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Fishers the world over congregate in Central Florida to catch bass, speckled perch, bream, stripers, and catfish. Top fishing waters include Lake Kissimmee, the Butler and Conway chains of lakes, and Lake Toho. Your best chance for trophy fish is between November and April on Toho or Kissimmee. For good creels, the best bet is usually the Butler area, which has the additional advantage of its scenery—lots of live oaks and cypresses, plus the occasional osprey or bald eagle.
Toho and Kissimmee are also good for record-setting largemouth bass. The Butler chain yields largemouth, some pickerel, and the occasional huge catfish. Services range from equipment and boat rental to full-day trips with guides and guarantees. Like virtually all lakes in Florida, these are teeming with alligators, which pose little threat unless you engage in the unwise practice of swimming at night.
To fish in Florida waters (though not those at Disney), anglers over 16 need a fishing license, available at bait-and-tackle shops, fishing camps, most sporting-goods stores, and Wal-Mart and Kmart. Some locations may not sell saltwater licenses, so call ahead if this matters. For nonresidents of Florida, freshwater or saltwater licenses cost $17 for three consecutive days, $30 for seven consecutive days, and $47 for one year. Fishing on a private lake with the owner's permission—which is what anglers do at Disney—doesn't require a state fishing license.
Guides fish out of the area's fishing camps, and you can usually make arrangements to hire them through the camp office. Rates vary, but for two people a good price is $250 for a half day and $350 for a full one. Many area guides are part-timers who fish on weekends or take a day off from their full-time job.
Bass Challenger Guide. With Captain Eddie at the helm, BCG takes you wherever the fishing is best that day. It might be Lake Toho or the St. Johns River—Florida's longest and one of the few that runs north—which is a prime bass site. Indeed, bass is the only quarry. Half-day trips for one or two people begin at $300, six-hour trips are $350, and full-day trips begin at $400. Each additional person pays $75 more. BCG also sells bait, arranges for transportation to and from your hotel, organizes multiday trips, and books area accommodations. Sanford, FL. 407/273–8045 or 800/241–5314. www.basschallenger.com.
East Lake Fish Camp. Eastern Lake Toho's camp has a restaurant and country store, sells live bait and propane, and rents boats. You can also take a ride on an airboat from here. The camp has 286 RV sites ($40–$45 per night, $180 a week, or $400 per month) and simple, rustic cabins ($65 per night). Try to reserve the 24 cabins at least two weeks in advance in winter and spring. 3705 Big Bass Rd., Kissimmee, FL, 34744. 407/348–2040. www.eastlakefishcamp.com.
Lake Charters. This outfitter conducts trips from November to May on Lake Toho (January through April is high season, so reserve accordingly), and has done so for more than 20 years. It's possible to catch a 14-pound bass here. Rods and reels are included in the costs, and transportation is available. Half-day freshwater trips are $250, six-hour trips are $300, and full-day trips are $350. Prices are for one to two people. A third participant costs $50 more. You can also buy your licenses here. 1550 Scottys Rd., Kissimmee, FL, 34744. 407/891-2275 or 877/326-3575. www.lakecharter.com.
Lake Toho Resort. Although some of the full hookups at the 200 RV sites here are booked year-round, electrical and water hookups are usually available, as are live bait, food, and drinks. Sites are $28 per night or $315–$365 per month, plus electricity and an initial $100 refundable deposit. Boat slips start at $45 a month, depending on the length of your boat. 4715 Kissimmee Park Rd., St. Cloud, FL, 34772. 407/892–8795. www.laketohoresort.com.
Richardson's Fish Camp. This camp on western Lake Toho has seven cabins with kitchenettes, 16 RV sites, and six tent sites as well as boat slips and a bait shop. The RV sites are $30 per night; tent sites are $24.50; and cabins run $44 for one bedroom, $68 for two bedrooms, and $79 for three bedrooms. 1550 Scottys Rd., Kissimmee, FL, 34744. 407/846-6540.
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