Since moving to Florida in 2013, I could count on one hand the number of times I fished freshwater in the “Sunshine State” before learning about the waters holding trophy fish, just a little further inshore from where I live. I was doing some research to see what freshwater action there was around me, and that’s when it happened… that’s when I discovered Polk County. I had not idea what I just discovered!
For years, I have heard Florida referred to as, “The Fishing Capital of the World” and with all the saltwater fishing I do, I totally understand why. According to the 2014-15 Fishing License Revenue Data, Florida brings in over 10 million dollars of revenue from the sale of freshwater fishing licenses. That is just FRESHWATER! It doesn’t include the additional 32 million dollars spent on the sale of saltwater fishing licenses. With just over 573K freshwater licenses sold, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) estimates that 74,000 people fish the waters of Polk County every year. That is a staggering number and one that points to Polk County truly being a fishing destination. One contributing factor to that number is the 554 natural freshwater fishing lakes.
So after taking in all this new information, I had to see for myself what Polk County had to offer. One of the key finds for me was the Mosaic Fish Management Area. After years of mining phosphate in central Florida, Mosaic has partnered with FWC to help reclaim land and water resources offering great fishing to the public. Their numerous lakes are managed with very impressive catch rates. However, to gain access to these waters is not about just driving up and casting a line.
To enter the Mosaic Fish Management Area, you must first go to the Check Station and check-in. (These waters are only available to the public, Friday through Monday from 6 am to 2 pm.) You must register and give the custodian your fishing license in exchange for a Daily Fishing Permit that will allow you on-site. It is important to note, these lakes have a quota of daily fishing permits allowed and issued on a 1st come 1st served basis, which are specific to the lake you are requesting to fish. Should you decide to change locations, you must return to the Check Station for a new permit.
After learning about this fishing hot spot, I grabbed my gear and was off. With the abundance of plant life in the water I was prepared to sling some frogs across the lily pads along the edges from my kayak, along with some other weedless lures. On this day, I was using a new 13Fishing 7’ 3” Omen Black Casting Rod with a new 13Fishing Concept A baitcaster, spooled with 40lb. braided line. I went with the heavy line due to the vegetation and possibility of a monster bass. Once on site I was greeted at the Check Station and proceeded to get my permit. With only four days of fishing available, I suggest you get there early to ensure you get a permit and on the water for the bite at first light.
As I made my way to the lake, I couldn’t help but notice all the other bodies of water and land that was set aside by Mosaic for wildlife that is off-limits to people. Mosaic has taken a strong stance on its conservation efforts and the future of the Mosaic FMA is dependent on anglers making sure they only fish the designated areas.
As soon as I launched, I started marking fish on my Lowrance. The bottom was stacked with fish and I decided to go with a chartreuse spinner bait. It worked like a charm and I was hooked up to a 15″ Bass. It put up a good fight, but was no match for this 13Fishing setup as it “tail danced” across the surface of the water. I should mention this reel has an 8.1:1 ratio, hauling in 32” of line with each crank and 22lbs. of drag. As this was my first time fishing this setup, I was impressed to say the least. The reel matched the performance of the rod perfectly. At 7’ 3” it was a perfect length for guiding the fish around the front of my kayak while staying seated.
As I moved around the lake and watching the screen on my fish finder, it was obvious the FMA had worked hard to provide the fish a great habitat. While my focus was on Large Mouth Bass, I saw plenty of other species and bait as well. Going back and fishing in the winter months is definitely on my list, as the Crappie action in these lakes is reported to be phenomenal as well.
Whether looking to change things up from your saltwater fishing adventures or just find some new freshwater locations, Polk County has a lot to offer. Check out the links to the locations and products mentioned above:
Two Days in Naples
I’ve just returned from Naples, Florida during a weather period featuring the year’s first cold front in addition to some very challenging intermittent rain and thunderstorms. But the two pillars of the journey -The Lemon Tree Inn and my guide Captain Will Geraghty provided a solid experience in both lodgings and fishing. I shall certainly return for another delightful adventure. Have a look !
Lemon Tree Inn
250 9th Street South
Naples, Florida 34102
Web Site- www.lemontreeinn.com
Captain Will Geraghty/ Grand Slam Light Tackle Sport Fishing
550 Port O Call Way
Naples, Florida 34102
Web Site- www.naplessportfishing.com
A Morning in Flamingo, Florida with Captain Benny Blanco
This last Friday I fished with J.P. Broche on a writers outing under the guidance of Captain Benny Blanco on his Hells Bay Professional. Though there were tons of floating grass, we released four tarpon, two tripletail, two snook and two redfish. We lost count of the tarpon we jumped. Benny really put us on the fish ! Here’s a quick photo recap.
Captain Benny Blanco
Fishing in Florida during the summer months can be rewarding, but it is also extremely HOT. I’ve tried several different ways to beat the heat while fishing from my kayak, but nothing has really worked. Recently, I came across this product made by Sport-Brella. It is an umbrella with a universal clamp and multiple swivel points. For me, the clamp easily attaches the umbrella to the Hobie seat and stays completely out of the way when your casting. This is also going to be useful for videographers and photographers alike, providing shade to allow for easier viewing of display screens while out filming on the water. The best part about the Versa-Brella, is the price. It can be found on Amazon for less than $20.
Click this link for specific product info and current pricing: versa-brella
Adventures Out of the Island Inn Sanibel
While I’ve traveled the better part of the globe in pursuit of piscatorial pleasures, Sanibel Island on Florida’s West Coast has drawn me back decade after decade. My first criterion for angling travel is excellent fishing and Sanibel satisfies that need with some of the best snook fishing in the world. There are also abundant populations of redfish and seatrout year-round plus seasonal tarpon, kingfish, mackerel, and false albacore migrations. Whether in the Sanibel backcountry or the Gulf of Mexico, there is always something ready to pounce on your fly, lure, or bait.
The precious comparative rarity that Sanibel offers is superb fishing along its beaches. If your destination has the Gulf as a backyard- as does the Island Inn- all you need to do is walk from your room across the sand dunes and start casting at the water’s edge.
I have used the Island Inn for years. Its wonderful rooms, amenities, and restaurant sit on a very snookish stretch of shell-blessed beach.
And from late spring until late summer when the gulf is at its calmest, you can expect to see and present a fly or lure to snook after snook crossing right at the water’s edge. This fishing is especially excellent on the incoming tide up through high slack. You can also catch mackerel, seatrout, pompano, redfish and even tarpon right from the beach. There’s a great deal to do all around you when you beach fish. You can gather some fine shells, sit down and have a picnic on blanket and sand, take some pictures, or shed some gear and go for a swim.
My fishing format when I stay at Island Inn includes sightfishing and blind casting the beaches and also fishing with a guide in the abundant backcountry. The guide I use most often is Captain Mike Smith (239-573-FISH). I start my day of beach fishing at dawn by casting to minnow “sprays” and/or diving birds since the sun is not high enough to sight fish. After a couple hours, I’ll enjoy a delicious complementary breakfast at the Inn’s Traditions restaurant. After the repast, I’ll either return to the beach for actual sight fishing with a better-positioned sun or I’ll meet Mike at the Punta Rassa boat ramp. My arrival this time was preceded by a week of southerly winds, leaving a roiled and muddy Gulf. Sight casting for snook would be impossible for the next two days I had allotted for fishing. Although I could have used rattling plugs with applied attractant and probably caught snook, I turned my attention to writing projects and fishing the flats with Mike.
Trips that become stories are most satisfying when they ooze success. We’d be fishing windy conditions and I wanted pictures, so I was quite willing to use the most successful methods- which in this region is “whitebait” (A.K.A. live scaled sardines). The heat of June is not an easy time to get loads of properly sized whitebaits, but Mike had netted a sufficient number of them.
This day was pleasantly more challenging for me since we did not use “chummers”, but instead relied on my spot casting an individual bait –like a lure- to shadowy pockets alongside and under the mangroves. In the five hours that we fished, I released around forty snook to six pounds, lost just as many, and had plenty of missed strikes. In addition, we hooked and released three nice redfish.
Midday thunderstorms started forming. We could see the sheets of rain falling out of the clouds flat, blackened “bellies”. The first flash of lighting touched the water a few miles away, telling us it was time to go. On the way back to the boat ramp, I reflected on the astonishingly large biomass of young snook in the area.
On the second day of fishing, Island Inn’s General Manager Chris Davison joined us. Once we came aboard, Mike pointed his Lake and Bay towards the deep reaches of Pine Island Sound. During the run of about forty minutes, Mike mentioned he wanted for us to have a change of pace.
Today, Mike had loads of whitebait but they were somewhat small. We were able to make good casts with Mike’s Temple Fork Outfitters rods and Daiwa spinning reels filled with light braid. Chris was the first to bend a rod with a nice redfish. The skies above were clear and the sun beamed loads of heat into the morning water. The effect of this was that we’d have to try multiple spots as the fish were not bunched up like on colder days with low water. Chris caught a few more snook while I caught a large redfish, a flounder and two small snook.
We were able to get the photos I needed so we called it a day. Of equal importance was the afternoon of fun I had planned at the Inn.
Island Inn Sanibel
3111 West Gulf Drive, Sanibel, Florida 33957
Captain Mike Smith- Mangrove Island Charters
Flats Retro in Black and White
Here’s some images of shallow water marine fishing in the “simplicity” of black and white. The anglers, captains, lodges, and destinations are diverse: Captains Ricky Sawyer (Abaco, Bahamas), Jason Sullivan (Flamingo, Florida), Benny Blanco (Flamingo), Ralph Allen (Punta Gorda, Florida), Bob Branham (Biscayne Bay, Florida), Carl Ball (Biscayne Bay), Kyle Messier(Crystal River, Florida), Greg Dini (Hopedale, La.), Emir Marin (Ambergris Caye, Belize), Matt Hoover (Goodland, Florida), and Rob Munoz (Biscayne Bay). My friend Alan Williams is in the shot with Jason and the snook. The lodges and outfitters involved in some of these images are Cajun Fishing Adventures (Buras, La.), El Pescador Lodge (Ambergris Caye, Belize) and KingFisher Fleet (Punta Gorda).
In Praise of Permit
Here are some images of the permit I’ve pursued, caught, and released in Florida, Mexico/Yucatan, Belize, Roatan, and Little Cayman Island. In my opinion, they are the planet’s cagiest flats fish when pursued on jigs and flies. Catching them on an artificial is something to be proud of. One of the highlights of my angling career is the release of nine- yes, nine !- permit in one day out of Belize River Lodge. This was documented by Guide Raul Navarette and Mike Heusner, who gave me the magic lure- a white 1/4 ounce Popeye skimmer jig. In balance, these were young eager, fiercely competitive fish in three schools of approximately one hundred fish. The other permit I am most proud of was the (now-EX) World record permit of 23 pounds 15 ounces on 4-pound test.
Fishing for Spotted Seatrout: From the Carolinas to Texas
Jan S. Maizler
Details: 128 pages 5.5 x 8.5
ISBN 13: 978-0-8130-6006-4
Please note that while you may order this book at any time, it will not be available for shipment until approximately one month before publication date
“Despite having fished seatrout for years, I hadn’t any idea how much I didn’t know until I read Maizler’s definitive new work on the species.”–Doug Olander, editor in chief, Sport Fishing Magazine
“Maizler’s name has been inexorably linked to seatrout for decades. This book is an overdue, welcome, and essential addition to our angling literature. Kudos to the master!”–Glenn Law, executive editor, Salt Water Sportsman Magazine
“From seatrout habits to state-by-state seatrout fishing techniques, Maizler covers everything one needs to know with regard to becoming a successful angler for this popular species.”–Tommy L. Thompson, author of The Saltwater Angler’s Guide to Tampa Bay and Southwest Florida
Known as “everyman’s fish,” the spotted seatrout is one of the top ten species for recreational fishing in the United States.
In Fishing for Spotted Seatrout, Jan Maizler, a world-renowned light tackle expert, shares more than 30 years’ experience and innovative tactics for catching this popular fish in its range from the Carolinas to Texas. For beginners, he offers an overview of the unique characteristics and habits of the spotted seatrout. For more seasoned fishermen, he presents an in-depth analysis of the different tackle, baits, techniques, and tidal conditions for achieving the best catches. A chapter on weather and season will help ensure angling success, regardless of conditions the calendar brings.
Maizler discusses chumming–a technique widely applied in other fisheries but mostly unknown for seatrout–and recommends the paddleboard, the newest vessel for hunting the spotted king. He also explores region-specific practices like wading, prevalent in Texas, and trolling live shrimp, common in Biloxi Marsh, and argues that their use can and should extend beyond these regions. Moreover, he demonstrates how to apply these new techniques on your next fishing expedition.
Covering every aspect of angling for this magnificent gamefish, Maizler’s comprehensive guide belongs on your bookshelf and in your tackle bag.
Jan Maizler, former International Game Fish Association world-record holder, is the author of nine books, including Fishing Florida’s Flats.
Other JAN MAIZLER Books
Fishing Florida’s Flats: A Guide to Bonefish, Tarpon, Permit, and Much More
An Image Roundup of Recent Story Trips
Jan S. Maizler
Here are some images of trips that took place through the late Winter into early Spring and stretched from Florida’s Space Coast to the Keys.
Some of the guides involved were Justin Price, Butch Moser, Butch Constable, Hai Truong, Gus Montoya, Rob Munoz, David Accursio and Martin Carranza. Thanks to all !
Punta Gorda, Florida Winter Fishery
Though our first angling day was besotted by frontal winds and rain this past Friday, Saturday dawned calm, clear, and with a bit of fog. Thanks to Captain Ralph Allen of King Fisher Fleet for some great guiding. As always, Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands, Florida came through for our efforts with superb support. Here’s a few images of our adventure.