Florida's Freshwater Catches

By: Terry Tomalin

Tips and tricks for fishing the state’s best bass lakes.

It’s dawn on Lake Okeechobee and the water is flat as glass. An angler stands in the bow of a bass boat and casts toward the cattails on the shoreline. 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 our freshwater fishing. Bass and panfish are a renewable resource. They’ve lured generations of anglers to Florida’s bass lakes, and with conservation, they’ll do so for many years to come.

The Big 'O'

Lake Okeechobee, a 730-square-mile lake in south central Florida, is the among state’s most famous bass fishing destinations. 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 The Big "O" has had to share the spotlight with other phenomenal bass fisheries. Kissimmee’s Lake Tohopekaliga earned its spots in the record books in 2001. During a Bass Anglers Sportsman 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-breaking haul were two fish that weighed more than 10 pounds. In 2010-2011, Orange Lake was breaking records with numerous bass of more than 13 pounds. Throughout the Rodman drawdown in 2011-2012, the reservoir has produced numerous trophy bass.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission credits sound fisheries management and habitat restoration programs for helping to maintain the state’s stellar bass fishery.

Tips from the Pros

You don’t have to be a professional bass angler to catch tournament-winning fish. With a little bit of advice, you can swing by your 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, though they are abundant and challenging year round. The live bait of choice for most anglers is the golden shiner, fished under a cork. When it comes to choosing 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 your fish once it’s hooked.

Fishing Regulations

A Florida freshwater fishing license is required. Anglers may keep five bass, only one of which may be 22 inches or longer, but the minimum size varies according to the zone you're fishing. Special regulations apply in some areas. For a complete list of Florida freshwater fishing regulations, go to www.MyFWC.com.

Where to Catch Big, Bad Bass

  • Apalachicola River/Lake Seminole (along the Florida-Georgia border)
  • Everglades Water Conservation Areas 2 and 3 (northern Everglades)
  • Lake George (northwest of DeLand)
  • Lake Istokpoga (south of Sebring)
  • Lake Kissimmee (east of Lake Wales)
  • Lake Talquin (west of Tallahassee)
  • Lake Tarpon (west of Tampa in Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs)
  • Lake Weohyakapka, commonly known as Lake Walk-In-Water (east of Lake Wales)
  • Rodman Reservoir (east of Gainesville)
  • Stick Marsh/Farm 13 Reservoir (northwest of Vero Beach)
  • West Lake Tohopekaliga (south of Kissimmee)

Seasonal updates are available at myFWC.com/Fishing.

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