Prime places to encounter Florida’s most popular game fish.
When choosing the best country in the world for fishing, the good ol' USA can't be beaten. But if you whittle it down further, the Sunshine State represents the filet mignon of angling opportunities.
Let's take a tour of Florida and allow the most popular game fish to shine in the spotlight. Here's a sampling of excellent places to stalk bonefish, sailfish, snook, tarpon, redfish, cobia, kingfish, trout, grouper/snapper and bass.
Bonefish: The absolute Mecca for shots at trophy-size bonefish is around Islamorada in the Florida Keys. Look for flats near channels for best results, and areas where you see stingrays, small sharks, cormorants, wading and diving birds - all signs that the flat contains a good supply of crustaceans, shrimps and worms that serve as a table d' hote to hungry bonefish.
Sailfish: If fishing atop the reef just a few miles offshore and majestic jumps and tail-walks light your fire, your best bet is to target sailfish off Stuart. The current flow and bottom contours attract hordes of baitfish, and - if it were possible to salivate underwater - that's just what congregations of sailfish would be doing as they eye all the piscatorial groceries on the shelf.
Snook: Sporting a distinctive jutted jaw, a penchant for jumping, a black lateral line and a seeming glee at picking a fight says it all. The region from Naples to Cape Sable produces excellent numbers of snook, and rivers south of Everglades City are particularly fruitful for linesiders.
Tarpon: The Silver King is the biggest and baddest challenger in near-shore waters, reaching up to 200 pounds. Best hot spots: Homosassa and Boca Grande as well as off St. Petersburg. Watch the calendar for full-moon phases when an outgoing tide often results in crab flushes that turn tarpon into frenzied eating machines.
Redfish: The record book is filled with prize catches in the Indian River Lagoon system between Daytona Beach and Melbourne. The nearly enclosed waterway and mixture of mud-and-grass bottom serves as home to a really huge redfish population that seems to get better and better, thanks to the growing catch-and-release mentality.
Cobia: What's a cobia? A tough-fighting, spirited game fish that - unfortunately for them - tastes oh-so-groovy when grilled or fried. The "green reef," a name for the deeper water between the shoreline and flats that forms at high tide just a stone throw off the beach around Panama City, makes for "way fun" fishing expeditions.
Kingfish: This sleek battler has become so popular that kingfish tours have spawned everywhere. But it seems that the water temperatures off Jacksonville are especially conducive to hordes of kingfish, which snap up trolled baits and lures with the enthusiasm of a bulldog licking a bowl of pudding.
Trout: They attack with unabated malice, and when a school is present, the action is so non-stop that you can't wipe the silly grin off your face. Flamingo, at the southern tip of the mainland, is not only beautiful and exotic, but the many cuts, bights and canals play host to trout on just about any given day.
Grouper/Snapper: Jump in the aquatic jalopy and take a ride off Miami to nigh any of the wrecks and artificial reefs dotting the waters. You'll get ample cracks at yellowtail and mangrove snapper, plus shots at black and gag grouper. You may even encounter a 200-pound-plus goliath grouper (which must be released) or a tenacious cubera snapper with stiletto-like teeth.
Bass: The Big O - Lake Okeechobee - deserves its reputation as the place to be when it comes to stalking largemouth bass. The size of the lake offers a huge variety of habitats that congregate bass, and if action is slow in the southern part, trailer to the northern side and start casting. Sooner or later you'll find 'em. Or, if you're in central Florida, look no farther than the myriad lakes in all compass directions from Orlando. Many double-digit lunkers lurk in Lake Butler near Kissimmee and Lake Alfred just east of Lakeland.
In north Florida, pick any lake or stream in the triangle between Ocala, Palatka and Gainesville and expect a bonanza of bream and bass. Crickets, plastic lures and crankbaits will get quick notice.
While you won't go wrong trying out these selections, if you stumble across a honey hole where you have to hide behind a tree to keep the fish from biting, don't question it: Just enjoy the bounty of Florida's sport-fishing treasures.