Commonly Caught Alabama Reef Fish
Gray Snapper (black/mangrove)
This fine eating fish is one of the few snappers that may be found in shallow estuarine waters around the Gulf. Individuals may mingle with aggregates of pinfish or pigfish around wharfs, and provide a rare but delightful treat for a young angler who catches a genuine snapper from that friendly spot on the boathous pier.
Gags are common from the Carolinas, around Florida, and throughout the Gulf. Most "black grouper" from the Gulf are really gags. The placement of the many artificial reefs in shallow shelf waters of the Gulf in recent years has greatly enhanced the gag grouper fishery.
The Gulf of Mexico is the center of abundance for northern red snapper. This is one of the Gulf's most important fish species; about eight million pounds are taken in United States waters annually. Its esteemed reputation as one of the finest food fishes in the world is well deserved.
The color of the lane snapper is the quick and easy way to distinguish it from other snappers. It is basically a rich red color, but with about 8 or 10 yellow-gold parallel horizontal stripes along the side, and a large black diffuse spot under the dorsal fin.
Red groupers are most abundant in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Most specimens taken by charter boat fishermen are in the two to five pound class, but red grouper may exceed two feet and thirty pounds. It is one of the more popular and commonly caught grouper species of the Gulf.
The gray triggerfish is a very wide-ranging fish in the western Atlantic, recorded from Canada all the way to Argentina, and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. It is a very fine food fish, and is also a valuable commercial species.
Vermillion Snapper (beeliner)
This snapper favors rocky reefs in moderate to deep shelf areas. Aggregates accumulate on the flatter tops of reefs, or along gentler sloping reefs, avoiding steep drop-offs and ledges and frequent the mid-water column over the reef proper.
There is no doubt that scamp is one of the most highly esteemed food fishes in the Gulf, served at the finest seafood restaurants, commanding a price comparable to red snapper or pompano.
Barracudas are voracious predators and hunt using a classic example of lie-in-wait or ambush. They rely on surprise and short bursts of speed (up to 30mph) to overrun their prey. Larger barracuda are more or less soliotary in their habits. Their food is composed slmost totally of fishes of all kinds.
Spadefish are superb eating, and when the right spot is found along with a school in the right mood, a nice catch of pound-weight spadefish is a real possibility. Beacause of their flat shape and fine white color of the flesh, they are especially attractive as a broiled main dish.
Most Gulf fishermen might not be surprised to learn that there is more than one variety of amberjack. Actually, there are four. The common names for these are greater amberjack, lesser amberjack, Almaco jack and banded rudderfish. Federal and state minimum sizes on amberjacks make it imperative that you release any little jacks of whose ID you're not absolutely certain.
Marine Resources Division
Commonly Caught Inshore and Coastal Pelagic Fishes
Pompanos are schooling fishes, favoring beaches with a good surf and high salinity. This is probably because their favorite food items are the small shelled animals living in the upper layers of sandy bottoms. The pompano commands the highest price per pound of any marine food fish in the continental United States. 'Nuff said.
This is the largest of the mackerels in our region, reaching at least six feet in length, and weights approaching, perhaps slightly exceeding, eighty pounds. Throughout most of the Gulf, the king is a favorite offshore game fish, accessible to thousands of sportsmen with modest-sized craft.
Cobia are attracted to large objects, including buoys, ships, sharks, turtles, and giant rays. Anchored vessels are always likely to harbor a cobia or two, and a live croaker or well-maneuvered lure will often be struck in short order. This fish has more popular names than most any other. Along the Gulf they are known as cobia, cabio, ling, lemon fish, and crabeater.
A cult of anglers has materialized who specialize in "blackfishing." The basic plan is to use long cane poles and live bait, lowering the bait within a perimeter of pilings, buoys or other obstructions. If nothing strikes in a few minutes, it's on to the next spot. The fighting abilities of blackfish are renowned. Imagine catching a twenty-pound bluegill!
Spanish mackerel are fast-moving, voracious predators, usually traveling and feeding in loose schools. They favor the shallow shelf waters, occasionally foraging into the lower, saltier areas of the estuaries. Sardines and especially anchovies are their main staple, and their presence and abundance is often refleted by that of the anchovy schools.
One of the largest members of the porgy family, sometimes exceeding two feet and ten pounds. Though rather difficult to clean, the fine, white flesh and mild flavor of the sheepshead rates high on the list of Gulf fishes. The six or seven gray black bars on the side of the body make the sheepshead one of the easiest coastal fishes to identify.
Blues prefer shallow water near drop-offs from shoals and banks. Their preference for fast moving, schooling forage species makes them especially susceptible to flashy lures and spoons. Those jaws are no joke. Bluefish can easily remove a finger, bone and all, in a single, clean snap.
Sand & Silver Seatrout (white trout)
Small for sportfish, usually topping out at about 14 to 16 inches, and a couple of pounds, some of the offshore rigs hold "lunkers" in the three-pound-plus class. These species are highly regarded for their sporting nature and flesh quality. Sand and silver trout are lumped together and known locally as "white trout." The sand seatrout is strictly a Gulf of Mexico fish.
The flesh is of high quality, far superior to its reputation as only a mediocre panfish. The name croaker is derived from the croaking sound generated by its vibrating the gas filled swim bladder (similar to rubbing an air-filled balloon), a trait shared by many members of the drum family.
Red Drum (redfish)
The redfish is one of the largest drums, often exceeding a yard in length, and thirty or forty pounds. Big "bull" reds prefer offshore waters or deeper waters of lower estuaries around island passes and channels but the younger "rat" reds frequent the shallows, near peirs and jetties, often to the delight of youngsters with pole in hand. Red drum prefer shellfish such as crabs and shrimp, but will not pass up a good chunk of fish if it is offered.
Spotted Seatrout (speckled trout)
Specks along with redfish were the first of Alabama's saltwater fish to achieve gamefish status. Elimination from the commercial fishery along with stringent recreational size and creel limits have helped to ensure that this valuable resource will be available for future generations of Alabama anglers. Spotted seatrout feed primarily on fishes and larger shellfish. They rely on a vicious rapid first strike to dismember their prey, thus they are noted as a heavy hitter on artificial lures.
Marine Resources Division