By Jasmin Graham and Melissa Crouch
Fishing is an enjoyable pastime, especially here in our area. In fact, there are approximately 4 million saltwater and freshwater anglers in the state of Florida.
I love saltwater fishing for several reasons:
1) You get to be outside enjoying nature.
2) Crisp sea breezes and the smell of sea salt.
3) Every catch is a surprise, with so many fish in the ocean, you never really know what you are going to get.
4) The opportunity to unplug; fishing is an activity where you can often just relax.
5) I love to eat fish and there is something particularly satisfying about catching your own dinner.
Have I persuaded you to try your hand at fishing? If so, I’d like to help you get started on your fishing journey with this quick guide for new anglers.
Step 1: Obtain a Fishing License
In Florida, you need a saltwater fishing license if you are over 16 unless you are a Florida resident age 65 and older or are otherwise exempt. You can purchase your license online at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com, through the Fish|Hunt FL mobile app (which conveniently stores your licenses for you) or by phone at 888-FISH-FLORIDA (888-347-4356). Licenses can also be purchased in person at your local tax collector’s office or a license agent such as a tackle store. If you are a Florida resident and plan on only fishing from the shore, you can get a one-year shoreline fishing license at no cost. And don’t forget about our saltwater fishing license add-ons; if you are fishing for snook, spiny lobster, several reef fish species, sharks from shore or using traps to catch blue crab or stone crab, you’ll need to have these add-ons on your license.
By purchasing a fishing license, you also are supporting the Sport Fish Restoration Program, which funds fishing outreach and education, boat ramp construction and maintenance, artificial reef construction, fisheries research, stock enhancement, and fisheries habitat management. Any fishing gear and boat fuel you purchase will also support this program, so your investment in your hobby will come back around to make fishing even more accessible. Learn more at MyFWC.com/SFR.
Now the question is, what gear do you need?
Step 2: Become Familiar with Your Gear
There are a few must haves for fishing gear. First and foremost, you are going to need a fishing rod and reel. There are many options to choose from but, for beginners, I recommend a spin-cast rod and reel or a spinning rod and reel. The spin-cast reel offers a push-button control to release the line, which makes casting a breeze. For a spinning reel, instead of pushing a button to control the release of fishing line, you must manually manipulate the bail, which is a piece on the reel that guides the line back onto a spool. Choose the rod and reel you think will work best for you.
Next, you’ll need fishing line, non-stainless-steel circle hooks (which are more likely to hook the fish in the corner of the mouth) and a dehooking tool. If you want to fish the bottom, you might also want to pick up some small weights and, if you want to fish the surface or middle of the water column, you may want to pick up some floats or bobbers.
Learn how to rig up your gear by watching our how-to videos on our YouTube channel at YouTube.com/FWCSaltwaterFishing and checking out our How to Fish page at MyFWC.com/Marine by clicking on “How to Saltwater Fish.”
Lastly, you’ll want to think about what kind of bait you’ll use, which will vary based on which species you want to target. Shrimp and small fish are good live bait to start out with. Now that you’ve got what gear you need, it’s time to pick a fishing spot.
Step 3: Decide Where to Fish
Where you fish can have a big impact on what you catch. Of course, it’s impossible to know where the fish are at all times and fish aren’t always hanging out in the same places but there are some ways you can make informed decisions about where to fish. FWC’s Boating and Angling Guide maps are a great resource to learn about fishing locations. These guides are available without cost at many marinas, tackle shops, boating supply stores and other marine businesses; or by visiting ocean.floridamarine.org/boating_guides.
If you plan on fishing from shore, try fishing places with structure. Maybe there are a few piers where fish seem to be biting more than others, try checking out those. If you plan on fishing from a boat, you can find boat launches and learn where artificial reefs have been deployed on our website, MyFWC.com. You can also check with local tackle shops for tips on the best places to fish. For more on fishing locations, visit our Where to Saltwater Fish page at MyFWC.com/Marine. For safety’s sake, remember to tell somewhere where you are headed before you leave.
Once you have your spot, it is very important to understand the rules and regulations before you go fishing.
Step 4: Understand the Rules and Regulations
Fishing regulations are available in paper booklets and can also be found online at MyFWC.com/Marine by clicking on “Recreational Regulations.” You can also find them in the Fish Rules app that can be downloaded onto your smart device. Read through the regulations before you go. Do you understand the terms (bag limit, size limit, closed season, etc.)? Do you understand how to measure your fish? Do you feel comfortable identifying common fish you might encounter? (Fishing Lines field guide, also found on our website, is a great resource for this.) What fish may you harvest and at what size? How many of each fish may you harvest? These are important things to understand before you go fishing.
Step 5: Go Fishing
Finally, the time has come! You have your license, you have your gear, you’ve read the rules and you’ve arrived at your fishing spot. Now it’s time to cast out and catch yourself a fishing memory. One of the most exciting things about fishing is feeling that sudden tug on your line as a fish grabs your bait. Reel it in and reel it in fast. Safely remove hooks using a dehooking tool, wet your hands before handling fish and support the fish horizontally. Don’t handle the fish too long and safely release any fish you aren’t keeping. Remember, to be a conservation minded angler don’t leave trash behind and be sure to recycle your monofilament line in an appropriate receptacle.
I hope you grow to love saltwater fishing as much as I do. It’s relaxing and it’s a great way to enjoy the outdoors. FWC also offers saltwater angler recognition programs through Catch a Florida Memory. Learn more at CatchaFloridaMemory.com or like and follow Catch a Florida Memory on Facebook. There are nine Saltwater Grand Slams that reward you with prizes for catching various fish in a 24-hour period, Saltwater Reel Big Fish rewards you for catching fish exceeding a certain length, and there are 70 fish you can try adding to your Saltwater Fish Life List. These are fun programs for both kids and adults to participate in. So, dive into these fishing resources, get out there and let’s go fishing!