Sunshine State Angling Options

Sunshine State Angling Options

Whether you're talking fresh water or salt water, Florida offers the best overall fishing in the nation. Here's a look at three dozen of the best destinations for wetting a hook in the state this year.

2004 FISHING CALENDAR


The calendar is in PDF format. The Adobe Reader can be downloaded for free here.

 

By Bud Reiter

As Floridians, we are blessed with a plethora of sportfishing opportunities that anglers in other states can only dream about. Whether it is some of the best bass fishing in the world, panfishing that is second to none, or a shot at some of the most glamorous saltwater game fish, it gets no better than what our state offers.

In the Sunshine State, it's not a question of "where" can you find some fish, but more a matter of "what" species you want to catch and "when" is the best time to do it. Here's a look at some times and places that can answer those questions this year.

JANUARY
LAKE OKEECHOBEE
Largemouth bass
The last few years of fluctuating water levels on the Big O frustrated anglers, but it was a blessing for the bass. Large areas of prime spawning habitat were rejuvenated by the natural "drawdown" and saw excellent year-classes of bass produced.

January normally sees Big O bass at the mid-point of the spawning cycle. Under warmer weather conditions, expect to find plenty of bass in and around shallow vegetation at depths of 5 feet or less. Moonshine Bay and Fisheating Bay are traditionally productive areas.

A sharp cold front will often move bass to the outside edge of hydrilla walls along channel edges and deeper drops, but the fish quickly return to the shallows once it warms.

Topwater plugs and weedless soft plastics are local favorites this time of year, but don't overlook weedless spoons, spinnerbaits and even buzzbaits on warm, cloudy afternoons.

Alternatives
Speckled perch are moving into the shallows to spawn on Lake Istokpoga. Concentrate on bulrush and spatterdock in 3 to 6 feet of water with crappie jigs or minnows.

The Lower Suwannee River and the maze of tidal creeks outside its mouth host good numbers of largemouth bass. Plastic worms, jigs and small crankbaits are the lures.

FEBRUARY
LAKE WEOHYAKAPKA
Largemouth Bass
The spawn should be in full swing on this body of water that is better known as Lake Walk In Water, and anglers can expect to find good numbers of bass from the outer edge of the bulrush line to the shallower spawning cover inside of it.

A cold winter front can push the bass back to mid-lake hydrilla beds, where live shiners can be deadly baits. But the bass won't linger there long once it begins to warm. They head back to the shallows.

Local experts spend the morning tossing plastic worms and topwater plugs to outside bulrush edges and then move to the inside shallows during the afternoon. This is a good lake for "sight-fishing," targeting bedding bass in the shallows, but don't overlook weedless spoons and soft-plastic jerkbaits in the same cover.

Alternatives
Bass are flocking to the west side shallows of Crooked Lake in Polk County this month. Plastic worms, soft-plastic jerkbaits and topwater plugs produce in the 4- to 7-foot depth range.

Lake Woodruff speckled perch are invading the shallow pads to spawn this month, and specks of up to 2 pounds are not uncommon.

MARCH
LAKE GEORGE
Largemouth Bass
This is the peak of the spawn on this 46,000-acre St. Johns River wide spot, and there are plenty of "bass in the grass."

Savvy anglers are looking for areas where eelgrass meets dollar bonnets in 2 to 3 feet of water. Top areas are the east shoreline from Georgetown to Pine Island, the west shore from Silver Glenn Run to Juniper Run, the lakeside of Drayton Island, the grassbeds on the southern end, and the area around the mouth of Salt Run.

Soft-plastic jerkbaits, tube jigs and worms are top choices, but if a breeze is ruffling the surface a 1/4-ounce white spinnerbait with nickel blades can be deadly. Early and late in the day, under calm conditions, topwater plugs and buzzbaits can produce the largest bass.

Alternatives
Bass are fired up on Santa Fe Lake, and anglers concentrating on submerged grassbeds in 5 to 7 feet of water hook them on plastic worms, jerkbaits and lipless crankbaits.

Anglers in Biscayne Bay can find the biggest bonefish of the year pushing their way onto shallow flats on a rising tide.

APRIL
JACKSONVILLE
Seatrout
During the last five years the "River City" has quietly earned a reputation as one of the best big-trout fisheries in Florida, with 8- to 10-pound trout becoming increasingly more common. April is a prime month in which to sample it.

Look for big trout to be pushing up against Spartina grass lines or rock and concrete break walls on a rising tide. Top areas include Mill Cove, Sisters Creek and the channel edges in the Dames Point Bridge area.

Finger mullet or jumbo live shrimp are top choices for live baits. But many local experts are convinced that noisy topwater plugs, 5-inch plastic jigs, or hard-plastic jerkbaits are better bets this time of year.

Alternatives
Panhandle anglers are finding jumbo shellcrackers bedding in the slow-current sections of the Choctawatchee River this month.

Striped and sunshine bass are surface schooling throughout the day on Lake Seminole.

MAY
HORSESHOE BEACH
Seatrout
When it comes to numbers of trout, and the chance at some 5-pound-plus fish, this sleepy little Big Bend community is one of the Sunshine State's true "sleepers."

Large numbers of trout are found in less than 6 feet of water. That includes the lush grassbeds just offshore of the town, as well as the oyster-laden backwaters surrounding it. Savvy anglers prefer to catch the beginning of the rising tide on the nearby Gulf of Mexico grassbeds and then follow the water into the backwaters.

A rattling cork dangling and a plastic jig make a deadly combination, but some local experts are convinced that topwater plugs and hard-plastic jerkbaits can match it in numbers, and definitely take larger fish.

Alternatives
Although it comprises almost 6,000 acres, Lake Marian in Osceola County is often overlooked. This month, however, it can be one of the best bets for bluegills on the new and full moons.

Big seatrout are invading the Saint Augustine Inlet area this month, and anglers throwing topwater plugs along grass lines and oyster edges during the morning hours find some of these gators.

JUNE
NEW PORT RICHEY
Grouper
Grouper get close to shore this month in the Gulf of Mexico off of New Port Richey. The normally calm weather at this time of year allows even skiffs as small as 15 feet to reach these fish.

A quality depthfinder is a requirement, since successful anglers find rock ledges and live bottom areas in 20 to 35 feet of water. Many such areas exist within seven miles of the coast, and some as close as two miles!

Live pinfish are favorite baits, but savvy anglers also carry sardines and squid to use as cut bait.

Alternatives
Smoker kingfish begin to show up in the nearshore waters, sometimes within just a half-mile of the beach, at Saint Augustine Inlet this month.

Anglers in the middle Keys find tarpon migrating north this month, and fishermen staked out on the edges of flats on the ocean side can intercept them.

JULY
BOCA GRANDE PASS
Tarpon
This narrow pass just outside Port Charlotte Harbor may be the most famous, and certainly the hottest, tarpon spot in the state each July. Migrating tarpon almost line the bottom.

Drifting the pass while bouncing baits or lures off the bottom is as close as you can get to a surefire method of hooking up on a tarpon that can exceed 150 pounds. Multiple-fish days are very common.

This is a very ritualized fishery, with a certain accepted etiquette, since many boats occupy a small space. First-time anglers are well advised to hire one of the numerous local guides for their initial trip.

Alternatives
This is a top month for pursuing peacock bass in the Miami/Dade canals, and some of the largest fish of the year can be taken now.

Anglers catching a rising tide early or late in the day find bonefish roaming the bay-side flats near Islamorada.

AUGUST
CEDAR KEY
Redfish
Although redfish populations are increasing throughout Florida, Cedar Key remains one of the top locales for running into a lot of them. During the month of August, it is hard not to find the fish here. They are literally everywhere around this small collection of Big Bend islands, known locally as "keys."

The key to tapping into this bronze bonanza is to think shallow on rising water while finding deeper potholes and cuts on the low tide.

The grass and oyster-laden shorelines that characterize the keys are prime spots in which to toss a gold spoon, a gold floating lipless crankbait or a plastic jig on the top of the tide. On low water, seek out potholes, channels and deeper cuts. A live mullet or a piece of cut mullet soaked on the bottom is an effective choice.

This area doesn't produce the 20-pound-plus monsters you find in the Banana River or on the First Coast jetties. But the sheer number of reds up to 34 inches astounds first-time anglers here.

Alternatives
Snook are roaming grass flats and mangrove shorelines inside Port Charlotte Harbor. Savvy anglers seek out white sand holes on the flats, where snook often lie in ambush.

The maze of manmade canals in New Port Richey provides exciting action on 10- to 40-pound tarpon this month.

In September the largemouths are feeding around mid-lake hydrilla beds on West Lake Toho. Photo by Bud Reiter

SEPTEMBER
WEST LAKE TOHO
Largemouth Bass
Although it's not spring, this is an excellent time to take big bass on Lake Tohopekaliga - especially if you're throwing a topwater plug.

Surface schooling activity starts to fire up this month as cooling temperatures shake bass from their summer doldrums. Look for bass to be active along the edges of open-water hydrilla beds in the 7- to 10-foot depth range. Early and late in the day are top times, but activity can take place anytime under overcast conditions.

Noisy topwater plugs tend to draw larger fish. If bass are busting the surface in hydrilla, a shad-finished soft-plastic jerkbait worked near the surface can be a deadly option.

Alternatives
This is one of the best months to load the cooler with white bass on Lake Talquin. Look for them to be schooling along points and over deeper channel edges. Small topwater plugs and silver spoons are the ticket.

The fall mullet run is in full swing along the First Coast, and 20-pound-plus redfish invade the jetties at Mayport, Saint Augustine and Matanzas.

OCTOBER
FIRST COAST
Flounder
Flatties get no respect on the rod, but no fish lover turns them down on the table. Hook one in the 5-pound-and-up class, however, and you might gain a new appreciation for their fighting qualities. October is a fine time to accomplish all of that around any of the First Coast inlets.

In fact, a 5-pound flounder isn't even considered to be big. Double-digit fish are not uncommon!

Look for big flounder around any manmade structure lo

cated near an inlet. Rock and concrete break walls are prime spots, but don't overlook docks and pilings. Flatties love to hug the bottom tight to any such structure.

Plastic jigs in the 4- to 5-inch range work, but the real experts opt for a Carolina-rigged live mullet in the same size range. Fish it slowly along the bottom, be alert for the first thump, and give the fish time to eat it. Then, enjoy both the battle and the dinner the fish provides.

Alternatives
This is a prime time to fish the mangrove maze around Everglades City for snook. Topwater lures are exciting, but jerkbaits and jigs are often more productive.

The shallow grass flats around Anclote Key see a serious influx of trout and reds this month. Look for grass edges and white sand holes. Live bait or lures work.

NOVEMBER
LAKE TALQUIN
Largemouth Bass
According to state biologists, as well as the anglers who have followed their advice, Talquin is currently undergoing a boom in 4- to 7-pound bass - with larger fish also showing up in the catch. The "fall fling," as it is often called, is the best time to tangle with them.

Look for bass on this manmade reservoir to leave their deep-water main lake haunts and follow migrating shad schools up the creek arms.

Expect serious surface schooling activity on main-lake points outside of feeder creek arms. If that doesn't develop, head up the creek. Look for shad schools on outside bends or any area of cover.

Shad-finished diving crankbaits are traditional favorites, but Carolina-rigged soft plastics and topwater plugs can score.

Alternatives
Check the Saint Marys River west of the I-95 Bridge for stripers this month. They are on bars and bends and at the mouths of intersecting creeks, and they will attack jigs and diving plugs.

Grouper are available and aggressive on the nearshore wrecks off the coast of Jacksonville.

DECEMBER
FORT LAUDERDALE
Sailfish
South Florida anglers do not have a long run to "Sailfish Ally" - that narrow corridor just off the south Florida coast where the depths drop quickly from 80 to 240 feet. December sees a serious influx of sailfish into that zone.

Slow-trolling live bait is the preferred tactic. Goggle-eyes are favored, but many anglers are switching to live ballyhoo, due to the expense of using goggle-eyes.

Regardless of which is used, multiple-hookup days are not uncommon this month.

Alternatives
Big trout invade the Steinahatchee River this month. Look for them on rock ledges and sharp drops.

Rodman Reservoir bass run big and are eating live shiners fished along the hydrilla banks of the Barge Canal or the deeper outside bends of the original river channel.



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