Those bucket-bellied largemouths for which Florida is famous are in prespawn mode now, and some will be bedding by the end of February. Not only does this mean that the fishing can be very good, but it’s also prime time for a trophy.
There are three basic ways to get in on the action, depending on your budget. No matter how you go, keep in mind that airfares to Florida cities like Jacksonville or Orlando are generally cheap.
The first option is Bienville Plantation (386-397-1989; www.bienville.com) in White Springs west of Jacksonville, a private retreat catering to sportsmen who like to be pampered. Bienville is home to some of the best phosphate-pit lakes in the state. These types of lakes in north Florida tend to be exceptionally fertile, growing lots of big fish. Lodging and guided fishing packages are available starting at $570 a day. In my own experience, this place runs like a Swiss watch.
Two cheaper alternatives require that you do some of the work, but this can be as easy as picking a lake, booking an independent guide in advance, flying to a nearby city, and staying in a chain motel. Your biggest expense will be guided fishing, for which you’ll pay about $300 a day. To spend even less money, stay at one of the many fish camps common to Florida’s major bass lakes, and rent a small boat. Top lakes include Lake George, west of Ocala; Stick Marsh/Farm 13 Reservoir, near Fellsmere and west of Vero Beach; West Lake Tohopekaliga, near Kissimmee; and Rodman Reservoir, east of Gainesville. Start your research with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (850-488-0520; www.floridaconservation.org/fishing), which offers plenty of useful details on the region’s bass fishing.