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If you’re looking for a Florida destination that boasts great fishing but with a more quiet and relaxed atmosphere, then Longboat Key might just be the place for you. Last in the line of the three barrier islands framing Sarasota Bay, Longboat Key’s fishing opportunities are excellent.
The island is only a mile wide, with the bay to the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the west. You can easily walk from the grassy flats to the white-sand beaches and quickly change fisheries. It doesn’t get more diverse than that. Both inshore and offshore anglers will have their hands full here, and if you’re a first-timer, don’t worry – there are experienced guides ready to take you out. So, let’s see what makes Longboat Key so special!
What fish can you find in Longboat Key?
The sky’s the limit! There’s a slew of species you can hook into when you cast a line from Longboat Key. On the side of Sarasota Bay, you can find Snook, Tarpon, Spotted Seatrout, Mangrove Snapper, Redfish, Flounder, and Jacks. Prefer fishing in the Gulf? Get ready for excellent action with a variety of Snapper and Grouper, Cobia, Amberjack, Sharks, Mahi Mahi… and the list goes on! Here are the best of the best:
Let’s start with the legendary Tarpon, the most notorious and coveted fish species in Florida. In these parts, you can chase the Silver King for most of the year (except winter) and be successful. When migrating Tarpon swarm the shallows of Sarasota Bay in May, the fun really begins!
The Longboat Key fishing community is a big fan of Tarpon, and who can blame it? These silvery beasts can grow to well over 100 pounds, they’re by far the hardest-fighting and most acrobatic inshore fish, and they’ll give you a run for your money. Migrating Tarpon roll into the surf and flats in late spring, all the while following bait fish on their journey. You can also spot them in the backcountry waters and intercoastal waterways.
That’s why the best way to get a Tarpon to bite is to use live bait. They’re not that picky when it comes to what kind of bait fish, as long as it’s alive – sardines, finger mullet, pinfish, and herring all work well. They’ll also take lures, especially soft plastics, topwater lures, and bucktails. Since you’ll be “bowing to the King,” you better have the gear to support the fight – heavy spinning tackle with at least a 50 lb fluorocarbon leader is a must.
Speaking of feisty bad boys, Snook easily makes our list of the best catches in Longboat Key. They’re one of the staple fish in the area, thanks to their impressive speed and strength. Snook are not always easy to find, and they’re even harder to reel in because they’ll fight you relentlessly. This makes them a challenge even for seasoned anglers.
Since they’re a tropical fish, they’re most active in late spring and summer. That doesn’t mean you can’t target Snook during the colder months, you just have to know where to find them. They’ll try to stay warm during the winter, hunkering in the residential canals. Later in the year, they stalk the flats, then move toward the beaches where they spend their summer and spawn.
Snook love to hunt around underwater structures where the water is fast-moving. Ambush predators that they are, they won’t be able to resist live shrimp or smaller bait fish. When it comes to artificals, they’re partial to spoons, jigs, and soft plastics. Flats fishing for Snook can be phenomenal and challenging in the best way, but you can also find them around bridges, potholes, passes, and mangroves. For a change of pace, night fishing for Snook is awesome!
Redfish & Spotted Seatrout
Redfish and Spotted Seatrout are quintessential catches all around Florida, and Longboat Key is no exception. They’re out and about whenever you hit the water, and often, where you find one, you’ll find the other. Shallow flats are a good place to target trophy specimens of both species, and summer is the perfect time to fish for them.
When you get to Longboat Key, fishing for Redfish is a great way to “warm up” to the fishery. They come in all shapes and sizes, and there are a lot of them, especially around flats, docks, and bays. “Tailing” Reds are the ultimate sport of sight fishermen – spotting the tail of a Bull Redfish cutting the surface of the gin-clear water in the flats is a unique thrill. The best way to tempt them is to use live shrimp, crab, and pilchards.
When it comes to Spotted Seatrout (aka Speckled Trout), your tactics will be a bit different. These toothy fellas like to hide in grass flats up to 10 feet deep because that’s where their favorite food is. Seatrout also hunt around mangroves and potholes, and they respond well to similar offerings as Redfish. We’re talking live shrimp, pinfish, and shiners. Artificals won’t fail you either, especially if you use soft plastic shrimp imitations and jigs.
Snapper & Grouper
Snapper and Grouper are some of the most sought-after and probably most delicious nearshore and offshore species you can find in and around Longboat Key. While there are many varieties you can target, all with their own seasonality, the best time to go after both species is in late spring and summer.
The best thing about these tasty fish is that you don’t have to travel far to get to them. Mangrove Snapper are a local favorite because you can easily get your hands on several when you’re fishing around deeper sections of the flats and – you guessed it – mangrove shorelines. Go offshore, and you could get your hands on Red Snapper during its open season, as well as Yellowtail, Lane, Vermillion, and more.
On the Grouper side of things, Gag Grouper are definitely the most common catch, closely followed by Red, Black, and Goliath Grouper. The biggest appeal of Gag Grouper is that they come very close to land in search of food. You can reel in a Gag even when you have your mind set on a Redfish or Seatrout. Goliaths can also show up in nearshore waters, while, for the other species, you’ll need to go bottom fishing offshore.
In Longboat Key, fishing for big game is always in the cards, especially when it comes to Blackfin Tuna. The biggest advantage of these ferocious little “footballs” is that you can target them all year. For the best bite, you’ll want to come in spring and summer, when the weather and water get warmer.
The first thing you need to keep in mind when it comes to Blackfin Tuna is that it takes a bit of a boat ride to find them. When you book your trip, be prepared to go at least 30 miles from land, sometimes double that. And while these fish rarely grow over 40 pounds, they’re merciless once hooked.
Blackfin Tuna aren’t easy to trick because they see very well in the water plus they’re easily spooked. They bite best during low-visibility hours, and to get their attention, you should do some chumming to get them close, then cast a few lines. Live bait works best for Tuna, especially in the form of herring, pilchard, and sardines. When you’re this far offshore, you could also catch anything from Mahi Mahi, King Mackerel, and Wahoo to Swordfish, Amberjack, Hogfish, and more.
How to fish in Longboat Key?
With so many different species on the Longboat Key fishing scene, you better believe that there are almost as many different ways to target them. Let’s see what are the best ways to go fishing on the island.
Surf Fishing in Longboat Key
The easiest and most affordable way to test the waters of Longboat Key is to head to the beach. The prolific waters of the Gulf are fun to explore, no matter when you decide to come. For the best chance of action, we’d recommend coming in spring and summer, when a lot of fish are migrating near the shore.
The variety of fish is fantastic. Snook, Jack Crevalle, Ladyfish, Flounder, Spanish Mackerel, and Flounder are just a few of the species you could find at the end of your line. The best time to hit the beach is early in the morning when the sun is still low and the water is mostly calm. You’ll be done by early afternoon when you can sprawl on the beach and go for a refreshing swim.
Charter Fishing in Longboat Key
When you want to get to know a new destination, you find a local to show you around. Why should fishing be any different? That’s what Longboat Key fishing charters are for! If you’re coming here for the first time, and you’d prefer to get on the fish without a trial-and-error approach, hiring a professional charter crew will let you do just that.
Whether you’d like to check out the flats of Sarasota Bay or face bluewater game fish, you’ll find a guide for you. Short, 4-hour excursions are perfect for families who’d like to catch their dinner and have some fun inshore. If you’ve got offshore fishing on your mind, then you’ll need more time to get to the fishing spots, so longer trips (8+ hours) are your best bet.
You can go after a mixed bag, or focus on a specific species. Just let your captain know what you’d like and they’ll tell you what’s possible.
Kayak Fishing in Longboat Key
Kayak fishing is right between surf fishing and charter fishing. It allows you to cover more water on a vessel you control, but you still have a guide. If you’d like to “pull your weight” and do most of the fishing on your own, then this is your thing. Even if you’ve never done it before, most guides will give you an intro lesson and teach you the basics.
The flats of Sarasota Bay are perfect for kayak fishing. You get to enjoy the nature and views up close, plus you can get to spots that are only reachable by kayak. Mangrove shorelines are a great example of that, especially because you get to see wildlife as you pass by. When it comes to the species you can target, how do Redfish, Spotted Seatrout, and Mangrove Snapper sound? And that’s just to name a few!
Where can you fish in Longboat Key?
One thing you’ll not have a problem with in Longboat Key is finding a place to fish. Pretty much wherever you cast a line, chances are something will bite. Here are a few fishing spots you shouldn’t miss out on.
- Whale Key: There are many miles of grassy flats around Sarasota Bay, but Whale Key is a great place to start. This is one of the top places on Longboat Key for Gator Trout, as well as Redfish and Snapper.
- Longboat Pass: Whether you’re fishing from land or from a boat, you’ll have plenty to do around this pass. Even if the weather isn’t warm yet, you’ll find solid Ladyfish, Spanish Mackerel, and Bluefish here.
- Rim Canal: Remember how we mentioned residential canals? Rim Canal is where the fish will congregate when the weather gets colder and they need deeper water to survive. Think Black Drum, Snook, Flounder, Redfish, and more.
- New Pass: This is the southernmost point of Longboat Key, just like Longboat Pass is the northernmost. These fishing grounds can also be accessed from land and by boat, and there’s a lot of False Albacore, Pompano, and Sheepshead around.
- Gulf of Mexico: Your one-stop destination for all your offshore fishing escapades. The further you go, the more species you could encounter. Big Sharks, Bull Mahi Mahi, Amberjack, Wahoo, and Tuna steal the spotlight.
Longboat Key Fishing Regulations
You know how it goes – one of the most important preparations for your fishing trip is understanding the regulations. The first thing to sort out is your fishing license. Now, if you booked a trip with a local guide, you don’t have to worry about it, you’re covered. However, if you’re setting out on your own, you’ll need a saltwater fishing license to be able to do it within the law.
Many popular fish species have strictly regulated seasons, especially Red Snapper and some Grouper species. Solo anglers should familiarize themselves with the seasonal closures, as well as size limits for the fish they plan on targeting. On a charter, the crew will let you know what’s in season and which fish you’re allowed to keep. All you need to do is enjoy the ride!
Longboat Key Fishing – You’ll Be Hooked!
Whenever you decide to visit Longboat Key, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by its chill vibe and gorgeous beaches. Yes, there’s a resort feel to it, but if you’re coming to relax, rest, and recharge, you’ll enjoy it thoroughly. The Longboat Key fishing community will help with all the tips and advice you might need. After that, it’s up to you to make the most of it all!
This article originally appeared here and was republished with permission.