Florida is a very popular vacation destination for visitors from all over the world who come for the year-round sunshine, the theme parks, and the fabulous beaches.
Bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico and the east by the Atlantic Ocean, Florida is also extremely popular with anglers. Whether you enjoy fly–fishing for freshwater species, beach fishing, pier fishing, or heading out to deep water in search of ocean-dwelling giants, Florida has it all.
Florida has two official State fish; the Florida largemouth bass (freshwater) and the Atlantic sailfish (saltwater).
Florida has many great shore fishing spots, which can be perfect locations for family days out. As well as fishing, diving, snorkeling, and surfing can all provide entertainment for your kids. And when you’re tired of all that, you might want to just catch a few rays while beachcombing with the whole family.
Nonresidents who are 16 years of age or above must hold a valid Florida freshwater or saltwater fishing license and permit, as applicable.
You must have a valid saltwater fishing license to legally cast your line or catch-and-release. You also need a license to take or attempt to take any marine organism, including fish, lobsters, clams, crabs, and marine plants. Note that snook and spiny lobster permits, and tarpon tags are also required if you want to fish these species.
More information on the permit and licensing system for fishing can be found at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website. You can obtain a permit from the FFWCC via this link or from local sporting and hunting retailers.
Top Fishing Locations
Florida’s beautiful public beaches are usually open from sunrise to sunset (make sure to bring a pair of sunglasses) and have convenient metered parking. Many have picnic areas, tidal pools, and barrier islands to fish, as well as the open water surf. If you have a boat, you can reach outlying beach areas and mangrove islands too.
Most public beaches in Florida allow fishing, but some don’t. Always check for fishing signs, which will be posted at the beach entrance. You should also know that State and County-run beaches do insist on a fishing license for shore fishing.
If you’re considering taking a family vacation in Florida and you want to take full advantage of the many and varied fishing opportunities that the State has to offer, check out our 10 favorite fishing destinations.
1. Blackwater River
Blackwater River is located in Florida’s panhandle. The 58-mile long waterway emerges in the Conecuh National Forest in Southern Alabama, entering Florida in Okaloosa County. The Blackwater flows on through Santa Rosa County to Blackwater Bay.
The Blackwater has white beaches and a sandy bottom with large sandbars in stark contrast to the tannic water from which the Blackwater gets its name. There are three public boat ramps at Blackwater River State Park (off Deaton Bridge Road), on Bryant Bridge (three miles west of Holt), and north of Bryant Bridge in the Blackwater River State Forest.
The main drawback to fishing this spot is that it can become very busy during the height of canoeing season. However, farther up river you’ll find quieter spots and other landings that are suitable for light johnboats and canoes.
Fish species that are common in these waters include:
- Striped bass
- Largemouth bass
- Spotted bass
- Redear sunfish
- Sunshine bass
- Channel catfish
- Spotted sea trout
Use spinnerbaits and plastic worms for stripers and largemouth bass, and look for bluegill and largemouth near the tidal section of the River. The lower part of the Blackwater is where you’ll find spotted sea trout and redear sunfish. Target these species with live bait and the right fishing equipment during the winter months for best results.
There are plenty of year-round camping opportunities nearby in a beautiful forest setting.
2. Dog Island Reef
The white sandy beaches of Dog Island Reef draw many vacationers and anglers every year. You’ll find the Dog Island Reef in northwest Florida, about four miles on from Dog Island itself in Franklin County.
Species you can expect to encounter in the shallows here include:
Try using live shrimp bait here or a pompano jig to make the most of this sweet spot. If you’re using artificial bait, try Gulp Shrimp in various colors; pink, green, and white work well. Bass Assassins are also effective in the same color patterns, either with a popping cork or straight jigging. Spanish mackerel go for the olive green XRap suspending plug.
Dog Island Reef is also renowned for sharks. If you’re a bold fisherman, you might want to try using cut-bait to go after these abundant fighting fish. Early spring through to the end of summer is the best time to fish here around the fringes of the reef.
3. Apalachicola River
The Apalachicola River (located here) is often referred to as Florida’s “forgotten coast,” and is one of bass fishing’s secret hot spots.
The Apalachicola flows from Lake Seminole, 106-miles south through the Panhandle to the Gulf of Mexico at the town of Apalachicola. It’s Florida’s largest river and has many good fishing areas, the best being the Upper River and Lower River.
Fish species you can find here include:
- Striped bass
- Hybrid bass
- White bass
- Black bass
- Largemouth bass
- Spotted bass
- Shoal bass
- Redear sunfish
- Sunshine bass
- Speckled sea trout
There is good shore access to both the Upper and Lower river, including boat landings.
Smaller stripers and hybrids will continue schooling throughout the summer. However, bass fishing in the Upper River tapers off during the heat of summer as the larger fish seek cooler waters. Head to the deeper waters for more success with bass and panfish. Hotspots on the lower river include St. Marks, Little St. Marks when the outgoing tides and slack tides will yield the best results.
Black or blue-colored lures are best in the tannic waters. In summer, try crankbaits, spoons, and flipping worms. Spring fishing is best with topwater plugs and spinnerbaits. Winter fishing is most productive with crankbaits, plastic worms, and jigs. In the fall, use spinnerbaits and crankbaits.
You’ll find comfortable and well-equipped campgrounds with the Apalachicola National Forest.
4. Lake Tohopekaliga
This idyllic fishing is located close to Orlando boasts around 23,000-acres of sparkling blue water. The Lake is divided into two sections; West Lake Toho and East Lake Toho, forming part of the Kissimmee chain of lakes. Toho is a great spot for family vacations, as you’re within striking distance of Orlando with its theme parks and other entertainments.
Fish species here include trophy-size bass and black crappie. Lake bass take well to golden shiners, spinnerbaits, Texas-rigged plastic worms, and topwater plugs. Black crappie prefer live minnows, but you can use yellow and green spinnerbaits around brush and lily pads to provoke crappie into striking.
If you’re after largemouth bass (not smallies), head to the mouth of Shingle Creek and the shorelines west and east of South Port Park, Goblets Cove, and Lanier Point.
From April to June you’ll find lots of spawning bluegill activity in Lake Tohopekaliga, especially around the new and full moon phases. Focus on areas of the Lake where the bottom is sandy, and there’s lots of vegetation such as Brown’s Point and North Steer Beach, using crickets and red wrigglers or small artificial jigs or beetle spins.
The Lake has several boat ramps, and there’s a popular floating courtesy dock on Lakeshore Boulevard. Pier and bank fishing is also permitted here.
If you don’t fancy staying in Orlando, there are campgrounds and RV parks close by.
5. Disney World
Although Disney World (located here) is undoubtedly one of the most popular attractions in Florida, few people know it for its fishing. In fact, Disney World is something of a bass fisherman’s paradise!
While the rest of the family are enjoying the theme parks and other attractions, check out fishing charters and guides that are available for Seven Seas Lagoon, and Bay Lake where large trophy-size largemouth bass thrive. The best time to visit this location for bass fishing is in February.
It’s also highly recommended that you take advantage of one of the many fishing excursion packages that are on offer. Local knowledge is key to finding the biggest and best fish in the park!
6. Lake Okeechobee
Lake Okeechobee (located here) is probably best known as the premier bass fishing lake in the whole of Florida. Because of this, Florida’s largest lake is often home to some of the biggest bass fishing tournament series in North America, including the Bassmaster Elite and FLW Tour. If you want to catch enormous largemouth bass, this is a must-visit spot!
For hotel accommodation, bait shops, and local fishing guides, check out the many resorts dotted right around the Lake. Boat rental is available if you prefer to go it alone. There are also plenty of campgrounds and RV parks close-by where you can stay.
Fish species you can catch here include:
- Largemouth bass
- Black crappie
- Redear sunfish
Lake Okeechobee is nationally renowned as a largemouth bass and black crappie fishery. The Lake also supports a commercial catfish fishery. Small bream, shiners, and minnows abound here in the dense submerged vegetation.
Look for bass around the Lake edges where the vegetation ends. Bass lurk here, hunting for prey in the shadows. Fishing is best in the early morning around the dense vegetation on the shoreline and in deeper waters as the day gets warmer. Golden shiners, crankbaits, spinner baits, and topwater plugs are best for largemouth bass.
For black crappie, concentrate your efforts near the edges of stands of vegetation, being aware of fast currents during the high-water season in the spring. As summer temperatures rise, fishing will be most productive in the early morning and late in the day. Minnows and jig fishing work best for crappie.
Bluegill and redear are best hunted during the summer months around the sandy-bottom areas in the marshy areas of the Lake. Live worms are most tempting for redear, while grass shrimp, red worms, crickets, and beetle-spins work best for bluegill.
7. Sanibel Island
For a delightful family day out, head to Lighthouse Beach on Sanibel Island (located here) to take in breathtaking panoramic views of Estero Bay and the Gulf of Mexico from the iconic Sanibel lighthouse.
There’s plenty of accommodation on the island for those who want to extend their stay.
Most of the offshore fishing happens in State waters that are within sight of land. Here you can expect to encounter:
- Florida Pompano
- Small grouper
Head out to deeper blue water with a charter, and you can tackle:
- African pompano
- Goliath grouper
- King mackerel
Inshore fishing around the many inlet river mouths, mangrove shorelines, and oyster bars can be profitable fun. Species living here include:
- Sea trout
Tarpon begin their annual migration in mid-April, continuing through into July. To make the best of this bonanza, use a local professional fishing guide to find them.
Experienced fly-fishers can enjoy unsurpassed casting opportunities here all year round. Species you can expect to hook include:
- Spanish mackerel
- Jack Crevalle
If you fancy offshore fishing of your own, check out some of the marinas around the island where watercraft can be rented.
8. Marco Island
Marco Island (located here) boasts the widest, biggest, southern-most beach in the county. This glorious spot is perfect for a day’s fishing with the family. When not enjoying the sport, catch a few rays, admire the panoramic views, and dream of landing a monster shark right from the beach!
Access to this barrier island’s beaches is limited to two points at the south and north ends. There are also several public walkway access points for those who don’t mind a stroll. There’s plenty of hotel accommodation on offer, and lots of bars and restaurants to try when you’re not at the beach.
The crystal clear waters here are a mecca for those who enjoy cast netting and surf fishing, and the sport continues all year round. Species found in the waters off Marco Island’s beaches include:
- Jack Crevalle
Snook, Spanish mackerel, and sea trout can also be caught from the beach, and the occasional shark has been landed too.
9. Mangrove Islands
If you love beach fishing, you must spend some time angling on mangrove island (located here). This is a popular activity for tourists and locals alike. Beach your boat on a mangrove island and fish from the beach or stay on the water, whichever you prefer.
In Collier County, many of these mangrove islands can be found south of the Gordon River, as you travel along the Intracoastal Waterway and enter Rookery Bay and the 10,000 islands. Travel to Fort Myers and check out the islands that surround Sanibel and the Captiva Islands, together with the islets of Pine Island.
Fish species that you can expect to find living in this habitat include snook and mangrove snapper. Snapper are usually found schooling in large shoals. Stick to using small hooks; snapper are wary of bait with a large hook protruding from it. Once you’ve snagged a couple of nice snapper for dinner, go in search of snook in the surf at sunrise and sunset.
Look out for local wildlife, including fiddler crabs, turtles, and bald eagles.
10. Mosquito Lagoon
Mosquito Lagoon is located north of the northern Indian River Lagoon, forming part of the Indian River Lagoon system and the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. The area is an inshore angler’s delight, made up of deep basins, grassy flats, islands, mangrove shorelines, and sandbars, extending for about 20 miles to the south. To the north lies the open water of the lagoon, giving way to a maze of backcountry waterways that extends for 10 miles to the north of New Smyrna Beach and the Ponce de Leon Inlet.
Mosquito Lagoon is the “redfish capital of the world”! The year-round population of redfish and their tremendous size draws anglers here for a unique angling experience. It’s not unusual to find adult redfish in the 30 to 50-inch range here!
There’s also a speckled trout fishery, and black drum are caught seasonally on the flats too. Venture into the backcountry, and you could land tarpon, snook, sheepshead, flounder, Jack Crevalle, ladyfish, and bluefish.
The State of Florida is a fisherman’s paradise!
Take a vacation in this perennially sunny State, and you can enjoy freshwater river and lake fishing, fishing the surf from pristine white sandy beaches, or head out into the deep blue with a professional charter in search of giant grouper, sharks, and tarpon.
Accommodations vary from waterfront cabins and well-equipped campgrounds to swanky hotels in the heart of Orlando.
A vacation in Florida is an absolute must-do for anyone who enjoys their fishing. Period!