Virtually all of Florida’s fresh waters are brimming with bream, which include bluegill, redear sunfish, redbreast sunfish and spotted sunfish.
These sporty little fish are many a kid’s first catch, introducing them to a lifetime of fishing fun. They provide great opportunities for shoreline fishing using simple cane poles or spinning rods. License-free freshwater fishing weekends are a great time for adults to introduce kids to fishing and see if they and you would like to take up the sport.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) schedules the first of four license-free recreational freshwater fishing days on the first full weekend in April each year (April 5-6 this year), because it is such a productive fishing time, and the weather is usually pleasant. Many of Florida’s recreational sport fishes, such as black bass, bluegill and redear sunfish, move into the shallows to spawn during spring, making them more available for anglers to catch.
During license-free freshwater fishing weekends (the first weekend in April and the second weekend in June) no recreational fishing license is required; however, all other bag limit, season, gear and size restrictions apply on these dates for recreational fishing. The FWC invites you to take this opportunity to take your family, friends and colleagues fishing.
Children don’t need a fishing license until they are 16, but parents may buy them one at any time and they won’t expire until they are 17. This helps the FWC attain additional revenue from the Federal Aid in Sportfish Restoration program to improve their fishing and gives the child pride in belonging to the angling community.
Fishing is a low-cost, wholesome form of entertainment that often pays for itself with healthy food for the table. An annual license is only $17.50 for residents.
To further encourage recreational fishing, the FWC will conduct a special contest during April to collect photos of anglers. All you have to do is post a photo of your family fishing in Florida’s fresh waters on Twitter or Instagram with #FWC-FamilyFishing. In return for your efforts, the FWC will enter your name into a drawing for one of six surprise packages, each including a $50 gift card, compliments of Bass Pro Shops and TrophyCatch, and another $50 worth of assorted fishing lures, hooks, line and goodies to make your next trip even more productive.
Submitted photos must be your own, unedited pictures, and the photo must not include inappropriate content. Photos should be taken during April while freshwater fishing in Florida and include multiple anglers enjoying their day together on the water. The FWC may subsequently use the photos for outreach purposes.
In addition, freshwater anglers are encouraged to participate in the Big Catch angler-recognition program. All you need to do is catch one of 33 species of freshwater fish that exceed a specific length or weight, go to BigCatchFlorida.com, fill out some information and post a photo. Besides getting to share the excitement of your catch on the Internet, you’ll receive via email a custom certificate to print, and a discount for SportsmanOnCanvas.com.
Big Catch encourages anglers to try different species and locations, by recognizing different levels of achievement: Master Angler (five different qualifying Big Catch species), Elite Angler (10 different qualifying Big Catch species) or Specialist (five qualifying fish of the same species). It is fun and challenging for the entire family.
Here are some tips to make your bream fishing more successful. During spring, sunfish congregate to spawn in water depths from 3 to 10 feet. Bluegill continue to spawn periodically throughout summer. Bluegill opt for slightly shallower areas than redear sunfish, but it’s not unusual to see them use the same bedding areas simultaneously. Crickets, grubs, sand maggots or grass shrimp will all 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. A small float helps identify strikes. For artificial baits, a 1/8-ounce “beetle spin” with a white or chartreuse body on ultralight tackle is an excellent choice. Your local bait and tackle shop can quickly help you find what you need.
The redear sunfish, or shellcracker, is another popular panfish. Although they prefer snails and clams, redear sunfish are caught most often on earthworms around the full moon in March and April, when spawning peaks. Redear prefer hard-bottom habitat and typically begin spawning about one month before bluegill. In south Florida, shellcracker spawn as early as late February and will likely begin bedding in the Panhandle around the end of May, depending on water temperatures. Shellcracker continue spawning into August.
Redbreast sunfish, also known as river bream and redbellies, are the flowing water cousins of bluegill. Redbellies are more common in rivers than bluegill, and often can be found in backwater areas with less flow. The same baits that work for bluegill will catch redbreast sunfish.
The spotted sunfish, or stumpknocker, is an often overlooked stream panfish. Aptly named, stumpknockers can be found in the tangle of roots at the water’s edge. Although spotted sunfish rarely exceed 8 inches, these feisty species provide great sport on light tackle. Tiny (1/16-ounce) beetle spins pitched close to shore can be deadly, particularly tipped with freshwater clam meat.
With a fishing hole within 30-45 minutes of almost everyone in Florida, the hardest part might be picking your destination. Although your neighborhood pond or a local park may be your best bet, FWC biologists created a list of some major public water bodies they think should be great bream fisheries this year. For full descriptions of the sites, access to them and specific fishing tips for these locations, see the FWC Sites & Forecasts web page.
Bob Watterndorf is a columnist for Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. For more Fish Busters columns, visit the FWC website and select News/Monthly Columns. Instant licenses are available at on the FWC website or by calling 888-FISH-FLORIDA (347-4356). Report violators by calling 888-404-3922, *FWC or #FWC on your cell phone, or texting or emailing Tip@MyFWC.com.