same fashion as you would troll for mahi. Some people argue that blackfin tuna is just as good as yellowfin. I disagree, but we’ll let you be the judge- just don't confuse blackfin tuna with bonita or skipjack tuna, which are not very good to eat. A blackfin tuna does not have stripes, skipjack have longitudinal stripes, and bonita have diagonal stipes. To keep a yellowfin tuna, you must have a “Highly Migratory Species” (HMS) Permit issues by NOAA, but blackfin tuna is currently an unregulated species in the state of Florida. For current regulations, visit the FWC Website.
I have wahoo on the list as #1, because if you haven’t tried fresh wahoo ceviche, you haven’t lived! Wahoo, or ono, gets its name from the Hawaiian word which means “good to eat”, and for good reason. Its high-quality white flesh is a delicacy in South Florida, served as fresh sashimi or as a cooked meal. These highly desirable fish are usually caught high-speed trolling offshore with brightly colored lures, and are considered an elusive species to target. Wahoo is currently an “unregulated species” in Florida, which means the default bag limit is two fish or 100 pounds per person per day, whichever is more. For current regulations, visit the FWC Website.
So there you have it folks- the top 10 fish to eat in Florida. If you don't have your own boat and would like to catch your own dinner, we reccomend booking a charter with a professional captain like Reel Candy Sportfishing or Adrenaline Rush Charters in Jupiter, Fish On Sportfishing Charters in Palm Beach, or Captain Chris Lemieux in Boynton.
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