Reef fishing is a type of bottom fishing that typically involves using live or dead bait to catch fish that live on or near a reef. As for types of reefs, there are rock reefs, coral reefs, or artificial reefs. That serves the purpose of attracting and holding fish and other marine life. There are thousands of natural and artificial reefs available for fishing around the Florida coast. Here, you can catch snapper, grouper, amberjack, cobia, tuna, barracuda, mackerel, and shark, among many others. These species like to hang out in the reefs, but sometimes venture out to the open water found on the reef’s outer edges.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) oversees the deployment of artificial reefs in Florida. Furthermore, since the FWC began the reef program, 3,800 artificial reefs along nearly 8,500 miles of coastline have been established. As for the reefs that have been implanted, most are constructed of concrete balls, slabs, man-made reef triangles, and concrete light poles. Basically, any material that is heavy enough to sink and will last for generations. Many artificial reefs are ships, planes, box cars, or school buses intentionally sunk to create marine environments for fishing and diving. FWC has sunk many ships to create artificial reefs in the Keys and the Oriskany near the Pensacola Pass. So, let’s dig into the top five best reefs available for fishing around the Florida coast.
1. Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS)
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) is North America’s largest natural coral reef system. It is also the third-longest barrier reef in the world. It comprises 2,900 square nautical miles around the Florida Keys and includes Florida Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean. Of the reefs in the sanctuary, some notable fishing spots are Sand Key; southwest of Key West, and Looe Key; south of Big Pine Key. As a word of caution, there are mooring buoys throughout the park, some of which you can fish from and some you cannot.
2. Biscayne National Park
Biscayne National Park is just south of Miami, encompassing over 172,000 acres. Even more, it contains several islands like; Boca Chita Key, Elliott Key, and Adams Key. In addition to natural reefs, there are some shipwrecks that the national park service offers snorkeling tours on the National Maritime Trail. But forget a visit to famous Stiltsville. About 95% of this national park is covered in water and mostly accessible by boat. Mooring buoys are available throughout the park on a first-come, first-served basis for a 4-hour period. It is important to note that the reef and shipwrecks are protected and only specified permitted species can be caught with a Florida fishing license. Of these species are spiny lobster, stone crab, shrimp, and blue crab.
3. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a popular spot located at Mile Marker 102.5 on the Overseas Highway. Moreover, it is found in the Florida Keys and adjacent, to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. At 70 nautical square miles, this dedicated recreational area is not only enormous but, also, the first undersea park in the United States. The facilities include beaches, diving, snorkeling, camping, a boat ramp, picnic areas, boat rentals, and boat tours. A point of interest is the Key Largo Dry Rocks which are known for beautiful natural coral reefs, shipwrecks, and the famous Christ of the Deep. A word of caution, fishing in this park is allowed only in designated areas.
4. Dry Tortugas National Park
The Dry Tortugas National Park can be found 70 miles west of Key West and the westernmost point of the Florida Keys. This park consists of seven keys known as the Dry Tortugas and lies on 100 square miles of near open water. Nevertheless, at the heart of this national park, is the picturesque Jefferson Fort. It is situated on the edge of the main shipping channel between the Gulf of Mexico, the western Caribbean, and the Atlantic Ocean. Without modern warning technologies, its location and shoals were responsible for many shipwrecks throughout its history. Further, making the Dry Tortugas one of the most concentrated areas for wrecks in North America. An access permit is required if you plan to stop your boat for any reason in this area. But can be completed on Garden Key. It is essential to note, that spearfishing and fishing spiny lobster is not granted.
5. South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s Marine Protected Areas
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s Marine Protected Areas (MPA) are located in the deep waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The MPAs are designed to protect varieties of snapper and grouper such as snowy grouper, speckled hind, and blueline tilefish. Albeit, you can find four different MPAs within these zones. This includes the North Florida MPA found near Jacksonville, about 60 nautical miles off the mouth of the St. John’s River. Secondly, St. Lucie Hump MPA is located east of Jupiter, approximately 9 nautical miles southeast of St. Lucie Inlet. East Hump MPA is near the beloved fishing spot “Islamorada Hump” about 13 miles southeast of Long Key.
Lastly, Oculina Bank is a natural coral reef that runs 17 miles offshore from Fort Pierce. It is regarded as the Oculina Habitat Area of Particular Concern, which first opposed restrictions in 1984. Here, trawling, bottom fishing, fish traps, dredges, or any gear type that can damage the reef are prohibited. On this final note, fishing can be done on a vast majority of the MPAs listed here, with some restraints in place. So check with area restrictions before heading out on the reefs.
Therefore, Florida contains countless artificial reefs that are man-made by either local counties or the FWC. Among these reefs, are the world’s third-largest natural reef system and numerous shipwrecks that create artificial habitats. Widely scattered patch reefs are also found around the state, providing habitat for fisheries. Leaving from any dock around the Florida coast, you don’t need to go far to find a reef or a wreck. Many Florida counties have their own artificial reef programs in addition to the FWC’s, with some of the best reef fishing spots listed here.