Summer’s here and the kids are home from school. It’s time for a family vacation. One of the best vacations for an outdoor family is an easy fishing trip with other activities along the way. The Sunshine State has an abundance of family friendly places to fish, as well as fun activities nearby.
DEER POINT LAKE
Located in Bay County, seven miles north of Panama City, Deer Point Lake is fed by a number of natural freshwater streams. This is a pretty good size lake — 5,000 acres — with a number of access points, but for family fishing the best location is probably the fishing pier near the boat ramp on the west side of the dam off highway C2321. The lake is managed by the Northwest Florida Water Management District and is a valuable watershed for fish and wildlife; osprey nest here.
Deer Point Lake is well known for its shellcracker (redear sunfish) fishing. The best time to catch shellcrackers in the lake is April through June, so catch this spot early in the summer. Use earthworms for bait and fish early and late in the day. Catch bluegill on crickets and earthworms, and bass can be caught on crankbaits, such as broken-back minnow lures. Catfish and bullheads will be in deep water by the summer, but can pursued with chicken livers and worms.
Along The Way: Panama City has plenty for families to do in the summer. Stop in at the Science & Discovery Center of Northwest Florida on Airport Road for interactive science exhibits. The St. Andrew Bay Ferry Company on Hatteras Lane offers a three-hour Shell Island Eco and Dolphin Cruise that is pet friendly. The Panama City Center for the Arts on 4th Street is housed in the old City Hall that was built in 1925. This historic building in the center of downtown offers music and film events during the year, as well as art shows, exhibits and art classes.
JOE BUDD POND
One of the very best places in northern Florida to take kids fishing is Joe Budd pond, between Quincy and Tallahassee. This little 20-acre pond is located inside Joe Budd Wildlife Management Area. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission stocks Joe Budd Pond with catfish during the summer, so this is mostly a put-and-take fishery, and it’s a great place for young children to catch catfish easily. Joe Budd Pond is open to fishing on Saturdays and Sundays only during daylight hours, beginning the first Saturday in July and ending on the Labor Day holiday.
Channel cats can be found all along the fishing fingers, which is where most families set up to fish. Try worms or nightcrawlers on the bottom for good catches. The harvest limit of six channel cats per person per day is strictly enforced.
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Along The Way: The Gadsden Arts Center, located on North Madison Street in Quincy, features fine art exhibits and education programs all year. In Tallahassee, the Museum of Florida History downtown is the state’s history museum. It houses exhibits and artifacts that chronicle the history of the State of Florida. Exhibits include quilts, Civil War flags, Seminole basketry, clothing and other items of interest. Step back in time to the early 1700s at Mission San Luis on West Tennessee Street outside Tallahassee, where Apalachee Indians and newcomers from Spain lived together.
The Steinhatchee area is a great family outing not just for the fishing but also for the ambiance. The Steinhatchee area is still part of Old Florida; to get there, head south from Tallahassee on US Highway 19 and 98, and turn right at the the 1950s.
As long as anglers have been coming to Steinhatchee, they’ve known that seatrout are abundant. The spawning period takes place from May until September, with slight peaks at the two ends. Female fish spawn many times during this period.
Fishing in the Steinhatchee area, anglers are going to catch a lot of fish that are under the 15-inch minimum. Handling those fish carefully is just as important as handling bigger fish carefully, because even small fish can spawn.
Since the 1950s, anglers have known that the bigger the bait or the bigger the lure, the bigger the seatrout. Use large lures for large fish; seatrout are predators, so toss them something that will trigger their predatory instinct.
A summer fishing excursion to Steinhatchee wouldn’t be complete without a scalloping trip. This can be great fun for families who have a boat of their own, or folks can hire a guide for a scalloping trip. A saltwater fishing license is required and only two gallons of whole scallops per person per day is allowed, and they must be harvested by hand or a dip net; be sure to have a “diver down” flag, which is required by law.
Find scallops around the edges of seagrass beds. Scallops can swim, so they may try to get away; have a dip net handy to scoop them up one at a time. Experts advise that keeping them in a mesh bag rather than putting them into pockets; they can pinch.
Along The Way: For a family friendly place to stay, look at Steinhatchee Landing (www.steinhatcheelanding.com). This resort offers an elegant taste of Old Florida, with cracker-style cottages, an on-site restaurant and many family activities including kayaking, shuffleboard, tennis, basketball, a jogging trail, a petting zoo and a playground. From there explore a number of state parks and other outdoor adventures in the area.
MOSAIC FISH MANAGEMENT AREA
Mosaic Fish Management area, located about two miles south of Fort Meade in Polk and Hardee counties, is a cooperative venture between Mosaic Fertilizer and the FWC. This area was mined for phosphate between 1979 and 1992, which created a number of ponds ranging in size from 10 to 200 acres. The entire area is about 1,000 acres, with plenty of access to bank fishing. These ponds are frequently stocked with channel catfish, and bullheads reproduce here as well; anglers have reported catching as many as 100 bullheads in a single fishing trip. All of this adds up to plenty of fishing opportunity in this area. Most anglers use chicken livers or commercial stinkbaits, but nightcrawlers and other worms work as well.
Use caution when driving or walking on this property; it is mined land, so some areas may be difficult walking. Accessibility to some areas depends on the weather, and take care to stay on marked roadways with vehicles. Some roads may become rutted or muddy during wet weather; be careful, as there is no towing service available.
This area is open only Friday through Monday, so plan to come on the weekend. Be sure to stop at the check station and pick up a no-cost daily fishing permit. For more information, call 863-648-3200.
Along The Way: Located in a restored 19th century schoolhouse, the Fort Meade Historical Museum houses a large collection of regional artifacts. During the Civil War, this area was an important cattle-driving center, and many of the artifacts relate to that time. In nearby Homeland, Homeland Heritage Park recreates an early Florida historical community, as it would have been in the mid-1880s. Historical buildings include a schoolhouse and church, an English log cabin and a pole barn. Tours take place throughout the week and on weekends.
In Lakeland, visit the Explorations V Children’s Museum. The Museum provides three floors of hands-on exhibits for fun experiences in learning the arts and sciences, with summer camps and special events.
For a unique adventure, visit Solomon’s Castle in Ona. This is the home, galleries and workshop of internationally known artist Howard Solomon. It’s open Tuesday through Sunday through the end of July, and closed during August. The castle has more than 80 interpretive stained glass windows, and the well-known “boat in the moat.”
SADDLE CREEK PARK
Saddle Creek Park, in Polk County, is a series of phosphate pits on 740 acres of mined phosphate land between Lakeland and Winter Haven. It’s one of the largest county parks in central Florida, and it has more bank fishing available that any other park in Polk County. Lakeside areas are well maintained and provide easy access for family fishing.
The FWC stocks channel catfish regularly in the lake, and largemouth bass are abundant. Fish feeders operate near a number of bank fishing sites, and fishing for bluegill and catfish usual is good in these areas. There are special regulations on largemouth bass and catfish, with a six-fish bag limit on catfish strictly enforced.
Along The Way: There’s plenty to do in Saddle Creek Park besides fishing, such as hiking on some of the forest trails, as well as playgrounds, sports facilities, gazebos for picnics and a shooting range. On Medulla Road in Lakeland, the Florida Air Museum offers a look at the history of flight; experience flight on simulators and learn more about propulsion. The museum houses the personal aviation of Howard Hughes, the Florida Aviation Hall of Fame and A/F-18 Flight Simulator.
The Florida Keys stretch south into the blue-green water between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. At the bottom, Key West beckons tourists and anglers alike.
Anglers who make it to Key West in June are in for a treat. Not only is this month prime tarpon time, it’s also prime time for a number of other species. And although the Keys are vulnerable to hurricanes at any time of the season, the water generally isn’t warm enough to spawn any big storms this early.
For family fishing, take a trip on a party boat from Dream Catcher Charters (www.dreamcatchercharters.com) or go the White Street Fishing Pier. Entrance is to the pier is free, but be sure to bring bait and tackle, and something for shade.
Anglers also can find lots of places to try fishing from the shore, catching many species at the confluence between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.
For older kids, the calmer days of June mean good fishing for tarpon. Tarpon range from 50 to 150 pounds or even bigger, fishing for them in 3 to 4 feet of water as they swim across the flats. It’s the time of year for fly fishermen and for people who use spincasting rigs to sight fish for tarpon.
Tarpon isn’t the only species anglers target on the flats in June. At this point in the year it’s still possible to catch bonefish on the flats, particularly in the very early morning or the late evening, because the water temperature has gone up on the flats in the middle of the day.
Along The Way: For a break from fishing, visit the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden (www.keywestbotanicalgarden.org), or go kayaking or paddle boarding with one of several operators in Key West. There are many historic spots in Key West, including the Ernest Hemingway house, The Key West Lighthouse, and the Audubon House and Tropical Gardens.