Florida is widely heralded as the "Fishing Capital of the World," and with good reason. From the Panhandle to the Keys, anglers can catch bass, bream and crappie, or pursue drums, specks and even Marlin, offshore. No other state has such a wide variety of premier gamefish species — in freshwater and saltwater — that can be caught 12 months out of the year.
While it's always risky to create a list of "best" of anything — especially for fishing with its dependency on weather, water temperature and other natural factors — here are some solid picks for top species and where to catch them through the calendar year.
Crescent Lake Crappie
There may be no better crappie fishery in Florida than Crescent Lake, located near the town of Crescent City. Fishing in March can be extraordinary, especially for heavyweight fish in the 2-pound and larger class.
Other Options: During the coldest weather impressive catches of big Indian River seatrout can be made from deep canals and "dredge holes" as seatrout school en masse in the comparatively warm temperatures that Florida's east coast deep water provides. South-central Florida's Lake Okeechobee largemouth bass (3 to 8 pounds) should be spawning in bulrush and peppergrass shallows.
Southeast Florida Sailfish
Florida's best sailfishing is available here this month. Catches of 10 to 15 sailfish from a single boat in a day are possible.
Much of the best sailfishing is had out of Fort Pierce, St. Lucie (Stuart), Jupiter and Palm Beach inlets, where charter boats are ready for hire at such famed places as Sailfish Marina in Palm Beach.
Other Options: Lake Istokpoga is a 28,000-acre, south-central Florida big bass gem, though it receives comparatively little press. This fifth largest Florida lake averages 4 to 8 feet deep, and bedding bass action can be excellent this month. St. Augustine wahoo fishing is world class, with fish over 100 pounds caught almost every February. Last year, the numbers of 50- to 75-pound fish was unprecedented.
West Lake Tohopekalia Largemouth Bass
This 22,000-acre central Florida lake (south of the town of Kissimmee) has long been one of the state's most productive for bragging-size bigmouths. Few lakes anywhere have given up more bass weighing over the magic 10-pound figure as Tohopekaliga, and over the years plenty of 14- and 15-pounders have been plucked from its remarkable waters.
Other Options: Although it is best known for outstanding bass fishing, one of Florida's best crappie lakes is Rodman Reservoir, located near the town of Interlachen.
Black drum, up to a hefty 4 pounds, are on the prowl in southwest Florida near Cape Coral and Punta Gorda.
Fernandina Beach Black Drum
No place in Florida has better fishing for heavyweight black drum than the northeast part of the state. Record fish over 90 pounds have been caught using crab and clam baits at St. Marys Inlet and nearby Nassau Sound.
Many big, spring drum are caught from deep holes on river flats having rough, irregular shapes.
Other Options: Cobia weighing up to 80 pounds cruise along Florida's Panhandle Coast, where anglers pursue them using boats with towers and makeshift ladder rigs for better visibility. Good fishing also can be found by anglers on coastal piers.
Much-sought-after pompano will be in the surf feasting on sand fleas throughout the beach areas of the Panhandle this month.
Boca Grande Pass Tarpon
There is no location where more tarpon are pursued — and caught — by more fishermen than at Boca Grande Pass.
Skiff guides from throughout the state jam at Boca because there is no surer thing in tarpon fishing, says Capt. Dave Markett of Tampa. His clients battle hundreds of fish, commonly weighing over 100 pounds, every season in the pass, and fish up to 175 pounds are boated (and released) annually.
Other Options: The jumbo bluegill spawn on Lake George during the full moon in May is legendary. Live cricket and earthworm baits do well.
Permit should be in large schools on wrecks and reefs in southwest Florida, especially off Marco Island. Everglades City also can have great permit fishing near "the barges," and channels in the Cape Romano area can be good, too.
Indian & Banana Rivers Seatrout
Huge seatrout, up to nearly 10 pounds, can be caught throughout the length of the Indian River on Florida's central east coast. Heavy fish can be taken in remarkable abundance virtually year 'round, but especially in June when wade fishing is particularly productive.
A boat isn't needed for much of the best fishing because seatrout swarm onto shallow grass flats to feed, and easy-to-do wading often is the most deadly way of catching them. Shoreline and bridge seatrout fishing can be outstanding throughout the area, too.
Other Options: Capt. Joel Brandenburg of Apollo Beach commonly leads anglers to 4- to 10-pound redfish, tallying as many as 50 fish in a day on Tampa Bay.
Tarpon fishing will still be outstanding throughout the Middle Florida Keys, particularly out of Marathon and Islamorada. Sight fishing is most popular, but soaking live mullet in cuts, channels and around bridges produces 100-pounders, too.
Florida Keys Snapper
Tasty yellowtail, mangrove and mutton snapper fishing can be great this month through much of the Florida Keys. It's mostly reef fishing on the Atlantic side, where boats anchor and target yellowtails in the 2- to 4-pound range by chumming them toward the surface.
Bigger mutton snapper hold in 200 feet of water, where they'll take baits and jigs. At times they're found in patch reef areas. Savvy fishermen also target elusive mangrove snapper at night, which makes them less cautious and easier to catch. Mangroves can weigh up to 5 pounds, and may be found in water as shallow as 50 feet.
Other Options: Some of the biggest channel, flathead and blue catfish are available in the Apalachicola River below Jim Woodruff Dam and Lake Seminole, northwest of Tallahassee. Work deep holes and tapering bars using nightcrawler worms for channel cats, live bream for flatheads, and cut fish bait for blue cats.
King Mackerel and shark fishing will be as hot as the weather near the nation's oldest city of St. Augustine. Chumming behind working shrimp trawlers and near menhaden bait pods is deadly.
Fort Pierce to Palm Beach Snook
August is the tail end of the east-coast snook spawning season in south Florida (thus the closed harvest season, which opens Sept. 1), and inlets are jammed with linesiders. Anglers who praise snook, or want to learn why they are so honored, should get in on the action in the waters in and around Stuart, Fort Pierce, Vero Beach and Palm Beach.
It's a small boat fishing paradise, with flats skiffs and bay boats ideal for working inlets, beach areas immediately north and south of inlets, and vast "inside" areas of creeks and rivers feeding inlets.
Snook average 5 to 10 pounds, but 30-pounders are present.
Other Options: Nighttime fishing around dock lights can be outstanding for spotted seatrout and white trout in the Pensacola and Perdido Bay areas. Fish often feed on small silvery glass minnows, so very small grub jigs with 1/8-ounce leadheads or sparse streamer flies score best on seatrout that weigh 1 to 4 pounds.
Look for large schools of redfish in the south Tampa Bay area, from Ruskin to the Manatee River in Bradenton. Reds also should be seen near Fort Desoto and Tarpon Key.
St. Johns River Red Drum
Reds swarm into the lower St. Johns River in massive schools. Smaller males first show about mid-August. In the 8- to 15-pound range, they're in such dense masses that they readily show on a depth recorder. They hold and feed along channel drop-offs in water 25 to 45 feet deep. Beginning in mid-September, small male redfish diminish and much larger females show. Many weigh 30 to 40 pounds, and linger through October.
Reds are caught in all moving tides, ebb or flood, though various locations are the most productive according to tide stage.
Other Options: Lake "Walk-in-the-
Water" near Lake Wales in south-central Florida is a long-time largemouth bass haven. The 7,500-acre Polk County lake is loaded with vegetation and plenty of lunker largemouths weighing 8 to 10 pounds. Live shiners drifted over weed bed holes near deep water are deadly at dawn and dusk. Canals in and around Miami can offer excellent early and late topwater plug fishing for hard-hitting and high-jumping peacock bass.
Sebastian Inlet Flounder
Good-eating flat fish in the 1- to 5-pound range (though some weigh up to 10 pounds) will begin gathering in this east-central coast fishing hot spot as they stage to move to offshore reefs for spawning. Clean-water incoming tides are best for fishing, and anglers must keep baits and lures near bottom to be effective.
Drifting is a good tactic, using jigs or heavy single-blade spinnerbaits tipped with striped baits from mullet or white belly meat from flounder.
Three-way swivel rigs also work well, using baits or large white plastic grub tails.
Other Options: Lower angle of sun rays and milder temperatures are to the liking of bonefish in the Florida Keys, so flats fishermen can have good action from the speedsters throughout a day of fishing. Islamorada and Marathon are prime.
Gag grouper fishing on Florida's west-central coast around the towns of Homosassa, Crystal River and Steinhatchee can be outstanding when water temperatures cool and grouper move into spring holes in Gulf water as shallow as 10 feet.
Lake Woodruff Largemouth Bass
Lake Woodruff, located north of Deland, is a hot spot for largemouth bass this month. Last November guide Rick Rawlins lead Marty and Casey LaFerriere of Kissimmee to 23 bass using wild shiners. They had many fish 5 pounds or better, and an 8.5-pounder.
Bass over 10 pounds are commonly caught from the lake, mostly with live wild shiners, but spinnerbaits and topwater plugs often do well in calm conditions early and late in the day.
Other Options: Pine Island Sound, near Fort Myers, is a top November spot for redfish, seatrout and snook. Work mangrove points with surface plugs, jigs and live baits in shallow water early and late where tide flow is strong and clear.
The Escambia River in Escambia county is stocked annually with hybrid striped bass, and in alternating years with striped bass. Fish in the 10- to 12-pound range are caught in autumn near points of land during falling tides.
Newnans Lake Crappie
December is the time to go to Newnans Lake, east of Gainesville, for crappies. The fish are abundant and eager to strike, and there are plenty of 1-pound-average "speckled perch," with 2-pounders available.
The best winter crappie fishing is conducted by deep-water trolling, and multiple pole set-ups are most effective, since a wide array of lure colors and baits can be used. Jigs with fathead or Missouri minnows barbed through the lips are staggered at depths from 2 feet to just off bottom.
Other Options: Cobia fishing around the wrecks in southwest Florida can be excellent, particularly near the town of Chokoloskee. Jigs, live bait and chum work well on fish averaging 15 to 30 pounds.
Limits of sheepshead are commonly caught near Matanzas and St. Augustine inlets on Florida's northeast Coast. Target rocks, docks and deep, oyster shell bars using fiddler crab baits.
There are, of course, numerous other places for anglers to try their luck, but these 36 should be considered.