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Top Spots Sunfish

What is a bream? Pronounced, “brim”, this is a convenient, if vague, term to collectively refer to a variety of sunfish species. The trouble is, it doesn’t mean the something everywhere or to everyone. Some people use it to mean only Bluegill, while others use it to mean any or all of Bluegill, Redear Sunfish (shellcracker), Warmouth, Redbreast Sunfish, Longear Sunfish, Spotted Sunfish (stump knocker), and other sunfish species. That is a frequent struggle with common names.

Because it is perhaps just another way to say panfish, for our 2020 list of top spots for Bream we have included both these definitions and exotic species (Oscar and Mayan Cichlid) which have similar body shape and are caught with similar techniques. Regardless of what you call them, whether you’re looking for light tackle fun or tasty eats, panfish or bream should be able to deliver at these waters.

Lake Kissimmee
(Osceola and Polk Counties)

Lake Kissimmee (34,976 acres), located in the heart of Osceola County, has an expansive and diverse plant community, excellent spawning substrate and fertile water, Lake Kissimmee provides optimum habitat for both bluegill and shellcracker to thrive. In recent years, panfish effort (number of hours fished) have been low; however, catch rates have remained high (averaging around 2 fish per hour) and the lake has good populations of quality size Bluegill and Redear sunfish. Therefore, Lake Kissimmee could provide anglers with “uncrowded” opportunities for quality bream angling. Anglers often anchor in open water adjacent to main lake shoreline vegetation or edges of the four islands within the lake and use weighted crickets to lure bluegill off their spawning beds. Shellcracker anglers do best in these areas using red wigglers instead of crickets. Savvy anglers have known for years that some of the most consistent spawning areas within the lake, and hence where good concentrations of fish can be located, will consist of a mixture of water lilies or bulrush and native grasses. Boat trails cutting through these vegetation types also produce good numbers of fish. Areas of the lake that successful anglers frequent include Brahma and Grassy Islands and shoreline areas at 27-Palms, Jackson Slough, Philadelphia Point and Lake Kissimmee State Park. Historically, mid-February to late April is prime time for shellcracker fishing on Lake Kissimmee, while the warmer months (May-September) are ideal for bluegill.


Lake Talquin
(Gadsden and Leon Counties)

Anglers in the Tallahassee area are advised to break out their fly rods, cane poles, or light spinning tackle this spring, because shellcrackers (Redear Sunfish) should be bedding in Lake Talquin by late April/early May and bluegill and Redbreast Sunfish (redbellies) won't be far behind. What's more, all species should continue biting well throughout the summer months. Local biologists recommend working the upper end of the reservoir and in the back of various creeks in depths ranging from three to seven feet. The standard fare-live worms and crickets, small jigs, beetle spins, and fly gear-will all provide good results.

Boat ramps and fishing piers are located off Hwy 20 (Coe Landing Road, William's Landing, etc.) and Hwy 267 (Cooks Landing Road, McCall Bridge Road, etc.). Check out the Florida Boat Ramp Finder on our website for specific details on boat ramps and directions. Also, in 2018 FWC installed fish attractors at 4 public fishing piers around Lake Talquin. Those piers include: High Bluff Campground (Gadsden Co.), Pat Thomas Park (Gadsden Co.), Ben Stoutamire Landing (Leon Co.), and Williams Landing (Leon Co.).

Check in at the Lake Talquin Lodge (231 Gainey's Road), Whippoorwill Sportsman's Lodge (3129 Cooks Landing Road), or Ingram's (354 Lois Lane) for more up-to-date information.


Lake Istokpoga
(Highlands County)

Located a few miles southeast of Sebring, the large, relatively shallow Lake Istokpoga is outstanding. FWC fish sampling on the lake has shown good numbers of 8 inch plus bluegill and redear sunfish (shellcrackers). Anglers should concentrate their efforts from April through June around inshore and offshore cattail and bulrush stands. The thicker vegetation is difficult to fish, but usually holds good numbers of larger fish. In other months, productive areas to fish include Big Island, Grassy Island, Bumble Bee Island, and around various sandy bars. Anglers usually prefer crickets for bluegill and live worms for redear sunfish. Fly fishing anglers can experience great action with small popping bugs as well.

 

Lower Suwannee River
(Dixie County)

The lower Suwannee River not only provides good fishing for several panfish species throughout the year, but it can also provide a unique experience as well as good fishing in the winter when fishing slows down in most lakes. As with many rivers in Florida, Bluegill, Redear Sunfish (Shellcrackers), Redbreast Sunfish (Redbellies), and Spotted Sunfish (Stumpknockers) are frequently caught in the area, including during typical times of the year such as late spring and summer. Areas around Spatterdock (lily pads) can produce nice catches of big Redear Sunfish in the spring. There are two things, though, that really make the lower Suwannee River a unique fishery. First is that as you explore the river and many creeks in the area, you will be fishing in the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge. Other than the houses in the town of Suwannee, you will not see any signs of human development unless you run up the river to the town of Fowlers Bluff. Second, some of the best fishing of the year can be during the coldest part of the winter. Stumpknockers are the target species during this time of the year, and it is not uncommon to catch some of the largest stumpknockers to be found in the state. The best action can be found by fishing the outer bends of creeks with undercut banks (look for trees leaning out over the creek) during low tide periods. Use beetle spins and small jigs tipped with little pieces of shrimp. Use ultra-light spinning gear to cast right up against the bank and let it sink to the bottom before retrieving. The best place to access the lower Suwannee River is from the town of Suwannee. There is a free public ramp (Demory Creek Ramp) right along Hwy 349 and there are fee ramps at Suwannee Marina and Gateway Marina. Bait shrimp and other supplies can be found at the marinas and fish camps in town. If you are coming from the east side of the river, you might want to consider launching at the free public ramp in Fowlers Bluff and running down the river to save on drive time to the ramp.

 

Little Econlockhatchee River
(Orange County)

This is probably one of the best panfishing secrets in Orlando. Located in northeast Orlando, bank access can be found via Orange County's Blanchard Park located off Dean Road (SR 425). Canoes and kayaks can be launched and used in the channelized section located in the park but downstream of the dam (unchannelized section) there are too many blow-downs to effectively use any type of boat. For your best bet, fish behind the dam when the water is flowing after a big rain. Night crawlers, wigglers and grass shrimp fished beneath a split shot is all you will need to catch quality to trophy-sized panfish (bluegill, redear sunfish, redbreast sunfish). Don't be surprised if you hook into a large white or channel catfish as well.

 

Lake Panasoffkee
(Sumter County)

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 main panfish caught are bluegill, redear sunfish, and spotted sunfish. Angler catch rate from the 2019 creel survey for these species was calculated at 3.36 fish/hr. A Panasoffkee Kid’s Fishing Derby is held each year at the lake as well.


Tenoroc Fish Management Area
(Orange County)

Tenoroc Fish Management Area, located two miles northeast of Lakeland, comprises approximately 1,200 acres of phosphate pit lakes that support a terrific fishery of Bluegill, Redear Sunfish (shellcracker), and Warmouth (goggle-eyes). Anglers can successfully target bream with live bait by using a cork or bobber, light monofilament line (4 to 6 lbs) and small hooks (#8, #6 or#10) baited with crickets, nightcrawlers, red wigglers, or grass shrimp kept 6 to 12-inches off the bottom.

Artificial lures such as beetle spins, road runners, rooster tails and jigs also work great and cut back on the time baiting hooks. Most sunfish seek out quiet, slack-water areas, so be on the lookout for these features while also looking for both emergent weeds, submerged vegetation, overhanging limbs, and brush. Tenoroc accommodates all users with boat ramps, bank fishing, and ADA accessible piers/facilities. Anglers fishing at Lake A, Lake B, Lake F, Lake G, Lake 5, Fish Hook Lake, Legs Lake, Coronet Lake, Shop Lake, and Lost Lake West have the best opportunity to be successful catching bream on the property.

Panfish limits at Tenoroc Fish Management Area are specifically regulated for each individual body of water located on site. All other regulations not listed are subject to state regulations.

Tenoroc is located just two miles northeast of Lakeland on Highway 659, which can be accessed from Highway 33, just south of Interstate 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, Fridays through Mondays. All anglers must check-in and out at the Tenoroc Fish Management Area Headquarters, deposit their valid fishing license if applicable and pay $3 for a daily fishing permit unless exempt.


Winter Haven South Chain of Lakes
(Polk County)

Tucked in and amongst the city streets of Winter Haven in north-central Polk County, the south portion of the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes offers some of the finest and most easily accessible Bluegill and Redear Sunfish fishing in central Florida. Polk County is home to 554 named lakes and typically sells more freshwater fishing licenses annually than any other county in the state. That's because residents take their bream fishing seriously! The Winter Haven Chain is comprised of 14 lakes ranging in size from 25 to 1,160 acres. These waters offer a wide variety of habitats for both fish and anglers, from shoreline bulrush/cattail stands and cypress trees to open water beds of eelgrass and pondweed. FWC Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management personnel sample the chain's sportfish populations periodically and routinely observe bream 10 inches in length or more with weights over a half-pound. 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. Crickets, wigglers or grass shrimp are best live baits while small Beetle Spins and jigs can be productive as well. Fishing guide services, fishing forecasts, and lodging information may be found through Polk County's Outpost 27 Visitor Center.


Lake Pierce
(Polk County)

Recent fish surveys on Lake Pierce may have uncovered a “sleeper” Bluegill and Redear Sunfish fishery. Both species are present in good numbers and sizes in this 3,779-acre lake situated as part of the headwaters to the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. These sunfish can be targeted near full moon phases in shallow, vegetated areas where they typically congregate to spawn and can be caught by fishing on the bottom with live crickets or wigglers. Use small hooks and light line when targeting these species and be ready for a fun fight when you hook one! When these sunfish are not spawning, anglers should try their luck around the 5 natural brush pile fish attractors strategically placed in deeper water. For more information on the location of fish attractors, visit FWC's Interactive Fish Attractor Map. There are two public boat ramps on Lake Pierce that anglers can launch from to begin their memorable day on the water. For more information on how to access Lake Pierce, please visit our Florida Boat Ramp Finder.

Holmes Creek redear sunfish

A hefty Holmes Creek redear sunfish.

Choctawatchee River and Holmes Creek
(Walton, Washington and Holmes counties)
Redear sunfish

For river and stream lovers in Florida's Panhandle, the Choctawhatchee River and Holmes Creek are ideal, particularly for shellcracker (redear sunfish) aficionados. Shellcracker usually bed in quieter waters during April and remain active through the early-fall months. Multiple redear sunfish greater than 10 inches and several bluegill larger than 8 inches were found in Holmes Creek during FWC electrofishing surveys in fall 2015. Quality bluegill and redear sunfish (8 to 10 inches) were also seen while electrofishing throughout the Choctawhatchee River this past fall 2017. The presence of snags and log jams that often span the width of the river can make navigation in Holmes Creek difficult or hazardous. Log jams often span the entire reach of other Choctawhatchee tributaries (such as East River). Live Oak Landing boat ramp in Holmes Creek is extremely steep and boaters should use caution. Also, high water levels can be dangerous, please check river levels prior to your trip. Live Oak Landing is an excellent place to bank fish. If boating around in smaller creeks off the main channel and sloughs of the Choctawhatchee River or Holmes Creek during the late spring and summer months, be sure to also try for some redbreast sunfish, spotted sunfish (stumpknocker), and warmouth. Worms, crickets, and grass shrimp are favorite baits.

Dead Lake "Hand-Paint" bluegill

A Dead Lakes "Hand-Paint" Bluegill.

Dead Lake
(Gulf and Calhoun counties)
Hand-Paint Bluegill

Enjoy this beautiful Panhandle Gem! The Dead Lakes are located on the Chipola River near the town of Wewahitchka. Both live and dead cypress trees paint an eerie yet beautiful backdrop for your day on the water. However, anglers should take caution while navigating due to the many snags and stumps in the lake. This area was hit hard by Hurricane Michael, but the Dead Lakes still offers excellent bluegill and redear sunfish (aka “shellcracker”) fishing opportunities. In fact, the Dead Lakes are home to the “Hand-Painted” Bluegills. These colorful bluegill are found throughout the Apalachicola Watershed and should be on any angler’s “bucket list”. Anglers should fish an ultra-light rod with bobber and hook setup tipped with a worm or cricket. Also, inline spinners and micro crankbaits around stumps and snags can be very effective. The best time of year to target “Hand-Paints” in the Dead Lakes is late April through September.


Orange Lake
(Alachua County)

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. Two popular public access points on the lake are Heagy-Burry Park and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Park. Both parks provide boat ramps and ample parking, restrooms, and bank fishing opportunities. The lake can also be accessed from several other private ramps as well as from Lochloosa Lake via Cross Creek. Strong winds often move floating tussocks around the lake that can hamper access, so it pays to check ahead for conditions at your ramp of choice.

Orange Lake contains varied and extensive aquatic vegetation that provides excellent habitat for Bluegill, Redear (“Shellcracker”), and Warmouth. While nowhere near historic levels, hydrilla and coontail have returned to limited areas of the lake in recent years. A diverse and emergent plant community, including spatterdock (pads), smartweed, and maidencane can also be found around the lake. Panfish can be caught on a variety of live baits and artificial lures, but proven favorites include grass shrimp, live crickets, earthworms, small soft plastics, and micro-sized spinnerbaits. Anglers targeting these tasty and abundant fish would do well to “dip” live baits or jigs in and around patches/holes of spatterdock or other vegetation either freelined or under a float. The edges of matted floating vegetation are also great places to try. Hitting the lake during a spawning period when the fish are congregated can be a great way to quickly score the makings for a fish fry. Bream fishing usually picks up from April through September, but you can expect to catch fish year-round.


Lochloosa Lake
(Alachua County)

Lochloosa Lake is designated as a Fish Management Area and located 5 miles south of Hawthorne near the town of Lochloosa. Most of the shoreline is bordered by old-growth cypress trees, and knotgrass and spatterdock (bonnets) are the predominant aquatic plants in the lake. A public boat ramp provides access to the lake from U.S. Highway 301 in the town of Lochloosa, and at Lochloosa Harbor Fish Camp just north of the town of Lochloosa, also accessed from U.S. 301. In addition, a public pier is located south of the town of Lochloosa on Burnt Island and is a popular fishing site for those without a boat. Lochloosa Lake offers good bluegill, redear sunfish and warmouth fishing during April through September; however, some bream can be caught year-round. Anglers targeting them should fish with grass shrimp in deep-water spatterdock or deeper grass patches.


Lake Okeechobee
(Okeechobee, St. Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach, Hendry and Glades counties)

The Bluegill and Redear Sunfish populations in Lake Okeechobee are providing excellent fishing opportunities to anyone seeking a fight from the other end of a line. At 730 square miles, Lake Okeechobee is Florida's largest lake and the second largest body of fresh water in the contiguous United States. 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 available fishing water. Big bream can be found in the grassy areas of the "Big O" during most times of year and in shallow, sandy areas while spawning in late spring and summer. Other excellent fishing areas are along the edges of the surrounding canals and the mouth of the Kissimmee River. Beetle Spins, grass shrimp, and crickets are the preferred baits for Bluegill and Redear Sunfish.


Everglades Water Conservation Areas 2 and 3
(Broward, Dade and Palm Beach Counties)

The Everglades Water Conservation Areas (WCAs) are south Florida marshlands intersected with over 200 miles of canals. They are collectively managed by FWC as Everglades and Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area. 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, in addition to great opportunity for a variety of panfish (Bluegill, Redear Sunfish, Warmouth, and exotic species).

Over 25 public boat ramps provide access to the different segments of canals surrounding and intersecting the WCAs (some of them are mapped in our Water Conservation Area Brochure).

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 Tamiami Trail (state road 41). Holiday Park also offers boat rentals. The L-35B canal boat ramp is located off 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.

Bluegill can be targeted along canal edges. Crickets and worms suspended on a bobber below the spatterdock edge of the canals is an effective tactic. Along with live bait, Beetle Spins and small jigs can also be effective. Expect the best bites to occur from February to May. Some of the best catch rates biologists observe for Bluegill in the Water Conservation Areas are small poppers on a fly rod. Live bait anglers typically anchor along the spatterdock edge, and fly anglers and artificial lure anglers typically drift down the canal casting down, or into the spatterdock edge. Anglers can cover much more ground drifting the spatterdock edge as opposed to anchoring.

Along with Bluegill and Redear Sunfish, anglers should also expect to run into Oscars and Mayan Cichlids. These two aggressive nonnative species are excellent fighting fish and can be best described as fighting like a Bluegill on steroids. There are no limits for these nonnative species and anglers regularly fill coolers full of these species when the bite is strong. Oscars and Mayan Cichlids can be caught using the same tactics for Bluegill. Oscars also tend to be a loosely schooling fish, so if drifting down the canal and one is caught, it is recommended anglers keep fishing that same spot to try and pull out a few more before returning to drifting. The Oscar and Mayan Cichlid bite is best with warmer water temperatures. If we have a mild winter, expect the bite to start picking up by March, and last throughout the summer and into the fall. If coming from out of town, it is recommended that you contact south Florida’s regional biologists before planning your trip to check on the fisheries status.


A-1 Flow Equalization Basin (FEB)
(Palm Beach County)

The water management district opened the A-1 Flow Equalization Basin (FEB; 16,608 acres) for public use on a limited basis in 2017. The area is open to the public on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays and does not allow for the use of gas motors inside the FEB. It is a large mostly vegetated area and navigation can be somewhat challenging due to the bottom topography from prior land uses. Another thing to consider is the fluctuating water levels resulting from SFWMD designed operations. That being said, the area does offer some unique outdoor opportunities, and may be of most interest to kayak/canoe anglers and hunters. Bluegill and Redear Sunfish populations support good numbers of quality sized fish, which make it an excellent area for panfish anglers. Each can be effectively targeted with live bait or artificial bait. Effective live baits include crickets, red worms, or minnows that can be fished under a cork. Artificial bait options include popping bug flies, small jigs, and Beetle Spins. More fishing and rigging tips are available.

Freshwater Top Spots Map

Florida Top Spots

See our Top Spots Map for all the top Florida freshwater fishing locations and species!