The Vanhunks Guide To The Best Kayak Fishing Spots in Florida
From kayaking to fly fishing, wakeboarding, SUPing and canoeing — you can just about find a liquified hole anywhere within a 50-mile radius in Florida, along with a post-up spot to enhance your weekend splendor. It is certainly a watersport enthusiast’s playground — amongst scenic, tropical terrain and/or rugged, overgrown flora fauna. Let’s look at the best kayak fishing spot.
If you’ve ever stepped foot or claimed residency in the Sunshine State, you know this already. You’re here because you want to know what places exactly resonate the best for that particular past time/hobby. In this post we sail through Florida’s best kayak fishing spots.
The major advantage of kayaking to catch fish, is that it can likely take you where fishermen on-foot or fishermen on-boat, cannot go. This edge means your slenderized, floating device can meander out to, or sly into, less-chartered fishing spots. Before, you’d look longingly at a spot that was just too shallow for your skiff to get to or an area in the mangroves too tight for a boat. Now you can get to all of it — safely and silently with the aid of state-of-the-art kayaks made for fishing.
Looking at the propulsion of a well-made kayak, it is easily the stealthiest way to fish, and is the best way to sneak up on a tailing permit or a big bad bonefish. Mix that with great weather year-round and easy access to the water, and you’ve got yourself an unforgettable fishing experience unlike anywhere else.
By combining the best parts of sport fishery, great weather, clear/calm waters and your outfitted kayak, you have perhaps one of the best destinations to kayak fish in the entire country. Whether wanting to fish saltwater or freshwater in your kayak, Florida hosts an angler’s bounty throughout estuaries, canals, flat bays, gulf inlets, spring-fed streams, lakes, rivers and hidden mangroves.
You just have to know where to find them…
Starting at the top left, divet part of the state, some of the best inshore and offshore kayak fishing can be done from “The Emerald Coast” including Navarre and Destin, Florida. Score striped bass, trout and redfish consistently. Destin in particular, known as “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village”, enjoys an abundance of sea life close to shore thanks to the shape of the canyon that runs along its continental shelf—responsible for striped bass, redfish, black drum, gag grouper, sheepshead, Spanish mackerel, flounder and tarpon inshore.
Offshore, score king mackerel, sailfish, triggerfish, tuna and more, as you head deeper into the Gulf of Mexico. Kayak launch spots are a plenty up and down the peninsula, so depending on the time and length of your excursion, the day’s weather and tides, check with your local guide or forecast sites on where to go.
Skirting further down the handle, “The Forgotten Coast” includes a loner kayak fisher’s dream in Apalachicola and St. George Island. Kayak fishing here means you’ll have nutrient rich freshwater drainage from Georgia, flushed out at the mouth of the Apalachicola River and churned with waters from the Gulf, into the fecund waters of Apalachicola Bay — all to yourself. Vast grass flats and long sandy points on the backsides of the barrier islands here give way to deeper channels and tidal currents.
It is not only a perfect habitat for oyster bars, where some of the world’s finest scallops and oysters reside, but a breeding ground for redfish and trout. The beauty of this spot is the fact that you’ll likely have the 200 square-mile expanse of the bay all to yourself.
Working your way further down I-75, take worthwhile detours at some underrated west coast spots like Hillsborough River, Cedar Key and Crystal River Springs — all incredibly scenic and convenient places to pull the yak off the truck, find a launch and cruise tranquil, clean waters or cast a line for a while.
Explore the warm and fuzzy state park name Cockroach Bay near Ruskin, FL, a series of islands in the southeastern region of Tampa Bay. Located in the mouth of the Little Manatee River, the islands are only accessible by water using private watercraft, aka your outrigger kayak. There are two canoe/kayak paddling trails that meander through the Aquatic Preserve and the 500 acres are mangrove swamp. It is simply a fisherman’s paradise with Speckled trout, tarpon, redfish, snook, Jack Crevalle and Pompano. Note: Cockroach Bay does not have any facilities, so you will need to plan your trip accordingly and remember to “pack it in, then pack it out.”
Moving on over the Gandy Bridge (also a fun kayak fishing spot to cast a line in the flats), make your way further south, past St. Petersburg to Fort DeSoto National Park. You’ll be hardened to find a more family-friendly and convenient place to kayak fish–with both shallow- and deep-water species to choose from, for both the novice and experienced anglers. Kayaks will take you into the shallow areas where powerboats dare not go – ensuring less competition for snook, spotted sea trout and loads of “Spannies” during the annual Spanish mackerel migration.
And right off the shoreline, you can paddle and within minutes find yourself home to a thriving, tropical marine life around barrier islands, like the historical Egmont Key guarding the National Park. You may even run into a few friendly dolphins and curious manatee too.
Retreat further south and notice the waters turning to a more translucent turquoise hue. Bradenton’s Robinson Nature Preserve and Sarasota’s Myakka State Park feel like National Geographic backcountry adventures. For the intrepid anglers, these scenic destinations offer an entire camping trip worth of kayak fishing.
Robinson consists of 682 acres of coastal wetland habitat – a mix of preserved mangrove, tidal marsh and wild agriculture. Within the remote preserve, a house party of juvenile common snook saturate the area’s estuarine creeks and brackish waters.
Further inland, the Myakka River flows through 58 square miles of one of Florida’s oldest and largest parks. Osprey fly overhead, turtles sunbathe lazily on rocks and alligators creep in and out of the riverbanks. Its tall grass wetlands are perfect for kayak fishing freshwater species like largemouth bass, bluegills and tilapia.
Further trek your way down to the legendary Boca Grande Pass. Here is your chance to embark on extreme kayak fishing for massive tarpon. Kidding, sort of. It’s not entirely impossible, but due to tarpon’s tenacious fighting and jumping skills, not to mention its sheer size, it is quite the challenge from a kayak. He isn’t reverently known as the “Silver King” for nothing. If it seems like a probably going overboard on the hunt for tarpon, then stick to the Boca Grande Fishing Pier, where you can easily catch and release dozens of pinfish, sea trout and flounder around the flats.
Explore the backcountry headwater streams of Cape Romano’s Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. During the dry season, many of the creeks thin out to the point where you need to pull a kayak through its stretches, but the pinnacle of this solitary fishing paradise is submerged all the way out to Gullivan Bay. 10,000 Islands features a group of abandoned domed houses on stilts, along with permit, cobia and snook appearing at the bottom of your spool.
Lower Florida Keys kayak fishing allows you to immerse yourself Florida’s warmest waters, while targeting game fish that will test your skill and tackle — all in a sublime tropical setting. The Lower Keys, which runs southwest of the Seven Mile Bridge to Key West, includes a paradise of oceanside flats, patch reefs and bridge pilings, as well as the backcountry with hundreds of square miles of shallow water and channels with good tidal flow.
It’s a great idea to invest in a kayak charter with professional flats fishing guides that really know their way to some of these untouched waters. There are some that are strategically located that make it possible for launch and hang along the shorelines, while others take you out on a boat to remote destinations to fish in open waters with multiple boats to let you paddle to your query.
Either way, there is plenty to pursue. Of inshore species to reel in, catch snapper, grouper, porgy, speckled sea trout, mackerel, grunt and even the large game fish like bonefish, permit, barracuda and tarpon. Deep, open water is about six miles out, where blue water fish like mahi, tuna, wahoo, sailfish and even shark are invited to take a nibble. Here especially, no waking or noise is Key (pun intended) for these challenging chompers.
Right above Lower, is the popular fishing town of Marathon. Simply driving around will reveal numerous roadside launches and marinas with private boat-ramps. The coastline all around Marathon is your oyster, and ‘secret’ sandbars tend to be a draw for locals and tourists alike. You can kayak either north or south of the Curry Hammock State Park launch, and as far as your heart desires.
The East Coast/ Inter-Coastal Waterway
The Indian River Lagoon and the Atlantic offshore waters provide plenty of opportunity for kayak anglers. Located in Stuart, FL, the “IRL” remains one of the most prolific, accessible estuaries in the Southeast. Though egrets and herons line up to grab stranded crabs and fish, there is plenty to go around for both the birds and the fishermen, including dwarfs, trout, juvenile mutton snapper, flounder, snook and reds. More and more migrating pompano invade the inlets and converge on IRL grass flats due to Florida’s net ban has exponentially enhanced the population of this extremely popular recreational species.
Mosquito lagoon stretches from near ponce inlet to Titusville, and is part of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The Kennedy Space Center is located on the lagoon as well. It remains one of the most popular places to fish in Florida, as well as being a world-famous destination to catch redfish. Black drum and speckled sea trout are found all year round in the vast lagoon that is primarily grass flats. Some of the largest fish in the world are caught here and they are often caught from a kayak.
Enjoy a morning of freshwater fishing and exploring Six-Mile Creek in St. Augustine, FL. This 4+ acre community river park features a boat ramp that allows access to St. John’s River and six miles south. At 310 miles long, the St. Johns River is the longest river in the U.S. state of Florida and is most significant for commercial and recreational use.
St. John’s River also flows right through Jacksonville, a city that especially attracts fisherman from all over to enjoy its variety of fishing opportunities — from exploring offshore, the jetties, its famous pier, the Intracoastal Waterway, and its endless lakes, ponds and marshes — both saltwater and freshwater fare can be foraged. Some of the best locations in Jax to enjoy ocean kayak fishing include Mayport, Hanna Park, Jacksonville Beach Pier and Huguenot Park. Meanwhile, Dutton Island Preserve, Castaway Island Preserve, Little Jetties Park, Sister’s Creek, Fort George and Timucuan Preserve are top inshore spots to launch.
Many fishermen enjoy fishing the Kissimmee River after a good rainfall, as it snakes and winds an additional 50 miles — creating huge floodplains teeming with bass, catfish, bream and a wide variety of panfish. The river eventually dumps right into Lake Okeechobee, which has a bad rap for its river runoff to the coasts, but it still remains the largest lake in Florida and a mecca for watersports. Commonly referred to as “The Big O”, largemouth bass are a huge draw, but channel catfish, black crappie, bluegill, redear sunfish, spotted sunfish, warmouth, bowfin, chain pickerel and longnose gar can also be caught.
Nearby, Istokpoga Reservoir in Lake Placid is another popular central location. If you’re wondering what Istokpoga means, it’s “People have died there”, named by the Seminole Indians. Have fun! Avid fisherman can also chase bass in Wildcat Lake, located in the lush ecosystem of Ocala National Forest, just north of The Everglades.
Off the beaten path to the most untouched part of Florida, remains the alluring and pristine wilderness of the Everglades. Here alone, you could keep a fishing expedition going for weeks on end. Seriously, people get lost out there. But if falling off the grid for a little while is what you seek and the wilderness is what you crave, then the no-motor zones of the Everglades National Park is an experience few can claim. Warning — this trip is only fun in the winter — once it warms up and summer rain becomes an everyday occurrence, the mosquitoes take over and no human in their right mind would try to participate in this type of nature.
Further Tips on Kayak Fishing Florida
Alligators inhabit all 67 counties in Florida and can be found anywhere there is standing water, state biologists say. It’s common to see gators on the banks, tributaries and marshlands and take note that they become more active during the spring when temperatures rise. Just know, Florida’s best kayak fishing destinations are claimed by these scaley residents, so be aware of your surroundings and don’t dress like a chicken. And don’t forget your paddle, as it may act as a defense weapon as much as a mode of mobility.
It’s pretty much standard in Florida to cast a line from a sit-on-top fishing kayak, as they are ideally outfitted with rod holders, easily maneuverable, transportable (they fit on most car roofs) and can be launched from virtually anywhere. A wide beam for stability is especially important if you plan to fish in open water. The wider the beam, the slower the kayak, but it’s more stable when you hook and battle to reel in that game fish.
Always make a point to talk to the sales associate at a tackle shop near your fishing destination. They won’t likely divulge the well-kept local secrets, but they will gladly advise you on the appropriate bait, the best type of kayak to take out, and provide you with a general description of where the fish are likely biting.
Before heading out for a backcountry or open water adventure, be confident in your ability to swim and have all necessary kayaking gear and fishing equipment ready for a jaunt out on the water. Also be sure to have a fishing license (if you’re over 18) from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.
An Annual Florida State Park pass is also a smart idea if you’re planning kayak fishing trips throughout the year in Florida. They can be purchased at park ranger stations, museums and online. Not a bad idea to check the parks’ and preserves’ daily hours of operation, as Florida experiences recurrent seasonality.
Lastly, remember that half the fun of kayak fishing is finding your own special, preferred spot that tickles your fancy — a prolific hole to paddle, float, explore and take in the views. Whether that spot produces the goods with the day’s “big catch” or not, just being out on the unmistakable waters of the southernmost state in the continental U.S. is pretty cool.