Florida boasts more than 7,500 lakes and most support healthy populations of the fast-growing Florida-strain largemouth bass. If you fished each lake just once, it would take you 20 years and six months of consecutive fishing days to do it.
Thankfully, in order to manage these exceptional fishing treasures and to help you plan your next trip, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) routinely surveys most of the state's freshwater fisheries and identifies the most productive bodies of water. Many also offer lakefront accommodations, ranging from down-home to deluxe.
That three of the biggest bass tours in the U.S. will make 2012 stops on Lake Okeechobee says volumes about how well Lake Okeechobee is fishing. In January, local tournament angler Ron Veale won the annual Gambler Lures tournament on the lake, catching a 35.25-pound, five-fish limit – get this – in 47 minutes, out of Roland Martin Marina in Clewiston. You can also find accommodations and captains based in Okeechobee on the north side of the "Big O."
Lake George continues to live up to its reputation as a "big fish" lake, with catch rates of .56 fish per hour to boot. As Florida's second-largest lake, it's one that offers you plenty of room to explore. I've fished it dozens of times and discover new fishing areas each time. Click here for a "tour" of the lake, which straddles North and Central Florida along the eastern border of the Ocala National Forest.
Lake Ocklawaha (Rodman Reservoir)
Recently, an angler reeled in a 17.2-pound bass from this freshwater fishing haven, nearly tying the state record. Located southwest of Palatka, the reservoir is undergoing a drawdown this winter to enhance critical habitats, and the lower water levels will concentrate bass this year to enhance future bass populations. It is the year to fish Rodman. Check out rodmanreservoir.com to learn more.
Local tournament angler Ron Veale won the annual Gambler Lures tournament on Lake Okeechobee, catching a 35.25-pound, five-fish limit – get this – in 47 minutes
Everglades Water Conservation Areas 2 and 3
More than 1,100 acres of Everglades marsh and 200 miles of canals offer urban anglers launching out of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties plenty of room to explore. Surveys in the peak month of April estimated a whopping 4.1 bass per hour average in the L-67A Canal. It is my personal favorite area to fly-fish for bass in Florida, as it offers outstanding top-water action throughout the spring and summer months. Check out nearby destinations Palm Beach, Miami and Fort Lauderdale for accommodations and charters.
Tenoroc Fish Management Area
When well-known bass writer Jim Porter returned from a six-month "research mission" on Tenoroc, which is northeast of Lakeland in Central Florida. He and his colleagues reported releasing 24 bass weighing more than 9 pounds each over a six-month period – on artificial lures. That's what's coming out of these 14 lakes ranging in size from seven to 227 acres. Learn more about the area.
Mosaic Fish Management Area
Catches on the 1,000-acre Mosaic Fish Management Area, which opened in 2010, average more than one fish per hour. Try to get there before word gets out about this rediscovered Florida fishing area, located near Fort Meade in Polk County.
Lake Tohopekaliga (Toho)
Habitat enhancements have paid big dividends for legendary Lake "Toho" of the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. Angler surveys indicate catch success at 0.82 fish per hour, which is well above Florida averages. 2012 should be another outstanding year. For Virginia angler Lucas Knott, it already has been. In January, he landed a personal-best 9-pound bass fishing with Capt. Ed Bussard.
Located just outside Tallahassee, this 8,800-acre reservoir offers "capital" bass fishing. Anglers can expect an average 0.58 bass per hour and a lot of big fish. This is one of the best "bass slam" lakes in the country. Catch a largemouth, a striper, a white bass and a spotted bass in one trip. Visit floridastateparks.org/laketalquin.
Harris Chain of Lakes
The Harris Chain of Lakes, in Central Florida in the aptly named Lake County, was once choked with pollution. Now, the chain's story amounts to a great comeback. Just ask BASSMASTER Elite Series angler Chris Lane, who caught a three-day total of 72 pounds, 11 ounces when fishing here in late January. Visit harrischainbassguideservice.com.
The St. Petersburg area enjoys a secret bass honey hole – Lake Tarpon – the "jewel of Pinellas County." This lake has quietly but consistently produced high-quality largemouth bass fishing for decades. Tournament winners on Tarpon average 20-pound, five-fish stringers per day. Visit laketarpon.org.
This story was first published on VISITFLORIDA.com.