The five things you need to remember to enjoy your day of reef fishing

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

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May 30, 2024

Suggested post: Get ready for reef #fishing season! These are the five things you need to remember to enjoy your day on the water: @MyFWC #Florida

The five things you need to remember to enjoy your day of reef fishing

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) shares five important things you need to remember, so you can enjoy your day of reef fishing.

1. Get your fishing license and State Reef Fish Angler designation

Before you get out on the water this fishing season, be sure to check if you need a fishing license and if yours is up to date by going to and clicking on “Frequently Asked Questions.” If you are targeting reef fish, such as mutton snapper or gag grouper, and fishing from a private recreational vessel anywhere in Florida, you are required to have the free State Reef Fish Angler designation. Unlike regular fishing licenses, the State Reef Fish Angler designation is required for anglers who are 65 and older and fishing from private recreational vessels for reef fish. State Reef Fish Anglers help improve recreational data of reef fish, which helps improve the management of our fisheries. The 13 species include: mutton snapper, yellowtail snapper, hogfish, red snapper, vermillion snapper, gag grouper, red grouper, black grouper, greater amberjack, lesser amberjack, banded rudderfish, almaco jack and gray triggerfish. You can learn more about the State Reef Fish Angler designation by visiting and selecting “Saltwater Fishing,” “Recreational Regulations” and “State Reef Fish Survey.”

Get your license and State Reef Fish Angler designation online at, in person at a license agent or tax collector’s office or by calling toll-free 888-FISH-FLORIDA (888-347-4356)

2. Know the regulations for the species you are targeting

Be sure to know the regulations for the species you are targeting before you drop a line in the water. Being up to date with fishing regulations helps ensure that when you reel in a fish, you know whether or not it needs to be released. To learn more about current regulations, visit and select “Saltwater Fishing” and “Recreational Regulations.” You can also download the Fish|Hunt FL App on Apple and Android devices.

There are also specific reef fish gear rules you need to know, such as using non-stainless steel circle hooks, a dehooking device and a descending device or venting tool. Check what regulations are required in the area you plan on fishing by visiting

3. Use best handling practices

For every fish you reel in, be sure to use best handling practices. Use a knotless rubber coated net to bring in the fish and, using wet hands and a dehooking tool, quickly remove the hook. Avoid using a towel or gloves as this removes the slime coat of the fish, which helps protect fish from infections. Keep your fingers out of the gills and eyes, and hold the fish horizontally, supporting the belly. If you would like to take a photo, be sure to take it quickly so that you do not delay release.

Visit for more information on best handling practices.

4. Have the right release gear onboard and know how to use it correctly

Barotrauma are injuries caused by pressure changes when fish are rapidly brought to the surface from deep water and are one of the leading causes of mortality in released reef fish. These injuries include stomach protruding out of the mouth, bulging eyes, bloated belly, protruding intestines and the inability to swim down independently. However, the quick and proper use of a descending device or venting tool can help fish get back down to depth and improve their survival.​ Descending devices are weighted tools that help fish overcome buoyancy challenges by returning fish to depth. Venting tools are sharpened, hollow instruments designed to release expanded gases in the swim bladder of fish experiencing barotrauma. Knives, ice picks and hooks are not legal venting tools and often cause more harm to the fish than good.

To learn more about barotrauma and how to use descending devices or venting tools, visit or check out Return ‘Em Right’s Best Release Practices Manual by visiting By visiting Return ‘Em Right, you might even be eligible for free descending device gear.

5. Have fun!

Last but certainly not least, remember to have fun out on the water. One of the best ways to make a day on the water fun for the whole family is by signing up for the FWC’s saltwater angler recognition program, Catch a Florida Memory, at This program recognizes and rewards anglers for submitting qualifying photos of their catches in three categories: the Life List, Reel Big Fish and Grand Slams. Prizes include fishing gear, T-shirts, drinkware, artwork and more. There are also monthly randomly selected drawings sponsored by Catch a Florida Memory Premier Partners, and participants receive one raffle entry for each milestone achievement made to the program in the past 18 months. If you would like to be rewarded for your catches, sign up for Catch a Florida Memory today!

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