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Hidden Gem Fishing Spots in Florida

By Sam White, Editor in Chief of Marlin Magazine

The state of Florida is home to some of the best inshore and nearshore fishing in the United States—among those top destinations are a few that, while maybe not truly hidden, aren’t as well-known as, say, the Florida Keys. Among those hidden gems are a handful sprinkled along the western coast, from the northwestern region known as the Big Bend south past Tampa Bay to the Ten Thousand Islands in the southwestern corner of the Sunshine State. Let’s take a closer look at what makes these destinations so special.


Laid-back and historic: With approximately 2,500 year-round residents, Apalachicola has had a seafood industry for more than 175 years. It has had a significant impact in shaping the culture and maritime heritage of the area while also providing seafood purveyors with the namesake Apalachicola oysters. Its bay of the same name has some of the best trout and redfish action in the entire state, and it’s also a relatively easy commute from the state capital in Tallahassee as well as from the Panhandle vacation destinations of Destin and Fort Walton Beach.

Crystal River and Homosassa

Located just north of Tampa, Crystal River has a twisting network of spring-fed rivers flowing out to the Gulf of Mexico, just one reason it’s often called the “Gem of the Nature Coast.” It’s aptly named for the river of the same name which flows through the small community, with King’s Bay Park and Fort Island Gulf Beach Park both providing easy access to kayak and boat-launching facilities. From the first of July through September 24, the Crystal River area offers a unique experience: snorkeling for scallops. It’s a fun summer tradition that also yields a tasty treat, with adults and kids of all ages delighting in the hunt for the mollusks in shallow water along the grass flats just offshore.

One of the state’s original fishing villages, Homosassa is just south of Crystal River and perched on the Homosassa River, another spring-fed waterway leading to the Gulf of Mexico. Another nearby waterway, the hard-to-pronounce but easy to fish Chassahowitzka River—locals just call it the Chaz—also has excellent angling opportunities for a wide variety of gamefish. Charters, boat rentals and guides are plentiful in both locations but be sure to book in advance.

Tampa Bay

tampa bay

Trolling large lipped plugs in the wintertime along Tampa Bay’s shipping channels can produce some very respectable gag grouper like this one.

The largest bay on the west coast, the region between Saint Petersburg and Tampa has the widest variety of fishing opportunities. The port is one of the busiest in the state, but thanks to the deep water it’s also possible to fish for offshore notables like tarpon, king mackerel, cobia, snapper and grouper in the relatively protected waters of the bay. While the spring and fall seasons can be breezy, those are the prime times for the annual migrations of tarpon and kingfish specifically. Winter offers excellent grouper fishing, with locals trolling large lipped plugs along the depths of the shipping channel. On the flats, trout and redfish abound, making this a true angler’s paradise. There are also scores of charter operations to choose from, for just about any style of fishing and any budget.

Charlotte Harbor and Boca Grande


A Boca Grande tarpon, ready for release. While the crowds can be thick, the fishing can also be just as hot.

Boca Grande means tarpon, and the word is definitely out–in the prime seasons from early May through the end of August it’s possible to nearly hop from boat to boat across the mouth of Boca Grande Pass—the action for the silver king can be some of the best in the world. But don’t forget about the rest of Charlotte Harbor, which has excellent angling for a variety of gamefish. The snook fishing can be incredible especially in the summer, where artificial lures can actually outfish live bait. Target big linesiders around structure, whether they’re laid up in the shade around docks and piers or deep within the mangroves.

Ten Thousand Islands


Full of passes and inlets, an outgoing tide off the Ten Thousand Islands can have the king mackerel stacked up in large numbers.

Located about 40 miles south of Naples is the region known as the Ten Thousand Islands, a chain of remote islets with more than 35,000 acres of mangroves. This stretch of the western Everglades is a massive nursery with nearly every species on an angler’s wish list readily available. The gateway is Chokoloskee Island, a 137-acre outpost located on the southern side. “Choko” is a favored jumping-off point for those heading into the mangroves. Thanks to the seclusion as well as the protection offered by the various islands, it’s possible to fish there in nearly any weather short of a tropical disturbance. And with more fishing spots per mile than any other, finding pristine waters is easy. For the uninitiated though, it’s best to fish with a guide to get to know these twisting waterways before venturing out on your own.

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