No joke here, you’d be an April fool if you miss the opportunity to enjoy spring fishing here in Florida. April is among the most popular fishing months for freshwater anglers. This time of year the weather can be glorious, with flowers blooming, birds singing and fish spawning.
Adding to the fun is a license-free freshwater fishing weekend April 3-4. License-free fishing days provide an excellent opportunity for parents who don’t yet have licenses to take their children fishing, or for avid anglers to introduce a friend to fishing without having to purchase a license. On these days, the fishing license requirement is waived for all recreational anglers (residents and non-residents); however, all other rules including gear, bag and size limits apply.
Freshwater rules tend to be relatively simple, with no closed seasons and generous bag limits. Regulation summary booklets are available at tax collectors’ offices and many retail stores that sell fishing equipment. They also are accessible on the web through MyFWC.com/Fishing (click Recreational Regulations in the center column under Freshwater Fishing). A great way to purchase your license, keep it readily on hand and access regulations is the Hunt|Fish MyFWC app that is freely available in the Google Playstore for Android and Apple Store for iPhone.
During April, bass will continue to spawn as will many bream species such as bluegill and redear sunfish. A few days before or after the full moon is often exceptionally active for these abundant native fishes. Bream spawn in colonies. Large numbers dig dozens of beds in close proximity to one another, so once you locate them you can enjoy a high rate of angling success.
Most bream will be found bedding in shallow water, typically from 1- to 6-feet deep, with the fish spawning deeper in clearer water. Polarized sunglasses can help you spot them. Sometimes you may see a slight oily slick on the water or small bubbles popping on the surface over a large, actively spawning colony.
Bluegill, the most common panfish, thrive in lakes and ponds, and continue spawning throughout summer. Bluegill eat mostly insects and their larvae, but worms are an excellent bait, either fished on the bottom or suspended below a float. Crickets, grubs, sand maggots or grass shrimp will also help catch bedding bluegill. Use a small hook, #6 or #8, with a split shot sinker about 6 inches up the line, and concentrate on water less than 6 feet deep. For artificial baits, a 1/8-ounce “beetle spin” with a white or chartreuse body on ultralight tackle is an excellent choice.
Redear sunfish, or shellcracker, consume snails and clams as part of their natural diet. Most redear, however, are caught on earthworms around the full moons of March and April when their spawning activity peaks. Look for redear to spawn on hard bottom substrates such as sand, gravel or shell beds and to congregate in deeper water than bluegill. Shellcracker grow larger than bluegill, with fish over 1 pound common.
For bluegill, redear and many other freshwater fishes, you can add to the fun by submitting quality-sized fish photos to BigCatchFlorida.com to brag about your catch and earn a customized certificate that you can print and frame. All you need is for your catch to exceed the specified length or weight criteria for your particular species. There are somewhat easier entry requirements for youth under 16.
Big Catch is a fun way for anglers of all ages to document their success,and includes special recognitions for individuals that catch more than five qualifying fish of the same species (Specialist), or five different species (Master). Elite anglers have caught qualifying Big Catch entries from 10 different species. Only a photo of the fish is required to participate in this family-friendly angler-recognition program.
TrophyCatch (TrophyCatchFlorida.com) is a special citizen-science program that allows anglers to submit bass over 8 pounds that they catch and release, along with a photo of the entire fish on a scale. Corporate sponsors provide great rewards, starting with $100 in Bass Pro Shops gift cards. On the website, which is similar to the Big Catch one, anglers can see where qualifying catches have been made around the state and view lots of great fishing photos.
Speaing of trophy-sized bass and how simple Florida’s freshwater fishing rules are, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) recently passed new rules for black bass that go into effect July 1. By integrating social science with biological research, the agency worked with anglers to develop measures that are justified biologically and accommodate angler preferences.
“The intent is to simplify existing rules and increase abundance of larger bass statewide,” said Tom Champeau, director of the Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management.
After July 1, the new rule will eliminate the three zones that currently regulate bass harvest along with 42 site-specific regulations for largemouth bass. This simplification has been a long-standing desire of anglers and resource managers.
Anglers will still be able to keep up to five black bass (all species combined) of any size, but only one bass 16 inches or longer in total length may be kept per angler per day. For Suwannee, shoal, Choctaw and spotted basses, which are riverine black basses in northwest Florida, the current 12-inch minimum size limit remains in effect. There will be no minimum length limit on largemouth bass. In addition, proposed changes include a catch-and-release-only zone for shoal bass in the Chipola River.
Anglers are practicing voluntary catch-and-release at record levels. While reduced harvest of large bass is beneficial, allowing more bass under 16 inches to be kept may improve some fisheries by reducing competition so other individuals grow faster and larger.
The existing bass tournament permit program will continue to allow anglers participating in permitted tournaments temporary possession of five bass of any size. For over 20 years, this successful program has allowed delayed-release bass tournaments to remain viable. It requires proper equipment, care, handling and release of all bass caught during permitted tournaments, including those that could otherwise be legally harvested.
Don’t be an April fool, grab a friend or family member and get out fishing this April. The rewards go far beyond the fish you catch or certificates you earn. The biggest benefits are quality time with friends, an opportunity to relax and enjoy nature and the sheer fun of the experience.
Instant licenses are available at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com or by calling 888-FISH-FLORIDA FREE (347-4356). Report violators by calling 888-404-3922 FREE, *FWC or #FWC on your cell phone, or texting to Tip@MyFWC.com.
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