February 27, 2021
The Gulf of Mexico is a bustling ecosystem that hosts a variety of prize sport fish, reeling in visitors from all over the world. Its deep waters and beautiful beaches are great for family fun and to test the mettle of anglers alike.
When deciding on what the top prized fish to catch is in the Gulf, three things were considered: its angling challenge, physical characteristics, and table fare.
A crucial aspect of what makes any activity fun is the challenge it entails, since overcoming this challenge is the reward. In sport fishing, these are primarily finding where the fish are and reeling them in. Second, the physical appearance of a fish is part of what makes a good catch - whether its size, color, or a unique characteristic - and makes for some fond photographs or memories. Lastly, fish is an essential part of our diet and palate. Some fish are easy to catch, are not pleasing to look at, but have a wonderful flavor. A catch served fresh is often hard to beat.
With that said, let’s take a look at the prized 15 fish to catch in the Gulf of Mexico.
Red snapper is popular in the Gulf of Mexico, with a designated season that begins in June. During this time, anglers from all over hit the reefs, and even first-timers won’t have a hard time catching this fish. Red snapper ranges in weight from 3 to 30 pounds and is common in local cuisine.
These bottom-dwelling fish reach depths of more than 200 feet and can be huge water monsters, such as the Goliath Grouper which can weigh almost 500 pounds. Due to their size, they are a prized catch for anglers requiring some heavy tackle. Grouper is popular to eat all over the world, but the Gulf has a catch-and-release rule for these fish.
Wahoo is one of the fastest fish in the ocean with an average speed of 48mph making it a popular game fish. Its name in Hawaiian means “good to eat” or “delicious”, and is considered a delicacy. Wahoo is usually caught by high-speed trolling and while it doesn’t stay too far away from the shore, going out into deeper waters increases the chance of catching bigger-sized fish.
The Silver King, as it is most commonly known, is a prehistoric migratory fish known to visit close to the shores in Florida and Mexico. It is a highly sought-after gamefish because it can put up quite a fight and can acrobatically leap high out of the water. They average 80-100 pounds and have an average length of about 4-6 feet, which is a sight to see flying from beneath the water.
The Spanish mackerel is one of the fastest swimmers in the water and can make for a challenging battle with your rod and reel. On the other hand, the king mackerel, also known as the kingfish, is more popular among anglers for the challenge they present. They are fast swimmers, can leap out of the water, and are abundant in number. These two species can be found in schools although you may find a larger loner swimming in deeper waters.
More commonly known as the redfish, the red drum is widespread on the Atlantic coast. It is red with white undersides and has ocelli or eyespots near the tail. On average it weighs about 10-20 pounds, and its flesh has a delicate flavor. It frequents shallow flats as well as grassy and rocky shores. Larger redfish are called Bull Reds when it exceeds 27 inches in length.
Also known as speckled seatrout, this inshore fish averages about 3-4 pounds in weight, with 10 pounds as a trophy-sized catch. It’s often in shallow grass flats with structures, near mangroves, or in sandy bottoms. It’s silver in color with a light prismatic sheen, dark spots that extend from the tail to the dorsal fin, and has only one or two sharp teeth on the roof of its mouth.
These dark brown side-swimming flatfish may not be the prettiest catch, but it puts up a fight and is prized for its mild-flavored white flesh. It’s a small fish only averaging about 1-3 pounds, but it camouflages itself well in sandy bottoms. They prefer deeper, cooler waters, and can be found in rocky areas.
This amberjack is a game fish that can reach up to 6 feet long and weigh up to 20-40 pounds. It’s typically dark bluish-grey and has an amber-colored band running across its lateral line, which can get darker when excited. Anglers consider this as one of the most challenging fish to reel in, which grants bragging rights when finally hooked.
The crevalle is a tough catch and can test a grown man’s strength and endurance. It has a bright yellow anal fin and a dark spot on its gill cover, and weighs about 20 pounds on average but can go up to 40 pounds. It’s normally caught while trolling near the shore in deeper waters around wrecks or reefs. It’s not particularly flavorful and is mostly sought after for sport.
Sheepshead is commonly found near rocky bottoms or structures such as mangroves, rocks, docks, and piers. This fish loves oysters, clams, and crustaceans and uses its eerie human-like teeth to grind up hard shells. It spawns nearshore during the earlier part of spring before going back out to the deeper waters.
Also called the dolphinfish, mahi-mahi is plentiful along the Gulf Coast and is widely sought after for its sport and table fare. This bright green and yellow fish prefers deeper waters and likes to hide under floating debris but has been known to go close to shore. It’s an easy catch and will respond to almost any common bait, but they are swift and can leap out of the water.
Cobia grows fast and can easily reach sizes of up to 100 pounds. It's abundant, has a wonderful flavor, and is easy to catch which makes it an angler’s favorite. It can easily be mistaken for sharks in appearance with its dark gray back and a white underside. They prefer shaded areas, such as anchored boats and floating debris.
Even though the Gulf has blackfin and bluefin tuna, the real bucket-list fish is the yellowfin. An average size catch in these waters is around 40-60 pounds, but it’s easy to come across one as much as 180 pounds. They reside far offshore, so anglers usually higher a charter for an entire day (or two) to reel in these beauties. The further out you go, the bigger they get.
The blue marlin is probably the most exhilarating prized fish in the Gulf’s deep waters. Usually, only the veteran anglers, referred to as “big boys” of saltwater fishing, go after the Big Blue, which on average is about 11 feet in length with a weight of 200-400 pounds, but it has been known to reach over 1000 pounds. These blue beasts are most recognizable for their distinct dorsal fin and long spear-like upper jaw.