With seemingly endless miles of saltwater coastline, your first thought about fishing in Florida probably isn't “freshwater.” Yet the sunshine state has around three million acres of freshwater lakes, reservoirs, and ponds, as well as thousands of miles of rivers, all of which support a thriving freshwater fishing community. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regulates all of the freshwater fishing in Florida. There are no closed seasons (with exceptions for some saltwater species that migrate into freshwater occasionally) so freshwater fishing can be enjoyed year round. There are some license requirements and limits on the size of fish that can be kept, so make sure you know the laws before you start fishing.
The star of the Florida freshwater fishing scene is, of course, the Largemouth Bass, the state’s official freshwater fish. They prefer clean freshwater, but can actually be found in nearly every body of freshwater in the state. They can be caught on a variety of baits, from plastic worms to fresh golden shiners. They range in size, with the state record standing at over seventeen pounds. The state runs a catch and release science program (TrophyCatch) that gives you recognition and lets you contribute to the science of conservation if you catch and release bass over eight pounds.
Largemouth Bass aren’t the only kind of bass you may find in the freshwaters of Florida. The Butterfly Peacock Bass is an introduced species that helps keep invasive Tilapia at bay, and these large fish are a lot of fun to catch. They can reach twenty five pounds, but the state asks you to return the big ones so they can keep doing their job. You may also catch Striped Bass, normally a saltwater fish, as they come into freshwater to breed.
Some prefer to fish for these scrappy, broad fish that make an excellent dinner. The Bluegill, the Redear, the Black Crappie, and the Warmouth are among the favorites. Panfish generally feed on insects, crayfish, and worms, so any of these make good bait. If an artificial bait is more your speed, try a small popper, imitation minnow or one of the jigs.
Florida freshwater lakes, rivers and reservoirs hold several species of catfish. The Flathead, the Blue Catfish, the Brown Bullhead and the Channel Catfish can grow huge and give you the fight of your life. As you fish you may also be greeted with a catfish walking past on dry land! The non-native walking catfish only gets to be a few pounds, but makes for an interesting sight.
Where To Go
The prime destination for freshwater fishing in Florida has to be Lake Okeechobee. Prized by bass fishermen, this is the second largest body of freshwater in the country. Adjacent to the big lake is the Golden Gate canal system. Between Naples and Marco Island, this series of waterways provides a great opportunity to catch bass, panfish, and catfish. The focus on these two spots does not mean there aren’t excellent destinations elsewhere in the state. If Orlando is your vacation destination, there are a number of fishing spots in the area, including some opportunities at Disney itself. Fishing is a beloved past-time across all of Florida, so wherever you're staying, ask the locals about opportunities to go freshwater fishing.