The best time to go fishing, the conventional wisdom has it, is when you can. And you can go fishing in Central Florida. Boy, can you ever. If you just want to throw a line in the water and drift into a semi-trance, you can do that just about anywhere. If you’d like to do some real fishing, I strongly suggest you hire a guide. There are a number of reasons for this:
• A guide has the in-depth local knowledge you lack.
• A guide may be your only means of access to private lakes that have not been overfished.
• A guide will provide tackle and bait.
• Many of Orlando’s fishing guides are attractions in themselves, practitioners of a lifestyle that has all but disappeared in our homogenized fast-food culture.
Throughout much of the American Southeast, bass fishing is virtually a state religion, and most of the Orlando area fishing guides seem to specialize in this feisty game fish. There are, however, other fish to be caught hereabouts. Here is a list of Central Florida species, with notes on their seasons:
American shad: Optimum, February and March, so-so January, April, and May.
Bluegill: Optimum, April to June, so-so the rest of the year.
Channel catfish: So-so all year.
Crappie: Optimum, December to March, so-so April and May.
Largemouth bass: Optimum, January to March, so-so the rest of the year.
Shellcracker: Optimum, May to July, so-so the rest of the year.
Sunshine bass: Optimum, December to February, so-so March, April, October, and November.
Striped bass: Optimum, December to February, so-so March, April, October, and November.
What you go after, then, will be a function of the time of your visit and your guide’s predilections. Where you go will depend to a fair extent on the guide you hire and his location; each has his favorite (or even exclusive) areas. Among the more popular fishing spots are the Clermont chain of lakes (west of Orlando), the Wekiva River and the St. John’s River (north of Orlando), and West Lake Tohopekaliga (in Kissimmee). Serious fishermen will want to pick up a copy of Kris Thoemke’s Fishing Florida (Falcon Press, $18.95), which provides lake by lake, stream by stream commentary.
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