It’s a Tuna!!!

Now, by no means am I an expert when it comes to the subject of identifying fish.

I can tell you the difference between a Spanish mackerel and a cero mackerel, or a black grouper and a gag grouper, but test me on the different species of shark, or the multitude of colorful fish you’ll catch while fishing the reef or out deep dropping offshore, and I’ll likely not have a clue what’s on the end of your line.

But yesterday, while I was kayak fishing off Key Colony Beach, I was fairly certain that the two gentlemen I saw surf fishing from the rocks at the mouth of the inlet, had indeed misidentified their catch.

While not nearly as good as yellowfin tuna, yellow jacks are actually very tasty.

While not nearly as good as yellowfin tuna, yellow jacks are actually very tasty.

And while you’d be amazed at the variety of highly sought after game fish and table fare species that you can catch while shore or bridge fishing in the Florida Keys, I am fairly certain that yellowfin tuna is not one of them.

Thus, when I heard one of the guys- in a serious and demanding tone- shout “go get the gaff, it’s a yellowfin tuna,” I nearly capsized my kayak from laughing so hard.

Again, I am no marine biologist, but I am positive that at no time will you catch a yellowfin tuna ten yards off the beach in the Florida Keys, no matter how hard you try.

Not only that, but yellowfin tuna are not that common anywhere in the Keys (unlike their smaller cousins the blackfin tuna), although you may catch one here or there while out fishing the humps or out beyond the Gulf Stream.

So I guess all things considered, if I thought I had a yellowfin tuna on my hook, I probably would have yelled for someone to get the gaff as well.

I can only assume that the fish the gentleman lost in the rocks was a jack crevalle, or maybe even a yellow jack. Both are hard-fighting, extremely fun game fish to reel in (especially on light tackle), but far from the trophy catch of a yellowfin tuna.

This brings me to the point of this post- after all, the goal was not to poke fun at the shore-bound tuna angler. The goal was to advise you that if you’re planning on fishing in the Florida Keys, whether on your own boat, or from shore or bridge, make sure to acquaint yourself with the rules and regulations for Florida saltwater fishing.

I know a few Florida Fish & Wildlife officers and Monroe County sheriffs who will not show sympathy when it comes to writing you a hefty ticket for keeping more than your bag limit, or for tossing undersized or protected fish in your cooler.

Do you know the difference between a black grouper (shown here) and a gag grouper? Gag grouper are closed in the Gulf from Feb. 1- March 31.

Can you tell the difference between a black grouper (shown here) and a gag grouper?

So take the time to learn the species that you’ll be catching before you drop a line into the water. Not only will this keep you from getting in trouble when the law asks to check your catch; but it will also impress your friends when they ask what type of fish you caught.

“Oh that, that’s a schoolmaster; a type of snapper.”

Plus, if you know your species, you won’t have to worry about some local “know-it-all” writing an article about you!

Florida Keys bridges, equipped with new fishing platforms, are a great place to catch a variety of species.

Florida Keys bridges, equipped with new fishing platforms, are a great place to catch a variety of species.

A great place to start is the Florida Keys species guide that can be found on Try This guide shows you photos of the different species you can catch; as well as their food quality, where they can be found, and the regulations and bag limits for each.

Another good idea is to print out an updated copy of the FWC Regulations (regulations constantly change so print a new copy often), and always keep it with you in your tackle box. Throw in a tape measure to measure the length of your fish, and you’ll be ready to hit the water.

Below are some basic regulations to get you started. You can view photos of each here.

  • Mangrove Snapper:  10 inches or greater. Limit 5 (included in 10 snapper aggregate bag limit).
  • Yellowtail Snapper: 12 inches or greater. Limit 10 (included in 10 snapper aggregate bag limit).
  • Tarpon: It is common practice to release all tarpon but you can possess 2 if you have a tarpon tag.
  • Snook: Must measure between 28-33 inches and are illegal to keep from Dec.-Feb. & May- Aug. You are allowed to keep one “slot” fish during snook season.
  • Jack Crevalle: No regulations but they are very poor to eat.
  • Yellow Jack: No bag or size limit and despite what some may say are actually quite tasty!
  • Black Grouper: Must be over 24 inches. 2 per angler per day.
  • Barracuda: No size or bag limit. Rarely eaten and often contain ciguatera- they can be poisonous to eat!
  • Goliath Grouper: Federally protected. It is illegal to keep them!
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One comment on “It’s a Tuna!!!

  1. Anne Gibson on said:

    Hi Drew,
    I’m Ty’s mom…love your pics!!! What incredible sunsets!!! Of course I love looking at pics of my son too. I used to live in the Keys and your pictures really bring back some good memories…looking forward to returning…this time to see my new grandson.

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