Pensacola Surf Fishing Bringing you the latest information on Florida Surf and Inshore fishing with a focus on the Pensacola Beach area
Ladyfish are a reliable source of fun and bait for surf anglers. 
 Ladyfish Caught From Pensacola Beach

Around late May when water temperatures in the Northern Gulf hit the upper 70's to low 80's, Ladyfish will begin to show up in large numbers. This happens to the dismay of many anglers but to others it brings valuable action and an even more valuable source of bait. While not thought of as great table-fare by us humans, just about every species of game-fish in the water disagrees.  Ladyfish make excellent cut and live bait, and they provide good fun in the bait-catching process. Not only are Ladyfish strong fighters for their size, they often provide hook-tossing aerial acrobatics that keep the fight even more interesting.

About Ladyfish

In the United States, Ladyfish are generally found in warm inshore waters along the Southeast Coast as well as the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. Ladyfish are related to Tarpon and Bonefish, and although they are much smaller than Tarpon, anglers sometimes refer to them as the "poor-mans tarpon" due to their similar body type and aerial maneuvers.  A large Ladyfish will weigh only around 2 or 3 pounds and be between 2 and 3 feet long.  Ladyfish are slender yet powerful, and will feed on small baitfish as well as shrimp and other soft-bodied creatures such as squid.  They do not have large teeth but the ones they do have are razor sharp.  Ladyfish are primarily sight feeders, and have very large eyes in order to help them find food throughout the water column during both day and night.  As to how Ladyfish got their name, some say it is because they are slender and beautiful, others say it's because they can be wild and berserk - we will let you make your own decision.

Timing The Arrival of Ladyfish

Ladyfish are a warm water species, and will migrate in the spring and fall in order to stay in waters that are comfortable to them.  In the Northern Gulf around Pensacola and Destin the fish will generally show up around late May and stay throughout the entire summer, becoming less common around October when the fish head offshore to spawn. Their presence is not limited to the surf, as the fish will frequent both bays and estuaries throughout the area. Their movement is very weather and temperature dependent, but they can be reliably found throughout most of the summer in the Florida Panhandle and the rest of the Northern Gulf. In more southern waters Ladyfish can be found nearly year-round.

Gearing Up For Ladyfish

As we've mentioned Ladyfish are a relatively small fish so you don't need a heavy rod, in fact the lighter the tackle the more fun they are to catch.  That being said, when fishing from the surf you will be more effective with a longer surf rod in order to get your baits past the first bar (the first set of breaking waves).  A longer rod is not necessary, but it will make it easier to get your bait or lure further out.  When bait fishing you will also want to be able to throw a heavier weight in order to keep your bait put, especially when the surf is rough.  Finally, getting your bait further out is especially important when bait fishing for ladyfish because you want to get past the smaller fish that will be hanging out close to shore ready to steal your bait.

The Best Ladyfish Surf Rig

An extremely effective surf rig for targeting Ladyfish is a Fish-Finder rig tied up with a bright float and stout Fluorocarbon line.
 Modified Fish Finder Rig For Surf Fishing For Ladyfish

We have found that in our area, the best surf rig for consistently catching Ladyfish is a modified fish finder rig tied with Fluorocarbon line. We use an absolute minimum of 30 pound test line due to the extremely abrasive teeth and jaws of Ladyfish.  Any less than 30 pound line results in break offs and frustration, not to mention a hook being stuck in the fish's mouth. In addition to being able to withstand the teeth of the Ladyfish, we use fluorocarbon line due to it's lower visibility in the water.  Ladyfish have extremely good eyesight and the fluorocarbon is harder for them to detect.

We also rig up a small brightly colored float on the leader portion of the rig since it has a few advantages.  The first advantage to using a float is that it can keep your bait slightly off the bottom (if the float is big enough).  Keeping your bait off the bottom has two purposes. For one, it will help to prevent your bait from being stolen by crabs and other bottom feeders such as catfish. Another reason to keep your bait suspended slightly off the bottom is that Ladyfish feed throughout the water column, and although they will feed off the bottom, they generally swim slightly off the bottom so keeping your bait right in their face will make it hard to miss.  Finally, even though Ladyfish have tremendous eyesight, using a bright colored float and/or bead next to your bait will make your offering stand out that much more.

We like to use 2/0 Circle Hooks in our rigs (we use generic Circle Hooks hooks from Amazon). Since Ladyfish have somewhat small mouths, going much larger than this will result in missing some fish since they can't fit the hook in their mouth.  In addition to being safer for the fish, the circle hooks also set themselves when a fish is hooked, reducing the number of missed fish.

We keep the overall length of the rig right around 18 inches, and we use a heavy swivel (100 pound) on the rod-side of the rig since the fish don't care, and we don't have to worry about it failing.

When it comes to baiting up the rig, shrimp works very well as does small pieces of other fish (small pieces of hardtail / blue runner works amazingly well).  Shrimp will probably provide you the most bites, but it's easily picked off by other fish as well as crabs and other bottom dwellers.

Ladyfish Lures

Casting spoons and lures for Ladyfish is very effective.  Since Ladyfish are built to be fast, they will chase down just about any lure retrieved at a decent clip through the surf.  Got-Cha lures, Mirro-O-Dine Lures, Rat-L-Traps, Bucktail Jigs, Twister Tail Jigs, Silver spoons are all commonly tossed into the surf for Ladyfish.  In fact if you can name it, it's probably caught a Ladyfish.  Ladyfish are not shy about what they will strike.  This is probably what makes them loved and hated most.  Sometimes you can't keep them off your lures even if you try.

In terms of effectiveness, it's hard to rate one lure over the other, but the ones named above probably all deserve honorable mention.  If the surf is calm, an absolute Lady-killer is a small white jig with a nylon or hair skirt.  A semi-slow retrieve with an occasional twitch will keep you busy for a long time.  Nylon and hair skirts / trailers are not necessarily more effective than a rubber trailer, but they are far more durable which is important since Ladyfish will quickly tear up softer baits.

Handling Ladyfish

As with any fish, it is important to handle them properly in order for them to survive if released.  While many of the Ladyfish that are caught are promptly returned to the water in pieces as bait, or rigged live for larger fish, it is important to handle Ladyfish very gently if you plan to release them.  Ladyfish have very fine scales that can easily be inadvertently removed if not handled cautiously.  Despite being voracious predators, Ladyfish themselves are not overly durable.  

One final word of caution - when first removed from the water Ladyfish often release a surprisingly large amount of previously digested food, so holding them above things you care about (tacklebox, children, etc.) is not the best idea!

Tight lines - and best of luck with the ladies!