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Top Spots Bass

Largemouth bass are found in almost every body of freshwater in Florida. With more than 8,000 lakes and other waters available, anglers sometimes face a tough decision about where to fish. The following list of Top Spots for Black Bass 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 2021.

Note: See the Department of Health's Florida Fish Consumption Advisories for important information about eating bass and other fish.

The largemouth bass is the best known and most popular freshwater game fish in Florida. Found statewide, largemouth bass have excellent growth rates, particularly in the productive waters of central Florida. Historically known for huge bass, Florida remains an outstanding destination to catch a trophy.

When to Fish

Spring is the best time of year to catch bass, when fish move into shallow water to spawn. Spawning may occur as early as January in extreme south Florida and as late as May in the panhandle, but March and April are peak months. Most large bass are taken at this time; after spawning, many large females move to offshore areas.

Range

Although the largemouth bass is by far our most common black bass, other species are found in Florida. The smaller Suwannee bass occurs in the Suwannee River and its tributaries, and in the Ochlockonee River. Favoring rock outcrops and moving water, Suwannee bass prefer crayfish to many prey items of largemouth. Crayfish-imitating crankbaits worked through deep-water bends will attract these hard fighting fish, as will plastic worms, plastic lizards or crayfish. The Santa Fe River is another good spot, and trophy-sized Suwannee bass up to three pounds can be found in the Ochlockonee River north of I-10.

Tackle and Bait

Golden Shiners

The best live bait is a golden shiner, fished under a float or free-lined. Typically, the shiner is hooked through the lips or back with a large hook, 2/0 to 5/0. A medium to medium-heavy rod with 14- to 20-pound test line is preferred, particularly when fishing in areas with thick vegetation or cover.

The plastic worm is the most dependable artificial bait for largemouth bass. A weedless "Texas- or Carolina-rigged" worm is effective for fishing Florida lakes with heavy plant cover. Worms come in a variety of colors and scents, and bass may favor certain types depending on light conditions; be sure to have both light and dark colors available, as well as several sizes of tapered worm weights from 1/8 to ounce. Purple "metalflake" or "red shad" worms with twirly-tails are popular, and plastic lizards can be effective as well.

Most plastic worms are worked slowly along the bottom or through cover by raising the rod tip a few feet, then allowing the worm to sink. The line should be kept fairly tight to feel the strike. Typically an angler will feel the bass "tap" the worm once or twice lightly. By lowering the rod tip and waiting only until the slack is out of the line before setting the hook, anglers greatly lessen the chance of injury to the fish due to deep hooking.

With active bass and dense underwater vegetation, "jerk worms" are an excellent bait. Rigged without sinkers, these worms are jigged rapidly over vegetation, with brief pauses to let the worm sink slowly. Bass hit these baits hard, and an instant hookset is recommended.

Spinnerbaits are very good in the spring, usually fished slowly around drop-offs and cover. If a slow retrieve fails, try "buzzing", i.e., retrieving the spinnerbait rapidly so the blades ripple the surface.

Crankbaits typically imitate baitfish or crayfish, and a straight retrieve is usually effective. The design of the plastic lip determines how deep the lure dives, and anglers can adjust their choice of baits based on water depth. Popular colors are white, shad, firetiger (green striped with orange underside) and crayfish.

Topwater baits are exciting to fish because the angler can see the strike. Topwater plugs that imitate wounded baitfish may be twitched to entice bass. Others are designed to make noise, and a faster, erratic retrieve may antagonize a bass into striking. Topwater lures are most successful during early morning or late afternoon. Stay ready for a surprise strike and set the hook immediately.

These are the sites most likely to be best for Florida black bass fishing in 2022.

 

NORTHWEST REGION

Escambia River Marsh
(Santa Rosa and Escambia counties)
Features: Bass numbers, striped bass numbers

A Largemouth Bass fishery for harvest and high catch rates of smaller size Largemouth Bass and a variety of fish species. The marsh area of the Escambia River is a hot spot for Largemouth Bass fishing and promises to yield high catches of harvestable size Largemouth Bass, as well as, many other species including being a hot spot destination for Hybrid Striped bass. The Escambia River also supports one of the richest assemblages of native North American freshwater fish of any Florida river with 85 know native freshwater species. The lower river and delta marshes may be accessed easily from numerous points between Pensacola and Pace along Highway 90.

Holmes Creek (Tributary to Choctawhatchee River)
(Holmes, Walton and Washington counties)
Features: Bass special opportunity, bream numbers

A pristine Florida waterway with high catch rates of panfish, multiple species, and home to the unique Choctaw Bass. Holmes Creek is a 16-mile tributary to the Choctawhatchee River and is a designated Florida canoe trail easily accessed in Vernon, Florida. Fifteen springs along this scenic tributary provide diverse habitats for a rich variety of fish and mollusks. Holmes Creek is also a major summer aggregation area for the federally protected Gulf Sturgeon, as well as, thermal refugia for the Gulf Striped Bass.

Yellow River
(Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties)
Features: Bass special opportunity, bream numbers, catfish size and numbers

A Monster trophy catfish fishery for Flathead Catfish (State Record location for Flathead Catfish) and high catch rates of panfish and multiple species. he Yellow River is home to monster Flathead Catfish and currently boasts the location of the new Florida State Record Flathead Catfish caught in August 2020. This behemoth weighed in at 69.9 pounds. The upper Yellow River provides anglers an assortment of largemouth bass, spotted bass, redear sunfish (shellcracker), bluegill, spotted sunfish, warmouth and shadow bass. Sixty-one miles of the Yellow River flows in a southwesterly direction into Blackwater Bay, an arm of Pensacola Bay, through Florida’s Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties. The Yellow River’s one major tributary, the Shoal River, joins the Yellow near Crestview, Florida.

Ochlockonee River / Lake Talquin
(Leon, Gadsden and Liberty counties)
Features: Bass size, crappie size and numbers, striped bass size, catfish size and numbers

A hot spot destination for Striped Bass, especially below the dam, as well as quality-sized black bass, a numbers destination for Channel Catfish, and a top spot for Black Crappie fishing. The Ochlockonee River is a Top Spot destination for striped bass anglers! The Ochlockonee River is impounded to form Lake Talquin reservoir located between Gadsden and Leon counties Florida approximately 10 miles west of Tallahassee. Lake Talquin is bordered by State Road 20 on the east side and State Road 267 on the west and offers numerous access points. Both the river and the lake offer anglers multiple fishing choices. Lake Talquin is known for producing trophy Largemouth Bass but is also a Top Spot destination for Black Crappie anglers and Striped Bass anglers. Attention Striped Bass Anglers: There is an FWC Striped Bass tagging study currently on-going in the Ochlockonee River. If you catch a Striped Bass, please call the telephone number on the tag to claim your prize. Please do not pull the tag out of the fish. Cut the tag off the fish as close to the fish’s body as possible.

Wacissa River
(Jefferson County)
Features: Unique fishing opportunity for Suwannee Bass

A unique Florida Black Bass species location and fishery for Suwannee Bass. Also, a TrophyCatch program Hall of Fame fish location. The Wacissa River is a large, spring-fed stream located in south-central Jefferson County, Florida. Its headwaters are located about a mile south of the town of Wacissa, where the river emerges crystal clear from a group of large limestone springs. Not only renowned for its scenic beauty and paddling opportunities, the Wacissa is also home to the Suwannee Bass, a unique species of Florida black bass. Monster Largemouth Bass also lurk in the waters of the Wacissa River and has yielded a Hall of Fame Largemouth Bass submitted to the FWC TrophyCatch Program weighing in at over15 lbs. that was successfully caught and released.

 

NORTH CENTRAL REGION

Orange Lake
(Alachua County)
Features: Bass size, crappie numbers, bream numbers

At nearly 13,000 acres, Orange Lake is the largest public lake in the North Central Region. This shallow lake is designated as a fish management area (FMA) and is located roughly 20 miles southeast of Gainesville. Public boat ramps at Heagy-Burry Park and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Park provide easy access. Heagy-Burry also has a fishing pier. The large open water area is surrounded by shallow, heavily vegetated areas and extensive marsh. Diverse habitat is abundant and this fishery is presently thriving. Periodic drought and subsequent refilling at Orange Lake can ultimately result in tremendous growth in both numbers and size of fish in the lake. This is what we’ve been seeing the last couple years. For example, one bass collected in March of 2017 weighed 9.5 pounds and when recaptured 8 months later weighed a whopping 13 pounds! Of the 32 eligible bass submitted to FWC’s TrophyCatch program during season 9, 2 qualified as Hall of Fame (>13lbs) fish, with another 4 fish weighing in over 12 lbs. In 2019, the largest TrophyCatch bass of Season 7 and the second largest TrophyCatch bass ever (15 lbs 13 oz) came from Orange Lake. If stable water levels persist on the lake, the habitat and fishing should be even better this year. Bass anglers on Orange typically do well flipping soft plastics in and around emergent pads and floating vegetation mats, especially during the springtime spawn. Anglers should also target submerged vegetation such as coontail and hydrilla beds with spinnerbaits, lipless crankbaits, soft plastics, and topwater lures.

Anglers are catching good numbers of really nice black crappie (“speckled perch”) measuring between 10 and 14 inches, with some fish even larger. Most of the anglers are fishing in the northern and southern ends of the lake with a lot of folks using minnows and grass shrimp as bait. Biologists captured on average 1 quality-sized bluegill every minute and it’s not unusual to find a near dinner-plate size bluegill or redear (“shellcracker”) in Orange Lake! While fishing at Orange Lake, you may have the opportunity to participate in the management process. Creel surveys take place on random days throughout the entire spring on Orange Lake to collect information on the fishery and ask anglers their opinions about management.

Lake Rousseau
(Levy and Citrus counties)
Features: Bass size and numbers

Lake Rousseau, located just west of Dunnellon, is an interesting and dynamic system inviting seemingly endless exploration. The dam (and popular fishing spot) is at the west end and at the opposite, the quiet, winding Withlacoochee River. Several boat ramps provide access to the lake and river. For more boat ramp information, see the FWC Boat Ramp Finder. Navigation lanes connect the two ends, taking you through wide open water and secluded curving channels. Tons of plants, including dense eelgrass and hydrilla patches, and structure provide excellent fish habitat and refuge outside of navigation lanes. Use extreme caution when venturing into these areas as submersed stumps provide a constant reminder that the lake is a flooded woodland. Plastic worms or weedless frogs can be fished through these patches of vegetation, and topwater baits in areas of open water should tempt hungry bass. When fishing deeper water, live shiners or crankbaits fished along the edges of hydrilla should also produce bites. The bass have been getting larger each year since the small fish kill that resulted from Hurricane Irma in 2017. There were 31 approved TrophyCatch submissions for season 9 (Oct. 2020-Sept. 2021), up from 11 in season 8. Tournament anglers had another productive year as the average winning bag weight in 2021 was 18.49 lbs., including a 30.50 lb. bag. In 2019, bass catch rates in Lake Rousseau were second only to Rodman Reservoir according to our most recent creel survey data. That’s higher than both Orange and Santa Fe Lakes! In 2021, anglers may have the opportunity to participate in the management process. Creel surveys will take place on random days throughout the entire spring on Lake Rousseau to collect information on the fishery and ask anglers their opinions about management.

Hernando Lake
(Citrus County)
Features: Bass size

The Hernando Pool (contains Hernando, Todd, Dodd, Bellamy, Croft, Van Ness, and Point Lonesome lakes) is the northernmost of the three main open water pools that make up the Tsala Apopka Chain of Lakes. Thick marsh and swamp surround the lakes which helps to produce some monster bass when water levels remain high. In fact, the Tsala Apopka chain brags 250 approved TrophyCatch submissions. The Hernando pool produced 53 TrophyCatch submissions during Season 9, with 43 of these coming from Lake Hernando. Lake Hernando ranked #5 in all of Florida for submissions during TrophyCatch Season 9! Eight bass over 10 lbs. were submitted, with the largest being 13 lbs. 11 oz (caught and submitted twice!). Live shiners work well here, as do plastic worms. Remember to check weather reports. During cold or hot days, the fish are likely to move into deeper water. On a warm winter’s day or cooler summer night, look for fish in the shallows. The Hernando public ramp provides the access you need for a great day of fishing.

Eagle Lake
(Hamilton County)
Features: Bass numbers, sunshine bass numbers

Eagle Lake is non-reclaimed phosphate pit located on Nutrien property in White Springs, designated as an FMA and open to the public. A gravel boat ramp is located on a dirt road off SE 78th Place. Please note that trolling motors are allowed in Eagle Lake but using gasoline motors is not. Eagle Lake is a unique Florida lake and a quiet escape from the world. Travelling through the lake is a journey through a maze of open water, narrow cuts and bends, secluded coves, and varying habitat. This lake is deeper than the average Florida lake, has steep drop-offs and produces a lot of big fish. Largemouth Bass are abundant throughout the lake and at good sizes. What the lake lacks in Trophy fish production (only one TrophyCatch Season 9 submission), it more than makes up for in 3, 4, and 5 lb. bass. Anglers should bring a variety of tackle and plan to target shallow and deep-water habitats. Target edges of coontail and hydrilla with spinnerbaits, soft plastics, topwater lures, and crankbaits.

Another thing that makes Eagle Lake special is its abundant Sunshine Bass (Striped Bass x White Bass hybrid), stocked every other year. Abundant forage and habitat help the Sunshine Bass in Eagle Lake experience the fastest growth in the region! Fishing for Sunshines is best in the fall and winter. These fish tend to school and inhabit the deep open water. You can also try fishing the faster flowing cuts. If you notice commotion on the surface or gatherings of birds, those would be good places to start. Trolling shad imitations or live shiners work well on these fish.

 

NORTHEAST REGION

Fellsmere Water Management Area
(Indian River County)
Feature: Bass size, bass numbers, TrophyCatch submissions

Fellsmere Water Management Area, also known as Headwaters Lake and Lake Egan, is a 10,000-acre manmade reservoir in Indian River county adjacent to Stick Marsh/Farm 13. Water levels are managed by the St. John’s River Water Management District and extensive habitat work was conducted by FWC prior to flooding the lake. There are thousands of acres of submerged vegetation, mostly hydrilla, along with thousands of acres of emergent vegetation, such as cattails and spatterdock pads. Flooded timber is present in small amounts. The average depth is approximately 6 feet deep with some areas deeper than 30 feet.

A good day at Fellsmere is considered catching over 25 bass, with the chance at a bass over 8 pounds. The average size bass is 1.5 to 3 pounds. In the first 10 months following the opening of the boat ramp, the angler creel survey calculated that 778 bass over 8 lbs. were caught! Several bass over 12 pounds have already been caught since the ramp opened. With all the vegetation, the most productive lures are topwaters such as frogs, buzzbaits, and prop baits, vibrating jigs, and soft plastic jerkbaits or stickbaits. After cold fronts, focus on punching thick mats of hydrilla and floating vegetation. The lake is located off Fellsmere Grade Road less than 10 miles west of Fellsmere off I-95.

Wildcat Lake (in Ocala National Forest)
(Lake & Marion counties)

Features: Bass size, TrophyCatch submissions

Wildcat Lake (467 acres) is a small lake in the Ocala National Forest off of State Road 40. The boat ramp is owned and operated by the U.S. Forest Service, and there is a $7 launch fee. Wildcat is a tannic, dark colored water lake with emergent vegetation around the shoreline but limited submersed aquatic vegetation. There is a catch and release only regulation for largemouth bass. Anglers should not expect to catch high numbers of bass at Wildcat, but there is a good chance that when they catch a bass it is going to be a lunker. During Season 9 of the TrophyCatch program there were 28 approved submissions with the largest one weighing in at 13 lbs. March through May is the best time to hook into a lunker at Wildcat. Anglers find the most success fishing with live shiners along the spatterdock pads. Swimbaits and Texas-rigged soft plastics are the best bet for artificial lures.

Lake Panasoffkee
(Sumter County)

Features: Bass size, TrophyCatch submissions, bass tournament winning weights, bream numbers and diversity

Lake Panasoffkee (4,460 acres) is a shallow lake that feeds into the Withlacoochee River. There is abundant vegetation, consisting of coontail, eelgrass, Illinois pondweed, hydrilla, fragrant water lily, and some cattails. The bass population has rebounded significantly since Hurricane Irma in 2017. During Season 9 of TrophyCatch, there were 13 approved submissions, marking 2 consecutive years of greater than 10 approved TrophyCatch submissions. Bass tournament winning weights continue to be in the 25-30 lbs. range. The northern end and the southwestern end of the lake are popular with bass anglers. With the abundant vegetation the best lures are soft jerkbaits, topwaters, and vibrating jigs. The main panfish caught are bluegill, redear sunfish, and spotted sunfish providing variety in high numbers. The angler catch rate from the 2021 creel survey for bream was calculated at 3.23 fish per hour. A Panasoffkee Kid’s Fishing Derby is held each year at the lake as well.

Barnett Park Frog Pond (a Fish Orlando water)
(Orange County)

Features: Great bank access, bass numbers, catfish numbers

Barnett Park Frog Pond (4.5 acres) is located directly behind the Orange County Parks and Recreation Administrative Building. The pond has excellent bank access with two bridges leading out to islands and a walking path around the entire pond. There is also a “splash pad” next to the pond for children to enjoy on warm days. Barnett Park is part of the FishOrlando program.

The pond is stocked annually with channel catfish and has baited fishing areas that help concentrate fish. The pond met its management goal in 2021 for channel catfish catch rates over 3 catfish per hour. Barnett Park is a prime place for bank fishing anglers to catch catfish in the Central Florida area. In recent years, the pond has also been stocked periodically with advanced size largemouth bass. This provides some periodic high catch rates of small bass with anglers sometimes catching as many as 50 bass per hour shortly after one of the stockings. Anglers can expect to catch small bass at a rate of 2-15 bass per hour even months after the stocking occurs.

 

SOUTHWEST REGION

Edward Medard Reservoir
(Hillsborough County)
Features: Bass numbers, special opportunity for sunshine bass numbers, catfish size

Edward Medard Reservoir (770 acres) is a series of former phosphate mining created lakes which have been flooded. The reservoir is located inside a Hillsborough County Park off Highway 60 between Plant City and Brandon, Florida along Turkey Creek Road. A water control structure was placed on the lakes by the Southwest Florida Water Management District in 1970 to provide flood protection along the Alafia River, which resulted in the creation of a reservoir. The reservoir has very irregular bottom contours with plenty of underwater humps and drop offs up to 30 feet deep. The reservoir was dewatered in 2010 to repair an aging dam and refilled in 2011. Since then, the reservoir has been stocked frequently with largemouth bass, sunshine bass and channel catfish.

Anglers fishing for largemouth bass should try two basic strategies depending on water temperatures and time of year. During late winter/early spring, bass will begin migrating towards warmer, shallow water in preparation for spawning. Anglers should target bass in these areas along the shoreline with spinnerbaits, crank baits, jigs and soft plastic baits such as worms. While bass can still be caught in these areas early and late in the day during summer months, anglers should also try fishing drop offs and humps in deep water using crank baits, jigs and plastic worms. These same deep areas should also be productive for bass during winter months but anglers should definitely try fishing the rocks along the dam with crank baits and jigs.

The sunshine bass fishery on Medard Reservoir is also great for anglers who want to try something different. Sunshine bass are regularly stocked and their growth rates are extremely fast in Medard due to the abundance of their preferred food supply, shad. Most fish caught by anglers are around 1-2 pounds but there are several fish anywhere from 2-3 pounds lurking around the reservoir. Schooling sunshine bass are typically found in open water; however, anglers have had success catching them off the footbridge on the east side of the reservoir. The most productive time to fish for sunshines is fall through early spring when water temperatures are cooler. Best natural baits are live shiners or shad but fish will sometimes take cut bait and worms fished on float with a 1-2 foot leader. If fishing with artificial baits, try using jerkbaits, Rat-L-Traps or shad-imitation crankbaits retrieved quickly. Use a depth finder to find large schools of bait in deeper areas and then drop some baits below the boat or slow troll them in the vicinity. Anglers should also fish the rip rap dam area in deeper waters for a good chance of encountering a large school of these scrappy predators.

Channel catfish are also abundant in Medard Reservoir thanks to frequent stocking by FWC. Anglers who wish to catch this tasty freshwater fish can target them from the shoreline or by boat. Shoreline fishing can be productive for catfish anywhere anglers can find a spot to set up and cast their poles around the reservoir. There are a few docks and a bridge to fish from as well. Boat anglers can either anchor up over deep holes or channels or slow drift over flat areas such as shallow coves. Whichever technique is used, the most productive baits to try are chicken livers, frozen shrimp, live worms or commercial stink baits that are fished on or near the bottom.

Tenoroc Fish Management Area
(Polk County)
Features: Bass size and numbers, bream size and numbers, catfish size and numbers 

Tenoroc Fish Management Area is an 8,300-acre former phosphate mine in Lakeland, Florida which provides a special opportunity to catch several species of fish. Tenoroc is located on Highway 659 (Combee Road) and can be accessed from Highway 33, just south of Interstate 4. Call the Tenoroc Headquarters at 863-606-0093 for more information or to make fishing reservations. The area is open to public fishing four days a week, Fridays through Mondays. All anglers must check-in and out at the Tenoroc Entryway Building, deposit their valid fishing license if applicable and pay $3 for a daily fishing permit unless exempt.

With 30 lakes to choose from on the property, these six to 227-acre waterbodies were created years ago by draglines during phosphate surface mining operations. As a result, lake bottoms have irregular contours with depths up to 35 feet. Most Tenoroc lakes have ADA accessible boat ramps and facilities. Numerous bank fishing opportunities are also present for anglers who don’t have a boat and a few lakes even have picnic pavilions and restrooms.

Bass anglers who want to catch good numbers of fish should cover lots of area, probing deeper waters with chrome-colored lipless crankbaits and chartreuse ("Firetiger" color) diving crankbaits. Once anglers catch a few fish in a general area, it’s time to slow down and fish the area thoroughly. Plastic worms are often the best all-around lure for fishing slowly. Red shad and junebug are great worm colors. Anglers who fish submersed islands or sandbars off points will often find good concentrations of bass. In addition, many of the lakes are connected with water control structures. When in operation, bass are often concentrated in areas of flowing water and can be caught using crankbaits or plastic worms. During the spring, flipping plastic worms or crawfish imitation baits in thick cover will often produce some bigger largemouth bass.

Anglers who want to catch panfish (bluegill, shellcrackers) at Tenoroc will have several good lake choices to try. Anglers should look for shorelines with an abundant supply of woody brush, tree-tops or vegetation that are perfect locations for panfish to hide out. Anglers should also look for signs and buoys pointing out underwater gravel beds or other fish attractors on several Tenoroc lakes. Presenting natural baits (crickets, night crawlers, red wigglers, grass shrimp) under a cork and bobber or free lining them with a split shot weight on light tackle will entice a bite around structure, submerged timber, pockets in vegetation, underwater humps and deeper holes. Fishing artificial lures (rooster tails, road runners, beetle spins) can also be productive in deeper areas or near any type of structure.

Fishing for catfish in Tenoroc lakes is also popular and rewarding as channel catfish are stocked annually by FWC in several lakes. Some lakes have good naturally reproducing populations of brown bullhead as well. Fishing with a piece of chicken liver, cut bait with high oil content like gizzard shad, commercial stink baits, cheese balls and night crawlers around the deeper holes and fish feeders, if available, will produce the best action at the height of the day. Fishing with family or friends for catfish from one of the many lakes with open shorelines is a favorite pastime for many Tenoroc anglers.

Winter Haven Chain of Lakes
(Polk County)
Features: Bass size and numbers, crappie size and numbers, bream size and numbers 

The Winter Haven Chain of Lakes consists of 26 waterbodies, tucked in amongst the city streets of Winter Haven in Polk County. These lakes offer some of the finest and most easily accessible fishing for multiple species in central Florida. Lakes in the Winter Haven Chain range in size from 25 to 2,654 acres, totaling just over 9,000 acres of fishable waters. Ample public access is available in the form of 14 boat ramps, 5 fishing piers, shoreline fishing at a half-dozen city parks and public easements alongside the numerous canals which connect the lakes.

The Winter Haven Chain is known for excellent bass fishing throughout the year. The cattail stands on Lake Haines and Lake Rochelle are great for bass angling and when cypress trees are your favorite target, Lake Eloise is packed with plenty of large, beautiful ones to fish a plastic worm around. Lake Winterset has deep crystal-clear water and open water beds of eelgrass which are perfect to run spinnerbaits and gold/silver spoons through. Lake Hartridge also provides excellent bass fishing with plenty of Illinois pondweed (aka peppergrass) that is often loaded with baitfish. Lake Shipp has two public boat ramps and some great flipping opportunities for bass in the cattails along its shoreline. Nearby Lake Eloise has numerous docks, often surrounded by peppergrass, which are a bass angler’s dream to fish. Regardless of what lake is fished, they all offer high quality bass fishing opportunities and the chance of a lifetime to land a trophy-size bass. Live shiners, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits and plastic worm presentations all work well in these lakes. Bass will begin to spawn as early as January and continue through April, depending on water temperatures. During spawning season, anglers should fish shallow areas near cattails, bulrush and Kissimmee grass while using lizards, crawfish and other soft plastics such as the Zoom Z-Craw in Junebug, red shad and tilapia colors.

If black crappie is your target, the Winter Haven Chain has plenty of fishing opportunities for them (or specks as the locals say) as well. Lake Eloise and Lake Shipp are excellent spots for crappie on the south part of the chain while lakes Rochelle, Haines and Hartridge are good locations on the north section of the chain. During cooler months, crappie are taken by drifting or trolling live Missouri minnows or bladed jigs tipped with minnows around offshore submersed vegetation. When waters start to warm in the spring, crappie migrate to shallow waters to spawn and can be caught by dropping jigs tipped with minnows near bulrush, cattails and lily pads.

The Winter Haven Chain also has an awesome panfish fishery for bluegill and redear sunfish (aka shellcrackers). These waters offer a wide variety of habitat for both fish and anglers to choose from including bulrush and cattail stands, cypress trees, open water eelgrass beds and pondweed stands around docks. Crickets, wigglers or grass shrimp are the best live baits when fished under a float with small hook and split shot weight while small beetle spins and jigs can be productive when fished along vegetation.

Lake Istokpoga
(Highlands County)
Features: Bass size and numbers, crappie size and numbers, bream size 

Lake Istokpoga (27,700 acres) is a large, relatively shallow lake which is located a few miles southeast of Sebring, Florida. It’s a popular winter-time destination for nonresident and local anglers due to its productive fisheries. There are several public boat ramps around the lake, in addition to numerous ramps located at private fish camps, which also have fish cleaning stations. Water levels on the lake are controlled by the South Florida Water Management District and fluctuate around 2-3 feet on a set schedule during the year. The lake also boasts four vegetated islands (Big, Bumble Bee, Grassy, Long) and a few incoming creeks which are great locations to catch several species of fish.

Lake Istokpoga has long been known for its trophy largemouth bass fishing. Since 2012, over 560 bass greater than eight pounds, have been documented from the lake and submitted into the FWC’s TrophyCatch Program. Anglers fishing for bass on this lake basically use either live wild shiners or some type of artificial bait. Both types of baits can be very productive depending on the time of year. Bass begin to spawn in mid- to late January depending on moon phases and often move into shallow areas around bullrush (buggy whips), cattails or lily pads on the northern shoreline and around Big Island and Bumblebee Island. Fishing these areas with soft plastics, weightless speed worms and swimbaits will be the best bet during the spawning season. When water temps increase after the spawn, try targeting bass around dense vegetation such as bulrush or cattail while flipping soft plastic baits like crawfish, lizards or worms. Fishing spinnerbaits, spoons or jerk baits around submerged vegetation like eelgrass or hydrilla can also be productive throughout the year.

Lake Istokpoga is also well-known for its black crappie or speck fishery. Anglers come from all over the United States to fill their coolers with this tasty fish on Istokpoga during the cooler months of the year. Most anglers drift live Missouri minnows and grass shrimp in open water or troll with Napier deer hair jigs, tube jigs and Hal flies for schooling fish. Anglers should look for areas with sandy bottoms around bulrush and cattails while fishing minnows or grass shrimp under a cork for spawning fish. Henderson’s Cove and the north end of the lake usually produces good numbers of specks on the outside edge of the pads and grasses near deeper water while open water areas around Big Island and west of Long Island are also good speck fishing spots. The key is to keep moving around until you locate an area with concentrated numbers of fish.

Istokpoga’s panfish fishery is also tremendous and not widely known. The lake boasts nice bluegill and redear sunfish (shellcrackers) which often approach a pound. The fishing gets really good during late spring and throughout the summer when a lot of the seasonal anglers have left for the year. The best method is to use crickets and grass shrimp under a cork for bluegill and red wigglers on or near the bottom for shellcrackers. If you catch a fish, there are likely more in the area, so stay put and be patient for another bite. Fly fishing can also be rewarding for anglers who prefer this fishing method. Locate areas with dense bulrush, Kissimmee grass or cattails for the best action but don’t forget to try the lily pads too. Fishing the shade around cypress trees on the southeast side of the lake can also be productive at times.

Lake Weohyakapka (Lake Walk-in-Water)
(Polk County)
Features: Bass size, crappie size and numbers, catfish size 

Lake Weohyakapka (aka Lake Walk-in-Water) is a relatively shallow, natural lake in eastern Polk County not too far from the town of Lake Wales. A public ramp is located on Boat Landing Road, which runs east off Walk-in-the-Water Road, just a few miles south of S.R. 60. There is little access for bank fishing on the lake, so plan to fish from a boat. The lake is approximately 7,500 acres and boasts some excellent fishing opportunities for several species of fish. Although hurricanes removed all the hydrilla from the water many years ago, the lake still has large areas of vegetation for anglers to target lunker size bass. FWC biologists tag more largemouth bass over eight pounds in this lake every year than any other nearby waterbody. Pitching live wild shiners and flipping soft plastic baits in offshore stands of bulrush (“buggy whips”) in the northern, eastern and southern areas of the lake can be productive during the spring when bass are up shallow and spawning. Spinnerbaits should also produce bass in the spring and summer around grass patches. 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 can catch fish throughout the year, summer months offer the best action when the bass are very aggressive. Summertime is also 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 careful to avoid getting hung up on them if you plan to anchor while you fish.

Fishing for black crappie or specks can also be very rewarding on Lake Weohyakapka as there are plenty of nice fish swimming around for the determined angler. Most anglers prefer to spend their time in open water trolling or drifting minnows, jigs and spinners for crappie. Good numbers and some quality fish are caught in deeper (10 ft) areas of the lake during the cooler months and in shoreline vegetation (bulrush, knotgrass and maidencane) during the spring spawning season. Missouri minnows fished under corks or on small jig heads, as well as Hal-Flies and small spinners, are excellent for catching crappie near dense vegetation such as bulrush, cattail or Kissimmee grass. Seven fish attractor locations were refurbished with artificial brush in December 2020 and should concentrate plenty of fish for anglers offshore. Fish attractors are scattered underwater over an area of about ¼ acre in size and marked with orange and white buoys. Use caution if you plan to anchor when fishing around the buoys to avoid getting hung up on the attractors which are anchored on the lake bottom.

Lake Weohyakapka also has a relatively unknown catfish fishery. There are some nice size white and channel catfish lurking around the lake. A smaller, but just as tasty cousin, which also occupies the lake is the brown bullhead. They are very abundant and often roam around in large schools. Anglers should try fishing the mouths of creeks coming into the lake if water is flowing or around man-made canals. Slow drifting the deeper open water areas can also be productive as well during certain times of the year. The best baits to use are chicken liver, frozen shrimp, live worms or commercial stink baits fished on or near the lake bottom.

 

SOUTH REGION

Everglades Canals
(Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties)
Features: High bass numbers, unique opportunity for exotic panfish numbers

Over 100 miles of canals run along and through the Everglades providing excellent fishing opportunities. When conditions are right, and low water in the marsh concentrates bass in the canals, catch rates can be phenomenal, with catches of 50-100 bass per angler not uncommon. Soft plastics, like stick worms, flukes, and creature baits, are top producers. Incredible catch rates of exotic panfish, Mayan Cichlid and Oscar, are also possible. Past angler use surveys have recorded catch rates approaching 20 fish per hour — just how fast can you put a cricket on a hook? Bluegill and Redear sunfish also add to that panfish catch.

WCA Water Levels

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.

Lake Osborne-Ida Chain of Lakes
(Palm Beach County)
Features: Unique opportunities for Peacock Bass and Sunshine Bass

Conveniently located in the heart of Palm Beach County, this system of smaller lakes interconnected by canals provides a number of excellent fishing opportunities. Bank fishing access is ample thanks to county parks, in particular, John Prince Park. Lakes Ida and Osborne, in particular, have been producing excellent catches of Butterfly Peacock bass in addition to good largemouth bass fishing. Regionally, this is the top spot to target Sunshine bass, and Clown Knifefish are an unusual surprise that are sometimes caught when targeting Sunshine bass. As a result, lipless crankbaits (Rat-L-Trap, for example) and hard jerk baits (Rapala, for example) can be a top choices here, producing all of the species mentioned. Locally caught live threadfin shad are also a top producer.

Lake Okeechobee
(Palm Beach, Martin, Glades, Okeechobee, and Hendry counties)
Features: Trophy bass and TrophyCatch submissions, crappie numbers

Long and frequently recognized nationally and globally as a top destination for largemouth bass fishing, even when the bass fishing isn’t at its best, it is still pretty good on “Lake O”. Over the nine completed seasons of TrophyCatch, Lake Okeechobee is one of the top 5 waters for qualifying submissions. With a total surface area over 450,000 acres and over 100,000 acres of littoral and marsh habitat, there is lots of lake to explore, which can make it both challenging and productive. Virtually all classic approaches work, Texas rigged grape/black worms, spinner baits, and frogs; current popular techniques work well too, punching mats with creature baits, monster worms, or swimbaits. If there is one bait that gets talked about year in and year out it is the Gambler Big EZ. A healthy wild shiner is always a good bet too. Crappie fishing is also top notch right now. The strong spawn of 2017 is grown up and providing anglers great fishing. Always a strong producer of white and channel catfish, it is not uncommon for a million pounds of catfish to be harvested annually.

Urban Canals
(Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties)
Features: Unique opportunities for Peacock Bass and exotic panfish

The canals of SE Florida, particularly those in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties, provide excellent fishing opportunities. In many of them, exotic species like Butterfly Peacock Bass, Mayan Cichlid, and Jaguar Guapote dominate the catch. For some this is a fascinating niche fishery, for others it is “just” a good local fishing opportunity. Canals, particularly smaller ones, can be sensitive to pressure — if the bite slows after catching a couple fish, move on down the canal. A series of Angler Guide brochures describing some popular and productive canals are available. “Bank hopping” is also common approach in the area — fishing multiple canals in a day by foot.

Fish consumption advisories:

Generally low levels of mercury have been found to occur in largemouth bass from some of these locations (highest levels are in the Everglades Water Conservation Areas). You can find out more about consumption advisories.


For more information about these lakes, contact the following FWC biologists:

Lake Talquin - Josh Wilsey 850-265-3676
Orange Lake - Travis Tuten 352-415-6964
West Lake Tohopekaliga - Steve Kramer 407-846-5300
Lake Griffin - Scott Bisping 352-800-5027
Butler Chain of Lakes - Jim Sweatman 407-452-1990
Lake Kissimmee - Steve Kramer 407-846-5300
Rodman Reservoir - Travis Tuten 352-415-6964
Kenansville Lake - Reid Hyle 321-722-5364
Stick Marsh / Farm 13 - Reid Hyle 321-722-5364
Lake Tarpon - Adrian Stanfill 863-648-3807
Lake Istokpoga - Sara Menendez 863-581-6950
Winter Haven Chain of Lakes - Adrian Stanfill 863-648-3807
Tenoroc Fish Management Area - Paolo Pecora 863-648-3992
Mosaic Fish Management Area - Eric Johnson 863-648-3809
Lake Placid - Sara Menendez 863-581-6950
Lake Okeechobee - Mason Smith 863-462-5190
Everglades Water Conservation Areas - Lee Grove 561-625-5122
Osborne-Ida Chain of Lakes - Lee Grove 561-625-5122
Chipola River - Josh Wilsey 850-265-3676
Blackwater River - Josh Wilsey 850-265-3676
Wakulla River - Josh Wilsey 850-265-3676

Trophy catch

TrophyCatch Program

TrophyCatch is FWC's citizen-science program that rewards anglers for documenting and releasing trophy bass 8 pounds or larger. Registering supports bass conservation and automatically enters you in a drawing for a Phoenix bass boat.