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Within an hour’s drive of Tampa lies a small city of Sarasota, often simply nicknamed “Paradise.” As one of the best vacation spots in Florida, it’s home to gorgeous beaches, nearshore reefs, and mangrove-lined flats. If you’re planning a trip here, you might want to explore the deep sea fishing Sarasota has to offer.
Why? First of all, local anglers don’t fool around. A Sarasota deep sea fishing trip is serious business with a lot of ground to cover and impressive trophies on the cards. Whether it’s a boat ride away or 60+ miles offshore, there’s always something biting.
Secondly, there’s no better way to celebrate Florida than hopping on board a charter boat and heading to the deep reefs, wrecks, and ledges. Florida’s Gulf Coast is one of the best places to fish in the US, so a trip to the state’s southwestern coast is a must for many anglers.
In this guide, we’ll cover the what, when, and where of the Sarasota deep sea fishing scene. So, without further ado, let’s get started.
What I can catch deep sea fishing in Sarasota?
The short answer is, you can target anything from Grouper and Snapper to Sharks, Mahi Mahi, and even Billfish and Tuna. Occasionally, anglers can come across African Pompano when fishing the deeper wrecks. The recipe for a successful trip is heading out with a local captain, fishing as far from the coast as possible, and knowing what’s in season.
Sarasota anglers have plenty of ground to cover and things to do. You can start with targeting local residents like Grouper and Snapper in the reefs and then move to deep wrecks and ledges, fishing for Mahi Mahi and Wahoo on your way there.
As you hit the deep waters off the Sarasota coast, you never know which species will make an appearance. Let’s talk about our favorite targets.
Mahi Mahi and Amberjack
While Mahi Mahi and Amberjack aren’t the most popular catches nearshore, you can target them on a deep sea fishing Sarasota charter. These species hang out 20+ miles from shore, and usually, the further you go, the bigger the potential catch.
If you’re a big game angler, the best option would be to book a charter with a local captain. A knowledgeable crew can take you to the local (and sometimes secret) spots where you can spot a couple of “reef donkeys.” Amberjack are fun and challenging species to target, earning their nickname for a reason. You can find them around larger wrecks in Sarasota’s deep offshore waters.
Mahi Mahi are slightly less common, although still possible to find on a summer deep sea trolling trip. Locals usually target them along color changes and weed lines, as well as over structure.
Billfish and Tuna
When you think about deep sea fishing in Sarasota, what immediately comes to mind? We bet it’s the aerial acrobats, Sailfish. As “Florida’s official state saltwater fish,” these monsters are on every angler’s bucket list.
However, hooking into one of them isn’t that easy. Sailfish aren’t among the most popular catches, but you can definitely find them if you know where to look. Even Marlin can end up at the end of your fishing line if you’re lucky enough!
Billfish aside, Sarasota deep sea fishing enthusiasts can also hook into Blackfin Tuna. These fish are available throughout the year, although anglers have a better chance to find them during the summer months. If Tuna are on your list, look at a 50-mile run offshore. Spots like the end of the Egmont Shipper Channel are a good place to start.
Grouper fishing in Sarasota is like its own religion. While nearshore waters teem with good numbers of these species, offshore grounds are home to larger catches.
As you venture out to the Gulf’s ledges and reefs, you enter into the Grouper kingdom. There are two major species available. Gag Grouper are known for their tough fighting skills and delicious meat. Plus, Gags tend to hang out around reefs closer to shore; anglers usually catch them around some type of structure.
The other local stars are Red Grouper. While they’re as tasty as Gag Grouper, Reds tend to take bait much more readily. Red Grouper fishing takes place in “swiss cheese,” areas with a hard bottom.
As a bonus, anglers can also target Scamp Grouper, a smaller member of the family. Scamp are popular bottom fishing targets, although you might expect to find them on the longer charters.
Snapper fishing in Sarasota is equally exciting. Lane Snapper are the smallest ones you can come across, although size doesn’t really matter in their case. Fishing for these Snapper is a great way for you to practice your bottom fishing skills.
Mangrove Snapper are arguably the most popular Snapper catches in Sarasota. When fishing for Grouper near structures, you can also go for Mangroves. Check out the offshore ledges, reefs, and wrecks.
The biggest of the bunch, Red Snapper, are a species that needs no introduction. As soon as the season begins, you can catch them out deep in federal waters. Some captains offer specialized Snapper trips where anglers will exclusively target Red Snapper.
As a bonus, Sarasota deep sea fishing charters also include the possibility of hooking into Yellowtail Snapper. While these are common Florida Keys catches, you can also find them in the deep waters out of the Sarasota coast.
Where to go deep sea fishing in Sarasota?
There’s one thing every angler who’s just getting to know Sarasota needs to keep in mind. It takes some time to reach the deep waters. The Gulf of Mexico near Sarasota deepens gradually. At 10 miles, the waters are approximately 60 feet deep. In order to fish 100 feet of water, you’ll need to venture 30 miles out.
Some of the most productive reefs, edges, soft corals, “breaks,” and drop-offs are around 100 miles offshore. Of course, there are good spots closer, such as The Elbow and the West Drop. However, the real angling gold mines require a boat ride far off the coast.
Sarasota County has an artificial reef program, building a new home for anything from Tuna to Wahoo. Reefs attract baitfish, which, in turn, attract larger predators. This is a great place to practice your trolling skills, especially when your target doesn’t show up on the surface.
Below are a few of the artificial reefs off the coast of Sarasota.
- Gary Serviss Reef: Made out of concrete culvert and steel barges, this reef is 42 feet deep.
- Tom Wallin Reef: Similar to the Gary Serviss, this 42′ reef is built of concrete culverts and mixer drums.
- Fallen Heroes Reef, CWO Kyle Jackson Trail: This is a 65′ reef made of Five Army tanks, reef balls, and landing craft.
- D9 Reef: This is one of the deepest reefs around, down at about 100 feet. It’s made of steel cane barge and fiberglass boats and is quite a ride away from Sarasota.
Feel free to check the rest of the Sarasota County artificial reefs here.
How to go deep sea fishing in Sarasota?
Now that you know what you can catch and where to do it, it’s time to talk about the most productive techniques. Trolling and bottom fishing are the most popular methods among Sarasota anglers. Which one to try depends on the fish species you’re after.
Trolling is the obvious choice if you’re after fast species, such as Tuna, Sailfish, Mahi Mahi, and Wahoo. When trolling in deep waters of the Gulf, your captain might also use trolling spreads and outriggers that allow using multiple lines in the water at the same time. This helps you cover more ground and increases your chances of hooking something interesting (and tasty!).
As you reach your destination, the captain will set a selection of baits while driving the boat around. Some captains use planer boards to get lures at consistent depths.
Although the speed usually depends on what you’re fishing for, the majority of the Sarasota deep sea fish species react well to fairly fast trolling speed. Locals prefer trolling across hard bottoms, artificial reefs, and along the ledges.
Bottom Fishing and Deep Dropping
With Grouper and Snapper among your top deep sea catches, bottom fishing is the go-to technique. You’ll be working the bottom on most of the trips, looking for fish on the ledges, and reefs, as well as various types of structure. So, how is bottom fishing done in Sarasota?
First, the captain will take you to one of his “honey holes.” There, he’ll anchor the boat, taking wind and current into account. While the anchoring position is crucial for a successful bottom fishing trip, you won’t need to worry about it when fishing with an experienced captain.
Some locals fish a dew free lines, while others even add a kite to the spread. The best approach to bottom fishing depends on the season and the targeted species.
Deep dropping is essentially bottom fishing but in seriously deep waters. If you’re booking a deep-dropping trip, get ready to fish over 1,000 feet of water at least 150 miles offshore. What are some of the deep-dropping targets in Sarasota? Swordfish, deepwater Groupers, Snappers, and Amberjack, to name a few.
Types of Sarasota Deep Sea Fishing Trips
You may not go too far out on a 10-hour trip but instead, check as many productive spots as possible within the same distance from shore. Some captains travel up to 40 miles on their 8-hour trips, while others go as far as 15.
Note that not all captains offer the same type of packages. Make sure to check with your crew what types of packages they offer and how far out they expect to go.
- 8-hour trips. A shorter, 6–8-hour trip typically takes you anywhere from 15 all the way up to 35 miles offshore. Depending on the season, you can get your hands on various types of Snapper and Grouper. An 8-hour trip allows you to fish various reefs and offshore waters without having to commit to longer rides.
- 10-hour trips. With a few extra hours on the water, you get the chance to check out what’s biting up to 50 miles offshore. This means you can come across Mahi Mahi, Cobia, Amberjack, Tuna, and even African Pompano. Grouper and Snapper are, of course, also among the potential catches.
- 12-hour trips. On a longer trip, you’ll get more chances to fish deep sea spots like The Elbow and the West Drop, which are a good 50 miles away. More time to run equals more time to fish for bigger Tuna, Wahoo, and Sailfish.
- Overnight & Multi-day trips. Such trips are mostly for the more seasoned anglers who want to do as much fishing as possible. An overnight trip can sometimes last for 15 or 18 hours, where you get the chance to venture 100 miles into the Gulf.
- Custom trips. When it comes to custom deep sea fishing Sarasota trips, the sky’s the limit. Local captains offer all sorts of packages, from the Federal Red Snapper trip during the season, which usually takes you up to 70 miles offshore to specialized Grouper trips.
When to go deep sea fishing in Sarasota?
When planning your deep sea fishing Sarasota trip, you need to keep in mind that not all fish bite at the same time. Of course, anglers can try their luck any time of the year; there are various large species that can be found within a few miles of Sarasota. The success of their fishing trip varies depending on the season, though.
Winter fishing is mostly concentrated on bottom fishing. January and February are all about Red Grouper, Mangrove, Lane, and Vermillion Snapper, as well as Mako Shark and even Blackfin Tuna if you venture further out.
Spring brings warmer waters and more baitfish, followed by pelagics – King Mackerel, Cobia, Wahoo, and Barracuda. Don’t worry if you can’t make it for the spring season, though: these guys stay in Sarasota well into fall.
March through May is a great time to target Red Grouper, Blackfin Tuna, and various Snappers. If you’re ready to venture out into deeper waters, chances are you might come across large Wahoo and Sailfish. Late spring is considered to be the beginning of the Billfish season.
As summer progresses, Blackfin Tuna, Wahoo, and Sailfish are among the potential catches on 8-hour trips. The period of June through August is good for catching Red Snapper, Triggerfish, Mangrove Snapper, Lane Snapper, Vermillion Snapper, Wahoo, and Sailfish. Gag and Red Grouper are also among the potential catches.
The fall months are perfect for reef species. Anglers target Sharks, Tuna, Snapper, and Grouper from September through December.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Do I need a license to go deep sea fishing in Sarasota?
If you’re fishing with a licensed charter, the crew usually covers licensing for everyone on board. Solo anglers aged 16 and over need to obtain a valid Florida fishing license before they hit the waters. However, there are exceptions to that rule. You can learn more about Florida fishing licenses here.
- Are there any Sarasota deep sea fishing tournaments?
Yes. One of them is the annual Sarasota Slam tournament, which is an event for anglers of all ages. In fact, there’s even a Jr. Angler Divison that gives younger fishermen a chance to land their own Billfish!
- Are there any regulations I need to know about?
It’s especially important to get familiar with the current fishing regulations before you go fishing. There are daily bag limits and seasonality for the species you’re planning to target. For instance, Red Snapper have strictly regulated seasons that change annually. Also, check out the saltwater regulations on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website.
- Is deep sea fishing in Sarasota kid-friendly?
Taking your kids fishing is loads of fun, but also stressful. The safest option is to book a family-friendly charter that caters to younger anglers. Peace of mind on a family trip is essential, and a lot of captains take it seriously. Make sure you spend your day on a fully outfitted boat with USCG-approved safety gear and equipment, along with an air-conditioned cabin and a functional bathroom.
- What do I need to bring on a Sarasota deep sea fishing trip?
If you book a trip with a local charter, they usually got you covered. All the necessary equipment and gear will be provided by the crew. Drinks, water, snacks, food, sunglasses, slip-resistant shoes, and an SPF lotion are among the essentials you may like to bring for the trip.
- Why should I book a Sarasota deep sea fishing charter?
Sarasota captains are being beaten up by storms and dealing with whatever the seas throw at them on a daily basis. Anglers can only benefit from the years of experience and knowledge of the captains. You don’t need to worry about daily limits, restrictions, and licenses; a professional crew takes care of everything, including the equipment.
- Can I keep my catch?
Sometimes. The answer depends on several factors, including what you’re targeting, bag limits, minimum/maximum sizes, and seasonality. Florida fishing regulations change, so it’s important to stay up-to-date on the current Sarasota fishing rules and regulations.
Deep Sea Fishing Sarasota – The Further You Go, the Bigger the Catch
When you think about a deep sea fishing Sarasota trip, you might wonder why anyone would choose this city when you have to travel so many miles offshore. Why wouldn’t you just pick any other nearby town and head out from there? Well, the answer is actually pretty simple. Sarasota captains offer a wealth of local knowledge that’s practically irreplaceable. So, book a trip with a local guide, and get ready for some deep sea fishing fun!
Have you ever been on a deep sea fishing Sarasota trip? What was your favorite catch? Let us know in the comments below!
This article originally appeared here and was republished with permission.