This article is Part 4 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.
Appearance: Naturally, the Blue Marlin has a blue-ish black back with a silvery-white underbelly. The tips of the fins are pointed, and do not have black spots. The upper jaw elongates into a sharp spear. The lateral line (the line that runs along the middle of the fish on its sides) looks similar to an interwoven net but can be hard to see in larger adults.
Size: Largest Atlantic Marline species, weighing up to 1,400 pounds and reaching a length up to 16 feet.
Habitat: Offshore Waters
Behavior: Feeds during the day on other fish and squid. The Blue Marin is a lone wolf, often hunting alone. Be careful of the spear-like bill; when under duress or while hunting, the Blue Marlin has been known to use its spear to injure an attacker or prey.
Fishing Tips & Facts: Hemingway often wrote about this ultimate big game fish. Be prepared to rig heavy and expect a 4 – 6 hour fight.
Long Bill Spearfish
Appearance: The Long Bill Spearfish has a dark blue colored body shading to silvery-white underneath. Unlike the rest of its fins, which are brownish black, its dorsal fins (the fins on the top of the fish) maintain a bluish color like the body. Of its two dorsal fins, the first one is lengthy, forming a peak at the front. It has two anal fins (the fins on the underbelly, just before the tail fin), a round cross section and an upper jaw that elongates into a spear.
Size: Up to 100 inches with an average weight between 20-40 pounds but records indicate a 61 pound fish.
Habitat: Deep Offshore Waters
Behavior: This fish is uncommon, often dying before it reaches 5 years of age. Feeds mainly on fish and squid at the surface.
Did You Know: The Sailfish is Florida’s saltwater State Fish?
Appearance: The Sailfish has a dark blue-black body, fading towards a silvery-white underbelly. The Sailfish gets its name from its large dorsal fin, which is sail-like in appearance and has black spots. The pelvic fins (fins on the underbelly, closest to the front of the body) are long and narrow. The upper jaw is elongated into a spear shape. The Sailfish has scales, but they are embedded beneath the epidermis (the outer layer of flesh), and the lateral line curves over the pectoral fins (the fins on the sides).
Size: Up to 11 feet, 220 pounds
Habitat: Offshore Waters
Behavior: Grows rather quickly, reaching up to 4-5 feet within a year. Feeds aggressively on fish and squid. Females swim slowly near the surface during summer spawning with one or more males accompanying her.
Fishing Tips & Facts: Blue Runners, Pinfish, Mullet, Scads, Ballyhoo, and squid are most attractive to the Sailfish. It is a great catch-and-release sport fish, being known for its fast runs, acrobatic jumps, and head-shaking attempts to throw a hook. Sailfish tire easily and should be revived after a long fight to ensure their survival.
Appearance: The Swordfish has a brown or purple back, which fades into a lighter underbelly. It has an elongated, wide, flat, sword-like upper jaw and large eyes. Its first dorsal fin is very high, rigid and short. The Swordfish has a single keel fin (the fin just before the tail, or caudal, fin) on each side of the caudal peduncle (the part of the fish where the caudal fin meets the body) and does not have pelvic fins, scales or teeth.
Size: Up to 15 feet, weighing about 1400 pounds. Swordfish over 200 pounds are usually female.
Habitat: Deep offshore waters; found about 2000 ft. below the surface.
Behavior: The Swordfish often takes to the surface at night and feeds mostly on fish but may also consume invertebrates.
Fishing Tips & Facts: Fishing at night for Swordfish often involves the use of chemical or other lights and heavy 8/0 to 11/0 hooks drifted with balloons to help detect the strike. Unfortunately, this fish is heavily overfished internationally.
Appearance: The body of a White Marlin is dark blue to brown, fading to a silvery-white belly. Its dorsal fins are dark blue with black spots. The tips of the first dorsal, pectoral, and anal fins are rounded. The upper jaw elongates into a spear shape. It has scales that are embedded, with a lateral line that curves over the pectoral fin.
Size: Up to 9.5 feet, 180 pounds.
Habitat: Offshore waters throughout the Atlantic and Caribbean.
Behavior: The White Marlin will use its bill (the tip of its snout) to stun its prey, which usually consists of squid and pelagic fish, before eating.
Appearance: The Cero Mackerel has a bluish-green back, silvery sides with silvery-yellow spots that may form broken lines and a silvery belly. There is also a yellowish stripe on its sides that extends from the pectoral to caudal fin, with the lateral line sloping gently from behind the gill cover to the tail. You may also notice a bluish-black blotch on the front of its first dorsal fin.
Size: Up to 36 inches.
Habitat: This fish occurs in coastal waters, primarily over coral reefs and other structure, mainly in south Florida.
Behavior: This specific Mackerel will not stray far from South Florida. It feeds on small fish and squid and spawns offshore in midsummer.
Appearance: This Mackerel does not exhibit any spots in adulthood but may present with yellow spots as a juvenile. It does have a dark blotch on the front of its first dorsal fin and the lateral lies drops sharply below the second dorsal fin. The back is bluish-green and the belly and sides are silvery.
Size: Up to 72 inches.
Habitat: This species tends to inhabit coastal to offshore waters, occasionally being found in deep water. It can often be found around piers.
Behavior: This is a schooling fish that migrates north from south Florida waters in spring. It feeds mainly on fish and spawns offshore in mid-summer.
Fishing Tips & Facts: The King Mackerel will take both natural and artificial bait, including porgies, herring, Spanish sardine, ballyhoo, mullet, flashy sub-surface lures or large fish-like plugs. 20-pound line and tackle should be used, possibly even heavier for the larger fish, with a wire or mono leader. LEarn mroe with our King Mackerel FIshing Guide.
Appearance: The Spanish Mackerel also has a bluish-green back, silvery sides, a silvery belly and a bluish-black blotch on its first dorsal fin. However, it also presents with irregular golden-yellow spots on its sides. The lateral lines slope gently from behind the gill cover to the tail.
Size: Up to 36 inches.
Habitat: This species can be found all throughout Florida waters, inshore, offshore, and nearshore, except in north Florida during the winter. It often inhabits grass beds and reefs.
Behavior: This Mackerel is also a schooling fish that migrates north in the spring and returns to the south when the water temperature dips below 70°F. It feeds on small fish and invertebrates and spawns offshore from spring to summer.
Fishing Tips & Facts: The Spanish Mackerel is quite easy to catch, given that it is an aggressive eater and will take both natural and artificial bait. A pro tip for find this fish is to troll for birds diving on schools of baitfish, as this Mackerel will often force baitfish to the surface. You can troll or cast with small, shiny spoons, dusters, or jigs. Light spinning or bait-casting tackle with 10- to 15-pound monofilament line should do the trick, but you will need 30- to 60-pound monofilament leader because of this fish’s razor-sharp teeth.
Appearance: The Wahoo has a slender body with a dark bluish-green back, silvery sides and a whitish belly. It has 24-30 wavy, dark blue bars on its sides, a low and long first dorsal fin and elongated jaws that form a pointed beak with triangular finely serrated teeth.
Size: Up to 98 inches.
Habitat: This Mackerel is not usually found in schools and hangs out in offshore waters.
Behavior: Feeds on fish and squid and is known for its remarkable runs and shifts of direction.
Fishing Tips & Facts: Catch this fish by trolling bait and using artificial lures on flatlines.
Atlantic Bonito (a.k.a. True Bonito or Northern Bonito)
Appearance: This fish has a dark blue back and upper sides with diagonal stripes on its back and relatively short pectoral fins.
Size: Up to 36 inches.
Habitat: This Mackerel is rarely found in the Gulf, mostly inhabiting coastal to offshore Atlantic waters.
Behavior: Feeds on small fish and invertebrates.
Appearance: The Blackfin Tuna has bronze strips on its sides, dusky second dorsal fins and dark finlets with white edges. Its long pectoral fin nearly reaches below the beginning of the second dorsal fin and the second dorsal and anal fins are not elongated.
Size: Averages at about 28 inches.
Habitat: This fish inhabits coastal to offshore waters.
Behavior: Feeds on small fish, invertebrates, and plankton.
Appearance: The back of this species is dark blue-black and the belly is silvery-white. The first dorsal fin is yellow or blue, the second dorsal fin is reddish-brown and the anal fin and all finlets are bright yellow with black edges. The second dorsal and anal fins are short, as is the pectoral fin, which does not reach the area between the first and second dorsal fins.
Size: The Bluefin is the largest of the Tuna species, averaging at about 78 inches.
Habitat: Offshore waters
Behavior: Feeds on fish, squid and sometimes crustaceans.
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Little Tunny (a.k.a. Bonito or Blue Bonito)
Appearance: This Tuna has broken, wavy, diagonal dark strips on its back, 3-7 dark spots under each pectoral fin and short pectoral fins.
Size: Up to 48 inches.
Habitat: Coastal to offshore waters.
Behavior: This is one of the most common Tuna species in Florida. It feeds on small fish and invertebrates.
Skipjack Tuna (a.k.a. Oceanic Bonito)
Appearance: The Skipjack Tuna has a dark purplish-blue back, fading to silvery lower sides and belly, with 4-6 horizontal stripes on the lower part of its sides. The pectoral fins are short.
Size: Up to 43 inches.
Habitat: Offshore waters.
Behavior: Feeds on fish and invertebrates.
Appearance: This Tuna has a golden-yellow stripe on its sides, with yellow second dorsal fins and finlets that may be trimmed in black. The second dorsal and anal fins are elongated; the long pectoral fin reaching below the beginning of the second dorsal fin.
Size: Averages at about 60 inches.
Habitat: Offshore waters.
Behavior: The Yellowfin Tuna feeds on fish and invertebrates and spawns in the summer.
We have finally reached the final installment of the Native Saltwater Species article series. Who knew there were so many native species to our lovely Florida coasts.