Sanibel Fishing Guide

Okay, so I’m going to be honest by telling you now, Susan and I are in no way avid anglers. We hardly ever go fishing. But we have had a few family fishing trips that we and the kids absolutely LOVED. Plus, growing up on the waters of SWFL, I have acquired a “tad” bit of fishing knowledge which I’m happy to share.

The Gulf of Mexico is a great place for fishing. Around Sanibel, the waters are usually warm and see an influx of different species as the seasons change. Some are even found year round.

In fact, there are avid sport fisherman that frequent our island every year in search of a unique catch. Take for example the “Ding” Darling and Doc Ford’s Annual Tarpon Tournament that takes place every Spring. The last time I looked, this year’s event is already sold out!

Click here for more information on the tarpon tournament.

7 Common Fish in SWFL

Below, I’ve listed several notable fish of the Southwest Florida area waters. Some of which you have to go further offshore to catch, others can be found in Tarpon Bay and other local backwaters. It’s certainly not an exclusive list of fish found in this area, but some of the most sought-after nonetheless.

Tarpon – I already mentioned the tarpon, which is one of our most popular sport fish to catch. Or to *try and catch, I should say, as they are known to be very acrobatic fighting fish. This is a catch a release fish only, with a number of regulations protecting the sleek, silver tarpon fish.

Fun fact: The Florida State Record tarpon was caught near Key West weighing 243lbs.

Click here to read more about Tarpons on the Florida Fish and Wildlife website.

Grouper – You recognize this fish from almost every seafood menu in SWFL. But did you know that groupers come in many shapes and sizes? The Goliath Groupers have made the news for their massive size. The largest Goliath caught in Florida weighed 680lbs! Goliath’s are usually just fished for sport, the grouper on your plate is usually a black, gag, or red grouper.

Click here to see a list of the different types of Groupers on

Snook – You might recognize the shape of the fish in logos and car decals as you drive around SWFL. The snook is a popular game fish, also known to put up a good fight. Snook can make for tasty fillets too.

Fun fact: Snook fish are all male, until they reach about 20inches long when some become female.

Click here to read more about the interesting Snook fish.

Yellowtail Amberjack – Also just referred to as the amberjack. This is said to be one of the strongest fish in the Gulf! As you can imagine, sport fisherman love to chase the amberjack. In the Gulf, they can be fished May 1-31, and Aug 1 – Oct 31 with a limit of one fish per person per day.

Click here to read more about the Amberjack on the FWC website.

Snapper – Another one you see on the restaurant menus. Snappers have a variety of species that are found in our local waters, including yellowtail snapper, mangrove snapper, lane snapper and mutton snapper.

Fun Fact: The state record for yellowtail snapper was actually caught in Fort Myers.

Click here to read more about the Snapper variety.

Mackerel – The King Mackerel, Spanish Mackerel, and Cero Mackerel can be fished in South Florida waters. These fish all have a very similar shape and size, making it hard to tell them apart. As you can see in the image below, the lack of color on the front dorsal fin and the lateral line is one way to determine the King Mackerel from the others.

Click here to learn more about the different variations of Mackerel fish.

Cobia – This long fish is usually brown with a white belly, and can be found in the backwater areas, most plentifully during the migratory seasons of spring and fall. You can eat Cobia fish! They eat squid, crabs and other small fish.

Click here to learn more about the Cobia fish.

Jim McCallion About Jim McCallion

Meet the "Marketing Megaphone" and Webmaster behind McCallion & McCallion. After selling his software company, Jim, Susan and kids moved to Sanibel in 2008. With his tech experience, he and Susan bring a fresh approach to island real estate.