Boating Life

Top 8 Fishing Lakes in Florida

September 30, 2022
Ingman Marine
September 30, 2022
Ingman Marine

As residents of the beautiful Sunshine State, we know how lucky we are to be within a few hours’ distance of some of the most amazing natural water bodies in the country. Between our local residents, the FWC, and other environmental organizations, our lakes are thriving, luscious and plentiful – full of various plant and marine species.

There are hundreds of publicly accessible freshwater fisheries to choose from, but we will cover those that have a history of success, a reputation for producing high-quality fish species, accessibility, and popularity. We will also provide information directly from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and references to their TrophyCatch program (a citizen-science program that rewards anglers for documenting and releasing trophy bass 8 pounds or larger).

Lake Tarpon

Lake Tarpon is located approximately 10 miles west of Tampa, spanning 2,543-acres between the cities of Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs in Pinellas County. It is the largest freshwater lake in the county and is characterized as one of the top 10 bass lakes by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) biologists. The FWC has also designated this lake as a Fish Management Area, so make sure you have your permits and understand the regulations. There are public boat ramps and fishing piers at the parks surrounding Lake Tarpon, which are located off U.S. 19 and County Road 611 (East Lake Road).

Anglers know this gem as an ultimate largemouth bass haven. Lake Tarpon has played host to bass tournaments for over 40 years! Electrofishing survey conducted in recent years show an abundance of bass ranging in size from 14-20 inches. There are currently 12 TrophyTracker submissions for Lunker Club (8 – 9.9 pounds) and only 1 for Trophy Club (10 – 12.9 pounds). Largemouth bass are often found along the shoreline amongst bulrush (buggy whips), tape grass and cattails and can be targeted with live, wild shiners when drifted. In the summer, they can be found chasing shad throughout the lake near underwater vegetation. When in these deeper waters, consider slow rolling spinnerbait or using a Texas-rigged plastic worm.

Other popular species found in Lake Tarpon include redear sunfish (shellcracker), bluegill and black crappie. Fish for shellcracker along the bottom of shell bars using red wigglers or crickets below a slip bobber. For black crappie, don’t expect to find many as the waters warm up. In the cooler months, drifting or trolling in open water or over grass beds using Missouri minnows, small jigs and spinners.

This lake also has a reputation as an alligator hotspot, so please fish with caution.

Lake Seminole

Lake Seminole, named for the Seminole Native Americans that inhabited the area for many years, is situated northwest of Tallahassee, spanning 37,500 acres between Florida and Georgia, where the Chattahoochee, Flint and Apalachicola rivers converge. It is a man-made reservoir that was formed when the Jim Woodruff dam was built and hides the long-abandoned Fort Scott within its depths.

Because this lake is used for recreation, navigation, and the production of hydroelectricity, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has taken the responsibility for maintaining the lake and its facilities. Apart from this, the Florida, Georgia and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services are in charge of stocking the lake once a year with striped bass and sunshine bass (sunshine bass are a hybrid of striped bass and white bass).

The lake’s average depth is only 10 feet, but with its thick and diverse vegetation, it provides the perfect home for many species of fish, waterfowl, reptiles, and birds. It is teeming with largemouth bass, striped bass, sunshine bass, redear sunfish, chain pickerel, catfish, black crappie, and bluegill.

If you’re looking to snag some striped or sunshine bass, your best bet is to plan your trip between November and May, as these species work their way into cooler waters in the warmer months. During these winter months, head toward the lower lake (near the dam) and use trolling plugs or casting spoons to target these species while they school on skipjack herring and shad. You can also find stripers migrating up the rivers around early April during spawning.

Largemouth bass will be prevalent from January through April and are easily seduced by crankbaits, plastic worms, topwater lures and spinnerbaits. During these cooler months, you’ll want to scour ledges around the main lake and check the sandy substrates around early spring, which is when they spawn. Between spring and summer, you’re likely to catch more redear sunfish and bluegill spawning in the shallows. Make use of crickets and small worms for these species.

If you do find yourself on the lake in the summer, largemouth bass and panfish will be out in deeper waters; if you’re out really early or late, however, try searching the flats. In the deeper areas, try fishing vertically along the channel using worms, spoons or jigs but working the lure up and down along the edge near thick vegetation. You can also try fly fishing for bream under the full moon using glow bugs.

As for catfish, you can basically find them anywhere, anytime, using artificial worms or stink baits. Flathead and blue catfish tend to inhabit the deeper, flowing sections near and in the Chattahoochee, or downstream from bends behind large snags. These species prefer sunfish, but live sunfish can only be used as bait if caught using hook and line.

Although Georgia is home to about 80% of the lake, Florida fishing licenses are accepted in designated areas. Per Rule 68A-23.0131 – Special Regulations for Waters Bordering Georgia and Alabama: Lake Seminole:

“Any person having in his possession a valid and appropriate sport fishing license issued by the State of Georgia or the State of Florida, or persons exempt from such licensure, may take fish by hook and line or rod and reel in the following described waters of Lake Seminole:

Bounded on the west by Florida State Road No. 271 (River Road), on the south by the Jim Woodruff Dam, on the east by a line immediately east of the Chattahoochee Marina, also known as the Booster Club, running northwest across the lake to the tip of land at the junction of the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers, west of Spring Creek; and on the north by the Herman Talmadge Bridge across the Chattahoochee River (Hwy 2).”

The daily bag limits for these designated sections of Lake Seminole are as follows:

  • Black bass – 10 (all of which must be 12 inches or greater in total length)
  • Striped bass, striped bass-white bass hybrid and white bass in the aggregate – 15 (only 2 of which may be 22 inches or greater in total length)
  • Bream – bluegill, redbreast, and all other species of bream – 50
  • Crappie – 30
  • Pickerel – chain, grass and redfin – 15

Lake Seminole has several boat ramps and fishing lodges to take advantage of. Many of the ramps access both Lake Seminole and the Chattahoochee River and can be found using the Florida Boat Ramp finder or Georgia Outdoor Map.

Lake Talquin

Lake Talquin is a reservoir located just west of Tallahassee, on the Ochlockonee River, that spans 8,800 acres between Gadsen and Leon counties. The average depth of this lake is 15 feet, with some parts reaching a depth of 40 feet. The Leon County side of the lake has 5 piers and 7 boat ramps, the Gadsen side has 3 ramps and 2 piers, and there are 6 fish camps in total around the lake.

It is known all over the country for its record-breaking black crappie. TrophyCatch has 68 Lunker Club and 24 Trophy Club submissions on record for fish caught in Lake Talquin, many of which are black crappie. The best time to target one of these high-quality fish is between the months of January and April – the black crappie prespawn and spawning season. When fishing outside of this timeframe, trolling in deep channels could prove fruitful. Black crappie measuring less than 10 inches in length must be promptly released.

This large body of water is also home to many panfish, pickerel, bluegill, catfish, redear sunfish, gar, bass, bowfin and other species of crappie. Using dark-colored Carolina-rigged worms or deep-diving crankbaits in deep channels should produce pleasing results, as should targeting bluegill or redear sunfish near docks and shoreline structure with crickets or worms. When targeting any of these fish, be sure to brush up on state regulations.

To celebrate the TropyCatch program’s 10th season, FWC biologists have tagged and released 10 largemouth bass with bright pink tags in 10 different locations throughout Florida. Any angler that catches one of these special bass could receive thousands of dollars in prizes. Lake Talquin is one of these lucky locations!! Get out there and snag the bright pink tag!

Lake Tohopekaliga (A.K.A Lake Toho)

Lake Tohopekaliga, affectionately known as Lake Toho, is located in Central Florida’s Osceola County, just southeast of Kissimmee. It is part of the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes Area (KCOLA) and spans 18,810 acres. Vegetation is plentiful, creating the perfect habitat for Lake Toho’s incredible bass population, among many other species such as bluegill, redear sunfish and black crappie. The quantity and quality of the largemouth bass in this lake, though, are what bring people from all over to participate in the many tournaments hosted there. To date, TrophyCatch has 434 submitted Lunker Clubs and 78 Trophy Clubs.

In 2017, the FWC installed 50 new artificial fish attractor units using synthetic brush, aimed at providing more durable and effective structure for the purpose of attracting more fish. You can find the location of these sites using the FWC’s Interactive Fish Attractor Map. If you’re looking for particular places to post up, locals recommend Lanier Point, Goblets Cove, Little Grassy Island, South Steer Beach and Browns Point, especially for bass and panfish scouting.

When targeting large bass, working golden shiners along edges or hydrilla holes provides an advantage. Other ideal baits include craws, beavers, frog, Texas-rigged worms, swim jibs and spinnerbait. After heavy, summer afternoon rains, any area with moving water like canal and tributary currents are sure to be plentiful. Locals recommend Partin’s Ditch, Shingle Creek and St. Cloud Canal. For panfish, you might consider beetle spins and small tube jigs.

Lake Kissimmee

Lake Kissimmee is located approximately 40 miles south of Orlando, 18 miles east of Lake Wales, and is the southernmost lake in the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, spanning 34,948-acres. Apart from its size, Lake Kissimmee is known for its population of behemoth largemouth bass. The rich, diverse environment of lily pads, bulrush, hydrilla beds, zooplankton, insects, and other small fish make for a bass paradise.

Anglers should consider checking out areas like Lemon and Philadelphia Points, Brahma and Grassy Islands, North Cove and the Pig Trail for bass, panfish, sunfish and crappie. Popular baits include crickets, noisy buzz bait fitted with a trailer hook, spinnerbaits, frogs, flukes, red wigglers, vibrating jigs, plastic worms, poppers, senkos and crankbaits, and of course you can always count on pitching beaver style baits or plastic crawfish into vegetation.

Given it’s size and incredible bass population, the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes is the only lake/chain to hold the distinction of hosting the Bassmaster Classic tournament. It currently holds 409 TrophyCatch Lunker Club submissions, 87 Trophy Clubs and 1 Hall of Famer.

Harris Chain of Lakes

Another splendid chain of lakes, known as the Harris Chain of Lakes, spans over 75,000 acres throughout both Lake and Orange Counties, near the Orlando area. It offers over 30 publicly accessible boat ramps and plenty of fishing piers. Each of the primary 8 lakes – Apopka, Harris, Griffin, Eustis, Dora, Carlton, Beauclair and Yale – provide outstanding freshwater fishing opportunities and are home to some of the largest bass tournaments.

The lakes have, in the not-so-distant past, been restored and restocked, leading to the surprising amount of trophy bass. The FWC has recently added several fish attractors to Harris, Griffin and Dora lakes, and refurbished many attractors on Lake Apopka. These attractor sites are often teeming with fish in the summer months. There is also a fishing pier on Lake Harris that has been outfitted with underwater lights by the FWC in partnership with the Lake County Water Authority (LCWA). This is the first time that a public fishing pier has had underwater lights installed in Florida, allowing for better nighttime fishing experiences.

The FWC also monitors underwater vegetation to maintain healthy water conditions and fish populations. In addition to largemouth bass, these lakes have thriving black crappie, bluegill, redear sunfish and channel catfish populations; and, as part of the restocking, FWC added plenty of sunshine bass. Apart from these popular species, there are up to 30 different species to be found throughout these lakes.

When fishing during the summer, early morning and late evening are good times to use topwater baits to target largemouth bass, especially in clearer waters near underwater plants or structure. If you’re nearshore, trying using a weightless worm or fluke or a flipping stick. No matter the season, soft plastics are great to use near pockets or edges of vegetation. When offshore, use your equipment to scope out sections of vegetation and employ crankbaits or soft plastics.

If you’re searching for bream, many locals recommend going out near a full moon and target them near vegetation with crickets, worms, grass shrimp and artificial lures. Take advantage of the clear waters of the Harris Chain canal system.

In fact, there is a 15-foot manmade ditch from past clay mining projects that has attracted many bass. Anglers like to troll or cast deep diving crankbaits in this area.

To celebrate the TropyCatch program’s 10th season, FWC biologists have tagged and released 10 largemouth bass with bright pink tags in 10 different locations throughout Florida. Any angler that catches one of these special bass could receive thousands of dollars in prizes. Lake Griffin was one of the lucky locations, but the pink tag has been snagged already

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Lake Istokpoga

Lake Istokpoga is located approximately one hour northwest of Lake Okeechobee and five miles northeast of Lake Placid. Spanning 27,692 acres throughout Highlands County, it is Florida’s fifth largest natural lake and has a reputation for producing some of the largest bass all year round. A major restoration project in the early 2000s has been a major contributor to the overwhelming bass population in recent years.

This lake is special for a few reasons. Its name loosely translates to “people have died here”, referring to the ancestors of the Seminoles in the area that passed away on the lake, mainly from harsh weather conditions that make the lake hard to travel. Additionally, Istokpoga is almost something of a hidden gem, because it has all the vegetation, structure and species that other more popular lakes, but a lot less visitors.

The restoration project mentioned above included a water extraction that allowed the FWC to remove over 1,300 acres of muck and help native aquatic plants thrive. It is not a deep lake, averaging at about 6 feet deep, but it is stocked with cattails, pepper grass, spatterdock, hydrilla, Kissimmee grass and eel grass. This provides the versatility needed to host quality bass, bluegill (bream), redear sunfish (shellcrackers) and black crappie (speck).

When targeting bluegill and sunfish, near Kissimmee grass, cattails and bulrush are good places to start. Try using crickets and grass shrimp under a cork for bluegill and red wigglers on or near the bottom for sunfish. Black crappie fishing slows down during the summer, so the best time to snag this species is during the winter but drifting live Missouri minnows or grass shrimp in open water.

As for largemouth bass, you can find them all throughout the lake, but the Istokpoga Canal, located off County Highway 621, along with Arbuckle and Josephine Creek mouths are great areas to search. They are plentiful all year long, with March and October being perfectly temperate months during which bass are in prime locations. The months from January to April are good for finding spawning bass throughout the vegetation. If summer is your only option, slow working baits like crawfish style or plastic worms in various dark hues may prove productive. Patience will be key in the summer. At the hottest point of the day, flipping vegetation will help you find those bass hiding in the shade. You can also never go wrong with working jerkbaits and topwaters around the edges of aquatic plants or using a live shiner fished under a popping cork.

Lake Istokpoga has public boats ramps located off of U.S. Route 98, on Highland Lake Drive off County Route 621 and on Lake Boulevard off Cow House Road. It also features six fish camps.

To celebrate the TropyCatch program’s 10th season, FWC biologists have tagged and released 10 largemouth bass with bright pink tags in 10 different locations throughout Florida. Any angler that catches one of these special bass could receive thousands of dollars in prizes. Lake Istokpoga is one of these lucky locations, so head out now and get that pink tag! To date, Lake Istokpoga has the following TrophyCatch submissions: 495 Lunker Club, 95 Trophy Club and 2 Hall of Famers.

Lake Okeechobee

Last, but certainly not least, is possibly the most popular lake in the state and one of the most well-known across the country: Lake Okeechobee – the “Big O”. It is the eighth largest natural freshwater lake in the U.S. and the largest across the south, spanning 730 square miles. True to its name, Okeechobee translates to “big water”; however, it is a surprisingly shallow lake, reaching an average depth of only 9 feet.

It has a unique ecosystem that serves many purposes, acting as a reservoir for potable and irrigation water for much of South Florida, supporting sport and commercial fisheries and providing flood control. The ecosystem also lends to thriving, high-quality largemouth bass and black crappie populations. The communities of aquatic plants such as cattails, bulrush, hyacinth, peppergrass, Kissimmee grass, hydrilla, lily pads and eelgrass, provide shelter, habitat and nutrients for many fish, and invertebrate species. In addition to bass and black crappie, as with many Florida lakes, you are going to find redear sunfish and bluegill.

Anglers find the most success using live shiners, jigs with craw trailers and pitching Texas-rigged plastics for bass fishing. If you’re tracking bass following offshore bait schools in the summer, lipless crankbaits, spinnerbaits and Texas-rigged worms work well. The shallow water of the Big O makes it easy to find bass along the bottom, so topwater plugs are also effective. Early mornings are ideal since bass tend to seek deeper waters as the day heats up.

For speck fishing, the cooler months are ideal or early mornings if you are out during the summer. The secret is to move frequently until you find a school, suspending minnows at various depths. For bream and shellcracker, search for beds in open, sandy-rocky bottoms, especially around areas with submersed plants. Make use of crickets, live worms, grass shrimp beetle-spins. Don’t forget to submit your catch to TrophyCatch. There are currently 415 Lunker Clubs and 65 Trophy Clubs.

We would be remiss not to mention some of the adversity that has befallen Lake Okeechobee in recent years. Hurricanes in the early 2000s caused storm surges and high winds that wreaked havoc on the aquatic plant communities. Furthermore, FWC biologists report, “During the past 30 years, rising nutrient levels and periodic increases in the lake stage regulatory schedules have decreased habitat quality and pushed the system nearer a hyper-eutrophic and ecologically undesirable state. High water levels are maintained from October through March (dry season), while low water levels are maintained from June through August.” Luckily, succeeding droughts helped new vegetation grow and thrive, bringing new insect and fish species along.

Because Lake Okeechobee is still not back up to par with its glory days, fishery resources require allocation between commercial and recreational activities, vegetation is being monitored and managed and water quality and supply is being regulated.

Regulations put in place for fish species include:

  • Largemouth bass bag limit – 5
  • Largemouth bass length limit – only 1 may be 16 inches or longer; no minimum length limit
  • Black crappie (speck) bag limit – 25
  • Black crappie length limit – under 10 inches must be released

Despite all it has been through, this incredible water body in on track to see increases in fish sizes and population, as well as further thriving vegetation.

We hope we have covered your favorite Florida lake or the lakes that are at the top of your bucket list. Now, get out there and snag yourself a record-breaking bass.

Tight Lines!

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