CENTRAL FLORIDA FISHING –
SOMETHING FOR EVERY ANGLER
Saltwater Fishing in Central Florida
Florida has long been a draw for saltwater sport fishermen. Ernest Hemingway so often visited The Keys to fish for swordfish and dolphin (mahi-mahi) that he made his home there for some time. The home where he lived is now a museum and his name is referenced in many places along Duval Street in Key West.
Nets Are Illegal In Florida
Over many years of commercial overharvesting of Florida's fish led to a continual and widespread decline of fish populations throughout the state. However, in 1994, many forms of nets for commercial fishing were banned in Florida. While a few commercial fishermen still try to flout the law – the overall ban, along with seasonal closures, has led to a boom in the populations of many of the species of fish found in Florida.
Today, there are some 200 different species of just sport fish that can be caught in the ocean and coastal waters in, around and off Central Florida. One of the most fun and fantastic things about fishing Central Florida waters is that you absolutely never know just what species of fish is on the other end of your line.
In-Shore Fishing – “Skinny” Waters
Florida is unique in that it has an exciting in-shore fishery as well as an off-shore one. Central Florida is home to the waters of the infamous Mosquito Lagoon. Here the only year-round resident population of Redfish (Red Drum) live. Reds to 50 pounds have been caught and 15 and 20 pound redfish are not uncommon.
The in-shore waters fished is often only a few feet deep and up on the shallow tidal areas known as “flats”, the water may be less than a foot deep. Much of the fishing here is done by sight – by actually seeing the fish in the clear shallow water and casting to them and it is common to see the backs and tails of feeding fish on the flats.
Fly fishing for small tarpon, redfish, spotted trout and snook is very popular here in Central Florida. Specialized boats known as “flats-boats” capable of plying these waters only several inches deep in places are popular. In addition, in recent years many fishermen have turned to using the stealth of kayaks to stalk the inshore game.
The In-Shore Grand Slam
Species that can readily be caught inshore include: Cobia, Flounder, Jack Cravelle, Ladyfish, Permit, Pompano, Redfish, Sheepshead, Snook, Tarpon, Trout and Whiting. However, fishermen who bag a redfish, trout and snook all in a single day are said to have hit an In Shore Grand Slam.
Catching a variety of shellfish is also great fun in and around the in-shore waters. Crabbing, oystering and clamming are all possibilities with each outing and each year the west coast is popular for scallops.
Off-Shore – The Big Waters
For those fishermen who prefer the bigger waters of the ocean – Florida offers the finest variety anywhere. Here two main techniques are used – still and drift fishing over wrecks, reefs and rock piles and trolling with baits and lures over drop offs and into the Gulf Stream. While the in-shore fisherman rarely gets in water more than six feet deep – the Florida offshore fisherman can be in waters 600 feet deep. Central Florida offshore depths, however, are common at between 75 and 300 feet unless plying parts of the Gulf Stream where the depths are in the thousands of feet.
Grouper – twenty-one different species, Snapper – thirteen different species, Amberjack, Hogfish and Triggerfish are the mainstays of the wrecks, reefs and rock piles. Those willing to go further out and troll ballyhoo and lures can come home with trophy Dolphin (Mahi-Mahi), Yellowfin Tuna and Wahoo.
Though rarely targeted as the fish of the day – many barracuda and sharks are also caught when off shore fishing.
Finally, the great game fish - the Swordfish, Marlin and Sailfish – have made huge repopulation comebacks in the last ten years with the advent of a successful and total implementation of a 100% catch and release requirement. It has been welcomed by anglers and the sport is now as popular as its legendary stories of fish caught at the turn of the century.
Central Florida Freshwater Angling
In Florida, there are almost 8,000 freshwater lakes larger than 10 acres and countless smaller ones. Nearly every lake in Florida hosts largemouth bass, perch and/or sunfish. Bass of six and seven pounds in lakes are common. Some of the larger lakes like Lake Toho near Disney, Lake Jessup over near Oviedo and Lake Monroe off of Sanford literally have fish populations in the hundreds of thousands.
Central Florida is home to five different chain-of-lakes. These chains are individual lakes connected by a series of canals. They can include up to eleven lakes in a single chain. Central Florida's chains include: The Butler Chain in Windermere, The Clermont Chain in Clermont, The Conway Chain near downtown Orlando, The Harris Chain in Mt. Dora and the Winter Park Chain in Winter Park.
The St. John's River
The St. Johns River was named one of 14 American Heritage Rivers in 1998. With its headwaters just southeast of Central Florida, it is popular with anglers of all kinds as it winds through 12 counties along its 310 mile course ending at the Atlantic Ocean in Jacksonville. Because the riverbed drops only about one inch per mile, the current of the St. John’s (1/3 of a mile per hour) gives it a “lazy river” feel and allows for fishing more typical of that on a lake than a river.
In addition, to access the many low-lying vegetation along many river and lake banks in Florida, kayaking has grown in popularity with freshwater anglers in recent years.
Birds, Dolphins, and Manatees Too
While out enjoying the Florida waters, a wide variety of birds, reptiles and other mammals can be seen. Herons, Egrets, Terns, Pelicans and Gulls of all kinds are in abundance. Turtles and Alligators will be "busy" sunning themselves along the banks. In the in-shore waters, Dolphins are very common and will come close for a good look. Finally, in both In-Shore saltwater and freshwater rivers it is very common to come upon Manatees. Quite docile in their mannerisms, if startled they can move quite quickly for a short distance. With over 3200 individual animals, the Florida manatee population is counted each year and continues to grow.
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