There’s simply no place like Lake Okeechobee. Of course, there are a lot of great fishing lakes in Florida, but the Big O is on a whole other level.
Spanning an incredible 467,000 acres (730 square miles), Lake Okeechobee is by far the largest lake in Florida. It’s also the largest freshwater lake by surface area in the U.S., other than the Great Lakes, despite having an average depth of only 9 feet.
Lake Okeechobee is a truly exceptional bass fishing lake that routinely produces largemouths over 8 pounds. It’s not uncommon for the lake’s anglers to add a 10-pounder or two to Florida’s Big Catch recognition program in a given year.
It’s also a perfect breeding ground for a wide range of fish species, thanks partly to its vast size, warm climate, and abundance of shallow vegetation. After getting you dialed in on bass fishing, we’ll show you how to catch crappies, bluegill, sunfish and catfish.
But fishing Okeechobee can also be challenging. Getting one’s bearings on such a massive body of water is a daunting task, and as if that weren’t enough, it’s constantly changing.
Lake levels change seasonally, efforts to control invasive plants modify the fish-holding structures, or a major hurricane can rearrange the lake’s landmarks.
Of course, the fish don’t mind. It’s just up to us anglers to adapt.
Largemouth Bass Fishing
Although this massive lake offers a wide range of angling opportunities for multiple species, most folks who come to Lake Okeechobee are after bass. Bass fishing tournaments are a regular occurrence here.
Bass weighing 5 to 8 pounds are common enough in Lake Okeechobee, and larger fish weighing up to 12 pounds are possible. The lake record largemouth weighed 15 pounds, 5 ounces. It took a live shiner used as bait.
When to Fish for Bass
Anglers catch bass throughout the year at Lake Okeechobee, but the cooler months—roughly November through June—provide the best opportunity. Within that range, the best time to fish Lake Okeechobee for bass is a matter of opinion.
For many, the spawn is the best season. Bass spawn early this far south, and you can expect to find largemouths bedded down close to cover in just a foot or two of water throughout January and February most years.
Fishing can be extraordinary during the winter, but it can also be volatile. A cold front can come through and shut the fish down for days, so the spring months might be a safer bet if you’re planning a fishing trip and only have a brief window of opportunity.
Once the water warms up a bit in March and April, conditions stabilize. Some bass will still be on their beds while others go into post-spawn patterns.
Come spring, you might be less likely to nab a 10-pounder than in winter. But you’re also less likely to strike out due to a fluke of the weather.
Comparatively, the summer months can be tough but not impossible. Bass bite best right around dawn and dusk this time of year, and you can do well if you get out at the crack of dawn and fish the weed beds.
Summer is the wet season here, and water levels usually rise throughout the season. Fall tends to feel like a continuation of summer until around November when the weather starts to cool down again.
Once that starts to happen, late fall usually brings about some good action for schooling bass in open water. By December, bass gradually shift back toward pre-spawn mode and will be caught increasingly in shallow water on warm days.
Where to Fish for Bass
Lake Okeechobee has too many great fishing spots to list, but a handful of key areas are consistently productive and should be on any angler’s radar. More often than not, the best bass fishing tends to be fairly close to shore.
Vegetation is the key to locating bass, and Okeechobee has a lot of it, including hydrilla, hyacinth, lily pads, pencil reeds, cattails and eelgrass.
Two of the best spots, known as Harney Pond and the Monkey Box, are on the western end of the lake near Lakeport.
Harney Pond is the name given to an area around the mouth of the Harney Pond Canal, where mats of hydrilla may be either submerged or floating on the surface, depending on water levels. Lots of bass spawn here, and the area is fairly well protected from the winds.
The nearby Monkey Box area is another tried-and-true section of the lake, which features a great combination of hard bottom, clear water, and vegetation. The Monkey Box is often a maze of hydrilla, lily pads, and other plants harboring impressive numbers of bass.
But these areas are also some of the most popular spots on Lake Okeechobee, and it’s often better to look elsewhere on busy weekends. The area on the southwest side of the lake known as the Shoal can be an excellent, off-the-beaten-path spot.
South Bay, with its abundant “hayfields” of wiregrass, is also an excellent area to explore at the south end of the lake. Anglers catch lots of big bass from holes among the hayfields.
The stretch of the northwest shore on either side of the Indian Prairie Canal is also a great part of the lake for bass fishing, with miles of cattail-lined banks and large beds of hydrilla nearby. Try pitching to the cattails around Big Bear Beach and Horse Island.
At times, especially during spawning, some of the best fishing is in canals connected to the lake. The Rim Canal, which runs parallel to much of the lakeshore, is especially productive.
Okeechobee Bass Tactics
Artificial lures and live bait each have their time and place on Lake Okeechobee. Depending on the season and the weather conditions, one or the other may be more effective.
Artificial lures are the way to go when bass are feeding actively or when you need to quickly cover a lot of water to locate fish. Fast-moving lures like crankbaits and chatterbaits are great “search” lures as you go from spot to spot looking for a bite.
Soft plastic baits get the call more often than not on Lake Okeechobee. Bass often lurk among grass beds and under dense mats of hydrilla, and anglers find creative ways to reach them.
Pitching worms and jigs along the edges of reeds and grass is a popular technique for targeting bass that hold tight to shallow cover. Dark colors that mimic bluegill are often best. Pitch your baits right along the edges and into holes in the vegetation.
During the spawn, many anglers sight-fish for bedding bass, tossing slow-falling soft plastics like wacky-rigged Senkos into beds. Be patient. Bedding bass often study a lure for several seconds before striking.
When bass head under floating mats of vegetation, try a jig, tube or creature bait with a heavy tungsten weight to pierce through the weeds. The technique is known as “punching,” and punch jigs are designed for this purpose.
Live bait—specifically, live golden shiners—is the best option when the bite slows down or the weather makes fishing difficult. Big bass have a hard time passing up a live shiner.
Lip-hook your shiners on a circle hook or octopus hook, and use a float to keep your bait out of the weeds. Fishing right along the edges of weed beds is ideal.
Some days, especially when the weather turns cold in winter, bass are likelier to hit a shiner near the bottom.
Catch More Bass
Not surprisingly, Lake Okeechobee made our rundown of the best bass fishing lakes (and rivers, swamps and canals) in Florida. See what else made the cut.
And check out our how-to article full of bass fishing techniques and tips.
Other Fish Species
Largemouth bass may be the stars of the show in Lake Okeechobee, but let’s not forget about the supporting players. Several other species offer great fishing opportunities, including some that peak during the seasons when bass fishing is more challenging.
Black Crappie Fishing
Whether you call them crappies, speckled perch, or “specks,” as many Floridians do, there’s no doubt that Lake Okeechobee is one of the best places in the Sunshine state to catch these feisty panfish.
Like bass, crappie fishing is at its best throughout the cooler months. Anglers start to catch them in the grass on the main lake in November most years, and crappies gradually make their way toward the shallows to spawn over the coming months.
The precise timing of the spawn is less critical for crappies here, though it usually takes place in late January. Anglers catch crappies in shallow cover throughout the winter months—often just a foot or two of water—and transition back to main lake grass beds in March and April.
Anglers find crappies in countless spots around the shore of Lake Okeechobee. The Monkey Box, Indian Prairie, Horse Island, Grassy Island, Tin House Cove, Worm Cove, Buckhead Ridge, and Kings Bar are excellent areas to catch specks.
Some of the best spots have a mix of cattails and hydrilla, and anglers can clean up by dipping minnows or jigs under floats into gaps in the shallow vegetation. When crappies are in spawn mode, most of the canals along the lakeshore can also be excellent.
When crappies are out on the main lake during fall and late spring, long lining and spider rigging with minnows at various depths are great ways to locate these speckled perch. Also, check areas near the mouths of Taylor Creek and the Kissimmee River.
Crappie populations follow boom-and-bust cycles in most lakes, and Lake Okeechobee is no exception. As a result, the quality of the fishery can vary quite a bit from year to year. However, even a lesser year should still offer some decent crappie fishing.
A good year class of crappies usually provides excellent fishing about three years later, and it’s often possible to catch one’s limit of 12-inch-plus crappies in a morning when the going is good.
Anglers catch some serious slabs up to 2.5 pounds here too.
Catch More Crappie
We have assembled the best crappie fishing tactics, lures and baits in one simple guide to crappie fishing.
We’ve also compiled an excellent list of the very best crappie fishing lakes in Florida.
Fishing for Bluegill and Sunfish
Lake Okeechobee has earned a reputation as one of the best panfish lakes in America. That reputation rests on tremendous and seemingly inexhaustible populations of bluegill and redear sunfish.
Unlike crappies, bluegill and sunfish populations don’t ebb and flow much from year to year. Instead, they’re a constant presence, most active from around March through October. Bluegills measuring 9 to 10 inches and redears over 12 inches are frequently caught.
Key areas include canals, such as the Harney Pond Canal and Indian Prairie Canal, and the Kissimmee River. The grass edges and flats around Buckhead Ridge are also excellent, as well as areas farther south around Grass Island and the West Wall.
Redear sunfish, commonly known as shellcrackers, often start biting a little before bluegill, a.k.a. bream. But both species of sunfish are active throughout the warmer months, often inhabiting the same areas and spawning on shallow, grassy flats.
The first significant spawning event usually takes place around the full moon in April. Lunar phases play a major role in the activities of these sunfish, and the best bite is during the 10 days surrounding a full moon.
Bluegill and shellcrackers commonly spawn on and off through August. During times of low water, these panfish will nest surprisingly far out in the lake, where the water may still be just 2 or 3 feet deep. However, usually, you are likely to find these fish close to shore.
Live bait is often best for bluegill and sunfish. Red worms and crickets are widely available at area bait shops, but the most prized bait of all is Lake Okeechobee’s native grass shrimp.
Larger bluegill and shellcracker often strike Beetle Spins and Roadrunner jigs, so don’t hesitate to start tossing artificials if you’re after bigger panfish.
Fly fishing with poppers can also be a fun tactic.
Catch More Bluegill and Sunfish
Check out the simple but effective ways to catch bluegill and other sunfish, including redear sunfish.
Relatively few anglers target catfish in Lake Okeechobee, which is quite a missed opportunity. This is easily one of the best catfish lakes in South Florida, with abundant channel cats, lots of bullheads, and even some white catfish.
Channel catfish are the main target among the lake’s whiskered fishes. They’re prized table fare, and you can expect most that you catch to be “pan-sized” fish weighing a pound or two.
However, there are also plenty of 5-pound channel cats in Lake Okeechobee, and anglers occasionally reel in 10-pounders.
Spring and fall are the best catfish seasons, but it’s possible to catch catfish throughout the summer months. There’s often a great bite after dark on summer nights when catfish prowl the lake’s shallow flats looking for a meal.
Late March through early June are excellent times to fish for channel cats in Lake Okeechobee. Spring is when catfish spawn, heading into canals, rivers, and any source of flowing water.
There’s fantastic fishing for channel catfish in the Rim Canal, the Indian Prairie and Harney Pond Canals, and the Kissimmee River this time of year. Look for catfish around brush, tree roots, fallen trees, steep banks, rocks, and other types of cover.
Catfish hunt more by smell and taste than by sight. And although they stick close to the bottom, channel catfish will rise a foot or two off the bottom to take your bait. As a result, many anglers use a float to suspend their baits, which helps catch more channel cats and fewer bullheads.
Catch More Catfish
What are the best baits to catch catfish? We tell you that plus run down the best methods in our complete guide to catfish fishing.
You probably also want to know the best places to catch these fish, right? Check out the Best Catfish Fishing Rivers and Lakes in Florida.
Planning Your Trip
Getting to Lake Okeechobee
Lake Okeechobee sprawls across five counties in South Florida and is relatively easy to reach from several nearby cities. The lake is about an hour west of West Palm Beach via US 98 or FL-710.
The city of Okeechobee at the north end of the lake is one of the main access points, offering many dining and lodging options for anglers.
Lakeport on the west side and Clewiston at the south end also offer a wide range of amenities a reasonable drive from Miami or Fort Myers.
Bank and Boat Access
Access points along Lake Okeechobee’s 130-mile shoreline are too numerous to list in full. That said, we’ll whittle down a list to some top options.
The following are some of the better launch sites and bank fishing spots for anglers, listed here in counterclockwise order starting at the northern end of the lake:
Taylor Creek Boat Ramp
Located on its namesake stream a little over 3 miles above the lake, the Taylor Creek Boat Ramp is a single-lane ramp with parking for 25 vehicles in the city of Okeechobee.
Cliff Betts Jr. Lakeside Recreation Area
A boat ramp, fishing dock and observation platform are located at Cliff Betts Jr., Lakeside Recreation Area (formerly Lock 7 Park and Jaycee Park) in the city of Okeechobee.
C. Scott Driver Park
One of the most popular launch sites on Lake Okeechobee, C.Scott Driver Park offers two boat launch sites (one four-lane ramp and one double-lane ramp) and bank fishing access on the Kissimmee River near where it enters the lake.
Indian Prairie Canal
A free public boat ramp is located off FL-78 on the Indian Prairie Canal. Bank fishing access is also available at this site.
Harney Pond Canal Recreation Area
This linear recreation area along the length of the Herbert Hoover Dike provides boat launch facilities and bank access to Harney Pond Canal. Harney Pond Canal Recreation Area is a free public launch convenient to the Harney Pond and Monkey Box areas.
An excellent spot for bank fishing, paddling and camping, Fisheating Creek WMA provides a canoe and kayak launch not far from the Monkey Box on Fisheating Creek.
Alvin Ward Park
Located on the Herbert Hoover Dike in Moore Haven, Alvin Ward Park offers a 6-lane public ramp, ample parking and bank fishing access on the Rim Canal toward the southwest side of Lake Okeechobee.
Hoover Dike Road City Ramp
The Hoover Dike Road City Ramp in Clewiston includes three ramps on the Rim Canal at a point very close to the lake. This is a great place to launch for fishing in the West Wall, Grass Island and Coots Bay areas. A fishing pier is also provided on the canal.
John Stretch Memorial Park
Another excellent ramp on the Rim Canal, the John Stretch Memorial Park boat ramp is convenient to some excellent fishing areas at the south end of the lake.
South Bay Boat Ramp
South Bay is an excellent fishing area, and the South Bay Boat Ramp offers convenient access, including two launch ramps and a fishing pier.
Torrey Island Boat Ramp
Located on Okeechobee’s only inhabited island, the Torrey Island Boat Ramp is one of the largest launch facilities on the lake, with six ramp lanes and parking for over 200 vehicles.
Paul Rardin Park
Paul Rardin Park offers a double-lane ramp with limited parking in a fairly small park on the Rim Canal. Bank fishing is available. The park also is a good spot to launch a canoe or kayak.
Canal Point Park
Canal Point Park offers a single-lane boat ramp and ample bank access on the eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee. It’s a popular spot for picnicking and shore fishing.
The Henry Creek public boat ramp offers a single-lane gravel ramp on the Rim Canal (no lake access by boat). Parking is limited, but bank fishing access is available. This is a good site for launching cartop boats on the canal.
Part of the Okeechobee Public Use Area, the Nubbin Slough boat launch site offers a single gravel ramp on Nubbin Slough (no lake access by boat) and bank fishing access on the northeastern shore of Lake Okeechobee.