March is prime freshwater fishing season for many species of fish, because bass and bream are getting geared up to hit the shallows. During spring, sunfish such as bass and bluegill move close to shore to find suitable spawning habitat. Shallow areas (ideally 2 to 6 feet deep) with sandy or firm soils and nearby vegetation tend to attract sunfish. Often the same areas are used year after year, because sunfish do best when they construct beds in sheltered areas without too much current and away from prevailing winds (often coves or the north shores of lakes).
Beds for both bass and bream are constructed by males, who protect the eggs after the females come for a conjugal visit. Bass typically spawn before bluegill, preferring water temperatures of about 60 to 65 degrees, whereas optimal temperatures for bluegill spawning are around 65 to 80 degrees. Redbreast sunfish, redear sunfish and crappie may also be in the shallows during this time, and normally, precede bluegill. Full and new moons generate additional activity.
Since bass and bream are especially susceptible during the spawn, an emphasis on quick and effective catch-and-release is appropriate for fish that cannot be legally harvested (due to size or bag limits). Don’t keep fish that you intend to release out of the water longer than you can hold your breath, and release them as close to the capture point as possible.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) freshwater fisheries biologists annually compile information on some of the top fishing sites around the state for bass and bream (see MyFWC.com/Fishing and select “Freshwater,” “Sites & Forecasts”).
Additional lakes in your area with public boat ramp access can now be found on MyFWC.com/Boating, and many of these provide outstanding recreational angling as well. The new boat ramp finder is a great way to learn about new opportunities. For instance, you can type in a specific address, city and ZIP code, and a map will appear showing available ramps within a given radius.
The site lists nearly 1,000 public freshwater boat ramps. About a quarter of these ramps are owned and maintained by the FWC, primarily using your Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration funds (SFR). All of those ramps provide free access.
With so many ramps to document and the effects of weather and other variables to contend with, the website is an ongoing project. Consequently, the FWC cannot guarantee the completeness or accuracy of the information and suggests that you check with local resources to verify conditions prior to planning long trips. The FWC is constantly seeking user feedback to provide updates (including site photos) via email to BoatRamps@MyFWC.com.
The FWC operates several boating-related grant programs, most using SFR funds. Those funds are collected for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, mostly from excise taxes on fishing tackle, import duties on yachts, and motorboat fuel taxes. In return, the USFWS provides grant funds to the states for fishery projects, boating access and aquatic education. The program is also known as the Dingell-Johnson or Wallop-Breaux Act, based on the congressional sponsors who augmented the 1937 program in 1950 and substantially enhanced it in 1984. Subsequent amendments further expanded the use of these funds: 1991, Coastal Wetlands; 1992, Clean Vessel Program; and 1998, Outreach/Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, Boating Safety, and Boating Infrastructure Grants.
The SFR was created as a user-pays, user-benefits program to restore and better manage America’s declining fishery resources and later to enhance safe recreational boating opportunities. The USFWS apportions funds based on a formula based primarily on land area and the number of paid license holders. Florida in 2010-11 received nearly $12 million of these funds to reinvest in recreational fishing and boating, which provide, respectively, $7.5 billion and 79,000 jobs, and $16.8 billion and 203,000 jobs in economic benefits to the state.
The bottom line is that SFR is behind a great deal of the sport fish management and research activities conducted in Florida. These funds also provide a three-to-one match for the FWC’s major boating safety and access (ramps) programs. Without fishing license fees and these matching federal dollars, the fishing and boating opportunities here in the Fishing Capital of the World would be vastly reduced and fish populations depleted.