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Native Florida Saltwater Species: Part 3

Native Florida Saltwater Species: Part 3

This article is Part 3 of a multi-part series that will include saltwater and freshwater fish species native to Florida. Native saltwater species are those that inhabit saltwater bodies, having adapted over time to the high-salinity, and were not introduced to the area by humans.

Read Part 1 & Part 2

Grunt

Pigfish (a.k.a. Grunt)

Appearance: The Pigfish has a mottled light brown or gray body, often with a bluish tint, and many small orange and blue markings all over. Its small mouth ends below the front nostril.
Size: Up to 15 inches.
Habitat: Coastal waters.
Behavior: This small fish feeds on other small fish and invertebrates. It makes an audible grunting sound by grinding its pharyngeal teeth, with its air bladder acting as an amplifier.
Fishing Tips: This is a good bait fish.

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Tomtate (a.k.a. Brown Grunt)

Appearance: This Grunt has a gray to tan back, a white or silvery belly, a yellow-brown stripe on its side that extends from head to tail, a black spot at the base of the caudal fin (which may be faded in larger fish) and a mouth lined with bright orange.
Size: Up to 10 inches, 1 pound.
Habitat: Coastal waters.
Behavior: The Tomtate feeds on invertebrates, plankton, and algae. It makes an audible grunting sound by grinding its pharyngeal teeth, with its air bladder acting as an amplifier.
Fishing Tips: This fish is easily caught on small hooks baited with squid or cut bait.

White Grunt

White Grunt (a.k.a. Key West Grunt)

Appearance: The White Grunt has a bluish-gray body with touches of bronze or yellow, fading to a white belly with narrow, horizontal blue stripes extending from its head to the operculum (the part of the fish where the head meets the body). It has a large red mouth and a black blotch on the preopercle (cheek).
Size: Up to 18 inches.
Habitat: An adult White Grunt can be found in coastal to offshore waters. Juveniles will be found inshore.
Behavior: This Grunt also feeds on small fish and invertebrates and makes an audible grunting sound by grinding its pharyngeal teeth together.

Jacks

African Pompano

Appearance: The body of the African Pompano is deep and compressed, while the front of the head is steep and rounded. The body has a metallic-blue color, and the belly is white. The body will become longer with age. Its dorsal fin begins in front of its anal fin and neither fin has more than one finlet. This fish has scutes (bone-like projections) on each side in front of the caudal fin. A juvenile will have long, threadlike rays at the front of the dorsal and anal fins.
Size: Up to 42 inches, 40 pounds.
Habitat: The African Pompano is most often found in depths of 180 feet, often near reefs, wrecks, and ledges. Juveniles hang out in open waters.
Behavior: This is a schooling fish.
Fishing Tips: This fish will put up a great fighter and make for a yummy dinner.

Almaco Jack

Appearance: The body of the Almaco Jack is deep and more compressed than Banded Rudderfish or Greater Amberjack and is sometimes dark in coloration. The front of the first dorsal fin and anal fin are high and elongated and the anal fin is about 2/3 the length of the second dorsal fin.
Size: Average size is about 35 inches, 10 pounds.
Habitat: This fish is wide-ranging in offshore waters and is not a common catch. Juveniles are associated with sargassum.
Behavior: This species spawns offshore during spring, summer, and fall.

Atlantic Bumper

Appearance: This fish is quite colorful; the back is greenish-blue, the sides and belly are silvery-gold, and the anal and caudal fins are yellow. There is also a black spot on the caudal peduncle and a small black area at the rear edge of its gill cover. The lateral line is arched at the front of its body. Its body is deep and compressed with the lower profile being more curved than the upper profile.
Size: The average size of the Atlantic Bumper is about 10 inches, but it can reach up to 25 inches.
Habitat: This species can be found offshore or inshore in bays and estuaries.
Behavior: The Atlantic Bumper eats fish, invertebrates, plankton, and decaying matter. Juveniles are often found in estuaries in association with jellyfish.

Banded Rudderfish

Appearance: As a juvenile, the Banded Rudderfish will have six dark bars on its body and a dark stripe from its eye to the first dorsal fin. Once it reaches adulthood, those dark bands will disappear, and the body will be bluish, greenish, or brown in color with white tips on its caudal fin. The body of this fish is slender, with an anal fin that is half the length of the second dorsal fin.
Size: Usually under 24 inches, 10 pounds.
Habitat: This fish appears nearshore and offshore over hard bottom, generally in shallower water than other Amberjacks. Juveniles are associated with weed lines or floating debris and may follow sharks and other large fish.
Behavior: Adults feed on fish and shrimp. Spawning occurs offshore most of year.

Bigeye Scad (a.k.a. Goggle-eye)

Appearance: As the name states, the Bigeye Scan has very large eyes, with diameters greater than the length of its snout. It does not have detached dorsal and anal finlets, but it has two fleshy tabs on the inside rear edge of its gill chamber and scutes that present only on the rear part of the lateral line.
Size: Up to 24 inches.
Habitat: This species prefers clear oceanic waters.
Behavior: This funky looking fish is nocturnal, feeding at night on invertebrates and plankton.

Blue Runner

Appearance: The Blue Runner has a light-olive to bluish-green back, a silver-gray to golden belly, black tail tips and often a black spot on its gill cover. It also has scutes (bone-like projections) on each side just in front of its tail.
Size: This fish usually weighs under 1 pound but can weigh up to 4 pounds and reach a length of up to 20 inches.
Habitat: A juveniles will most likely be found offshore, while an adult will be in- or nearshore.
Behavior: The Blue Runner matures at about 9 to 10 inches, spawning offshore from January to August. It feeds on fish, shrimp, and squid. The young form schools near floating objects or structure.

Jack Crevalle

Crevalle Jack

Appearance: The Crevalle Jack has a bluish-green to greenish-gold back, a silver or yellowish belly, a prominent black spot on its gill cover and a black spot at the base of each pectoral fin. The second dorsal fin and anal fin are almost identical in size. Its body is deep, and the front of its head is steep.
Size: This fish usually weighs 3-5 pounds but can weigh up to 20 pounds.
Habitat: This species is common both inshore and in open waters.
Behavior: The Crevalle Jack can tolerate a wide range of salinities. It spawns offshore from March through September. Feeding mainly on small fish, this species forms schools and corners baitfish at the surface.
Fishing Tips: Learn tips and tricks to catch your next Crevalle Jack with our fishing guide.

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Florida Pompano

Appearance: The Florida Pompano has a dark greenish-gray back, silver sides, a yellowish coloration on its belly, and yellow on its throat as well as the pelvic and anal fins. The dorsal fin begins in front of the anal fin. The dorsal, anal, and caudal fins are short and upright, with the caudal fin being forked. The mouth is small, the forehead slopes gently backward and the body is deep and compressed.
Size: Up to 24 inches, 8 pounds.
Habitat: This fish hangs out inshore and nearshore, especially along sandy beaches, oyster bars and over seagrass beds, often in turbid water. It can be found in water as deep as 130 feet.
Behavior: The local movements of the Florida Pompano are influenced by the tide, and seasonal movements are influenced by temperature. It spawns offshore from March to September and feeds on mollusks and crustaceans, especially sand fleas.

Greater Amberjack

Greater Amberjack

Appearance: The Greater Amberjack has an olive-green or brownish back and silver sides, with a dark stripe from its nose to the front of its dorsal fin that “lights up” when it is in feeding mode. The anal fin is about 2/3 the length of the second dorsal fin. There are 11-19 gill rakers on each gill arch.
Size: This fish averages at 40 inches, 40 pounds but can reach up to 60 inches, 176 pounds.
Habitat: The Greater Amberjack is known for occupying rocky reefs and debris and wrecks, typically in 60 to 240 feet of water. It is sometimes caught nearshore in south Florida. A juvenile may be found near floating objects and in water less than 30 feet deep.
Behavior: This species is the largest of the Jacks. It is thought to spawn offshore throughout most of the year. Feeds on squid, fish, and crustaceans.
Fishing Tips: Learn all you need to know about Greater Amberjack with our all inclusive fishing guide.

Horse-eye Jack (a.k.a. Big-eye Jack)

Appearance: The Horse-eye Jack has a head that is a little less steep than a Crevalle Jack. It has darkly colored scutes (bone-like projections) on its sides, just in front of the tail. It may have a small dark spot on its gill cover, but not always. The caudal fin is yellow in color and its belly is scaly, except in juveniles less than 3 inches long.
Size: Up to 30 inches, 8.5 pounds.
Habitat: This species is often found in schools near offshore reefs.
Behavior: This fish feeds on other fish, shrimp, and other invertebrates.

Leatherjacket (a.k.a. Leatherjack)

Appearance: The Leatherjacket has a bluish-green back, silvery-white body and belly, and yellow pectoral and caudal fins. It has a long, compressed body with a nearly straight lateral line. The first dorsal fin has five well-developed, unconnected spines. The finlets present behind the dorsal and anal fins. It has tiny, embedded scales which make the skin look smooth.
Size: Up to 12 inches.
Habitat: This fish is found inshore in bays and estuaries, often in turbid water.
Behavior: It eats small fish and crustaceans.

Lesser Amberjack

Appearance: The Lesser Amberjack has a deep body with an olive-green or brownish back, silver sides, and a dark stripe that starts behind the eye and extends to the front of the dorsal fin. The anal fin is about 2/3 the length of the second dorsal fin and there are 21-24 gill rakers on each gill arch. A juvenile will have split or wavy bars on its sides.
Size: This fish usually only reaches a length of 20 inches, weighing in at 10 pounds.
Habitat: This Amberjack is found nearshore and offshore but is typically found in deeper waters (commonly 180 – 410 feet deep).
Behavior: The Lesser Amberjack is the smallest of the Amberjacks. It is believed to spawn offshore. It feeds on other fish and squid.

Lookdown

Appearance: The Lookdown has a silver and iridescent body, sometimes with brassy highlights. Its body is extremely compressed and deep, with a lateral line that is arched toward the front. The front of its head is very steep, and its pelvic fins are small. The front filaments of its second dorsal and anal fin are elongated. A juvenile will have spines on the front of its dorsal fin and elongated rays on the pelvic fin, as well as faint vertical bars that fade with age.
Size: Up to 12 inches.
Habitat: This fish lives in coastal waters and estuaries over hard or sandy bottoms.

Palometa (a.k.a Great Pompano)

Appearance: The Palometa has a deep body with gray to blue-green colors on top of its head and along the back, bright silver sides that also display four narrow bars (and possibly a fifth near the tail), and a yellowish belly. Its dorsal and anal fins are elongated and dusky or black with bluish edges.
Size: This fish is usually less than 20 inches, 1 pound.
Habitat: The Palometa inhabits clear waters along sandy beaches and bays, occasionally being found over reefs. It is most commonly found in south Florida.
Behavior: This species spawns offshore in spring, summer, and fall.
Fishing Tips: The Palometa readily strikes small artificial lures.

Permit

Appearance: The Permit has a deep, compressed body with a gray, dark or iridescent blue back and silver sides. It may sometimes have golden tints on its belly. Its forehead sharply rises to a hump them slopes back. The dorsal fin begins over the anal fin. The dorsal, anal, and caudal fins are long and sloped. The caudal fin has a narrow fork. A young Permit will have teeth on its tongue.
Size: This species averages a weight of 50 pounds.
Habitat: This fish can be found offshore near structure, inshore over grass flats and sand, and in channels.
Behavior: The Permit feeds on small fish and invertebrates, with the help of a specialized plate at the back of its mouth that helps them crush hard-shelled animals. It normally spawns in early summer and again in fall.
Fishing Tips: This line-stripping fish will take live crabs, shrimp, clams, and sometimes small fish.

Round Scad (a.k.a. Cigar Minnow or Hardtail)

Appearance: The Round Scad has a long, cigar-shaped body with a greenish-blue back, silver sides and a white belly. It also has small black spots along the lateral line and a narrow yellow stripe from head to tail. Its dorsal and anal finlets are detached.
Size: This species is typically 7 inches in length but can reach up to 12 inches.
Habitat: This fish is typically found in mid-water or near the bottom, but juveniles can be found at the surface.
Behavior: It feeds on plankton and spawns offshore throughout the year.

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Porgy

Grass Porgy

Appearance: The Grass Porgy has a dark-olive back and a pale tan to silver belly, with a dark bar that goes through the eye to the corner of the mouth, dark blotches on its sides that resemble bars and stripes, and a prominent dark spot near the beginning of the lateral line. It also has a dark V-shaped patch of color at the base of its caudal fin.
Size: Up to 10 inches.
Habitat: This fish inhabits seagrass beds of coastal waters.
Behavior: The Grass Porgy mainly feeds on invertebrates.

Jolthead Porgy

Appearance: This colorful fish has a body that is silvery to brassy in color with a bluish tint, a round, brown head, a blue line under each eye and a mouth with orange in the corners.
Size: Up to 24 inches.
Habitat: This fish can be found all the way from Rhode Island to Bermuda; from the northern Gulf of Mexico to Brazil in coastal waters up to a depth of 45 m (150 ft.).
Behavior: It feeds mainly on invertebrates.
Fishing Tips: This fish may cause ciguatera.

Knobbed Porgy

Appearance: The Knobbed Porgy has a deep body that is silver with a reddish tint. The steep front of its head is a dark, purplish-gray color with yellowish-bronze spots and the base of its pectoral fin has a large blue spot. An adult will have a strongly projecting nape.
Size: Up to 21 inches.
Habitat: This fish lives in coastal waters over hard bottoms from North Carolina to south Florida and the entire Gulf of Mexico.
Behavior: It feeds mainly on invertebrates.

Littlehead Porgy

Appearance: The Littlehead Porgy has a silvery body with faint bluish lines along the scale rows. The areas between the bluish lines can be brassy in color and there are many wavy, dark blue lines on its snout and cheek.
Size: Up to 18 inches.
Habitat: This fish lives in coastal waters over hard bottoms.
Behavior: It feeds mainly on invertebrates.

Pinfish

Appearance: The Pinfish has a silvery body with blue and yellow stripes and yellow fins. There is a large dark spot behind its gill cover. It has a small mouth with incisor-like teeth. It also has sharp spines on its dorsal and anal fins.
Size: This fish usually measures at less than 8 inches.
Habitat: It inhabits coastal waters near structure but may enter freshwater.
Behavior: It feeds on small fish and invertebrates.
Fishing Tips: The Pinfish is popular as live bait and is known for stealing bait.

Red Porgy

Appearance: The Red Porgy has a pinkish-silver head and body with several tiny blue spots and some yellow around the eyes and snout. Its head is round, and it is the only Florida Porgy with a round rear nostril as opposed to being slit-like.
Size: Up to 36 inches.
Habitat: It lives in coastal waters over rocky or sandy bottoms.
Behavior: This fish feeds on fish and invertebrates.

Sheepshead (a.k.a. Convict Fish)

Appearance: As its nickname portrays, the Sheepshead has a lightly colored body with vertical black bars. It has prominent teeth, including incisors, molars, and rounded grinders. The dorsal and anal fins have strong, sharp spines.
Size: This fish averages about 13 inches in length but can reach up to 36 inches.
Habitat: This species is often found in coastal waters near structure such as oyster bars, seawalls and in tidal creeks. It tends to move nearshore during late winter and early spring for spawning.
Behavior: This fish is what is known as a fractional spawner, meaning that it only lays a portion of its eggs at a time. This takes place in inshore waters, typically in March and April. It is an omnivorous fish, feeding mostly on crustaceans and small fish.
Fishing Tips: Anglers should use live shrimp, sand fleas or fiddler crabs on a small hook fished on the bottom. When cleaning this fish, beware of the sharp gill covers.

Spottail Pinfish

Appearance: The Spottail Pinfish has a brownish back, a lighter-colored belly, eight faint bars on its sides that are more visible in juveniles, and a large dark spot on its caudal peduncle. The edge of its gill opening is lined with dark color.
Size: Up to 18 inches.
Habitat: This fish lives in coastal waters with vegetated bottoms.
Behavior: It feeds mainly on invertebrates.

Stay Tuned

This listing is Part 3 of a 4-part series about Florida native saltwater fish species. Look for Part 4 next month and after that, stay tuned to our native freshwater species series.

Happy Fishing

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