June 13 2016
The open ocean is a place of mystery and wonder. Below all of that rocking and rolling of the ocean’s surface lies an amazing array of fish, especially in what’s known as the pelagic zone.
The pelagic zone can be defined as “any water in a sea or lake that is neither close to the bottom nor near the shore.” The term “pelagic” comes from the Greek word “pelagos,” which means “open sea.” The pelagic zone begins at the surface and runs almost to the bottom of the ocean floor. As you get deeper though, less light penetration, increased pressure and colder temperatures equals fewer fish.
As we’ll explain below, the top part of the pelagic zone is home to a variety of gamefish that are popular targets for deep sea fishing charters in Sarasota and throughout the Gulf coast.
Pelagic fish are species who live in this zone as opposed to “demersal” fish who live on the bottom or “reef” fish that inhabit coral reefs.
We invite you to continue reading to learn more about 8 species that call the pelagic zone off Sarasota home. These species are known for the incredible, heart-pumping action they give anglers aboard private vessels and deep sea fishing charters.
1. Billfish – This is a general category of fish covering several different species (i.e. White Marlin, Sailfish, etc.). These species are noted for their long “bill” or “spear” extending from the top part of their mouth. This bill is used to stun and consume smaller fish (…or prey) that are swimming fast through the water. The White Marlin for example has a dark blue color across the top that turns to a silver color as you go farther down the side of the body.
2. Swordfish – The Swordfish is the largest type of billfish, but unique from the other species since it has a flatter bill extending from its upper jaw. Also, instead of a long dorsal fin like the White Marlin or Sailfish, the Swordfish’s dorsal fin is very high and takes up the front part of their body. The Swordfish also has a “keel” on both sides just in front of the tail which helps it swim straight. Swordfish typically come close to the water’s surface at night and can go as deep as 2000 feet. They are migratory.
3. King Mackerel – This species is often times found close to shore near piers, but they migrate into the deep sea offshore during their breeding season in the summer. This species has a dark almost black to blue/green color that turns more like silver as you go down its side. Juvenile King Mackerel are notable for their yellow spots. They typically come into waters near Sarasota during the winter months and migrate farther north as the weather warms up. King Mackerel are known to swim in large schools.
4. Spanish Mackerel – This species can be found both around inshore grass beds or offshore. Their back and top-sides are green while the lower side has a more silvery color. However, the Spanish Mackerel is unique from the King Mackerel because of randomly placed yellow spots along its side. Spanish Mackerel are migratory too and will come south once the water temperature starts getting below 70 degrees.
5. Wahoo – The Wahoo has a similar streamlined shape like the King and Spanish Mackerel, but they have dark, wavy lines extending vertically along their sides to conceal them from larger predators. Also, they don’t run in schools like the King and Spanish Mackerel. Wahoo are known for their incredible speed and ability to shift directions on a dime. They are also found exclusively offshore.
6. Cobia – This pelagic species found in the deep sea waters off Sarasota have a long and slender body and broad head. They can be easily spotted because their lower jaw protrudes out from the upper jaw. Cobias also have a noticeable dark stripe running almost the entire length of their body (eye to tail). This species typically lives close to shore and will often hang around buoys, bridge pilings, docks and so on.
7. Tripletail – At first glance, the Tripletail looks like a large panfish. The Tripletail’s color sometimes varies, but it is typically a brownish color. This species is called a Tripletail because of the appearance of the dorsal, caudal and anal fins, which makes it look like the fish has 3 tales. Tripletails are typically found in Florida during all seasons except winter when they migrate to warmer waters in the Caribbean. When they are in Florida, the Tripletail is generally found near markers or floats.
8. Dolphinfish (Mahi Mahi) – Also known as a “Dolphin,” this species is easily noticeable for its unique shaped head and bright green color across the top part of its body. Its body also gets smaller as you move from its head to its back. Mahi Mahis live their entire lives in the open ocean and breed throughout the year. They are typically found around weed lines or other floating objects in the deep sea. They are very popular for their delicious meat, acrobatics and vigorous fight.
Captain Eric White of Legacy Charters in Sarasota offers deep sea fishing expeditions for these 8 pelagic fish species and other popular gamefish like Grouper and Snapper. His extensive, life-long experience fishing the waters around Sarasota means he knows the best spots for pursuing pelagic fish listed above. Learn more about Sarasota deep sea fishing charters or consider scheduling your adventure with Capt. Eric today!