Lake Okeechobee is known worldwide for its spectacular fresh water fishing. Nicknamed the Big "O", Lake "O", and the Big Lake, Lake Okeechobee derives its name from the Seminole words meaning "big water". This 730 square mile lake is the second largest freshwater lake located completely within the United States.
Lake Okeechobee provides many resources for the state but is highly recognized for the fish population that supports both commercial and sport fisheries. Over 250 different species of fish have been found in this massive lake with more than 70 that are not native to the state of Florida earning Lake Okeechobee the title "The Fishing Capital of the World".
The most popular game fish in the state, largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides floridanus) are an anglers dream with trophy size (ten pounds or more) largemouth being caught out of Lake Okeechobee. Largemouth bass range in colors from a light green to a brackish-brown and can be mistaken for the smallmouth and spotted bass. The upper jaw on the Largemouth will extend past the rear of the eye which can distinguish this fish from the smallmouth and spotted bass.
Commonly referred to as "specks or the speckled perch", black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus) is a favorite especially among the locals. Their nicknames can be attributed to the blotchy black print that the fish have on the sides of their body. The town of Okeechobee, located north of the lake, has an annual Speckled Perch Festival held during the early part of each year. Black crappie caught in the lake typically weigh less than one pound with the Florida record catch on the this tasty fish standing at 3.83 pounds as of February 2009.
Bream, blue bream, and sun perch are all common names given to the bluegill fish located in Lake Okeechobee. The bluegill has two distinct black spots that are located on the rear of the gills and one on the dorsal fin. Bream fishing on the lake is typically best during the spring and summer months. This flavorful fish is fairly small with the record catch weighing under three pounds.
Known to lake anglers as "shell crackers", the Redear Sunfish (Lepomis microlophus) range in color from gold to red. Their nickname derives from their crushing of shells (or snails) with their teeth. Shell crackers are an enjoyable fishing-sport as they tend to put up some fuss during the catch. Those who may not care for other "fishy" types of freshwater fish recommend shell crackers as they have a wonderfully smooth flavor.
The blue tilapia (Oreochromis aurus) and spotted tilapia (Tilapia mariae) are not native to Florida but can be found served up at many local restaurants and is sold in the seafood department of most supermarkets. Next to the shell cracker, tilapia is known for its mild fish flavor as well as the nutritional benefits. While these species of fish are considered non-native exotic fish, many anglers refer to them as "bonus" fish and keep them to serve up for dinner.
Other well-known fish names to be brought in from the lake include oscars, snook, cichlids, catfish, gar fish, and bowfins. Many of the non-native species threaten the ecosystem of the lake including populations of the most prized native fish including the largemouth bass.
Serious anglers may consider a program sponsored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission known as the "Big Catch" angler recognition program. For your "Big Catch" the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission sends these recognized anglers a personalized certificate and a decal for your boat or vehicle. When fishing on Lake Okeechobee, it is important to remember there are bag and length limits to many of the fish caught in the lake and anglers should familiarize themselves with these laws before fishing the Big "O".