Let’s Talk About Freshwater Fishing

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Footprints-in-the-Sand-FMB-Column Let’s talk about freshwater fishing. I’ll bet there were some double takes after reading that first line especially from those readers that live near beaches.

Believe it or not freshwater fishing in Florida is very popular even though the number of anglers participating is almost half the number of saltwater anglers. I’m one of those rare fisherman who love to do both and I’m going to give you hardcore salt folks some reasons to venture out and explore our local interior waters.

I retired from saltwater guiding almost five years ago. Shortly after that I downsized to a kayak along with wade fishing and did both in saltwater. About that same time a good friend of mine introduced me to what he called ‘ditch fishing.’ The idea was to always carry freshwater fishing gear in the truck so you can make stops at likely places that might hold bass, bluegill, tilapia or cichlids. The stops had to be legal and included small roadside drainage ditches, water retention ponds and large drainage canals. We soon became ditch fishing partners searching for the best areas in which to wet a line.

The fishing equipment needed for this sport is pretty much the same as what’s used for saltwater fishing. Rods need to be stout enough to handle a surprise big fish along with landing smaller species. I use a seven-foot medium spinning rod. My truck is big enough to carry a one-piece rod, but for cars I’d recommend a two piece. Reels can be of a smaller size because line capacity is not a problem in ditch fishing. Heck, the fish can only run so far before having to turn back toward you and most water depths are less than eight feet.

Rob-Modys-Fishing
Early morning ditch fishing.

An assortment of lures are a necessity because freshwater fish can change their minds about what to eat from hour to hour. It’s truly amazing. Artificial worms, frogs and lizards can get all the bites for a while and then it just stops. A switch to a finesse bait or a topwater will get the bite going again. Perhaps they are just like us when it comes to eating. I love hamburgers, but I can’t eat them all day long. Well, maybe I could.

Live bait works too, but that would be for planned trips instead of quick stop locations. Golden shiners are the most popular, but also very costly. A cheaper way to go, and almost as effective are nightcrawlers, also known as live worms or earthworms. They can be purchased at bait and tackle shops that cater to freshwater. I usually pick up worms from Bass Pro and live shiners from Estero River Outfitters.

There are dozens and dozens of places to fish the freshwater in Lee County and I’d highly recommend giving it a try, especially on those windy days that will soon come with winter cold fronts.

Here are two of my favorites.

The Alico canal runs westward from out past the international airport toward the Gulf of Mexico. This is the primary canal that moves rainwater runoff from the eastern part of the county. It’s big and has moving water almost constantly. The more rain we have the faster it moves and the water height increases accordingly. The best time to fish there is in the summer months when the water is running over the weirs. It mostly holds lots of cichlids and largemouth bass.

The Ten Mile Canal runs from north to south along Metro Parkway and eventually empties into Mullock Creek, which then runs to Estero Bay. There are lots of pull off areas to park and fish and a good bit of it is bordered by the John Yarbrough Linear Park. The interesting thing about Ten Mile Canal is anglers can not only catch freshwater species, they can also tangle with snook and small tarpon. I personally love this location and the fact you really don’t know what you might catch.

Footprints-in-the-Sand-Rob-ModysCaptain Rob Modys is a lifetime Florida outdoorsman, retired spin & fly fishing guide and host of REEL Talk Radio on ESPN 99.3 FM from 7-10 a.m. every Saturday morning. He is past president and board chairman of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association and serves on the board of the Florida Guides Association. Capt. Rob also shares his fishing knowledge in a series of fishing classes at Bass Pro Shops.