Sport Fish

Tarpon, Red Drum, Common Snook, Spotted Seatrout

Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge offers incredible fishing opportunities on Florida’s southwest coast. Fishers report that more than a dozen species can be caught during a single trip through the winding estuaries and mangrove forests of the Ten Thousand Islands area. Fly-fishing within Ten Thousand Islands is exceptional thanks to tannic head waters with high visibility that provide for ideal sight-fishing opportunities in sheltered solitude of the mangroves. Nutrient-rich inshore rivers, offshore shallows, and estuarine nurseries found among these mangrove forests are home to some of Florida’s most desired sport fish species including bass, sea trout, permit, cobia, grouper, snapper, pompano, sheepshead, triple tail, mackerel, kingfish, red drum, snook, and tarpon.


Barrier islands in the northern and southern extent of the Ten Thousand Islands include isolated beaches with grass flats near the shoreline. Red drum, snook, and tarpon are three popular sport fish species commonly found and easily spotted in these flats as they hunt smaller fish species and feed upon an array of crustaceans. 


Megalops atlanticus

Tarpon are a highly desired sportfish commonly found in the Ten Thousand Islands waters of Southwest Florida. Tarpon are known for their strong fight and high leaps when hooked. These behaviors have earned tarpon the nickname “the silver king” to describe the bright reflection off of large silver scales as this fish bursts out of the water. 


Aside from large, silver scales, tarpon are most easily recognized by their superior mouth with protruding lower jaw. The high dorsal fin of tarpon contains 13-15 soft rays with a final ray that extends into a long, heavy filament. 

Tarpon can be found in a variety of habitats. Thanks to a modified air bladder that allows tarpon to inhale atmospheric oxygen, this fish species can even tolerate oxygen-poor environments. Tarpon are primarily found in nearshore coastal waters, estuaries, and mangrove systems. Tarpon can also tolerate a range of salinity that allows them to enter the mouths of rivers and bay headwaters, traveling upstream into fresh water.

Red Drum
Sciaenops ocellatus

Also commonly referred to as redfish, channel bass, spottail, red bass, or simply reds, red drum are widespread in Florida’s estuaries. This fish species is named for both its reddish brown color and the drumming sound made during spawning or when the fish are removed from water. This characteristic drumming is created as muscles rub against an inflated air bladder.   

Red drum are most easily recognized by the dark eyespot found at the base of their tail. Juvenile red drum inhabit estuarine environments, canals, rivers, and tidal creeks for the first four years of their life. Adult red drum then move to nearshore and open ocean waters.

In Florida red drum reach lengths of approximately 45 inches and weights up to about 50 pounds. The record weight for a red drum caught in Florida waters is 52 pounds 5 ounces. The current world record red drum was caught along the North Carolina coast in 1984. The record-holding fish weighed in at 94 pounds 2 ounces. 

Common Snook

Centropomus undecimalis 

Common snook are the most wide-ranging and abundant species of snook. This fish is widespread throughout central and south Florida’s coastal waters. This species has a wide salinity tolerance, allowing them to inhabit a variety of fresh or salt water habitat types. Snook are common along mangrove shorelines and inshore brackish waters. They may also commonly be found among reef structures, seawalls, and bridges. 

Snook are distinguished by a dark lateral line that runs the length of the body. They have a sloping forehead that leads to a large mouth with protruding lower jaw. The dorsal fin of common snook sits high and is divided at its middle. 

Snook are often desired for their strong fight when caught on a line. They are known to jump entirely out of the water and to swim at long runs with high speed.

Spotted Seatrout

Cynoscion nebulosus

The spotted seatrout is a highly desired species of fish important to both recreational and commercial fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. Considered one of the best tasting fish species found in Gulf of Mexico waters, the meat of spotted seatrout is touted as having excellent flavor and texture. 

This fish is found not only in the Gulf of Mexico, but also in the western Atlantic from Massachusetts to Florida. Spotted seatrout tolerates a variety of salinity levels that allow it to be found in shallow marine waters, estuaries, and tidal pools. In the warmth of summer spotted seatrout occur near seagrass habitat. They are typically found in deeper, estuarine environments during late fall, winter, and early spring. 

The most distinctive feature of this fish is the pattern of black spots found on the upper body and into both the caudal and dorsal fins. The spotted seatrout body is silver in color with darker shades along the back and lighter shades on the underside. Their fins are yellowish. Spotted seatrout have a long head and pointed snout. This fish can grow to lengths of 39 inches (100cm) and weights of 17.5 pounds (7.9kg). The largest spotted seatrout caught in Florida waters weighed 17lbs 7ozs.


Hanson, C.W and B. Sauls. 2011. Status of Recreational Saltwater Fishing in Florida: Characterization of License Sales, Participation, and Fishing Effort. American Fisheries Society Symposium. 75:000-000. Available from:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 2014. Two new NOAA reports show strong economic gains from fishing, continued improvement in fish stocks. Retrieved from:

Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH) 2014. Education, Biological Profiles. Tarpon. Retrieved from:

MarineBio Conservation Society. 2013. Tarpon, Megalops atlanticus. Retrieved from: 

 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). 2014. Recreational Regulations, Red Drum. Retrieved from:

Murphy, M.D. and R.G. Taylor. 1990. Reproduction, growth, and mortality of red drum Sciaenops ocellatus in Florida waters. Fisheries Bulletin. 88(3): 531-542.

 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). 2014. Species Profiles, Common Snook. Retrieved from:

Hill, K. 2005. Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce. Centropomus undecimalis. Retrieved from:

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). 2014. Spotted Seatrout. Retrieved from:

Bester, C. 2014. Florida Museum of Natural History. Biological Profiles, Spotted Seatrout. Retrieved from:

Facts About Sport Fish

In 2012 the state of Florida was #1 in generating recreational fishing jobs and #5 in generating commercial fishing jobs throughout the United States.

It is estimated that recreational saltwater fishing in Florida produces $16.7 billion in annual revenue.

Clearly, fishing is critical to the Florida economy and the Florida way of life.