May 05, 2015
From blue marlin to bluegill, quiet streams to deep swells, Florida has everything a fisherman could ever want along with unmatched sunshine nearly year-round.
The state is uniquely positioned to accommodate a variety of gamefish like nowhere else on earth. The iconic peninsula tilts from the U.S. continent south toward subtropical waters. From Pensacola to Key West lies an 800-mile bridge between the coral reef species of the Caribbean Sea and the temperate species of North America. There is fresh water, salt and endless gradients of brackish habitat to explore.
Largemouth bass, likely the world's most famous gamefish, inhabit all of the state's 7,000-plus lakes and 11,000 miles of freshwater rivers and streams. The southern limit of their range in Florida is the Florida Everglades, gateway to the Florida Keys. At this point, a fisherman could spend the morning casting plugs for bass, the afternoon chasing yellowtail snapper and sailfish, and the evening fly fishing for bonefish.
Florida is the only state in the continental U.S. that touches two seas: the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. At no point in Florida is the Gulf or Atlantic more than a 2- or 3-hour drive away—and in some mid-state regions, such as Gainesville, Orlando and Lakeland, one could wake up in the morning and simply turn left or right, to decide which sea to fish today, and which to visit tomorrow.
The diversity from north to south is without compare—from a fisherman's point of view, Tallahassee, the state capital, is as different from Key West as Alaska is from Georgia. In North Florida you'll find big rivers, stained with tannin and filled with unusual freshwater fishes, coursing through rolling hills and oak forests. Where rivers, like the Apalachicola and Choctawhatchee enter the Gulf of Mexico, they deliver nutrients and fresh water sourced in the uplands hill country of Georgia and Alabama. At this juncture, striped bass meet spotted seatrout; flathead catfish meet gag grouper. The fingerprints of winter frost are visible on the index of fishes found here: Absent are the snook, bonefish, mutton snapper and other colorful fishes that flourish predominantly in the lower Florida Peninsula, below latitude 28 degrees north, the approximate freeze line.
The St. Johns River nourishes a similar nexus of fish life in the far northeastern corner of the state, entering the Atlantic Ocean at Jacksonville. The St. Johns, curiously enough, extends right across the freeze line, albeit in a totally different direction than the Gulf of Mexico rivers—it flows north, from warm water to cool. Bass, bluegill, channel catfish, bullhead and black crappie are all found in the St. Johns; red drum, black drum, sheepshead and flounder, too, in the brackish reaches, as in many of Florida's small rivers and streams.
The Gulf Stream
Not to be overlooked, the Gulf Stream current, which begins offshore of the Florida Keys in the Straits of Florida, has been rightfully described in riverine terms. Warm currents moving west under Caribbean trade winds reach the Gulf of Mexico through the Yucatan Channel, bend north and swirl about slowly here, bringing sargassum weed and the familiar array of high-seas big-game fishes, such as marlin, mahi mahi and wahoo. The flow exits the Gulf by way of the narrow channel between the Florida Keys and Cuba, picks up steam as it continues north between Miami and The Bahamas, a point only 50 miles wide, and continues across the North Atlantic Ocean all the way to Europe.
Depending on the seaworthiness of the vessel and the intrepid spirit of the fishermen, it's possible to reach the Gulf Stream from any port on Florida's east coast, from as close as 5 miles off Miami to 75 miles off Fernandina Beach, immediately south of the Florida/Georgia border.
Florida's geography and climate clearly play roles in fostering the state's unique mix of fishing opportunities. A third force is that of human influence, which shapes the fishing in many ways. To imagine a Florida without the touch of humans might be enthralling to the angler, but the fact is, many of the popular fisheries taken for granted by residents and visitors are indirectly or directly attributable to settlement. Manmade inlets and jetties connect many of Florida's intracoastal bays and sounds to the seas. Artificial reefs, fishing piers, and the facilities for planning and enjoying days on the water all contribute to the fishing opportunities.
In the urbanized South Florida metropolis, an angler might fish for peacock bass, snakeheads or other exotic species imported and accidentally—or in some cases, deliberately--released from South America or Asia. The climate in Florida is conducive to all kinds of surprises.