December 5, 2023

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Madeira fishing: the Complete Guide

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Deep in the Atlantic Ocean, a few hundred miles west of Morocco and southeast of the Azores, sits a small slice of Portugal. This is Madeira, an archipelago that attracts tourists from all over the world to sample its wine, cuisine, and hiking trails. But there’s another reason people have been flocking here for decades: Madeira’s fishing.

There are two things that make fishing in Madeira special. First, its location at the crossroads of sport fish migration routes. And secondly, the plummeting sea floor right on its doorstep. Both bring world-class bluewater fish to within minutes of the main island’s two harbors.

The sea floor here drops to over 9,000 feet just 3 miles from shore. That makes this one of the rare places in the world where you can battle grander Marlin in sight of land. And there’s more to life here than big game. Whether you’re a fan of fly fishing, sea fishing, or just want to catch something good to eat, Madeira fishing has something for you.

Madeira Fish Species

The deep blue water to the south of Madeira, the rocky cliffs to the north, and the wild mountain streams on the island are home to a whole catalog of species. The most popular fish in Madeira, though, are the ones that put anglers’ skills to the test. Here are some of our favorites.


A view from above of two anglers struggling over the side of a fishing boat to pull in a Marlin that's on its side in the water, caught by a fishing line
Photo courtesy of Flipper II Madeira

The record-breaking Blue Marlin that came battling and bruising onto boats in the ’90s first put Madeira on the global fishing map. The four Blue Marlin World Cup wins over the intervening years cemented it there.

Several decades on from its rise to fame, this fishery is still producing. Consistently, big Blue Marlin come close to Madeira’s southern shores every year. Weighing an average of 600–700 pounds, local charter captains also insist that as many as one in ten catches are “Granders,” breaking the 1,000-pound mark! One of the most unusual things about Madeira Blue Marlin fishing is that you’re more likely to catch no Marlin at all than catch a small one. Perhaps it’s something to do with the sheer amount of bait in these waters!

Madeira’s Marlin fishing season runs between May and October, when athletic White Marlin join the monster Blues to make a Billfish bonanza.


Two angler stand on the back of a fishing boat next to a dock in Madeira, with a large Bluefin Tuna hanging between them on a sunny day with a hill visible behind them in the distance
Photo courtesy of Grand Holiday Tours

The big game fishing Madeira entertains just off its coastline doesn’t stop at Billfish. This is also a prime hunting ground for schools of tackle-testing Bigeye and Bluefin Tuna. Agile Albacore join the trio, adding to Madeira’s bluewater credentials.

Tuna fishing makes Madeira a year-round attraction for big game anglers. Bigeye Tuna usually arrive in March, sticking around until Marlin are well-established in June. And just as the Marlin pack their bags and move on, Bluefin Tuna turn up and stay well into November. Meanwhile, resident Albacore are here all year-round.

Tuna fishing in Madeira is particularly exciting in the evenings, when they come up to the surface to feed. Trolling around the island with lures or live bait as the sun is going down is a fantastic way to experience this fishery. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with some of the best-tasting fish in the sea, just in time for dinner.


A shirtless angler standing on the decl of a fishing boat, back at the dock in Madeira, holds a large Wahoo, while his friends look on and smile
Photo courtesy of Grand Holiday Tours

For all Marlin’s athleticism and Tuna’s strength, the unsung hero of big game fishing has got to be Wahoo. And the Wahoo fishing Madeira has on its doorstep is at least as impressive as that of its other bluewater superstars.

These tornado-shaped predators zip around Madeira’s rocky coastline from June to January, but the fishing is best from September to December. Some of the fastest fish in the sea, they’re also some of the most exciting to catch. They grow big around here, so be prepared to hold on tight.

Rainbow Trout

A closeup of a small Rainbow Trout being held by an angler

With all that activity offshore, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Madeira is only worth talking about as a saltwater fishery. But this small mountainous island is also home to a fly fishing favorite: Rainbow Trout.

Trout fishing in Madeira concentrates around the mountain rivers and streams that punctuate the island’s serene natural surroundings. The Ribeiro Friol is the main attraction for anglers, thanks to its annual stocking program and small wild Rainbow Trout population. The fish may not be trophy-sized around here, but their striking markings and the untouched surroundings make this a Trout fishery well worth visiting.

Other Fish in Madeira

There are plenty more opportunities for record catches here – and for a good meal. Spearfish are common in May and June, making a Billfish hat-trick a possibility. Mahi Mahi join them in summer, adding some flavor to the sportfishing mix. And talking of food fish, Groupers, Dentex, Amberjack, Bream, Trevally, and many more delicious species live around the island’s rocky coasts.

How to Go Fishing in Madeira

With all these choices, it can be hard to know which fish to target first, and how to go about it. Thankfully, Madeira is well set up for visiting anglers, with a range of options to suit your ambitions and budget.

Madeira Fishing Charters

A view across the water towards a fishing charter, fully equipped with downriggers and outriggers, and two anglers standing on the deck fishing on a clear day
Photo courtesy of Grand Holiday Tours

Hiring a boat and professional captain is the most popular way to experience Madeira’s famous blue waters. Madeira fishing charters provide a full set of equipment, bait, and licenses, so all you have to do is turn up and fish. Many of the skippers here are expats, drawn to the area by the unrivaled sportfishing and staying put to help you enjoy it, too.

Madeira fishing tours are almost unique in the world in that they don’t require a very early start or a long boat ride to get to the fishing grounds. Most trips start at about 9 or 10 a.m. and will have you dropping bait within minutes. That means big game and leisurely breakfasts can go hand in hand. Mahi Mahi hookups on trips as short as two and a half hours are a genuine possibility!

Deep Sea Fishing in Madeira

The deep sea fishing Madeira is famous for mostly takes place as little as 1–6 miles off the coast. It mainly targets Billfish but may focus instead on Wahoo and Mahi Mahi depending on the season.

If you’re set on big game fishing in Madeira, expect heavy tackle and lots of trolling. Local fishing charters carry huge rods and reels that are capable of bringing in a 700+ lb Marlin for tagging and releasing.

Bottom Fishing in Madeira

A woman angler struggling with a fishing rod off the back of a fishing charter, while others sit next to her, enjoying the spectacle on a sunny day with Madeira's land visible in the distance
Photo courtesy of ODF – Ocean Dive & Fishing LDA

More in the mood to catch your own food? Then have a go at bottom fishing in Madeira. Dropping bait down to the rocks and crevices, you’ll find a colorful variety of fish hunting for their next meal – and ready to become yours. Dentex, Bream, Triggerfish, and Snapper are all possible catches on a 3 hour trip.

The local islands are also growing a name for themselves as a top Madeira sportfishing destination. Hire a boat to try lure fishing and jigging for big Snapper, Grouper, Amberjack, and Bluefish deep in the water column around Islas Desertas.

Spearfishing in Madeira

If you really want to immerse yourself in Madeira’s fishing scene, don a wetsuit and grab a harpoon. Spearfishing in Madeira is best around its rocky cliffs, which invite thrillseekers from around the world to come within striking distance of big fish.

Consistently warm waters year-round and the island’s deep drop-offs bring big game close to shore, meaning you don’t need a boat to get to the best spearfishing spots. However, there is some debate locally about the sustainability of this practice, so make sure to only spear what you can eat.

Madeira Shore Fishing

A view from behind of a distant angler casting from a calm pool of water towards the open ocean along Madeira's rocky coastline

Even though most boat fishing takes place very close to the coast, shore fishing in Madeira can be surprisingly challenging. Fish are more likely to come right up to the island on its north side, but this part of the island is rocky and can be extremely windy. This makes it hard to access the best rock fishing spots, especially if the conditions aren’t playing ball.

But with a bit of luck and a lot of patience, you can catch fish from shore in Madeira. Dentex, Grouper, and Bluefish are all possibilities in spots such as Porto Moniz and Seixal.

Madeira Fly Fishing

Maderia’s Trout stocking program means fly fishers can very happily spend hours exploring Madeira’s tiny streams and mountainous rivers. The Ribeiro Friol is a good place to start, but watch your footing. This tiny watercourse gushes past rocks and over waterfalls, leading to thrilling but somewhat challenging fly fishing. Hire a guide to find the most effective spots, or go it alone.

Where to Go Fishing in Madeira

Most Madeira fishing trips start and end at Funchal or Calehta, on the south side of the island. These ports and the waters they serve are sheltered from the trade winds that blow north of the island. They also have immediate access to the deep sea drop-off, and Funchal Bay itself can be a good place to catch Blue and White Marlin.

Leaving the port behind you, you’re likely to fish under the Cabo Girão cliffs, the highest ocean-facing cliffs in Europe, or around Ponta de São Lourenço on the easternmost tip of the island. There’s also some amazing fishing a short boat ride away in the Desertas Islands, especially around Ilhéu Chão.

Rock fishing and spearfishing are generally better on the north coast. São Vicente, Ponta Delgada, and Porto Moniz can all be good places to start when the wind isn’t too strong.

Madeira Fishing Laws

An infographic featuring the state flag of Madeira along with text that says "Madeira Fishing Regulations: What You Need to Know" against a dark blue background

Whether you’re sea fishing or embarking up the mountain with a fly rod, you’ll need a license to go fishing in Madeira. Most local fishing guides arrange this for their guests, but it’s always a good idea to ask before you go. If you’re fishing on your own, you should purchase a license online or at the Instituto das Florestas e Conservaçáo da Natureza office in Funchal.

Catch limits and restrictions apply to various species and Billfish are catch-and-release only in Madeira. It’s also illegal to fish for Trout in the levadas (irrigation channels) on the island.

Madeira Fishing FAQs

Fishing in Madeira: The Peak of a Vacation to Paradise

You really don’t have to work hard to convince your friends or family to come with you to Madeira. On land, the Rabaçal Nature Reserve is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Offshore, you can meet some of the most inspiring ocean predators in the world. And even though it’s closer to Africa than it is to Europe, it’s home to a quaint Portuguese community and has the cuisine – and wine – to match. Pack your bags and get ready for an experience like none other, both on land and off it.

Have you ever been fishing in Madeira? What was your best catch? Let us know in the comments below!

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By: Cat
Title: Madeira Fishing: The Complete Guide
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Published Date: Thu, 10 Aug 2023 10:50:29 +0000

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