13 Best Catfish Fishing Rivers and Lakes in Florida

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Few states can boast a broader range of catfish angling opportunities than Florida. Rivers and lakes all over the state offer truly exceptional fishing for whiskerfish. 

Fishing for catfish in Florida can be excellent year-round, but most anglers would agree that the best time to catch cats is during the dog days of summer.

It’s no surprise that so many catfishers choose to fish after dark. Not only do catfish bite best after the sun goes down, but night fishing is the best way to beat the heat … and the mosquitoes.

Channel catfish are widespread throughout Florida, and commonly exceed 10 pounds (the state record, weighing 44.5 pounds, has stood since 1985). In addition, anglers catch white catfish in many areas, and several species of bullhead are abundant. 

Blue catfish are native only to a small corner of Western Florida, but blues have expanded throughout Panhandle. Even flathead catfish, once completely absent from Florida, are now common throughout the northern portion of the state. Both species are capable of exceeding 100 pounds in ideal conditions.

Whether you’re interested in drifting cut bait down a lazy river or fishing a nightcrawler beneath a cork on a quiet lake, these are the best places to catch catfish in Florida.

Florida’s Best Catfish Rivers

Apalachicola River

The Apalachicola River originates in Lake Seminole, at the juncture of Florida and Georgia just below the Alabama state line and the convergence of the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers.

Those two rivers flow into Lake Seminole, and the Apalachicola River emerges from the base of its dam. 

It’s an excellent catfish river with abundant bottom structures, including logs, roots, deep holes, and channel edges.

The long stretch from the Jim Woodruff Dam at Lake Seminole near the city of Chattahoochee down to Owl Creek, closer to the coast, offers some of the best catfish action.

The Apalachicola may not produce the biggest catfish in Florida, but no other waterway can match the sheer number of catfish caught here. It’s likely Florida’s most consistent catfish river. 

Still, it would be a serious mistake to expect to catch only small fish. Fishermen frequently land blues and flatheads weighing over 30 pounds here. Fish that size—while perhaps not “trophy” catfish by most standards—are impressive.

The mouths of creeks and tributaries, including the Chipola River and the aforementioned Owl Creek, are some of the best places to fish, especially for big blues. Incoming streams create seams in the current, which are highly attractive to blue catfish.

Other current breaks, such as sand bars and bridge pilings, are also good areas to fish.

Almost any bait that gives off a scent can tempt blue catfish. The top choices are cut baits such as mullet, shad, and sunfish.

Live bait is a better choice if you’re after flatheads. The Apalachicola may have the state’s highest concentration of flathead catfish per square mile. 

Flatheads are caught down to Dead Lakes, but some of the best fishing is the stretch right below the dam, which is accessible by bank or boat through Chattahoochee River Landing Park.

St. Johns River

You won’t find flatheads or blue cats in the St. Johns River, which flows 310 miles northward through Central Florida before meeting the Atlantic Ocean in Jacksonville. But it just might be the best channel catfish fishery in the state. 

The St. Johns River is a nutrient-rich waterway that is placid and slow-moving during normal conditions. Channel catfish are common throughout this river—the longest in the Sunshine State—but the section between Palatka and Lake George is arguably the best.

Channel catfish are incredibly abundant throughout this section. Most weigh a pound or two, but anglers often catch catfish over 15 pounds.

The St. Johns River also supports tremendous bullhead populations and a more limited white catfish population. 

For anglers targeting channel cats, some of the best structures to fish are shell beds, which are common throughout the river south of Lake George. Deep holes at river bends are also great places to try. 

That said, you will likely find some of the biggest channel catfish in shallow (3 to 6 feet) sloughs, coves, and backwater areas with slack water.

Channel cats are opportunists, biting anything from cut bait and crabs to nightcrawlers and dough baits.

Dozens of St. Johns River tributaries also offer great catfish angling opportunities, particularly the Ocklawaha River, which empties into the St. Johns near Palatka. (You’ll find a separate section for this excellent tributary further down in this article.)

Dunns Creek and Murphy Creek, two streams that connect the St, Johns River to Crescent Lake, are also great places to fish for channel cats. Both streams flow through state conservation areas that provide access, and you’ll find a boat launch on the St. Johns River at Brown’s Landing. 

The farther downriver you go, the greater the influence of the tide becomes. An outgoing tide brings the best catfishing in the lower St. Johns River.

There’s a lot of excellent access in the Jacksonville area, including the County Dock in Walter Jones Historical Park.

More: Complete Guide to St. Johns River Fishing

Choctawhatchee River

The Choctawhatchee River is one of Florida’s great big catfish rivers and has turned out some genuinely mammoth blue and flathead catfish over the years.

The Florida state record blue catfish, weighing 69.5 pounds, was caught in the Choctawhatchee River in 2015.

However, in 2018, an angler pulled a 120-pound blue from the river. But it was ineligible as a record due to being caught on a trotline.

The Choctawhatchee River begins in Alabama and flows 141 miles south across the Florida Panhandle, ultimately draining into the Gulf of Mexico through Choctawhatchee Bay near Destin.

Florida anglers widely consider the stretch from the state line to the I-10 bridge as the best for catfish. This section is mostly shallow, and tends to be deeply turbid due to sediment runoff from farmlands farther upstream. 

Mouths of tributaries like Holmes Creek offer some of the best bites for big blue catfish in the Choctawhatchee River. Oily bait fish like mullet, skipjack, and gizzard shad are the most effective cut baits.

Blue cats are opportunists and gobble up mussels, crawfish, shrimp, nightcrawlers, and other natural baits that cross their paths. There are also those days when blues seem to prefer live baitfish, though cut bait tends to be most effective across the board.

Like other larger rivers in the Panhandle, flathead catfish have also found their way into the Choctawhatchee and made themselves right at home. Lots of 20-plus pound flatheads are caught here, and some may top 50 pounds.

Plenty of feisty channel cats are available too. In general, channel cats are more often caught around roots and snags, while blues roam open water.

There’s an excellent bank and boat access to the Choctawhatchee River at East Pittman Creek Landing and several additional landings farther downriver.

The river is a designated state paddling trail, and this map is a fantastic resource for finding access.

Ochlockonee River

Flowing out of Georgia and passing through Lake Talquin near Tallahassee, the Ochlockonee River totals 206 miles in length. It eventually enters the Gulf through Ochlockonee Bay and offers some top-notch flathead fishing along the way. 

This river is primarily known for having some of Florida’s best fishing for redbreast sunfish, and these panfish are ideal bait for flatheads. Just remember that sunfish must be caught using hook and line and cannot be used to bait trotlines or jug lines. 

Many catfish anglers will start their day on the Ochlockonee River by catching a pail of sunfish.

For big flatheads, you can’t beat a live redbreast sunfish around snags, stumps, and holes. Look for water that’s over 10 feet deep. 

The Ochlockonee River also supports an excellent channel catfish population. In addition, bullheads are abundant, and white catfish also appear in catches.

The Jackson Bluff Dam tailwater below Lake Talquin is one of the best places to fish for catfish on the Ochlockonee River. Access is available alongside the FL-20 bridge, just below the dam. There are also several campgrounds and fish camps in the area.

The Lower Ochlockonee River is a state paddling trail, and a map showing launch sites and landings is available here.

During normal flow conditions, you can explore the river by kayak or canoe, beaching your craft at various banks and sand bars as you fish. 

Escambia River

Blue catfish are native to the Escambia River, and catfishers continue to land some big blues here even as these fish have become widespread across the Florida Panhandle. But these days, the Escambia River is just as well known for flatheads. 

The Escambia River traverses 54 miles from the Alabama state line to Escambia Bay near Pensacola. Above the state line in Alabama, the river is known as the Conecuh River, and it flows 198 miles before it enters Florida.

Anglers have pulled flathead catfish over 50 pounds from the Escambia River, and many local guides are confident that state-record fish currently swim in this waterway.

The entire stretch of river from the state line down to the I-10 crossing at Escambia Bay can produce big flatheads, but some of the best fishing is around Mineral Springs. There are some excellent log jams in the area that flatheads love.

This stretch of the river is easily accessible from the Chumuckla Springs Boat Ramp.

Try drifting a whole or cut panfish overhanging willow trees lining the bank in depths over 5 feet. Below the Old Rusted Bridge, just upriver from the boat ramp, is another prime spot. 

You’ll likely score a few blue cats, too, especially on cut bait.

Rigging your bait on a modified Carolina rig is effective, but add a small float to keep your bait out of bottom debris.

Ocklawaha River

The Ocklawaha flows 74 miles through Central Florida, originating from the Harris Chain of Lakes near Orlando and eventually dumping into the St. Johns River. Like the larger river it feeds, the Ocklawaha offers great fishing for channel catfish.

The river was dammed in 1968 to create Lake Ocklawaha (better known as Rodman Reservoir), and there is excellent catfish angling in areas above and below the reservoir.

Below the dam, the river meanders through Ocala National Forest. This section is popular among kayakers, and there are several launches and landings, including the Rodman Dam Kayak Launch in Rodman Recreation Area

This whole stretch has the potential to yield channel cats over 20 pounds, along with abundant fish in the 3- to 5-pound range.

Anglers who don’t have a boat can also catch catfish in the tailrace below the dam. There are bank access areas and fishing piers on both sides.

Resident catfish provide solid fishing in the lower Ocklawaha River year-round. However, an influx of spawning catfish from the St. Johns River makes early to mid-summer a perfect time of year to fish.

There’s excellent access to the Ocklawaha River above the reservoir as well.

The Gores Landing Unit of Ocklawaha River Wildlife Management Area spans a wild section of the river from Gores Landing to County Road 316 in Marion County. Bank access and launch sites are available at either end of this section.

Yellow River

Along with the neighboring Escambia River, the Yellow River is one of only two Florida waterways to which blue catfish are considered native.

Beginning in Alabama, the river flows 118 miles southward through the western Panhandle of Florida toward Blackwater Bay.

Blue catfish prefer a habitat that offers clear, swift water and a bottom composed of rock, sand, and gravel, all of which you’ll find in the Yellow River. Much of the river bottom is white sand, contrasting with the clear but tannic-stained waters that give the Yellow River its name.

The Yellow River is also a trophy fishery for flathead catfish. The current state record flathead, weighing 69.9 pounds, was caught here in August of 2020. A previous state record flathead came from the Yellow River in 2011.

Though flathead catfish are reaching impressive sizes in the Yellow River, they’re less common than in some other Panhandle rivers. Channel catfish are the most common species in the river, and they often bite live crawfish with the pincers removed.

Numerous access sites are available for bank fishing. This Yellow River Paddling Trail map includes many of the best landings and fishing spots.

Some of the best fishing is from the confluence of the Yellow and Shoal rivers downstream to River’s Edge Campground in Holt.

Florida’s Best Catfish Lakes

Lake Talquin

Located just west of Tallahassee on the Ochlockonee River, 8,900-acre Lake Talquin offers many of the same opportunities as the river. Namely, it harbors a huge population of catfish. 

Channel catfish are incredibly abundant in Lake Talquin, including plenty of good eating-size fish weighing 2 to 4 pounds. Anglers also have a fair shot at catching a 15-pound-plus giant. Channel cats inhabit areas throughout the lake, and anglers commonly catch them from shore. 

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission (FWC) has placed fish-attracting brush piles near several of Lake Talquin’s fishing piers. These fish attractors are ideal areas to target catfish as well as the lake’s great numbers of crappie and sunfish. 

In particular, the fishing piers in Lake Talquin State Park are reliable places to fish. Catfish commonly bite stink baits and dough baits during both day and night. In addition, many locals favor live nightcrawlers as bait. 

Summer is the best time to catch channel cats as they finish their spawning season, with the hottest days of the year often offering the best fishing. 

If you have a boat, you can access even more excellent additional catfish water.

Boat ramps are available in the state park, and the nearby bluff banks along the south shore often produce fish in 8 to 10 feet of water. Try fishing deeper along the river channel if catfish aren’t biting in shallow water. 

Flathead catfish have increasingly made their presence known in Lake Talquin in recent years, and anglers now can expect to catch the occasional monster flathead here, especially on live bait.

More: Complete Guide to Lake Talquin Fishing

Kissimmee Chain of Lakes

Consisting of four major lakes and many smaller lakes and ponds connected by a 20-mile stretch of the Kissimmee River, the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes offers some of the best fishing for channel catfish in Central Florida.

Catfish are abundant throughout the chain, but many local anglers would call 35,000-acre Lake Kissimmee the best catfish lake in the area. Cats are caught in the main lake and the canals and sloughs connecting to it. 

One of the best areas is the canal between lakes Hatchineha and Kissimmee, also known as the C-37 Canal. The channel and nearby lake areas are accessible through Lake Kissimmee State Park

Other prime areas include the Southport Canal (C-35) and the canal between Lake Cypress and Lake Hatchineha (C-36). 

The best time to target channel cats in the Kissimmee Chain is immediately after they finish spawning. The typical spawning season is April through June. Catfish leave their dens hungry and are highly active through August. 

Lake Seminole

Located at the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers on the state line with Georgia, Lake Seminole is a 37,500-acre reservoir best known for striped bass and some of Florida’s best largemouth bass fishing.

But it’s also a catfish powerhouse that offers all three major species. In all likelihood, Lake Seminole was the first place in Florida to be invaded by flathead catfish, which probably made their way down the rivers from Georgia. 

Blue cats swim the depths too, but channel catfish remain the most common catfish species in Lake Seminole. There are some good-sized ones too, but most are in the 1- to 3-pound range, which happens to be just right for a fish fry.

Shallow areas all along the western shore of the lake on the Florida side offer great catfish angling. In particular, look for timber areas (there are a lot of them) and keep your bait just off the bottom. Lake Seminole’s channel cats can hardly resist live nightcrawlers. 

Anglers will find an abundance of access in this area. Sneads ParkThree Rivers State Park, and Howells Landing offer boat launch facilities and bank fishing access. 

Anglers catch some bigger catfish in Lake Seminole in deep waters near the dam. There’s also an excellent bite along the rip-rap bank near the dam, especially in spring.

It’s essential to keep a close eye on where you are relative to the state line when fishing in this area. The states that share the lake don’t have reciprocal fishing license agreements, and it’s easy to drift over into Georgia if you’re not careful.

Rodman Reservoir

The 9,500-acre Rodman Reservoir (aka Lake Ocklawaha) is a prime Central Florida fishing lake created by damming the Ocklawaha River. It’s known primarily as a bass lake but also offers some of the best channel cat action in Central Florida.

Initially, planners intended the lake to be part of the ill-fated Cross Florida Barge Canal but never finished it. But a portion of the canal was excavated, forming a deep channel straight through present-day Rodman Reservoir. 

Local anglers know that the ticket to catching a mess of catfish is to follow the channels—the canal and the original Ocklawaha River path—which are distinctly visible on depth maps of the lake. 

The majority of Rodman Reservoir is relatively shallow, and you can locate some productive stump fields and timber areas on the broad flats close to the channel edges.

Try fishing the channel at 15- to 20-foot depths during the day, and move to nearby shallow cover at night. 

Channel catfish weighing over 30 pounds can come from Rodman Reservoir, and there are plenty of sturdy 10-pounders in this lake. Chicken and beef livers are popular baits, along with mussels from the Ocklawaha River. 

Access is plentiful on Rodman Reservoir, but having a boat is ideal for getting the most out of this lake. In addition, the launch site at Kenwood Recreation Area has bank fishing, which is most productive in early summer when cats are in shallow water to spawn.

Another good spot is Rodman Recreation Area, which provides access to the lake above the dam and the Ocklawaha River below. The recreation area includes camping and launch facilities. 

Lake Okeechobee

Many of Florida’s best catfish holes are in the northern and central parts of the state, but Lake Okeechobee is a standout lake in South Florida. Spanning 467,000 acres, it’s also Florida’s largest lake. 

Channel catfish are so plentiful here that Lake Okeechobee supports a commercial fishery for them. More than a million pounds of catfish are harvested annually, which doesn’t seem to dent the population. 

Because Lake Okeechobee is so shallow (the deepest point is about 12 feet), catfish inhabit areas all over the lake. With widespread vegetation, the only real trick to locating catfish is to get outside the thick beds of hydrilla, eelgrass, and pondweed. 

You can expect most of the channel cats you catch to be eating-size fish weighing a pound or two, but don’t be shocked to hook one weighing upwards of 15 pounds. White catfish are also present, and bullheads are abundant.

Classic catfish baits are effective here, including chicken livers, nightcrawlers, and dough/stink baits. Generally, it’s best to use a float to keep your bait off the sandy bottom. Also, use a larger bait to avoid catching only bullheads.

Some of the best catfish angling is in and around the various canals that connect to Lake Okeechobee, including the Indian Prairie Canal, Harney Pond Canal, and the Rim Canal, which runs parallel to much of the lakeshore.

Bank access is available at all of the above, and more than a dozen boat ramps are scattered along the lakeshore. This map from the US Army Corps of Engineers is a handy guide to Lake Okeechobee access.

Much more information: Lake Okeechobee Fishing

Tenoroc Fish Management Area

Tenoroc Fish Management Area (also known as Tenoroc Public Use Area) is a unique fishing destination near Lakeland in Central Florida. Tenoroc includes 24 lakes that range in size from 7 to 227 acres, all open to the public.

These lakes are former mining operations that have been flooded and reclaimed. As the forest has grown back around them over the last 40-plus years, the ponds have gained a reputation for great fishing. 

Channel cats are one of the most often-caught species at Tenoroc, along with crappie, bream, and largemouth bass.

Most lakes are simply named “Tenoroc Lake #1,” “Tenoroc Lake #2,” and so on. But just about all of them harbor catfish.

These small lakes have abundant cover, from logs and brush piles to steep ledges and holes, making them simple places to find and catch catfish. Worms, crawfish, blood baits, and minnows are all popular and effective catfish baits. 

Some of these lakes are exceptionally snaggy, so use a bobber to keep your bait just off the bottom.

The Tenoroc lakes are easily accessible for bank and boat fishing.

Watercraft are limited to electric motors and non-powered craft only, making this a popular place among kayak anglers. 

The Florida FWC has some great resources on the area, including maps of each lake.

Be sure to check the regulations carefully before you go. Some limits within Tenoroc Fish Management Area vary from statewide rules.

Catch More Catfish

Check out the bait and rigging suggestions in our simple guide to catfish fishing techniques and tips.