A Guide to Freshwater Fishing in Florida

From largemouth bass to sturgeon, Florida's lakes and rivers are home to many varieties of freshwater fish. Ready to try your luck? Here are some hot spots, and some tips.

Along the highways and byways of Florida lie canals, lakes, ponds and rivers teeming with a huge variety of freshwater bait-busters. Largemouth bass take the stage as the biggest star, but anyone who's jousted with a feisty bluegill, a tenacious crappie or a scrappy peacock bass knows the challenge and fun of these light-tackle showdowns. And would you believe there are sturgeons in Florida? Yep, the Suwannee River boasts a surprisingly large number of them.

It would be a virtual sin to start any discussion about Florida's freshwater fishing scene other than with Lake Okeechobee. Lake O comprises a 730-square-mile area and is the second-largest body of fresh water in the U.S., holding more than a trillion gallons of water.

Most fishing takes place along the south, west and north portions of the lake within a mile of the shoreline. Look for hyacinths, hydrillas and other water plants where big bass ambush shiners, bluegills and other scaled groceries. They also pounce on frogs, crickets, worms, grasshoppers and pretty much any fish smaller than itself. Plastic imitations of those baits work well.

While a number of bass subspecies abound, the most interesting newcomer is the peacock bass. Peacocks are beautiful, with golden bodies and "peacock" markings toward the tail. They prefer the warmer waters of South Florida. While at times tough to fool on artificial baits, peacocks are awesome fighters.

Bluegill and other members of the bream family are thin, round fish that easily fit into a pan - hence, the nickname "panfish." Seldom exceeding a pound, bluegill will nonetheless strike a lure even longer than itself with total malice, causing one to believe a fish twice its actual size is hooked up. While it's fun catching them on crickets and worms, watching a bluegill track and attack a top-water lure is great entertainment.

Crappie are also a panfish and, though catchable on most any small lure or bait, represent a favorite target of fly fishers. They rise to take a pattern resembling a bug and on light fly gear will thrash and fight very well.

Here's a review of lakes, rivers and canals in addition to Lake Okeechobee that are worthy of a visit for freshwater fishing in Florida:

Tamiami Canal

Paralleling the Tamiami Trail (US 41) starting just west of Miami to Naples, this canal has been the scene of hand-to-fin combat for three generations. Cane poles, fly rods and spin gear can reach across most areas of the canal - just watch out for alligators and water moccasins.

Canals in South Florida

The canals built for hurricane control in Miami hold good quantities of bass, as do many residential ponds.

Lake Trafford

Near Immokalee and SR 29, this lake is consistent for good catches.

Lake Istokpoga

Off US Hwy. 27 south of Sebring lays a virtual honey hole for freshwater anglers. Try "flipping," which involves dropping your bait within the length of your rod where you see the water or foliage moving in hopes it's a bass lying there waiting to slurp up your plastic worm.

Lake Alfred

It's not far from Auburndale and close to I-4, but of late it's produced some of the biggest bass in the state, with many 10-pound-plus lunkers reaching boat side.

Disney World

Yes, you read that right. Disney's two big lakes contain a huge population of bass that have learned to live with boat noise and crowds. You can't go on your own but two-hour excursions aboard pontoon boats with a guide are available - and it's all catch and release.

Lake Talquin

Just west of Tallahassee, this stump-strewn lake is the perfect environs for healthy bass. Go with heavier line than usual to deter the abrasion.

Bienville Plantation

With thousands of acres of mineral-rich waters, Bienville produces incredible numbers of Florida trophy bass, crappie and blue-gill.

Whether your choice of weapon is the ancient cane pole or a modern graphite fly rod, enjoy the best freshwater fishing resources in the nation in Florida, the "Fishing Capital of the World."

Places to remember