November 8, 2019
Imagine fishing a lake that’s half the size of Rhode Island?! Okay, Rhode Island is a small state… but still! There are only nine other freshwater lakes in the U.S. larger, and half of those are Great Lakes.
Lake Okeechobee is the largest freshwater lake in Florida and is known as Florida’s Inland Sea. It covers 730 square miles and averages a depth of 9 feet, surprisingly shallow considering the size. The Kissimmee River (pronounced ka-SIM-mee) to the north is the lake’s largest source with more than 60% of the lake coming from the Kissimmee. Other sources include Fisheating Creek, Lake Istokpoga, and Taylor Creek.
The Everglades border the lake to the South and the once natural flow of water sustained both ecosystems in harmony. Civilization has altered these ecosystems in modern days and has made some citizens concerned for the wildlife and environment. Organizations like Captains for Clean Water are partnering with government and businesses to work together for a solution. In the meantime, anglers can fish Lake Okeechobee and enjoy all that it has to offer, knowing that efforts are underway to bring both Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades to full health.
The lake is 30 miles wide and 33 miles from north to south. Many Florida locals and tourists visit the lake for boating and fishing. You may ask, “What’s the number one fish people target at Lake Okeechobee?” Everyone’s answer will be a resounding: “Largemouth Bass!” It’s not known as the “Bass Capital of the World” for nothing!
The majority of guides and charters on Lake Okeechobee target largemouth bass because they know they can find lunkers over 5 pounds regularly in the lake.
Largemouth Bass are usually olive-green to brown-gray with dark blotches running from head to tail. They have the famous underslung jaw and can grow as long as 15 inches.
In Lake Okeechobee the season will determine where to look for largemouth bass. During late spring and early summer (April – May) the bass are spawning and will hide in shallow waters near structures. When the waters get warmer they will find their way to the middle of the lake. The best times to fish are the “golden hours” (sunrise or sunset) as the bass are most active during these hours as the water is noticeably cooler.
Fishing with shiners is the best bait for catching largemouth bass in Lake Okeechobee. It turns an “okay” day of fishing to an unbelievable, “talk about it for years to come” day of catching. (See what we did there?!). Shiners are what Lake Okeechobee bass eat daily, so it’s a natural selection to get them on the hook.
If you choose to fish artificials, try jigs or plastic worms. Anglers use both light tackle or fly fishing techniques. Drift your bait toward the bass for a natural presentation; they are usually not very picky and will eat up whatever looks good for dinner.
Hold on to your rod once you have the hook set, largemouth bass are known for their fight and will explode out of the water to throw the hook. Circle hooks will help to keep them on the line. Once you have your trophy to the boat, take a quick picture then gently release back into the water. The FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) has a strict catch-and-release policy for all largemouth bass.
“What else is there to fish in Lake Okeechobee?” We’re glad you asked. While largemouth bass is definitely the star of the show here, there are plenty of supporting roles in this fishery.
Crappie, bluegill, catfish, sunfish, and longnose gar are other fish species available in Lake Okeechobee. Crappie, also referred to as “speckled perch” will bite on minnows and are typically caught with light tackle. Thin mono-lines and light, colorful jigs is a successful set-up for your crappie trip.
If you’re interested in hunting a prehistoric type species, check out the longnose gar. They look almost like dinosaurs with a long, slender snout. Gars in Lake Okeechobee spawn in the colder months of December to March and with feed on frogs or smaller cut baitfish. Bow fishing for gar in Lake Okeechobee is favorite technique for those looking for something a little different.
The name “Okeechobee” comes from the Hitchiti tribe meaning “big water.” They pretty much hit their target, there is no better name for this massive lake that provides so much for so many. Most anglers will access Lake Okeechobee either from Clewiston, a city off State Road 27 on the southwest side of the lake, or the city of Okeechobee on the northside of the lake. Okeechobee is a small town with a laid-back attitude. For those who wish to check out the lake without getting on a boat, try the Okeechobee Scenic Trail. You can drive, hike, or cycle parts of the trail and get unparalleled views of this truly incredible Florida wonder.
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