The Florida Middle Grounds are a coveted fishing spot for anglers of all backgrounds. Everyone is treated alike in these deep waters from private boat owners to yacht owners to charters. These waters will test every level of angler. Each fisherman will be able to find their targeted challenge and will leave with tons of fish.
The Middle Grounds are located 70+ miles off the shore of any given part of West Coast Florida. It will take a vessel with some serious power to make it out that far.
What Makes Up the Middle Grounds?
The Middle Grounds are a 460 square mile series of ridges on the west coast Florida continental shelf. These ridges run as long as 40 miles and are up to 10 miles wide. While the series of ridges makes up a large portion of this intricate fishing hot spot, individual banks can be found throughout the 460 sq. mi. area.
The loop current supplies the Middle Grounds with nutrients and warm tropical waters, making it a perfect location for various coral species to settle. The settlement of these coral species makes the Florida Middle Grounds reef system the northernmost living coral reef in the Continental U.S.
Waters in the Middle Grounds range from about 80 feet from the top of the ridges to as much as 150 feet into the ridge trenches. The banks found throughout will provide some shallower water, 30 – 50 feet. In these waters you will find a sunken treasure. Dubbed the ‘Middle Ground Shipwreck’, the sunken tugboat Gwalia was discovered in 2004. Over the years, this shipwreck has become a popular fishing spot within the Florida Middle Grounds. If you are into scuba diving, the tugboat offers an intriguing diving experience.
With help from the loop current, there are various tropical & subtropical and Carolinian & Caribbean aspects. There are approximately 170 species of fish, 70+ types of mollusks, 20 species of stony coral and over 100 species of algae.
Where Are the Middle Grounds Located?
If you want to take a simple day trip to the Middle Grounds, you should expect to have at least a 16-18-hour day. You will want to leave early in the morning, we’re talking like 2:30am. For the night/early morning anglers, this won’t be a problem. If you are not one of those, we suggest going to bed early! Be sure to be comfy for the 2-3+ hour trip to the Middle Grounds. Depending on where you are setting off from, you will have a minimum of 75-80 miles before you reach the edge of the Middle Grounds.
The ridges, banks, and wrecks that make up the middle grounds run parallel to the northwest shelf off the coast of West Florida. Longitude and latitude of the center of the 460 square miles of the Middle Grounds are located at 28.590° N, 84.2069° W (28°27’30” N, 84°12’30” W).
Running from the water near Ingman Marine Sarasota will run you about 128 miles to the MGs. Leaving from Port Charlotte? You can add another 40+ miles to your trip. Moving even further south to our N. Ft. Myers locations, expect a 190-mile round trip. If you are running out of Tampa Bay, you can expect a long 100+ mile ride northwest to the Middle Grounds. Coming from the panhandle? Expect 90+ miles to be added to your motors, for each way.
What Kind of Power Does it Take to Get There?
To get out to the Florida Middle Grounds, you will need a lot of HP to make it. Today’s industries manufacture high quality boats and motors to make it out to the Grounds with little effort. You will want to be sure you have at least 2 reliable outboard motors rigged. These motors should have at least 250 HP each. We weren’t kidding when we said you will need a lot of power!
The larger the boat the better. Larger boats take to the open seas much better than their smaller counterparts. Boats with deep hulls cut through the waves to give a smoother ride on your long trip out.. Offshore boats are equipped with the space, power and amenities to make it the distance. Be sure to set up your vessel with comfy chairs, plenty of rod holders & rod storage, ice to store your catch, coolers to keep the drinks cold, plenty of food to feed your company and a bunch of bait and tackle!
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Which Kinds of Fish Are Found in the Middle Grounds?
Luckily for visitors of the Florida Middle Grounds, the loop current brings many tropical and subtropical fish to the region. You will be able to see pelagic species and bottom fish species. The reefs, wreck, ridges and trenches attract all sorts of fish for each type of fisherman to target.
The Middle Grounds are where the pelagic fish like to live. You can target Dolphin (Mahi), Blackfin Tuna and Wahoo. Popular Middle Ground bottom fish consist of various snappers: Vermillion, Mangroves, Lane, and Reds. A variety of groupers corral in the Middle Grounds as well, such as: Gags, sScamp and Red Grouper. Other species consist of the delicious Cobia, Amberjack, Kingfish and Red Porgies. With such a large hodge-podge of species, you can bank on bringing home your daily bag limit of almost any species you target.
The Gags like the warm water and reefs of the Gulf of Mexico Middle Ground. The average grouper weighs 12-20 lbs. Open season for Gag Grouper in Gulf federal waters is from June 1st to December 31st. Gag Grouper offers some of the best eating; a homemade Grouper sandwich is a must!
If you are looking for a speed demon, Wahoo is the perfect target. With their speed and fighting attitude, you can bet that you will have your hands full. The subtropical and tropical waters that make up the Middle Grounds are home to everyone’s fair share of these fighting creatures.
Mahi can be caught year-round in both state and federal waters. With that said, April-September are the prime months for Dolphin fishing. This species likes water depths greater than 80 ft, but the warmer water during the summer months will bring them to the top of the water.
Mangrove Snapper can be caught year-round. While in the Middle Grounds you will want to target these fish during the night or early in the morning. Also known as ‘Mangos’, these fish are a highly respected game fish.
More commonly known simply as Kingfish, this species can be fished for year-round. The most popular season for King Mackerel fishing in the Middle Grounds is spring, when the waters are the warmest in that part of the Gulf . The deep ridges and reefs of the Middle Grounds make up a perfect habitat for Kings.
The greater Amberjack like to stick to warm waters, making our Gulf of Mexico a prime location. Adult Amberjacks get really big and will give you a good fight.
One of the hardest fish to catch is the Hogfish. If you manage to catch some of these, be prepared for some good eating. Hogfish provide a delicious food source and are well worth the fight.
Thanks to the loop current pulling in the tropical waters from the Caribbean, there are Triggerfish that inhabit the Middle Grounds. Triggerfish can be found in both southerly tropical waters and the Gulf’s sub-tropical waters. Be careful when taking Triggers off the line; to protect themselves, they erect 2 spines that can be dangerous to the anglers’ hands.
If you plan on fishing near the Gwalia wreck or the Middle Grounds Reefs, you can expect to catch plenty of Red Snapper. Red Snapper tend to travel in schools and populate water depths from 30 to 200 ft. In these deep waters, it is suggested that you use cut bait like fish or squid to get their attention.
The Blackfin Tuna have shorter bodies. What they lack in size they make up for in speed. These tunas are fighters; they will give any fisherman a challenge.
Cobia can be caught year-round, making them perfect Middle Grounds targets. You are likely to find this species close to the reef system or the Middle Grounds wreck. Cobia are known to put up the biggest fight once you get them in the boat.
Throw Your Lines When the Time is Right
As many know, fishing is a calculated yet patient sport. Even though the Florida Middle Grounds are highly populated with over 150 different fish species, the fish still respond at predictable times.
We suggest before the sun comes up, you target the snappers and you may even get lucky with some grouper. At sunrise, try throwing out some flat lines to pick up heavy fish like the Kingfish and Wahoo. In the afternoon, the Amberjacks start to bite. In the evening, the Mangrove Snapper come back out to play. Throughout the day, you can catch the Vermillion Snapper, Bar Jacks, Porgies and Triggerfish.
The Florida Middle Grounds is such a large location you will rarely see another boat close enough to creep into your territory. With all that territory, you and anyone on the vessel with you will likely catch your share of any targeted species you try. There are so many species out there, so don’t be afraid to step outside of the norm and target an interesting species, or maybe your first lesser known species.
Having the Right Tool for the Job
With some of the most popular species in the Middle Grounds being bottom dwellers, we recommend bringing some deep-sea bottom jigs. You will want to use a 5-8 oz jig with a bright tail color to catch the attention of these reef fish. When fishing with these bottom jigs, use a heavy rod with a sturdy backbone. Keep a 50+ lb. test line. To entice fish like snapper, grouper, Cobia and Amberjack, drop the jig all the way to the bottom, using your rod to move it along the ridge by randomly raising and lowering the tip.
To snatch some pelagic species, try packing some deep diving plugs. Use lipped diving plugs to attract species like Mahi, Blackfin Tuna, Kingfish and Wahoo. The bigger the plug lip, the deeper the dive will be and the faster you can troll it. Depending on your targeted species and the water conditions, try to troll your lines at about 7 to 13 mph.
When angling for Mahi, Cobia or Tuna, you can take your shot with offshore surface poppers. The commotion made by using poppers generally brings surface strikes from pelagic species. The concave face of surface poppers cups the surface of the water and creates the popping sound, from which they are named. Fishing the Middle Grounds are hard work; be sure to secure your hook and hardware by using a through-wire method to ensure your gear stays intact.
Most fish, weather inshore or offshore, will bite on live bait, cut bait, or lures. With such a variety of species in the Middle Grounds, feel free to play around with your bait and lure methods. Squid is among the top deep-sea baits for many different species. Shrimp, crabs, pinfish, sardines and mullet are among the other popular bait choices. When using artificial lures, pick ones that generate movement and have bright colors to catch the fish’s eyes.
The good thing about the Middle Grounds is the variety of fish. Weather you use lures, live bait or cut bait, if you time your line drops just right, you are sure to catch whatever you target. Trolling, live baiting or deep jigging are among the most popular deep-water fishing tactics.
Florida Middle Ground History
Fishermen from Tampa Bay and Apalachicola Bay founded the Florida Middle Grounds in the late 1800’s. It has been said that around the 1880s, fishermen had pegged the Middle Grounds as a Red Snapper hot spot.
In 2004, a sunken ship was found within the Middle Grounds. This boat was the tugboat Gwalia, obviously sunken many years before. This sunken treasure has been nicknamed the ‘Middle Grounds shipwreck’. Fisherman, scuba divers and all-around adventurers have flocked to the Gwalia since its discovery.
The right boat with the right power is the start to a successful trip. With such a long distance from shore to the Middle Grounds, be sure to fit your vessel with all the essentials. You will want to have a comfy ride, plenty of fluids & food, your bait & tackle, proper deep-sea gear, and a plan of which species you want to target and when.
Fill your fish boxes up with enough ice to keep your fish frozen until you make it to shore. When you get home, store your fish properly and be ready for months of delicious meals. If you need some meal ideas, check out our Seafood Recipes page.