Included are descriptions and Google Earth views and photos of the more widely used boat and kayak launch sites. I’ve also outlined a few suggested routes (out of the thousands available) to help plan your fishing trips, not including my secret ones, of course. Enlarged views of each Google Earth image can be obtained by clicking on the magnifier link located above each. The sites are generally presented north to south, and categorized for those seeking saltwater versus freshwater species. They also have value for those simply interested in a relaxing paddle, great scenery or wildlife encounter / photography.
Visitors to the area and persons not familiar with the fishing area should take care in venturing too far from launch sites. Backcountry areas can look alike and it’s easy to get disoriented. I’ve included some suggestions for visitors and newbies to begin exploring kayak fishing along the Nature Coast at the end of this page.
An interactive Boating and Angling Guide to Citrus County is available providing an overview map of the coastal area and including listings of some of the major boat ramps and marinas (http://ocean.floridamarine.org/Boating_Guides/citrus/pages/maps.html). Also, refer to the Top Spot Fishing and Recreation Map for the Homosassa Area (Cedar Key to Aripeka) for additional fishing related information, as well as names of islands, creeks and bays. These maps are what got me started fishing the area.
SEATROUT, REDFISH AND SNOOK SITES
Cedar Key, Florida. While detailed information concerning kayak fishing in the Cedar Key area is not provided, suffice it to say that this area, located approximately 60 miles north of Crystal River, provides many kayak launching sites and excellent fishing. It is also a popular tourist destination.
Waccasassa River. Located about 20 miles north of Inglis, this river offers limited fishing opportunities for yakers as the Gulf is about a 4 mile paddle from the launch site, however, its remote, scenic qualities make it worth a visit. Lots of parking. Gators are present.
Allen Park Road. An out-of-the-way ramp and small parking area located on a small creek at the end of Allen Park Road north of Yankeetown. The 1-mile length unpaved road can be a bit “washboardy” so drive slow. Fish the pools in the lower creek and the “Redfish Islands” outside of the creek mouth. Avoid lower low tides and park on the highest ground available.
Withlacoochee River Mouth. A popular power boat ramp and two adjacent kayak launch areas at the end of County Road 40 (or, would you believe, Follow That Dream Parkway; yep, Elvis visited here) west of Inglis and Yankeetown. The ramp and adjoining road can become very crowded, especially on weekends. On the north side of the highway, a gated county park is open for kayak launching during daylight hours and offers a large parking area and rest area. A clearing on the south side of the highway (referred to as Redneck Beach by the locals) provides direct access to the river and points south, including the barge canal. Fish the river, the nearby barge canal and the many areas to the north, south and west.
Bird Creek Bridge. Three kayak-only sites adjacent to limited roadside parking spaces at the Bird Creek Bridge along County Road 40 just upstream of the Withlacoochee River mouth. Compared to the kayak sites at the nearby river mouth, these sites provide a somewhat shorter paddle to reach the “Redfish Islands” (Jubb, Hodges and nearby islands) to the north. These sites are a bit difficult to negotiate, and I use them only when I’m planning on longer paddles to the north.
Yankeetown Marina. A private marina on the Withlacoochee River in Yankeetown where a fee may be charged to launch. It provides a starting point for a circle tour of Bennets Creek and the main river.
Coast Guard Site. A small public kayak ramp off of Riverside Drive just upstream of the Yankeetown Marina. It provides access to the Withlacoochee River.
End of Barge Canal – Cross Florida Greenway. Two kayak-only sites near the western end of the 4-mile long unpaved (and a bit rough) Withlacoochee Bay Trail which parallels the southern side of the Barge Canal. Lots of parking is available and the area is popular for bank fishing, biking, picnicking, birding and horseback riding. A gate providing access to the trail doesn’t open until 8 a.m., resulting in about a 9 a.m. launch time (after the trek down the road and getting loaded on the water), which is about the time I start thinking of paddling back during the hot summer months. During the winter, however, a nice trip to the south passes by many oyster bars along the eastern edge of Lutrell Island on the way to Drum Island and the Crystal River power plant (which pumps out fish attracting warm water). The west trip parallels the barge canal and several islands and oyster bars to the south of it. Low water can create muddy conditions at the southern launch site. The northern site, located right on the barge canal, is more difficult to access, and care must be taken because of the numerous power boats which use the canal.
Upper Barge Canal. This launch site provides power boat access to the barge canal and Gulf. It has limited use as a kayak launch site.
Crystal River Preserve and Archeological State Parks. These two adjacent state parks, located on the north side of the Crystal River just west of the town of Crystal River and Kings Bay, offer a variety of outdoor recreation activities. The parks are open during daylight hours, and each has a visitors center highlighting what each offers. Two kayak-only launch sites are available. The Mullet Hole site provides access to a small creek leading to the Crystal River, a short paddle south. Bank fishers frequenting this area to target mullet give this site its name. Fishing in the creek is limited, and better access to the Crystal River is available at other sites. The other kayak launch site is located directly across from the State Preserve Visitors Center and offers access to the Crystal River at its junction with the Salt River. Parking is adequate and gators may be present at both sites. If you’re interested, you can view ancient Indian burial grounds and shell mounds at the Archeological Park, and take an ecological tour boat ride on the Crystal River.
Kings Bay Sites. Kings Bay, the headwaters area of the Crystal River, has several launch areas, some private and requiring fees. Constant 72 degree spring water attracts trout and and other game fish to the bay during the winter months, as well as hundreds of manatees which have become a popular tourist attraction, especially at Three Sisters Spring. I generally launch at the yak-only Hunter Springs Park off NE 1st Avenue in Crystal River (which is undergoing a major transformation in 2016) and Kings Bay Park (at the 3rd Street Pier), both of which are gated, open during daylight hours and offer ample parking. Also available for pre-dawn launching is Pete’s Pier, a popular power boat launch site where a parking fee is charged, and a popular area for guided fishing trips. Fish around the bay shoreline, including Buzzard’s Island and Banana Island, and in the deeper Crystal River channel down to Bagley Cove. Large resident tarpon can be seen in Kings Bay, and seem to congregate around Pete’s Pier waiting for scraps thrown into the water by fishers cleaning their catches.
3rd Ave. Site. This public site, also on Kings Bay and adjacent to U.S Highway 19, is not used much by yakers because of the alternate sites noted above. Parking here is limited and you may need to go across Highway 19 to find more available room.
Fort Island Trail Park. The popular Fort Island Trail Park provides access to the southern shoreline of the Crystal River and nearby Salt River. It is heavily utilized by power boaters and can become very crowded, especially on weekends and during summer scallop season. Trips up and down the Crystal River are possible (watching out for numerous power boats), but I prefer more yak-friendly routes between the islands south and west along the Salt River (which originates and heads southwest from the Crystal River). Picnic areas, restrooms and a fishing pier are available. I have used a small clearing directly opposite the boat ramp to launch my yak in a less crowded setting.
Fort Island Gulf Ramp / Beach. Located at the west end of County Road 44 West, this popular boat ramp can become very crowded, especially on weekends and during scallop season. I prefer launching at a small clearing immediately adjacent to the ramp if I”m headed north or west, and off of the swimming beach (if not too crowded) if I’m heading south or east. You can fish the mouth of the Crystal River and then head north around Black Point, or numerous oyster bars (which are visible on Google Earth maps) to the west and south. The spoil islands just south of the power plant intake are an especially good place to target overslot redfish in the summer. Lots of parking and a swimming beach, fishing pier and restrooms are nearby.
Suggested Crystal River to Fort Island Trips. A nice one-way 5-6 mile trip between the launch sites on the Crystal River near its junction with the Salt River and the Fort Island site, with, of course, a vehicle waiting at the destination site for transport.
Ozello Community Park – Pirates Cove. Located at the west end of 9-mile long Ozello Trail (County Road 494), this popular paddling and yak-fishing site includes a small ramp which can accommodate small motor boats, and a large open area for yakers. Good parking is available. Fishers can head north and then west toward the open Gulf, or east and southeast into the backcountry. Countless mangrove islands and oyster bars are available to explore. The area can become crowded, especially on weekends, but not quite as busy as some other popular areas because the ramp cannot accommodate the larger power boats. The causeway leading to Pirates Cove is a popular place to fish, with Pecks Old Port Cove Restaurant located at one end. The towers in the town of Ozello can be seen by most locations on the water, thereby providing some help in getting one’s bearings. The Crystal River Power Plant to the north also is visible providing additional help.
Suggested Ozello to Fort Island Beach Trip. A nice one-way 4-5 mile paddle to consider is launching at either Ozello – Pirates Cove or Fort Island Gulf Ramp, and paddling to the other (with a car available there for transport), fishing several good spots as you go.
Ozello to the Gulf, Mullet Key and the Bird Keys. This trip around the northern edge of Bear Island to the open Gulf offers good fishing, as well as side trips to Mullet Key and the Bird Keys. Mullet Key, a historic island on the National Register of Historic Places, was inhabited by Native Americans in pre-Columbian times. Yakers sometimes stop there looking for artifacts. The Bird Keys, just south of Mullet Key, support large seasonal populations of frigatebirds and white pelican.
Fish Creek. Fish Creek is accessible via a launch site located on private land at the end of Fish Creek Road about a mile northwest of the town of Ozello. Parking is adequate and a fee is charged. Launching is onto a canal with a 1/4 mile paddle to Fish Creek. Once on Fish Creek, it’s about a 2 1/2 mile paddle west to the mouth with lots of shoreline and deep pools to fish. About a mile down the creek is Fish Creek Pass which provides a path south to the St. Martin’s River, however, this area can become quite shallow on the lower tides.
St. Martin’s River. Located just south of Ozello Trail (County Road 494) off John Brown Drive, this dirt parking area provides access to the popular St. Martin’s River to the west and Salt River to the south. Good but long trips are available to the mouth of the St. Martin’s and to the Homosassa rivers, each about 3 miles one-way. The lower St. Martin’s River around Pipe and Dog Islands, and Pea and No-Name Passes are good places to try, as is the narrow area on the Salt River just south of Greenleaf and Game Creek Bays. Mangrove islands and coves nearer to the launch site can also be fished. The current in the St. Martin’s can be fairly swift, so it’s best to coordinate that trip with the tides.
Suggested St. Martin’s River to Fish Creek Trip. A nice, but long (about 6 miles) one-way trip to consider for the more experienced yaker is between the St. Martin’s River (John Brown launch site) and the Fish Creek site via Fish Creek Pass, with, of course, a vehicle waiting at the destination site for transport. You will want to go during a higher water period (Fish Creek Pass can get shallow on low water) and take advantage of the current on the St. Martin’s River (which can be quite fast). First timers through the Pass will want to have a good map and compass with them.
Mid Salt River. Kayak launch sites at the Ozello Trail (County Road 494) Bridge over the Salt River with access to the middle portion of the river. Room for 1 or 2 cars along the roadside at each end of the bridge. Fish upstream into the Ozello backcountry or downstream toward the St. Martin’s River. This portion of the Salt River may not be as productive as other areas off Ozello Trail, but it’s an uncrowded, peaceful stretch.
Hall’s River. A launch site located on the Hall’s River (a key tributary to the Homosassa River) just upstream from the Hall’s River Road Bridge (County Road 490A) and the Homosassa River. The site provides convenient access to the popular Homosassa Springs area and the upper reaches of the Hall’s River (where largemouth bass can be caught). The site is located on the property of Nature’s Resort RV Park which charges a user fee.
Homosassa River North Side. A popular power boat launch site on the property of Riverhaven Marina off Hall’s River Road (County Road 490A) where a fee is charged. This site is directly across from the Homosassa River South Side sites, and may be a bit less congested on busy weekends and holidays. Fish the same areas as noted for the south side sites.
Homosassa River South Side. Three launch sites with access to the popular Homosassa River are located very near each other off Cherokee Way in the town of Homosassa: (1) a heavily used public power boat launch at the end of Cherokee Way adjacent to MacRae’s Marina and Resort, (2) a private boat launch at Homosassa Riverside Resort which charges a fee , and (3) a kayak-only launch site on an adjacent canal at Riversports Kayaks, where free launching has been provided. Lots of parking, lodging and restaurants are available. A popular spot for guided fishing trips. A 2-mile paddle upstream takes you to the headwaters springs adjacent to a state wildlife park where manatees congregate in the winter months drawing large crowds. Fishing the shorelines on the way can be productive. Trips may also be taken downstream toward the Gulf, and north along the Salt River. Homosassa can get extremely busy, especially on weekends and during manatee season.
Mason Creek Road Salt Marsh. Located off Mason Creek Road near the Mason Creek launch site, this beautiful salt marsh is part of the Chassawitzka National Wildlife Refuge. A gate blocks entry onto a 1/4 mile long dirt road leading to a small kayak launch site and elevated marsh overlook structure. Launching would require dragging (or preferably, wheeling, a kayak down the road). Though I have not launched and fished here, I assume that the scenic value of this marsh eclipses its value for fishing.
Mason Creek. The launch site at the end of Mason Creek Road provides access onto the creek and adequate parking. Paddle west down the creek toward the Gulf for the best fishing.
Chassahowitzka River. The launch site at the end of County Road 480 (Miss Maggie Drive), adjacent to an established campground, provides access to the scenic Chassahowitzka River headwaters area. Kayak rentals and a small store are available. There is a charge for parking. This shallow river is quite unspoiled and a popular paddling destination to view crystal clear springs and wildlife. Fishing is normally best near the mouth, a good 4 to 5 mile paddle downstream. Gators may be present.
Salt River Canoe Trail. This scenic 27-mile paddling trail along the Salt River extends from the Crystal River south to the Chassahowitzka River. I have never made the entire trip, but have fished most of its length a bit at a time using the four available launch sites. It’s route is supposed to be well marked, but I cannot personally confirm that. This paddle is for the hardiest and best prepared only. I’d want to have a good GPS device and VHF phone with me, not to mention lunch and dinner.
Pine Island. A launch site at the popular Alfred McKethan Park at the end of Pine Island Drive off County Road 495 north of Bayport. The family-friendly park has a large swimming beach, picnic area, rest rooms, kids play areas and food stands, and is a great place to leave the wife and kids while out fishing. A fee is charged to enter the park and lots of parking is available. Fish the saltwater marshes north and south of the park. This park is located a short distance from the popular Weeki Wachee Springs State Park which features underwater mermaid shows, kayak rentals, an outdoor water park and other family attractions.
Bayport Park. A popular park and launch site located at the end of State Route 50 (Cortez Blvd.) west of Weeki Wachee. The park includes a picnic area, rest rooms and a fishing pier. Lots of parking. Fish the lower Weeki Wachee River and adjoining flats area. This park is located a short distance from the popular Weeki Wachee Springs State Park which features underwater mermaid shows, kayak rentals, an outdoor water park and other family attractions.
Jenkins Creek. A nice launch site with lots of parking and a fishing pier on Jenkins Creek, a tributary to the lower Weeki Wachee River. This park is located a short distance from the popular Weeki Wachee Springs State Park which features underwater mermaid shows, kayak rentals, an outdoor water park and other family attractions.
Aripeka. This launch site is located in a private parking area adjacent to a small General Store and Fish Camp in the tiny community of Aripeka off County Road 595 about 5 miles north of Hudson. A fee is charged to park. The site borders Hammock Creek which leads onto a broad flats area. Fish the Indian Bay area to the north, the Fillman Bayou area to the south, and adjacent shorelines.
Clearwater / Tampa Bay Areas. I don’t get down to the Clearwater / Tampa Bay area often, but, occasionally, when I take my wife to the airport, I’ll take the yak along and head to one of three favorite spots: (1) the Caladesi / Honeymoon Island area next to Dunedin, (2) the Weedon Island State Preserve in upper Tampa Bay just south of Gandy Blvd., or (3) Fort Desoto State Park at the entrance to Tampa Bay. All three provide good launch sites, excellent fishing and decent protection from the wind. More information on these areas may be obtained from the Bay Area Canoe and Kayak Fishing Club (www.backfishingclub.com) or through related searches.
BASS, BLUEGILL AND CRAPPIE SITES
Rainbow River / Silver Springs State Park Sites. Unique eco-paddle trips down the beautiful, crystal clear Rainbow River near Dunnellon and Silver River in Silver Springs State Park near Ocala offer extraordinary scenery and exceptional family outings. A full range of outdoor recreation and touristy things are available at both sites, along with numerous nearby restaurants and motels. While bass and other freshwater species inhabit these rivers, it may be best to leave the fishing stuff at home for these trips and just relax and enjoy the spectacular scenery. Google either site for further info.
Inglis Dam Recreation Area. Lake Rousseau, created by Inglis Dam on the Withlacoochee River, offers excellent fishing for largemouth bass (including not too uncommon 10-pound-plus specimens) and other freshwater species. The large parking lot and ramp above the dam is used primarily by power boaters, while a smaller ramp below the dam provides access for smaller boats. Fish the deep areas near the dam and the lake shoreline. Gators may be present.
Dunnellon – Goldendale Sites. These 2 sites offer access to a very rural and scenic section of the Withlacoochee River which provides excellent fishing for largemouth bass and other freshwater species. Good parking is available at each site. One trip involves launching in Dunnellon and fishing the shoreline down to Goldendale if another vehicle parked there is waiting. Another involves fishing upstream and downstream from Goldendale. A third route involves launching at Dunnellon and heading upstream toward the scenic Rainbow River. Gators are present.
Mid-Withlacoochee River. Two out-of-the-way sites located on the Withlacoochee River below State Road 200 and off of County Road 39 (one adjacent to East Riverside Drive and one adjacent to East Spruce Drive). This area offers a scenic paddle with some freshwater fishing potential.
Turner Camp Road. This out-of-the-way site, located about 7 miles east of the city of Inverness at the end of Turner Camp Road, offers access to a scenic section of the Withlacoochee River located farther upstream. The river here offers scenic paddling with limited fishing potential. Fly fishing while drifting along with the current may be a good option. Gators may be present.
Rutland. This site, located on State Road 44 east of the city of Inverness and just upstream of the Turner Camp Road site, offers easy access to a scenic section of the Withlacoochee River. Lots of parking. This section of the river offers scenic paddling with limited fishing potential. Fly fishing while drifting along with the current may be a good option, and the 5 mile trip from this site downstream to the Turner Camp Road site (with a vehicle waiting there for the return) makes for a pleasant day. Gators may be present. Airboat tours are offered adjacent to this site.
Lake Hernando. This launch site is located off U.S. Highway 41 at Hernando Beach Park on Lake Hernando or Tsala Apopka Lake in the town of Hernando. Parking is available as are restrooms, and picnic and swimming areas. Fishing is primarily for largemouth bass and panfish. Find the deeper holes and try the marshy area at the northwest corner of the lake. Gators are present.
Little Henderson Lake. This small site with nearby street parking at the end of North Apopka Avenue in the city of Inverness provides access onto Little Lake Henderson. This lake and its neighbor, Lake Henderson, offer excellent fishing for largemouth bass and crappie. Gators may be present.
Henderson Lake. This popular power boat launch site and parking area off State Highway 44 in the city of Inverness provides direct access onto Lake Henderson, with excellent fishing for largemouth bass and crappie. I like fishing the shallow, lilly pad laden eastern portion of the lake. Gators may be present.
Eden Park. This site provides a more yak-friendly way to access Henderson Lake, entering from the south under the State Road 44 bridge, and other smaller bodies of water. Good parking and excellent fishing for largemouth bass and panfish.
Floral City Lake (Tsala Apopka Lake). Also referred to as the Duval Island site off County Road 48 ( East Orange Avenue) and South Duval Island Drive. Good parking with a laid back atmosphere. This lake provides excellent fishing for largemouth bass and panfish. Try fly fishing along the shoreline in the evening or early morning for nice panfish action. An unmarked small ramp located at the end of South Aroostook Way provides additional access, but parking is limited, and it is used mostly by the locals.
Gobbler Drive. One ramp accesses a canal that leads to the northeast section of Floral City Lake (part of the Tsala Apopka Lake chain). A second launch site is adjacent to the bridge over Gobbler Drive. I have not launched at these sites but have caught a few nice largemouth bass by boat in the highlighted sections. These sites are mostly used by local residents. I can’t see much point in launching at the canal site given the long paddle to the lake.
SUGGESTIONS FOR VISITORS AND NEWBIES
Visitors and new residents to the area looking for the best places to practice the art of kayak fishing should try:
The Land of Oz. For saltwater anglers, Ozello Trail offers access to the St. Martin’s River, the Salt River, Fish Creek and, in my view, the crown jewel of kayak fishing in Citrus County, Pirates Cove. A group of yak-anglers (some of us refer to ourselves as The Wizards of Oz) hit the water at Pirates Cove regularly, fishing a variety of backwater and open water locations within a 5 mile paddle north, south, east or west of the launch site. Where we head, what time of the day we launch, and how long we fish depend on tidal and weather conditions and recent fishing reports we may receive. This area is suggested for its diversity of habitats available to fish, the beauty and Old Florida feel of its backcountry, the uncrowded conditions with limited motorized vessel use, the large parking area with room to picnic and wade the shoreline, and nearby Peck’s Old Port Cove restaurant where a cold one and an excellent lunch or dinner can be had to cap off the day. There is good reason why the Tampa Bay Area Canoe and Kayak Fishing Club schedules annual outings to this spot, and why Tropic Bay Kayak Fishing Classics (www.kayakfishingclassics.com), a group that hosts annual kayak fishing tournaments around the Southeast, holds them here.
With a bit of imagination and a few improvements, this area could be developed into a premier no-motor zone fishing destination.
OR YOU CAN
Follow That Dream. A close second saltwater area to try if you’re a newbie is the Withlacoochee River / Bay area adjacent to the Follow That Dream Parkway (County Road 40). There is more open water here and the bay can get quite shallow on the lower tides, but the fishing, especially for redfish, can be outstanding. This popular power boat launch area can become very crowded on weekends and holidays with cars lining the parkway on both sides for half a mile or more up from the ramp. Restaurants are available in nearby Inglis. The Yankeetown-Inglis Lions Club hosts an annual Nature Coast Kayak Fishing Challenge here and Tropic Bay Kayak Fishing Classics has also held a tournament here.
AND FINALLY FOR YOU LAKE ANGLERS
Lake Henderson. Newbies looking for a freshwater fishing experience, with a chance of landing a 10 lb largemouth bass or a mess of crappie should try Lake Henderson in Inverness. The lake has several sites to launch from, including waterfront parks, is easy to find and has minimal boat traffic. Tourist-friendly downtown Inverness has lots of stuff going on and offers a good variety of eating places. The city is considering developing a kayak launch area for the disabled at one of the local parks.
Copyright © Gary Rankel