By Terry Gibson
Surrounded by fish-filled saltwater, and scored with tens of thousands of lakes, rivers and creeks, Florida offers the world’s best and most diverse fishing opportunities.
The possibilities are so endless that it can be tough deciding on the Florida fishing adventure of a lifetime. But here, whether fresh- or saltwater fishing is your thing, are five trips you’ll never forget, and why.
1. Dry Tortugas National Park
Nearly 70 miles west of Key West, the 100-square-mile Dry Tortugas National Park is so remote that savvy anglers opt for a two- to five-day live-aboard fishing trip via a charter vessel designed for such a fishing adventure. The park teems with reef fish as well as pelagic species. You are virtually guaranteed to catch an enormous variety of species. Favorites include black grouper, mutton snapper and mahi mahi, as well as wahoo. There’s nothing like a sunset over the Gulf, enjoying libations and your fresh catch. Sleep is optional. The crews keep you on fish 24/7. The calmest seas occur late spring through early fall.
2. Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park is massive, and between the extensive seagrass flats, the maze of backcountry bays and creeks, and the offshore wrecks and reefs, you could spend a lifetime exploring the place, rod in hand. It’s a sublime wilderness where immersion is the only option. You can camp at a variety of ground sites, beach sites and elevated camping platforms called chickees. Or, rent a houseboat and stay for as long as your supplies hold out, exploring the vast mangrove marshes that fringe Florida Bay. Any option puts you in close vicinity to some of the fishiest water in the world. Species include tarpon, snook and redfish, as well as many species of snapper and grouper, plus cobia and Spanish mackerel. There’s always something biting.
3. Bassin’ Highway 27
Hitch up the bass boat, and see how many lakes you can fish along the length of Highway 27. Start at the intersection of Griffin Road and 27, west of Fort Lauderdale, at Everglades Holiday Park. This area offers one of the highest catch rates per hour in the country, with lots of big bass in the mix. Guides are available on site, as are boat rentals. Next, stop at the Roland Martin Marina in Clewiston, and test your skills on Lake Okeechobee. The “Big O” has returned to her former glory as one of the nation’s best bass lakes. Even the old timers are saying the fishing is better than ever. Up the road a bit, Lake Istokpoga is Highlands County’s trophy bass lake, and just a stone’s throw from the quaint, hospitable town of Lake Placid. Farther north, spend some quality time on the Harris Chain of Lakes, a real restoration success story. The big bass are back, the water’s clean, and access is easy from towns including Leesburg. Near Ocala, check out the lunker fisheries the Ocala National Forest. And out of Gainesville, don’t skip Lake Lochloosa. These lakes fish well year-round.
4. Daytime Swordfishing in the Keys
Imagine hooking a 400-pound swordfish in 1,500 feet of water, and seeing it vault through the air within seconds. They’re the baddest fish on the planet. It’s full-blown battle some 30 miles offshore. And there’s no one better at it than the Stanczyk family, owners of Bud N’ Mary’s Marina, in Islamorada. Late summer and fall are best.
5. Northeast Florida Sharks and Tarpon
These top predators follow the menhaden schools down late summer and early fall. The fish rip through the baitfish, or follow the shrimp trawlers around to feed on their bycatch. It’s not just a fishing adventure-- it’s a wildlife safari. Shark species include lemon and blacktip sharks. Other species include false albacore and cobia. The waters between St. Augustine and Amelia Island are heaven for the big-game fly rodder, and the big-game kayaker. Late summer and fall are best.