Top Freshwater Fishing Spots In Florida
By: Bob Wattendorf
March is prime freshwater fishing season for many species of fish, because bass and bream are getting geared up to hit the shallows. During spring, sunfish such as bass and bluegill move close to shore to find suitable spawning habitat. Shallow areas (ideally 2 to 6 feet deep), with sandy or firm soils and nearby vegetation, tend to attract sunfish. Often the same areas are used year after year, because sunfish do best when they construct beds in sheltered areas without too much current, such as in coves, and away from prevailing winds (often on the north shores of lakes).
Beds for both bass and bream are constructed by males, who protect the eggs after the females come for a conjugal visit. Bass typically spawn before bluegill, preferring water temperatures of about 60 to 65 degrees, whereas optimal temperatures for bluegill spawning are around 65 to 80 degrees. Redbreast sunfish, redear sunfish and crappie may also be in the shallows during this time, and normally precede bluegill. The moon also influences these species to some degree, with full and new moons generating the most activity. Most anglers know this and are reminded on the nightly news through fishing/hunting peak-time reports.
This March should be a great time to go freshwater fishing in Florida. Please remember that although there are currently no closed freshwater fishing seasons, it is always good to follow basic angling ethics and rules. These include:
- Demonstrate and promote, through education and practice, ethical behavior in use of aquatic resources.
- Value and respect the aquatic environment and all living things.
- Avoid spilling and never dump pollutants, such as gas or oil.
- Dispose of trash, including worn lines, leaders and hooks, in appropriate containers, and recycle whenever possible.
- Keep fishing sites litter-free.
- If necessary, purchase and keep current your fishing license. If you are exempt, you may still purchase a license as a way to contribute to conservation.
- Take precautionary measures to prevent the spread of exotic plants and animals.
- Learn and obey angling and boating regulations.
- Treat other anglers, boaters and property owners with courtesy and respect.
- Respect property rights, and never trespass on private lands or waters.
- Keep no more fish than needed for consumption, and never wastefully discard fish.
- Carefully handle and release alive all fish that are unwanted or prohibited by regulation.
- Use tackle and techniques that minimize harm to fish when catch-and-release angling.
Since bass and bream are especially susceptible during the spawn, an emphasis on quick and effective catch-and-release for fish that cannot be legally harvested (due to size or bag limits) is appropriate. Dont keep fish that you intend to release out of the water longer than you can hold your breath, and release them as close to the capture point as possible.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) freshwater fisheries biologists annually compile information on some of the top fishing sites around the state for bass and bream (see MyFWC.com/fishing and select freshwater, sites and forecasts).
This year (from north to south) some prime sites for both bass and/or bream include the Choctawhatchee River, Lake Talquin, the Suwannee River, the Oklawaha River, Lake George, Lake Bryant, Lake Panasoffkee, the Lake Harris Chain, Lake Monroe, Lake Toho, Lake Marian, Lake Kissimmee, Lake Tarpon, Tenoroc Fish Management Area, Lake Marion, the Winter Haven Chain, Evers Reservoir, Mosaic Fish Management Area, Lake Istokpoga, Lake Okeechobee, and the Everglades Water Conservation Areas 2&3. Biologists selected these highlighted sites as significant resources that have the size and infrastructure to support additional fishing effort, and where the habitat and fish populations should be right for providing successful fishing trips this year.
Additional lakes in your area with public boat access can now be found on the MyFWC.com website (select boating, then boat ramp finder), and many of these provide outstanding recreational angling as well. The new boat ramp finder is a great way to learn about new opportunities. For instance, you can search by location by entering your city, picking a zip code and searching a radius, and, voila, a map with ramp indicators pops up. Select one that interests you and additional information about the exact location shows up, often with photos and details about the ramp condition, type and parking.
The site lists nearly 1,000 public freshwater boat ramps. About a quarter of these ramps are owned and maintained by FWC primarily using your Federal Aid in Sportfish Restoration funds (SFR). All of those ramps provide free access, although others not included on the site may be commercially operated and have an entry or parking fee.
With this many ramps to document and the effects of weather and other variables to contend with, the website is an on-going project. Consequently, FWC makes no warranty as to completeness or accuracy of this information and suggests that you check with local resources to verify conditions prior to planning long trips. The FWC is constantly seeking user feedback to provide updates (including site photos) via email to BoatRamps@myFWC.com.
The FWC operates several boating-related grant programs, most using Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration funds. Those funds are collected for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) mostly from excise taxes on fishing tackle, import duties on yachts and motor-boat fuel taxes. The USFWS in return provides grant funds to the states for fishery projects, boating access and aquatic education. The program is also known as the Dingell-Johnson or Wallop-Breaux act, based on the congressional sponsors that created the program in 1950 and substantially enhanced it in 1984. Subsequent amendments further expanded the use of these funds: 1991, Coastal Wetlands; 1992, Clean Vessel Program; and 1998, Outreach/Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, Boating Safety, and Boating Infrastructure Grants.
The SFR Program was created as a user-pays, user-benefits program to restore and better manage Americas declining fishery resources and later to enhance safe recreational boating opportunities. The USFWS apportions excise taxes on fishing equipment, motorboat and small engine fuels, import duties, and interest to states and territories based on a formula that is based primarily on land area and the number of paid license holders. Florida in 2010-11 received nearly $12 million of these funds to reinvest in recreational fishing and boating, which respectively provide $7.5 billion and 79,000 jobs, and $16.8 billion and 203,000 jobs in economic benefits to Florida.
The bottom line is that SFR is behind not only a great deal of the sportfish management and research activities conducted in Florida, but also supports fishing education and outreach programs. These funds also provide a three-to-one match for FWCs major boating safety and access (ramps) programs. Without fishing license fees and these matching federal dollars the fishing and boating opportunities here in the Fishing Capital of the World would be vastly reduced and fish populations depleted.
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