Updated on January 12, 2022
Anglers around the world have been asking themselves this question for decades but the answer is not what you think. The huge pelagic species that anglers hope to catch prefer to feed in deep open water near the continental shelf, sharp drop offs, along the 100-fathom curve, or anywhere that holds plenty of baitfish. The general consensus among many offshore anglers is that you have to head far from shore to even get where these fish hang out but that’s not always the case.
The Gulf of Mexico is full of incredible fish species from snapper to tuna all of which are sought after by anglers from around the world. With warm rich waters fed by the mighty Mississippi River and plenty of deep blue water past the continental shelf, it’s no surprise that big fish live here. Luckily the continental shelf is within reach for most of the states waterfront access to the Gulf of Mexico.
With so many people living in close proximity to this giant port it’s no wonder why so charters are based here. The other reason is because there are so many different fish species to target here. To get hit the 100 fathom curve or continental shelf boats have to travel 60 miles or more. There are also hundreds of offshore oil platforms that giant pelagic fish species use to feed on the baitfish that take cover here.
Yellowfin are a particularly popular target near the rigs or “floaters’ as they are called but you have to head out around 100 miles to get to some of the best spots. While other areas in Texas especially further south enjoy much shorter trips to hit prime fishing grounds, Galveston does not have that luxury although it does have incredible fishing.
Panama City Beach and nearby Destin are two of the best fishing spots in the Gulf. When it comes to how far you have to go to catch big fish, the 100-fathom curve is about 20 miles offshore from Panama City Beach with Destin being just a little closer.
Between 20-30 miles from shore, the continental shelf drops off and opens up even better fishing opportunities to anglers that take the trip. This is one of only a few places in the Gulf with such a short trip to these incredible fishing grounds and thanks to its ideal location, deep sea giants are well within reach of every charter boat in the Florida panhandle.
Heading offshore from Orange Beach or Gulf Shores will require traveling 35+ miles to reach the 100-fathom curve and further if you want to hit the Continental Shelf. Even once you get there you also have to account for the changing location of the bluewater which can be inside the curve or out to 130 miles depending on the currents. There’s definitely an abundant population of huge sportfish offshore from Orange Beach but it will require a slightly longer trip.
On the west coast of Florida near Tampa Bay, deep sea fishing generally means targeting red snapper but going after billfish is uncommon. There are no charters fishing for billfish and only a handful of anglers attempt to catch them. This is because the ocean floor has such a gentle slope and puts the 100-fathom curve at around 150 miles from the coast. If that wasn’t enough, some of the best spots out of Tampa and Florida’s west Coast are rumored to be over 200 miles out.
The Atlantic Ocean Controlled by the flow of warm water from the Gulf of Mexico north along the east coast through the Gulf Stream. The 100 fathom curve, continental shelf, and gulf stream are all closely tied and sometimes occur all at the same spot. The sheer amount of water movement and diverse underwater geography have made the Atlantic Coast such a famous fishing spot over the years.
Thanks to the landmass extending out into the ocean, Chatham is further east than almost everything except for Maine. Sitting so far east makes getting out to spots where the big fish are a much easier trip. Deep sea fishing Chatham is all about bluefin tuna but depth seems to be less important here.
The closest spot to catch tuna is crab ledge which happens to only be 6 miles from shore and you can be there in well under an hour. Some of the popular but less busy spots to target bluefin are locations where old shipping lane buoys used to float between 12-35 miles offshore. Once you get out further tuna here generally range from 100 to 300 pounds and they pack a punch.
Charleston sits in an interesting location on the Atlantic coast. It’s far enough south that it stays warm particularly near the gulf stream but it’s also further west than most of the other cities on the east coast. Because it sits so far west the trip out to the 100-fathom curve is at least 50 miles, and the gulf stream can be even farther.
There are spots to catch amazing fishing closer to shore with wahoo, tuna, and sailfish all feeding in waters over 30 miles offshore. Mahi mahi can be caught even closer but generally not inside of 10 miles. If only the biggest pelagic species will do, or you want to target as many species as you can in one trip then you will have to head out 50-70 miles to the 100-fathom curve and the Gulf Stream.
The pacific has become well known for having some of the best deep sea fishing grounds only a stones throw from land. Hawaii and Cabo San Lucas are lucky enough to be two of the spots where that occurs and makes open water giants like marlin and bluefin tuna easily accessible on remarkably short trips. If you haven’t gone Pacific deep sea fishing, it’s a bucketlist experience for any angler.
Leaving the Honokohau Harbor in Kona Hawaii takes about 5 minutes to get from the docks to the buoys. At this point, most guides will start setting out their lines to start trolling because by the time the last line hits the water you are fishing in over 1,000 feet of water.
There are many stories of giant tuna and marlin being caught only a few hundred yards from the buoys. Because the Hawaiian islands are just the tops of an underwater mountain range, the deep water and huge fish are well within reach.