Gone Fishin in Florida | My Family Travels

Don't picture jon boats and fishing poles when you think about a Florida family vacation? This blog is dedicated to you.

If you're one of the many grownups whose kids watched Charlie Brown or Tigger fishing and thought it was a good idea, read on.

And if your children imagine Shamu will be the next big catch or think tuna belong in a sandwich, it's required summer reading. For all of you, I present a brief look at fishing outings in south central Florida.

Starting Small: Small Fish, Small Ponds

At many resorts and condo complexes along coastal Florida's Ft. Lauderdale – Boca Raton – Palm Beach corridor, man-made ponds stocked with local fish add both scenic appeal and water storage for irrigation systems.

To try out the basics of fishing, visit the nearest Sears or hardware store for a cheap pole. Bait is chaep — bread, bagel bits or frozen shrimp will do. Be sure to supervise children under 8 years with hooks.

Have a little extra bait to attract the herons, cormorants and ibis who are guaranteed to entertain the little ones.

Pier Fishing at Deerfield Beach

If older kids have a couple of hours' worth of stamina, make the trip to Deerfield Beach at U.S. Route A1A east of Hillsboro Boulevard. The City of Deerfield Beach Park Service maintains a one-mile-long stretch of white sand beach with lifeguards, picnic tables and restrooms, as well as a long, high oceanfront pier which hosts dozens of sport fishermen.

The catch is best in early morning, but throughout the day you can visit the concession at the head of the pier and rent a fishing pole. The pier entry, fishing fee and parking (traffic police are tough!) run a bit more, but you'll have an opportunity to catch sea bass, dolphin and pompano. If nothing's biting, feed your minnows to the friendly pelicans, head over to the popular beachview cafés and resturants, or walk down to the sand for some castle building and swimming.

Atlantic Ocean Fishing Charters

Having visited the pier with a 9-year-old, who quickly turned in his rod 'n' reel for a boogie board, we decided the next time he expressed a longing for the line to go by boat. The freedom to speed, sightsee, or pursue more tranquil pleasures would provide enough entertainment for our three generations of anglers.

So it was on a recent trip that we interviewed several local fishing charters operating from The Cove Marina, on the Intra Coastal waterway at Hillsboro. The captains of the Poseidon Too and, further south in Pompano, the Helen S promise fun for all ages who join their Atlantic fishing expeditions.

On the Poseidon Too, groups of six pay a flat fee of $600 for quality fishing gear (though true fishers bring their own), bait, a sporting chance to catch swordfish or sea bass, and four hours of sun and fun on the high seas. The Helen S falls closer in line with your average fishing charter, costing $35 per adult and $28 per child under 13 at our visit.

Four hours? High seas? Too rich for our youngblood.

Fishing the Everglades with 3 Generations

Better judgement steered us to the Sawgrass Recreation Park off Interstate 75 in the northern Everglades.

At Sawgrass, a busy concessionaire runs airboat tours, rents jon boats and fishing gear, sells bait and stuffed alligator toys, and serves "authentic" overpriced Gator Fingers at a dusty snack stand. The flat price of $49 for four hours of boat rental and a map seemed right, but didn't stay flat as we added a rod, two pots of worms, and the deposit.

Diane, behind the concession counter, explained that any fishermen over 18 would need to get a state fishing licence. Since we had no intention of catching anything, we picked up a free copy of Florida Fish and Game Finder and set off with Diane's hand-drawn map of the Sawgrass canals.

Zen & The Art of Fishing

The Zen aspect of the sport — the patient waiting — is part delightful and part deadly. The Everglades' endless wave of sawgrass is remarkably beautiful and incredibly monotonous. Four hours in a Boston Whaler gave us plenty of time to contemplate fishing's contradictions.

Before you doze off, some nifty quotes come to mind:

  • Izaak Walton mused, "Doubt not but angling will prove to be so pleasant that it will prove to be, like virtue, a reward to itself."
  • From Washington Irving: "There is something in angling that tends to produce a gentleness of spirit, and a pure serenity of mind."

We paused under some elusive cloud cover in the middle of the 50-foot-wide channel for tuna sandwiches and iced tea. Revived, our young angler baited some hooks. He was very calm, unlike his mother and grandmother who shrieked with terror when the cup toppled over and earth worms slithered out of their dirty home.

It reminded us of what Shakespeare said, "The pleasant'st angling is to see the fish cut with her golden oars the silver stream, and greedily devour the treacherous bait."

Speeding along, noisily towing a fishhook in our wake, was not productive. So, we paused again, letting down the useless beercan-shaped anchor and drifting lazily into the razor sharp sawgrass. Grandma began recounting the tale of a young boy who fell overboard recently, only to be gobbled up by a passing alligator — the stuff of dreams for Florida tabloids.

Capturing Nature D-style

A new digital camera provided some distraction from the hot sun overhead. Suddenly, a loud splash announced a large (for us) alligator, slinking from the bank to the shallows at our bow. Could we capture on film how close he had come? Would one of us fall in and get eaten?

The tension skyrocketed as the digital camera rose from its camera bag. Whispering, we determined that the gator was really lying in wait for two small ducks who were grazing nearby. He lay still for endless moments while he was photographed, zoomed into, even approached by oar. It was a fascinating exercise but incredibly inert. We decided after a half-hour or so to move on and fish.

Although neither the tourists nor the pros whizzing past in their airboats claimed to have caught anything when queried, our Fisher King landed a 16" barracuda — "ugly fish" he named him. We were thrilled, the victory of the catch ever so sweeter for having come in a somnolent period aboard our vessel. Unlike other anglers, who blamed the poor catch on the cold weather, he was a hero!

Very, very proudly, self-esteem boosted for life, he took the tiller and turned for home.

When Diane learned of our catch, and how Grandpa had wrestled the hook out of Ugly's twin-toothed jaws so we could throw him back, she exclaimed, "Oh, that was a gar, not a barracuda — and they're useless."

"But don't bother throwing 'im back next time," she added gaily, "cause you'd probably lose your fingers."

Florida Fishing Resources

Once upon a time, I was part of one of three generations who embarked on a family fishing trip in Florida's Everglades…  Hooked? Here's more online help to get your tiny anglers started.

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