Florida's Angling Hotspots

Florida's Angling Hotspots

If angling diversity is your thing, Florida is your state. Given our unique geographical location, there isn't another state in the country that offers the variety of both freshwater and saltwater species that Sunshine State anglers can find within a relatively short drive from virtually anywhere in the state.

Listing all the possibilities is almost impossible, and deciding which to sample isn't easy. But here are 36 hotspots you might want to keep in mind this year, along with the best times to visit them.

JANUARY

Largemouth Bass: Rodman Reservoir

Rodman was scheduled to be drawn down on Nov. 1. By the time January arrives, it should be very close to low pool level. The temporary ramp will be a bit primitive, but the fishing will be fantastic!

Look for bass to be concentrated in the only deeper waters remaining -- the original river channel, the Barge Canal and the secondary creeks. Few bass will be spawning this month unless we have an exceptionally warm winter, but there should be plenty of pre-spawn fish willing to bite.

During the last drawdown, the top lures were diving crankbaits and big 10- to 12-inch plastic worms fished along channel edges. Savvy anglers also flip any mats of floating vegetation they find over deeper water.

Alternatives: Lake Lochloosa was the hottest speckled perch lake in Florida in 2004, and this year could be even better. They might still be in open water or they might have moved into the shallow pads this month. Watch the other boats to discover where the fish are.

The first tarpon of the year are showing up in Key West Harbor, and cut bait on the bottom can connect you with some of them.

FEBRUARY

Largemouth Bass: Lake Tohopekaliga

This is normally the best spawning month on Toho. Concentrate on vegetated areas in the 3- to 5-foot depth range and stay on the move until you locate a concentration of beds. Sight-fishing with weedless soft-plastic baits can produce monster bass.

Should a cold front interrupt the proceedings, start flipping the thickest vegetation in that area before moving to the outer weed line. Bass may not move very far from their beds the first day or two after a front.

A popular tactic of the local guides is to fish large shiners on the outside cover edge in areas where beds are found, and this method regularly produces trophy fish.

Alternatives: This can be a top month for topwater plugs on the Big O. The bass are mostly done with spawning on Okeechobee and ready to feed.

White bass can be stacked up below the Woodruff Dam on the Apalachicola Rive. Light tackle and 1/4-ounce bucktail or plastic jigs can fill the cooler with these tasty fish.

MARCH

Largemouth Bass: Lake Arbuckle

This Polk County lake doesn't get the publicity that Kissimmee and Toho do, but some biologists consider it to be one of the best big-bass lakes in the area.

The spawn is largely over this month, so look for bass to be concentrated on lily pad and bulrush points on the outer weed line edge. Topwater plugs, black buzzbaits, 1/2-ounce spinnerbaits and big plastic worms are top choices during the morning and evening hours. Savvy anglers also flip any surface matted cover on the points at midday.

This is a simple lake to fish -- stay on the outside weed line, concentrate on points, and use 20-pound-test line.

Alternatives: Dolphin are crashing trolled baits off Hobe Sound. The best success will be had by those trolling in 80 to 200 feet in areas where weed lines are present.

Bass are in pre-spawn mode on Crescent Lake and relating to the outer edge of eelgrass beds. Eelgrass shifts location on this lake every year, so finding the best grass is the first step.

APRIL

Largemouth Bass: Lake Talquin

This Tallahassee-area lake may be one of the state's best-kept secrets. Thanks to a comprehensive stocking and habitat management program by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the reservoir has quietly become one of the most productive lakes in Florida, and April is the best month to fish it.

This month is the peak of the spawn, and bass are leaving their normal deep-water haunts to move to the numerous small creek arms. Key spawning sites are any sections of shallow vegetation, bulkheads, laydown logs and brush tops.

Talquin holds normally turbid water, making sight-fishing for bedding bass virtually impossible. Instead, you should concentrate on key cover areas with weedless plastic worms and lizards or large Colorado-blade spinnerbaits in gaudy colors like orange or chartreuse. Savvy anglers also keep a rod rigged with a chrome lipless crankbait, because those bass that have finished spawning may explode in surface schooling activity in the creeks at any time.

Alternatives: Lake George bass are entering a post-spawn mode, and anglers working topwater plugs or soft-plastic jerkbaits in or on the outer edge of eelgrass beds find exciting action.

Snook are ganged up in the Wiggins Pass and Estero Bay area of the 10,000 Islands this month. Topwater plugs, hard-plastic jerkbaits and plastic jigs are effective for these fish.

MAY

Seatrout: New Smyrna Beach

The mangrove-lined waters of the Intracoastal Waterway in the New Smyrna Beach area provide outstanding, if little publicized, trout hotspots. Catching several trout of more than 5 pounds each is not uncommon.

On rising water, fish the lower portions of the mangrove creeks joining the waterway, especially during the early morning or late evening hours. On the ebb tide, local experts concentrate on the downcurrent side of the creek mouths in the ICW and work the drop from shoreline to channel.

Soft-plastic trailers in smoke/glitter pattern on jigs are effective, but a gaudy hard-plastic jerkbait that can work down four or five feet is deadly on "gator" trout.

Alternatives: Shellcrackers are bedding well along the west coast of Lake George. Start your search for beds near the mouths of the spring feeder creeks.

Big trout are smacking topwater plugs along Spartina grass shorelines in the Jacksonville area during the early morning hours on the rising tide.

JUNE

Cobia: Cedar Key

If you enjoy sight-casting to cobia that run up to 60 pounds on a shallow flat, Cedar Key is the place to be

this month.

Look for cobia along the outside flats of North Key, Seahorse Key and South Bank. A rising tide can dirty the water and make fish hard to spot. Savvy anglers wait for the clearer water on the last half of the ebb. That is when they target the outer flat edges and reefs in 2 to 4 feet of water, where the cobia tend to concentrate on the falling tide. Find an area where there are rays and you will likely find cobia.

Polarized sunglasses are a must, but once a fish is spotted, virtually any 4- to 6-inch soft-plastic grub on a jig in pink or chartreuse can score. Just dance it on the cobia's nose.

Alternatives: This is a prime month for trout in St. Andrew Bay at Panama City. Topwater plugs fished against shallow grass edges early and late in the day should score.

Permit up to 30 plus pounds are hanging on the nearshore wrecks in the Tampa Bay area. Live crabs are a top choice for bait and can often be sight-cast to surfacing fish early in the day.

JULY

Tarpon: New Port Richey

Big tarpon get all the press, but "baby" tarpon from 5 to 50 pounds are more fun to catch. The New Port Richey area is a great place for finding these juvenile jumpers.

The maze of manmade canals in this locale hosts an impressive population of juvenile tarpon throughout the year, but warmer-weather periods are when they bite best. Boost your chances of connecting by hitting the canals on a low tide with dim light. Early and late in the day you see the most activity, but action can last throughout the day if it is heavily overcast.

Spot rolling fish first and then chum the area with live greenies to fire them up. Then toss out a greenie on a hook and hang on. If you don't have live bait, try casting to rolling fish with topwater plugs or jigs with plastic trailers.

Alternatives: The tangle of tidal creeks in the St. Augustine area can be loaded up with eating-sized flounder this month. Jigs and live mud minnows are top bait and lure choices.

Anglers in the Destin area find a wealth of king mackerel working the offshore waters, and trolling can provoke strikes.

AUGUST

Tarpon: St. Augustine

Some of the biggest tarpon in Florida are found this month within three miles of the St. Augustine Inlet. Fish in the 200-pound class were caught in 2003 and 2004. Tarpon weighing 150 pounds are common, and they are within the reach of small center-console boats.

The fish are following shrimp boats and feeding off the discarded by-catch. The standard procedure is to obtain chum from a shrimp boat, scoop up their by-catch from the water or cast-net 50 pounds of pogies, then set up your own chum line and bring the silver kings to you.

It's simple if you know how, and difficult if you don't. Capt. Dennis Goldstein is one of the best at this game and can be reached for charters at (904) 501-8898.

Alternatives: Big snook are ganging up at the Lake Worth spillway when the water is entering the lagoon. Either live bait or artificial lures can score.

Peacock bass are at their most active in the canals in the Miami/Dade County area.

SEPTEMBER

Bonefish: Islamorada

This may seem like a strange month to visit the Keys, but if a trophy bonefish is your goal it can be one of the best. Even better, you don't have to travel too far from Islamorada to find one.

Look for big bones to be moving up onto bayside flats on a rising tide. The best tides are those occurring early and late in the day, but some midday movement can occur.

This is classic sight-fishing -- spot the fish and present a bait. A shrimp-tipped spade jig can work well, as can a precisely cast fly. Many local guides prefer to pinch the head off a live shrimp and thread it onto a 1/0 Sproat hook without additional weight. All these baits work, if the cast is accurate.

Alternatives: Cedar Key redfish are gathered in large schools inside Seahorse Key on a rising tide, and they run big. They eat almost any lure you get in front of them.

Look for schooling sunshine bass on offshore sandbars in Lake Seminole this month. Spoons, jigs and lipless crankbaits are top lures.

OCTOBER

Largemouth Bass: Lake Istokpoga

Cooling temperatures shake the bass out of their summer doldrums and get them feeding on Istokpoga this month. Look for largemouths to be located on offshore vegetation and watch for surface-schooling activity in the morning and evening. This can be a great time for topwater plugs and lipless crankbaits. But if the bass spurn those offerings, downsize to a 3- or 4-inch hard-plastic jerkbait in firetiger or chrome. That offering can often trigger strikes.

If the weather has been cool, check vegetation points extending out from the shoreline flats.

Alternatives: Bass are surface schooling over mid-river bars in the St. Johns River between Lake George and the Buffalo Bluff railroad bridge. Peak activity normally occurs on the last portion of the ebb tide, early and late in the day.

Redfish are gathered in big schools on the Mosquito Lagoon flats. The best time to find them is early in the day, but if boat traffic is light they can stay up all day.

NOVEMBER

Redfish: St. Augustine

Bull redfish weighing up to 50 pounds are available in the St. Augustine Inlet basin this month, not more than a half-mile from the Vilano boat ramp.

Locate drops in the 15- to 20-foot rang; toss out a live mullet, cut mullet, or half a blue crab; and be sure to use stout gear. Local guides consider 20-pound tackle to be the minimum. Virtually all reds are over the maximum slot-limit size and must be released. Using tackle that's too light only results in mortality for some.

Reds may hit anytime of the day, but the upper and lower ends of the tide are often best.

Alternatives: Bonefish are moving in Biscayne Bay, and clearer-water conditions on a rising tide allow effective sight-fishing.

Grouper are roaming the Intra-coastal Waterway in Pinellas County. Look for them on hard-bottom drops in 10 to 20 feet of water.

DECEMBER

Seatrout: Aucilla River

Any sharp drop in temperature can load the Aucilla River up with trout during the winter, and the area can expect one or more cold fronts this month. Look for cold-weather trout to be in the deeper holes on the lower section of the river.

Soft-plastic baits on jigs or sinking plugs drifted across the bottom fool these fish when you find them.

As the weather warms after the front, savvy anglers follow

the trout out of the river to the deeper depressions on the flats near the river mouth.

Alternatives: Big speckled perch are biting in 15 to 20 feet of water at Santa Fe Lake. Minnow-tipped jigs are the key to catching them.

Bass have started spawning in the clear spring waters of Salt Run on the west coast of Lake George. Morning and evening are the best times to find a monster on the bed.

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