Your Sunshine State Angling Year

From Pensacola down to Miami and Fernandina to Naples, every corner of Florida offers great fishing. Here's a look at three dozen of your options for 2009! (Feb 2009)

If any place on Earth could truly qualify as a Fisherman's Paradise, Florida's at the top of the list.

Whether your quarry swims in fresh, salt or brackish water, the Sunshine State offers world-class angling for a number of glamour species, and they're easy to tap into.

Regardless of where you live in Florida, you're never more than 65 miles or so from salt water, and likely no further than 30 minutes from a highly productive freshwater fishery.

Getting in on the action isn't hard. But picking the best time to be at the best place can be a little more complex.

Even a world-class fishery can have down periods due to weather, water temperatures or seasonal migration patterns. Timing is often the key to experiencing the best that any given water has to offer.

Here are 36 destinations where you'll be right on time this year.

Crooked Lake

Located just west of Frostproof, Crooked Lake isn't yet a household word among bass anglers. But it should be! It produces trophy bass every year, and January is peak time to tangle with them.

The first spawn of the year occurs in February. The lake's best spawning habitat is in the second bay north of the public ramp on County Road 630.

The west side bordering U.S. Highway 27 is an endless shallow flat, loaded with native vegetation. Bass flock to it from the 20-foot-plus depths where they've spent the winter.

Look for bass to stage along the outside edge of the flat around bulrush patches in seven to nine feet of water. Local guides favor slow-trolling live shiners along their edges, but plastic worms and countdown crankbaits also produce.Alternatives
Lake Talquin produces some of the biggest speckled perch in Florida, and they are active along submerged channel edges in the main pool.

Seatrout are holding in deeper holes within the Steinhatchee River and will take jigs or sinking plugs ticked along the bottom. The best holes are those with rock on the bottom and along outside bends.

Lake Istokpoga

The spawn normally begins in February on Istokpoga. Invariably, the first location that spawning bass use is in the canal systems.

That tends to simplify things. Local experts advise starting your search in any hydrilla beds located in six to nine feet of water just offshore of a canal mouth. These are the final staging point for bass moving from mid-lake waters to their spawning sites.

Topwater lures, swimming plastic frogs like the Horny Toad, spinnerbaits or 10-inch plastic worms rigged Texas-style are top bets.

Which will be most effective? That depends on the density of the hydrilla and the time of day.

If the action is slow, move into the canals themselves. Local guides will slow-troll live shiners down the canal center while watching the banks for bedding bass that can be sight-fished.

This month, the Mayport jetties at the mouth of the St. Johns River yield bumper crops of hefty sheepshead.

Fiddler crabs fished tight to the rocks are the ticket.

Look for largemouths on Lake Tohopekaliga to begin spawning along the inside edge of shallow vegetation in two to three feet of water.

Lake Woodruff

This DeLand-area lake is actually a wide spot on the St. Johns River and doesn't get a lot of publicity. But the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's annual creel surveys show it to be one of the best bass producers in the Sunshine State.

This is a key spawning month, and bass are congregating in shoreline vegetation in two to six feet of water. Savvy anglers start their search along outer grass lines and rig with a Texas-rigged plastic worm, spinnerbait or swimming frog.

Stay on the move until you locate a concentration of bass and then slow down to work the area thoroughly.

Once they find fish, local experts push farther into the grassline to find the big sows bedding along the inside edge.

Lake Talquin's striped bass are feeding heavily in the lower portion of the lake, near the dam. During periods of bright light, work the rocks around the dam with white plastic jigs and shallow-diving shad imitations.

On Lake Lochloosa, speckled perch are invading shallow lily pad beds to spawn. A cane pole with a minnow tipped jig under a float works best.

Rodman Reservoir

The spawn is winding down on Rodman this month, which means the bass are ready to do some serious eating. If your goal is a trophy bass on a topwater plug, this is the time and place to do it.

On Rodman, subtle surface baits have proven best, with the No. 13 Rapala in gold-and-black being a top choice. Another favorite is a Devil's Horse-type double propeller bait worked slowly.

Savvy anglers start at dawn along the berm wall inside the Barge Canal and during the midday hours, expand their search to any surface-matted patches of hydrilla in the main pool itself. Ten-pound bass are taken every year with this simple pattern.

Gator trout are prowling dropoffs and tidal creek mouths in the St. Johns River at Jacksonville.

Topwater plugs in dim light and hard-plastic jerkbaits under midday conditions are deadly.

Largemouths begin working the outer weedlines on Lake Kissimmee this month. Toss topwater plugs and jerkbaits to maidencane edges early in the day.

St. Augustine

If you're looking for a 7-pound trout this month, you can't go wrong in the Intracoastal Waterway anywhere within four miles of the St. Augustine Inlet. The pogy run has begun, and the big beach-running trout follow them.

Hard-plastic jerkbaits in chrome-and-blue, chrome-and-green, clown or white with a red head and topwater plugs are the best choices.

Look for trout along Spartina grass edges near deep water on a high tide, and on the deepwater edge of oyster bars on the low tide. Surface baits are best early, but jerkbaits take gator trout at midday.

Plenty of dolphin are available to anglers in the Florida Straits off the Keys. If you're aboard a boat with a tower, you should have little trouble spotting schools.

This month, Estero Bay provides topnotch snook fishing. Key areas are the passes on a falling tide.

Upper Kissimmee River

Known as the "Ditch," this portion of the Kissimmee River directly below Lake Kissimmee is dredged straight, narrow and deep. It also holds some of the biggest bluegill in Florida. They bed heavily on this month's full moon.

Forget the intersecting creeks and old river channel. The biggest bream will bed on the banks of the Ditch itself. Look for any flat with lily pads and a sand-bottom shoreline in two to four feet of water.

Crickets are the preferred bait, but red wigglers and grass shrimp work, too. Find the right bed, and a limit of copperheads averaging 3/4 to 1 pound is possible.

Trout are roaming the grassflats in four- to seven -foot depths directly off of Horseshoe Beach. A live shrimp or a jig under a rattling cork is a proven producer.

The West Pass in Apalachicola Bay sees plenty of tarpon this month. Fish jigs, sinking plugs or cut mullet slow and close to the bottom.

Cedar Key

If you're looking for exciting flats fishing in the Big Bend, look no farther than the outside edges of Seahorse and North keys on the lower end of the tide. Cobia are making their annual migration and roam these flats on the high tide.

That gives the fish a lot of water for roaming, however, and often produces dirty water that impedes your seeing them.

Pick the lower end of the tide, when the fish are concentrated on outer flats' edges in clearer water.

Find the flats that have the rays the cobia are following and tie on a chartreuse plastic jig. Put that bait in front of a 50-pound cobia in three feet of water, and it's "Game on!"

Big king mackerel roam the St. Augustine beaches in 30 to 40 feet of water, and a slow-trolled live pogy will take them.

Most species of snapper are spawning on offshore reefs in 15 to 90 feet of water along the southeast Florida coast and provide some exciting night-fishing opportunities.

St. George Island

Look for jumbo redfish to be stacking up in the cuts and passes around St. George Island.

Bob Sikes Cut is a traditional hotspot.

Redfish normally hold close to the bottom. While bottom-bouncing jigs can work, these fish prefer live or cut bait.

Savvy anglers use a cast net to catch some menhaden (pogies) and fish them live on a heavy fish-finder rig. Cut pogies also work, as do chunks of crab. Either tide can be productive, but local experts prefer the falling phase.

This is a great month for Sarasota anglers to head out to the 100- to 140-foot depths to corral limits of red grouper.

Tarpon Springs anglers see large schools of redfish beginning to work the inshore flats in the Anclote Key area this month.

Fort Myers

The big schools of tarpon that moved north to spawn in the Boca Grande area are now heading back south and, with spawning done, they're ready to eat.

The key areas are one to five miles offshore of the Keewaydin Island and the Fort Myers area. Large schools of glass minnows are a good sign that tarpon are in the area. Local experts favor fishing a large live bait like a blue runner or ladyfish in the bait schools, but when you spot tarpon on the surface, they can be taken with plugs or properly presented flies.

Bream are holding tight to the overhanging banks of the St. Marks River and can be taken in big numbers on crickets, wigglers, and popping bugs.

With snook season opening, savvy anglers head to Sebastian Inlet, where jumbo linesides can be taken on live bait, jigs and plugs.

Cedar Key

This is the month when large schools of redfish invade the shallow flats inside Cedar Key. Schools that are 20 yards wide and 100 yards long show up, and the reds are packed in like sardines!

The area to key on is a large flat between Seahorse and Deadmans keys on the rising tide. Some anglers sit and wait for a school to pass, while others ease along on a trolling motor looking for them.

A big wad of reds isn't hard to spot in this clear, shallow water, and anyone who gets a spoon, jig or plug in front of a fish will have some action.

Cobia are moving inshore off of Port Canaveral. Sight-fish for them with chartreuse jigs.

Doormat-sized flounder are stacking up around Matanzas Inlet this month. A live mud minnow or finger mullet on a fish-finder rig is a quick way to bring home a tasty meal.

Florida Keys

The first hint of fall brings a wealth of sailfish to the island chain as they follow migrating schools of baitfish.

Depending upon where the bait is located on a particular day, you can run into spindlebeaks in anywhere from 20 to 200 feet of water, virtually anywhere along the Keys.

Slow-trolling live bait on outriggers or flatlines is a traditionally productive tactic. Those who know how to catch ballyhoo on the inshore reefs have an abundant supply of one of the best baits. But cigar minnows, sardines or virtually any other forage fish also work.

Look for surface-schooling largemouth bass in the St. Johns River between Georgetown and Palatka.

They feed on mid-river bars and submerged points on the peak of the outgoing tide.

Tarpon are schooling up in South Florida's Dumfoundling Bay, and take live bait or plugs.

Largemouth Bass
Lake Okeechobee

It's too early to predict how much water the Big O will receive in hurricane season, but levels are good now. The increased water opens up spawning areas that anglers have been unable to reach for several years.

This month, think shallow. Get inside the outer bulrush line and concentrate your efforts in any vegetation you can find in 18 inches to three feet of water. That's where bass will be spawning now, and soft-plastics and topwater plugs take them.

Speckled perch are fired up in Santa Fe Lake. Drifting jigs or minnows in 20 to 25 feet of water will find them.

Largemouth bass have moved to the maze of tidal creeks at the mouth of the Suwannee River, where they'll eagerly eat lures.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

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