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23 Largest Fish Ever Caught in Florida

Atlantic goliath grouper, jewfish or itajara (Epinephelus itajara) Jardines de la Reina, Cuba
Jesus Cobaleda / Shutterstock.com

Florida is the third most populous state in the U.S., trailing only California and Texas. However, the number of humans in Florida routinely swells far above the state’s 22.6 million permanent residents. Florida is the most visited state in the nation. Over 60% of American adults have been to the Sunshine State at least once.

Millions of visitors flock to Florida each year to enjoy its 663 miles of sandy beaches. The state also boasts renowned tourist destinations such as SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa, the Kennedy Space Center, Universal Studios, and, of course, Disney World. However, not all Florida visitors are there to see the most famous Mouse on the planet. Many are there for the fish, and not the ones swimming at EPCOT’s “Sea Base.” Florida is a Mecca for fishermen and fisherwomen. Here’s a look at Florida’s unparalleled access to top-tier recreational fishing, along with the largest freshwater and saltwater fish ever caught in the state.

Florida Waters

Two people in a canoe
Source: Douglas Rissing / E+ via Getty Images
Florida’s waters are rich and diverse.

Florida boasts 12,133 square miles of total water area. Nearly 18.5% of the state’s total area is covered by water. The state features approximately 7,700 lakes with surface areas of ten acres or more. Florida’s rivers meander 25,949 miles throughout the state. As a peninsula, Florida’s 1,350 statute miles of coastline also offer ready access to the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

With all of this water, it’s no surprise that the Sunshine State is a top fishing destination in the United States. Florida sells more nonresident fishing licenses each year than any other state. All of these visiting anglers have learned what millions of Florida residents have always known: the state’s waters are teeming with prized game fish. The fishing in Florida is so exceptional that the state has been given the unofficial title of Fishing Capital of the World.

Big Fish, Big Business

$100 bills
Source: Kativ / E+ via Getty Images
Fishing pumps billions of dollars into the Florida economy each year.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), recreational fishing adds $6.1 billion to the Florida economy annually. It also supports well over 50,000 jobs in the state. The state is home to big fish, and that equates to big business. (Speaking of the state’s economy, here’s a look at how Florida’s job market compared to the U.S. over the last 47 years.)

Florida’s Fishing Records

The FWC verifies and records all of Florida’s official fishing records.

Here’s a look at some of those big fish. The following list contains every Florida freshwater fishing record over 20 pounds and every saltwater record over 200 pounds, including the largest freshwater and saltwater fish ever caught in the Sunshine State.

FWC is the official holder of Florida state fishing records. The commission was the exclusive source of information for all of the record-setting fish listed below. World records were corroborated by the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), sportfishing’s governing body and official keeper of fishing world records.

Freshwater Fish

Lake Okeechobee
Source: 6381380 / iStock via Getty Images
Florida’s Lake Okeechobee is one of the best bass lakes in the nation.

Whether it’s lakes, swamps, streams, or rivers, Florida offers a wealth of freshwater fishing opportunities. It is considered by many anglers to be the top state in the nation for bass fishing. Other freshwater species also proliferate in the state. Here are all of Florida’s state freshwater fishing records weighing over 20 pounds, including a gargantuan beast that is the largest freshwater fish ever caught in the state.

8. Largemouth Bass

Big Bass Largemouth - Fishing
Source: Ryno Botha / Shutterstock.com
The largemouth bass was named Florida’s official state freshwater fish in 1975.
  • Weight: 20.13 Pounds*
  • Catch Location:  Big Fish Lake, Pasco County
  • Date: May 19, 1923
  • Angler: Frederick Friebel

The largemouth bass is the most famous freshwater fish in Florida. This record dating back to 1923 is the oldest among all of Florida’s freshwater fishing records. It is also one of the most disputed.

FWC lists this giant 20+ pound largemouth bass in its record books, but it also notes the record is uncertified with this disclaimer: “This fish was weighed on a postal scale and witnessed, but an FWC (or GFC) biologist did not document it at the time to establish an official record.”

The largemouth bass which currently holds the certified state record in Florida weighed 17.27 pounds. Billy O’Berry caught that fish on July 6, 1986.

7. Common Carp

The common carp is native to Eurasia but is now one of the most widespread invasive species in the United States.
  • Weight: 40.56 Pounds
  • Catch Location: Apalachicola River, Gadsden County
  • Date: May 24, 1981
  • Angler: Bernard Rowan

This record catch is also uncertified. FWC states, “Strong evidence [for this record catch] exists, but not all the reporting requirements were met.”

Florida’s official record for a common carp is currently vacant. A fish must weigh at at least 35 pounds to qualify.

6. Longnose Gar

Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus)
Source: USFWSmidwest / Wikimedia Commons
The longnose gar is the most common and widely distributed of all the gar species.
  • Weight: 41 Pounds
  • Catch Location: Lake Panasoffkee, Sumter County
  • Date: April 14, 1985
  • Angler: Evan Merritt

5. Striped Bass

School of striped bass
Source: stammphoto / iStock via Getty Images
Striped bass are anadromous, meaning they live in saltwater but move into freshwater to spawn.
  • Weight: 42.24 Pounds
  • Catch Location: Apalachicola River, Gadsden
  • Date: December 14, 1993
  • Angler: Alphonso Barnes

4. Channel Catfish

Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)
Source: Engbretson, Eric / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Wikimedia Commons
The channel catfish is the most common catfish species in North America.
  • Weight: 44.5 Pounds
  • Catch Location: Lake Bluff, Lake County
  • Date: May 19, 1985
  • Angler: Joe Purvis

3. Blue Catfish

While Florida’s nearly 70-pound record blue catfish is no slouch, these fish can grow well over 100 pounds in the right conditions.
  • Weight: 69.5 Pounds
  • Catch Location: Choctawhatchee River, Washington County
  • Date: May 30, 2015
  • Angler: William Stewart III

2. Flathead Catfish

Flathead Catfish (Pylodictis olivaris)
Source: USFWS Mountain-Prairie / Wikimedia Commons
The flathead catfish is easy to distinguish from other U.S. catfish by its black blotches (mottling) and its eponymous flat head.
  • Weight: 69.9 Pounds
  • Catch Location: Yellow River, Santa Rosa County
  • Date: August 26, 2020
  • Angler: Lavon Nowling

1. Alligator Gar

The alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) is a ray-finned euryhaline fish related to the bowfin in the infraclass Holostei.
Source: TKBackyard / Shutterstock.com
The alligator gar is named for its gator-like snout filled with sharp teeth.
  • Weight: 123 Pounds
  • Catch Location: Choctawhatchee River, Walton County
  • Date: July 8, 1995
  • Angler: Zachary Phillips

This alligator gar caught in 1995 is the largest freshwater fishing record in Florida. However, a larger alligator gar weighing 132 pounds was captured in the Yellow River in 2011 by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and FWC researchers. While it is not included in recreational fishing records, it is the largest freshwater fish ever documented in Florida.

Facts About Florida’s Largest Freshwater Catch

The alligator gar is the largest of the gar species. It is sometimes known as a “living fossil.” Alligator gar have been traced back 100 million years in the fossil record. Though the fish has a fearsome prehistoric appearance, it is docile and poses no threat to people. There has never been a documented case of an alligator gar attack on a human. The only real risk posed by an alligator gar is experienced by anglers who reel in these monster-sized fish. Along with two rows of sharp canine teeth, the alligator gar is also covered with sharp diamond-shaped bony scales. These scales can easily cut a careless angler.

Alligator gar feed on fish primarily, but they will also predate ducks and other water fowl. The alligator gar will scavenge for dead fish and other animals, as well. This gar is one of the few native U.S. freshwater fish large enough to prey on invasive Asian carp species, making it an invaluable resource to provide at least some control over the spread of these destructive fish.

The alligator gar has a modified swim bladder that allows the fish to breath both water and air. This adaptation means alligator gar can survive in virtually any water condition. It has a higher salt tolerance than any other gar. However, habitat loss has greatly restricted the alligator gar in Florida. Today, the only known populations of alligator gar in the state are found in the Panhandle, stretching from Gulf County to Escambia County.

Saltwater Fish

Family in fishing boat on very calm water where the ocean blends into the sky off Cudjoe Key Florida USA circa August 2010
Source: Susan Vineyard / Getty Images
Florida offers some of the best saltwater fishing in the U.S.

With easy access to the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, Florida is a hotspot for saltwater fishing. The state has yielded some giant saltwater fish, including several world records. Here is a list of every saltwater record in Florida weighing over 200 pounds, including the largest fish of any species ever caught in the Sunshine State.

15. Yellowfin Tuna

The yellowfin tuna is named for its bright yellow fins.
  • Weight: 240 Pounds
  • Catch Location: Key West
  • Date: December 5, 2002
  • Angler: Michael Delph

14. Tarpon

Tarpon Jumping in the Caribbean Sea
Source: Daniel Y Smith / Shutterstock.com
The tarpon is famous for its acrobatic leaps after it is hooked.
  • Weight: 243.19 Pounds
  • Catch Location: Key West
  • Date: February 17, 1975
  • Angler: Gus Bell

13. Lemon Shark

Lemon shark in blue water.
Source: frantisekhojdysz / Shutterstock.com
The lemon shark can be found in both saltwater and estuarine waters in Florida.
  • Weight: 397.44 Pounds
  • Catch Location: Dunedin
  • Date: April 29, 1977
  • Angler: Richard M. Guccione

12. Warsaw Grouper

Warsaw grouper
Source: SEFSC Pascagoula Laboratory; Collection of Brandi Noble, NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC / Wikimedia Commons
Mature Warsaw groupers are typically found at depths over 200 feet.
  • Weight: 436.75 Pounds
  • Catch Location: Destin
  • Date: December 22, 1985
  • Angler: Steve Haeusler

Florida’s state record Warsaw grouper is also the current world record.

11. Bull Shark

Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas) in Bimini, Bahamas
Source: Rob Atherton / Shutterstock.com
Bull sharks can venture even further into freshwater environments than lemon sharks.
  • Weight: 517.44 Pounds
  • Catch Location: Panama City Beach
  • Date: October 1, 1981
  • Angler:  Gregory K. Burnett

10. Common Thresher Shark

Thresher sharks are carnivorous and primarily feed on small fish and squid. They use their tails to herd their prey and then strike them with their jaws.
Source: Damir Zurub / Shutterstock.com
Thresher sharks can use their extraordinarily long tails to stun their prey.
  • Weight: 544.5 Pounds
  • Catch Location: Destin
  • Date: September 15, 1994
  • Angler: James Weil

9. Swordfish

Swordfish
Source: LUNAMARINA / iStock / Getty Images Plus
Florida’s waters are breeding grounds for swordfish.
  • Weight: 612.75 Pounds
  • Catch Location: Key Largo
  • Date: May 7, 1978
  • Angler: Stephen Stanford

8. Goliath Grouper

Atlantic goliath grouper, jewfish or itajara (Epinephelus itajara) Jardines de la Reina, Cuba
Source: Jesus Cobaleda / Shutterstock.com
The Goliath grouper lives up to its name as the largest of the grouper species.
  • Weight: 680 Pounds
  • Catch Location: Fernandina Beach
  • Date: May 20, 1961
  • Angler:  Lynn Joyner

Florida’s state record Goliath grouper is also the current world record.

7. White Shark

White Shark
Source: Global_Pics / Getty Images
White sharks, also known as great whites, are the most famous and feared sharks in the world.
  • Weight: 686.38 Pounds
  • Catch Location: Key West
  • Date: April 30, 1988
  • Angler: Richard P. DeAngelis

6. Dusky Shark

Dusky shark in hadera beach
Source: ilan elgrably / Shutterstock.com
Dusky sharks are gray with dusky margins on the fins.
  • Weight: 764.25 Pounds
  • Catch Location: Longboat Key
  • Date: May 28, 1982
  • Angler: Warren Girle

Florida’s state record dusky shark is also the current world record.

5. Bluefin Tuna

Bluefin tuna
Source: Public Domain / Wikipedia
The bluefin tuna is the largest of the tuna species.
  • Weight: 826.5 Pounds
  • Catch Location: Gulf of Mexico
  • Date: May 8, 2017
  • Angler: Rick Whitley

4. Mako Shark

Short fin mako shark swimming just under the surface, offshore, about 50 kilometres past Western Cape in South Africa. This picture was taken during a blue water baited shark dive.
Source: wildestanimal / Shutterstock.com
The mako is the fastest shark on Earth.
  • Weight: 911.75 Pounds
  • Catch Location: Palm Beach
  • Date: April 9, 1962
  • Angler: Audrey Cohen

3. Blue Marlin

blue marlin
Source: kelldallfall / Shutterstock.com
The blue marlin can use its long, sharp bill to slice or stun prey.
  • Weight: 1,046 Pounds
  • Catch Location: Panama City
  • Date: July 14, 2001
  • Angler: Conrad E. Hawkins

2. Hammerhead Shark

Great hammerhead shark, Mokarran, with the sun shining behind. Bimini. Bahamas
Source: Izen Kai / Shutterstock.com
The great hammerhead shark inhabits the open ocean and the shallow coastal waters of Florida.
  • Weight: 1,063.75 Pounds
  • Catch Location: Boca Grande
  • Date: May 5, 2009
  • Angler: Capt. Bucky Dennis

1. Tiger Shark

Tiger Shark Up Close Full Body Shot. Stripes showing in clear blue water with white sandy bottom. Photo taken in The Bahamas.
Source: Jsegalexplore / Shutterstock.com
Tiger sharks can be aggressive, with more recorded human bites than any other shark species except the white shark.
  • Weight: 1,069.06 Pounds
  • Catch Location: Pensacola
  • Date: June 20, 1981
  • Angler: Richard Baggs

This tiger shark caught in 1981 is the largest documented catch of any fish species, fresh or saltwater, in the state of Florida.

Facts About Florida’s Largest Saltwater Catch

The tiger shark is one of the world’s largest sharks. It is named for the dark stripes along its sides, similar to those of a tiger. Those stripes fade as the shark ages, though.

This shark has an insatiable appetite and will eat virtually anything. Its diet is the largest and most varied of any shark in the world. A short list of some of the tiger shark’s prey includes fish, marine birds, sea turtles, rays, squid, porpoises, conchs, crabs, lobsters, skates, marine mammals, and even other sharks. The tiger shark has been nicknamed “the garbage can of the sea” due to its indiscriminate eating habits. Along with their natural prey, tiger sharks have been known to consume garbage such as license plates, chicken wire, barrels, cans, burlap bags, and tires.

Tiger sharks are common throughout Florida. These sharks can be found in river mouths, coastal waters, and the open ocean.

Tiger sharks are among the most aggressive sharks in the state’s waters. While the risk of an attack by any shark species is quite low, Florida is home to more shark bites on humans than anywhere else on Earth. Swimmers can take steps to avoid a shark encounter, such as refraining from bathing suits that are metallic or flashy. Sharks may mistake the sun’s reflection off this material as a fish. Also, never swim near anglers as their lures or bait may draw sharks into the area. Finally, obey all warnings from local officials regarding shark activity.

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