Boatless Fishing in the Caribbean
There many species of fish available to the angler who wants to fish both inshore and offshore around the many Islands that make up the Caribbean.
Although the majority of the attention is focussed on larger species such as sailfish, marlin, mahi-mahi, and tuna caught offshore during boat trips, there’s plenty of fun and some great action to be had by simply fishing from the surf, around the local marinas and other shoreline structures.
In fact, with the exception of the largest pelagic fish, there’s a vast range of species to be found for the angler wishing to fish from the shore, from tiny reef fish up to the predatory barracuda. Even some of the larger species that are generally caught offshore also begin life in the shallower waters and reefs which are accessible to the shore angler.
The main fish to target from Caribbean shores include various types of snapper, as well as jack crevalle, permit, barracuda, and bonefish. Other species such as groupers, pufferfish, parrotfish, snook and various colorful reef fish are also on the shore angler’s radar.
As well as fishing from the actual beach or surf itself, areas of rough ground, marinas and around jetties/docks are all good spots to fish. In other words, you don’t need a boat to enjoy the great fishing the Caribbean has to offer.
Let’s take a look at this surf and shallow water Caribbean species in a bit more detail, along with the baits and methods used to catch them.
Snappers have over 100 different species which belong to a very large family of fish known as the Lutjanidae family. Although there are many types of snapper, there are only a few that you are likely to encounter whilst shore fishing.
All snapper species can be caught using lures. Surface lures, diving crank-baits, spinners, spoons and soft plastic swimbaits will catch all manner of snapper species. Float fishing is also a very successful method when using baits such as live and dead fish and shrimp, as well as muscles and squid.
Free lining with a small 4-7g weight a few inches away from the hook works well too, letting the bait wash around in the current.
It’s a matter of preference whether you use monofilament or braided mainline, but snappers have excellent eyesight, so using a fluorocarbon leader is critical.
Red snapper literally love structure. Find broken ground such as reefs, rock ledges, docks etc and you’ll find red snapper. The only time you’ll encounter these over clean ground is when they are moving from one spot to another.
Yellowtail snappers are a relatively wary species, so fishing with light tackle is the norm when targeting them. Most anglers shore fishing catch yellowtail up to the 12” mark, although fish reaching 16” isn’t impossible. Like red snapper, target these over or around structure, although catching them from an open beach isn’t impossible at all.
The mangrove snapper is one of the most commonly encountered snapper species. It can be found not only over rough ground but also over grass flats and clear ground too. Similar to the yellowtail snapper in size, using light tackle to catch these feisty snappers will be advantageous.
Although adult mutton snapper inhabits the deeper reefs, juvenile mutton can be found around inshore coral beds, grass flats, and channels. Light spinning/surf fishing tackle is the preferred method, with fish readily taking surface lures. The average size of fish caught will be in the 1-2lb range.
As this fish grows, the adults move out into deeper water, but whilst still juvenile they are plentiful in shallow coastal waters, especially around coral beds. Live or dead shrimp is a number one bait for this fish, but they will also take squid readily as well as lures.
Although the larger Jack Crevalle prefer to live offshore in deeper water, the smaller juveniles prefer inshore environments. They’ll inhabit shallow flats, seagrass beds, beaches, lagoons and shallow reef complexes.
These fish are an out and out predator and their main diet consists of small fish. The average size jack that is caught inshore will be around the 10-12” mark, with larger fish possible. These fish live in shoals, so if you catch one, there’s a good chance that you’ll catch more.
The best time to target them is early morning or late evening, where they can be seen rounding up shoals of baitfish between themselves and the shallows. This is the time to target them with either floating or diving crankbaits, spinners and spoons or live bait, either under a float or free-lined.
There is nothing finesse about Jack Crevalle. If using lures, reel fast. Jacks love to hit a fast-moving target. Fish light for them like you would the other species, but be prepared to make contact with the odd bigger fish that will put your tackle to the test.
The permit is probably, pound for pound, one the hardest fighting fish that you’ll encounter whilst fishing around the Caribbean. The beauty of fishing for this species is that you don’t need to look for any structure. Although they can be found over reefs and structure, the best place to target them is in the surf.
Small crabs, prawn, and strips of squid are a number one bait, either free-lined or with a small weight added to assist in casting. You don’t want a static bait, you need to present your bait in a way that it washes around in the surf.
Bites will be unmistakable, with your rod suddenly pulling round and line being taken from your reel. Even permit in the 5-6” range will let you know that they’re not too happy with being hooked.
Artificial lures are also a good choice for permit, with crab and shrimp varieties the number one option. Small spinners and spoons will also catch fish, as will small crankbaits in both floating and diving varieties.
When barracuda are small, they tend to live inshore around shallow bays and reefs. Once older, they tend to move to reefs and wrecks further offshore.
Barracudas are an out and out predator, so using lures or live bait is the number one choice. Reefs, grass beds, docks, and marinas are the best places to target, although you can catch fish on the open beach.
With barracuda being an all-out predator, find groups of small fish and there’s a chance a barracuda won’t be far away. These are a solitary fish, so if you catch one, don’t expect to catch another straight away.
Small, live fish fished either free-lined or under a float make the best barracuda baits, but searching for them with artificial baits is the most enjoyable way of catching them. Any fish related artificial lure will work. Cuda rigs, crankbaits, spinners, spoons, and soft plastics will all catch fish. Early morning and late evening will give you the best chance of catching them, but they can be caught throughout the day.
One thing to remember when targeting barracuda is that these fish have a serious set of razor-sharp teeth, quite capable of taking your finger off. The use of a fine wire trace is critical and extreme care must be taken when removing a hook. Wet cloth and a pair of long nosed forceps or pliers are a must.
Bonefish can reach a size of over 20lb, but most fish caught will be well under the 10lb mark. These fish are generally found in very shallow water but can move out into deeper waters when not feeding.
The general way to target these fish is by sight fishing. Carefully wading in shallow water and spotting the fish before casting a bait in front of them is the general way to target them.
If you look at the shape of the bonefish mouth, you can clearly see that this fish predominately feeds from off the seabed, so presenting baits on the bottom is advantageous.
A lot of people target bonefish with flies, using a seven or eight weight fly rod. With bonefish being predominantly bottom feeders, use a weighted fly with a shrimp or small crab pattern. Once the fly has sunk, slowly strip line so the fly works its way along the bottom.
Bonefish can also be caught using bait. Small shrimps, crabs, and strips of squid will take fish, but again, baits must be fishing on the bottom. If you wish to lure for them, use crab or shrimp style lures and slowly work them on the bottom.
Bonefish make very long, fast runs, so whether you choose to use a fly rod or a spinning setup, make sure that your reel is fully loaded with line and that you use a fluorocarbon leader.
As well as these popular fish to target, there is also a vast array of other common species that you could well encounter.
Although grouper are generally a deep-water fish, small fish can be found inshore. These are solitary fish, so you won’t find these in groups. You also won’t find these fish far from structure, do target them around reefs, broken ground, docks, and any visible structure.
Grouper can be caught on lures, live bait, and dead bait. The best live bait for grouper is a small fish either float fished or free-lined over rough ground.
Dead baits can be fished the same way, with not only fish baits but crabs, shrimps and squid also being effective. Lures are another successful way of catching grouper, with crank-baits being the number one choice.
Grouper are ambush predators, meaning that they hole up and wait for prey to pass them, so don’t fish for too long in one spot.
The most commonly found inshore grouper species are the gag grouper, black grouper, yellowfin grouper and the red grouper, although other grouper species have been caught inshore.
One of the most beautiful and interesting species that you can catch around the Caribbean is the pufferfish.
There are over 120 different species of pufferfish, some even living in freshwater, so identifying them can be tricky. They all have one thing in common though and that is the ability to inflate their body when threatened.
Catching pufferfish is a relatively straightforward procedure. Although they can be caught from the beach, look for areas around docks and marinas. Pufferfish have very small mouths, so hook sizes around a size 10 will suffice. Baits can be small bits of mussel, prawn or squid, either float fished or free-lined.
That will do it. This is not an exhaustive write-up on all Caribbean surf and shore fish species or fishing tactics, but it should give you a leg up should you want to eschew the typical Caribbean fishing vacation packages and try something more traditional.