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The Ultimate Angler’s Guide to Popular Saltwater Game Fish

There are numerous saltwater game fish in the oceans around the world. Sports anglers get a kick out of going for the big catch, which puts up the fight of a lifetime and makes you put your skills on full display.

a black marlin caught on a fishing boat

A prized pelagic fish may be your goal, or perhaps it’s all about obtaining a delicious filet. Either way, sports fishing is an invigorating experience in various parts of the world.

There are so many game fish for competitive anglers to get out there and reel in, from Tuna to Dolphin fish, to Tarpon, to the coveted Blue Marlin. 

person feeding a tarpon

The best saltwater game fish typically give anglers a run for their money, but that’s where all the fun lies.

Check out our list for the different types of saltwater game fish featured in the big tournaments at all skill levels. 

Top 23 Saltwater Game Fish

  1. Sailfish
  2. Marlin
  3. Bonefish
  4. Swordfish
  5. Tarpon
  6. Tuna
  7. Cobia
  8. Dolphin
  9. Flounder
  10. Grouper
  11. Roosterfish
  12. Redfish
  13. Snook
  14. Striped Bass
  15. Tripletail
  16. Wahoo
  17. Amberjack
  18. Speckled trout
  19. Jack crevalle
  20. Permit
  21. Pompano
  22. Bluefish
  23. Mackerel

Sailfish

A Sailfish can be any fish that fits the two species within the Istiophorus genus. They’re usually a blue-gray color, and the dorsal fin runs the length of their back; it resembles a sail.

Sailfish on Bait Ball

They keep it folded down when they swim and only raise it to attack their prey.

Sailfish feed on squid and small forage fish, usually near the surface. They also have elongated bills, similar to a swordfish. 

These fish typically don’t exceed ten feet in length or weigh more than 200 pounds. They’re known to be the fastest marine animals, reaching speeds of 68 miles per hour.

Sailfish live in cold pelagic waters in every ocean around the world. 

Marlin

There are four prominent species of Marlin – the Striped Marlin, the White Marlin, the Blue Marlin, and the Black Marlin.

a marlin underwater

You can find the Black and Striped Marlin in the Indian and Pacific oceans, while the Blue Marlin is in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans.

The White Marlin swims about the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic ocean waters. 

The Marlin has a long body with a pointed, spear-shaped bill and a rigid, long dorsal fin. Marlins swim extremely fast and weigh as much as 1800 pounds depending on the species, and are as long as 16 feet.

They generally eat fish such as Dolphin fish, Tuna, flying fish, squid, and other pelagic fish. The Blue Marlin is the ultimate saltwater game fish.

Bonefish

Bonefish get their name from having bony flesh, and they have medium-sized bodies. They often don’t get much heavier than 15 pounds and are less than three feet long (31 inches). 

man holding fresh bonefish caught in cuba close up

They can have dark-colored backs with silvery sides, or they can be an olive green color that blends out into silver on the sides. 

Bonefish feed in shallow waters, searching for benthic works, crustaceans like crabs and shrimp, and mollusks.

Swordfish

In some countries, the Swordfish also goes by “Broadbill” because of its distinctively long, flat, and pointed snout used as a sword to slash prey when they feed.

swordfish underwater

They have long and round bodies that can reach 15 feet in length, but they typically hover around nine feet. 

Swordfish typically weigh an average of 400 pounds, but the heaviest weight recorded was 1,182 pounds.

You’ll find Swordfish in temperate, tropical, and even some cold bodies of water such as the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans.

They rise near the surface at night to feed on smaller fish like Mackerel, Herring, Lanternfishes, etc. 

Tarpon

Tarpons are similar to bonefish, and they have long dorsal fins and a lower jaw that protrudes. 

tarpon swimming

They have large and thick silver scales with a greenish or bluish back. Tarpons are usually between four and eight feet long while weighing 60-280 pounds.

They can live longer than 50 years in the right conditions. 

Two species of Tarpon include the M.Cyprinoides, which live in the Indo-Pacific region, and the M.Atlanticus, which lives along the Atlantic coast.

They mainly feed on zooplankton, small fish, and insects in their youth, and grass shrimp, crabs, and bigger fish as they get older. 

Tuna

The Tuna is powerful, sleek, and one of the fastest types of saltwater game fish in the ocean.

school of bluefin tuna

Their torpedo-shaped bodies and excellent swimming abilities allow them to move through the water with remarkable efficiency.

Tuna range in color from bluish-gray with yellow underbellies to completely silver or mostly blue-green.

There are about 15 species of Tuna, some of which can be a little under two feet long, weighing only four pounds.

Others are ten feet long and weigh upwards of 2,000 pounds. That’s more than a horse! 

You can find Tuna from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. They also have commercial value, being one of the most notable catches.

Tuna eat squid, small fish, and crustaceans like lobsters, crab, and shrimp.

Cobia

Cobia is a smooth fish with small scales, a long body, and a flat, broad head. They don’t get much longer than six and a half feet and 172 pounds.

person holding a cobia caught on a boat

It’s a dark brown color that turns white on their stomachs with brown horizontal bands encircling their flanks. 

You’ll find Cobia in subtropical, tropical, and temperate (off-shore) waters, such as the Indian, Pacific, and East/West Atlantic oceans.

Cobia primarily feeds on shrimp and crabs, but they also eat smaller fish and squid. It is a solitary fish whose pectoral fin makes it look like a small shark in the water. 

Dolphin

The Dolphin fish is also called Mahi Mahi, and it dwells near the surface. It is similar to a Tuna, as it also wanders throughout tropical waters like the Indian and around the Gulf of Mexico.

a mahi-mahi fish swimming

Dolphins are about three feet and rarely heavier than 33 pounds. They eat squid, small fish, and open-sea crustaceans. 

Their bodies look compressed, and they have one long dorsal fin. Dolphin fish go through several color changes throughout their lives, earning the name dorado because of the golden hue with splashes of blue and green along the fin and sides.

Flounder

Flounders are a bottom-dwelling flatfish species. They sometimes enter estuaries as well.

summer flounder

They feed in muddy, soft areas on the seafloor after ambushing their prey near coral reefs, bridge piles, etc. They eat a lot of small fish, fish spawn, polychaetes, and crustaceans. 

They inhabit temperate waters near North America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. Their bodies are flat and oval-shaped, and they have wide mouths.

Interestingly, Flounders have eyes on either side of their head as larvae, but one eye migrates to the other side as they get older. 

Grouper

Groupers have large mouths and stout bodies. They don’t swim very fast or for very long.

man holding big grouper

Goliath Grouper can grow up to eight feet long, three feet wide, and about 800 pounds. The largest Grouper weighed 880 pounds and was nearly eight feet long. 

They don’t bite their prey, but instead, they swallow it because there aren’t many teeth along their jaws.

However, there are tooth plates inside their pharynx that they use to crush the prey. Usually, they eat crustaceans, fish, and octopuses. You can find all kinds of Grouper in the Gulf of Mexico near Florida. 

Roosterfish

The Roosterfish gets its name from the rooster comb on its back. These types of saltwater game fish swim around the East Pacific Ocean from Peru to California.

a roosterfish swimming underwater

They have a swim bladder to make sounds louder, located near the brain. They can be about five feet long and weigh under 110 pounds. 

On average, anglers catch 20-pound Roosterfish. It’s not a good fish for eating like most other options on this list.

The Roosterfish eats Mullet fish, Blue Runners, Sardines, and other small fish. They have diagonal stripes on the sides of their body, and you’ll notice white, blue, black, and yellow on their bodies. 

Redfish

Redfish inhabit the Atlantic Ocean from Long Island, around Florida’s coast, and even throughout the Gulf of Mexico.

person holding a redfish

They have a distinct red-bronze color that resembles copper on their body, with white to silver bellies. 

Redfish will typically weigh about 30 pounds and weigh as much as 100 pounds on rare occasions.

Redfish can eat many different things, primarily targeting shrimps, crabs, pinfish, croakers, and mullets.

Snook

The common Snook, also known as Robalo or a linesider, is a species of marine fish which inhabits the western Atlantic coastline, from Florida to Brazil.

You can also find them in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. These streamlined fish have yellow-tinted fins and a tapered head. 

The common Snook is the largest and the kind that most anglers frequently catch.

This fish can grow to be 48 inches in length, and they top out at about 38 pounds. The Snook will eat crustaceans such as small crabs and shrimp.

Striped Bass

Striped Bass inhabit the east coast of the United States all the way from the St. Lawrence River up North to Florida’s St. John’s River and they are one of the most delicious fish in the sea.

surf fisherman with large striped bass

The Striped Bass is also in the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to Louisiana. Striped Bass have noticeable horizontal stripes on their bodies, and they can be blue, purple, and dark olive green with silver on their bellies.

The Striped Bass can grow up to a staggering five feet in length and reach up to 77 pounds.

This marine fish is known as opportunistic feeders, which means that they can eat various fish like Herring or Bucking. However, they also target shrimp, crabs, squid, eels, and clams.

Tripletail

The Tripletail inhabits Florida waters primarily in the spring, summer, and fall. You will find them inshore, nearshore, and off-shore near channel markers, floating weed lines, crab traps, and other structures.

a tripletail fish caught in saltwater

When Tripletail fish are young, they can be brown, black, or brown, but they become jet black when they mature.

The Tripletail can grow up to 35 inches in length and can weigh up to 41 pounds. As opportunistic feeders, they can eat any number of fish, but they typically feed on small crabs and shrimp.

Wahoo

Wahoos are known to inhabit both subtropical and tropical waters worldwide. You can typically find them inhabiting subtropical waters all year long.

best wahoo lures for fishing

Wahoos are bluish-green on the upper third of their body, and it fades to silver towards the bottom.

The Wahoo grows very fast and, as a result, can grow up to 8 feet in length and as heavy as 158 pounds. Typically, they’re between 3.3 and 5.4 feet long and 15 and 40 pounds.

Wahoos mainly feed on squid and fish such as Butterfish, Round Herring, Porcupine fish, and Frigate Mackerel.

Amberjack

Amberjack inhabits both the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans. Specifically, the Western Atlantic Amberjack occurs from Nova Scotia to Brazil, including the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. 

amberjack jumping out of the water

The Amberjack’s colors are brownish-black or olive green. These types of saltwater game fish typically have a dark band extending from their eyes.

The Amberjack can grow up to an incredible six feet in length and weigh up to 200 pounds.

Although they can reach this astonishing weight, most weigh about 40 pounds. Amberjacks have voracious appetites and will prey on various species such as fish, crustaceans, and squid.

Speckled Trout

You can find Speckled Trout in the southern United States along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

person holding speckled trout

They also inhabit the coastal Atlantic Ocean from Maryland to Florida. They usually have a silverish brown body that looks yellow around the fins. 

The males can grow up to 19 inches in length, and the females can grow to be as long as 25 inches on average. Both males and females weigh two to three pounds.

As opportunistic feeders, speckled trout eat a variety of food. Young trout primarily prey on small crustaceans such as shrimp.

They begin to feed on shrimp and small fish like the finger mullet as they mature.

Jack Crevalle

The Jack Crevalle inhabits temperate and tropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean. They dwell from the western Atlantic to the east Atlantic, including the Mediterranean Sea.

Can You Eat Jack Crevalle?

They’re usually a brassy green color, or sometimes bluish-black with a golden or silvery-white patch underneath. 

This fish can reach a maximum size of 40 inches and can weigh up to 55 pounds. Known as a formidable predator, the Crevalle Jack preys on various small fish, crabs, prawns, shrimps, cephalopods, and mollusks.

Permit

The Permit is a fish that inhabits the western Atlantic Ocean. They can grow to a maximum length of 48 in, weighing up to 79 pounds.

Can You Eat Permit Fish? 

They are usually sooner worry gray or brown fins and an orange patch near the anal fin. These fish can live as long as 23 years. 

Young Permit fish will feed on amphipods, copepods, and larval shrimp. However, as they mature, they begin to feed on flatworms, coquina clams, sessile barnacles, and gastropods.

Pompano

Pompano is a marine fish commonly found along the coasts of the Pacific, Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and the West Indies.

a pompano fish swimming underwater

These fish have various colors near the dorsal area, such as yellow, green, and blue. 

They only live between three to four years, but some anglers have caught Pompano as old as seven years.

Pompano can grow to 25 inches in length and can weigh up to eight pounds. Adult Pompano prey on amphipods, mussels, small surf clams, crabs, and shrimp.

Bluefish

Bluefish are throughout all oceans, from temperate to tropical waters. They are prevalent throughout the Atlantic Ocean and in the South Pacific and Indian oceans.

bluefish laying next to fishing rod and reel

Bluefish are known for their fast growth. They grow up to 39 inches in length and as much as 31 pounds.

They are a grayish, blue-green color with white bellies underneath. Bluefish have a ravenous appetite and will consume almost anything. They frequently eat squid and fish such as Silversides and Menhaden.

Mackerel

Mackerel is a name used to describe many different species of pelagic fish. There are over 21 other species of Mackerel.

holding a spanish Mackerel

Mackerel can inhabit both tropical and temperate seas. However, they mostly live off-shore or on the coast of the oceanic environment.

Because there are multiple species, the sizes can vary drastically. Some are around two feet long and eight pounds, while others can be as big as 90 pounds in weight.

They can range in colors, with some being orange, red, brown, blue-green, and nearly black. Mackerel eat a variety of fish, crustaceans, and more.

Final Thoughts

These different types of saltwater game fish are all well-known for various reasons.

Some tug on the hook until you find yourself in a full-on arm-wrestling match, while others are easier to catch and make for some of the flakiest filets for dinner. 

If you live in an area where any of these big-name saltwater fish are available, consider grabbing some gear, getting out on the water, and putting your skills to the test!

Rocco Smith

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