Fishing for Great Barracuda in Key West
The Great Barracuda is a perfect gamefish. It is a big apex predator that hits lures with explosive strikes, makes high-speed runs with bursts up to 27mph, and leaps spectacularly when hooked.
Great Barracuda (Shyraena barracuda)
(Florida Record 67lbs.) The Great Barracuda is one of the largest of over 26 different species of Barracuda. Like all Barracuda, it is an aggressive, dangerous-looking fish with a long, slim body, a large, pointed head, and powerful jaws. Unlike other Barracuda species, the largest specimens of Great Barracuda can reach lengths of 6 feet and weigh over 100 pounds.
Great Barracuda are silvery dark green to blue-grey fading to chalky white on the underside. Large specimens have irregular dark blotches along their sides, while juveniles may have a tiger-striped appearance. The Barracuda’s mouth is large, and the lower jaw juts out beyond the upper. Many razor sharp, fang-like teeth are set in sockets in the jaws and on the roof of the mouth.
Great Barracuda Habitat and Behavior
Great Barracuda are found in tropical and subtropical waters around the world. In the western Atlantic, they are common from Massachusetts to Brazil and throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. They frequent nearshore coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves, wrecks and other structure. Great Barracuda are sometimes found in the open ocean, usually near the surface but occasionally at depths to 325 feet. Young fish hide from predators near the edges of mangrove islands and around seagrass beds. Great Barracuda tend to be solitary but can also be found in groups over reefs, wrecks and sandy bottoms.
Like other Barracuda, Great Barracudas are ambush predators and like to hunt in open water around reefs, wrecks, and other structure. In Key West, every wreck will hold large schools of Barracuda, and they also frequent the Flats. Barracudas feed primarily by sight and rely on bursts of speed to capture the smaller fish that make up their entire diet. They will eat anything, but around Key West they prefer Needle Fish, Mullet, and small Jacks. The Great Barracuda’s large mouth and sharp teeth let it feed on large fishes by charging them, chopping them in half with one bite, and snapping up the head and tail with two more bites.
Great barracuda have a lifespan of at least 14 years. They reach sexual maturity when they are about 23 inches long. Males are usually about two years old and females four years old at this size. Spawning habits are not well documented, but spawning is believed to take place in deeper, offshore waters. Great Barracuda in the Florida Keys are thought to spawn in spring.
Fishing for Great Barracuda
Great Barracuda will hit many types of artificial baits including flies, plugs, and tube baits. Anything that shines and can be retrieved quickly or skipped across the top of the water to imitate the movements of an injured baitfish will get a strike. When that happens, expect the line to be stripped from your reel as the fish makes several high-speed runs.
Great Barracuda are especially exciting targets for Flats fishing as they are willing to attack anything that flashes, and their dramatic strike is often visible to the fisherman. On the Flats, they can easily be found near the mouths of channels, along channel edges and drop offs, and anywhere that holds baitfish and offers the Great Barracuda a set up for an ambush. In general, Barracuda are not considered to be a good food fish, and Key West guides promote catch and release fishing to preserve this fun sport fish species.