Dawn on Lake Okeechobee and the water is flat as glass. An angler stands in the bow of a bass boat and cast toward the cattails on the shoreline. The lure lands with a plop!
The water ripples as a fish swims over to investigate. The angler twitches the artificial bait once, twice and then bam…fish on!
A few minutes later, a greenish-black largemouth bass glistens in the morning sun. It’s a five-pounder, a great catch in anyone’s book. But it will be released to be caught another day.
That’s the beauty of Florida freshwater fishing. Bass and panfish are a renewable resource. They have brought generations of anglers to Florida, and with sound conservation, will do so for many years to come.
The Big “O:” Lake Okeechobee
Lake Okeechobee, a 730-square-mile lake in south central Florida, is the state’s most famous bass fishing destination. With 16 boat ramps and numerous marinas and fish camps, it has everything an angler needs.
Fed by a constant supply of freshwater from the Kissimmee River and blessed with ample aquatic vegetation, the lake has always been the standard by which all other Florida lakes have been judged.
But in recent years, The Big “O” has had to share the spotlight. Kissimmee's Lake Tohopekaliga earned its spots in the record books in 2001. During a Bass Anglers Sportsmen’s Society (B.A.S.S.) tournament, the winner broke all previous records with a single-day catch of 45 pounds, 2 ounces.
Included in that record haul were two fish that weighed more than 10 pounds. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission credits sound fisheries management and habitat restoration programs for the state’s stellar bass fishery.
Tips from the Fishing Pros
But you don’t have to be a professional bass fisherman to catch tournament-winning fish. With a little advice, anglers can swing by their nearest sporting goods store, stock up on some artificial lures and learn to fish like a veteran of the tournament trail.
Spring is the best time to fish for the legendary Florida bucketmouth. The live bait of choice for most anglers is the golden shiner, fished under a cork. When it comes to artificial lures, the weedless, or Texas-rigged, plastic worm is the most popular. Jerk worms, spinner baits, crank baits and topwater plugs will also work under a variety of conditions.
A simple spinning outfit rigged with 12- to 15-pound test will work in most Florida lakes. Bass typically hang around structures such as grass beds or submerged logs, so you will need a sturdy outfit to keep from losing fish.
- Lake George (northwest of DeLand)
- Stick Marsh/Farm 13 Reservoir (east of Vero Beach)
- Lake Kissimmee
- West Lake Tohopekaliga
- Rodman Reservoir (east of Gainesville)
- Lake Tarpon (Pinellas County)
- Lake Weohyakapka, commonly known as Lake Walk-In-Water (south of Orlando)
- Lake Istokpoga (south of Sebring)
- Everglades Water Conservation Areas 2 and 3
- Lake Okeechobee.
A Florida freshwater fishing license is required. Special regulations apply in some areas. For a complete list of Florida freshwater fishing regulations, go to www.MyFWC.com.