A large ferry glides across the water, blasting its horn every now and then. A train whistle echoes in the distance. The two interconnecting lakes where you're fishing have nice looking bass possibilities -- small islands, weedbeds, and canals. Your first strike comes five minutes after launching. You can't believe you're one of the only boats fishing these magical-looking waters.
Maybe these lakes with names like Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake, and islands called Shipwreck Marsh and Castaway Cay, are magical. They're all part of the waterways surrounding the Magic Kingdom of Walt Disney World in Florida. Now this is no Mickey Mouse fishing trip, although you may see Mickey or Goofy wave as they water-ski past your boat.
The exceptional bass fishing at Disney World was well planned. When the park opened in 1971, the surrounding waterways were stocked with 70,000 fingerling bass. But no one was allowed to fish there for more than a dozen years after that first stocking. Today, the fishing is tremendous. The official Disney bass record is 14-pounds, 2-ounces and it's not unusual to pull in 10-pounders.
No private boats are allowed on the main lakes. Only guided tours are permitted. Disney also employ a full-time environmentalist to check water quality and habitat.
Bass Are Not Mickey Mouse
All this attention to the waters produces big bass. While big fish are caught frequently, anglers can count on catches in the 3-pound to 5-pound range, with smaller and bigger fish thrown in for fun. Cooler weather (whenever that is in Florida) seems to produce smaller fish, but in more abundance. In the heat of July, it's quality over quantity.
You can fish without a guide in the canals that snake through Fort Wilderness RV Resort and Campground. You can rent a canoe or fish from shore. Tackle and tips are available at Fort Wilderness Marina, where the guide boats are docked. The canals have their share of bass, but generally they're not as big or abundant as the two main lakes.
Fort Wilderness Marina is the main launch site, but guides will pick up anglers from any Disney hotel that has a dock such as the Contemporary or the Grand Floridian. And you don't have to be a guest at Disney World to book a fishing trip. Anglers can reserve a fishing time and will be instructed where to the meet the guide. We were staying outside the park on our first trip and were picked up at the Contemporary's dock.
A two-hour trip when we went was $185, plus tax, and an extra hour is $75. On the pontoon boats, up to five guests are allowed to share costs, which also included drinks, snacks, equipment and lures. Live shiners are extra. You're welcome to bring along a favorite rod. A Florida fishing license isn't required because you're fishing on private waters. Guides usually go out three times a day.
Although the bass fishing at Disney World seems to be good year round, prime times include February, March and April, just after the spawn, and then again in late September, October and November when the water cools down. The busiest times are during summer vacation, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve. Our trips were in May and July, and both times we caught fish. Reservations should be booked at least two weeks in advance, so call before you leave home.
Just about every Disney guide can boast he's "never been skunked." I've fished twice at the Magic Kingdom, some five years apart, and found the fishing had only gotten better.
Fishing Near Main Street
On an afternoon trip in May, we fished Black Beard's Island, a strip of shoreline on Seven Seas Lagoon between the ferry launch and Main Street of the Magic Kingdom. Off the shoreline of Seven Seas was a weedbed with a 6-foot to 8-foot drop-off, where we caught fish hiding in the grass.
We later tried the wooden seawall on Seven Lakes Lagoon near the ferry boat dock at Main Street. We bounced plastic worms off the wall, and bass responded. Our final stop was just offshore of Discovery Island, in view of Fort Wilderness Campground on Bay Lake.
The waters surrounding Discovery Island were our main fishing grounds during the July trip because of its depth and more prominent drop-offs, some 8 feet to 10 feet. It was here, in about 12 feet of water, we hooked the bigger bass on both the May and July trips.
During the May trip, I battled a 4-pound largemouth caught on a green plastic worm as the boats carrying passengers from Fort Wilderness to Discovery Island watched. After about three jumps, the fish dove for the underwater weeds, which seemed like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. After a brief struggle, the beauty was scooped up to the applause of the onlookers.
Bigger fish were to come in that same area during the hot July excursion. We hooked into fish weighing between five and six pounds using shiners. Although catch-and-release is preferred, anglers are allowed to keep trophy largemouth for mounting. If you crave fresh fish for dinner, you'll have to cook it yourself because the Disney kitchens won't.
The general surroundings of Disney World amazes even the most grizzled bass anglers. The sights and sounds creep into the subconscious. You can hear the train whistle of the Disney World Railroad. People taking the ferries to the Magic Kingdom, Discovery Island and Fort Wilderness wave as they go by. It's difficult to imagine fishing in the shadow of Cinderella's Castle until you've actually done it.
A large variety of birds are visible along the shoreline when fishing near Discovery Island, a certified zoological park. A white peacock strutted on the beach and blue herons took flight when a ferry horn startled them.
Sometime the bass react on cue, as if they're part of the Disney mystique. They can put on an aerial display much to the delight of onlookers. And it's for real, not the animatronics on the "Jungle Cruise."
Fishing Disney's waters is like being in a real-life Fantasy Land. Once you've tried it, you're hooked.
For information on the guided fishing trips at Disney World, contact Fort Wilderness Marina, Walt Disney World, P.O. Box 40, Lake Buena Vista, Florida 32830, or call (407) 824-2757.