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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 2021 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

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.

NORTHWEST REGION

Choctawhatchee River
(Holmes, Walton and Washington counties)
A Monster trophy catfish fishery for Flathead and Blue catfish (State Record location for Blue Catfish) and high catch rates of panfish and multiple species. 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)
A hot spot destination for Striped Bass, especially below the dam, as well as, a numbers destination for Channel Catfish and 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.

Yellow River
(Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties)
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.

Apalachicola River
(Jackson, Gadsden, Calhoun, Gulf, Liberty, and Franklin counties)
A Monster trophy catfish fishery for Flathead Catfish and high catch rates of panfish, multiple species and a hot spot destination for Striped Bass. 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.

 

SOUTHWEST REGION

Edward Medard Reservoir
(Hillsborough County)
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)
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 863-303-0093 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 thirty lakes to choose from on the property, these seven 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.

Lake Weohyakapka (Lake Walk-in-Water)
(Polk County)
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

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

Freshwater Top Spots Map

Top Spots Map

For all of Florida's Top Spots for Black Bass, Crappie, Bream, Striped Bass, and Catfish see the 2021 Top Spots Map!