I’ve fished all my life. There have been a couple of close calls where I almost lost someone dear to me, but so far my luck has always held and I’m glad it has. Florida fishing is not that inherently dangerous, but there are things you’re definitely going to want to be aware of. I’ll list below some of the more or less obvious potentially dangerous issues you may have over a lifetime of fishing the Sunshine State.
Which Florida Fish Are Dangerous?
Big fish can be dangerous. Any fish big enough to knock you out of a boat, can be considered dangerous – right? I just posted a video of my buddy Sam on his small boat with a couple of friends. I don’t know if they were tarpon fishing, but an 80 lb. or more tarpon jumped right between him and his friend at the front of the boat. Eighty pounds of anything flying through the air is enough to knock you out of the boat. EASILY. Even if you’re 250 lbs. and an eighty-pound tarpon jumps into you and hits you squarely on a small boat, you’re going over the side. I haven’t queried YouTube for it yet, but there must be many videos of this happening.
Here are some fish jumping into people on boats. We can see the culprits are typically: Tarpon, Mullet, Marlin, Sailfish, and Sharks. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens often enough that you should have some contingency plan for if you’re the only one on your boat fishing and you get knocked off. Can you climb back in by yourself? Or, can you notify someone with a waterproof radio or phone?
Dangerous Jumping Fish Videos
- Fisherman falls overboard during marlin attack and another man very slow to react (Video)
- OK, watch this one. A 600 lb. marlin jumps into the boat and luckily misses everyone with it’s sharp bill!
Fish with Spears, Fish with Teeth
Some fish are dangerous just because of how they are built. Marlins, swordfish, and spearfish have dangerous spears that can go right through an arm, leg, or abdomen. Other fish have teeth as sharp as sharks, and that are made for tearing flesh. Caution is needed in landing many different fish. Here is some crucial info.
Lots of fish have nightmarish teeth that can rip open your hand as you’re trying to remove a hook. Luckily for us, the fish that we land don’t appear that cognizant of what’s going on and they don’t often think about trying to bite your hand. That’s the good news. The bad news is, we sometimes take it for granted that we’re safe and get a little too close to those teeth. Just offhand, I can think of a number of fish with teeth I stay away from.
- parrotfish – I had a buddy feeding these in Hanauma Bay with me while snorkeling and one took off the tip of his finger. Not fun!
- sheepshead – like parrotfish, they have strong crushing teeth that could grind your finger up.
- barracuda (of course, probably the most fierce set of teeth outside of sharks)
- bluefish – even the small ones have very sharp teeth and they have this annoying habit of opening and closing the mouth once caught, like they are still feeding… and don’t realize they’re laying up on the pier. Be careful, you don’t want a bite from one! Here’s a video of a bite from a small bluefish. It involves blood.
- grouper have teeth inside the mouth that will do serious damage, but I’ve never seen someone stick their hand in one’s mouth, so I’ve never seen an accident. Must have been one though. Wait, here’s one.
It isn’t recommended to get too close to ANY fish’s mouth. Even rough tongues and palate (roof of the mouth) can cause abrasions.
Fish with Spears on their Heads (Billfish and Spearfish)
If you’ve been fishing for marlin or any sailfish with professionals, they’ve probably told you about the risk of a marlin or something else with a spear on the front of its head jumping out of the water and spearing you in the face, chest, or anywhere. The spears are sharp and VERY strong. There have been some absolutely horrible accidents on the water (and in the water) with this sort of fish. Here are a few videos about what can happen.
Here Are the Dangerous Fish with Sharp Spears/Bills
- Roundscale Spearfish
- Blue Marlin
- White Marlin
Though not all fish have bills or spears, the fins of a fish in Florida can be dangerous too. I’m thinking back to a very painful stick in the middle finger by the big dorsal spine of a ten pound catfish. I was pulling it up by the line and it flipped around and somehow stabbed me in the finger. There is venom in these dorsal barbs. The pain was quite bad but it didn’t last near as long as the stingray or jellfish venom. Still, it wasn’t any fun. Don’t do that.
When you inadvertently (or on purpose) catch a shark, you’ll need to be careful about removing the hook. You should be fishing with hooks that will rust away quickly because sometimes you won’t be able to remove a hook and you’ll have to cut the line as close to the hook as possible to keep your hand safe. You should have long-handled pliers to reach the hook in most cases, but if it’s in the stomach, you aren’t going to get that out of a shark safely.
Something even veteran anglers don’t think enough about is that while you’re catching fish on a boat, there may be sharks under the boat, or under the fish as you’re bringing it up to the surface. If your hand is on the fish while it is still in the water, your hand is fair game for any shark that is ready to take a bite of that fish. There have been MANY accidents like this where anglers have suffered devastating injuries for not thinking about the possibility of sharks lurking beneath. Pull the fish out of the water with a net, or just pull it up on the line if you think the hook won’t come out and the line won’t break.
Other Dangerous Animals while Fishing
I told you my story about wade-fishing where I stepped right on a STINGRAY and received a nasty wound filled with venom. One of the most unfun things to ever happen in my life. Don’t do that! Shuffling your feet doesn’t always work perfectly, some stingrays won’t move, like the one I stepped on. Don’t underestimate the pain, it will cripple you. Not joking.
I told you the story of my girlfriend almost dying as a SHARK pulled her by the neck into deeper water as we were wade-fishing. Also not fun. Don’t do that! Don’t put your stringer around your neck, arm, waist, leg, or anywhere a shark could grab it. It’s damn dangerous!
Spearfishing can be dangerous for many reasons, but one that I fear most because you can’t always see them, is jellyfish. I didn’t tell you about it, but I have another story about a box jellyfish stinging me in the leg in Hawaii. Florida has lots of jellyfish too and a sting is excruciatingly painful. Don’t get stung by one of those things, you’ll regret it the rest of your life. Keep some hot packs available for anyone with you on fishing excursions who suffer stings from venomous fish. Heat kills the active ingredients in the venom. Usually.
Dangerous Situations while Fishing
While spearfishing you should be aware that a boat could run over your head. Use the floats to alert boaters you’re there, but then be VERY careful about breaking the surface because boat captains are notorious for running over divers of all kinds. It is very dangerous in busy locations where there are lots of boats.
Hooks in your eye, face, and other parts of your body are a hazard of fishing close to other people, or even by yourself. Know how to remove hooks from the skin, and take injuries involving hooks in the eye, mouth, and other important parts, to the hospital to be removed and cleaned correctly (obviously). This is one of those times when you’ll curse yourself for using hooks with barbs!
Falls on a boat can cause serious injury. Be especially careful when handling a knife, gaff, or other sharp instrument. You could fall on it and seriously injure yourself. Boats are very unstable in some water, if you’re a noob, take it very slowly or you’ll find yourself over the side!
Boats can be super slippery. Wear good shoes for grip, don’t move fast, and always be aware of what the waves and people around you are doing.
The Elements Can Be Dangerous
The Dangers of Sun Exposure
Sunstroke/heatstroke is something that we have to be aware of in Florida while fishing. Make sure you are taking in adequate beverages without alcohol to replenish your system. Even so, get out of the direct sun if possible. Skin cancer is running rampant through old-timers who fish all day. The sun doesn’t care who you are, you can get a bad carcinoma from it.
Hypothermia in Florida?
You might not think that anyone would have to consider hypothermia as a risk factor of fishing in Florida, but I came close to it a couple of times because I just didn’t want to get out of the water while wade-fishing in October to February. Those are some cold months for the water at least, and you stand in there virtually motionless for 2+ hours and you’re going to get a chill. Especially without wearing rubber waders up to your chest. I’d typically go in my shorts and a t-shirt. Sometimes I’d wear a long-sleeved shirt, but it was annoying to be dripping wet from it all the time.
I remember one time in particular my hands and feet and lips were blue when I finally forced myself out of the water.
Remember my fellow brothers and sisters… we are A-D-D-I-C-T-E-D to fishing in most cases.
That’s what fishing in Florida regularly causes. It causes us to lose our senses. We crave fishing. We crave fishing as long as possible in whatever conditions we’re facing. Still, you have to have at least a spoonful of common sense or you may die from hypothermia or heat exhaustion. The elements can kill you. Just remember that.
Big Waves and Rogue Waves
It happens often in Hawaii, someone will get swept off the rocks into the ocean by a rogue wave they didn’t see coming, or even did see coming but there was nothing that could be done. In Florida, we have this problem less, but as safe anglers we all need to be aware of the reality that rogue waves exist and can hit us when least expecting it, throwing us from a boat, pier, or thrashing us on the shore.
Be careful when flying out to your deep sea spot and you hit a rogue wave!