Fishing Lake Okeechobee – a Complete Guide!
This article will thoroughly cover fishing Lake Okeechobee. Lake Okeechobee, known affectionately as “The Big O”, is the largest natural lake in Florida and the second largest in the lower 48 states. It covers 730 square miles but only has an average depth of ten feet or so. It is a huge, shallow lake with ideal habitat for Florida game fish species.
Most anglers concentrate on the west side of Lake Okeechobee. This area has the best vegetation as well as access to both Lake Okeechobee and the Rim Canal. The Rim canal goes along the outside of the lake and offers protection on windy days. The southwest portion in particular offers outstanding fishing. The Monkey Box and Fisheating Creek are famous and productive areas. Clewiston, Moore Haven, Lakeport, and Okeechobee are all good port towns.
Water level is very important for anglers fishing Lake Okeechobee. It affects the fishing as well as the access. In a lake as shallow as it, a couple of feet can make a huge difference. Anglers should call ahead to local shops to see what the current conditions are. Conditions do change daily. A shift in wind will affect both the water level and clarity, both important factors when fishing Lake Okeechobee.
The subject of boating safety needs to be addressed. Lake Okeechobee can be dangerous! It is huge and shallow and can kick up quickly. Also, there are boat trails through the tall vegetation that will limit the visability of a boat. It is disconcerting to hear an airboat getting louder without seeing it. Anglers should make sure any oncoming boats can see them. Safety first, no fish is worth getting hurt over!
Lake Okeechobee game fish species
Lake Okeechobee is often associated with largemouth bass, and for good reason. Many national tournaments are held here. However, bream (that is a Southern term for bluegill and other panfish) and crappie are also hugely popular. These diminutive game fish may draw more anglers than the bass do. There is a good population of catfish as well.
Largemouth bass fishing in Lake Okeechobee
There is no doubt that largemouth bass are the glamour species in Lake Okeechobee. They grow large and are present in good numbers. The shallow, weedy lake offers ideal habitat for largemouth bass. Forage is plentiful as well; there are a ton of smaller panfish, shiners, and shad.
Florida bass spawn in the winter, starting in December and peaking in January and February. With water levels down and the water clear this time of year, Lake Okeechobee offers world class sight fishing for trophy bass! Anglers usually cast large soft plastic baits such as worms and creature baits to bedding bass. This takes a lot of patience, but can pay off with the fish of a lifetime!
Read more about largemouth bass fishing in Florida in Capt Jim’s article
Largemouth bass fishing in Lake Okeechobee is good all year long as well, particularly in the spring and fall. Like most places, fishing can be tough in the heat of the summer, with the best bite being early and late in the day. Bass often stage up in creek and river mouths after some rain creates good current flow.
Top tactics for Lake Okeechobee largemouth bass
The number one technique used by most professional guides and recreational anglers is fishing with live shiners. Wild shiners are expensive and can be tough to get in the busy season, but success is virtually guaranteed. The baits are fished under a float in or near vegetation using quite stout tackle. Commercially raised shiners are available, but not nearly as effective as wild shiners.
Artificial lures are certainly very productive for anglers fishing Lake Okeechobee as well. Since the lake is weedy, lures that are relatively weedless are usually the best choice. Soft plastic baits are the obvious choice and are extremely effective. One big key to success is locating “clean” water. Wind will stir up the bottom and get the water muddy. Areas of cleaner water are almost always more productive. Conditions will change fast when the wind shifts, successful anglers change with them.
Chatterbaits, spinnerbaits, and buzzbaits are great choices as they are weedless, are excellent search baits, and produce explosive strikes! They allow anglers to cover a lot of water in search of fish. Anglers work them along weed edges and over submerged vegetation. One good strategy is to use the search baits to locate fish, then thoroughly cover that area with soft plastic baits.
Plugs can be used effectively in areas of more open water. Topwater plugs work well as do jerkbaits and lipless crankbaits. This is especially true in summer when bass will be found schooling in open water chasing shad.
Fishing for bluegill and panfish in Lake Okeechobee
As mentioned above, fishing for panfish, (also called bream) is extremely popular and productive on Lake Okeechobee. These fish are prolific throughout the lake. Bluegill bed in the summer, especially around the full moons. The beds are easily seen in the clear, shallow water. Anglers can experience fun, fast action, and a tasty fish fry afterwards! While this is a great time to catch bluegill, they can be caught all year long.
Read this comprehensive article by Capt Jim on bluegill fishing
This type of fishing is enjoyable and anglers can chase them in a variety of ways. Fishing live baits under a float with a spinning rod or cane pole will catch plenty of fish. Crickets and worms are the top baits. Anglers who prefer to cast lures will catch them using small spinnerbaits and jigs. A 1/16 ounce black Beetle spin is deadly! Fly fishing is great fun and very productive. Anglers should move around until fish are located, then work that area thoroughly. Trolling can be an effective way to find fish on a tough day.
Redear sunfish (also called shellcrackers) are found in slightly deeper water, usually over sand or shell bottom. They grow larger than bluegill and have snow white fillets. While redear sunfish will take lures, most are caught by anglers fishing with worms under a float in six to eight feet of water.
There are other panfish species as well for anglers fishing Lake Okeechobee to catch. These include spotted sunfish (stumpknocker), redbreast sunfish, and warmouth. For all intents, these species can kind of be grouped together when it comes to techniques and bag limits.
Crappie fishing in Lake Okeechobee
Crappie are a very popular fish in Florida, and Lake Okeechobee offers excellent fishing for them. The prime time is the cooler months when crappie school up in large numbers before they move into to shallow structure to spawn. Crappie love submerged timber, however there is not a lot of that in the lake. Most crappie relate to deeper weed edges as well as areas that have boat docks.
As with crappie everywhere, Florida crappie (known locally as “speckled perch” or “specks”) feed primarily on small bait fish. Therefore, live minnows and small lures that imitate them are the top baits. Live minnows are available at most bait shops. They are usually fished under a float. A tiny 1/16 or 1/8 ounce jig with a soft plastic bait works well. Some jigs such as the Road Runner have a blade which adds flash.
Check out the best crappie fishing lure
Trolling is an excellent way to locate crappie. This is relatively simple; anglers just tie on a jig, spinnerbait, or small plug and slowly idle along weed edges and flats dragging the lures 50 feet or so behind the boat. Once a productive area is found, anglers can slow down and fish that area hard.
Lake Okeechobee catfish
Anglers fishing Lake Okeechobee will find excellent fishing for several catfish species. In fact, there are so many that the lake supports a decent commercial fishery for them. For the most part, recreational anglers ignore this action. Most catfish are caught by anglers fishing for other species. Channel catfish are the most abundant, with several bullhead species being available as well. Live or cut cut fished on the bottom or under a float will catch them.
Other Lake Okeechobee species
Anglers will also catch other species when fishing Lake Okeechobee. Some are desirable, some are not! Native species include gar, eel, bowfin (mudfish), pickerel, and carp. Invasive species include cichlids, tilapia, catfish, snakehead, and oscars.
Lake Okeechobee boat ramps and accommodations
Lake Okeechobee is very accessible to anglers. There are a couple dozen boat ramps scattered along the shoreline. Many are on canals which offer protection from the wind when loading and unloading the boat. Most are in the popular areas of Clewiston, Moore Haven, Lakeport, and Okeechobee. Many do not have addresses, they are just along the highway.
Here is a list of Okeechobee boat ramps with a nice map on the FWC website.
There are plenty of places to stay at Lake Okeechobee as well. Anglers can use one of the house renting services such as VRBO or AIRBNB. There are plenty of cozy little motels that cater to anglers as well. Roland and Maryann Martin’s Marina and Resort is a favorite among anglers with everything they need including guides and offers the non-fishing members of the family some things to do.
In conclusion, this article on fishing Lake Okeechobee will help visiting anglers catch more fish!