March 08, 2019
Florida anglers are blessed with countless places to fish.
Our biodiversity is immense; whether you’re chasing saltwater or freshwater species, you can find somewhere to wet a line in every part of the state.
Here’s a short list of possible locations to fish to get you started.
Images by Vic Dunaway
Lake Monroe | Crappie
Lake Monroe is not known for being a big “numbers” lake, but it is a “big fish” lake. On a good day, you may catch a number of 10- to 12-inch crappie while you’re fishing. This nearly 10,000-acre lake is part of the St. Johns River chain and is located just off I-4 about halfway between Orlando and Daytona Beach.
Drifting and trolling near the river channel and offshore from the power plant on the northwest shore are popular on this lake, but schools may be located all over the lake. By January, fish have moved inshore and seem to prefer the bulrush areas of the lake.
Most of Lake Monroe is uniformly 8 feet deep. Troll with multiple lines at different depths until you find a school, and then hit them there.
OTHER OPTIONS: The Okeeheelee Park Fish Management Area in Palm Beach County is excellent for bass; this is a catch-and-release lake only. In the Indian River, try fishing the holes and deep canals for your chance at speckled trout.
Broward Canals | Peacock Bass
Look for peacock bass in the shaded areas provided by bridges, culverts and other structures in the canals. Fallen trees, canal ends, bends and intersections also are good places to start looking for fish.
Try a small golden shiner fished below a float or free-lined; cast it or slow troll it with your trolling motor along canal edges. You may need to put a small split shot on the line to keep the shiner at the depth where you want it.
Topwater lures also work for peacocks. Try anything that looks like a minnow, as well as jigs. If you’re looking for big fish, you can throw lures up to five inches. If you want more action, however, stick with baits three inches or smaller.
OTHER OPTIONS:Lake Okeechobee is a good bet for bass this time of year. Concentrate around the bulrushes and peppergrass in the shallows. The Sunshine Skyway fishing piers reach out into deep water and provide access to many saltwater species.
Tampa Bay | Snook
Snook are moving out of the rivers into the mouths of the bays, getting ready to spawn. Look for feeding action in and around the passes and along the beaches; snook will be active anywhere there’s moving water. Try artificial baits, including Exude Darts in sunlight crystal color or anything else that’s silver, such as Top Dogs and Zara Spooks.
A variety of live baits work well also. Out on the flats and in the open water, along the drops and edges, the best thing to use is sardines and greenbacks.
OTHER OPTIONS: Bear Lake Fish Management Area in Santa Rosa County can be very good for black crappie in the early spring. For spring bass, look at Teneroc Fish Management Area; there are quite a number of lakes here.
Deer Point Lake | Shellcracker
Located in Bay County seven miles north of Panama City, Deer Point Lake is fed by a number of natural freshwater streams. This 5,000-acre lake has a number of access points, with the easiest being the fishing pier near the boat ramp on the west side of the dam off Highway C2321.
Use earthworms for bait and fish early and late in the day. You may catch bluegill on crickets and earthworms, and you might even catch a bass or two on crankbaits such as broken-back minnow lures.
Although most of the catfish and bullheads will be headed for deep water as the weather warms up, you can try for them on chicken livers and worms, or fish for them in deep holes if you have a boat.
OTHER OPTIONS: Many species are available from the Naples fishing pier; anglers sometimes catch tarpon. Mallory Swamp WMA has a network of canals that hold panfish and catfish; light tackle and cane poles work well here.
Russell Fields Pier | Saltwater species
The Russell Fields Pier on Panama City Beach is one of the longest piers on the Gulf of Mexico; its 1500 feet of length offers anglers access to pelagic species such as king mackerel. Kings feed primarily on schooling bait fish and squid and are commonly caught on flashy spoons or dusters rigged with a whole cigar minnow.
Freelining a live squid at night can also be effective. Spinning or bait-casting tackle with 20- to 30-pound monofilament line usually is enough when freelining live baits as long as you have enough spool capacity for the initial run after hookup. Kings have very sharp teeth, so use a wire or very heavy monofilament leader.
OTHER OPTIONS: Piney Z Lake within the city limits of Tallahassee is laid out for bank access; expect decent bass and bream catches here. Lake Victor in northern Holmes County is a good spot for late spring catfish.
Mosiac Fish Management Area | Largemouth Bass
During 2017, anglers had an average catch rate of more than 1 bass/hour here, which is well over the state average. Use typical bass baits in these phosphate ponds, which range in size from 10 to 200 acres.
The ponds are frequently stocked with channel catfish, and bullheads reproduce here as well; anglers have reported catching as many as 100 bullheads in a single fishing trip. All of this adds up to plenty of fishing opportunity in this area.
Most anglers use chicken livers or commercial stink baits for cats and bullheads, but night crawlers and other worms work as well. This area is open only Friday through Monday; stop at the check station and pick up a no-cost daily fishing permit.
OTHER OPTIONS: St. Andrews State Park offers good saltwater fishing opportunities for a variety of species year ‘round. Dixie County and the southern part of Taylor County offer the earliest scalloping in the state, from June 16th through September 10th.
St. Joseph State Park | Trout
On the bay side of T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in Gulf County, for sea trout and red drum with top-water plugs and other artificial baits. Look for sea trout in and around stands of seagrass, in deep holes and channels, and near oyster bars.
Free-line live shrimp, small pinfish or small grunts near the bottom to entice trout out of the grass beds. Attach a float to drift baits over the grass beds. Cast soft-bodied jigs, topwater poppers or spoons for hot weather action.
On the Gulf side of the park, you’ll find good beach fishing for pompano, flounder, gulf kingfish, Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and sharks.
OTHER OPTIONS: Joe Budd pond, inside Joe Budd Wildlife Management Area (WMA), is open on weekend mornings from July 1 until Labor Day; it offers a put-and-take catfish opportunity. Lakeside areas of Saddle Creek Park in Polk County are well maintained and provide easy access for fishing.
Keys Bridges | Saltwater species
With more than 40 bridges to fish from, you can hit a different one every day and never fish the same place twice. Start with the Channel 2 bridge at Mile Marker 73. There’s plenty of parking, and the bridge has fishing platforms on it.
Although the bridge is open 24 hours a day, it’s not lighted for night fishing. Some of the species that have been reported from this bridge include snapper, snook, barracuda, blue runners, sharks and mackerel.
Another great bridge is the Long Key bridge at Mile Marker 65. You can park at either end of the bridge, and there are fishing platforms available. You can fish on either side of the bridge.
OTHER OPTIONS: Tampa has a variety of urban ponds for quick, after-work or all day fishing. Al Lopez Park is behind Raymond James Stadium; Bobby Hicks Pond is in south Tampa across from Robinson High School. The daily limit for catfish on Juniper Lake in Walton county is six; fish for them with chicken livers and wigglers.
Steinhatchee | Trout
The spawning period for trout here is from May until September, with slight peaks at the two ends. Fishing in the Steinhatchee area, you’re going to catch a lot of fish that are under the fifteen-inch minimum. Handling those fish carefully is just as important as handling bigger fish carefully, because even small fish can spawn.
The bigger the bait or the bigger the lure, the bigger the sea trout. If you fish with little shrimp, you’re going to catch little fish. Use large lures for large fish; sea trout are predators, so toss them something that will trigger their predatory instinct.
OTHER OPTIONS: Starke Lake in Ocoee is a good bet for bream. The Jacksonville Beach pier is 1,320 feet long, so it reaches well out into deep water for access to many saltwater species.
Lake Talquin | Crappie
Although Lake Talquin is known for bass, it’s a good crappie lake as well. Early in the fall, deeper water is better. Drift through deep channels, using freshwater grass shrimp or small minnows on a #4 hook with a split shot below a float until you locate a good school of fish.
Or try trolling very slowly with small feathered or curly tail jigs that are yellow, white, chartreuse or pink; experiment with different colors, and remember that fall crappie are fussy.
If the visibility in the water is poor, use lures that rattle or flash. When the water is clear, try smaller lures on light line, such as spoons and small jigs. If all else fails, try a jig/minnow combination.
You also can fish for crappie at night near a light. Take advantage of the many dock lights on Lake Talquin to find spots where insects and bait fish congregate.
OTHER OPTIONS: Pensacola Beach fishing pier reaches out into the Gulf of Mexico past two sand bars, which means water of many different depths to fish. Turkey Lake in Orlando is a good urban bream fishery.
St. Johns River | Largemouth Bass
The Lower St. Johns River flows 140 miles through, or is connected to, a number of natural lakes ranging from 380 acres to 40,000 acres. The stretch of riverine habitat between Puzzle Lake and Lake Harney is shallow, with sandbars and floodplain.
From Lake Harney to Lake Monroe the water is deeper with some side channels. From Lake Monroe to Lake George, the river has been channelized in some areas and has few sandbars.
Fishing on the Lower St. Johns, you may catch both black bass and sunshine bass.
Fish around jetties and bombing ranges in Lake George, in the lower Oklawaha River, near Buffalo Bluff, around the Memorial Bridge in Palatka, Shands Bridge in Green Cove Springs, and the bridges in Jacksonville. Good baits include grass shrimp, live shad, shiners, jigs and crankbaits that imitate shiners.
OTHER OPTIONS: Striped bass are the #1 sport fish in both the St. Mary’s and Nassau rivers, which are connected by the Intra-Coastal Waterway. Lake Osborne in Palm Beach County has a wide variety of species, including sunshine bass, largemouth, black crappie, bluegill, redear sunfish, catfish and Mayan cichlids.
Apalachicola River/Lake Seminole | Stripers
The state record striped bass (42.25 pounds) was caught in the Apalachicola River/Lake Seminole system. Striped bass fingerlings are stocked into Lake Seminole annually. Lake Seminole, a 35,000-acre reservoir located on the Florida-Georgia border in Gadsden and Jackson Counties, is the headwater of the Apalachicola River.
Here, striped bass congregate along the old river channels and the lower lake near the dam during fall and winter. Striped bass greater than 20 pounds are common. Stripers move throughout the Apalachicola river system during the fall and winter and can be caught from the dam to the coast.
Bucktail jigs, flukes and crankbaits that resemble shad are popular lures around bridge pilings and along deep channels and drop-offs. Live shrimp are very productive in the lower river. Shad are most productive below the dam.
OTHER OPTIONS: Lake Weohyakpaka (Lake Walk-in-Water) is a 7,800-acre lake east of Lake Wales. Missouri minnows fished under corks or on small jig heads, as well as Hal-Flies and small spinners are excellent for catching crappie here. December is a great month to travel to the Keys to harvest lionfish. Special regulations apply; use care when handling them.
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