January 26, 2017
Florida has an amazing breadth of fishing resources statewide. No matter where anglers go, there are options to fish any time of year. With so many wonderful resources available to anglers, picking the best places for any month isn't easy. But here are 36 picks for top spots statewide this coming year.
JANUARY - Rodman Reservoir Largemouth Bass
Rodman Reservoir is a premier largemouth bass fishery, but January storms can make this a tough and dangerous place to fish. The lake is flooded woodlands, so look out for floating logs. Drawdowns are conducted every few years on this lake to improve the fishery, and one was completed last year. Try using deep crankbaits and Carolina-rigged worms in the river channel.
OTHER OPTIONS: Go south to visit the Naples fishing pier, which was built in 1888 as a freight and passenger dock. The pier has restrooms and a small concession. On Lake Weohyakapak (Lake Walk-in-Water) fish Missouri minnows under corks or on small jig heads, as well as Hal-Flies and small spinners for crappie.
FEBRUARY - South Florida Canals Peacock Bass
Look for fish in the shaded areas provided by bridges, culverts and other structures in the canals. Fallen trees, canal ends, bends and intersections also are good places.
Try a small golden shiner fished below a float or free-lined; cast it or slow trolling with a trolling motor along canal edges. Anglers may need to put a small split shot on the line to keep the shiner at the proper depth.
Topwater lures also work for peacocks. Try anything that looks like a minnow, as well as jigs. Those looking for big fish can throw lures up to 5 inches. For more action, however, stick with baits 3 inches or smaller.
OTHER OPTIONS: The State of Florida bills the Sunshine Skyway fishing piers as the "world's longest fishing piers." These piers are all that remain of the original Sunshine Skyway Bridge; they reach out into deep water and are complete with bait houses and other amenities. Lake Okeechobee has been improving for crappie and should be decent this year.
MARCH - Lake Trafford Crappie
Lake Trafford should be on the list of the best crappie lakes for the next couple years. The lake had strong year-classes in 2011 and on both sides of that year, and those fish are stacking up at the 4-, 5-, and 6-year-old age range now. Most of them will be in the 9- to 10-inch size bracket.
The best place to fish depends on whether the fish have moved near shore to spawn. Usually on Lake Trafford crappie move in January but cold weather late in the winter could delay movement until February or March.
Drift minnows early or late in the day or try jigs and minnows along the vegetated shoreline
OTHER OPTIONS: Piney Z Lake is laid out for bank access, with more than 3 miles of shoreline and several "fishing fingers" for anglers. Although boats are allowed — there are two launch ramps — motors are limited to trolling; no internal combustion engines are allowed. Lake Victor Fish Management Area can produce nice catches of 1- to 2-pound bass in the spring. Fish in the deep water along the old streambed and near the dam, using shiners, blue, black and purple worms rigged Texas style, Rat-L-Traps and yellow skirted flutterbaits.
APRIL - Tampa Bay Snook
During the spring of the year snook are off the beaches. Look at the mouth of the Egmont Key area and at small passes, such as John's Pass.
During this period, try artificial baits such as Exude Darts in sunlight crystal color, Top Dogs, Zara Spooks, or anything else that's silver. A variety of live baits work well also; use white baits such as sardines and greenbacks.
OTHER OPTIONS: For spring crappie, look at Teneroc Fish Management Area. There are quite a number of lakes, and the best ones for crappie change from year to year. Another option for snook this month is the Channel 5 Bridge in the Keys at mile marker 71.
MAY - Lake Jackson Bass
Lake Jackson is an excellent place to fish for bass in the spring. This 4,000-acre lake has highly diverse aquatic vegetation that creates optimum habitat for fish, and a national reputation to go with it. Try rigging shiners with the hook through the lips or straight through the back. A Texas-rigged worm works well for getting down into the grass.
In the spring and early summer, anglers can find schools of smaller fish all over the lake. This is a good time to try small rattling and topwater lures.
OTHER OPTIONS: A good spot for sunfish is Lake Istokpoga. The lake holds bluegill, redear sunfish and shellcrackers. For a rare treat that delights grandparents, go to the St. Johns River for shad roe.
JUNE - Tampa Bay Redfish
In mid-summer, reds in Tampa Bay are in big schools, moving up onto the flats. A live shrimp on a popping cork or a live pilchard will score.
Areas to check out include the Fort DeSoto area, Rattlesnake Key and all along the south side of the Bay near Cockroach Bay. Particularly look for grass flats that have rocky bottoms and oyster bars.
Both live baits and artificials work well. Try shrimp on a popping cork, or freelining shrimp with a very light split shot for distance. The fish are very spooky when in a school; getting out in front of them and allowing them to come to the bait makes for better fishing. For artificials, try jerkbaits and plastic baits with a light jig head.
OTHER OPTIONS: Hillsborough County has a number of Fish Management Areas that are ideal for a quick afternoon fishing trip. At least one — Bobby Hicks Pond in south Tampa — contains somewhat brackish water, and an occasional saltwater species pops up. Try shrimp, earthworms, chicken livers or any other live bait. A possibility for snook exists Islamorada in the Florida Keys.
JULY - Gulf Coast Scallops
This unique fishery is only open a short time. The Bay Scallop Harvest Zone runs from the west end of St. Vincent Island through the Pasco-Hernando County Line. NOTE: There are new regulations and new season dates for Gulf County waters.
The daily bag limit for bay scallops in this area is two gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell, or one pint of bay scallop meat per angler, or 10 gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell or a half-gallon bay scallop meat per vessel.
OTHER OPTIONS: Merritt's Mill Pond is renowned for its trophy shellcracker fishing, with best results on cloudy or rainy days and a ripple on the water; cast far from the boat in this clear water pond. On Newman's Lake, expect to catch white catfish, brown bullheads and yellow bullheads. Most will be in the 6- to 12-inch range.
AUGUST - Panhandle King Mackerel
In early September, king mackerel start moving from west to east, headed down the coast to the Keys. Good baits for this time are cigar minnows and live herring.
When the September run starts and schooling fish start showing up, many anglers use 8-inch Rapalas, either deep divers or topwater, both on downriggers. To make fishing more fun, use light tackle rather than heavy trolling gear, and fish live bait on the surface to make the strike more spectacular.
Those without a boat can find a long fishing pier to get out into king mackerel water.
OTHER OPTIONS: The Chipola River has an excellent fishery for several species of bream; it's also the home to the shoal bass. Lake Stone Fish Management Area can provide good bass fishing during the hot summer months, especially at night or during early morning and late evening hours.
SEPTEMBER - Lake Osborne Mixed
Although a small lake, Lake Osborne holds largemouth bass, sunshine bass, black crappie, bluegill, redear sunfish, catfish and Mayan cichlids. The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has installed nine fish attractors in the lake, marked with buoys. Bank access is plentiful, and the lake has a public boat ramp and a fishing dock.
Baits such as live grass shrimp, crickets and red wigglers should produce good catches of bream. Fish on the bottom with chicken livers or worms for catfish. Crankbaits and plastic worms may be useful for bass, which are more difficult to catch during the heat of the summer. Mayan cichlids and peacock bass should continue to be active through the hottest days.
OTHER OPTIONS: Look for flathead catfish on the Apalachicola River. Try live bream or shad in deep-water structure during the day and around shallow sandbars at night. Toward the end of the month, visit Sebastian Inlet for flounder during incoming tides.
OCTOBER - Choctawhatchee River Catfish
Anglers can catch big channel catfish in the Choctawhatchee as long as the water stays warm, but an early hard cold front could shut off this fishery. Smaller fish — channels, blues and flatheads — will continue to bite, but they will slow down if it gets cold. Most of the larger catfish are found in the northern part of the river, but can be found in some of the deep bends and holes going south toward Choctawhatchee Bay. Fish live bream on the bottom for the big fish, and use nightcrawlers or stink baits for smaller fish.
OTHER OPTIONS: Lake Trafford holds crappie, bluegill, redear sunfish, bullheads and bass. Try worms, crickets and small spinnerbaits for fall action. Stone crab season opens statewide on October 15.
NOVEMBER - Tampa Bay Trout
When the gales of November start blowing cold fronts through central Florida, it's time to fish for trout in Tampa Bay. The action takes place from way inside Tampa Bay, all the way out to the Gulf. Fish some of the flats that are out closer to the Gulf. Look around Tarpon Key, in the Sunshine Skyway area, and in other areas where there are nice stands of turtle grass.
After finding fish, use long casts and fairly light tackle to reach them with silver and gold jerkbaits.
OTHER OPTIONS: In late November, try for 'gator trout up in the Steinhatchee River. Come a little later for the grouper spawn. Anglers can still catch some reds and trout, and there are plenty of sheepshead to be found. Lake Okeechobee is always a good bet for bass. Expect good catches even in cooler weather.
DECEMBER - Lake Monroe Crappie
Lake Monroe is not a big "numbers" lake, but it is a "big fish" lake. On a good day, anglers may catch plenty of 10- to 12-inch crappie. This lake is known for quality-size fish and black crappie angling; crappie over 12 inches and 2 pounds are not uncommon. Drifting and trolling near the river channel and offshore from the power plant on the northwest shore are popular, but schools may be located all over the lake.
OTHER OPTIONS: Lionfish can be taken statewide year 'round, but December is a great month to travel to the Keys to harvest them. Special regulations apply; use care when handling lionfish. The Peace River offers more than 100 miles of river fishing for bass, bream and catfish; snook and tarpon are occasionally taken.