In Florida, anglers can fish in crystalline springs, sparkling sand flats near coral reefs, flowing rivers, weedy lakes, deep reservoirs, shallow tidal marshes, ocean depths – almost any type of fishy habitat except mountain streams! Anglers may catch fish anywhere, from the tiniest neighborhood retention pond to the Atlantic Ocean, with anything from a hand line to a stout big-game rod and reel combination. Thousands of small freshwater ponds, large lakes, rivers and streams dot the state, offering great fishing for various species. In salt water, anglers fish shallow “inshore” bays and estuaries, “near shore” in the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean within sight of the coast, or “blue water,” many miles from shore. In some estuaries and river deltas, fresh and salty waters mix, allowing anglers to catch a variety of freshwater and saltwater species in the same place at the same time.
When most people think of freshwater fishing in Florida, their thoughts naturally turn to largemouth bass. Florida offers some of the best bass fishing in the country. Just about any water body in Florida, from the smallest pond to Lake Okeechobee, may hold a largemouth bass exceeding 10 pounds. The state record largemouth exceeded 17 pounds, but old reports proclaim fish exceeding 20 pounds, just 2 pounds shy of the world record.
For tempting largemouths, most anglers use artificial lures. Some common lure types include plastic worms, crankbaits, spinnerbaits and topwater plugs. These usually mimic some type of natural bass prey, such as shad, sunfish or salamanders. Bass often feed around heavy cover, including fallen trees, old stumps, lily pads or weed beds. When bass hunker down in thick weeds, many anglers punch through the matted grass with heavy jigs or run weedless soft-plastic frogs over the grass tops.
For targeting giant bass, nothing works better than natural bait in Florida. In places like Lake Okeechobee, Lake Kissimmee and the St. Johns River, anglers use large river shiners. Wild river shiners thrive throughout Florida and supply important natural forage for lunker largemouths. Shiners can grow to 12 inches long. Many anglers use shiners 6 to 10 inches long under floats. Cast next to a weed bed and wait for big bass to bite.
For catfish, anglers also use live bait or cut bait. Cut fish chunks on the bottom work for big channel and blue cats, but flatheads in the Apalachicola River prefer live bait. Crappie also like live bait ̶ usually minnows about 1 to 3 inches long. Fish minnows on either a bobber rig or vertically jig them. Many crappie anglers also troll jighead tipped with soft-plastic tubes, often sweetened with live minnows.
Prolific, widespread and abundant, sunfish hit a variety of natural baits ̶ such as crickets, grasshoppers, grass shrimp, worms or even bread ̶ dangled from a float near some type of cover. Many anglers tempt sunfish with fly tackle. They toss floating cork baits that resemble crickets, flies or other morsels or feathery creations that mimic insects. Small flies also work for American shad on their annual spring spawning runs up the St. Johns River.
Common freshwater species
These include largemouth bass, which rank among the most popular species to catch in fresh water and occur statewide. In some waters, anglers fishing for largemouth bass may also catch spotted, Suwannee or shoal bass, which look very similar to largemouths. Many anglers also fish for black crappie, which occur statewide. Several varieties of sunfish make small, but sporting targets. These include bluegill, redear sunfish, redbreasted sunfish, spotted sunfish and warmouth, also called goggle-eye. The St. Johns River, Lake Talquin, Lake Seminole and the Apalachicola River contain populations of striped bass. Some waters hold white bass. Biologists cross white and striped bass to make hybrids and release them into selected waters. Anglers can also catch channel, blue, white and, in some areas, flathead catfish plus American shad, pickerel and a few other species. For more information on the species of freshwater fish that live in Florida, see: www.MyFWC.com/WildlifeHabitats/profiles/fish/freshwater-fish.
In many ways, saltwater fishing closely resembles bass fishing. Anglers toss spoons, spinnerbaits, topwater baits or jigheads tipped with soft plastic minnows to tempt spotted seatrout, redfish, snook, Spanish mackerel and bluefish. Anglers can also use live shrimp or baitfish to tempt large inshore species. Live or fresh shrimp works for flounder, sheepshead and many other species. A whole or cracked crab makes excellent bait for bull redfish and large black drum.
Farther offshore, many anglers troll spoons, diving baits or live bait for king mackerel, wahoo, large Spanish mackerel, barracuda, dolphin, also called mahi mahi or dorado, and other species. Using deep-diving plugs or baits with downriggers, anglers can troll along reef edges to tempt grouper. In deeper water, anglers troll similar but larger lures, for marlin, tuna and sailfish. Large plastic squid baits can attract monster marlin, some topping 1,000 pounds.
Over reefs, rock piles or old shipwrecks, anglers also bottom fish by vertically dropping baits such as Spanish sardines, squid, menhaden or fish chunks or live fish to the bottom on heavy tackle to tempt big grouper, amberjack and various snapper species. Near the surface, look for cobia, tripletail or dolphin hovering around floating debris, buoys or long weed lines.
In the Florida Keys, off Destin and a few other deep-water places, anglers also fish for swordfish. During the day, swords often stay between 1,000 and 2,000 feet deep. At night, swordfish come close to the surface to eat squid, mackerel and other fish. When fishing for swordfish at night, anglers often tie glowing chemical light sticks just above their baits for illumination.
Common saltwater species
More than a thousand different species of fish inhabit Florida waters. Anglers fishing in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico or associated coastal waters can catch an almost endless variety of fish. On any given day, anglers may even catch 10 to 12 different species from the same spot. Popular inshore species include spotted seatrout, redfish, black drum, sheepshead and flounder. In more southern parts of the state, anglers catch snook, permit and bonefish. Near shore and in some more salty bays, anglers can catch tarpon, Spanish mackerel, tripletail, pompano, cobia, sharks, seabass, various grunts, bluefish and several species of jacks. Farther offshore, anglers catch king mackerel, bluefin tuna, blackfin tuna, yellowfin tuna, blue marlin, white marlin, sailfish, wahoo, several snapper species, various groupers, amberjack, spadefish, triggerfish, dolphin and many other species. For more information on the types of fish that live in Florida, see: http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/fish/saltwater-fish.