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Top Spots CatFish

The following areas were selected by Florida's freshwater fisheries biologists as being the most likely to be highly productive during this year for channel, flathead, blue, and white catfish, and yellow and brown bullhead.

Channel catfish may exceed 40 pounds, although the typical size is less than five pounds. White catfish, yellow bullheads and brown bullheads usually range from one to two pounds, and readily spawn in lakes and ponds where they also provide good fishing. 

Range

Channel catfish are abundant throughout Florida, spawning in holes and crevices in flowing water. 

Tackle and Bait

Chicken Liver

Most catfish prefer many of the same food items as bream, although they are opportunistic and will rarely pass up any meal. The "whiskers" are loaded with sensory cells that enable catfish to locate their food by smell. Take advantage of this by using baits with strong odors: chicken liver or gizzards, shrimp, cut mullet and commercial stinkbaits. Other baits work well too, especially earthworms, and occasionally freshwater clams. Many catfish become active just before dusk and at night, and fishing success is best during these times. Fish on the bottom with a sturdy #2 to #4 hook and a heavy split shot sinker.

These are the sites most likely to be best for Florida catfish fishing in 2024.

 

NORTHWEST REGION

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

The marsh area of the Escambia River promises to yield high catches of harvestable size Largemouth Bass as well as many other species including monster flathead catfish. 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.

Choctawhatchee River
(Holmes, Walton and Washington counties)
Features: Bream numbers, catfish size and numbers

The Choctawhatchee River boasts the Florida State record for Blue Catfish was caught in 2015, weighing in at 69.50 lbs. A 120 lbs. Blue Catfish was also documented by the FWC but was not caught by rod and reel an eligible for certification. There are true 100 lbs. Blue Catfish leviathans lurking in the river! Anglers will have the best results fishing when water levels are low, and the river is within its banks. The numerous small lakes along the backwaters offer great fishing opportunities offering a variety of species such as bluegill, shellcracker, largemouth bass, hybrid striped bass, and mullet. The Choctawhatchee River is accessible from numerous locations such as the public access area in Ebro, 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 unique wintertime Striped Bass fishery can be found downstream of the Jackson Bluff dam on the Ochlockonee River and in Lake Talquin. Lake Talquin is also famed for a world class Black Crappie fishery. Also, if you’re looking to battle a monster Flathead Catfish, the lower Ochlockonee will oblige you! There are some true river monsters lurking there.

Anglers be advised, if you do decide to cast your lines for striped bass below the Jackson Bluff dam, there is a new size limit regulation in effect for the Striped Bass fishery:
In the lower Ochlockonee River: The bag limit for striped bass is 3, only one of which may be 24 inches or longer in total length. There is no minimum length limit.

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

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, 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.

Apalachicola River
(Jackson, Gadsden, Calhoun, Gulf, Liberty, and Franklin counties)
Features: Bream numbers, striped bass numbers, catfish size and numbers

The 160-mile Apalachicola River in Florida is a wide, winding river rolling down to Apalachicola Bay through nationally significant forests, with some of the highest biological diversity east of the Mississippi rivaling the Great Smoky Mountains. This river has the highest diversity of freshwater fish species in the state including both freshwater and saltwater species, leading to some of the best fishing in Florida's Panhandle. The numerous creeks and tributaries feeding into the Apalachicola offer scenic runs with deep, quiet pools. These pools are also home to monster Flathead Catfish. The Apalachicola was at one time the reigning home to the Florida State record for Flathead Catfish until recently broken by a fish caught in the Yellow River. The Apalachicola is still a monster Flathead Catfish destination for anglers, as well as an assortment of fresh and saltwater species.

 

NORTH CENTRAL REGION

Hanna Park
(Duval County)

Features: Catfish numbers, sunshine bass numbers, bream numbers

Despite being right on the beach, Hanna Park Fish Management Area (27-acre pond) has some of the best freshwater fishing in the Jacksonville area. Large panfish and bass can be caught here in good numbers. Additionally, stockings of Sunshine Bass (Hybrid striped bass) and channel catfish provide additional angling opportunity. Fish grow fast and large here due to a lot of phytoplankton in the water and robust populations of shad and mullet. The best species to target here would be catfish, Sunshine Bass and panfish. Chicken liver can be a great bait to try for catfish and Sunshine Bass, the trick is keeping it on your hook. There are countless articles and videos about how to keep liver on your hook. Check it out and see what works for you. Crickets, grass shrimp, and worms fished under a bobber work well here for panfish, and crappie have even been caught using those baits. Tilapia are commonly caught on worms here, but if you are targeting them also try corn kernels, bread balls, or a homemade dough bait. These tasty fish are invasive and should be harvested when caught.

When at Hanna Park you will likely notice bubbles in the water from an aeration system. The aeration system helps prevent fish kills during times of low dissolved oxygen in the water. Fish feeders are also placed across the pond to increase populations of forage fish and catfish while attracting them to easily accessible shoreline areas. The other smaller ponds in the park do not have these pieces of equipment but still support fish populations. There is a gravel boat ramp on the main pond at Hanna Park, but keep in mind that the use of gasoline motors or cast nets is not allowed.

 

SOUTHWEST REGION

Lake Thonotosassa FMA
(Hillsborough County)

Features: Crappie size and numbers, bream size and numbers, catfish numbers

Lake Thonotosassa is an 820-acre lake located approximately 18 miles northeast of downtown Tampa. The public boat ramp at the southern end provides easy access for both larger fishing boats under 20ft and smaller kayaks and canoes. Although there is plenty of open water for anglers to access, the eastern shoreline holds two secluded coves and canals with abundant vegetation and hard structure. Working a frog through the vegetated coves or fishing crankbaits and jerkbaits near rocky points can produce bites from Largemouth Bass throughout the lake. Thonotosassa boasts a very healthy panfish population, with Bluegill and Redear Sunfish reaching large sizes. Similarly, Trophy-sized Black Crappie can be caught in large numbers on offshore structure or along the northern shoreline. These fisheries are supported by a forage base of Golden Shiners and both Threadfin and Gizzard Shad. Anglers can be sure to find success fishing live shiners under a cork or working small minnow-profile jigs and bucktails near vegetated points on the main lake. Lastly, eater-sized Channel Catfish are abundant in Lake Thonotosassa. These fish will readily strike cut bait, live baitfish and chicken livers fished on the bottom or under a cork near woody structure and offshore vegetation. With secluded coves, canals, and shorelines this location offers a quality fishing opportunity within striking distance of downtown Tampa.

Tenoroc Fish Management Area
(Polk County)
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. If fishing with live bait, shiners have proven to be a go to for anglers at Tenoroc to catch trophy bass 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 white crab pot 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!

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

 

SOUTH REGION

Lake Okeechobee
(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  life of the program, Lake Okeechobee has been one of the top 5 waters for qualifying submissions into TrophyCatch. 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.