Sarasota Bass Fishing

Sarasota Bass Fishing

While saltwater fishing gets the vast majority of attention, Sarasota bass fishing gets overlooked. We don’t have the large, famous lakes that are loaded with 10 pound bass. But, we do have three watersheds, several lakes, and countless ponds that offer anglers the opportunity to catch largemouth bass.

Lake Manatee, upper Myakka Lake, and Evers Lake are similar in several respects. All three start off as small, meandering streams with lakes that are created by dams. The water below the dams is either brackish or saltwater and is tidally influenced. While similar, each is a bit different and unique in its own way.  All three have good populations of bass on the freshwater side and snook in the tidal portion.

Sarasota bass fishing

Sarasota bass fishing, Lake Manatee

Lake Manatee lies off of State Road 64 about 10 miles east of I 75. It provides the drinking water for much of Sarasota and Manatee Counties. It is about 5 miles long and the major portion which runs from the State Road 64 bridge to the dam. Gilley’s Creek is the one main tributary. Lake Manatee tapers down east of the State Road 64 bridge, and after a mile or so takes on more of a river feel.

Lake Manatee is fairly deep by Florida standards. It has holes that are over 50 feet deep. While there is ample shoreline cover, particularly on the east half of the lake, the Bass relate heavily to the channel edges. It kind of fish is like a northern impoundment. Outside corners and the submerged river channel with some cover on it are prime spots.  Lake Manatee is also a good crappie and catfish lake.

Sarasota bass fishing

Bass will school up on Lake Manatee, busting baits on the surface. Anglers casting small top water lures and poppers can often times draw strike. However, more successful anglers will actually work the bottom using drop shot rigs and Carolina rigs. As with everywhere else in the country, a Texas rigged plastic worm will work as well.

Bass spawn in January and February on most seasons. Gilley’s Creek is a prime area for betting bass. Channel runs very close on the southern shore near the mouth of the creek. The creek it shallower further up in with the decent sandy bottom.

bass fishing in Sarasota, Florida

Anglers fishing the banks should do well from the post spawn up until late April. Early and late in the day are best times. Top water plugs work well at dusk and dawn. White and chartreuse spinner baits are a good choice during the day. If the bite on the bank is slow, it is best to drop off to the deeper water and work some of the channel edges with soft plastic baits.

The water level in lake Manatee is regulated by the dam. This results in a fairly steady water level. The Manatee River downstream from the dam, while tidally influenced, is fairly fresh. Bass and other freshwater species will be found as far downstream as Fort Hamer.

Sarasota bass fishing

Manatee River, upstream

This section of the Manatee River is very scenic and can offer some fantastic Sarasota bass fishing. It takes a bit more effort to fish, as anglers need to put in downstream and work their way back up River. During periods of low water, there are shallow bars which will restrict all but the smallest of craft from getting by. The result is a very lightly pressured fishing spot.

Lake Manatee is known more for crappie fishing than bass, to be perfectly honest. It has a good population of crappie, bluegill, and other panfish. Lake Manatee is the best lake in Sarasota for catching channel catfish, some of them quite large. Sunshine bass are stocked there as well. These are a striped bass/white bass hybrid.

Anglers can access lake Manatee into places. There is of excellent surfaced ramp inside lake Manatee State Park. There is also a rough on surfaced ramp, basically a landing, right at the base of the State Road 64 bridge. Anglers fishing the river can put in at a small boat ramp at Ray’s Canoe Hideaway. There is an excellent surfaced ramp with parking and facilities at Fort Hamer Park.

Sarasota bass fishing, Evers Lake

Evers Lake is conveniently located in Bradenton, just south of State Road 70 and a couple miles west of the interstate. Once again, there is a pretty little stream that flows in that is damned to create the reservoir. Evers Lake can be tough. It has a very uniform depth of about 15 feet. There is very little bottom contour, though there are a few underwater reefs. These reefs are fish magnets for anglers who know where they are located.

Sarasota bass fishing

There is an excellent shoreline vegetation and cover and Evers Lake. Several aerators placed near the dam, and these can be excellent spots as well. There are a couple shallower spots with lily pad fields that can be good spots in the spring.

The Braden River flows upstream from Evers Lake for maybe 10 miles. However, it gets very shallow and narrow east of I 75. That stretch of the river between Evers Lake and I 75 can be quite productive. There are plenty of outside corners and a lot of submerged trees and structure. Boat docks are plentiful as well. Bass, tilapia, and panfish beds can be seen in the shallower portions of the river.

Slow, finesse presentations work best in both the lake and the river. Because of its convenient location and excellent launching facility, Evers Lake in the Braden River could quite a bit of fishing pressure. Lighter lines, smaller baits in a more patient presentation is usually required. Baits like to 6 inch Senko work well. Night fishing can be an excellent alternative, especially in the warmer months.

Braden River below the dam

The Braden River below the dam flows for 5 miles or so and empties into the Manatee River. This stretch of the river holds mostly saltwater fish. It is a bit more developed than the Manatee River but still has some nice scenery. Fishing can be outstanding there in the winter!

Schools of jack crevelle, some of them more than 10 pounds, move into the river in the fall. Snook also migrate from Tampa Bay to find sanctuary in the Braden River. There are sections of this River that are quite shallow. However, there are areas with 15 feet deep holes. Snook in jacks seek the sanctuary of this deeper water. Redfish, snapper, ladyfish and other saltwater species will be caught as well.

Since bass are not really present and this section of the river I will skip over it. However anglers seeking more information on fishing this section of the Braden River can find it HERE.  I run Sarasota fishing charters there.

Anglers fishing Evers Lake in the upper portion of the Braden River can access it at Jiggs landing. There is an excellent boat ramp, dock, facilities, and a small shop selling snacks and bait. Anglers access the saltwater portion of the Braden River at the State Road 64 bridge.

Myakka River and lakes

Myakka River State Park lies about 10 miles east of Sarasota off of State Road 72. It is a large area and in it is Upper Myakka Lake, Lower Myakka Lake, and the Myakka River. The best fishing is an upper Myakka Lake in the Myakka River between the upper leg and State Road 72. Lower Myakka Lake is very shallow and weedy.

Upper Myakka Lake can offer some of the Sarasota best bass fishing around when conditions are right. The dam that creates upper Myakka Lake is a weir dam. That means it is simply a concrete wall and the dam cannot control the water level. The water level in the Myakka River system varies greatly. It floods in the summer and in the dry season the river can actually become a series of puddles.

Upper Myakka Lake is typical of natural Florida lakes and that it is round and very shallow. During normal water levels, the lake is 45 feet deep. The Myakka River feeds the lake at the northeast corner and another Creek feeds it at the northwest corner. These can both be terrific spots when there’s a little rainfall and water is coming in from these creeks.

All of the traditional bass catching methods work well on upper Myakka Lake. Anglers fishing the grassy areas and edges can throw spinner baits, buzz baits, top water plugs, and soft plastic. Larger worms Texas rigged work well.

The ideal condition is to have a foot or so of water above the submerged vegetation. Anglers and fish buzz baits, spinner baits, and top water plugs across the top. Bass will blowup through the weeds and anglers will experience some exciting strikes.

Fishing the Myakka River

I personally enjoy fishing the river between the dam and the State Road 72 bridge. The bass aren’t large and here but they are aggressive and there are plenty of them. Also, the scenery is unbelievable! You almost feel like you’re in the Amazon or someplace exotic. Access is limited to a couple areas and the park where canoes, kayaks and small boats can be manhandled into the water. But the effort is worth it as this area does not get a lot of fishing pressure.

There is one issue with Upper Myakka Lake, and it frustrates us anglers. The biologist at the State Park have decided that the vegetation in the lake is invasive and they don’t want it there. Therefore, they spray the lake to kill the vegetation. This has a very detrimental impact on the fishing. Without this cover, bass, bream, and other fish are easy prey for the alligators and birds.

Tidal Myakka River

The Myakka River below the lower lake is tidally influenced. In the cooler months, which is the best time to fish the river, the water is normally fairly low. Bass fishing from the lower leg all the way down to the bridge at US 41 can be excellent at times.

This stretch of the river does not have a lot of access. Therefore, fishing pressure is light. There are quite a few kayakers, but not too many anglers. This stretch of the river is long perhaps 20 miles. The best time to fish is on a high, outgoing tide. I prefer to cast plugs is a allow me to cover a lot of water. If a productive stretch is located, I may slow down and fish it more thoroughly with a soft plastic bait.

There is a decent boat ramp inside Myakka River State Park on the south end of upper Myakka Lake. It is surfaced but there is no dock. Boats 17 feet and shorter should have no problem under normal water level conditions. The only public ramp on the lower portion of the river as Snook Haven. There are kayak lunches at Myakka River Park and its sleeping turtles preserve.

Benderson Lake

Benderson Lake is a reclaimed strip pit that has been converted into a world-class rowing facility. Competitors come from all over the country for events held here. It is fairly deep with underwater humps. The best approach when bass fishing is to work the shoreline early that switch to the offshore structure later.

There is one boat ramp at the south end of Benderson Lake. It is a good, surfaced ramp with a nice little floating dock. There is ample parking and a clean porta potty. It is a trolling motor only or paddle only lake, no gas motors.

There are countless ponds, small lakes, and retention ponds throughout the Sarasota Bradenton area. These ponds can offer some outstanding fishing for largemouth bass. Most of these are way too small for a boat and are fished by anglers walking the shoreline. Just about every residential neighborhood has at least a couple ponds, and most of them hold bass. Some are private and are usually posted. However, many are public and as long as anglers are courteous, they will be allowed to fish.

Sarasota bass fishing in ponds

Perhaps the best area for this type of fishing is a large development called Lakewood Ranch. It is east of the interstate between University Boulevard and State Road 64. A glance at Google Earth or any other Matt will reveal a myriad of small and medium-size ponds. Several of these areas are parks which have parking right near the ponds. Most all of them are public. There is a large lake right behind the movie theater in downtown Lakewood Ranch that has a lot a bass and it.

My favorite lure for fishing the smaller ponds is a black Beetlespin. This is just a small spinner bait with a little black grub body. Soft plastics work well, especially finesse type worms such as the Senko. Light lines and smaller hooks will draw more strikes. Larger, noisier baits are less effective in the smaller bodies of water. Live shiners and nightcrawlers will produce for anglers who prefer a more relaxed approach and want to use live bait.

Bass regulations

Many bass anglers release everything they catch, and this is a great thing. Florida has just changed the regulations regarding largemouth bass. There is no longer a minimum size. Anglers can keep five bass with one being over 16 inches. The reason for this is that they actually want some of the smaller fish harvested as the last few spawns have been very efficient. Check HERE for current Florida largemouth bass regulations.

 

 

Sarasota freshwater fishing

Sarasota freshwater fishing

Sarasota freshwater fishing is an underutilized and overlooked resource for visiting anglers. Saltwater fishing gets the bulk of the attention in Sarasota. Very good freshwater fishing can be experienced in several watersheds close to Sarasota and her beaches.

The three primary freshwater systems are the Myakka River, Braden River, and Manatee River watersheds. All three are similar in a couple of ways. Small rivers flow into damned lakes. These portions are entirely freshwater. The water is brackish below the dams. Brackish rivers hold both freshwater and saltwater species.

Sarasota freshwater fishing

Manatee River system

Lake Manatee lies in Manatee County about 10 miles east of I-75 on SR 64. There are two access points the Lake Manatee for boating anglers. Lake Manatee State Park has a surfaced ramp and great facilities and is near the dam. There is also an unimproved ramp at the State Road 64 bridge several miles upstream from the dam. Lake Manatee supplies to drinking water for much of Sarasota and Manatee County. Water levels in lake Manatee are controlled by the dam.

The State Road 64 bridge is a natural divider in Lake Manatee the portion east of the bridge has a river like feel to it. It is narrower with a deep winding channel. Lake Manatee Fish Camp is on the dirt road leading to the landing.  Anglers can purchase bait, drinks, and snacks there. The main lake lies between the State Road 64 bridge and the dam. Lake Manatee is similar to a northern lake. It is deeper than most Florida lakes, reaching 50 feet in several places. It also has a distinct river channel, which is the main structure in the lake.

Lake Manatee offers very good fishing for bass, bream, and catfish. There are some very large catfish in lake Manatee. Crappie, also known as speckled perch, are probably the most sought after species in lake Manatee. Sunshine bass are stocked there as well. These are a striped bass and white bass hybrid. Northern anglers will recognize them as wipers or hybrids. It is basically the same species. 

Anglers fishing the Manatee River down stream from the dam can launch boats and rent canoes and kayaks at Ray’s Canoe Hideaway.  There is also a nice ramp and park with facilities at Ft. Hamer.  This is a very nice park adjacent to the new bridge crossing the river.  Most of the freshwater fishing will be east, or up-river, from Ft. Hamer.

Sarasota freshwater fishing

Myakka River system

Upper Myakka Lake lies totally within the boundaries of Myakka River State Park. It is in Sarasota County 7 miles east of I-75 on State Road 72. This lake as much more typical of Florida lakes. A small, shallow river feeds the lake. The water is held back by a simple weir dam. Water then flows down a narrow river to lower Myakka Lake. The lower lake can only be accessed by foot or by River. It is very shallow and weedy. There is another small weir dam which stops tidal water from entering the system. Fishing is good in both the lakes and connecting river.  The river between the two lakes gets very little pressure and offers good fishing for kayak anglers.

Upper Myakka Lake has a very good population of bass some of them quite large. It also has a very good population of bluegill, stump knocker, catfish, and crappie.The lake is very weedy and shallow, with the deepest portion being about 5 feet deep. The best fishing is generally when the water levels are up. Fishing can be tough in the winter during the drought when the water is low. A surfaced ramp exist on the lake inside the State Park.

Braden River system

The Braden River is the most convenient to Sarasota. It lies west of I-75 just off State Road 70. There is a very nice boat ramp along with a bait and snack store, canoe rentals, and even cabin rentals. The Braden River flows into Lake Evers. This lake has a uniform depth of around 20 feet with very little structure on the bottom. Bass, bluegill, and crappie are the primary species.  Access to the lake and river is from the park at Jiggs Landing.

Sarasota freshwater fishing

All three rivers offer anglers the chance to catch snook in the cooler months. While snook are saltwater fish, they can survive quite well and absolute freshwater. Snook move up into these rivers to find warmer water and forage when it gets cold. The Myakka and Manatee rivers are brackish below the dam, while the Braden is pure salt water.

Ponds are abundant and offer Sarasota freshwater fishing. Many housing developments have retention ponds. These are areas designed to catch excess rainfall. Almost all of them have bass and bluegill in them. Many are private, but there are also a lot of public ponds, particularly in Lakewood Ranch. These are a great option for anglers without a boat, kayak, or canoe.

Sarasota panfish

I really enjoy Sarasota freshwater fishing for panfish (AKA bream). It might sound odd that being a full-time fishing guide, that I would spend my time fishing for these little guys. However, I find it very relaxing and enjoyable. They are also fabulous eating! Florida is blessed with many different pan fish species. Bluegill, shallow cracker, stump knocker, war mouth, along with crappie are caught by anglers using ultralight tackle.

Sarasota freshwater fishing

Personally, I prefer to fish for bream with artificial lures. My go to lure is a 1/16 ounce black Beetlespin. I have caught just about every freshwater species using this little lure! Small jigs are also extremely effective. A tiny chartreuse curly tail jig on a 1/16 ounce jig head is deadly on bream and small bass. It mimics the small bait fish that are in most Florida lakes. Tiny plugs can also be effective, especially for anglers targeting the larger specimens.

Live bait certainly catches plenty of bream. Crickets and red wigglers are the two top live baits for anglers Sarasota freshwater fishing. They are most often fished a couple feet under a small float. This is as basic as fishing gets. Ultralight spinning or spend cast tackle with 4 to 6 pound line works great. Cane poles still have their place in freshwater, and have accounted for many a fish dinner.

Panfish tactics

Catching bream is not very complicated. The key to success is moving around until a school of fish is located. Shoreline cover, especially with fallen trees, are prime spots. Edges of weed beds are also great places to look for panfish. Anglers can cast small artificial lures or live baits towards the spots. When using artificial lures, a slow steady retrieve is preferred. Do not get to aggressive, it will spook the fish.

Trolling is also an extremely successful technique when searching out panfish. Crappie in particular are targeted using this method. I like to slowly troll the edge of a weed line for bluegill and stumpknocker.  I use two rods, one with a jig on one rod and a Beetlespin on the other. If bluegill are around, this will usually find them.

Sarasota freshwater fishing

Trolling for crappie, especially in Lake Manatee where it is deeper, is a bit more technical. One of the best lures is a Blakemore Road Runner. This is a small jig with a spinner attached to it. Bright colors produce best in the dark Lake Manatee water. The most productive technique is to slowly troll back and forth over the edges of the submerged river channel. Crappie will school up on these edges. Once a school is located, the action can be fast and furious!

Largemouth bass fishing in Sarasota

While fishing for bream is fun and puts fillets on the table, there is little doubt that the largemouth bass is king of freshwater. Florida is famous and well-known for its giant largemouth bass. Sarasota has some very good bass fishing, however it is not well-known for the giant bass. Lake Manatee and Myakka Lake have good populations of one pound to 5 pound largemouth. However 10 pound bass are not common, by any means.

Many different techniques and lures will produce largemouth bass when Sarasota freshwater fishing. Soft plastic baits are extremely productive and are probably the most popular artificial lures for bass. Every angler has his or her favorite soft plastic, but all will catch fish if presented properly. I personally prefer the Senko worms.  Lighter colors such as watermelon work in clear water and darker colors such as golden bream are better in dark water.

Soft plastic baits can be rigged several different ways. In shallow water can be rigged without any weight on a weedless hook. The wacky warm hook works really well with these finesse baits. At times a heavier weight will be required. Deeper water and punching through heavy vegetation will require a 1/2 ounce to 1 ounce sinker.

More lures for bass

Top water plugs are great fun to fish and will elicit some exciting strikes! Again, angler preferences will very, but I prefer the Rapala Prop R. It has a bullet nose with a propeller on the rear. It produces great action and commotion. Poppers such as the Chug Bug are very effective, as are walk the dog baits such as the Zara Spook.  Shallow diving plugs such as the Rapala X-Rap work very well, too.

Spinnerbaits catch a lot of bass! They are easy to use and work well through moderate amounts of vegetation. White is a very good color in the tannin stained waters.  They are versatile, productive, and easy for novice anglers Sarasota bass fishing.

While I don’t use live bait very often for largemouth bass, that is just a personal preference. More large bass are landed in Florida using live shiners that all other baits combined. Heavier tackle is required as a ten inch shiner cast into heavy vegetation may fool a trophy bass. Nightcrawlers are also very effective. The best approach is to use a number one hook, and hook the worm in the front using no weight. This will let it swim seductively and naturally in the water.

River snook fishing

Sarasota freshwater fishing

While snook are technically a saltwater species, they can live in true fresh water.  Snook are one of the few fish species that migrate into fresh water for reasons other than to spawn.  They do so to escape the temperature extremes of the saltwater flats.  River water is darker, deeper, and therefore warmer.  Forage is plentiful in rivers as well. 

Snook are ambush predators, just like bass.  They will take up residence in spots that provide cover and a break from the current.  Outside bends in the river with some cover such as fallen trees are high percentage spots.  Lures that trigger strikes and cover a lot of water work best.  I have found shallow diving plugs to be the best all around lures for river snook fishing.

Tides are a factor in both the Myakka and Manatee Rivers.  Anglers not accustomed to dealing with tides will have to learn how they affect the fishing.  This is particularly true in the cooler months when the water levels are low.  High, falling tides are best as they create a nice current.  Anglers fishing the Myakka River can use El Jobean tides and add two hours.  Manatee River anglers use Redfish Pt. and add one hour.

Sarasota catfish

Sarasota freshwater fishing

Catfish are another popular species targeted by anglers Sarasota freshwater fishing. Lake Manatee has an excellent population of large catfish. Both the Myakka and Manatee rivers also hold some nice catfish. They are also easier to locate in rivers. Outside bends in the rivers with deep holes and structure are almost a sure bet for catfish. Fishing on the bottom with live or cut bait is productive.

Fly fisherman are not to be left out, either. A 3wt to 4wt outfit is perfect for bluegill, while an 8wt outfit is better when targeting largemouth bass. Floating lines and short leaders make for easy fly fishing. Short casts are the norm. Small poppers, Wooly Buggers, and tiny bait fish imitations work well on bream. Largemouth bass will hit similar flies, though in larger patterns. Deceiver  flies in “bluegill” pattern works quite well.

Anglers fly fishing for snook in the rivers should choose a 9 wt outfit.  An intermediate sink tip line is best as the fly needs to get down in the current.  Weighted flies such as the Clouser Minnow are a proven snook fly.  Gold and black along with “Firetiger” are good color patterns.

In closing, there are many options for anglers going out on Sarasota fishing charters.  Sarasota freshwater fishing is a great option for clients seeking a different experience.