Here's a look at three options in the Sunshine State that usually go underreported. Let's go fishing for bream, crappie and peacock bass!
Tucked between the end of hunting season and the heat of summer is a magical time on the water. The mornings are still cool, and the middle of the day is warm enough to make you shuck off your sweatshirt and enjoy the sun.
Spring is when Florida's "other" angling is the best. This is the fishing that many anglers don't think about: crappie fishing in the northern and central parts of the state, bream in urban ponds statewide, and colorful peacock bass in south Florida.
Nicole Kierl, a fisheries biologist in the Panama City office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said black crappie is one of the first fish species that starts spawning in the spring, which is why many anglers target them from February through April.
"They typically hang out in deep holes until they come up to spawn," Kierl said. "They like depths of 20 feet, but they come up to spawn as shallow as 3 to 8 feet deep. They're more of a cool water fish, which is why they aren't as abundant as bass or bream here."
In April crappie are almost through spawning.
"There are probably some still on the beds, and a few others still in the shallow water," Kierl said. "But most of them will be more into eating than protecting their nests, and they have started heading for deeper water.
"The timing of that depends on how cold the winter was; if we have a cold winter, they tend to stay up higher longer."
In terms of baits for April, Kierl said to try jigs or small minnows.
"A lot of anglers like a 1/16-ounce to 1/8-ounce curly-tailed jig in yellow, chartreuse, pink or white," she said. "Some anglers are successful with night fishing for crappie, using the same baits but fishing with a lantern."
A number of lakes in northern and north central Florida hold crappie. Biologists pointed to several of those as being "best bets" for crappie next spring.
Lake Talquin -- Located between Tallahassee and Quincy, Lake Talquin is an 8,800-acre impoundment with a 10-inch minimum size limit on the crappie to help maintain the fishery. The state record black crappie of 3-pounds, 13 1/4-ounces was caught from the man-made reservoir.
Orange & Lochloosa Lakes -- These lakes are between Ocala and Gainesville. The fishery here has been excellent the past couple of years, and fish of 1 to 2 pounds aren't unusual. Good baits here include jigs and minnows, or a combination of jigs tipped with minnows.
Lake Weir -- Located in south Marion County, Lake Weir is a 5685-acre body of water with lots of depths exceeding 20 feet and an irregular bottom. The FWC maintains 12 brush fish attractors, which you can easily spot by looking for the large yellow buoys. Most anglers use minnows and grass shrimp near the attractors, but some drift the open waters.
Lake Weohyakapka (Walk-in-Water) -- This 7800-acre lake is east of Lake Wales, and at one time had a problem with hydrilla. However, since the hurricane year of 2004 the lake has been clean, so there's plenty of open water to troll for crappy.
Missouri minnows fished under corks or on small jig heads, as well as Hal-Flies and small spinners, are excellent for catching crappie here.
Start talking about urban ponds, and you're talking fishing that many city dwellers can reach in just a few minutes. In fact, that was the point of the Urban Pond Program, which developed Fish Management Areas statewide to allow anglers in the cities to have easily accessible fishing opportunities.
The FWC Division of Freshwater Fisheries manages about 80 water bodies throughout the state that are designated as FMAs. These are mostly community-based fishing lakes or FWC managed impoundments. Many of these impoundments are stocked with channel catfish, largemouth bass and sunshine bass. Automatic fish feeders and fish attractors concentrate fish for bank anglers.
Fish Management Areas are located in every FWC Region in the state. Not all of them are urban ponds, but a substantial number of them are located in cities areas. Obviously we can't cover all 80 of them here, so for more information, go to the FWC Web site at www.myfwc.com and click on Fishing. Next follow the links through Freshwater, Freshwater Sites and Forecasts, and Fish Management Areas.
The best part of the Urban Ponds Program is that those FMAs are loaded with bream and other easily caught fish! You can pick up bluegill, redear sunfish, and warmouth, with a side helping of catfish and even a few exotics such as Oscars.
Bluegill eat almost anything. They love insects, insect larvae, and crustaceans, but also bite fish eggs, small fish, mollusks, and snails. The most popular baits, however, are crickets, grass shrimp, and worms. Or you can try artificial lures, including small inline spinnerbaits and popping bugs.
Here's a look at few of these ponds.
Piney Z Lake -- This 193-acre lake is within the city limits of Tallahassee and is actually one arm of Lake Lafayette. Piney Z is laid out for bank access, with more than 3 miles of shoreline and several "fishing fingers" jutting into the water for anglers.
To the east in Jacksonville, seven ponds provide access for residents all over the city.
The Bethesda Fish Management Area is located in the Northside Recreation Complex of Florida Junior College. It covers 15 acres, and has good bank access. More than two dozen fish attractors are scattered along the bank and in the center of the lake.
At just over 6 acres, Oceanway Fish Management Area is north of the Oceanway Sports Complex. A covered dock provides fishing access even during inclement weather. A number of fish attractors are located around the bank and in the center of the pond.
Crystal Springs Park in western Jacksonville has a small pond of less than two acre. On this lake fishing is limited under 16, over 64 or disabled anglers and those accompanying them.
Hanna Park Fish Management Area is located inside Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park. Thi
s area has a total of 27 acres of ponds, including two small "finger" lakes. There are a number of fish attractors around the bank.
In the St. Augustine Road Fish Management Area, the north pond covers 2 acres. An electric compressor supplies air to maintain oxygen levels and prevent fish kills. The south pond spreads across 10 acres. Both have a number of fish attractors.
Huguenot Pond is less than 3 acres in size. Located off State Route A1A, it's almost on the beach. There are a number of fish attractors in the pond.
The Pope Duval Fish Management Area has two ponds. The east pond, which is just shy of 7 acres, has automatic fish feeders. The west pond has boat ramps and a fishing pier.
The greater Orlando area has more the 60,000 acres of fresh water for fishing.
Starke Lake, located in Ocoee, covers 225 acres. The area has a boat ramp, a handicapped accessible fishing pier equipped with fish feeders, an enhanced shoreline area for bank fishing, and four oak-brush fish attractors, one of which can be reached on a long cast from the pier.
At 339 acres, Turkey Lake has five fishing piers, as well as three oak-brush fish attractors and a park shoreline enhanced to maximize fisheries production.
The 408 East-West Expressway crosses 147-acre Lake Underhill, where the bridge and its pilings provide shade and cover for both fish and anglers. Bank fishing is available along the southern shore and a public boat ramp is on site.
Lake Ivanhoe has 125 acres and is located in downtown Orlando. Bank anglers can park in the shade of the I-4 overpass along Lakeview Drive and cast to an oak-brush fish attractor. Boat anglers put in at the ramp on Ivanhoe Boulevard.
Clear Lake has 339 acres, with a boat ramp and two fishing piers equipped with fish feeders. Three fish attractors and transplanted eelgrass and bulrush plants also provide good fish habitat.
Tampa also has a variety of urban ponds.
Al Lopez Park, located behind Raymond James Stadium, has a 10-acre pond. Two fishing piers offer good access to the water. There are five fish feeders around the pond.
Bobby Hicks Pond is in south Tampa, across from Robinson High School. Two ponds totaling about 25 acres are connected by a narrow channel. There's good bank access and a fishing pier on the south side of the pond.
Dover District Park has a 14-acre pond, and is located in a multiple-use park. Bank access to the pond is excellent, with a mowed grassy bank around much of the water. The lake also has five fish feeders.
Gadsden Pond is in south Tampa, on MacDill Avenue just north of MacDill Air Force Base. Bank access is very good around much of the lake, and a firm sand bottom provides good spawning areas for bluegill and bass.
For many anglers the ultimate freshwater game fish in south Florida now is the butterfly peacock bass. Imported by the FWC 25 years ago to help control exotics in Dade and Broward county canals, the peacock bass provide a fabulous fishery.
One of the first anglers to take advantage of this urban fishery back in the 1980s was Alan Zaremba.
"I caught my first peacock bass in 1987, and I was hooked," he said. "I couldn't get enough of these exciting fish, so I worked hard to learn as much as I could about their life, their habitat, their breeding habits and, of course, their feeding habits. I started guiding for peacock bass in 1989 and devoted my interests to full-time guiding in 1991."
Since then, Zaremba has become the No. 1 guide for the species in Florida, but also regularly guides anglers for the fish in South America.
"From April to May it's sight fishing time in the canals because peacocks are in their full spawn," he said. "They're paired up and on shelves in shallower water, anywhere from 3 to 6 feet deep. In April, some will still be 'house hunting,' cruising the banks in pairs. Throughout that time, if they're not on their nests they're guarding their young."
Peacock bass prefer hard surfaces for spawning, Zaremba said.
"Their eggs adhere to a surface, so they like a smooth surface," he said. "They spawn on sprinkler pipes, bricks, old tires, lumber, or downed trees. I've even seen them spawn on the sides of dock posts."
In the spring, Zaremba emphasized, catch and release is particularly important.
"If you catch one, have the camera ready to take a quick picture and put the fish back as soon as possible, so it can get back to what it was doing," he said. "Most of the time they go right back if you don't keep them out of the water too long. The most important thing is that they get back to their young. I don't like to mess up any spawn."
Peacock bass are fast spawners, the guide added.
"The main spawn takes about a week from the time they find a nesting spot and park on it for a couple of days, lay their eggs and the eggs hatch," he said. "Once the eggs hatch they stay with their young for up to a couple of months or until the young are 2 to 3 inches long. They grow very fast the first year, and then it slows down after that."
When sight casting in April and May, Zaremba prefers 1/4- to 1/2-ounce bucktail jigs.
"Another one I like is a Road Runner jig from Blakemore, because it has a little spinner blade on it," he said. "As far as colors are concerned, I like a red and white or a chartreuse and white jig -- something you can see in the water."
Zaremba also uses a Pro Trap from Bill Lewis Lures during this period of time.
"It comes in 3/8 and 5/8 of an ounce," he said. "I like the 5/8 if I'm fishing deeper, and the 3/8 for shallower water."
At the moment, Zaremba said, the peacock bass fishery has shrunk due to the cold winter of 2009-2010.
"The 2009-2010 winter was really tough on these fish," he confirmed. "So anglers need to fish more south than in years past -- Dade County only this year. There are still some in Broward, but Broward will most likely take another year or two to bounce back and repopulate. Luckily they grow fast and reproduce a couple of times a year."