At the southernmost tip of Florida between Naples and Miami lies the largest stretch of salt marsh, sawgrass prairie, and mangroves in the Americas: Everglades National Park.
Covering over 1.5 million acres, this expansive stretch of wetland is not only critical to the ecosystems of Florida, but also the primary clean water source for over 2 million Floridians.
As the third largest national park in the lower 48 states, Everglades National Park is also home to hundreds of species waterfowl, fresh and saltwater fish, and the only place on earth where both crocodiles and alligators coexist.
Among anglers looking to ply their fly fishing skills though, Everglades National Park is the prime location for landing snook, permit, tarpon, red drum, and bonefish.
This massive grassy expanse of water peppered with islands creates ideal fishing conditions year round, and with an average depth of only 4.5 feet, it's also a great place to shore or wade fish.
Despite the vast expanses of water, there are still plenty of hiking trails, campsites, and many other ways to get around the park as you follow Highway 41 between Miami, Everglades City, and Naples.
One caveat to keep in mind if you do decide to visit: the park was established as a nature preserve for the hundreds of species of bird, reptile, fish, and other living creatures that make up its vast ecosystem.
This includes the many species of fish that roam the waters, and the Florida
Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission maintains strict catch-and-release only policies on several game fish species to maintain the balance of Everglades National Park's delicate ecosystem.
Get familiar with which fish you can take, and which you must return to the water before setting out on your trip, and help keep the Everglades an amazing place to fly fish for generations to come.
Everglades National Park Fishing Map
Best Places to Fish in Everglades National Park
The best place to fish for salt or freshwater fish lies in and around the Everglades that surround Florida Bay. This area is generally referred to as "the backcountry" by locals and visiting anglers alike, and it covers a stretch of shallow waters between the tip of the mainland and the northernmost Florida Keys.
Most anglers start out from Flamingo in Florida Bay, but there are also many other places in the Keys starting in Key Largo and running all the way to Islamorada along Highway 1.
It is here among the mangrove islands and grass flats the fish of the region call home, and many fisheries are only accessible if the tides are just right due to the shallow depths.
Given the massive amount of territory that can be fished here, let’s take a look at where the pros recommend you try your luck.
Additionally, while you can shoreline fish in a few areas, shoreline wading is limited, and more than likely you will want to hire a boat and/or a local guide to reach some of these prime fishing spots.
Florida Bay Islands (South of Flamingo)
Towards the middle of the bay, there are hundreds of mangrove islands surrounded by flats. These islands are prime territory for feeding snook, bonefish, and red drum.
Watch for the rising "muds", a local term for the clouds of mud stirred up by snook and bonefish feeding in the flats. Casting into these muds with shrimp flies is almost a guaranteed strike, and you're likely to find this strategy works far more often than you would believe possible.
Working the shoreline here east of Flamingo is a great way to land some big redfish (red drum). These fish are a bit shyer than the snook and bonefish in the muds, but they still strike if you're casting right by their nose.
A good strategy for this area is to push-pole your way in closer to the shoreline so as not to spook the fish, and then focus on accurate casting. There's plenty of food for the redfish here, so you landing your fly close is critical.
Frank and Murray Key
Another great place not too distant from Flamingo where you can work the muds if you are willing to push-pole your way in among the flats and watch for the telltale signs of feeding fish in these shallows.
Spotted sea trout seem to love Frank and Murray Key, and if you are looking for some saltwater trout this is the place to catch them.
The best thing about sea trout is you can keep up to 5 per day, so if you are fishing for your dinner you may want to end your day on the water here.
This is a highly popular spot on the weekends, and it is a no combustion motor zone. Trolling and push-poling are the only way to reach the channel.
The good news is this area holds massive fish populations, particularly snook and redfish in the flats on the eastern side of Snake Bight.
Keep an eye on the tide while you are fishing here, as you can end up high and dry when the tide goes out and find yourself waiting for the next high tide to lift you off the sand bars.
Best Time to Fish in Everglades National Park
There are only two seasons in the Florida Everglades: the rainy season and dry season. Fishing is great no matter what time of year you go, but if you are looking to land permit or baby tarpon, you may want to plan your trip during their approved season from May to July.
The importance of when matters most when it comes to the time of day for your fishing trip.
Consult a tidal chart and keep it with you when you head out. If you are with a guide they will know to keep an eye on the tide, but it's good to familiarize yourself with it if you decide you are going to kayak or canoe your way out into Florida Bay or through the rest of the Everglades.
There are few worse experiences than running aground at ebb tide and having to wait for the tide to rise again so you can paddle your way back to shore.
As for the season of the year, December to April is peak fishing season in Florida. Hurricane season runs June to November, and the greater Miami area isn’t exactly the most hospitable place that time of year in terms of prevailing weather.
Everglades National Park Fishing Tips
As with any fly fishing excursion to Florida, pack the bug spray, your best fishing hat to keep the sun off, and rain gear for the occasional squall.
The experts recommend a 12-foot leader and a 20 lb. tippet as well. If you land a larger redfish, tarpon, or permit, you are going to need them.
Best Flies for Everglades National Park
Here are some recommended flies that have proven effective for fishing in the Everglades National Park region:
- Grassett's Deep Flats Bunny (tan 2/0)
- Doc Hall's Tailing Shrimp (white 1/0)
- Borski Bonefish Slidertan #1
- Chicone's GT Pinfish (tan/white 2/0,3/0)
- EP Glades minnow (green/white #1)
Everglades National Park Fishing Reports
There are a number of area fly shops and guide services that can provide an update on current fishing conditions in and around Everglades National Park. A few to check out are listed below.
Everglades National Park Fishing Regulations
Florida or Everglade National Park regulations apply throughout Everglade National Park. A license is required to fish anywhere in the state, whether it is a one-day or one year pass.
Special regulations that apply to fishing in and near Everglade National Park include:
- Fishing in Everglades National Park does require a Florida State Fishing license for anyone under the age of 16. Licenses are issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
- Only non-offset hooks and circle hooks are permitted
- Anglers must have a dehooking tool in their possession while fishing
- Bonefish are C&R only
- Spotted Seatrout Limit 5 per day per angler
- Permit is 2 per day per angler
- Tarpon limit is 1 per angler per year
- Red drum (redfish) limit is 2 per angler per day, off water possession limit is 6
- Black drum limit is 5 per angler per day (must be longer than 14” and not more than 24”)
Trip Planning Tips
Flying into Miami directly or any of the local/regional airports is your best bet.
Flights to Florida can be cheap depending on the season, and sometimes flying into regional or municipal airports also saves you a few dollars here and there.
To get to the park from Miami, you literally just follow Highway 41 West through the park to Everglades City, or you can keep driving on to Naples if you prefer.
The drive to Everglades City is about an hour and a half, and Naples is another 30 minutes beyond that.
You can also fly into the Southwest Florida International Airport near Fort Myers, and it’s only about an hour drive to Everglades City, and 30-45 minutes to Naples.
As for where to stay, Miami is a fantastic tourist destination with accommodations to suit every taste and budget. Naples is likewise a wonderful city to visit, as is Bonita Springs and Estero northwest of the Everglades.
If you prefer to rough it or RV it, camping is allowed in Everglades National Park itself, and Big Cypress National Preserve is close by Everglades City, too.
As always, check local listings for vacation rentals in the area. Many people rent out their private homes during the off season, and you can sometimes get a real bargain on your stay just by renting with a local private party.
Feature image by Everglades NPS