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Living Sanibel: Tackle the feisty fighter, Florida’s surf fish

By Staff | Feb 25, 2015


The nickname “poor man’s tarpon” says volumes about this feisty, miniature relative of the tarpon. Once hooked, the frenetic ladyfish almost invariably takes to the air-leaping, flipping, twisting, and turning until the hook is thrown.

Averaging around two pounds, the ladyfish is considered to be a sport fish on light tackle. For anyone who has had the pleasure to hook one, it is always a fun, if not frantic, addition to a day of angling in the back bay. Its hyperactivity makes it slightly dangerous, however. It tends to toss lures back at you after being hooked, and it can be very difficult to unhook. Care should be taken when handling ladyfish, though; unlike catfish, it does not have any venomous spines, nor does it have any teeth large enough to be a factor.

The ladyfish is an aggressive predator and will take just about any bait, live or artificial. It feeds on shrimp, greenbacks, pinfish, and even smaller ladyfish. It is heavily preyed upon by sharks, bottlenose dolphins, alligators, and birds. Its meat is bony and dry, so the ladyfish is almost never taken as a food fish.

It tends to congregate in the passes and on the outside of mangrove creeks. Its range extends from South Carolina, through the Caribbean, to the mouth of the Amazon.


The whiting is a popular surf fish, predominantly caught along the Gulf beaches and near passes. No state or IGFA records exist for whiting, but it is commonly caught and taken as a food fish all along the Gulf coast. It feeds in and along the surf on small fish, sand fleas, crabs, and shrimp. The most common bait to use for catching it are sand fleas and fresh or frozen shrimp.

The whiting is best taken on very light spinning tackle. It is not a strong fighter and never jumps. Fall, winter, and spring appear to be the best times to find it along the beaches. It is almost never found in the estuary or in waters deeper than 12 feet. Anglers should be careful not to cast out too far as it prefers depths of three or four feet. The whiting is related to redfish, seatrout, and black drum. In northern waters another relative, the spot, is also a popular inshore fish to catch.

This is an excerpt from The Living Gulf Coast – A Nature Guide to Southwest Florida by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.