April 19, 2016
Now that school's out, it's time for family vacations. Summer is a great time to combine time on the water with a summer getaway, and teach children to fish. Thankfully, Florida has numerous locations across the state with both fishing and vacation potential.
In fact, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) manages urban ponds across the state so that easy-to-reach fishing is within a few miles of most folks.
The entire state has its share of urban ponds that are worth a look, and some of the activities around them will help keep kids entertained when they're tired of fishing. These Fish Management Areas are lakes and ponds specifically designated to increase fishing opportunities in urban areas through intensive management on select small lakes, and let anglers in urban areas reach fishing waters easily and conveniently.
Management of these ponds includes supplemental fish stocking, supplemental feeding, placement of fish attractors and aeration. All of these ponds have special regulations that help protect the particular fisheries. Find a list at myfwc.com/fishing/freshwater/sites-forecast/fish-management.
Lake Okeeheelee, located in Okeeheelee Park in Palm Beach County, is 157 acres in size. It's a clear sand-bottom lake with plenty of native submersed vegetation. Species in this Fish Management Area include channel catfish, largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, Mayan cichlid, and spotted tilapia. Some of the channel cats get up to a pretty good size, and fishing for them is excellent.
There's good shoreline access around most of the lake, as a number of weed-free bank access zones are maintained in both the fish feeder section and the rest of the lake. A concrete boat ramp accesses the non-feeder part of the lake. The four fish feeders are the best locations for catfish, sunfish and tilapia.
Anglers may want to use medium tackle with 6- to 10-pound test line for catfish, since some of the fish are pretty good size. Chicken liver, worms and stink-baits are good catfish offerings.
Special regulations: Gasoline motors may not be used on boats; all black bass must be released immediately. Daily bag limits are 20 panfish and six catfish. Bluegill and redear sunfish less than 8 inches in total length must be released immediately.
Along The Way
The Okeeheelee Nature Center has more than two miles of trails that wind through 90 acres of flatwoods and wetlands. The center contains hands-on exhibits, animal encounters and a gift shop. The nature center is open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons and all day Saturday; it's closed Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Trails are open daily from sunrise to sunset.
CALOOSA PARK LAKE
Caloosa Park Lake, also in Palm Beach County, is a small lake at only about four acres. It has a sand bottom and excellent shoreline access around most of the lake, although some parts of the shoreline are very soft. There's no boating available on the lake, but two fish feeders, native vegetation plantings and an aeration system enhance the fishing and the lake habitat.
Caloosa Park Lake contains channel catfish, largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, Mayan cichlid, and spotted tilapia. The best fishing in the lake is for channel cats, and the best action for most species is around the fish feeders.
Unfortunately, all black bass must be released immediately, and the daily bag limit for panfish is 20, and six for channel catfish. Bluegill and redear sunfish less than 8 inches in total length must be released immediately.
Along The Way
For a break from fishing, take the kids to the playground, which includes play structures for children ages 2 to 12 years.
Tropical Park Fish Management Area, also named North Lake, is one of four lakes in Tropical Park. This lake, located in Miami-Dade County, has steep shorelines and is very clear most of the year. It also has an abundance of submerged native vegetation.
The lake contains channel catfish, largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish and spotted tilapia. Both catfish and bass get to be pretty big here.
Shoreline access around the southern lobe of the lake, particularly off the peninsula, is fairly good. Anglers can also access the lake via the jogging path leading from the park's Boxing Center. However, no boating is available.
The four fish feeders in the lake are the best locations for channel catfish, sunfish and spotted tilapia. Anglers also can find catfish by fishing the deep area around and off the fishing peninsula. Largemouth bass are around submerged vegetation throughout the lake.
Consider using medium gear with 8- to 12-pound test line for catfish because there are large fish in the lake. Plastic worms, minnow imitations and spinnerbaits all do well for bass, but shiners are the best live bait. Fish deep if strikes don't happen near the surface. Worms, crickets, dough balls and tiny hot dog chunks are good baits for sunfish and tilapia. Sunfish and will also take any small fly, jig, beetle spin or spinner.
Once again, all black bass must be released immediately, and the daily bag limit on panfish is 20 and six on channel catfish. Bluegill and redear sunfish less than 8 inches must be released.
Along The Way
Those who like horses should check to see what's happening at the Ronald Reagan Equestrian Center, as the center hosts more than 36 horse shows a year. If visiting on a Saturday, check out the Southwest Community Farmer's Market just inside the Bird Road entrance to the park.
PLANTATION HERITAGE PARK
The pond at Plantation Heritage Park, located in Broward County, is fairly small at only about 6 acres, but it's a clear, sand-bottom lake with shallow shorelines and some deep holes near the center. There's excellent shoreline access, with one side of the lake almost entirely open to fishing on foot; the other side has a number of open areas between cattail stands.
The pond contains channel catfish, largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish and spotted tilapia. Some of the catfish may get up to 10 pounds, so use medium-heavy gear with 8- to 12-pound test line. Liver, worms and stink-baits are good for catfish.
Either fish the bait directly on the bottom or suspend it off the bottom under a bobber. Smaller plastic worms, minnow imitations and spinnerbaits all do well for bass. Worms, crickets, dough balls or tiny hot dog chunks are good baits for sunfish and tilapia.
Three fish feeders and an aeration system are in place to enhance fishing and improve water quality. These are the best spots for catfish, sunfish and tilapia.
And as with most of these lakes, black bass must be released immediately, along with any grass carp. The daily bag limit on panfish is 20, and six on channel catfish. Bluegill and redear sunfish less than 8 inches must be released.
Along The Way
When the kids are tired of fishing, take a walk along the Anne Kolb Memorial Trail, which winds through a tropical hardwood hammock, pine flatwoods and a coastal strand forest. A plant list is available for the trail.
Or, walk through rows of rare fruit trees from Africa, Asia and South America, as well as the Caribbean. However, don't pick fruit or even pick up fruit from the ground; permission is required to do so. Check with the park manager for guidelines and approval.
SADDLE CREEK PARK
Located in Polk County, Saddle Creek Park contains a number of phosphate pits on 740 acres of mined phosphate land east of Lakeland. Bank fishing is easy here and fish are abundant. The FWC stocks channel catfish regularly, and there are quite a few bass.
The park contains 323 acres of phosphate lakes that have been open to the public since the 1960s. This is a very productive system, with special regulations and management programs in place to manage the fishery.
Saddle Creek also has a good bit of bank fishing, and anglers there enjoy a lot of success. There are piers that are accessible to the handicapped, and manicured banks where the vegetation is controlled so anglers can fish from shore easily. The area contains typical phosphate lakes, with a lot of peninsulas and points, so anglers can access a lot of water from the shore.
When starting out to fish for bass on the phosphate pit lakes, bring along a little bit of everything. Try topwater lures around vegetation and off some of the many points early in the morning, before the sun gets up. Also look for underwater humps and brush structure to try buzzbaits and jerkbaits.
Once the sun comes up, fish the deeper parts of the lakes. Then, the two best-producing baits are plastic worms and crankbaits. When fishing the pits, expect some nice catches of bass.
There is a 15- to 24-inch slot limit on bass with a three-fish limit, and a six fish creel limit on catfish.
Along The Way
Saddle Creek Park has two main hiking trails. Dogs are permitted on the trails, but motorized vehicles are not. For those who like to camp, Saddle Creek Park has a campground near the lake with electricity and water hookups. For a trip to the past, visit Homeland Heritage Park in Bartow. This five-acre park includes a school building from 1878, a Methodist church from 1887 and two homes built in the 1880s.
PINEY Z LAKE
Piney Z Lake often turns up on lists of family friendly fishing areas with good reason. In the Capital City, the place to go for bream is definitely Piney Z. This 193-acre lake is within the city limits of Tallahassee, east of Capital Circle, north of Apalachee Parkway and south of US 90. It's actually one arm of Lake Lafayette.
Piney Z is laid out for bank access, with more than three miles of shoreline and several "fishing fingers" for anglers. Although anglers can take a boat onto the lake — there are two launch ramps — only trolling motors can be used; no internal combustion engines are allowed. Many anglers fish this lake from canoes or kayaks. While fun to catch, a special regulation on bass requires anglers to return them to the water immediately.
JOE BUDD POND
If Piney Z Lake is too much for the kids, drop by Joe Budd Wildlife Management Area, located between Tallahassee and Quincy, on a weekend morning. The FWC stocks Joe Budd Pond with catfish during the summer, so this is mostly a put-and-take fishery and a great place for young children to catch catfish easily. Joe Budd Pond is open to fishing on Saturdays and Sundays only during daylight hours, beginning the first Saturday in July and ending the Sunday before Labor Day. In addition, fishing is allowed on Labor Day.
Along The Way
When the kids are bored with fishing, check out some of the many cultural amenities Tallahassee has to offer. One great place for families to visit is the Tallahassee Museum, located on the shore of Lake Bradford. Displays include native animals and historical buildings, as well as guest animal habitats and a working farm. The Tallahassee Museum has many special events all year, so it's easy to time a visit to coincide with something happening there.