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September 29, 2021

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10 Exotic Fish You Can Catch in Florida

10 Exotic Fish You Can Catch in Florida

Florida is one of the best fishing trip destinations in the United States. The state is surrounded by both the Gulf of Mexico and the North Atlantic Ocean, while the state is also known for its freshwater fishing which is made up of three million acres of fishable lakes, ponds, and rivers that invite over 1.2 anglers each year. 

Despite being part of one of the most diverse marine ecosystems in America, the state is also known for having exotic fish found from different parts of the world. Many fish were introduced to Florida’s marine ecosystem either intentionally or otherwise, some unfamiliar and some surprisingly foreign. As with most invasive species, the government applies no bag and size limits to these fish, encouraging anglers to keep catching them. 

Here's a List of 10 Exotic Fish Anglers Can Catch in Florida

1. Common Carp

Despite being a common fish, carp is nonnative to Florida and for most parts of the world in general. Introduced into almost every freshwater ecosystem except the north and south poles, the common carp has been a popular farm fish since the time of the Roman Empire. However, their tendency to destroy vegetation and evidence suggesting carp preying on the eggs of other fish has led to it being labeled as pests instead. 

Common carp were introduced in the United States during the 19th century, specifically in the regions of New York and Connecticut. Today, the common carp is one of the most popular game fish in America. Known for their big bodies, they can weigh as much as 100lbs with sizes ranging from 16” to 47”. They are tough fighters that anglers love to fish all year round.

2. Oscar

The oscar fish originates from South America and is part of the cichlid family. They are considered predatory fish, most known for their aggressiveness and huge appetites. Most oscar fish are oval-shaped and have fan-like fins, however, they can come in different colors like red, green, blue, and even a tiger-like orange striped variant. Oscar fish can weigh up to 3 lbs while having an average length of 10” to 14”.

They were introduced into the Florida marine ecosystem accidentally through ornamental fish trade. Through the years they have been considered a dangerous invasive species due to their aggressive nature. It is a popular gamefish for many anglers as they tend not to be picky eaters and will consume most bait.  Oscar fish are mostly found in South Florida where they thrive in warm waters.

3. Peacock Bass

Probably the most exotic fish on the list, the peacock bass cannot be found in any part of America except Florida. They are part of the cichlidae family and have no relation to bass species like the largemouth bass. They are also considered both an important food fish as well as a gamefish. While only found in Florida, they are specifically abundant in the Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties, and were introduced in order to manage populations of tilapia.

Peacock bass can be caught using fishing techniques like trolling, shoreline, or still fishing. Fly fishing is also a viable option for anglers as streamers like marabou have been seen as effective. They can be found in rocky parts of streams, shaded areas like underneath bridges, and waters with high vegetation. Peacock bass are also active during daytime where they are out hunting.

4. Black Acara

Another South American native fish is the black acara. It was introduced through the pet trade in Miami starting from the 1950s and is now a common south Floridian fish. It is also part of the cichlid and tilapia families. Black acara are defined by their gray, oval-shaped bodies, and dark blotches beneath the eye. They are small fish with their sizes ranging 8” to 10” while weighing only as much as a pound. These fish can mostly be found in creeks, lakes, and drainage ditches. Despite their size, they can act territorial to smaller fish.

They are mostly kept as pets which is how they became an invasive species and are easy to catch. These fish may be great for young anglers as well as those looking to practice. 

5. Great Snakehead

The next fish is a fairly common one, found mostly in Southeast Asia. It cannot be found anywhere in the United States other than southern Florida, where they are currently isolated in Broward county. In Asia, they are thought to have medicinal properties. Great snakehead are air-breathing fish that use a pair of suprabranchial chambers in order to breathe. They can survive multiple days out of water as long as they’re moist. They also weigh an average of 4 to 15 lbs and can range in size from 18” to 72”. These fish are bottom-dwelling ambush predators, typically found hiding behind submerged vegetation.

These species are considered one of the most dangerous invasive fish found in the local ecosystem. They cannot be re-released once caught and moving great snakehead across state borders requires permits from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

6.  Mexican Mojarra

The Mexican mojarra, also known as the Mayan cichlid fish is a medium-sized fish originally found in Central America. They are tough fish and can survive in high salinity, low oxygen, and even polluted waters.  These fish weigh an average of up to 2 lbs and can vary in sizes from 3” to 15”. 

They are an invasive species found in South Florida, specifically in Lake Okeechobee, Florida Keys, and Tampa Bay. Though the means of introduction into the local ecosystem has yet to be determined, most experts believe it was due to escaping fish-farms as these fish are known as popular food fish and are mostly bred in aquacultures. 

7. Lionfish

This next fish is one of the few exotic saltwater fish found in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, surrounding Floridian coastal waters. Lionfish are originally found in the Indo-Pacific regions due to their preference for warm waters. They were then first sighted in Florida around 1985 and have since been labeled as pests because of their tendency to compete for food against native fish. They have also been linked with the destruction of local habits and are venomous, with lionfish delivering toxins using their spines. All of these make lionfish an invasive species that’s hard to control. They are dangerous on many levels enough for the state government of Florida to enact monetary incentives of up to $5000 for anglers fishing in Florida.

8. Red-bellied Pacu

The next fish is known for its similarities to the red-bellied piranha. This is, of course, one of the survival tactics the red-bellied pacu uses in order to confuse predators.  Another fish introduced in Florida through the pet trade, the pacu is a fish that when put in ideal environments can grow exponentially. They can grow to be as heavy as 50 lbs or more, depending on the temperature, ecosystem, and diet. Oftentimes, pet owners find the fish too large after a certain point in time and find themselves dumping them in lakes. This is one of many reasons the pacu was introduced into the local ecosystem. 

Today, they are found in most canals and lakes in Florida and have made their way into the waterways of places like Missouri, Chicago, and Georgia. Anglers find the pacu the ideal fish in starting young anglers as they’re both easy to find and bait. 

9. Blue Tilapia

Known as the most widespread exotic fish species found in Florida, the Blue Tilapia is originally found in Africa in the Middle East. These fish thrive in a variety of habitats such as creeks, rivers, lakes, and canals. They are part of the cichlid family and can generally weigh around 5 lbs to 6 lbs and can be as long as 4” to 7”. 

Blue tilapia are dangerous for the local ecosystem in that they’ve been linked to increased pollution in many water bodies like the Silver Springs river where they outnumber native fish. They have changed many local ecosystems and have been the cause of the declining native fish populations. As an invasive species and a good food fish, the state of Florida does not impose any bag and size restrictions on the blue tilapia.

10. Walking Catfish

Walking catfish are native to Asia and can be found in freshwater lakes from Thailand to the Philippines. They get their name from their ability to get out of the water and use their pectoral fins in order to travel short distances. This unique trait was instrumental in aquaculture catfish escaping their farms and into lakes and canals. Not only are these fish dangerous to the local marine ecosystem, but they are also harmful to birds like heron and egrets. 

In most cases walking catfish thrive in being the dominant species and even enter aquaculture ponds preying on fish. 


Open Season

The government imposes no rules in terms of bagging, season, and size limits in order to encourage anglers to keep catching them. Of course, other than for sport, it is important for anglers to protect the environment we all use in fishing as a sign of respect for both the location and the craft, so we should all do our part in protecting local waters.