The Gulf is home to a multitude of delicious fish. Hence, the allure to fishermen – both for sport and commercially. The Gulf of Mexico has a near-perfect climate for sport fishing, recreational and long-line offshore commercial fishing. In fact, it is primed as a great area to charter a boat and experience a day of peace and action over sparkling waters and gently rolling waves.
Even if you’re a novice in fishing, your charter will gladly assist you and tell you what fish is in season that you can easily catch. For many anglers and fishermen, the Gulf Coast is the mecca of fishing thanks to the many marshes, inlets, and offshore secret spots. There are also many reefs, wrecks, and oil rigs that attract some of the most famous and tastiest species in the Gulf’s waters.
Tuna, hogfish, amberjack, snapper, and grouper are some of the most popular and the best-tasting fish you can find in the Gulf. In this article, we will give you a list our the top 10 tastiest fish from Florida’s Gulf Coast.
*Disclaimer: We mention fishing regulations and limits in this article. These mentions are specific to the current date of February 10th, 2022. Please check with your local and federal regulatory committees before fishing.
Cobia is a fantastic fish from Florida’s Gulf Coast. It is known to some as the black salmon and is a truly delicious fish. The meat is white with large flakes and a firm texture. People often describe Cobia as having a mild taste with sweet undertones. Due to its mild taste, it’s a versatile fish to cook. This fish is great sauteed, pan-seared, smoked, braised, grilled, or poached.
These fish migrate seasonally in the Gulf, toward warmer, southern waters during the summer months and Norther Gulf in the winter.
Fishermen don’t need a federal permit for catching Cobia, which is currently open year-round, but gear restrictions and size limits apply.
It is prohibited to use drift gillnets when catching Cobia. Instead, you can use an automatic reel, handline, bandit gear, rod-and-reel, and pelagic longline. The current minimum size limit is 33 inches and annual catch limits are based on available science.
Another popular fish in the Gulf due to its culinary value is Snook. Due to that fact, this fish has been commercially caught and harvested so much so that is now been banned in Texas and Florida for commercial fishing. Recreational harvest, meanwhile, has a slot limit to protect the species.
Snook is a golden yellow fish that features a very distinct black lateral line. They prefer near-shore vegetations as habitats such as river mouths, sea grass meadows and salt marshes. They can grow as long as 40 inches at times. This fish is known for jumping out of the water and bursting into long runs. If you want to catch some of these speeders, the best bait to use includes shrimp, pinfish, mullet, or sardines.
Snook have a really delicate texture and flavor. When cooking this fish, you need to use a gentle hand and watch your spices and seasoning.
The Scamp Grouper is relatively small compared to the other Grouper species but is also among the most delicious. Hence, anglers and commercial fishermen love catching these guys. The usual weight for this grouper species is about 4-6 pounds and the average length is 14 inches – but some have been known to reach up to 42 inches.
If you’re trying to catch a Scamp Grouper, you’d best go to the Gulf of Mexico or the southern Atlantic waters starting in May, as they are currently closed for recreational fishing.
With grayish-brown color and a few clustered dark spots, it’s easy to spot this fish around reefs and steep rocky structures if you are fishing in the Gulf. Meanwhile, Scamp Grouper is known to swim around low-profile bottoms at 30-100 meters deep in North Carolina.
Although Scamp Grouper may stick around all year. Recreational anglers are not allowed to always fish for it until it reopens in May, 2022. So, if you want to catch some for yourself, be sure to check the local and federal regulations. Scamp Grouper season is closed in the Gulf waters from February through March. In the South Atlantic, the season is closed from January through April. Open season for fishing depends on the state and may be open year-round in some.
Being one of Florida’s iconic fish species, Scamp Grouper is a favorite among recreational and commercial fishermen. Most of them swear that this grouper is the tastiest and the best table fare among the grouper family. This fish is smaller compared to other groupers and likes to stay in deep waters, usually in rocky bottoms and ledges. Some strays have been found around mangroves and jetties, however.
Like other groupers, Scamp Grouper offers a mild flavor and a light, slightly sweet flavor profile. The meat is large and has chunky flakes, which make them one of the fish meats with the best food value. Described as having a taste that’s like halibut and sea bass. Aside from that, it is known to offer great nutritional value. A serving of this fish gives you protein, Omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins and minerals.
If you’re looking for a fun fishing activity with the kiddos, going for Lane Snapper is a great idea. This snapper species is a more aggressive feeder and not very wary of a hook. Hence, it is really easy to catch one. You only need to rig your hook with some frozen or live bait and sinker, drop it to the bottom of the seabed, and wait to reel in some tasty snapper.
Lane Snapper, also called candy snapper, can be found in the waters of the Carolinas, Brazil, Bahamas, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico. You will recognize the fish by its silvery pink to reddish color and the series of horizontal yellow lines that extend from its face to the base of the tail fin.
The most common habitat for this snapper includes coral reefs and the vegetative sandy areas of shallow waters inshore. Although less commonly found, they are harvested in the deeper offshore waters. Adults are known to form large aggregations, usually during the spawning season which is in the spring and summer.
The maximum age observed in Lane Snapper, with age of maturity beginning at 1 year. The average weight is usually less than a pound while the average length is from 14 to 20 inches. This fish has a variety of prey including shrimp, crabs, smaller fish and some cephalopods and gastropods.
Like any other snapper, Lane Snapper is considered a great-tasting fish. With its varied diet, it has a reputation of having a sweet flavor and firm flesh. The best cooking methods include pan-searing, baking, roasting, deep-frying, and as ingredients for fish tacos. Along with great taste, this fish also offers great health benefits. It is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which help reduce the risk of heart diseases.
The Yellowedge Grouper is called such because of the yellow lines decorating the edge of the fin. It is a large type of grouper and is among the most popular in the group. This fish is often mistaken for the Goliath Grouper because of its large and chunky body. However, compared to the Goliath, Yellowedge doesn’t have stripes. Young Yellowedge Grouper, meanwhile, looks like Snowy Grouper because of the white spots on the body.
Yellowedge Grouper is known for being solitary and taking longer to mature than most fish. It is carnivorous though prefers feeding on invertebrates and likes crabs and small fishes within reach. You will usually find this fish weighing from 8 to 40 pounds. The average fish caught weighs 30 pounds and normal length is 26-45 inches.
This grouper is found in deep waters and mostly inhabits rocky, muddy, sandy areas, or reefs. In soft bottoms, Yellowedge is known to dig and occupy borrows. The spawning season is from February to November with peaks from March to September.
Using live bait and deep dropping is the best way to catch Yellowedge Grouper. Deep dropping means dropping your bait down to about 400 to 600 feet. Some of the bait recommended for catching this grouper include Chub Mackerel, sardine, white octopus, and squid. Make sure to use heavy lines and large hooks. Yellowedge Grouper can grow very large and strong so prepare for a fight if you hook an adult Yellowdge.
When catching Yellowedge Grouper, make sure to check the local regulations. In the Gulf of Mexico, anglers have a bag limit of four to prevent overfishing. You are also required to use stainless steel ring hooks and have a hook remover. Commercial fishing requires permit.
Catching one of these fish is a really rewarding experience. According to chefs, the meat on this fish holds moisture more than most fish, which makes it easy to prepare it in a variety of ways. Pan-searing, broiling, baking, and grilling are usually recommended. Yellowedge Grouper is also perfect for soups and chowders.
Featuring streamlined bodies, Vermillion Snapper is the smaller cousin of Red Snapper. They are both bright shades in color and quite similar in taste. Both fish have meat that’s not too oily with a mild and sweet flavor. People often describe Vermillion Snapper as a melt-in-your-mouth kind of fish minus the strong “fishy” taste.
When it comes to preparing and cooking Vermillion Snapper, its mild and sweet flavor goes well with herbs and seasoning such as ginger, cilantro, and soy sauce. You won’t go wrong with steaming, sautéing, or baking this fish.
If you’re interested in catching Vermillion Snapper, you’ll have great luck in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Brazil, West Indies, the Caribbean Sea, and of course the Gulf of Mexico. The spawning season is from April to September, and they can grow up to 2 feet long and weigh up to 7 pounds.
Most recreational fishermen enjoy catching Vermillion Snapper using light spinning tackle. Since this species has a very small mouth, it is advisable to use a small circle hook and use cut bait like squid and shrimp. Commercial fishermen usually use vertical hook-and-line gear when catching this fish. However, in some areas in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic, using circle hooks and a de-hooking device are required.
With a selective diet of shellfish, the hogfish features a very sweet and delicious flavor. It has very white meat compared to groupers and snappers. This fish also gives you great health benefits including protein, potassium, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C.
If you want to catch a Hogfish, you need to go where there are tropical, subtropical, or warm temperate waters. Brazil, Bermuda, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea are areas where you can fish for this species. Adult hogfish are reef-associated while newly-spawned and juvenile ones stay near the shore – in estuaries, seagrass beds, and shallow reefs.
The maximum age for hogfish is about 23 years and the maximum weight is 11 kg. The average catch for this species is an average of between 2 and 8 pounds. The best bait when catching Hogfish includes small land crabs and fiddler crabs. You can also use sand fleas and some artificial bait. Spearfishing is another known method of catching a Hogfish.
One of the most popular fish in the Gulf of Mexico is the Red Snapper and every angler wants to catch one. This is also why fishing for this species is heavily regulated. Most states keep Red Snapper season short and strict bag limits are imposed to curb overfishing.
Since the species are temperate fish, you will mostly find Red Snapper in the Gulf of Mexico and along the southern part of the Atlantic Coast. The best fishing grounds for a Red Snapper include the Florida Panhandle and Texas. Most states keep the summer as the open season for catching Red Snapper. However, the open and close dates vary so better to check before you hire a charter.
Red Snappers grow into an average size of 3-10 pounds, but it can get much bigger. In fact, most trophy catches are in the 20-pound range. In rare occasions, you may come across a 30 to 40-pound fish. With this species being classic bottom fishing fare, you’ll sometimes find them in shallow waters – as shallow as 30 feet. But, in most cases, you will need a strong current and depths of up to 600 meters to catch one. When catching Red Snapper, heavy rods and 50 to 80-pound test lines are great tools to use. For bait, you cannot go wrong with squid or cut fish. Using slow-moving jigs will also work well.
What makes Red Snapper a good fish to eat? This fish has lean and moist meat with a sweetly mild but distinct flavor. They taste great even as they get large. And the good news is that this fish is one of the easiest to cook. Cooking the fish without any additional seasoning, especially on the grill is not uncommon. Many Red Snapper enthusiasts claim that adding some salt and pepper, along with a quick pan fry will give the most flavor without over-seasoning the natural deliciousness.
As the name of this fish implies, you can distinguish it by its long and bright yellow dorsal fin. It also has a yellow strip down the side. The Yellowfin Tuna is considered as the most tropical species of tuna and abound in the warm waters of the Pacific and Atlantic. It is an excellent fish for eating raw but you will need a little flavor enhancement for grilling or broiling. Brushing the fillets or steak cuts with some olive oil and seasoning will do the trick.
Compared to other tunas, the Yellowfin tuna has a mild and meaty flavor like a swordfish. The meat is leaner than the bluefin and more flavorful than albacore. For a milder taste, you can remove the dark lateral line from the tuna’s meat. You can also try marinating the tuna meat in white wine, oil, and some brown sugar for a more flavorful grilled tuna steak.
Yellowfin tuna is often harvested using purse seine. However, if you want the best, it’s better to catch them using hook and line. If you want to catch high-quality yellowfin tuna, you must head to Hawaii, Mexico, Florida, the southern and Gulf of California. They often feed very close to the surface so fishermen and anglers can easily target them using topwater techniques. You must remember that yellowfin tunas are endurant and hydrodynamic; thus, they have agility and speed.
Natural baits that you can use for catching yellowfin tunas include anchovies and sardines. But, for the big-sized ones, you might need to use mackerel and skipjack tunas. Artificial lures that are often used include special tuna feathers, Rapala plugs, metal jigs, and plastic trolling lures.
One of the highly sought-after fish in the Gulf is the Red Grouper. It is a white mild fish with firm flesh and large flakes. Like every other grouper, the red grouper has lean, moist meat with a distinct yet mild flavor. It has a slightly sweeter and milder flavor than the Black Grouper and is considered the better of the two. Most people say that a grouper’s flavor is like a cross between Halibut and Bass.
Aside from being tasty, Red Grouper is a great source of vitamins and minerals including vitamins B6 and B12, potassium, selenium, phosphorous, and protein. A 3oz raw serving of this fish only gives 100 calories but you will get about 20g of protein. It does not contain carbs and the fat content is mostly unsaturated.
The species is known to be long-lived and matures slowly. The newly spawned fish spend the first 4-5 years in inshore waters before they migrate back offshore. You will usually find this species along hardbottom seafloors where it’s easy for them to dig up their homes – rocks, reefs, pilings, wrecks, and surfaces suitable for excavation.
If you want to catch a Red Grouper, the best place is the west coast of Florida. Remember that this fish moves closer inshore during the colder months and returns offshore during the summer. A relatively light tackle should be good when catching Red Grouper. If you’re in shallow waters, chum should be small shrimp pieces and a whole shrimp should be used as bait. You will need heavier chum in open waters so be prepared to use a mix of ground-up fish and bread.
Big Red Groupers will need live baits such as ballyhoo, blue runners, pinfish, porgies, or small snappers. Cut baits such as Bonito, cigar minnows, ladyfish, squid, mullet, or sardines will also do the trick.
There you have it, the ten best-tasting fish that you can find from Florida’s West Coast to the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.