A short drive south of Orlando, Lake Tohopekaliga—commonly called Lake Toho—is consistently ranked among Florida’s best bass lakes. Few lakes in America produce 8-pound-plus largemouths as routinely as Lake Toho does.
But bass aren’t the only reason to visit this Central Florida lake. Tohopekaliga also supports an outstanding crappie fishery and offers very good bluegill, redear sunfish, and catfish fishing.
Part of the Kissimmee chain of lakes, Lake Toho spans 18,810 acres. But like many Florida lakes, it’s shallow, with a maximum depth of just 13 feet. You will find great opportunities to catch fish here year-round.
Largemouth Bass Fishing
Lake Tohopekaliga’s standing as one of Florida’s best bass lakes has been secure for some time. In 2004, the lake famously produced the heaviest five-bass limit ever caught in a Bassmaster tournament.
Anglers have pulled a handful of bass over 15 pounds from Lake Toho over the years. The lake is a staple of Florida’s Big Catch program, which recognizes notable fish from across the state every year.
The lake also supports tremendous numbers of smaller bass in the 12- to 16-inch range, making it more than just a trophy fishery. Instead, it’s a stable bass lake with healthy populations across all size classes. So it’s a thoroughly enjoyable place to fish whether you’re a trophy hunter or not.
When to Fish for Bass
Largemouth bass are caught every month of the year in Lake Toho. But most local anglers would agree that winter is the best time to do so if you want to catch big bass.
The optimal water temperature for largemouths to spawn is between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Lake Toho’s temperatures usually hit that range in February, when bass start spawning in earnest.
But there’s excellent pre-spawn fishing as early as December, as big female bass forage voraciously in preparation for the spawn. Most years, some bass will start to bed down in January, and the spawn will peak around early March.
Not all bass spawn at the same time, so it’s common to find some bass still on their beds as late as April while others have already moved into post-spawn patterns. April and May are excellent months to fish, as bass leave the spawning season very hungry.
As spring turns to summer, Lake Toho heats up, and bass typically seek shade and shelter in thick vegetation. This isn’t most people’s favorite time to fish, but some of the biggest bass have been caught here during the summer months, so don’t write them off.
As temperatures moderate in fall, bass shake off the summer doldrums and feed more actively again. There’s often a good fall bite early and late in the day along the edges of hydrilla beds.
Where to Fish for Bass
Not only is Lake Tohopekaliga a large lake, but it’s also a very diverse one. Despite being quite shallow, it has a wide range of cover and habitat for bass. As a result, there isn’t a particular part of the lake that always produces bass, but there are a few reliably productive patterns.
Weed edges are crucial. Lake Toho supports a wide range of vegetation, from lily pads and maidencane to reeds, bulrushes, and hydrilla. The latter forms thick mats and often grows so prolifically that the lake is periodically lowered to remove some of it.
Fishing along the edges of hydrilla beds is a safe bet in most seasons, especially in the northern third of the lake, where it grows thickest. Little Grassy Island is a prime spot. Fish deeper edges (7 to 12 feet) during summer but focus on shallow water during the spawn.
In winter and early spring, most bass are either shallow or making their way shallow. Focus on flats with lily pads and shoreline reeds and on shoreline cover like roots, stumps and trees.
Pockets and pathways between weeds are also important features to find. They provide avenues that bass use to travel between deeper and shallower water, and fish often bunch up in these spots.
Several creeks and canals feed Lake Toho. These inlets also provide good bass fishing. When it rains, the current draws schools of baitfish toward the mouths of Shingle Creek, the St. Cloud Canal, and Partins Ditch.
When that happens, bass inevitably follow.
Lanier Point, Brown’s Point, and the shorelines on either side of Southport Park are often productive.
The Florida FWC has also sunk several fish attractors, which are always popular among bass and anglers alike.
Workers use bulldozers to clear hydrilla from shallow portions of the lake some years. The resulting scraped areas, which include Whaley’s Landing, parts of Goblet’s Cove (sometimes spelled Goblits Cove), inside Brown’s Point, and the Granada area, are often prime bass fishing spots until the hydrilla reclaims them.
How to Catch Lake Toho Bass
Lake Toho is diverse enough that almost any bass angler has a fair shot at catching bass using their favorite tactic. First, however, know that you’ll constantly contend with weed growth.
Soft plastics like Zoom Flukes and tube jigs are ideal for working along hydrilla beds without getting hung up.
Swim jigs are good too, and some anglers also use big plastic worms or creature baits with a heavy weight to punch through the slop.
Another great tactic is to rig a creature bait or tube jig with minimal weight and work it across the surface like a topwater.
Chatterbaits and noisy topwater plugs like Poppers and Zara Spooks can also draw vicious surface strikes.
Lake Toho has a tremendous topwater bite from late summer into fall, especially on overcast days and during the low-light hours. The lake generally is fairly clear, so a little cloud cover can be a lifesaver.
At times, bass will be out in open water on offshore shell beds or the scraped areas mentioned above, at which point lipless crankbaits and spinnerbaits are effective. The main forage species are gold shiners and bluegill, so choose your color patterns accordingly.
It’s also worth mentioning that live bait often trumps artificials on Lake Toho. Purists may refuse, but when Late Toho fishing guides want to connect their clients with big bass quickly, they invariably turn to live shiners.
Largemouth bass in Lake Toho can’t seem to refuse a lively golden shiner.
Hook your bait through the lip using an octopus or circle hook, and let it drift freely along weed edges on an unweighted line. If your bait repeatedly gets fouled in the weeds, add a bobber.
Catch More Bass
Other Fish Species
Bass tend to grab all the headlines, but Lake Tohopekaliga is a well-rounded lake that provides a wealth of fishing options for multiple species.
Best of all, fishing for each species peaks during a different season, so if the bass aren’t biting, chances are you have plenty of other options.
After largemouth bass, black crappie are the second most sought-after game fish in Lake Tohopekaliga. Referred to locally as speckled perch or specks, crappies are abundant in this lake and often reach impressive sizes.
Although crappie populations are known to be highly cyclical, Lake Toho tends to maintain a solid population, though not every year produces major slabs. Expect to catch lots of healthy 10- to 12-inch fish, and if it’s a good year, some push 2 pounds.
Winter is prime time for crappie fishing on Lake Toho. Crappies spawn just a little earlier than largemouth bass, and they’re usually easy to locate in shallow water throughout the colder months.
January and February represent the core of the crappie spawn most years.
There’s a lot of excellent crappie water in the northern portion of Lake Toho, including Little Grassy Island, the mouths of Wilson and Cypress Coves, and any of the canals that feed the lake.
The stretch along North Steer Beach, on the lake’s east shore, is popular too, and nearby Goblets Cove is one of the best places to find spawning crappies. This shallow, weedy embayment offers great spawning habitat. Any of the state-installed brush piles can also produce.
Minnows and jigs each catch their fair share of Lake Toho crappies.
While casting to nearshore cover can be effective when crappies are in the thick of the spawning season, drifting minnows and long-lining jigs on the main lake is a better tactic on most days.
Long lining involves slowly trolling one or more jigs in open water, usually near or above submerged weed beds. Light jigs in the 1/8 to 1/32 ounce range work best, and the ideal speed is less than 1 mph.
A wide range of jig styles and colors can be effective, from tubes to Crappie Assassins and countless others. Bring an assortment to adapt to the fish demand on any given day. Some combination of hot pink, black, and chartreuse usually does the trick.
By mid to late spring, crappies seemingly vanish into thick cover and deep water. Anglers catch a few during summer, especially in the early morning and late evening hours, but more reliable crappie fishing returns when the lake cools again in fall.
Catch More Crappie (Specks)
We have a simple but complete guide to crappie fishing to improve your tactics.
We recommend you check out the Best Crappie (Speckled Perch) Fishing Spots in Florida.
Bluegill & Sunfish Fishing
Lake Tohopekaliga supports abundant bluegill and redear sunfish, which anglers often call shellcrackers. Florida anglers also call bluegill “bream,” a nickname that also can apply to all sunfish.
Whatever the name, these panfish are hard fighters, relatively easy to catch, and also reach impressive sizes here. Many anglers also love their mild, almost sweet meat.
You have a reasonable chance of catching bluegill measuring 9 inches or more in Lake Toho. And shellcrackers up to 12 inches are a real possibility. Both species offer excellent angling opportunities in spring, summer and fall.
The fishing usually kicks into gear in March, especially in lily pad fields close to the shoreline. Redears typically start spawning in April and may continue for months.
Bluegill start nesting during a similar range and are known to continue spawning sporadically until fall. They dig nests in shallow, sandy-bottomed areas, and it’s common to see dozens of big bluegills on beds close together in one area.
Bluegill can almost always be found around weed beds and are frequently caught from shore.
Redear sunfish favor slightly deeper water and prefer hard-bottomed areas. Shell beds and areas recently cleared of hydrilla are great places to target them.
The area around Richardson’s Fish Camp is a perennial hotspot for bluegill and shellcrackers. Brown’s Point, North Steer Beach, and the mouth of Goblet’s Cove are also great spots.
You don’t need any fancy tackle to catch bream in Lake Toho. Live red worms or bits of nightcrawler are perfect.
Fish on the bottom in areas that are clear of weeds, or use a float to suspend your bait.
Artificial lures are also effective, especially for shellcrackers, which tend to be bigger and more aggressive than bluegill. Roadrunner jigs are always a favorite among lure anglers.
Finally, sunfish are often said to bite best during a full moon.
Catch More Bluegill and Sunfish
We will tell you the best tackle, baits, and tactics to catch bluegill (bream) and sunfish with ease in our simple fishing guide.
Not many anglers come to Lake Tohopekaliga specifically to target catfish but rest assured, plenty of these whisker-faced fish prowl the lake’s bottom. Channel cats are a favorite target; many weigh 5 to 7 pounds.
Smelly, natural baits like live nightcrawlers, chicken and beef liver, and any variety of dough baits, stink baits, and blood baits can catch catfish in Lake Toho.
Keep your bait on or near the bottom, and use larger baits to avoid catching mostly bullheads, which are also common.
Catfish bite well throughout the warmer months. The peak season for catfishing is April through June, when catfish spawn in shallow water, digging nests near cover and close to banks.
During the spawn, some of the best catfish fishing is in the canals that connect the various lakes in the Kissimmee Chain.
The St. Cloud Canal, between Lake Toho and East Lake Toho, is a great spring catfish spot, especially when the locks are open.
Catfish return to the main lake in summer and continue to feed actively.
The best catfish bite is often after dark, and many anglers also choose night fishing to escape the mosquitoes, which can make life difficult during the dog days of summer.
Catch More Catfish
What catfish baits work best? What hooks to buy? You’ll learn those things and more in our simple catfish fishing techniques and tips article.
But where do you want to catch catfish? No problem, we have you covered there with the Best Catfish Fishing Rivers and Lakes in Florida.
Planning Your Trip
Getting to Lake Toho
Lake Tohopekaliga is one of the easiest waters to fish in the Kissimmee Chain because it is easily accessible at many points around the lake.
Much of the actual lakeshore is undeveloped due to its marshy nature, but there are several communities nearby.
The largest of these is the city of Kissimmee, located at the north end of Lake Toho. Kissimmee is 20 to 30 minutes south of Orlando via I-4 Express and the Florida Turnpike. Plan to drive over an hour from Tampa.
Numerous options are available in Kissimmee for shopping, dining and lodging.
Bank & Boat Access
Lake Toho offers excellent bank fishing access at multiple locations and half a dozen public and private boat ramps. Some of the best access sites (listed counterclockwise starting at the northern end of the lake) include:
Brinson Park has one of the best public fishing piers at the northernmost tip of Lake Toho. You’ll also find other bank fishing access and a picnic area. It’s an excellent spot to fish for bluegill and crappies.
Kissimmee Lakefront Park
The fishing pier at Kissimmee Lakefront Park is another good spot for bank anglers to wet a line. This park also includes a walking trail along the lakeshore and a six-lane concrete boat ramp with parking for 84 vehicles, making it one of the most popular launch sites on the lake.
Big Toho Marina
Big Toho Marina offers docking slips, a bait and tackle shop, and on-site restaurant footsteps away from the water at the west end of Kissimmee Lakefront Park.
Granada Public Boat Ramp
The Grenada Public Boat Ramp is a bare-bones launch site on the west side of Lake Toho. It’s a two-lane ramp with limited parking, but it is a good site for launching small boats. The ramp is on a canal adjacent to the lake. You also can use a small fishing pier and limited bank access.
Southport Regional Park
Encompassing 35 acres on the rural southern shore of Lake Toho, Southport Regional Park has excellent launch facilities, including a three-lane concrete ramp with parking for up to 30 vehicles and trailers. Unfortunately, there isn’t any bank fishing access to speak of, but the park does offer camping and nature trails.
The public boat launch at Whaley’s Landing, located toward the southeastern tip of Lake Toho, offers a two-lane ramp with parking for up to 12 vehicles and trailers.
Lake Toho Resort
Lake Toho Resort is a privately owned and operated RV park and fish camp on the east side of Lake Toho. In addition to camping, cabins and RV hookups, the resort provides launch facilities, bank access, and an on-site tackle shop for its guests.
Twin Oaks Conservation Area
Overlooking Goblets Cove on the east side of Lake Toho, Twin Oaks Conservation Area offers an excellent fishing dock. There are no developed launch facilities here, but there is a canoe/kayak launch, making this a popular spot for paddlers looking to fish the cove for crappie and bass.
Richardson’s Fish Camp
The privately owned Richardson’s Fish Camp is a popular place to stay on Lake Toho. Campsites, RVs and cabins are available, along with a boat ramp, covered boat slips, and a bait and tackle shop overlooking Wilson Cove.
Brownie Wise Park
The 25-acre Brownie Wise Park offers a canoe and kayak launch in Lake Toho’s marshy Tupperware Island area. The launch is just a short paddle away from Grassy Island, one of the best fishing spots in the northern part of the lake.