With great weather year 'round and endless options to explore, it's no wonder that fishing is such a big sport in Florida. Here are some recommended spots for fishing in Homosassa and the Gulf Coast.

By Doug Kelly

In the mold of a secret getaway is a small town tucked away on the Gulf coast about 60 miles north of Tampa. Just cruise along the Homosassa River early in the morning, relish the cool breeze caressing your face, sigh at the impossible beauty of rustic river homes and Spanish moss dangling from branches of oak trees lining the river, and you'll almost forget that you're here to enjoy some of the best light-tackle fishing in the world.

Homosassa (pronounced home-uh-SASS-uh) has oyster bars, sandy flats and rich sea grasses that serve as honeycombs for swarms of bullish redfish and tenacious trout. The outlying Homosassa Bay averages three to four feet in depth and gives up plenty of shots at big reds, while Chassahowitzka Bay just to the south is much shallower - a small, light boat helps access areas holding huge schools of hungry trout.

Summer represents the best time to target redfish around Homosassa, and trout take center stage in early spring and fall. In May or June, you can join luminaries from the world of fly fishing who make pilgrimage here to test their skills and luck battling 150-plus-pound tarpon. Many world records have been recorded in Homosassa since the early 1970s, contributing to the intrigue and excitement of the area.

Redfish, trout and tarpon are only part of the cast of characters, however. At various times throughout the year, anglers can go "toe-to-fin" with bluefish, sheepshead, black drum, Spanish mackerel, grouper and cobia. All the action transforms Homosassa into a cornucopia of fishing opportunities, set in a portion of Florida that willingly lets the fast pace of the world go by while residents and visitors catch their breath and enjoy peace of mind.

Historic, picturesque Homosassa offers creature comforts too. I never have trouble finding comfy lodging and choosing a homespun or stylish eatery. Nearby diversions include taking a dip in beautiful Crystal River - maybe amidst manatees - and sightseeing at Weeki Wachee Springs, which includes the amusement of watching "mermaids" in watery slow-motion. It's easy to understand why I always bring my family along when fishing in Homosassa.

If catching fish in pristine, uncrowded settings is your cup of tea, try a kayaking trip. Fishing from kayaks continues to grow in popularity, and it's no wonder: the quiet craft draw only inches of water, allowing you to sneak up on fish in areas that most anglers can't access.

Stop by River Safaris & Gulf Charters in Homosassa, which offers fishing charters, scalloping charters, airboat and pontoon boat tours, boat rentals and swims with manatees.

Further north from Homosassa, cool temperatures in Cedar Key, Steinhatchee, Apalachicola, Panama City, Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Pensacola usually bring on jousts with grouper, red snapper and amberjack around offshore wrecks, and redfish, sheepshead, black drum, flounder, cobia and pompano closer to shore. Balmy skies signal a switch to bonito, kingfish, dolphin, wahoo, marlin and sailfish, along with light-tackle challenges versus trout and redfish.

Anglers in Homosassa and south in Everglades City, Naples, Fort Myers, Sarasota and Tampa will enjoy fall and winter confrontations with redfish, grouper, kingfish, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, trout and blackfin tuna. Spring and summer trigger the year's best battles with burly tarpon and snook.

Over the years I've had the pleasure of fishing off Hawaii, Alaska and all around the continental United States as well as the Bahamas and Caribbean, Africa, and Central and South America. Indeed, for better or for worse, some of those exotic experiences have been memorable. But for shots at a huge variety of species combined with consistently excellent facilities back on dry land, the Sunshine State beats them all hands down. It's little wonder that whenever I'm asked my recommendations for the best fishing destinations in the world, the answer always starts and ends like a well-placed cast: "Florida!"