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How to catch fish in Florida: A guide for visiting Canadians

Scott Gardner

Vacation fishing school

Visiting the Sunshine State? From charters to DIY action, here's how to have a some fishing fun

To get the most out of an angling vacation to the self-proclaimed “Fishing Capital of the World, you first need to learn the ropes.

I was having so much fun catching hard-fighting two-pound bluefish and jacks on almost every cast, that I’d forgotten about the stout deadstick rod at the stern of our skiff. Then line started to fly off its oversized reel. My friend Nick Honachefsky, an experienced saltwater angler and co-host of TV’s Hookin’ Up with Nick and Mariko, picked up the rod and, showing more restraint than I could have, let the line go for another 10 seconds, then smoothly started reeling. The circle hook bit, the rod bent and moments later a 40-pound spinner shark somersaulted completely out of the water, repeating the display four more times in the five minutes it took Nick (above left) to get it to the boat.

“They’re called spinners,” Captain Jeff Malone (above right) said in a relaxed drawl, “because they do that.”

Yep, I was definitely back in Florida. The Sunshine State is, of course, a perpetually popular vacation destination, visited by hundreds of thousands of Canadians every winter. And if you’re an angler, there are many opportunities to tussle with unfamiliar, amazingly strong fish.

Florida calls itself the fishing capital of the world, and as far as saltwater angling goes, it’s hard to disagree. More world-record fish have been caught there than in any other single state—or country, for that matter. And during snowbird season, there’s always something biting along every stretch of the state’s 3,662-kilometre coastline. It’s entirely possible to catch a variety of fish, including big ones, with a handful of bait and your walleye or bass rod from home. For a more exotic experience, there are also thousands of licensed guides, and a whole tourism infrastructure to connect both casual and serious anglers with a saltwater adventure (below).

Greg MacLeod
Greg MacLeod

But what kind of adventure do you want? That’s where things get complicated. Florida has such a wide variety of unfamiliar fish species and types of fishing that it’s enough to make even a competent Canadian angler feel like a total newb. I’m far from a saltwater expert, but over the years, I’ve learned quite a bit through my own southern angling adventures, as well as from hours of swapping stories with local captains and anglers. If you want to take a break from roller coasters and blender drinks and hit the water, here’s a primer on Florida’s most popular fish and fishing, along with a few tips for the DIY angler…

Scott Gardner

Scott Gardner

Outdoor Canada associate editor and fly-fishing columnist Scott Gardner is happiest when he's on the water fishing (especially from his kayak) or just surrounded by trees, preferably out of cell phone range. Since joining Outdoor Canada in 2010, Scott has won nine National Communication Awards from the Outdoor Writers of Canada for his adventure travel and fly fishing articles, and been nominated for five National Magazine Awards.

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