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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.