Most came in search of largemouth bass, but a few of the more adventurous souls fished for tarpon and other saltwater species in small, isolated coastal communities such as Boca Grande.
Today, 100 years later, most of those old-time fish camps are gone, but if you have a yearning for some old Florida charm, you will still find a few classic camps where fishing still comes first.
You don’t have to venture very far to find the heart and soul of Florida fishing. Legendary lakes such as Tohopekaliga and Kissimmee still produce their share of largemouth bass.
But if there is one body of water that has become synonymous with big bass it is Lake Okeechobee, a 730-square-mile lake in south central Florida, the state’s most famous bass fishing destination.
Roland Martin Marina and Resort in Clewiston is a full-service, family-run operation that caters to serious bass fishermen.This fish camp has all the amenities of a modern resort, but it's the spirit and charm of the classic fish camp that help make Florida’s largest lake an international angling destination.
While you might not get a chance to fish with the maestro himself, Roland has a team of top fishing guides, each one specializing in trophy bass. www.rolandmartinmarina.com, 800-473-6766.
Travel north from Okeechobee and you find Camp Mack’s River Resort, ideally situated between Lake Kissimmee and Lake Hatchineha, two of Florida’s top bass and panfish lakes. Camp Mack’s rents cabins or you can bring your own RV.
Either way, make plans to stay a while because you won’t be able to fish both lakes and the river in just one day. You will find Camp Mack's River Resort just outside of Lake Wales. www.campmack.com, 863-696-1108.
But Florida is known for more than its lakes. Back in the 1800s, paddle-wheeled steamers regularly carried sportsmen far up the St. John’s River in search of big bass.
You can still catch the world-famous Florida bucketmouth and other species at the Bass World Lodge, south of Georgetown on the St. John’s River. This fish camp offers easy access to Lake George, Rodman Reservoir and the Oklawaha River. www.bassworldlodge, 386-467-2267.
Fishing the flats
Travel either coast, along the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, and you will find full-service marinas where boaters can stop, refuel and buy bait. Many of these saltwater fish camps also offer lodging. It doesn’t matter if you want to catch tarpon, snook, redfish or trout; there is an oceanfront spot to serve as a home base for your expedition.
The Shell Island Fish Camp, located about 18 miles south of Tallahassee, overlooks the pristine Wakulla River, just a short boat ride away from the best speckled sea trout fishing in Florida. www.shellislandfishcamp.com, 850-925-6226.
On Florida’s east coast, River Palm Cottages & Fish Camp in Jensen Beach is a favorite home base for anglers who want to catch tarpon and snook in the Indian River. www.riverpalmcottages.com, 772-334-0401.
But for a more luxurious fish camp experience, visit Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key, your gateway to the deep-water reefs and backcountry fishing of The Florida Keys. www.hawkscay.com, 888-395-5539.
Whatever your pleasure, chasing billfish in blue water, flyrodding the grass flats or busting big bass, Florida has a fish camp for you.
If you go
Florida and other states use license revenues to enhance recreational fishing opportunities and sustain fisheries resources. Resident anglers between 16 and 65 and nonresident anglers over the age of 16 typically need a license to pursue freshwater or saltwater fishes (and aquatic species such as scallops or lobster). However, in saltwater, some fishing piers and charter boats or captains purchase a license that covers their customers. To learn more about Florida’s fishing rules and regulations, go to www.MyFWC.com.