Updated on April 13, 2022
Offshore fishing happens in the vast open waters miles from the shore, which makes finding the fish that much harder. When searching for the right place to wet a line, your eyes can only help so much, because most of the best spots can’t be seen from the surface. Whether you’re trying to branch out or explore a new area, here’s what you need to know to find the best offshore fishing spots.
Bottom structure consists of reefs and debris from shipwrecks, which quickly become artificial reefs. These structures are great for snapper, grouper, amberjack, and other bottom-dwelling fish, because it supports an abundance of prey and provides plenty of places to hide. The reefs and wrecks are complete ecosystems. While bottom fish live in the reefs, large pelagic species including mahi-mahi, kingfish, and wahoo lurk on the perimeter.
In open water, anything that provides cover attracts baitfish, which are quickly discovered by predatory fish. Relatively small floating objects like buoys and debris commonly have balls of baitfish hiding in its shadow, making them a popular hangout for cobia and other offshore game fish. Buoys are also used as markers for structures below the surface which makes them a great place to check out if you see one.
On the other end of the spectrum, offshore oil platforms are huge floating structures that are common in the Gulf of Mexico. These rigs are teeming with baitfish, which attracts a variety of gamefish. Closer to shore, these platforms hold reef fish and smaller pelagic species. In deeper water, huge yellowfin tuna, kingfish, and wahoo feed can be caught while trolling or even sight casting.
Apart from the reefs, there’s a wide range of terrain to look for on the maps or depth finder. Any rapid change in terrain on the ocean floor is a strong indicator that there may be fish. Specific terrain features to look for are ledges, humps, canyons, and points which are all easily identifiable.
If you have been offshore fishing, chances are you’ve heard of the continental shelf and the 100-fathom curve. The continental shelf is a pronounced dropoff where the base of a landmass ends. The 100-fathom curve marks a water depth where some of the largest fish tend to be found. Both of these are reliable spots that are targeted by anglers around the world.
By pushing food resources to different areas, currents play a big role in where and when fish feed. While some maps have currents, many don’t because they change so much. To see the most recent conditions, check out the NOAA Tides and Currents Map. Currents push and pull different types of water, moving fish looking for different conditions or hunting for food. Favorable water conditions being pushed by a dominant current will tell you where the fish want to be and the nearest terrain or structure is where they’re feeding. The most popular current for anglers in the U.S. is the Gulfstream, which moves warm water from the Gulf up the East Coast.
This warm water current is usually located in a deep valley. Fish use it as a migration corridor and prime hunting grounds. The Gulfstream is one of the most productive places to find fish year round.
This technique for locating fish can be used for all water types, but it’s most effective in open offshore waters. If baitfish are being pushed to the surface by a school of predatory fish, the birds are quick to get in on an easy meal. While spotting surface disturbance of fish striking the surface is also a great tactic, it’s hard to do from a distance. Birds will start circling and diving into the school of baitfish, which can be seen from at least a mile away. If you spot birds circling or flying in a specific direction, following them will likely lead you to a strong bite.
Finding the best offshore fishing spots can take years of trial and error, but knowing what to look for will shorten the learning curve considerably. If you’re looking for a new spot pull out the maps and look for underwater terrain features, reefs, wrecks, large structures, and strong currents. Once you hit the water, check out floating objects and keep an eye on the sky because birds can lead you to the fish. Guides and charter captains have local experience gained by spending years of their life on the water and are usually more than happy to share what they learned. Check out our fishing charters to get in on the action while learning how and where to fish.