Everything You Need to Know about Fishing the Everglades (2023)

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The Everglades is an ecosystem unlike any other in North America. If any place could truly be called a fisherman’s paradise, this is it. 

The Everglades encompass 7,800 square miles at the southernmost tip of Florida. With a landscape that ranges from freshwater lakes and canals to sawgrass marshes, pinelands, brackish cypress swamps and mangroves, the Everglades support an incredible diversity of life. 

That includes both freshwater and saltwater fish, which intermingle in many areas thanks to the Everglades’ unique mixture of fresh and saltwater. 

The precise boundaries of the Everglades are difficult to define, but the region generally extends from Lake Okeechobee south to Florida Bay, and from the canals of Broward and Miami-Dade counties west across the state to the Ten Thousand Islands region of the Gulf Coast. 

Everglades National Park encompasses and preserves most of the southern Everglades. The remainder of the region includes state and federal wildlife refuges, preserves, forests and parks, and some private lands. 

Within the Everglades lies some of America’s best fishing. But, of course, given the vastness of this so-called “River of Grass,” it’s helpful to be pointed in the right direction. We’ll show you the way.

Top Everglades Fish Species

Largemouth Bass

Almost certainly the most sought-after freshwater fish in the Everglades, largemouth bass are abundant in Lake Okeechobee and throughout the canal systems that carry fresh water southward from the lake to the tip of Florida.

The Everglades isn’t primarily known for trophy largemouths, but the sheer numbers of fish here are incredible. Catching 50 to 75 bass in a day is par for the course when the bite is good.

And the bite is usually good. Expect most of the bass you catch to be in the 2- to 5-pound range. Bass weighing 10 pounds or more are rare but not unheard of. Your best shot at a trophy largemouth in the Everglades is Lake Okeechobee.

The canals are a lot of fun to fish too.

Some of the more northern canals have a bowl-like bottom profile, but most of the southern canals in Miami-Dade County are square-cut, with straight 10-foot sides that make them easy to navigate by bass boat.

The best bass fishing in the Everglades takes place during the cooler part of the year. Bass fishing usually kicks into gear in fall and stays productive well into spring after bass spawn during the winter months. 

The most effective tactic is to target bass around vegetation, of which the Everglades have plenty. Bass use lily pads, cattails, Kissimmee grass, coontail and arrowheads as shade and ambush cover.

Try working a chugging topwater plug along the edges of the vegetation or a floating frog right over the top of it. Another great tactic is tossing unweighted wacky worms and other soft plastics into gaps between the weeds.

Catch More Bass

Check out these articles to catch more largemouth bass in the Everglades and across Florida.

Peacock Bass

First introduced to the canals in the Miami area to help control invasive fish species in the 1980s, butterfly peacock bass have become one of the most sought-after sport fish in South Florida.

Peacock bass are natives of South America, and you won’t mistake their vivid yellow and orange coloration. They commonly measure 15 to 19 inches, weigh up to 5 pounds, and fight better than almost any fish swimming in freshwater.

Like largemouth bass, peacock bass eat primarily smaller fish. Topwaters including Heddon Tiny Torpedoes and Zara Spooks are highly effective, along with soft jerkbaits like Zoom Flukes.

Some anglers also fly fish for peacock bass using Clouser Minnows.

The best peacock bass fishing is in the urban canals in and around Miami and Fort Lauderdale, including those that traverse the eastern boundaries of the Everglades. These include the Tamiami or C-4 Canal and the “Alligator Alley” canals that parallel I-75.

Peacock bass cannot survive temperatures below 76°F and are most active during the hotter months of the year. They are daytime feeders and seldom bite after dusk.

Catch More Peacock Bass

We have a guide to the best peacock bass fishing in Florida, including the top spots and the most effective techniques to catch these exciting fish.

Snook

Snook are among the most popular saltwater species to inhabit the Everglades.

Voracious predators and hard fighters, snook commonly measure 20 to 30 inches but are capable of getting quite a bit bigger. 

With extensive shallow flats and miles of mangrove shorelines, the Everglades support some of the best snook fishing on earth.

Snook bite readily on live baits like mullet and shrimp, as well as a wide range of artificial flies, jerkbaits, jigs and plugs that mimic baitfish. 

Snook are available year-round, though the best tactics and locations vary by season. There’s a major difference between the dry season (mid-December through mid-April) and the rest of the year, which is considered the wet season.

December through February are great months to find snook in very shallow water, including small creeks, shallow flats, backwater areas, and right up against mangroves. Winter is an excellent season for fly fishing and sight-fishing for snook. 

Look for snook in larger bays and cuts during the spring and fall. The mouths of rivers and creeks are also productive during these times.

April-May and September-October offer arguably the best fishing. Snook season is usually closed during the summer spawning season. 

The Snake Bight area at the southern edge of the Everglades is a great area for snook fishing on Florida Bay, as are the various river mouths from East Cape to Shark River.

There’s great snook fishing in the outer islands of the Ten Thousand Islands as well, so check out that section below.  

Redfish (Red Drum)

Perhaps the most frequently-caught saltwater game fish in the Everglades, redfish are common in mangroves, sandy flats, seagrass beds, spring-fed creeks and oyster bars all along Florida’s coast. 

Also known as red drum, redfish commonly reach 40 inches and weigh 25 pounds or more. They have copper-bronze coloration, large scales, and almost always display a dark spot near the base of the tail.

Red drum inhabit many of the same areas as snook. Comparatively, they are more likely to feed on the bottom, and are a bit more skittish, which necessitates some stealth on the part of anglers. Although redfish will strike a lure, live bait is often more effective.

Live shrimp under a popping cork is the top redfish bait. They will also snap up crabs and a wide range of baitfish, including mullet and pinfish. Keeping one’s bait on or near bottom offers the best chances of success. Scented soft plastics are the best artificial baits. 

Redfish inhabit coastal Everglades waters year-round, with the best fishing between April and June and during September and October. You might find a slight lull in activity during January and February.

Anglers catch a lot of redfish on the flats and mangroves in the Flamingo area. Ponce de Leon Bay and Whitewater Bay are also great spots, along with the Ten Thousand Islands.

Catching a mixed bag of snook and redfish is common on any given day.

Catch More Redfish

Be sure to check out our complete guide to redfish (red drum) fishing techniques and tips, including the best baits and lures.

Tarpon

There may be no Florida game fish more prized than tarpon. Astonishing fighters, tarpon are agile predators known for line-straining runs and for going fully airborne when hooked. 

The Everglades supports a year-round resident tarpon population and annual migratory tarpon that enter the region to spawn every year. The resident tarpon are smaller, typically ranging from 5 to 75 pounds, while the migratory fish are mature adults from 50 to 200 pounds.

Migratory fish make their way up into the inland rivers, bays and lakes of the Everglades—areas known as “The Backcountry” among locals—in spring.

Tarpon spawn in summer and then gradually make their way back toward the Atlantic and Caribbean through the Florida Keys. 

That makes spring and fall the best seasons to target tarpon in the Everglades, with May being arguably the top month. That being said, summer is a great time to target so-called “baby tarpon” under 40 pounds.

Almost any minnow-imitating lure can tempt tarpon, with jerkbaits, jigs and large streamer flies being favored by many. Tarpon will often strike surprisingly small lures for their size. 

Tarpon are an iconic sport fish in Florida, and tarpon fishing regulations in the state are, consequently, fairly restrictive. Fishing is strictly catch and release, and anglers must keep fish over 40 inches in the water at all times.

If catching a tarpon is on your bucket list (and it really should be), be sure to read about the best tarpon fishing spots across Florida. There are some amazing places.

Other Fish Species

A wide range of other fish inhabit the Everglades.

Freshwater species including black crappie, bluegill, redear sunfish and channel catfish are common in canals and other inland waterways, along with invasive species like oscars and Mayan cichlid. 

Among other saltwater fish here, permit are common in the Flamingo and Snake Bight area and groupers are often encountered by anglers fishing the deep waters off the mouth of the Shark River. Fishing for speckled sea trout peaks from April to June, and red snapper are available in summer and winter.

When to Fish the Everglades

Scenic of swampy water with grass and mangrove trees in the Florida Everglades, prime fishing spots for bass and other gamefish.
Photo by rudyumans (Depositphotos)

Fishing opportunities are available every month of the year in the Everglades.

As a general rule, winter into spring is the best season for targeting largemouth bass and other freshwater species like bluegill and crappie. Peacock bass are at their best in summer. 

For most saltwater species, spring and fall provide the best fishing in the Everglades. However, there can be great tarpon and snook fishing in summer, with winter being the off-season for most major saltwater species. 

5 Best Freshwater Fishing Spots in the Everglades

Lake Okeechobee

Most of the freshwater that flows through the Everglades originates in Lake Okeechobee, a vast 467,000-acre lake that is the largest body of water in Florida. Most people consider the lake the northern edge of the Everglades. 

Despite its colossal size, Lake Okeechobee averages just 8 feet deep, and its lush, weedy shallows are breeding grounds for fish, including largemouth bass and crappie. As a result, top anglers consider Okeechobee one of Florida’s best bass lakes. 

Some excellent fishing areas are in the southern part of Lake Okeechobee, including South Bay, Coot Bay, the West Wall and Grass Island. Several parks and marinas in the Clewiston area offer access to this part of the lake. 

The west end of the lake, which includes Harney Pond and the Monkey Box area, is also a top area for bass fishing.

Popular bass tactics include pitching soft plastics around the edges of reeds and eelgrass beds and using heavy jigs to punch through hydrilla mats. 

A canal known as the Rim Canal runs parallel to almost the entire lakeshore. This channel provides excellent spawning habitat for bass, crappie, catfish and bream.

Lake Okeechobee is also the source of the Miami Canal, or C-6 Canal which flows 77 miles across the Everglades to Miami.

Much more information: Complete Guide to Lake Okeechobee Fishing

Alligator Alley

Alligator Alley is the longstanding nickname of I-75, now more properly known as the Everglades Parkway, which crosses the Everglades east to west between Fort Lauderdale and Naples.

Canals parallel the highway on either side, providing great fishing opportunities. 

Largemouth and peacock bass are common catches in the canals, along with a wide range of panfish, including bluegill, redear sunfish and warmouth. Florida gar and bowfin are also common, though seldom targeted by anglers.

Casting jerkbaits along canal edges, under bridges, and around vegetation beds is a common and effective canal fishing tactic. Topwaters also work well, especially early and late in the day. 

Several designated rest areas and recreation areas offer parking and bank fishing access on both the eastbound and westbound lanes of Alligator Alley. Boat launch facilities are also available at several of these sites.

One of the best spots to fish the canal is the recreation area at mile marker 36, which provides floating fishing docks, a boat ramp, and canoe/kayak launch. It is located at the intersection of the Miami Canal and Alligator Alley, so anglers have a lot of water available to them here. 

Markham Park is also an excellent place to fish the canal at its eastern end in Fort Lauderdale. The park sits at the edge of the Everglades and includes boat ramps and bank access. 

Tamiami Canal

The Tamiami Canal, also known as the C-4 Canal, runs parallel to U.S. Highway 41 through the Everglades from Naples to Miami. Flowing west to east, the canal is brackish throughout its first few miles, but the majority of this 100-plus-mile canal is freshwater.

Unlike the Alligator Alley Canal, the Tamiami Canal is easily accessible for bank fishing along almost its entire length, with countless pull-offs along the way and a handful of roadside parks.

The Tamiami Canal also has a lot of bridge crossings, especially toward its western end. These bridges provide some of the best access and key fishing cover. However, anglers will find excellent bass fishing throughout the canal, with lots of 5-pound largemouths. 

Anglers catch saltwater species like snook and tarpon in the more brackish portions of the Tamiami Canal.

Spring is often the best time to fish throughout the canal, as high water during the rainy season can make for challenging fishing conditions. 

The Tamiami Canal passes through various state and federal lands, including a large part of Big Cypress National Preserve. The preserve offers a host of amenities, including campgrounds, hiking trails, and paddling trails. 

Everglades Holiday Park & Sawgrass Recreation Park

Located just a few minutes apart on U.S. Highway 27 just west of Fort Lauderdale, Everglades Holiday Park and Sawgrass Recreation Park are a couple of the most popular places to fish in the Everglades without straying too far from civilization.

Both parks provide access to the network of canals extending from the city into the Everglades. One of these, the L-67A Canal, gained a reputation as one of the best bass fishing spots in the region. 

Boat rentals and bank fishing access are available at both parks, as are guided airboat tours. Sawgrass Recreation Park also offers camping. 

Pine Glades Lake

One of several small freshwater lakes and ponds within Everglades National Park, Pine Glades Lake is a secluded borrow pit lake about 9 miles from the main park entrance. It’s a great place for shore fishing within the park. 

Pine Glades Lake harbors populations of bass and panfish and is accessible via hiking trail off the Main Park Road (State Highway 9336), which is the road to Flamingo.

Nearby Sisal Pond and Ficus Pond also offer similar freshwater fishing options from shore near, a little farther out near the Main Park Road.

5 Best Saltwater Fishing Spots in the Everglades

Flamingo

Located right at the tip of Mainland Florida, Flamingo is the primary access point for most anglers who fish the southern Everglades.

It is located at the very end of the Main Park Road within Everglades National Park, and is the location of the park’s Flamingo Visitor Center

Flamingo overlooks Florida Bay, a vast network of bays and sounds that encompasses the water between the mainland and the Florida Keys. Flamingo Marina is also located here, and camping is available nearby. 

Some of the best fishing in the Everglades is near Flamingo. Snake Bight is the first of many shallow, grassy areas that harbor snook and redfish to the east, and a vast expanse of mangroves, channels and river mouths extends to the west. 

Anglers don’t have to go too far from Flamingo to find productive water. Miles of flats are dotted with isolated mangrove islands where snook and redfish feed on crabs, shrimp and baitfish close to the mangrove roots at high tide.

Much of Florida Bay is skinny water, and requires a boat that can navigate extreme shallows. Many areas east of the launch (including some of the best and most unpressured fishing sports) are no-motor areas.

Snake Bight

Just east of Flamingo, Snake Bight is a vast expanse of water that cuts into the coast of Florida and provides some of the best grass flats for fishing in the Everglades.

Anglers catch most major saltwater species found in the region in Snake Bight. (This kind of bight is an indentation in a body of water, not the business transaction of a snake.)

Snook and redfish are the most frequently sought-after, but speckled trout and permit are also common catches. Tarpon also sometimes come into Snake Bight, feeding on mullet schools.

Fish spook easily in the shallow, crystal-clear waters of Snake Bight, making stealth essential.

Snake Bight has a muddy bottom, and most of its waters outside the Snake Bight Channel and Tin Can Channel are just a few feet deep. It’s ideal for canoe or kayak fishing, but anglers with a boat they can stand up on have a big advantage when spotting fish. 

Live shrimp are the ideal bait on Snake Bight. Look for the visible fins of tailing redfish as they feed in the grass, or cast to the potholes for snook. Fly fishing with shrimp imitations is also a good tactic, and spinning anglers use imitations like Gulp! Shrimp when live bait is unavailable. 

Snake Bight is no secret, and it can get crowded on weekends. It’s not quite as overrun as it used to be, thanks in part to being designated a Pole/Troll Zone (i.e. no combustion motors allowed), but even so, it’s best to fish it mid-week. 

Whitewater Bay

To the northwest, Whitewater Bay is a vast body of brackish water that makes up the largest inland bay in the Everglades.

Fed by a vast network of backcountry waterways, most of the bay is 4 to 6 feet deep. Its waters are tannin-stained and often turbid.

There may be no better place to target tarpon, which make their way into Whitewater Bay every spring, spawn there in summer, and leave again in fall. Snook are common too, but are often simply considered bycatch by anglers targeting tarpon. 

The best areas for tarpon are where deep channels run adjacent to shallow flats and grass beds. Tarpon spend most of their time in the channels but frequently make runs up into nearby shallows to feed. 

No bait catches more tarpon here than a live pinfish, lip-hooked on a circle hook and fished below a float.

Twitchbaits are the favored artificial lure of choice, and fly anglers often use large Clouser Minnows. 

After launching at Flamingo, the easiest access to Whitewater Bay is via the Flamingo Canal, Coot Bay and Tarpon Creek. The bay is also accessible at its opposite end through the Shark River and various other small streams that connect the bay to the Gulf. 

Another productive area is Oyster Bay, which lies west of Whitewater Bay on the Shark River. The two bays are connected by a labyrinth of channels and mangrove islands, and either could be better for tarpon on any given day. 

Shark River

The area around the mouth of the Shark River offers unique fishing opportunities of its own. With a hard bottom of clay and sand, this area is frequented by grouper, snook, and other predatory fish that feed on crabs, fish and shrimp.

Strong tides have carved out deep channels with steep sides at the mouth of the Shark and other rivers and streams that drain the Everglades into the Gulf of Mexico. Redfish and snook hunt in these areas, especially where there is a strong current. 

River mouths also offer some of the best grouper fishing in the Everglades. Anglers catch these fish either by drifting live bait or vertically jigging around steep banks and dense cover like root balls and fallen trees. 

Ten Thousand Islands

Stretching along the Gulf Coast in the northwestern part of the Everglades, the Ten Thousand Islands region offers a wealth of fishing opportunities in a setting quite different from southern parts of the Everglades. 

The Ten Thousand Islands offer many miles of backcountry creeks and mangrove mazes that offer spectacular fishing for redfish. Snook are often caught here too, and anglers may encounter freshwater species like largemouth bass in some of the more inland parts of the region. 

The best snook fishing is around the outer, Gulf-facing islands of the chain. Hard bottoms, rocky ledges and oyster bars typify this area. Any area with some current can attract snook and the smaller fish they feed on. 

Speckled sea trout are also common in this area, along with numerous other species including black drum, sheepshead and mangrove snapper. A 3-inch curlytail grub or paddletail shad on a 1/8 to 1/4 ounce jig head is a great catch-all lure in the islands.

The southernmost portion of the Ten Thousand Islands is within Everglades National Park, which maintains backcountry campgrounds in the region. Ten Thousand Island National Wildlife Refuge encompasses a further 35,000 acres farther north.