Fancy trying to catch some brackish water fish? We don’t blame you, but in order to have success, you need our guide to some of the most prolific brackish water fish species.
If you’re looking for a real challenge to test your angling and fishing prowess, you should give serious consideration, if you haven’t already, to trying brackish water. Bodies of water that are somewhere between saltwater and freshwater are the perfect places to try your hand at landing a wide range of interesting fish.
However, before you can head out, cast off and use those tasty lures you’ve got in your tackle box, you need to stop and consider what you’re going to stand a chance of catching first. There’s no point going out without establishing tactics first.
And one of the key parts of any fishing tactic is knowing what to look for. As noted, brackish waters attract a range of different fish species. If you’re not familiar with what the common brackish water fish species are, then you’ve come to the right place. We’ve highlighted 8 of the most common brackish water fish and given a little insight into them.
As well as discussing what they look like, we’ve also given a little bit of information about the behaviors of each and the kind of brackish water habitats where you’re likely to find them. Where possible, we’ve also given hints as to how you might land them. So, before you head out, look at this helpful guide to brackish water fish.
Snook are native to south and central areas of Florida and found in brackish waters and coastal waters. They have a distinctive lateral line and a divided and high set dorsal fin. Their forehead has a defined slope and their large mouth has a lower jaw that protrudes with a yellow pelvic fin.
They tend to gather together in larger schools during the summer months in inlets and deeper passes to spawn. Interestingly, all snook begin life as males, but it’s when they reach the length of 18 to 22-inches that some turn into female fish. Snook spawning takes places almost exclusively during summer. They are known to feed on large crustaceans and fish.
They tend to lie in wait in fast-moving water, facing the current to catch prey being carried along. They can jump right out of the water and travel quickly. Try using live sardines, shrimp, small mullet or pinfish that’s either been fished or free lined from the bottom using a fish finder rig.
Depending on the conditions of the water, they may succumb to various lures. Just take care when handling, because of their incredibly sharp gill covers.
Tarpon are identifiable by their large scales, large mouth pointing upwards and a very long dorsal fin that extends outwards and forms a long filament. They are generally considered to be inshore fish and will live in seagrass, hard-bottom areas, salt marshes and even mangrove forests in shallower estuaries.
As they can tolerate a wide and varied salinity level, once they are juveniles, they make the move into freshwater. Thanks to the tissue located close to their swimming bladder that acts in a similar way to lungs, tarpon have the ability to gulp up air and extract the oxygen from it. The subsequent rolling effect this causes is one of the easiest ways to identify tarpon.
Anglers have been known to land anything from 40 to 150lbs tarpons. Not maturing until they are between 7 and 13 years old, they spawn in offshore areas in the period from May to September. While live bait such as pinfish and shrimp are ideal, keys-style streamers and plastics are great too.
When fishing by sight, land presentations gently in front of a target fish at an angle that’s easy to pull the lure you’re using away and entice the tarpon to follow.
Recommended Reading: Don’t miss our awesome fishing glossary for all the terminology and technical terms.
3. Red Drum
Red Drum have a copper-bronze body that gives them the name along with a distinctive chin free from any barbells. While their mouths are very horizontal and open in a downwards direction. Along with large scales over their body, they also have a range of 1 to countless spots towards the base of their tail.
Generally, you will find them in spring-fed creeks, oyster bars, sandy or muddy bottoms and seagrass during the winter. While juvenile red drum begin life as strictly inshore fish, that changes when they reach around 4 years of age or 30-inches in length. Then they start to migrate and join the population of nearshore fish.
If you’re fishing in Florida, the red drum is one of the most popular choices of sport fish to try and land and are found throughout the estuaries. They get the name from the drumming sound they make when rubbing a special muscle against their air bladder during the spawning season.
One of the easiest and most effective ways to fish for redfish is by floating live shrimp underneath a popping cork. The species has also been known to like chasing mud minnows/killifish, pinfish, mullet and even crabs. You can try to catch their attention with top-water plugs, spoons, and soft jigs. Be aware that you may need to put up a fight as red drum are very powerful.
4. Sheep’s Head
Sheep’s Head are a species of fish that have a very indistinct silvery coloring that is complemented by a very distinctive series of around 5 to 6 black vertical bars along their sides. Interestingly, the vertical bars are not always identical and symmetrical on both sides.
They also have very tough and sharp spines along their anal and dorsal fins but do not have any barbells in the lower half of their jaw. However, they do have very prominent teeth, including numerous rounded grinders, molars, and incisors.
As inshore fish, they are most commonly found around tidal creeks, seawalls and oyster bars and during the early spring and late winter they move further into nearshore waters to spawn. Another curious thing about sheepshead is they are what is known as fractional spawners. This means they don’t lay the full amount of their eggs at one time.
In terms of their diet, they will eat anything, but choose to feed on smaller fish and crustaceans. When targeting sheepshead, you are best using either fiddler crabs, sand fleas or shrimp on a small-sized hook dropped as close to the bottom as possible. If you are successful, take care when cleaning them because they have rather sharp gill covers.
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5. Largemouth or Black Sea Bass
Black sea bass is another name for largemouth sea bass that are typically very black or dark brown in color. With white stripes and rows on their dorsal fins. While larger males tend to have a fatty hump at the front of their dorsal fin and ebony and an attractive iridescent blue marking; females can be identified by their vertical barings.
In both genders, the topmost part of their caudal fin is stretched and elongated when they mature and at times can even be tri-lobed. Close to the gill cover posterior margin they also have a sharp spine.
Black sea bass like largemouth bass love structures and are therefore found in offshore rubble and reefs. However, the smaller fish can often be found in finger channels inshore. Spawning takes places from January to March. As protogynous hermaphrodites, once the female fish mature, they become breeding males.
Like many of the other brackish waters fish species mentioned, they are omnivorous and feed on the bottom, on the likes of shellfish, crustaceans, and small fish. Therefore, targeting them with live shrimp or similar lures is a good approach.
6. Channel Catfish
As you may (and really should) know, there are a number of different types of catfish. To stand the best chance of landing one of these beauties, you need to know more about the precise type of cat you are targeting, so you can use the most appropriate tactics. The main three species all anglers tend to chase after in the US are the flathead, blue and the channel cat we’re profiling here.
Although they tend to frequent the same waters and have the same prey, they are all slightly different. Channel cats are the smallest of the three, with few reaching beyond the 20lbs mark. Although smaller, they are very active and can be found in various spots across the US, Canada, and Mexico.
One of the problems is the channel and blue are very similar in appearance. Although blue cats are blue, as the name helpfully suggests and channel cats are usually a brown coloring with darker spots, channel cats often lose their spots as they mature.
It’s best, therefore, to look at their tails. Again, they both have similarly forked tails. However, channel tails are more rounded compared to the pointed and straighter tails of blue cats. Catfish are surprisingly easy to catch when you arm yourself with the right bait and fish at the right time. During the day is probably best to catch channel catfish.
7. Butterfly Peacock Bass
With a similar shape to largemouth bass, butterfly peacock bass come in a wide range of different colors. However, they are most commonly found to be a beautiful golden color with three distinctive vertical black bars. These bars, however, fade as fish get older and are often even completed gone later in life. The black bars are complemented by a black spot and golden halo on their caudal fin.
Most commonly, due to the species being successful in slower flowing and warmer waters, butterfly peacocks tend to be found in deep rock pits, lakes, ponds, and canals. Particularly around areas with a lot of shading like dead ends, bends, canal intersections, culverts and bridges.
It’s important to note, though, they can’t survive in temperatures lower than 60-degrees Fahrenheit or water with a salinity more than 18ppt. They feed mostly on fish, using high speed to catch their prey during the day.
They are one of the most popular sports fish throughout the southeast of Florida and you use the same kind of tackle as you would for largemouth bass. Avoid plastic worms though, as small shiners are best, along with jerk baits, minnow-imitating crank and top-water lures for artificial bait.
8. Striped Bass
Striped Bass are typified by their speed, agility, and power and have white bellies and silvery colored sides. You know you’ve got a striped if they have either 7 or 8 stripes of black running along their sides. It’s important to note, younger and smaller fish under the 6-inch mark won’t tend to have stripes.
Generally, the type of brackish water fish is found in rivers, as they need to have as long stretches of moving water as possible to successfully reproduce and spawn. They are not able to handle water temperatures of more than 75-degrees Fahrenheit for too long, and during the summer, especially in areas like Florida, they will be less active.
It’s best then to target them from fall to spring, with live shad being an effective lure. If casting in heavy and high flow water areas, use heavier tackles of 3 to 4oz and bait-fish lures like floating/sinking lures and heavy jigs.
So, whether you’re interested in catching one of the different bass species, such as the black or largemouth, striped or even the butterfly peacock or fancy trying for the tough, but rewarding tarpon, you know where to look and how to approach them. Snooks and red drums may be a good starting point. However, that will depend greatly on your level of skill and experience.
Catfish are always going to be a rewarding catch, even if channel catfish are slightly smaller than their flathead and blue counterparts. The important thing is to think carefully about the fish you want to catch when casting off into brackish water. Our guide above to some of the most popular and prominent brackish water fish species will hopefully help.