Fishing For Par: Florida Golf Course Angling

Fishing For Par: Florida Golf Course Angling
The Sunshine State is loaded with golf course ponds, many of which hold a variety of game fish. Photo by Bob McNally.

There's a young man and his wife in Jacksonville who are living the dream of most married Floridians. They have good jobs, and own a nice house on a little lake in a large and well-manicured Northeast Florida country club community. But unlike most of their golf-playing neighbors, my friend and his bride get more enjoyment fishing on golf course water hazards than hitting white balls along green fairways.

"No one fishes our golf course ponds much," he said with a broad smile, while requesting anonymity to protect his country club fishing lifestyle. "And the lakes are loaded with bass, and there are plenty of crappies and bream, too. But it's the bass fishing that's so incredible.

"In a six-month fishing stint working golf course ponds — from shore, and some on public courses — I've caught countless bass, and many fish weighing over 8 pounds, including several over 10 pounds. My wife has had great fishing, too, including taking her biggest bass, an 8 1/2-pounder."

My friend has a regular route he fishes on his local golf course, usually in late afternoons when most duffers have already headed to the clubhouse. An ideal afternoon is following a late thunderstorm, which sends golfers scurrying for the 19th hole. Usually by 6 or 7 p.m. the showers subside. The course is vacant, since most golfers don't resume rounds that late in the day.

But it's prime time for "run-and-gun" golf pond fishing. He dons a small fanny pack loaded with a Spartan mix of tackle, such as spare lures and hooks, and heads for the course.

Driving to road overpasses crossing small creeks and ponds around his golf course community, my friend parks safely along roadsides or in neighbor driveways — with permission. He then walks the course, adjacent to pond edges, casting for bass as he goes. Much of the time his wife accompanies him, and in a typical two-hour after-work fishing trip, they catch six to 12 bass, averaging 2 to 3 pounds. There's nearly always a few bigger fish.

"We never keep bass because they put so much fertilizer and pesticides on courses. I'm leery of eating fish where run-off flushes in," he stated. "But that undoubtedly is the reason fishing is so good in golf course ponds. Bass and other fish grow fast because the water is fertile, and almost all fish caught by anglers are released. This is why big fish aren't culled from fishing pressure."

I once had a Florida "grand slam" fishing with my son on a swank golf course. In just an hour of "pond hopping" by car, and casting flies from the bank, I caught a redfish, largemouth bass, snook and  crappie from several brackish-water ponds — something I've never done before or since.

Getting permission to fish golf course waters can be challenging, particularly on private country clubs — which frequently offer the best action. But it's worth the effort gaining access. Sometimes meeting and talking with a club pro is worthwhile. Explain you'll not interfere with golfers on the course, and all fish will be released.

Many golf courses are closed on Mondays, which is a prime time to fish their waters, and permission to fish is more easily obtained then. Night fishing also is worthwhile, since golfers are not on courses. And on clear, small waters of golf courses, night fishing is often unsurpassed.

I have several friends who live in large golf course complexes, and at night they use their community golf carts to scoot around cart paths on the courses to access far-from-the-road ponds that offer great fishing. Carts easily can accommodate two fishermen, plus rods and tackle boxes — even a cooler for beverages.

A word of warning is in order, however, about after sunset golf pond fishing. In Florida, creatures of the night are out and about, and pond, lagoon and stream fishermen should be aware of ill-tempered raccoons, or foxes and more dangerous critters like alligators and the occasional cottonmouth water moccasin or rattlesnake. Moccasins can be especially troublesome, and they are notoriously aggressive.

Even fire ant mounds can cause plenty of trouble for fishermen wearing short pants, sandals or similar non-protective clothing.

In warm weather, pond-side walking anglers at night are wise to have a headlamp light to make for sure footing around the water's edge.

In many golf course communities residents and their guests are allowed to fish, so it pays to make friends with golfers. Golf resorts are popular vacation spots throughout Florida, and guests often have permission to fish water hazards so long as they don't interfere with golfers. If you're visiting a golf resort, don't overlook fishing as a choice pastime.

In large golf Meccas several courses frequently are available, and many have large, connected ponds or lagoons and creeks that snake around the area. Many such waters appear small, but in reality may cover hundreds of acres. Many places are surrounded by overgrown vegetation that's ideal fish habitat.

A great many of these waters offer excellent fishing from lightweight johnboats, canoes, kayaks, and in some places even float tubes. This allows anglers to get far away from golfers and other people and to waters rarely fished. Electric fishing motors often are allowed on watercraft in golf course communities, although gas motors normally are not.

I've fished some golf resorts where angling was encouraged on water hazards, to the point that improved boat ramps were available, and large bass boats could be launched and used. No big outboards could be cranked, however, only electric motors were approved for use. I

It was high on the coolness factor to be sitting in a fully rigged bass boat, far out in a golf course complex with duffers hitting balls nearby, and we were catching bass or other fish. I know of at least one golf resort that offers guided fishing trips on its courses, with the guide works out of a Ranger bass boat.

An important plus for golf course waters is that most are comparatively small, shallow, and have limited fishing pressure. Therefore it takes little time for anglers to locate fish. More often than not, construction crews building greens, tees and bunkers used the "fill" from digging course ponds and lakes. Consequently, water hazards commonly have great structures such as deeper holes, underwater islands, humps, bars, tapering points and drop-offs. Some golf ponds are essentially mini-reservoirs, complete with creek channel edges, flooded timber and stumps, riprap and deep water near the dam.

In some shallow, natural golf course waters there is no well-defined structure to hold fish. In such waters the outside edges of grass lines, bulrushes and lily pads may hold almost every fish in the lake. This is important to keep in mind when fishing course water.

Approach the water carefully, since fish may be laying right at the edge. Initial probing casts should be made well back from the bank. After checking near water, walk to the edge, survey the weed line, and make casts that come across it. Most importantly, make casts paralleling the inside and outside weed edges. This tactic works for bass and panfish, as well as ponds offering marine fish such as red drum, snook, baby tarpon, black drum, and even flounder.

Sometimes course waters have deep undercut banks that harbor big bass and other fish, particularly in sunny weather. Find a cool, shady bank with overhanging willows or other trees and you might have discovered the best fishing spot on an entire water hazard.

Bulkheads around greens or near fairway bunkers, and small footbridges for golf carts over water hazards also can be outstanding fishing spots. I once stopped on such a bridge and looked down into the shadows, hoping to see bass or bream. Instead I spotted a school of about a dozen catfish, none less than 10 pounds in size.

My sons and I were rigged for bass, but returned later that day armed for catfish with suitable baits. We caught over a dozen channel cats, including one behemoth pushing nearly 15 pounds. We released every cat, and have frequently fished the same water hazard — no doubt landing some of the same catfish over several years. Not once have I seen another angler working the same spot, though dozens of golfers walk over the bridge every day.

Other choice spots for fishing golf course ponds, lagoons and streams are the mouths of culverts, canals and small in-flowing streams. Such places often have current, which concentrates minnows and other aquatic food. In turn, that attracts feeding bass and other finned predators.

In coastal Florida many golf courses are loaded with marine fish. Some ponds are brackish, while others are pure salt. In brackish waters, largemouth bass and marine fish overlap. For example, on one golf course pond near Charlotte Harbor on the Gulf Coast, I once caught a 3-pound largemouth, a 5-pound snook, and an 8-pound baby tarpon in just a handful of casts from one small area.

The hot spot was a grass bank where water was pushing hard against it due to tidal current. Wading herons and diving gulls drew my attention to the place. Current concentrated baitfish schools, which in turn drew a wide array of game fish.

On some other large lagoon-system golf ponds, shad schools are large and healthy. One such area in north Florida has such an extensive lagoon complex that it provides water hazards for five different golf courses in three different communities. Finding shad schools there is the key to locating feeding game fish on the courses, just as it would be on a larger lake, river or reservoir.

Diving birds can lead you to shad and feeding game fish, and at times bass and other species can be spied boiling the surface as they herd and gorge on shad baits. This is common during the warm months, especially at dawn and dusk.

Golf course ponds and lakes often are manipulated to create the most attractive and dangerous hazards for golf balls. This can make for ideal fishing spots, since lakes frequently are "necked down" for foot bridges, or for making island greens and the like. Any such narrowing of a water hazard can be a huge fish magnet, particularly if there is deep water, current or healthy green weeds in abundance. All these things are big draws for baitfish and bass, as well as red drum, tarpon and snook.

Not only do golf courses offer some of the best fishing in Florida, but they also boast some of the most unusual fishing sights anglers can encounter. I once fished a Panhandle Florida golf course that tracked along a lengthy stretch of the Gulf of Mexico.

High winds and tides from an autumn storm had buffeted the coast and course for the better part of a week. When the weather settled, the course lake was jammed with a wide variety of marine fish that had been blown in from the nearby Gulf by the gale.

I fished the lake one warm day when the water was so high that several fairways were about half the size they were originally designed. One long hole had its entire fairway nearly flooded with Gulf-enriched lake water. The green was only about half size for duffers trying to putt. A friend and I watched at a foursome putting, while a small school of 5-pound-class redfish swam passed them in shallow water on the other half of the green!

After the golfers left the spot, we quickly caught a pair of nice redfish on gold spinnerbaits before the next foursome of golfers came into view.

Don't let off-color water in a pond discourage you. In fact, often ponds with pea-soup green, cocoa-brown water are best, as they're most fertile. Fish tend to be easier to catch under such conditions than in ponds with air-clear water.

Many such golf course waters are extremely fertile due to run-off from residential homes and fairways. This causes algae bloom, abundant weed growth, and in some cases water that's so fertile it looks more like a lawn than fish habitat. Yet these waters can be prime because of that fertility, but serious anglers rarely fish them.

The bottom line is that off-color golf course ponds can hold plenty of big fish. They're generally under fished, and you never know how good fishing is in a pond until you try it.

In time anglers learn where, when and how to fish golf ponds, and they quickly cash-in on memorable fishing. For example, some years ago a close friend of mine had pinpointed some pond hot spots that offered exceptional bass fishing at daybreak. Not only was the low light and cool dawn temperatures prime for feeding, summertime fish, but most golfers were yet to tee off. He pretty much had free reign to ease around the ponds.

My youngest son, Matt, and I fished with him early one morning from a Zodiac inflatable boat, powered by an electric motor. We caught bass to about 5 pounds regularly for an hour. Finally, we neared a pond point he said habitually held some huge bass. Matt made a long cast with a topwater plug to the spot. He chugged the lure a couple times, and the surface opened up when a fat 10-pound largemouth clobbered the plug.

The fish darted around, leaped a couple times, but in a few minutes Matt drew it close, and I lipped it for him.

Right then a foursome of golfers erupted into resounding applause — complete with hoots of praise for my 12-year-old son. Unnoticed by us, they had witnessed the whole thing from a nearby tee box.

Matt beamed with pride as the golfers acknowledged his bass-catching prowess, and they were even more impressed when he released the frisky fish back into the pond.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

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