As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

What Are the Best Fish to Catch at Night in Florida? (Saltwater Monsters!)

To be honest, I do most of my Florida fishing during daylight hours. It’s just convenient, right? I’m also not really a night-person, so I get sleepy after midnight if I’m not catching anything. That said, I’ve spent hundreds of nights fishing from the Gandy Bridge pier and from the kayak floating around in Tampa Bay. While Florida night fishing there are nights where you are catching fish all night and it’s hard to sleep! Here I’ll tell you what I usually target while fishing off a pier at night.

A huge monster snook like this can be caught at night under Florida piers.
Big pinfish, big baitfish of any kind… or simply a huge shrimp or baitfish lure can land you a big snook like this from a pier or under a pier or cover.

SNOOK – the Ultimate Florida Night Fish?

Snook are plentiful under some piers during certain parts of the year. The sun can reach down to the bottom in shallow areas like canals that go up into housing areas so it gives just the warmth snook crave in the cool winter months. To be honest, you can often find snook near a pier or other cover like a fallen tree or mangrove trees overhanging the water during any time of the year. Snook love cover. If you remember that, you’re at least part of the way to catching yourself some.

Why bother to catch snook at night?

FIRST OFF – SNOOK TASTE GREAT! They are heavenly on a frying pan with some butter and onions, garlic, and even a little curry powder for added flavor. I prefer them baked in an oven in foil with some holes in it to let the steam escape. I had heard about how good snook were to eat for a long time before I finally tried one. I just like snook too much to eat them often, so I took my time putting one on the plate. When I did, MY GOD!!!!!! The taste and texture is really excellent for the table. Must be why so many seafood and other restaurants employ poachers to net snook by the dozen near the piers. One of the best eating fish I’ve ever had. Certainly top 10!

THE PURE EXCITEMENT OF LANDING A PIG SNOOK! There’s something more exciting about fishing at night. It’s the unknowns. Half the time you can’t even tell where your lure or live-bait landed. Some of the time it’s not where you expect it to be so when you hear the splash on top in an area you don’t think you bait is, but then your rod is being bent backward and threatening to take a swim, it’s EXCITING! Surprises are exciting, and you’ll have more of them fishing Florida waters at night whether it’s in the pitch dark of a little-used pier, or on the Sunshine Skyway, from a boat, from a kayak, or from shore. It’s great fun no matter how you’re doing it.

If you haven’t done it yet, get out there and fish at night from a Florida pier. Bring your kid(s). Bring some snacks. Bring some drinks if it’s a couple of adults. I have some real fond memories of drinking a few on a pier at midnight with friends, but also with people I’ve never met. Bring some to share, it’s amazing how fast you’ll make a friend on a pier!

Bottom Line

Snook are one of Florida’s best gamefish to target at night. They feed just about anytime, but at night when they’re not used to having a pinfish drop in front of their face from out of the sky above, they seem more likely to hit it. Snook also like surprises, and it triggers their feeding response to see a fish flailing around right in front of them. Pinfish of any size work, and even big shrimp will do the job. Did you get a chance to read about my uncle Jim catching a massive snook on 2-lb test line? A scene I’ll never forget. I’ve already told my daughter about it.

FISHING for MAHI-MAHI/DORADO (Dolphin) at NIGHT

Catching mahi-mahi day or night is great fun.

I’m not much of one for top-water lures. You’ve maybe figured that out by how little I recommend them in all of these articles here at Salty101. I use them for bass sometimes, but for saltwater, I’m just not a big fan. Or let me say, I WASN’T a big fan. Then, one night I fished off the Gandy Bridge Pier on the St. Petersburg side for a couple of nights one summer long ago.

My whole world changed with a splash and a blistering S-run about 50 meters out away from the pier in a beautiful green glow. The path of the mahi showed clearly in the pitch darkness as the glowing plankton lit up bright with the very fast movements of the hooked mahi-mahi making its run.

The best months for bioluminescence are between May and October, November – the warm months in Florida.

Any movement where they’re present causes the ocean to explode with blue light. It’s an amazing sight! This is another reason to bring your kids to experience it, it’s something they’ll remember.

Each night I went out that month I caught 8+ mahi-mahi and every one of them was a surprise and a blistering run through blue glowing plankton – so much fun. I strongly suggest you do the same!

Bottom Line

Buy a huge floating lure around 8-inches or even bigger. You should have 2-3 treble hooks in it. Toss it out there anywhere from a pier and bounce it around. If the mahi are there, you’ll be rewarded with a helluva lot of fun. Not to mention, Mahi are some incredible eating! Top 5 for me for sure. And, not to mention also, if you do throw out a big floating lure out there you might luck out and hook into the next MONSTER FISH you can catch at night…

TARPON – NIGHT MONSTERS!

Tarpon fishing almost always takes place during the day time. I don’t know why that is, except that they are dangerous fish, aren’t they? Tarpon are usually fished for from a boat.

A big tarpon rolling in saltwater is a great reason to pick up a fishing rod and try to catch a big fish in Florida.
Monster tarpon lurking deep and in the shallows make Florida night fishing on topwater plugs a mind-blowing experience.

You might be surprised to learn that you can catch them from a pier at night too. OK, I’ll tell you the story…

It was about 1999. I know… I know. The world was still innocent. To whatever degree. 9/11 hadn’t happened and we all felt safe about going out to a pitch-dark pier (Gandy Bridge) and fishing until the wee hours of the morning while pounding Corona Light or whatever else was on sale that night. I am pretty sure I had Mexico’s finest with me that night. I pulled the ol’ Lexus RX300 down the ramp into the parking area and opened up the back. I had a huge ice chest with beer and food of all kinds, including Italian sandwiches, chips, pretzels, and fruit of some kind. That was my usual stash.

It was about 7ish. I liked to get there early and get what I thought was a good spot. There is still some light then and I could see some of the faces around me, as I walked down to The Spot. The spot was about 30 yards from the end of the pier. It allowed me to pick up a rod and walk to the end if it wasn’t covered in anglers. It allowed me to walk around the bend and do some business (shee-shee, or whatever business was happening that night). It was a good spot for fish, but pretty much it’s all the same out there.

I brought my medium-heavy rod and Penn reel, sorry but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was back then. I basically only used Penn and Abu Garcia. Why Abu? I kept having them gifted to me, and I figured I might as well use them. They were reliable and I ended up liking them. I still preferred Penn baitcasting reels though. Maybe being from Pennsylvania had something weird to do with it? Not sure. I brought some medium-action poles and a bunch of shrimp for live bait. I had a crappy flashlight that used D-cell batteries. These days I use a Petzl SWIFT RL PRO headlamp or one of the other super-reliable Petzl headlamps like the IKO.

I brought a fold up chair, a k-bar, headphones and radio. Hell, I probably even brought some cassette tapes to listen to! No wait, CDs were available then. I’m sure I had those. Led Zepp, and a bunch of alternative music from England is probably what I thought I’d be listening to that night if there was no action.

But, the ACTION NEVER STOPPED.

From the time I decided on a WHIM to throw out this massive 14″ long floating 4-section cork-fish type thing, it was non-stop action. Within two hours I had lost all 7 floating lures that I had in my tacklebox and I was tying plastic bags and pieces of wood on my line by some treble hooks to catch more fish.

This is no joke, a guy gets desperate when he’s out of lures and this was a crazy night. I had only had time for two beers when threw this big lure out there about 30 feet in front of me. I expected nothing. Nobody else on the pier that I could see was throwing ANY TOPWATER PLUGS and there I was, the contrarian, whaling this beast out there. I wasn’t even sure it would float. I had reeled this huge yellow lure up off the bottom in a tangled mess of line the year before and didn’t figure I ‘d ever use it.

Tonight was the night for it though. Before the concentric ripple-waves of water settled down I watched in the moonlight as an absolute KILLER OF A TARPON opened it’s 20″ pizza plate mouth and engulfed my lure in a split second with a SNAP of it’s jaws. It was insane – everyone near me jumped and caught their breath. It was the craziest and loudest sound I’d ever heard as a fish took something on the top of the water. Like a massive CLAPPING SOUND.

Well, the line stripped off like mad and it took me forty minutes to reel that thing in. I couldn’t lift it out of the water, and didn’t want to, to be honest, so I was able to use the pliers and remove all three treble hooks in its jaw. This tarpon was the biggest I’d ever caught by far, but also the biggest I’d ever even SEEN caught. My guess was over 7 feet long. Of course I had little experience catching tarpon at that time, so I know that isn’t accurate. A guy came from down the pier and thought it was over 100 lbs. It was a helluva a lot of fun. Anyone on the pier that night caught tarpon until they went home if they had a topwater plug of any size.

Catching Tarpon at night on topwater plugs thrown just out in front of you must be the most fun you can have at night fishing from a pier.

Bottom Line

Get yourself out to a pier for some nightfishing and catch Snook, Mahi, and Tarpon – sometimes even all night long if you can stand it. Don’t be shy about throwing a huge floater out there on the water to see what happens. I was so surprised by the Mahi and the Tarpon hitting these lures that I didn’t have another one available after the first one was lost as it broke off. I combined floating lures to make them longer (duct tape!) to have something else to throw out there. I didn’t want the fun to end!

Night fishing is TOO MUCH FUN. Go get yourself some.