Skip to main content

Florida Capital Gains: Check Out Tallahassee for Hot Kayak Fishing

Love year-round fishing in fresh and salt? Cast for everything from panfish to tarpon? Be sure to mark Tallahassee on your map.

If you drew a 50-mile circle around Tallahassee, Florida, it would include enough rivers, lakes, ponds and coastal waters to provide a lifetime of fishing. The number of fishing opportunities in this part of the Sunshine State is matched only by the extensive variety of fishing habitats. Very few places have everything from deep, spring-fed lakes to swift rivers to saltwater flats.

In fact, in Northwest Florida, you can catch a striped bass and a pompano in the same day. Between these two extremes, there are gradations of every flavor. If you like large reservoirs, Lake Talquin fits the bill. Also included, are moderate-sized natural lakes such as Jackson, Iamonia, Miccosukee and Lafayette that are classified as “prairie lakes” created during the Ice Age. There are large rivers such as the Ochlockonee and St. Marks, and smaller ones such as the Econfina, Aucilla, and Carrabelle.

fishing kayaks on shore
Rigging kayaks for a day on Lake Talquin.

The bays formed where the larger rivers join the Gulf to create another fishery habitat that is complemented by the abundant tidal creeks that thread through the miles of salt marsh. All of these resources meet the Gulf of Mexico, where another transition begins, from estuaries and inshore habitat to offshore and deep water.

Lake Talquin is impressive and so is the fishing in this large reservoir. It was created in 1927 by damming and flooding some 8,850 acres of the Ochlockonee River. This submerged 14 miles of downed trees and stumps that were left in the flood plain. The structure left in the lake has contributed to both the variety and quality of the fishing. For powerboaters, there’s a downside to this structure: Familiarity is necessary for boating in certain parts of the lake. Generally, staying in the deeper river channel is safest. Kayakers operate with a bit more freedom, but still must be cautious with pedal drives or motors around the timber.

Talquin is famous for its population of black crappie. In fact, the state record of 3.83 pounds was caught there. Some of the best fishing is from January through April during the pre-spawn and spawning period. Trolling open water with small, colorful jigs is an effective way to locate and catch the 25-fish bag limit. In the summer months, after the spawn, anglers often switch to fishing around structure or floating vegetation in the creek coves such as Oklawaha Creek, Little River and Harvey Creek. This is with jigs or shiners that are drifted, slow-trolled, or fished in holes in floating vegetation.

Fishing for largemouth bass on Lake Talquin draws a lot of attention from both local and national anglers. The wide variety of habitat on the lake means bass can be caught almost any time of the year.

Since the lake’s average depth is 15 feet and at the deepest is 40 feet, a lot of the bass are caught in deeper water. This is during the summer months when bass move to the ledges where both food and moderate temperatures are found. Typically, this is where the river channel meets shallower water or where a point or creek meets the river channel.

A change of depth from deep to moderate with downed trees or stumps is also likely to hold summer bass. Sometimes these spots show up well on sonar, especially if schools of bait congregate there. Anglers probe these ledges with deep-diving crankbaits, spinnerbaits and plastic worms. Other times of the year, bass can be found in the backs of creeks, coves and along the edges of vegetation. Spinnerbaits, topwater plugs and buzzbaits are effective. In keeping with a large reservoir, Lake Talquin has a population of sizable striped bass. In addition to providing a sportfish, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) maintains a healthy population of stripers for their fish hatchery broodstock. Fishermen benefit by being able to catch some sizable gamefish in freshwater.

two fishing kayakers
Heading out for reds and trout in Spring Creek, on the Gulf.

Striper fishing is best during the cooler months when they can be found feeding on the schools of shad that gather in middle of the lake. When stripers feed on the surface, casting spoons and topwater plugs quickly into the frenzy often results in connecting with a 12- to 20-pound fish. They also gather around downed trees and other structure in deep water where they can be caught with jigging spoons. In summer, stripers retreat to the cooler water in the creeks where they sometimes hit topwater baits, spoons, and trolled plugs.

Lake Talquin’s population of shellcrackers and other panfish cannot be ignored. Shellcrackers are abundant, partly due to the large population of mussels in the lake.

Lake Jackson, at just over 4,000 acres, is not as large as its reputation as a trophy bass fishing lake. In the 1960s and ’70s, fish camp records showed catches of over 100 bass weighing 10 pounds or more caught each year. Regarding fishing, the response to droughts is crucial for maintaining the continued health of Lake Jackson and other prairie lakes.

Lake Jackson continues to produce large bass because it partially dries up, as it is now. This naturally rejuvenates the lake. Most of the big bass were caught with shiners, typically fished around vegetation edges, deep holes or in openings in lily pads and other aquatic plants. Large plastic worms and weedless spoons are popular for swimming across the vegetation.


Bass fishing on Lake Jackson overshadows other fishing on the lake, but fishing for shellcrackers around the emergent vegetation with red wigglers and earthworms is second-to-none. The bluegill and bream population should also not be overlooked. With five boat ramps, Lake Jackson accommodates bass boats during normal water levels and kayaks and canoes during droughts.

Lake Iamonia, another prairie lake, has fluctuating water levels. Normally spanning 7 miles in length, 2 miles in width, and covering 5,700 acres, it’s currently only 200 acres. However, because since it’s connected to the Ochlockonee River, it can refill very quickly. Even during low water periods, the fishing remains outstanding for largemouth bass and panfish. The lake is normally covered with a variety of aquatic plants that confine a lot of fishing to boat trails and openings in the vegetation. It’s a great lake for catching huge bluegills. Toss a popping bug with long rubber legs in an opening in the lily pads and resist the temptation to move it. The rubber legs naturally twist and move on their own. Typically, just before your patience wears thin, a big bluegill will smash the bug.

kayak angler holds large bass
Chris Vecsey with stud bass on the Ochlockonee River above Lake Talquin. It ate a 3⁄8-ounce ChatterBait Evo fished along a grass line. If not a 10, then close!

Lake Miccosukee is partially in Leon County and near the city of Monticello, Florida. Normally, the lake spans over 6,200 acres, but the presence of active sinkholes has drained a large part of it. Most of the open water is on the north end and eastern side of the lake, while the three boat ramps are located on the western side. Boat trails offer access to different parts of the lake and are good to fish along for largemouth bass, black crappie, redfin pickerel, warmouth, bluegills, and flyers. Fishing is also good in open water and in holes in the lily pads.

Lake Lafayette actually consists of three lakes. The original prairie lake was historically over 6 miles long but was subsequently divided into the Upper, Piney Z, and Lower Lake. In terms of fishing, the Piney Z has the best conditions. This is due to extensive restoration and stocking efforts by the FWC. According to Michael Hill, retired FWC biologist responsible for the project, five fishing fingers were created that each extend 500 feet out into the lake.

kayak fisherman
Casting for largemouth bass on Piney Z Lake.

This allows anglers without boats to reach most areas of the lake. Additionally, small wildlife habitat islands were constructed from muck dredged from the bottom. The entire area is a Tallahassee city park and is part of the Lafayette Heritage Trail Park. Anglers of all ages can catch largemouth bass, black crappie and panfish from shore or from small boats. Motors are limited to electric only. It’s a terrific fishery for kayaks.

The Ochlockonee River begins in Georgia and flows through five counties and over 100 miles before reaching the Gulf of Mexico at Ochlockonee Bay. The tannic-stained river above Lake Talquin features white bass that migrate upriver to spawn in the early spring. These feisty relatives of striped bass readily hit small jigs, crawfish and spinners over sandbars.

Below Lake Talquin, the Ochlockonee River continues its tight serpentine bends through willowed sandbars, cypress sloughs, woodlands, and variously named lakes. This changing habitat has amazing fishing possibilities. Largemouth bass reside around the shoreline vegetation and submerged trees, waiting for spinnerbaits, red plastic worms, and crankbaits. The river is known for its beautiful redbreasts that lurk under the overhanging trees. They will also eat small crankbaits and popping bugs, but crickets, wigglers, and grass shrimp are more commonly used for them and other panfish.

boat and trailer
Not far outside of town, there's utter wilderness on the road to Lake Talquin.

When the river changes to brackish and is influenced by the tides, a different mix of fish can be caught. In the marsh and tidal creeks, both largemouth bass, redfish, flounder, speckled trout and even striped bass can be caught.

The St. Marks and the Wakulla are both relatively short, clear coastal rivers that join less than 5 miles from the coast. Both rivers have largemouth bass and a good population of panfish. Bass are often caught in the openings in the eelgrass and other vegetation with the Hildebrandt Snagless Sally and other inline spinners. Plastic worms and spinnerbaits are also used along the shoreline. Since there is little development along these rivers, it doesn’t take any imagination to envision what Florida looked like in the distant past.

angler catches redfish
Ryan Lilly with a Gulf Coast redfish, Spring Creek, 45 minutes from downtown Tallahassee.

They are a good length for a day of paddling, drifting or using a trolling motor to ease along with a pole rigged with worms or crickets. Flyrod bugs, streamers, Beetle Spins and small inline spinners work well for a variety of panfish, when cast under the overhanging trees. Just above the junction of the two rivers, where the historic fort was built in 1679, there are two marinas. Both Shields and Shell Island have boat ramps, facilities and supplies. Shell Island has been at their present location for over 70 years and has maintained its reputation as an old-time fish camp.

When the St. Marks reaches the Gulf of Mexico, its freshwater habitat changes to salt marsh that’s lined with strings of oyster bars and scattered limestone formations. Extensive grassflats stretch for miles on both sides of the St. Marks River. Adjacent to the iconic St. Marks Lighthouse, there are freshwater pools that eagerly await anglers, opening for fishing each year on March 15. These serene ponds offer an ideal environment for kayaks. While the use of electric motors is permitted, combustion engines are prohibited.

red drum
This redfish took a Strike King Flood Minnow on a 1⁄8-ounce jig.

The Aucilla and Econfina are two medium-sized rivers that enter the Gulf between the St. Marks River and the Hickory Mound Wildlife Management Area. They are both rock-lined and scenic places to catch panfish and bass in the upper stretches. In the lower portion, they offer access to miles of coastal marsh and tidal creeks where redfish, speckled trout and flounder are available. Both the Aucilla and Econfina rivers have boat ramps above Highway 98 for reaching the upper rivers. Additionally, ramps below the highway offer convenient launching points close to the Gulf.

To the west of St. Marks, almost any road leads to more places to fish. Shell Point is a popular location with good boat ramps and a marina. Spring Creek, nestled in Oyster Bay, is another timeless Florida fishing spot that retains its charm by keeping things simple and authentic. Spring Creek provides direct access to Oyster Bay, where abundant oyster bars aptly justify its name. It’s a great place to target redfish, speckled trout, flounder, and Spanish mackerel. Oyster Bay extends to Dickerson Bay, which reaches Ochlockonee Bay where the river converges with the Gulf. Here, the landscape shifts from salty oyster bars, grassflats, and deep channels to a labyrinth of brackish tidal creeks as it meanders upriver toward fresh water sources.

Crossing the Ochlockonee Bay Bridge leads past Alligator Point, a 7-mile-long peninsula that shapes Alligator Bay. The bay is shallow, which is good for floundering, as well as for speckled trout and redfish. It also serves as an aquafarming location where clams are cultivated. The beach side of the peninsula attracts huge schools of bait, which makes it a hotspot for catching Spanish mackerel and even an occasional kingfish. Speckled trout frequent the nearby grassflats and pompano are caught along the sandy sections of the beach. In the fall, white shrimp gather in these waters as well.

kayak angler casting
Kayak Fishing Fun Editor Jeff Weakley fishes from an Old Town BigWater ePDL+ kayak.

Highway 98 briefly passes through the settlement of Lanark Village. One could easily overlook this area with its scattered RV parks, small marina, and boat launch. Unnoticed, is a huge reef about a half mile from shore in crystal-clear water. This 7-mile-long reef draws fishing guides from far and wide each year. The fishing is good for the usual inshore species but that’s not why it’s so popular. Tarpon migrate here each year when the water temperature reaches the 70s. They arrive in large numbers and stay most of the summer and into the fall, and so do the fly anglers.

It’s hard to imagine a location that condenses as many fishing possibilities within such a short distance from a state capital.

About Tallahassee

Florida Capitol Complex in Tallahassee, a “northern” city with excellent fishing and a distinctive vibe. ( photo)

Facts about Florida’s capital city.

  • Chosen as Florida capital in 1824
  • Population of metro area just under 400,000
  • Located in Leon County
  • Home to Florida State University, Florida A&M University
  • Name translates to “old fields” or “old town” in Muskogean Indian language.
  • Kayak supplies: REI, Timberland Road.
Food and Lodging
Oysters at Bird’s, a Tallahassee tradition.
Tallahassee restaurant
Bird’s Aphrodisiac Oyster Shack
  • Good Eats: Bird’s Aphrodisiac Oyster Shack on N. Bronough St., Bumpa’s Local #349 on Capital Circle NE.
  • Accommodations: Lots of hotels in area, but for the ultimate experience, check out SouthWind Plantation, just north of town in Attapulgus, Georgia. SouthWind is famous for traditional quail hunts over pointing dogs. Insider secret: There’s exceptional bass and panfish fishing in 13 ponds dotting the 6,100-acre property. Rooms, meals and service are first class.; 800-456-5208

  • This article was featured in the 2024 edition of Kayak Fishing Fun. Get a copy now.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

George Labonte meets with Jeff Toole and his sons aboard their custom-built 1987 Alumacraft 16' Jon Boat that they custo...

Extend Your Range in the Salt Marsh

George Labonte meets with Jeff Toole and his sons aboard their custom-built 1987 Alumacraft 16' Jon Boat that they custo...

Florida's Capital Fishing

George Labonte meets with Jeff Toole and his sons aboard their custom-built 1987 Alumacraft 16' Jon Boat that they custo...

Old Town Sportsman AutoPilot 120 FULLY RIGGED Fishing Machine

George Labonte meets with Jeff Toole and his sons aboard their custom-built 1987 Alumacraft 16' Jon Boat that they custo...

Mounting Forward-Facing Sonar on A Kayak: Mounts, Scanning Applications and More!

George Labonte meets with Jeff Toole and his sons aboard their custom-built 1987 Alumacraft 16' Jon Boat that they custo...

On The Water with Old Town: Bass Fishing at PRIVATE GEORGIA LAKE

George Labonte meets with Jeff Toole and his sons aboard their custom-built 1987 Alumacraft 16' Jon Boat that they custo...

DECKED-OUT Old Town Sportsman BigWater ePDL+ 132 Complete WALK-THROUGH

George Labonte meets with Jeff Toole and his sons aboard their custom-built 1987 Alumacraft 16' Jon Boat that they custo...

Dreambuild: Old Town ePDL Gets Rigged to the Hilt

George Labonte meets with Jeff Toole and his sons aboard their custom-built 1987 Alumacraft 16' Jon Boat that they custo...

Kaku Zulu

George Labonte meets with Jeff Toole and his sons aboard their custom-built 1987 Alumacraft 16' Jon Boat that they custo...

Kayak Hulls

George Labonte meets with Jeff Toole and his sons aboard their custom-built 1987 Alumacraft 16' Jon Boat that they custo...

Kayaks and Saltwater Flats

George Labonte meets with Jeff Toole and his sons aboard their custom-built 1987 Alumacraft 16' Jon Boat that they custo...

Kayak Fishing Fun 2023 Product Showcase

George Labonte meets with Jeff Toole and his sons aboard their custom-built 1987 Alumacraft 16' Jon Boat that they custo...

Refurbished 1987 Alumacraft Jon Boat | One Man's Dreamboat

Florida Sportsman Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

Preview This Month's Issue

Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Florida Sportsman App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Florida Sportsman stories delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Florida Sportsman subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now