Anytime is a good time to fish. This summer, in this time of social distancing, fishing is a fun family activity that will get you out of the house and help entertain the kids. Here is a quick look at places to go statewide:
1. South Florida Canals
Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties are crisscrossed with brackish and freshwater canals that are home to both native and introduced fish species. Bank fishing is plentiful, and fish are easy to catch on worms or other live bait.
A morning’s trip can produce mixed catches of native bluegill, redear sunfish, redbreast sunfish and occasional bass, and exotic species such as Mayan Cichlid, Oscar, Jaguar Guapote, Midas Cichlid and even a Peacock bass now and then.
You can identify many exotics on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) website.
2. Urban Ponds & Fish Management Areas
Start talking about urban ponds, and you are talking fishing that almost anyone in Florida can reach in a short time. The point of the Urban Pond Program, which developed Fish Management Areas (FMAs) statewide, was to allow anglers in the cities to have easily accessible fishing opportunities.
Many of them are in outlying parks and other green spaces, making them accessible to all residents of the state. All of these ponds have good access and are excellent places for families with young children to fish, but also have bass and other “adult” species.
Many FMAs have fish attractors close to the shoreline to make good fishing even better.
Piney Z Lake is a 193-acre lake within the city limits of Tallahassee; it is one arm of Lake Lafayette. Piney Z Lake is laid out for bank access, with more than three miles of shoreline and several “fishing fingers” for anglers.
In Jacksonville, the seven ponds of the Bethesda Fish Management Area are in the Northside Recreation Complex of Florida Junior College. This FMA covers five acres and has good bank access. More than two dozen fish attractors are scattered along the banks and in the center of the lakes.
Fish Orlando comprises more the 60,000 acres of freshwater for fishing. The Fab Five are five water bodies managed by the FWC for quality size fish and a unique fishing experience.
The Urban Ponds program includes four water bodies managed for beginning anglers and anglers who want to keep and eat their catch. Fish Orlando also oversees several other water bodies in the greater Orlando area that are not part of the Fab Five or the Urban Ponds program.
Not all Fish Management Areas are in urban areas. Tucked away in the Panhandle is a series of hidden gems that contain bass and other species of fish. Like the urban ponds, these ponds offer good access and family-friendly fishing. Many other small FMAs are found throughout the state in urban areas such as Tampa, and in more rural settings as well. Before planning your trip, read up on regulations for FMAs.
Bank anglers often overlook saltwater fishing. With Florida’s coastline easily accessible from anywhere in the state, saltwater fishing is too good to miss. Many Florida piers are open at night, providing anglers with some relief from the heat of the day.
Two of the best saltwater piers in the state are the Sunshine Skyway fishing piers, often called the “world’s longest fishing piers.” These piers – now the Skyway Fishing Pier State Park – are all that remain of the original Sunshine Skyway bridge, the middle of which fell into Tampa Bay when the Summit Venture hit it more than 30 years ago.
What is left of the original spans have been turned into great fishing piers that reach out into deep water and are complete with bait houses and other amenities open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
In the Panhandle, check out the Pensacola Beach fishing pier, which is open 24/7. It reaches out into the Gulf of Mexico past two sand bars, which means water of many different depths to fish. The Pensacola Beach fishing pier has a restaurant, gift shop and tackle shop.
On the east coast, the Jacksonville Beach pier is 1,320 feet long, so it reaches well out into deep water. It is handicapped accessible and has several fish cleaning stations, a concession area, a bait shop and restrooms.
Many of the fish you will catch in Florida waters make good table fare; most of the South Florida exotics are considered delicacies in their home countries.
If you are going to keep your catch and eat it, pay attention to consumption guidelines developed by the Florida Department of Health and the FWC. A general statewide advisory is on page 28 of the state freshwater fishing regulation.
Guidelines for specific areas are available here. Go fishing and have fun!