Top 25 Saltwater Game Fish Species
This post will list the top 25 saltwater game fish species. They will be listed in no particular order, other than the more widely available species will be listed higher up.
My name is Capt Jim Klopfer and I run fishing charters in Sarasota, Florida. This “fun” post lists my favorite saltwater game fish species, featuring some of the best, and REAL, female saltwater anglers!
Top 25 saltwater game fish species
Here is my list of the top 25 saltwater game fish species. I will include my own insights on each species, along with some tips, locations, and techniques. I have personally caught most of these species, with the exception of billfish.
Redfish (red drum)
Flounder and fluke
Spotted sea trout (speckled trout)
False albacore and bonito
This list covers my favorite saltwater game fish, most of which are found throughout the world, with am emphasis on the most abundant species in North America.
1) Striped bass
Striped bass are the top inshore saltwater game fish in the northeast portion of the United States, by far, earning the top spot on the list of top 25 saltwater game fish species. They range from the Carolinas to Canada. The majority of striped bass spawn in the Cheasapeake Bay ecosystem. The myriad of creeks and rivers along with the brackish water make for ideal conditions. Some fish spawn in the Hudson River and other rivers as well.
Anglers can purchase Capt Jim’s E-book, “Inshore Saltwater Fishing” for $5 by clicking on the title link. It is 23,000 words long and covers tackle, tactics, and species.
Striped bass are caught by anglers casting lures and baits, trolling, bottom fishing, and chumming. The techniques used vary by region. Trolling is a very efficient way to locate and catch striped bass. Anglers also anchor and fish with live or cut bait, often chumming as they do so. Surf casters toss lures and cut bait. Drifting a white bucktail jig will catch many as well. Striped bass grow very large, the small to medium sized fish are excellent to eat.
Bluefish are popular in the northeast as well. They also range much further south, being caught along the Gulf Coast, though these Gulf bluefish are smaller. Bluefish are very aggressive feeders! Once located, they are usually easy to catch. Many anglers target them using lures such as spoons, jigs, and plugs to take advantage of their aggressive nature. Cut bait certainly works as well.
Anglers catch bluefish by trolling, casting, drifting, and surf fishing. They grow large, with fish approaching 20 pounds being commonly caught. Some anglers targeting other species actually consider bluefish to be a nuisance. However, they are a terrific game fish! The meat is strong and they are not considered to be the best table fare, though smaller fish are decent when eaten fresh.
Cobia are a pelagic game fish species. This means that they migrate and are found high in the water column. Anglers can often sight fish to them as they cruise the surface. Navigation buoys and towers will attract them as well. Anglers catch them using lures, but live baits including eels and crabs are more productive. They will be found in schools over structure, too.
4) Redfish (red drum)
Redfish, also known as red drum, puppy drum, and channel bass, are a very popular inshore saltwater species, especially along the Gulf Coast. They do range up to Chesapeake Bay. Anglers surf fish for them along the Atlantic coast. Redfish will take a variety of lures and live baits.
Here in Florida where I fish, redfish are caught on the shallow grass flats and around docks and other structure. Venice, Louisiana is considered to be the best place on the planet to catch big redfish. Live shrimp, jigs, and spoons are top baits. Crabs fished on the bottom catch big redfish as well. Redfish pull hard and are fine eating. They are certainly on of the top 25 saltwater game fish species!
5) Flounder and fluke
Flounder and fluke are next on the list of top saltwater game fish. While they certainly put up a respectable battle, these members of the flatfish family are highly prized for their incredible fillets! They are terrific to ear. Both species lie in the sand, waiting to ambush prey. They relate to structure, but are found in the nearby sand. Bottom fishing with bait fish, cut bait, and jigs will put them in the boat. Flounder and fluke are available all along the eastern and Gulf coasts.
Pompano do not grow large, but they definitely deserve to be on the list of the top 25 saltwater game fish species! These smaller cousins to the permit fight very hard and are fantastic eating. They are my personal favorite fish to eat, fresh or salt. They feed on crustaceans on the bottom. Jigs are the top lure while shrimp and sand fleas are the best live baits. Anglers surf fishing catch a lot of pompano as well.
Sharks are top game fish throughout the world. There are way too many species to list, but mako, blacktip, spinner, blue, thresher, lemon, and bull sharks are prized by anglers. Sharks are terrific fighters when the tackle matches the size of the shark. Most sharks are caught using cut bait. Sharks can be caught from shore, piers, and boats. Most are good to eat, but anglers need to check local regulations and be conservative in the harvest.
8) Spotted sea trout (speckled trout)
Speckled trout, also called spotted sea trout, are a premier inshore saltwater game fish species. They are plentiful all along the Gulf Coast and are caught up to Chesapeake Bay. While not the strongest battler, they are aggressive, beautiful, and delicious. They take a wide variety of lures and live baits. Jigs, plugs, and spoons along with live shrimp and bait fish are top producers. Large trout should be released, those are the breeder fish needed to continue the species.
Permit are a terrific saltwater game fish species! The only negative is that they are not as widely available in the United States, being found in more temperate and tropical waters. Permit are the ultimate prize for anglers fishing shallow water, especially on fly. Most permit are caught by anglers using crabs. While very good to eat, most anglers release permit to please others.
10) Spanish mackerel
Spanish mackerel are a very widely distributed saltwater game fish species. They are found in good numbers throughout the world. In the United States, they are caught from New York south to Texas. Spanish mackerel are fast and aggressive and are found in large schools. They feed primarily on bait fish. Fast moving flashy lures such as spoons work well. Live and cut bait will fool them as well. Spanish mackerel are good to eat when prepared fresh, but do not freeze well.
Snook are the top inshore game fish in Florida. They are also found throughout the Carribbean. Very similar in habits to largemouth bass, snook are ambush predators that will take just about any lure or live bait when properly presented. They are fantastic eating, but regulations are strict as the stocks are fragile.
12) False albacore and bonito
False albacore and bonito are different species, but both are similar in looks and habits. They are my favorite fish to catch on fly! False albacore and bonito school up in big numbers and can be seen feeding aggressively on the surface. Both species are found throughout the world. Most are caught by anglers sight fishing with lures and flies, but bait will certainly fool them as well.
13) Dolphin (mahi-mahi)
Dolphin fish (not the mammal) are also known as mahi mahi. They are a deep water fish that are caught all over the world. In the States, they are found from the mid-Atlantic south. They school up and once located they can be caught in bunches. Dolphin are beautiful and fantastic to eat. They are among the fastest fish that swims. Most are caught trolling with lures and rigged ballyhoo, but they can be chummed up as well.
14) Jack crevalle
Jack crevalle are terrific saltwater game fish! They are the brawlers on the inshore waters, using their broad bodies to pull incredibly hard. Jacks are usually found in big schools. They are aggressive and readily take lures, flies, and live bait. Jack crevalle are found in tropical and temperate waters all over the world. They are not considered good to eat.
Tarpon are arguably the top inshore saltwater game fish species. They are found in tropical waters for the most part. Tarpon grow large, well over 200 pounds are are caught on relatively light tackle, considering their size. They take crabs and live bait fish as well as lures. Fly fishing the flats for tarpon is the ultimate challenge. Very few tarpon are killed for either food or mounts.
Bonefish are found throughout the world in tropical waters. They are mostly targeted on the shallow flats where anglers can sight fish for them. They are beautiful fish and incredibly fast! Bonefish are certainly one of the top 25 saltwater game fish species. Many anglers cast flies for them, but they readily take crabs and shrimp. Bonefish are not kept to eat.
17) King mackerel
King mackerel are a terrific saltwater game fish species! They grow quite large and are incredible fast! Kings are found all over the world. In the United States, they are caught from the mid Atlantic south. Most king mackerel are caught by anglers trolling the open waters of oceans. The largest fish are caught slow trolling large live bait fish. Spoons and plugs will catch numbers of fish. They are a bit oily, but still very good to eat, especially when smoked.
Wahoo are the largest member of the mackerel family. They are among the fastest fish that swims and are incredibly good to eat. Most wahoo are caught by anglers trolling very fast with lures. Wahoo are not as widely distributed as kings. They are a prized offshore saltwater game fish species!
Sailfish are one of the most recognizable saltwater game fish. They are found in tropical waters for the most part. Stuart, Florida and south to the Keys are the best spots in the United States to catch them. Sailfish are plentiful in Mexico and other Caribbean countries. Most are caught trolling or drifting live bait fish. While good to eat, very few sailfish are killed these days.
There are several tuna species, and all are terrific saltwater game fish! Bluefin tuna grow the largest, over 1000 pounds. Yellowfin tuna are the most plentiful and are the fish most often found in sushi restaurants. Tuna are caught throughout the world. In the United States, tuna are caught along both the east and west coasts. Southern California has a good tuna fishery. They are caught trolling and free lining baits. Chumming is often used to bring them to the boat.
There is no doubt that marlin belong on the list of top 25 saltwater game fish species. The only reason they are this far down is that marlin are not as accessible to anglers as other species. It is an expensive game to play. Most marlin are caught trolling in very deep water. There are several species, blue, black, white, and striped marlin. All are gorgeous fish that are very fast and leap multiple times when hooked. Marlin are found in temperate waters all over the world.
Grouper are a very popular bottom fish that are found in warmer waters. While some anglers may not consider them “game fish”, I certainly do. There are quite a few grouper species, including gag, red, black, scamp, goliath, Nassau, and yellowfin grouper. They pull very hard and will challenge anyone chasing them. Most grouper are caught by bottom fishing with live or cut bait. They are fantastic to eat!
Snapper are among the most popular saltwater game fish. Species can be found in shallow inshore waters out to the deepest structure. Snapper species include red, mangrove, lane, vermillion, cubera, and yellowtail snapper. Most are caught on live or cut bait and they are all very good to eat!
Amberjack are one of the largest members of the jack family. They are found on larger deep water reefs and wrecks. They pull very hard, earning their nickname ‘reef donkey”. Amberjack hit live bait well, but can be caught on cut bait, too. Of late, anglers are using special jigs meat for deep water fishing. They are good to eat.
Sheepshead are last on my list of top 25 saltwater game fish species. While maybe not “glamorous”, sheepshead can be challenging to hook and once hooked, they pull very hard. Sheepshead have saved the day on many of my fishing charters. While difficult to clean, they are very good to eat.
In conclusion, this article on the top 25 saltwater game fish species will help anglers identify and catch more fish!