Best Florida Kayak Fishing

David Lawrence
• Thursday, 19 November, 2020
• 11 min read

With the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico, unspoiled spring runs, and long and winding tannin rivers, it’s easy to see why Florida attracts paddlers from near and far. Walton County has rare natural features found in only a few other places around the world: Coastal dune lakes, bodies of freshwater that exist alongside the ocean.

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It’s the only place in Florida where you can paddle a tea-colored tannin lake surrounded by sand dunes and look over to see the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Paddle a kayak off the beaches of Destiny and you’ll understand where the Emerald Coast gets its name.

With white-sand beaches contrasting with dark, tannin water, the swiftly moving and visually stunning Blackwater River attracts paddlers of all kinds as well tubers in the summer months. With white-sand beaches contrasting with dark, tannin water, the swiftly moving and visually stunning Blackwater River attracts paddlers of all kinds as well tubers in the summer months.

Options here are many, with multiple launch points along the river (depending on the length and type of trip you’re planning). Kayaks on the 10-mile Weibull River Paddling Trail can expect an easy, gentle trip down a clear, spring-fed waterway filled with wildlife, including manatees, wading birds, alligators, turtles, and an abundance of fish.

Even those unfamiliar with the river itself might recognize the name from the beginning lyrics of Florida ’s state song: “Way down upon DE Swanee Ribber, far, far away …” Rentals for day and overnight trips are available through a number of outfitters, including Suwanee Canoe Outpost.

The tidal creeks and salt marshes of Little Talbot Island State Park are perfect for a peaceful morning or afternoon on the water, with route options for everyone from experienced kayaks to beginners. It takes about three hours to paddle the roughly six miles from the launch to the takeout point at Rogers Park.

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(Source: www.tckayakfishing.com)

Naturally occurring, glowing algae make bioluminescent paddling possible, and seeing the electric blue underwater light show it creates is an experience unlike any other. Peak season is June through October, although bioluminescent paddling tours are available year-round through BK Adventure.

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 bone fish. 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.

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.

Located in the mouth of the Little Manatee River, the islands are only accessible by water using private watercraft, aka your outrigger kayak. Moving on over the Andy 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.

Within the remote preserve, a house party of juvenile common shook saturate the area’s estuaries creeks and brackish waters. 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.

fishing florida gulf kayak coast water salt sportsman
(Source: www.saltwatersportsman.com)

If it seems like a probably going overboard on the hunt for tarpon, then stick to the Coca Grande Fishing Pier, where you can easily catch and release dozens of pinkish, sea trout and flounder around the flats. Explore the backcountry headwater streams of Cape Romano’s Ten A 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 Sullivan Bay. 10,000 Islands features a group of abandoned domed houses on stilts, along with permit, cobra and shook appearing at the bottom of your spool.

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. Of inshore species to reel in, catch snapper, grouper, porgy, speckled sea trout, mackerel, grunt and even the large game fish like bone fish, permit, barracuda and tarpon.

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, shook 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. Black drum and speckled sea trout are found all year round in the vast lagoon that is primarily grass flats.

fishing kayak inshore water action
(Source: www.youtube.com)

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. 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.

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. Lakes, rivers, inlets, canals, and even ocean habitats are options for kayak fishermen and women in the Sunshine State.

Without giving too much away, we’re happy to share the water systems that we enjoy kayak fishing the most throughout Florida. The backcountry and flats to the north of these chain of islands is a unique habitat that’s perfect for kayaking.

Bone fish and tarpon are just a few of our favorite species to target when fishing these clear waters. Both species are known to spook easily, and the silent approach of a kayak is an advantage we’ll gladly take.

Near Tampa, there are intracoastal waterways and mangrove islands that offer great spots for kayak anglers. Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, and Sarasota all have ramps and launch points that provide access to this incredible fishery.

fishing inshore kayak florida
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De Soto National Park near St. Pete has both shallow and deep water spots, and is a great place to hook a shook, trout, or Spanish Mack. There’s a section of Florida ’s Panhandle that’s known as the Forgotten Coast.” It runs from Port St. Joe to East Point, near two of our favorite places to go kayak fishing.

The calm waters here offer great fishing opportunities, especially for those new to the sport of kayak fishing. This brackish system is helped by the freshwater from the Apalachicola River and the saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico.

You’ll be able to get your feet wet, so to speak, on this technique without the worry of buying all the gear. Kayaks are now built specifically for fishing, with everything you need with an arm’s reach and storage compartments for your gear and tackle.

Think about it, you are the power source for your vessel and after just a few hours fishing in the sun you’ll be tired. Kayak fishing in St. Joseph Sound (Photo by Kathy Run)Years ago, before kayak fishing was cool, I had a friend who lived in Pompano Beach who would paddle out from the 16th Street Beach to the Gulf Stream and cast a line.

On occasion, as the stories go, he would hook a sailfish and skim the waves in “pursuit,” hanging on for dear life as he got dragged to sea. Bill never bragged about his adventures, at least not to me, although there were plenty of fish stories told on his behalf, if you get my drift.

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My immediate thoughts go to the Keys, the Ten A Thousand Islands, Tampa Bay, Indian River Lagoon, the Everglades, Mosquito Lagoon, Cedar Key and Apalachicola Bay, and there is bounty in Florida ’s many spring-fed freshwater streams, lakes and rivers, such as the St. John’s or Lake Okeechobee. And unlike Bill’s primitive yak, many of today’s kayaks are built for fishing with rod holders, storage hatches, and some even have live wells.

Lines get snagged too easily, and multiple rods interfere with your ability to follow a fish that circles your boat. One rod holder, either in front the cockpit or behind it, whichever is convenient and accessible.

A rod holder mounted behind you also serves your trolling in transit, as you paddle to your favorite fishing hole. A portal or hatch into which you can drop the fish below deck onto a bag of ice is best, but not all kayaks are so equipped.

Due to space limitations, the cooler can also be used for beverages and frozen bait, should that be your choice. My friend Warren Richey, an avid kayak fisherman and author of “Without A Paddle”, keeps it simpler still.

“Once I was next to a guy (about 20 yards away) when he had his entire stringer ripped free by a big shark. If you use a strong stringer, the shark may come in fast, take it, and flip the boat.

fishing kayak florida fl beach palm nautical kayaks south
(Source: www.nauticalventures.com)

“It makes it much easier to get the fish off the line and into the stringer without being cut bloody by gills and spines.” Other optional equipment includes a drift sock to stabilize the kayak in currents, a moderate length of line and a small river anchor so you can get out and wade.

The wider the beam, the slower the kayak, but it’s more stable when you hook that fish and reel it in. Wilderness Systems Pun go 120 Anglophobe Mirage Pro AnglerThere are many advantages to a sit-inside, not the least of which is the ease of storing your gear and your catch easily below deck.

Two that immediately come to mind are the Hobin Mirage (sit-on-top) and the Wilderness Systems Pun go Angler (sit inside). But you can easily spend $1,000 and up for a specially rigged fishing yak, while the kayak you already have can be modified for much less and provide just as much fun.

Keep in mind that your gear is going to be exposed to the elements, dropped in the water, undergo stress and more, so leave your high-end rod and reel at home. Wear a life vest designed for fishing, with pockets for a small box of hooks, sinkers and leaders.

For a rig, stick to the basics, unless you are targeting a specific species that requires special gear. A flat line with just a hook is my preference for drifting live bait in currents.

fishing kayak florida offshore destin gopro hobie
(Source: www.doovi.com)

A fish finder rig, where the sinker slides on the line above the swivel, which is tied to a leader and hook, is the right choice for fishing the bottom. If you are around oyster bars, where redfish congregate, use an Equalizer, a cork float with a one-foot leader that drifts with the current.

Circle hook are also a good choice, especially if you are not quick on the draw when a fish takes your bait. Tied to your kayak, they float behind the boat while you fish and have holes that refresh the water (and oxygen) for your bait.

When you’re on the move, pull the bucket into the cockpit while you paddle so it doesn’t drag. As I mentioned earlier, a Sabik rig with multiple miniature hooks is handy for catching small bait fish in the wild, but you need a small bucket to keep that bait alive.

My favorite bait in Mosquito Lagoon, for example, are little crabs that scurry everywhere on island beaches. Indeed, it’s always a good idea to carry some artificial in your tackle box or fishing vest pockets in case you run out of live bait.

Keep in mind that the larger the shrimp you use, the easier it is for sly prey to steal it. A kayak offers terrific access to prime, quiet areas for fly-fishing.

kayak fishing spots florida panhandle journal vanhunks
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I’ve had huge fun catching redfish with streamers in saltwater and bass with big bugs and poppers in fresh water ponds. My standard rod for Florida fly-fishing, whether it be salt or fresh water, is an 8-weight.

It’s heavy enough to handle anything from bass to shook, yet light enough to give you the thrill of the catch. My most memorable catch on a fly rod was a bunker bass on a popper out of a remote, little-used pond.

Don’t forget your water shoes So, you are coming up on an oyster bar and want to get out of the boat and wade. Neither are mud flats, coral banks or seagrass beds.

Oyster bars are prime territory, so search them out in waters that support them. Always make a point to talk to the clerk at a tackle shop near your fishing destination.

They won’t divulge the “big” secrets, but they will advise on the right bait and provide you with a general description of where the fish are likely biting. Half the fun of kayak fishing is finding your own special spot, a prolific hole that produces the big catch.

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1 portal.ncdenr.org - http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/north-carolina-state-saltwater-records
2 www.fishing-nc.com - http://www.fishing-nc.com/nc-fishing-records.php
3 www.coastalreview.org - https://www.coastalreview.org/2020/11/whats-on-the-line-north-carolina-grouper/
4 www.louisianasportsman.com - https://www.louisianasportsman.com/fishing/offshore-fishing/black-grouper-weighs-almost-double-the-previous-state-record/
5 www.fortunehuntercharters.com - https://www.fortunehuntercharters.com/records.html
6 www.pointclickfish.com - https://www.pointclickfish.com/fishing/saltwater-fishing/offshore/big-carolina-gag-grouper/