Different Water - Same Fish
Visiting anglers from northern states know the fish from their area and know how to catch them, but many are unfamiliar with the fish we catch around here and the techniques, lures and bait we use. While there are many differences between northern fish and Florida fish, all can be sorted into feeding habits and levels in their particular food chain. Many saltwater fish occupy a niche in a food chain that has an equivalent in freshwater.
Algae uses solar energy to grow. Insects eat the algae. In freshwater, bluegill, shad and other members of the sunfish family feed on these small insects. Here in salt water, pinfish and “white bait” occupy those same niches. Pinfish feed on mostly on small crustaceans just like bluegills eat hoppers. Mullet, sardines and menhaden are primarily vegetarian which mimics the diet of carp and shad in northern waters. These in turn are favorite prey for larger game fish.
A larger predator, like America’s number one freshwater gamefish the largemouth (black) bass, is like a snook or grouper in salt water. All are ambush feeders that use suction as they open their mouths to draw baitfish and crustaceans in. Bass eat bluegill, shad, minnows and crayfish while snook and grouper are filling up on finger mullet, whitebait, pinfish, shrimp and small crabs. Both species like structure including docks and rocks. The similarities go beyond diet though as both snook and bass can exist in brackish water with a mixed menu.
A pickerel or musky accelerating to attack a small fish is the same way a barracuda feeds. Barracuda, sennets and freshwater pike feed almost exclusively on baitfish and are ambush feeders using their excellent camouflage and speed to capture their prey. All have serious teeth and require a heavy leader to prevent cutoffs.
Catfish, particularly channel catfish, are a favorite freshwater target in Florida. In saltwater, we have two different catfish, one good table fare and the other a nuisance for most anglers. Our hardhead saltwater catfish has a reputation for venomous spines and worthless filets. The gafftopsail catfish though has a good following as a food fish and it puts up a good fight on light tackle. The spines are also venomous on these larger cats. Both the channel and the gafftopsail catfish will attack live bait or an artificial lure as will the occasional confused hardhead catfish but mostly they’re scavengers locating a meal with scent. Some folk jokingly insist that the redfish they hooked changed into a sailcat right at the boat.
Our saltwater speckled trout are not even remotely related to a rainbow trout. Even though they share the same name, the speckled seatrout is actually a member of the drum family and are more closely related to a redfish. Seatrout eat shrimp, crabs and small fish while cold water trout prefer insects, crayfish and baitfish.
Finding a freshwater fish to compare with a redfish is a challenge. They prey primarily on crustaceans like shrimp and crabs but also will chase down baitfish or a lure. In that way they are like bass. Unlike bass they are scavengers and are happy to eat a piece of cut bait on the bottom. Reds have been compared to carp since both make long powerful runs when hooked.
Marlin, sailfish, swordfish, jacks and tuna are in a deep-water league of their own as well as many nearshore fish like cobia, ladyfish, Spanish mackerel, tripletail, triggerfish, flounder, sharks and more.
With the exception of cold water trout in the mountains, anglers in southwest Florida enjoy the same angling opportunities as most northern fishermen. What makes this place so special is the variety of saltwater species. If you get lucky and catch a bunch, please limit your kill; don’t feel obligated to kill your limit. Catch and release helps conserve this valuable resource for everyone.
Kimball and Les Beery, authors of Angler’s Guide to Shore and KAYAK Fishing Southwest Florida, contribute this excerpts from both Waterproof books to promote the excellent fishing available in the Englewood area. These books are available locally at Old Florida Gallery on West Dearborn & www.anglerpocketguides.com & www.amazon.com as a download or hard copy.