Florida Fish Identification


Florida fish identification can be a tricky job; with literally dozens of varities that can be caught in the waters in and surrounding Florida, it's important to know your Florida fish, as some varieties resemble gamefish but are NOT legal to keep.

Not only is it embarrassing when a game warden does a routine check and finds you with illegal fish in your possession, the accompanying fines may take an unwelcome bite from your budget.

While we believe that the money spent on a a Florida fishing guide is a great investment, if you do plan to fish without an experienced Florida charter or guide, do your homework first to easily and correctly identify the fish you catch. The more familiar you become with the many fish you may run across, the less likely you are to keep a fish that is illegal to possess.

To help get you started learning more about Florida fish identification, you'll find pictured and listed below a few of the most sought-after fish varieties, both saltwater and freshwater, that bring sportsmen to Florida year after year.

Florida fish identification: salt water fish


Alexandre E Silva | CC LicenseTarpon catch
The tarpon is also known as the silver king

The tarpon, respectfully referred to as the silver king, delivers explosive action and satisfyingly long battles, often rocketing all of its considerable weight in a furious explosion above the water's surface.

With an average weight of upwards of 50 pounds or more, the thick body armored with large scales that reflect light in an almost metallic fashion, heavy jaw with a noticeable underbite, and light coloring easily distinguish the tarpon.

An interesting fact about tarpon is that the backs of the hungriest fish are a light green, while those that have been feeding for awhile will gradually turn dark. Since hungry fish are more likely to go for your bait, sight fishing in the shallow waters of the flats or targeting select fish in open water is made easier knowing which tarpon to focus your efforts upon.

Credit: Capt Wayne, Extreme Flats Fishing Charters
Lady and her snook catch
Snook with its distinctive black stripe


There are four variations of snook typically caught in Florida; fish identification isn't too tricky if you know what to look for.

While all four types of snook are readily distinguished by the dark stripe running from gillplate to the end of the fork in the tail, and all are a golden yellow color with lighter underbelly, the common snook is unsurprisingly the one most often caught in Florida waters. It is a fairly slender fish with a modest underbite in the lower jaw.

The fat snook is, like the name suggests, of a bigger girth and a sharper underbite than the common snook, while the tarpon snook's lower jaw is even more sharply upper cut than any of the other varieties of snook and is between the girth of the common and fat snook.

Completing the snook quartet is the swordspine snook, the most rare of the four types, and is identified by the long fin, known as a spine, located on its underbelly just before the tail.

Florida fish identification: Saltwater fish photo gallery

terrybone | CC License
Spanish mackerel
Spanish mackerel
Ol' Florida Boy | CC License
A nice collection of bluefish

Ol' Florida Boy | CC License
Dolphin fish, the edible kind
The dolphin fish, aka dorado or mahi-mahi

jedstr | CC License
Yellowfin Tuna
Yellowfin Tuna

unwritten | CC License
Goliath grouper
Goliath Grouper

To learn even more about Florida's saltwater fish, we recommend the Florida Saltwater Fish ID Book by Saltwater Fish ID Inc.

Florida fish identification: fresh water fish

Photographer: David Gilder | Agency: Dreamstime.com
Largemouth bass
A very respectable largemouth bass

Largemouth Bass

Florida's preeminent freshwater fighter, the largemouth bass, draws thousands of travelers each year to tangle with this agressive, hard-fighting fish.

This fish sports a prominently big mouth with a lower jaw that juts a little bit past the upper snout and that when opened wide gives you a view deep into its gullet.

With a darker green on its head and back, lighter green sides that become whitish on the underbelly, and a dark strip running from nose to tail on its side, the largemouth is well suited to hide in its preferred cover among water plants or in shady spots beneath trees.

randychiu | CC License
Peacock bass
Only in the canals of south Florida can you fight the peacock bass

Peacock Bass

While this fish sports the name bass for its similarity to Florida's native largemouth bass, and its ferociously agressive fighting nature, you won't find the species anywhere else in the United States except for the canals of southern Florida.

Imported from South America a couple of decades ago, the peacock bass resembles the largemouth bass in size and shape and is a fair match pound-for-pound to the wily explosive fight you'll get from the largemouth.

Markings on the tailfin at the base of the tail resemble the "eyes" on a peacock's tailfeathers, and an overall flashy appearance that can include reddish-orange fins, dark vertical stripes on the body, and overall coloring ranging from green to yellow-gold, give the distinctive looking species the rest of its name.

Florida fish identification: freshwater fish photo gallery

Photo credit: Florida FWC
Striped and sunshine bass
Striped bass and sunshine bass

Photographer: Dewitt | Agency: Dreamstime.com

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