How to Catch Fish in the Ocean? (Florida Shore Basics)


Surf fishing in Florida from the beach on a cool morning.

Let’s say you arrive at your destination, some beachfront area in sunny Florida, and you’re wondering about fishing from the beach or a small pier or dock.

How Can You Catch Fish in Florida?

Catching fish in the ocean is different than catching fish in a lake, river, or stream in upstate New York, Colorado, Alaska, or wherever you’re from. Let’s assume you brought your fishing rod and reel with you and you’re not setup to for saltwater fishing, but you’re going to go anyway and you want some tips that will catch you fish TODAY.

I will show you what I think is the best way for you to go about fishing in Florida after arriving on vacation

Beach fishing - using a long surf-rod to reach further out into the water and get to deeper water and more fish.
Casting a big 8-9 foot rod takes a bit of skill. You need not buy a rod that big for a simple Florida weekend of fishing. But if you want to cast out there really far, yeah, you’re going to want one!

Fishing Regulations for Out of State Residents (Non-Florida Residents)

First, we have Florida saltwater fishing regulations to consider. Can you fish legally in Florida after arriving from out of state?

Yes, of course. With a few hoops to jump through.

If you are lucky enough to be UNDER the age of 16, you can saltwater fish and freshwater fish, without a problem. Go to it! Scroll down to get the rest of the info about how to go about it.

Everyone else, have a look at these exemptions. These are the conditions where you can fish in saltwater in Florida.

  1. You can fish from a charter boat with a guide, or on a party boat, or cattle-call fishing charter (shoulder to shoulder) – as long as they have a valid charter license.
  2. You fish from inside a boat and that boat is operated by someone with a valid recreational saltwater vessel license.
  3. You can go to a Florida Fishing Pier that offers a “Saltwater Pier License” and you purchase that and fish from that pier.
  4. You have a valid saltwater products license or FWC charter captain license (does not apply to charter boat license or U.S. Coast Guard license). (not sure what this means, but it probably applies to about .005% of you reading)

And Finally, there is a Bonus… You can fish with no license during one of the FREE Florida Saltwater Fishing Days!

Free Florida Saltwater Fishing Days

  • First consecutive Saturday and Sunday in June
  • First Saturday in September
  • Saturday following Thanksgiving

Keep in mind, these free fishing days include a saltwater waiver that applies to any recreational fishing or harvest requiring a saltwater fishing license and includes catching crabs, lobsters, scallops and fishing from the shore or a boat. A snook or spiny lobster permit are also not required on these days. NOTE – this does not include a Tarpon permit.

If, after reading the above guidelines you realize you or someone in your group will need a fishing license, you can get a 3 day temporary saltwater fishing license at this link for each person requiriing one.

Florida non-residents can pick up a 3-day temporary fishing license for just $17.00 and a 7-day license for $30.00. If an annual license would make more sense, you can buy one for just $47.00 and return multiple times throughout the year to fish.


Shore Fishing (on the Beach)

Shore fishing while standing on the beach is great fun that anyone can do. You may even have a boat dock or small pier to fish from, no matter, it’s all a good time and you can be pretty sure that fish are where you are. There are so many fish species in Florida that it’s probably hard to find a place where there aren’t any fish!

If you haven’t already got a fishing rod and reel with the proper line and hooks, go ahead and get that below.

Good Starter Rod and Reel

You basically need a medium-light action rod that is flexible and allows you feel bites from smaller fish. In Florida, a smaller fish might be 15 inches long or less. Yes, I’m creating that out of thin air, but that’s definitely what I consider a small-sized fish!

There is a chance you’ll hook into something bigger and heavier, and a medium-light action rod would allow you land it (catch it) even if it’s over 20 lbs. and thirty inches!

So, a medium-light action rod is ideal for most fishing, even in freshwater, though it can be a little bit overkill, I often used my rod/reels in freshwater as well.


Check the price on Amazon

ROD by SHIMANO that fits the Reel Above (6’6″ – medium)

Check the price on Amazon

Good Fishing Line

You may not think that fishing line has much to do with anything, but to be honest, it’s a crucial element that serious anglers choose very carefully. Since I don’t know what type of fishing you’ll be doing exactly,

I’m going to suggest you get some 10 lb. test clear monofilament line for your spinning reel combination I linked to at Amazon above (or with any spinning reel). Clear mono line is harder to see than a braided line, though I much prefer braided line and tying on a short ‘leader’ of monofilament to tie the hook on.

I don’t want to teach you about joining two different lines together, I think its better to get you fishing and catching fish for the pure excitement of it. Worry about the intricacies of fishing later!

MONOFILAMENT LINE – 300 Yards of 10 lb. Test (strength)

Check the price on Amazon

NOTE – if you are constantly breaking the line, you’re going to need 20 lb. test fishing line. You might just go ahead and get it now and see if you need it. It will depend on the size of fish where you’re fishing, the sharpness of their teeth, their species, and the debris under the water that can rub against the line (like barnacles).

Which Hooks?

Just use simple 1/0 size hooks from Gamakatsu, Owner, or Mustad. These are the best manufacturers of hooks and they are strong and consistently strong. There are 6-hooks in the pack that I recommend below.

You should probably have about 20 hooks per person for a 2-3 day trip just to make sure you don’t run out. Lines break often, depending what kind of underwater debris is around you where you’re fishing.


Check the price on Amazon

Best Bait to Use to Catch Fish in Florida?

Choosing a bait can be simple (shrimp) or difficult (a lure or plug matched to the water color and fish preference). For our simple fishing trip and to catch the biggest variety of fish possible, I suggest you go with one of two options.

  • cut squid
  • shrimp

The squid can be bought in a bait shop or grocery store in frozen blocks. Yes, it’s smelly and messy. Yes, it catches the heck out of fish. Fish can’t seem to resist smelly squid or shrimp, and it doesn’t matter if your bait is alive or dead, you’re going to catch SOMETHING. That’s the point, right?

Cut a small piece of squid with a knife into a strip 1-2″ long and a half-inch wide. Put your hook through it a couple of times and leave the hook exposed so there’s a good chance the hook catches the fish in the side of the mouth and doesn’t swallow it.

Swallowing the hook and gut-hooking the fish isn’t good for it if you’re going to release it. In hooking the shrimp, thread the hook through the top of the back down through the tail and pull the hook out the bottom – leaving it exposed.

You can toss your baited hook out just like that if you’re near water 4 feet deep or more, or you can add some squeeze on sinkers (split-shot) from the tackle store section at Walmart or anywhere.

There are hundreds (thousands?) of bait shops in Florida, so stop at one and pick up some split shot sinkers and maybe a shrimp bucket if you plan on using live shrimp to fish with. Live shrimp are better because they move around and can help you catch a different kind of fish.

You can still catch fish in less than 4 feet of water, but you can increase the number of kinds of fish by fishing in water deeper than about 4 feet.

What Is the Best Bait for Ocean Fishing?

Shrimp is the best bait to fish the ocean with because more fish eat it than anything else, including squid. There is no better bait because every fish will eat a shrimp, they are packed with nutrition and can be easy to catch and filling. Their shells are light and able to be eaten by most fish and other sealife.

What Is the Easiest Saltwater Fish to Catch?

The easiest saltwater fish to catch is the pinfish – a bait fish that can be caught in groups of two and more by using Sabiki rigs which are dropped into the water on the end of a fishing line. Sabiki rigs have multiple hooks (6-10) and you can tip them with a small piece of shrimp or squid to ensure you catch a lot of pinfish quickly.

How Do You Catch More Fish in the Ocean?

To catch more fish, use a bait, fishing line, rod action, and lure action to match the fish’s preferences that you are attempting to catch. There are many variables in catching fish and you can optiimize many of them. One thing external to your own fishing rig is the time of the day and month. Tide charts are very helpful to help anglers catch more fish.

Florida Pier Fishing

Probably the ultimate place to fish in Florida when you’re here on vacation is from a dock or pier. We cover fishing from piers in this article, so we won’t go over it again.

Fishing from a pier at sunset in Ft. Myers, Florida.

A pier can be ideal to fish from because you have a huge number of species that are available and the bigger piers have bait shops and restrooms right on the pier. You can sometimes pull your car up onto the pier and fish beside it.

This is ideal for when one of the frequent Florida lightning storms rolls through and you want to be somewhere safe. There are a thousand reasons why pier fishing is ideal for beginners and advanced anglers. If you have a chance, fish from a FLORIDA PIER!

Deep Sea Fishing

When you go DEEP SEA FISHING the charter boat you’re on should have a license that allows everyone fishing on the boat to fish legally in Florida.

This eliminates the need to worry about a license at all. You can go on a fishing charter with fifty other people and it won’t cost more than $100 for sure. It should cost far less after this COVID situation. Fifty dollars a person? Forty? Shop around and see what kind of deals you can find.

If you’re interested in finding out a lot more information about fishing from different platforms and areas in Florida, you’ll enjoy our in-depth fishing guides here:

About the Author

My name is Vern Lovic. I grew up in Pennsylvania fishing for trout in the streams and bass in the lakes. I’ve fished both coasts of Florida for more than a decade, but I’ve been primarily on the West Coast around St. Petersburg. I fish mostly from a Kayak and pier along with wade-fishing and shore fishing but I occasionally will go out on a boat with one of my friends.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}