With more than 7,700 lakes, 10,550 miles of rivers, 2,276 miles of tidal shoreline, and a year-round boating season, Florida offers diverse waterways to explore and many exciting boating and fishing events. These waters are so fishy that many Florida lakes and ports of call host the world’s largest fishing tournaments. Prefer cruising? Bask in peaceful wilderness rivers or revel on sparkling urban waterways. Like racing? Check out a major regatta or speedboat race, such as Key West’s legendary Race Week. No matter your nautical passion, Florida offers it. Florida is hands down the boating capital of the world.
In the mid-1800s, a young, Connecticut-born fisherman named Leonard Destin arrived at what later became East Pass. He realized quickly he’d found paradise as he gazed upon vast schools of diverse fish species through fathoms of translucent water on what is now called the Emerald Coast.
Leonard and family developed the area into a fishing center. These days, you can chat with one of Destin’s world-renowned charter captains, and you’ll find they carry on Leonard Destin’s timeless love of fishing and the sea.
Great fishing and easy Gulf access also gave rise to Pensacola and Panama City Beach, though centuries apart. Pensacola was an Indian fishing settlement and then a Spanish fort. Panama City Beach got its name supposedly because it was the nearest American port to the newly opened Panama Canal. Lots of crews and passengers came ashore there for R & R. Though they have distinct characters, all three destinations continue to offer quick access to the Gulf, great fishing and full-service marinas.
The Atlantic Coast & Intracoastal Waterway
A trip down the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) takes you through some of Florida’s richest waters and swankiest neighborhoods.
A southward course charts you through golden spartina grass marshes down to St. Augustine,
the country’s oldest continuously occupied city.
The Halifax River connects to the Mosquito Lagoon. Encompassed by the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, this shallow-water complex teems with seagrass and mangroves. Fish for redfish and seatrout, and check out the Kennedy Space Center.
Merge into the 156-mile Indian River Lagoon (IRL) at Haulover Canal near Titusville, and let dolphins guide you through North America’s most biologically diverse estuary.
Urban adventures await in the Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami areas. You’ll find more million-dollar yachts and multimillion-dollar mansions along this stretch of water than anywhere else.
The Florida Keys
Easy access to the Gulf Stream and Florida Bay makes for a fishermen’s paradise. An angler recently caught more than 50 species there in a week. Or, enjoy performance boats and poker runs, plus world-renowned regattas, including Key West’s annual Race Week, which ranks with the Olympics and America’s Cup.
The Gulf Coast
Explore miles of sheltered bays and rivers ideal for boaters in flats skiffs, bow riders and kayaks. The Naples/Marco Island area, at the north end of the Ten Thousand Islands, offers some of the best bird and wildlife viewing – not to mention fishing – in its maze of sheltered rivers. The big bays and sounds to the north – Sarasota and Tampa, plus Pine Island Sound – offer easy navigation and exciting downtown waterfronts.
Ask the concierge, or Google-search vessels and prices. Pick a vessel made for your interests. Rates run from $200 to $500 per day. The boat must be Coast Guard-approved. Make sure you understand state boating license and safety requirements. Visit myfwc.com/boating.