Compiled by: Wes Porak and John Cimbaro
Largemouth bass are found in almost every body of freshwater in Florida. With more than 7,500 lakes available, anglers sometimes face a tough decision about where to fish. The following list of Top Bass Fishing Areas aims to help anglers find a quality place to catch either good numbers of bass or to catch a trophy bass.
FWC fisheries biologists selected these Florida lakes and rivers (in no specific order) as top black bass fishing destinations for 2015. See also the Department of Health's Florida Fish Consumption Advisories for important information about eating fish. See the Top Spots Map (1.6 MB) for all 2015 sportfish locations.
Bass anglers, take note! To contribute to science and support conservation, please report all largemouth bass 8 lbs or larger that you catch-and-release to FWC's new TrophyCatch program for great prizes. Reward yourself for releasing a trophy bass!
Lake George is one of the premier largemouth bass fishing lakes in central Florida. It is the second largest lake in the state (46,000 acres), and is located 18 miles northwest of Deland and 29 miles east of Ocala. Lake George is one of the many natural lakes that are part of the St. Johns River System. It has extensive aquatic vegetation, primarily eelgrass that provides excellent habitat for bass. Wade fishing in eel grass with plastic worms fished on the surface or with other top-water lures is productive. Fishing with live golden shiners is an excellent method for catching trophy bass during the spring spawning season.
Hot spots on the lake include Juniper, Salt and Silver Glen spring runs on the western shoreline. In winter and early spring, look for bass to congregate at the jetties on the south end of the lake. Casting deep-diving crankbaits near old dock structures along the northeast shore and off Drayton Island can also be productive.
There are fish camps on the St. Johns River just north and south of Lake George; however, the only one located on the lake itself is Pine Island Fish Camp. There is one public boat ramp with limited parking on the south end of the lake off Blue Creek Lodge Road, located north of Highway 40 while many of the fish camps and marinas offer fee boat ramps for additional access. A fishing pier is also located along the east side of the lake at the end of Nine Mile Point Road.
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West Lake Tohopekaliga (Lake Toho)
Located adjacent to the City of Kissimmee in central Florida, the 18,810-acre West Lake Tohopekaliga is well known throughout the angling community for producing excellent fishing as well as trophy largemouth bass. The lake continues to provide anglers with a diverse plant community for which to try their luck and also affords fish a wide variety of optimum habitat to utilize. Bass anglers fishing Lake Tohopekaliga in 2014 have reported excellent catches of fish with several trophy fish being caught. Results from angler surveys conducted from August through November 2014 indicated bass anglers once again experienced an exceptional catch success rate of 0.75 fish/hr, which is well above the average for many other lakes monitored within the state. The 2014 catch success estimate signified the seventh year in a row that angler success had been estimated to be 0.64 fish/hr or higher, indicating continued excellence in bass fishing on the lake. Based on the reputation of outstanding bass fishing, bass tournament directors annually select Lake Tohopekaliga as “must go to” water body for their respective clubs and tournament trails.
The majority of anglers targeting trophy bass use live bait (golden shiners) during late winter/early spring. Anglers typically have good success fishing with shiners inshore near native vegetation or topped-out hydrilla. Plastic baits (worms, crawfish and lizards) flipped or pitched along either grass edges, hydrilla or bulrush will also account for some quality-sized bass. Spinnerbaits, plastic frog imitations, soft jerkbaits and chugging baits can also be very productive. Both Texas- and Carolina-rigged plastic worms, rattling crankbaits, buzz-baits and chugging baits are proven lures during warmer months of the year. Also, schooling activity by bass can usually be observed during warm months and can provide anglers with some fast action on topwater baits and lipless crankbaits.
North Steer Beach, Lanier Point, Little Grassy Island and Goblet's Cove are areas that bass anglers frequent and have had good success in the past. Both Shingle Creek and St. Cloud Canal (C-31) hold good concentrations of fish when flow is present through these tributaries. Eight man-made fish attractors located in deeper areas of the lake consistently produce good stringers of bass during the summer.
Two fish camps, one marina, one County park and five public boat ramps are available to anglers. Two fishing piers and numerous access points exist for bank fisherman along Lakeshore Drive and Neptune Road at the north end of the lake.
For more information about the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes visit http://www.visitkissimmee.com/leisure/.
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Lake Kissimmee (34,976 acres) is the largest of five main water bodies on the famous Kissimmee River in central Florida. Nationally renowned for consistently producing high quality fishing, Lake Kissimmee continues to be a favorite fishing destination of both residents and anglers visiting Florida. As a result of aggressive habitat management, anglers fishing the lake will find both a diverse and expansive plant community at their disposal, providing numerous areas to try their luck and enjoy their time on the water. Based on results from angler surveys conducted in spring (January - May) 2013, bass fishing continued to be very good as anglers experienced a catch success rate of 0.56 fish/hr (double the average across the state) with an estimated 177 bass 24 inches or greater caught and released during the survey period, one of which was over 13 pounds. Lake Kissimmee is also a popular water body among the tournament bass fishing community with both area club and professional tournaments held there annually.
Native grasses, bulrush, cattail, hydrilla and lily pads at Philadelphia Point, North Cove, Brahma Island and the Pig Trail provide anglers with excellent cover to pitch or flip plastic baits or slow-troll golden shiners for spawning bass during the winter and spring seasons. Rattling crankbaits, plastic frog imitations, soft jerkbaits, minnow-type stickbaits and Texas- or Carolina-rigged plastic worms fished in open-water or along edges of vegetation are productive during summer and fall. Fly fishermen have access to some outstanding areas to wade fish and consistently have good success with popping bugs during the spring and summer. Like panfish? Lake Kissimmee has them too. Some of the best in the state, in fact. Speckled perch (black crappie) are caught in and around vegetation during the spring when spawning. Try minnows or crappie jigs as bait. During the winter, fish offshore trolling the same lures, especially at night. Big bream (bluegill) and shellcracker (redear sunfish) are caught around edges of vegetation or offshore on shell beds. Try crickets for bream and worms for the shellcracker.
There are four fish camps Three fish camps, one state park and four two public boat ramps are available to anglers.
For more information about the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes visit www.floridakiss.com.
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Rodman Reservoir, east of Gainesville and south of Palatka, covers 9,500 acres of prime largemouth bass habitat. Since its creation in 1968, Rodman Reservoir has been known for trophy largemouth bass. Much of the fishery's success is attributed to abundant habitat in the form of stumps and submersed aquatic vegetation, and periodic drawdowns occurring every three years. Although drawdowns on Rodman are used primarily to control invasive aquatic vegetation, biologists have demonstrated a relationship between strong largemouth bass year-class production and reservoir drawdowns. These year classes provide "pulses" to the fishery at three-year intervals that provide the majority of the angler catch.
Generally, largemouth bass on Rodman Reservoir are most active during cooler months. Anglers targeting trophy largemouth bass use live golden shiners, either floated under a cork or free-lined. Most big bass are caught in the pool area, known as the "stump fields," along the river channel. However, many trophy bass come from the area between Cypress Bayou and Kenwood Landing. Successful anglers also use artificial baits, such as deep-diving and lipless crankbaits, spinner baits and soft plastics.
During normal water levels, boat ramps can be found near the town of Interlachen off C.R. 315 in Orange Springs and Kenwood. Additional boat ramps are located at the Rodman Recreational Area off Hwy 19 and at Eureka off C.R. 316. This year, a reservoir drawdown will probably occur from the beginning of December 2015 to the middle of March 2016, which will lower normal water levels by seven feet. During this time, anglers can experience some of the best largemouth bass fishing in Florida. Temporary boat ramps will be created at the Orange Springs and Kenwood locations. Anglers should be aware of the mandatory catch-and-release of all largemouth bass during the drawdown. Anglers may also contact the Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Greenways and Trails at 352-236-7143 for up-to-date information on the water levels and temporary boat ramps.
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Lake Tarpon is a 2,500-acre lake near Tampa/St. Petersburg in Pinellas County. This lake has consistently produced high quality bass fishing for years. Biologists sampled largemouth bass with electrofishing gear at a rate of 137 bass per hour during spring 2014, which is considerably higher than the catch rates on other Florida resources. Most bass range from 12 to 16 inches long; however, quality (18 inches plus) and trophy fish (24 inches plus) are also present in good numbers.
Anglers are most successful flipping or pitching plastic worms along canal and bulrush edges year round. During the summer try fishing offshore ledges, humps, and edges of open water vegetation. In the spring and fall fish in shallow beds of coontail, pondweed, and eel grass. Popular lures include shad-imitating jigs, crankbaits, jerkbaits and top-water baits. Fishing with live wild shiners and live shad is also effective.
There are two public boat ramps within Hillsborough County parks. Anderson Park boat ramp is on the west shore, off U.S. 19. Chestnut Park boat ramp is on the east side of the lake, off C.R. 611. Some bank access is available in both parks. Boardwalks and piers serve as excellent fishing locations.
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Largemouth bass anglers who fish the Kissimmee Chain of lakes to the north and Lake Okeechobee to the south often overlook 28,000-acre Lake Istokpoga. Situated in Highlands County between U.S. 27 and U.S. 98 south of Sebring, Istokpoga is the fifth largest natural lake in Florida and has an average depth of only six feet. FWC collected bass at a rate of 70 bass per hour during spring electrofishing surveys, which is much higher than the average catch rate observed on other Florida water bodies. Data also indicate that Lake Istokpoga is a great resource to catch trophy bass. FWC biologists used reward tags to mark an impressive 33 bass eight pound or larger on Lake Istokpoga during the past year. Further, 153 eight plus pound bass have been entered into the FWC’s TrophyCatch program from Lake Istokpoga during the first two years of the program, more than any other resource to date.
Although bass fishing is excellent throughout the year, March and October are the best months for anglers looking for cooler weather and lots of bass. From January through April, bass can be found spawning in bulrush, cattail, and other vegetation over sandy lake bottom areas that were enhanced during the 2001 drawdown. Spawning bass can also be found around the lake's two islands: Big Island and Bumblebee Island. Flipping dark-colored soft plastics in bulrush patches and in pockets of submerged vegetation can be productive during this time of year. Red shad and Junebug colors seem to be the most successful when fishing with soft plastics.
In spring and summer, top-water lures and jerkbaits worked over the top of hydrilla and pondweed in the south half of the lake are often successful. Weedless spoons tipped with grub tails and spinner baits fished over pondweed south of Bumblebee Island are deadly on bass during early morning. Rattling lures (silver, gold, and "Tennessee shad" are excellent colors) can also be effective during summer and fall as baitfish school in open water areas along the north end of the lake. A live shiner fished a few feet under a popping cork is the most reliable bait for catching trophy bass.
Lake Istokpoga has a 15- to 24-inch protected (no-harvest) slot limit for bass with a three fish daily bag limit, of which only one bass may be 24 inches or longer. All residents between 16 and 65 years of age and all non-residents are required to have a fishing license.
Several fish camps and four public boat ramps provide access to the lake. For more information about lodging and other amenities around Lake Istokpoga, contact the Greater Sebring Chamber of Commerce at (863) 385-8448.
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Winter Haven South Chain of Lakes
Tucked in and amongst the city streets of Winter Haven in north-central Polk County, the southern portion of the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes may well be Central Florida's best kept bass fishing secret. Polk County is home to 554 named lakes, the state's certified record Florida Largemouth Bass (17.27 lbs.), and typically sells more freshwater fishing licenses annually than any other county in the state. That's because resident and non-resident anglers take their Polk County bass fishing seriously! The chain is comprised of 14 lakes ranging in size from 25 to 1,160 acres and totals just over 4,000 acres of fishable waters that offer a wide variety of habitats and bass fishing experiences, from shoreline bulrush/cattail stands and cypress trees to open water beds of eelgrass and pondweed. The unique residential/urban setting allows anglers to watch bald eagles circling overhead in Lake Shipp or take in a water ski show while plying the waters of Lake Eloise at Florida's newest theme park, Legoland. Standard state regulations apply to the entire chain: 5 fish per person per day, 14-inch minimum total length, with only one fish in possession at 22 inches or greater. Ample public access is available in the form of six boat ramps, two fishing piers, bank fishing at a half-dozen city parks, and public easements alongside the numerous canals that form the connecting links between lakes. Live shiners, jerkbaits, and the classic plastic worm presentations work well here and several outstanding local bass guides are available for those who want to get on fish quickly. Guide services, fishing forecasts, and lodging may be found through Polk County's Outpost 27 Visitor Center, http://sunnycentralflorida.com/.
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Lake Okeechobee is Florida's largest lake and the second largest body of freshwater in the contiguous United States. Lake Okeechobee is located on the south-central portion of the Florida peninsula at latitudes 27o 12'N to 26o 40'N and longitudes 81o 07'W to 80o 37'W. Vast surface area (730 sq. mi.), shallowness (averages only 9 feet) and enormous habitat diversities make the ecosystem unique on the North American continent. This vast expanse of water includes more than 150,000 acres of productive vegetation. A 100-yard wide rim canal circles the lake, and many secondary canals and cuts are linked to it, resulting in hundreds of miles of fishing water.
Millions of largemouth bass inhabit the huge lake, and can be caught year-round. Many anglers from around the country have claimed Okeechobee as the black bass capital of the world. The October 2014 electrofishing samples yielded excellent catch rates for the lake, with fish over 18 inches well represented. The past four years have yielded the highest success rates, all over 1.25 fish per hour, in the 36-year history of the modern creel survey for Lake Okeechobee.
While the fishery on Lake Okeechobee is largely catch and release, up to five bass can be kept per day with a minimum size limit of 18 inches, while only one may be kept over 22 inches.
Numerous boat ramps, fish camps and marinas are located around the lake. An interactive fishing map can be found at http://myfwc.com/RECREATION/FW_sites_OIMS_maps.htm. Descriptions of launching areas can be found at http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Divisions/Operations/Branches/SFOO/recreation_boatfish_ramps.htm.
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Everglades Water Conservation Areas 2 and 3
The Everglades Water Conservation Areas (WCAs) are south Florida marshlands intersected with over 200 miles of canals. WCA 2 has 210 square miles of marsh, and WCA 3 covers approximately 915 square miles of marsh. Originally designed for flood control and water supply, the area provides some of the best largemouth bass fishing in the country.
Over 25 public boat ramps provide access to the different segments of canals surrounding and intersecting the WCAs. The L-67A, L-35B and Alligator Alley (I-75) are three of the most popular canals in the area for fishing. The L-67A has two boat ramps, one on the northern end at Holiday Park and one on the south end at the S-333 structure off of Tamiami Trail (state road 41). Holiday Park also offers camping and boat rentals. The L-35B canal boat ramp is located off of state road 27 at the sawgrass recreation area. Numerous boat ramps for alligator alley are located throughout Interstate 75 on both the north and south side of the road.
This is a water-level driven fishery. The best fishing usually occurs in the spring when declining water levels concentrate fish in the canals. February and May are the peak fishing months when angler catch rates can be as high a 4.1 bass per hour in the L-67A Canal. Anglers work canal edges with plastic worms, top water lures, crankbaits and rapala’s. Flipping the vegetation is also a popular technique. During high water, some anglers will enter the marsh areas where bass can be found in the open slough areas. Catch rates are not as high when entering the marsh, but offers a unique style of bass fishing similar to fishing the flats. The L-67A and Alligator Alley canals have access trails off them that are specifically cut to provide boat access to adjacent marsh areas. The L-35B canal does not have specific trails, but open areas boat can go through when water is high to access the marsh. Remember to display an orange flag 10 feet above your vessel when entering the marsh.
Low water levels tend to push fish out of the marsh and concentrate them in the bordering canals. Recent water level and angler catch rate analysis indicates that the larger the drop in water level, and the faster it occurs, the better the fishing. Conversely, a small or very gradual drop in water level may not be sufficient to stimulate fish movement and generate high catch rates, as occured in 2012.
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Lake Monroe is a shallow 9,400-acre lake located on the north side of Sanford near Orlando. In recent years, electrofishing surveys by biologists have resulted in some of the highest catch rates for bass for the St. Johns River chain with many lunkers observed during fish surveys. Fluctuating water levels can shift preferred areas for bass, but water levels in spawning season are usually favorable for bass to utilize the bulrush and eelgrass which has expanded around the lake in recent years. Preferred artificial baits include plastic worms, spinner baits, and crankbaits. Live golden shiners are always an excellent bait; particularly for larger bass. Several boat ramps provide access to the lake, including two near I-4, one at the Sanford Marina on the south side, and one with limited parking on the north side of the lake. Although bank access is extensive on the southern end of the lake, water depth, and habitat is variable and not always conducive to bass fishing. There are no fish camps on the lake.
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Tenoroc Fish Management Area
The 8,300-acre Tenoroc Fish Management Area near Lakeland provides a special opportunity to bass fish in Florida's famous phosphate pits. These seven to 227 acre lakes were created years ago by draglines during phosphate surface mining operations. As a result, lake bottoms have irregular contours with depths ranging to 35 feet.
The bass fishing experience in these phosphate pits can rival any natural lake when the bass are biting well. Bass fishing is best from mid-November through March. Annual bass angler success rate was about one fish per hour last year; however, during the peak bass months, angler success generally exceeds this rate on many lakes. Anglers also have a better opportunity to catch large bass. Last year’s angler creel estimated that bass anglers caught 583 bass, 23 inches or larger at Tenoroc. Lake 3, Lake 5, Lake 2, Shop Lake, Hydrilla Lake, Butterfly Lake, Horseshoe Lake, and Lost Lake West offer some of the best bass fishing opportunities on the property.
Probing deeper waters with chrome-colored rattling lures and chartreuse ("Firetiger" color) diving crankbaits is a good bet in phosphate pits. Plastic worms are often the best all around lure for fishing in these lakes. Red shad and Junebug colors are good plastic worm colors for bass in these lakes. Anglers that can find submersed islands or sandbars off points will find concentrations of bass. In addition, many of the lakes are connected with water control structures. When in operation, bass are concentrated in areas of flowing water. During the spring, flipping worms or soft plastic baits in thick brush will produce largemouth bass.
Tenoroc lakes are managed with a variety of harvest regulations; including total catch and release (no harvest) and 15-inch maximum size limit, two fish bag, in which anglers must immediately release all bass larger than 15 inches in total length.
Tenoroc is located just two miles northeast of Lakeland on Highway 659, which can be accessed from Highway 33 just south of Intestate I-4. Call the Tenoroc Headquarters at (863) 499-2422 for more information or to make reservations. The area is open to public fishing four days a week, Friday through Monday. All anglers must check in and out at the Tenoroc Fish Management Area Headquarters, deposit their valid fishing license and pay $3 for a daily fishing permit.
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Mosaic Fish Management Area
A bass fishing trip on the 1,000-acre Mosaic Fish Management Area in Polk and Hardee counties is definitely worth planning. Anglers had an average catch rate of over 1 bass/hour last year, well over the statewide average. There are 12 phosphate pits (i.e., lakes created by surface mining) that range in size from 10 to 200 acres, and have depths that range down to 30 feet. The fishing pressure on these lakes is relatively low and the bass fishing can turn on at a moment's notice. These lakes offer a special opportunity to fish Florida's famous phosphate pit bass fisheries.
Top-water baits around dawn and dusk, white or chartreuse spinner baits, plastic worms, and chrome or "Firetiger" (chartreuse and orange) colored crankbaits can all be successful. Fishing shoreline brush and vegetation works well in the spring. Anglers that can find submerged islands or sandbars off points will find concentrations of bass, particularly during warmer months of the year. Lakes Coulter, SP11, SP12 North, SP12 South and Pine Lake East offer some of the best bass fishing opportunities on the property. Angler catch rates for bass were highest from Coulter Lake at a rate of 1.6 bass/hour.
Mosaic lakes are managed with a variety harvest regulations, including total catch and release (no harvest) and 15-inch maximum size limits, in which anglers must immediately release all bass larger than 15 inches in total length.
Mosaic Fish Management Area is located near the town of Ft. Meade in Polk County. The FMA is only open to public fishing four days a week (Friday - Monday) from 6 AM until 2 PM daily. No reservations can be made, so lake permits are allocated on a first-come-first-serve basis. Please call (863) 648-3200 for more information about fishing at Mosaic Fish Management Area.
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Lake Weohyakapka (Lake Walk-in-Water)
Lake Weohyakapka, commonly known as Lake Walk–in-Water, is a 7,500-acre water body. The lake is located south of Orlando and east of Lake Wales, and is just south of S.R. 60. During the first two years of FWC’s TrophyCatch program, 17 bass have been submitted, an impressive number for a resource < 10,000 acres in surface area. Furthermore, sampling by FWC biologists collected 17 bass weighing more than 8 pounds during the past year, an indication that there are plenty of TrophyCatch quality bass swimming in Lake Walk-in-Water. A 15- to 24-inch protective slot limit regulation and a three-bass daily bag limit of which only one fish may be harvested over 24 inches is in place to help maintain quality bass fishing. Anglers may keep three bass per day under 15 inches or two fish under 15 inches and one over 24 inches.
Pitching live wild shiners and flipping soft plastic baits in offshore stands of bulrush (“buggy whips” or “round rush”) in the northern, eastern, and southern areas of the lake should be successful during the spring when bass are spawning. Spinnerbaits should also produce bass in the bulrush and cattail stands. Bass have also been found in maidencane grass and knotgrass (Kissimmee grass) stands along the eastern shoreline during spring and fall sampling on the lake. Soft jerkbaits and topwater frogs are a must when fishing these areas.
Although topwater baits catch fish throughout the year, summer months offer the best action when the bass move from the shallow vegetation to deeper areas of the lake. This is the best time to target bass on the FWC fish attractors using spinnerbaits and Carolina-rigged soft plastics. Fish all around the orange and white buoys because the attractors are spread over a large area but be extremely cautious if you plan to anchor while you fish to avoid getting hung up in the attractors.
A public ramp is located on Boat Landing Road, which runs east off of Walk-in-the-Water Road, just a few miles south of S.R. 60. There is little access for bank fishing on the lake.
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Big Escambia Creek (Spotted bass)
Choctaw bass, similar to spotted bass, is a newly discovered species. Catch-and-release is recommended.
Note: “Spotted bass” in panhandle streams west of the Chipola River are a newly described species of bass, the Choctaw bass. Choctaw bass are not as abundant as largemouth bass, therefore biologists recommend catch and release for this unique species. For more information regarding the Choctaw bass you can read the FWC news release and Choctaw bass information page.
Big Escambia Creek in Escambia County has a healthy population of spotted bass that is rarely fished. This five mile stretch of river is a tributary of the Escambia River and is characterized by gravel substrate and gin-clear water ranging from inches deep to over 10 feet. The Florida portion of Big Escambia Creek begins at the Florida/Alabama state line and ends at the confluence of the Escambia River.
The sampling catch rate of spotted bass in Big Escambia Creek was the highest out of nine rivers sampled in 2009-2013, and was almost twice that of the next highest river on that list. Biologists have noted that the greatest catch of spotted bass typically occurs in areas of moderate current and depth, and not necessarily in the deepest water you can find. Smaller individuals, up to 12 inches, can be found in the wood cover lining the outside of the river channel in 2-5 feet of water, as well as the first drop-off near gravel bars located on the inside bend of the river. Spotted bass up to 16 inches, although not as abundant as smaller fish, will be in the deeper water found in runs and outside bends of the river farther downstream.
Crawfish and blacktail shiners are the prevalent forage for spotted bass in Big Escambia Creek. Anglers should use imitations of these prey items to be successful at catching fish. Plastic crawfish-imitations and finesse worms rigged weedless with a 1/8-1/4 ounce weight can be fished effectively through the wood cover without snagging. Crankbaits in brown or crawfish colors also catch spotted bass when worked along the gravel bars imitating a fleeing crawfish.
Access to Big Escambia Creek is fairly limited, which keeps fishing pressure low and sport fish populations abundant. The nearest public boat ramp is at Fischer Landing on the Escambia River, located on Route 4. The confluence of Big Escambia Creek and the Escambia River is 1 mile upstream from Fischer Landing, and is characterized by deep runs and undercut banks that can hold trophy spotted bass. Anglers interested in wade fishing or using paddle craft can launch at the bridge crossing on Fannie Road, located just north of Route 4. This stretch of river is much shallower and has abundant gravel bars and swiftly flowing water that holds abundant numbers of small to medium size spotted bass.
Note that spotted bass are part of the Big Catch angler recognition program's "Bass Slam" challenge!
Spotted bass are managed with state wide bag and length limits for black bass. Anglers are allowed to harvest 5 fish per day and all spotted bass less than 12 inches total length must be released immediately. Catch and release is recommended for Choctaw bass since it is a unique species limited to rivers of the western Florida panhandle.
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Chipola River (Shoal bass)
A beautiful Chipola River shoal bass.
Shoal bass primarily occur in the Chipola River between Spring Creek (the outflow of Merritt’s Mill Pond located above the I-10 Bridge) to Johnny Boy Landing (located off of CR 274 near Altha, FL). There are three public boat ramps located within this stretch of river: Magnolia Bridge (SR-280), Peacock Bridge (SR-278), and Johnny Boy Landing. Canoe and kayak outfitters catering to paddlers wishing include the Chipola River Outfitters (850-762-2800) and Bear Paw Adventures (850-482-4948). Individuals planning their own trip can download the Chipola River canoe trail map from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s greenways and trails website listing Florida’s designated paddling trails. The FWC recommends checking USGS river levels (Marianna and Altha stations) prior to planning a trip on the river. Boaters should be careful when navigating the Chipola River. There are many limestone shoals and snags throughout the river. Shoals may not be as visible after recent rain events. The river is also used by tubers, divers, and swimmers. Navigation upstream can be difficult to impossible when the river is low, therefore boaters should plan accordingly. When river levels are extremely low, the Look and Tremble Shoal below Johnny Boy Landing becomes a steep, hazardous drop.
Shoal bass can be found in riffles and runs containing limestone or other rocky substrate. They may also be located in runs containing eel grass. Larger shoal bass may be caught in pool areas containing limestone outcropping immediately below or above shoals, particularly during the hot summer months. Crayfish are a major part of the shoal bass diet. Shoal bass may be targeted with the same type of lures used to target largemouth bass. Largemouth bass coexist with shoal bass in this section of the Chipola River although they are more associated with logs and woody debris and are often more abundant in the slower moving water with sandy substrate.
The new certified state record shoal bass (4 pounds, 2 ounces) was caught from the Chipola River on December 6, 2014. See news release for details (http://myfwc.com/news/news-releases/2014/december/16/shoal-bass-record/ ).
Note that shoal bass are part of the Big Catch angler recognition program's "Bass Slam" challenge!
Shoal bass are managed with state wide bag and length limits for black bass. Anglers are allowed to harvest 5 fish per day and all shoal bass less than 12 inches total length must be released immediately. Catch and release is recommended for shoal bass since it is a unique species limited to a few rivers in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.
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For more information about these lakes, contact the following FWC biologists:
Lake George and Lake Monroe - Jay Holder 352-732-1225
West Lake Tohopekaliga and Lake Kissimmee - Kevin McDaniel 407-846-5300
Rodman Reservoir - Eric Nagid 352-392-9617
Lake Tarpon - Jeff Willitzer 863-648-3200
Lake Istokpoga - Steve Gornack 863-462-5190
Winter Haven South Chain of Lakes - Paul Thomas 863-648-3200
Lake Talquin - Andy Strickland 850-717-8730
Suwannee River - Dan Dorosheff 386-758-0525
Lake Okeechobee - Corey Lee 863-462-5190
Everglades Water Conservation Areas 2 and 3 - Vance Crain 561-625-5122
Tenoroc Fish Management Areas - Danon Moxley 863-648-3200
Mosaic Fish Management Areas - Eric Johnson 863-648-3200
Chipola River - Katie Woodside 850-265-3676
Big Escambia Creek - Matt Wegener 850-957-6177