What’s biting when? (fishing off the Atlantic coast)

Planning a deep sea fishing trip? You’ll want to know what’s biting when!

Fish Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun July Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Sea Bass                        
Blue Line Tile Fish                        
Golden Tile Fish                        
Grouper                        
Taug                        
White Marlin                        
Blue Marlin                        
Red and Black Drum                        
Bluefish                        
Croaker                        
Trout                        
Flounder                        
Cobia                        
Spot                        
Spadefish                        
Spanish Mackeral                        
Black Belly Rose Fish                        
Dolphin (Mahi)                        
Tuna                        
Swordfish                        

Atlantic Blue Marlin

The Atlantic blue marlin (Makaira nigricans) is a species of marlin endemic to the Atlantic Ocean. The Atlantic blue marlin (hereafter, blue marlin) feeds on a wide variety of organisms near the surface. It uses its bill to stun, injure, or kill while knifing through a school of fish or other prey, then returns to eat the injured or stunned fish. Marlin is a popular game fish. The relatively high fat content of its meat makes it commercially valuable in certain markets. It is the national fish of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas and is thus featured on its Coat of Arms. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantic_blue_marlin )

Bluefish

Long body is bluish green in coloration, fading to a light colored belly; tail is sharply forked and the mouth features razor sharp teeth.Size: up to 40 pounds; average size is 1-15 pounds.

Cobia

The cobia is a species of perciform marine fish, the only representative of the genus Rachycentron and the family Rachycentridae. Other common names include black kingfish, black salmon, ling, lemonfish, crabeater, prodigal son and aruan tasek.

Croaker

Silvery color overall with a white belly; often has a faint bronze or golden cast, with yellowish fins; back often has small brassy spots, that align into wavy lines down the fish’s sides; underslung jaw features 3 to 5 pairs of barbels under the chin; caudal fin is convex in shape; gill cover is hard and sharp.Similar Fish: Spot 

Size: up to 6 pounds; average size is 6 to 12 inches (1⁄2 lb. to 2 lbs.)

Dolphinfish (Mahi)

The dolphin fish has bright turquoise, green and yellow patterns. Dolphin are fast growing, prolific and have a short life span-an average of 5 years. Dolphin are attracted to Sargassum, a floating brown alga, which serves as a hiding place and source of food. Other sources of food associated with the Sargassum include small fish, crabs, and shrimp. Dolphin may also pursue fast -swimming fish, such as flying fish or mackerels.Size: Dolphin fish that school together range in size from 1-20 pounds while larger individuals live alone or in pairs. Some reach a maximum of 6 feet in length, but more commonly to lengths of 3 feet. This fish commonly weighs up to 30 pounds with a maximum of more

Flounder

Rounded, flat body is brown on one side (the left side) and white on the other side; both eyes appear on the brown (left) side of the fish; caudal fin is convex and the mouth features sharp, cone-like teeth; summer flounder feature five ocellated spots on their brown side, three tending to form a triangle just above the base of the tail. 

Similar Fish: closely related and similar in appearance to the Southern Flounder; distinguishable by the presence of ocellated spots on the back of the summer flounder (southern flounder may have blotches and/or spots but lack the conspicuous ocellated spots found on summer flounder); Gulf Flounder, which are not common north of Cape Hatteras, are similar in appearance, but feature only three ocellated spots-one above the lateral line, one below it and one touching it, and these spots may become indistinct in larger fish.

Grouper

The most classic bottom fish for most anglers is the grouper. Whether red, gag, black, yellowfin, or Warsaw, a good grouper in the ice chest means a successful day for lots of folks.Grouper and the entire grouper family have become probably the most popular saltwater food fish in the United States. While there are Pacific varieties, the largest fishery is in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coast. Grouper are a bottom fishing charter boat captain’s big ticket item.Sized: Most catches are over ten pounds with some well over 100 pounds.

Red & Black Drum

The red drum is a cousin to the black drum, and the two species are often found in close proximity to each other; they can interbreed and form a robust hybrid, and younger fish are often indistinguishable in flavor. Red drum have a moderate flavor and are not oily. Big drum can be challenging to clean; removing the large scales can be challenging. Many fishers prefer to fillet with an electric knife, first removing the fillet from along the backbone, and then using the electric knife to cut the fillet from the skin and scales. Fish over 15 lbs can become tough and have a consistency comparable with chicken, rather than the flakey texture of many species of fish. Younger fish are often indistinguishable in flavor from black drum. About half of red drum are able to reproduce by age 4 years, when they are 660-700 mm long and 3.4 – 4 kg in weight. Red drum live to be 60 years old unless caught.

Rosefish, Black Belly

Found in soft bottom areas of the continental shelf and upper slope. Feed on crustaceans, fish, cephalopods, and echinoderm. Rosefish breed in March-July and there Larvae and juveniles are pelagic.Rosefish have 12 dorsal spines, about 12-13 dorsal soft rays and 2 Anal spines. They have pinkish, faint dusky bars and Y-shaped dark bar between soft dorsal and anal fins, thus called a Rosefish”. Size: Up to 3 pounds and around 12 to 18 inches.

Seabass, Black Will

Coloration is black to a very dark brown on the back and sides; the belly and fins also tend to be dark in color; females have a uniformly curved slope from the top of the back to the head, while large males have a pronounced hump forward of the dorsal fin; individual fish may exhibit a pronounced iridescent aquamarine to bluish coloration with some highlights of red in the area forward and below the dorsal fin, behind the head and especially on males on and around the hump, which may be associated with spawning activity; a long filament extends from the upper part of the caudal fin.Size: up to 10 pounds; average size ranges from 1⁄2-3 pounds.

Spadefish

Deep bodied fish with pointed second dorsal and anal fins, which give the fish an almost triangular shape; coloration is silvery gray with 4 to 6 prominent black bars running down the sides; juveniles are very dark in color; the mouth is noticeably small relative to the overall size of the fish and lacks teeth.Size: up to 15 pounds; average size ranges from 1 to 6 pounds.

Spanish Mackeral

Spanish mackerel are a pelagic, fast swimming fish. They are frequently found in shallow, clear water over grass beds and along sandy beaches where they feed on schools of baitfish. Spanish mackerel are aggressive feeders that will strike a wide variety of natural and artificial baits, so they can be very easy to catch. Many anglers identify the location of Spanish mackerel by trolling or watching for birds diving on schools of baitfish, which often indicates that mackerel are forcing the bait to the surface. Angling techniques include trolling or casting with small shiny spoons, dusters or jigs. Light spinning or bait-casting tackle with 10 to 15 pound monofilament line is adequate; however, 30 to 60 pound monofilament leader is required due to the mackerel’s razor sharp teeth.

Spot

Silvery color overall with a white belly; a prominent black spot is present behind the gill cover and above the base of the pectoral fin; several wavy lines, brassy in color, extend down the back; caudal fin is slightly concave; larger individuals in the late summer often exhibit a distinct yellow coloration on their bellies. 

Similar Fish: Atlantic CroakerSize: up to 2-1⁄2 pounds; average size is 5 to 10 inches (under)

Swordfish

Swordfish have the widest temperature range of any billfish and migrate seasonally to warmer waters in winter and cooler waters in summer. This highly migratory species can often be found where ocean currents meet and productivity is high. Although the swordfish is typically found in shallow waters, they are thought to swim as deep as 650 m. They are uniquely adapted to cold, deep waters by the presence of specialized tissue near the eyes that heats the brain through the tissue’s blood supply, which is a vascular system similar to that used to heat and cool the bodies of other large pelagic fish species such as tuna. These adaptations help the fish move quickly through rapid temperature changes in the water column.Size: Swordfish reach a maximum length of about 4.5 m and a maximum weight of 650 kg. Females are typically larger than males. Atlantic swordfish reach about 320 kg in weight and adult swordfish in the Mediterranean typically weight less than 230 kg.

Tautog, Blackfish, Chub, Taug, White Chin

A thick-bodied fish characterized by thick lips, blunt snout, and large, irregular teeth (incisors in front, molars in the rear); coloration is varied from a chocolate brown, to gray or a blackish olive on the back and sides with a white belly; some fish have irregular blotches on the side, but this mottling pattern, often associated with spawning activity, is not present in all individuals; males have a more blunt head, a more pronounced white chin, and a distinct white spot on their side. 

Similar Fish: closely related to and similar in appearance to the Cunner; distinguishable by lack of scales on the gill cover (cunner have scales on their gill covers) and by size (cunner rarely achieve weights of 1 pound).Size: up to 25 pounds; average

Tile Fish

Tile Fish (Golden and Blueline) are bottom dwellers found in water ranging from 240-780 feet deep, from Virginia to the Campeche Banks of Mexico. They are frequently found in the same habitat as groupers and snappers, preferring irregular bottom with sand, mud and shell hash. They is usually are found in bottom water temperatures of 59°F to 73° F. They have been found to burrow head first in cone-shaped sand piles. 

Tilefish feed on bottom creatures, such as crabs, shrimp, snails, worms, sea urchins and small fish.Size: They may grow to be 32 inches and live

Trout

Grayish silver back (often with a bluish, iridescent tint) fading to silver sides with a white belly; distinct round black dots are present on back and sides, and they extend onto second part of the dorsal fin and the caudal fin; body is long and slender; upper jaw possesses two large canine teeth. 

Similar Fish: closely related and similar in appearance to the Weakfish or Gray Trout; distinguishable by the black dots which extend onto second dorsal fin and caudal fin (gray trout lack any black markings on these fins).Size: up to 17 pounds; average size is 1-1⁄2 to 4 pounds.

Tuna

Found in open waters of tropical and subtropical seas worldwide. It is an epipelagic fish ranging in the top 330 feet of the water column. Also known as ahi tuna, from its Hawaiian name ʻahi, yellowfin is becoming a popular replacement for the severely depleted supplies of bluefin tuna.The second dorsal fin and the anal fin are both bright yellow, thus the common name, and can be very long in mature specimens, as are the pectoral fins. The main body is very dark metallic blue, changing to silver on the belly, which has about 20 vertical lines.

Similar Fish: Little Tunny and Atlantic Bonito; distinguishable by location and placement of stripes

White Marlin

White marlin (Kajikia albidus), also known as Atlantic white marlin, marlin, skilligalee, is a species of billfish that lives in the epipelagic zone of the tropical and subtropical Atlantic Ocean. They are found between the latitudes of 45° N and 45° S in waters deeper than 100 m. Even though white marlin are found in bodies of water that are deeper than 100 m they tend to stay near the surface. White marlin have been found near banks, shoals, and canyons, but they are not limited to those locations. They prefer warm surface temperatures greater than 22 °C. (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_marlin)