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.
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
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 2023.
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.
(Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties)
Features: Bass special opportunity, striped bass size, 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. The 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, quality sized striped 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.
Features: Unique fishing opportunity for Suwannee Bass, panfish size
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. Quality sized panfish are also available here.
NORTH CENTRAL REGION
Features: Bass size, 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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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. During Season 10 of TrophyCatch, there were 143 approved TrophyCatch submissions from Fellsmere with 32 of those bass being over 10 pounds. Bass over 12 pounds are being caught more frequently now, and last year several 13 pound bass were caught. With all the vegetation, the most productive lures are topwaters such as frogs and prop baits, swimbaits, vibrating jigs, and soft plastic jerkbaits or stickbaits. Anglers have the most success finding areas of clear water or areas close to deeper water. After cold fronts, focus on punching thick mats of hydrilla and floating vegetation. As part of the Florida Trophy Bass Project, bass regulations were changed at Fellsmere to make largemouth bass catch and release only, as well as require the use of circle hooks when fishing with natural bait greater than 3 inches in length. The lake is located off Fellsmere Grade Road less than 10 miles west of Fellsmere off I-95.
Feature: Bass size, bass numbers
Located south of the cities of Kissimmee/St. Cloud, Lake Toho (18,627 acres) has consistently been producing good bass fishing for the past several years. During the 2022 angler survey, bass anglers caught 0.74 bass per hour, which is higher than the catch rate for many popular Florida bass fisheries. In recent years, more bass anglers have focused on fishing at Toho instead of Kissimmee as more and more big bass are getting caught in Toho. Anglers typically do well on Toho fishing offshore hydrilla edges and deeper holes within the hydrilla. Lipless crankbaits, speed worms, and vibrating jigs are popular choices around the deeper hydrilla. When cold fronts move through, anglers should focus on punching thick mats of hyacinth, pennywort, or hydrilla with Texas-rigged creature baits. During Season 10 of TrophyCatch there were 42 approved submissions at Toho with five bass over 10 pounds caught and approved.
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 10 of the TrophyCatch program there were 26 approved submissions, which is around the average number of approved submissions seen on a yearly basis at Wildcat. 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. Two fish attractor sites were also created this past year to create some offshore habitat.
Features: Bass size and numbers, bream size and numbers
Lake Tarpon is a 2,534-acre lake located northwest of Tampa in Tarpon Springs, FL. The lakeshore stretches 16 miles and contains two county parks - A.L. Anderson Park on northwest side of the lake, and John Chesnut Sr. Park on the southeast end of the lake. Both parks provide ample parking, play areas, clean facilities, walking trails, and picnic areas for the whole family to enjoy.
Lake Tarpon has consistently warm, shallow water, with plenty of aquatic vegetation skirting its densely vegetated shoreline. The average depth is approximately eight feet, but deeper pockets can be found near Lons Point throughout the North end of the lake. Similarly, Salmons Bay, Dolly Bay, and Little Dolly Bay all provide deep water pockets that boasts high fishing success. We also recommend exploring the western shoreline of Lake Tarpon, where small alcoves congregate Largemouth Bass.
Lake Tarpon is rated as one of the top 10 bass lakes in the state of Florida according to FWC fisheries electrofishing surveys. Anglers can have a great day catching bass in high numbers and of all sizes. In addition to Tarpon’s excellent bass fishing opportunities, the lake has a hearty panfish fishery – where anglers can enjoy catching large Bluegill and Redear Sunfish.
When targeting Largemouth Bass follow the weedy shoreline consisting of mainly Bulrush and Cattail. Eelgrass and Illinois Pondweed (aka peppergrass) beds are also good places to try. Lake Tarpon’s northern- and southernmost points provide the most optimal fishing due to high volume of submersed vegetation. Try targeting the southern tip of Lake Tarpon, called the South Cove, where you find a shoreline of cattail that is highly productive. Offshore areas, particularly with submerged vegetation and sparse emergent vegetation will congregate Bass during summer months. We recommend using live wild shiners, Texas-rigged worms, trick worms, lipless crankbaits, or trolling small jigs for fishing success on Lake Tarpon. Throw a Texas-rigged plastic worm or spinnerbait around the shell bars near deep water. Drift live wild shiners over grass beds or drop them into holes in the grass. When targeting Redear Sunfish and Bluegill, we recommend crickets, red wigglers, and grass shrimp fished along shoreline vegetation. Tight Lines!
Tenoroc Fish Management Area
Features: Bass size and numbers, bream size and numbers, special opportunity for Sunshine Bass, special opportunity for catfish, catfish 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 lakes ranging from six to 242-acres 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.
FWC biologists have recently reintroduced sunshine bass to Tenoroc to provide anglers with more opportunities to catch different varieties of sport fish species. Stocked in both Derby & Picnic Lake, sunshine bass have fast growth rates and ravenous appetites, preferring to focus on small prey species such as threadfin & gizzard shad. Anglers looking to target this species with natural baits should use live shiners or minnows on a free line or under a bobber. If using artificial lures, try to use tackle that imitates the color of their favorite food items: silver or gold spoons, white and silver jerk baits, rooster-tails, jigs, and grubs that give off the “flash” of an evading baitfish. Sunshine bass like to school up and corral baitfish to the surface, so if you see feeding activity in the morning or evening hours, cast away and have fun!
Winter Haven Chain of Lakes
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, and shoreline fishing in 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 trees to fish with a plastic worm. 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 (aka speck) is your target, the Winter Haven Chain has plenty of fishing opportunities for them 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, anglers have success 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.
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. 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. FWC has completed multiple planting projects around the lake within the last couple of years, and eelgrass continues to expand along the eastern shoreline.
Lake Istokpoga has long been known for its trophy largemouth bass fishing. Since 2012, over 590 bass greater than eight pounds, have been documented from the lake and submitted into the FWC’s TrophyCatch Program. Recently, tournaments have also posed great success, with many five-bag weigh-ins taking 30+ pounds to win. Anglers fishing for bass on this lake commonly 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 and western shorelines and around Big Island and Bumblebee Island. Fishing these areas with soft plastics, weightless speed worms and swimbaits will be the best bet during this time of year. When water temps increase after the spawning season, try targeting bass around dense vegetation such as bulrush or cattail while flipping soft plastic baits like crawfish, lizards or worms. Fishing with 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 (aka speck) fishery. Anglers come from all over the United States to Lake Istokpoga to fill their coolers with this tasty fish during the cooler months of the year. Most anglers fish for black crappie by drifting 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. Open water areas around Big Island and the western shore 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 (aka shellcrackers) which often approach a pound in size. The fishing gets really good during late spring and remains good throughout the summer when a lot of the seasonal anglers have left for the year. The best method for catching these fish 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 the next 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 pads too. Fishing the shade and pads around cypress trees on the southeast side of the lake can also be productive at times.
Lake Weohyakapka (Lake Walk-in-Water)
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, just outside of Lake Wales. A public ramp is located on Boat Landing Road, on the west side of the lake. 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.
(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.
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.
(Palm Beach, Martin, Glades, Okeechobee, and Hendry counties)
Features: Trophy bass and TrophyCatch submissions, crappie numbers, catfish 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 ten 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.
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.
(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 - Matt Stevens 863-824-4171
Everglades Water Conservation Areas - Courtney Stachowiak 561-882-5723
Osborne-Ida Chain of Lakes - Courtney Stachowiak 561-882-5723
Chipola River - Josh Wilsey 850-265-3676
Blackwater River - Josh Wilsey 850-265-3676
Wakulla River - Josh Wilsey 850-265-3676
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.