Here's just about everything you need to know about that Florida fishing trip you've got planned.
The Sunshine State is truly an angler's paradise. Freshwater or saltwater, from boat or shore, there is a style of fishing for everyone in Florida. It is little wonder so many anglers spend years planning fishing trips there.
Of course, many people have questions before their first visit to Florida. Do you go on a DIY bass fishing adventure in freshwater? Deep sea fishing with a private charter in the Gulf of Mexico? Where are the best places to stay?
We'll try to answer all those questions for you and how to best avoid the crowds of tourists in the "Fishing Capital of the World."
Florida fishing licenses
Of course, you'll need a fishing license before you start wetting a line. Florida sells both freshwater and saltwater licenses, so buy a license that will fit the style of fishing you'll be doing. The fees are the same for both licenses, but there are different tiers you can choose from.
If you're planning to be in Florida more than once in a year, it might be worth it to consider the non-resident annual license which sells for $47. There are is also a 3-day license for the modest price of $17 and the 7-day license for $30.
Unfortunately, the state only offers a combo license for both freshwater and saltwater to residents, so if you want to tackle both, you'll have to purchase both separately. At least the prices are quite reasonable for non-resident licenses.
Florida Fish and Wildlife makes it easy to purchase licenses on their website GoOutdoorsFlorida.com. You can also buy over-the-counter licenses once you get there or by calling 888-FISH-FLORIDA.
Also, keep in mind some sportfishing charter boat outfitters can take care of licenses for you. Be sure to ask when you book.
Where to fly in
Most anglers to head to Florida are likely going to fly in because it's the quickest way to get there, especially if you live on the other side of the country. Where you fly in is entirely dependent on where you're going to fish.
If you're planning to fish the Gulf of Mexico, a good central location is Tampa. There are plenty of charters based out of Tampa and up and down the coast that will take you out into the Gulf. A more northerly option is Tallahassee International Airport. Even though this is the capital of Florida we're talking about, the airport is small and modest. It's about a 40-mile drive to the coast from there.
If you're looking to fish the Florida Keys, the Everglades or Lake Okeechobee, you'll likely be faced with the choice of Miami International or Fort Lauderdale. Normally, it's cheaper to fly into Fort Lauderdale, but Miami is closer to the fishing action in the Keys. Miami is a much busier airport, but the service is generally better than Fort Lauderdale.
Another popular freshwater hotspot is Lake Kissimmee. Many people who go here might first look at flying into Orlando International. We'd advise against that if you want to avoid tourists, since this is where everyone flies in to for Walt Disney World.
Instead, consider Orlando Melbourne, which is a smaller airport that generally costs less to fly into, and it has better reviews for service.
Towns to stay
Getting away from the tourists in Florida is easier said than done, especially in the popular fishing areas. If you're fishing Lake Okeechobee, check out the smaller communities of Lakeport or Clewiston. These areas have fewer lodging options, but they're also usually cheaper and quieter than Okeechobee.
For the Lake Kissimmee area, options on hotels are fewer right near the lake. You'll probably be looking at staying in the Lake Wales area or renting a cabin or cottage somewhere closer. There are also campgrounds in the area, so taking or renting an RV is an option. Lake Kissimmee State Park is one popular camping location.
If you're fishing the Keys, it's again hard to avoid tourists. You could consider staying in Homestead, Florida, about a 20-mile drive from Key Largo. It'll save you a little bit of money if you don't mind driving.
Two other popular fishing destinations in the Keys are Marathon and Islamorada. There is no shortage of fishing charters in either.
In the north Florida panhandle, check out some of the small towns like Destin and Seaside between Pensacola and Tallahassee for plenty of charters, but fewer tourists than other coastal areas of Florida.
One of the difficult things about the Tampa or Miami areas is finding places not overrun with people already. South of Tampa check out the Venice or Gasparilla Island areas where there are plenty of fishing guides willing to take you out for a half or full day of fishing, but slightly less tourists.
The eastern coast poses a real challenge to get away from people, but check out Vero Beach between Melbourne and Palm Beach as an option near Miami.
As an added tip, when finding a place to stay, don't be afraid to look beyond hotels and check rental sites like Airbnb, especially if you're bringing a group of friends. The initial price of renting a home for a week can seem pricey at first, but if you split it four or more ways, you might find you'll be able to extend the length of your stay.
Types of Fish to Pursue
When it comes to the types of fish you'll catch, the answer varies from season to season and the place you're fishing. For freshwater fishing, the most popular species to pursue is largemouth bass, but many anglers also fly into Florida to pursue the beautiful peacock bass. It's a lot cheaper than visiting South America where this species traditionally resides!
When it comes to saltwater, the charter possibilities are nearly endless. If you're looking for really big fish, there are deep sea fishing charters who will take you out offshore fishing for swordfish, sailfish, and marlin. Most trips for these species are a full day fishing.
Many charters also offer special half day trips just for sharks. Some charters offer sharks at a lower rate if their base of operations is close to where they bite. Shark species caught in Florida are usually blacktips, nurse sharks, bull sharks, hammerheads and makos.
For inshore fishing and other trips under 30 miles from shore, most fishing boat charters try to put you on whatever species has been biting the most lately. This means you'll likely be fishing for king mackerel, wahoo, mahi mahi (dolphinfish), cobia, tuna, redfish, sea trout, snook, red snapper, or amberjack. Some charters also pursue grouper or tarpon if conditions are right.
It's worth noting that all goliath grouper fishing in Florida is catch and release only.
If you're hiring a charter boat, you generally don't need to worry about fishing gear. The charters supply their own most of the time. You'll likely be using a spinning reel or trolling rod setups most of the time.
Most charters use live bait. Some of them will have your party help catch said bait on the way to your real fishing spot, so just be aware of that. If you just want to get right to the main action, you might want to ask your charter what they normally do.
Most charter boats are set up for a variety of fishing situations. You'll need downriggers if the fish are especially deep. Outriggers are helpful for covering more water when the fish are scattered. More and more pro charters are utilizing kites when conditions call for a very specific presentation and a very specific depth. For artificial lures, you'll likely be using spoons, jigs, or inline spinnerbaits
For freshwater fishing, you're likely going to want medium to heavy action rods and baitcasting reels. Even the freshwater fish in Florida can get quite large.
If you're fishing a lake with heavy weed cover like Okeechobee, you'll also want the heavier gear to wrestle those big largemouths out of the cover.
When it comes to lures for big Florida bass, jigs in crawfish colors, soft jerkbaits, big topwaters, and spinnerbaits are go-to staples.
A few extra notes about charters
Of course, make sure you read the online reviews for charters before you book, because not all are created equal.
Most charter crew members will also clean your catch for you, so there's no need to worry about bringing gear for cleaning fish. You might want to ask if there is an extra charge for fish cleaning when booking. It usually isn't much, but it's better to not be surprised by it.
Also, you're often expected to tip the crew of the boat at least 20%. Some companies will figure in the tip cost with the cost of the overall trip. Make sure you check ahead of time.
If the crew worked hard to make it the best fishing day ever, make sure you reward them!
An angler's paradise
For many, a trip to Florida is the ultimate fishing experience. It's easy to see why thousands of people venture down there every year.
With a little careful planning, you can be sure that your trip doesn't get bogged down by crowds and tourists, and you get to enjoy Florida fishing for what it really is: an angler's paradise!