Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties
Water Conservation Areas (WCA) 2 and 3 are two sections of northern everglades habitat that are managed for multiple uses. Health advisories related to consumption of fish, especially bass, gar and bowfin are in effect for the area. The WCAs were designated primarily to receive flood waters from adjacent areas and store them for beneficial municipal, urban, and agricultural uses. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) currently manages the fish and wildlife in these areas. Both areas have continually provided superior fishing throughout the years. Largemouth bass is the most sought after species, and when waters levels are right, provide anglers with some of the highest catch rates in the state. Other popular species readily caught include bluegill, redear sunfish, pickerel, oscar, and Mayan cichlid. The majority of fishing pressure takes place during the winter and spring months when water levels are typically dropping, which concentrates fish into the perimeter canals. When water levels are up, anglers have access to vast marsh systems for a different type of angling experience.
Low water levels tend to push fish out of the marsh and concentrate them in the bordering canals. Recent analyses of historical data indicate that the larger the drop in water level, the stronger the "push" of fish into the canals.
Water Conservation Area 2 encompasses 210 square miles and is located in western Palm Beach and Broward counties. The majority of fishing takes place within the L-35B and L-38E canals which are each approximately 12 miles long. Main access for this area is the Sawgrass Recreation Area, located two miles north of Alligator Alley (SR84) on U.S. 27. Current fishing information, as well as a guide service, camping, food, boat rental, fishing licenses, and bait and tackle can be found there (telephone number 954-389-0202).
The 915 square mile WCA-3 is located in western Broward and Dade counties, just south of WCA-2 and north of Everglades National Park. Many miles of canals run around and through the area, including the L-67A, L-67C, Miami, and Tamiami canals. All are accessible by boat and the Tamiami Canal has abundant bank access. In a joint project, the FWC and the South Florida Water Management District constructed eight boat trails off the L-67A Canal to provide anglers access to the marsh areas (when water levels are high enough) for "flats" fishing.
Many of the canals can be accessed at Holiday Park Recreation Area (telephone number 954-434-8111). Amenities there include fishing guides, boat rentals, camping, food, bait and tackle, and the sale of fishing licenses. Other access points to WCA-3 are boat ramps along Alligator Alley, Tamiami Trail (SR41), and at Mack's Fish Camp (305-822-5033) which is located on Krome Ave., one-half mile south of U.S. 27. The L-67A Canal runs from Holiday Park Recreation Area to the S-333 spillway at Tamiami Trail. Those anglers wanting to try their luck in WCA-2 will find access at Sawgrass Recreation Area, two miles north of SR84 along U.S. 27. Twenty-five miles of canals and their associated marsh can be found there. Also see our Water Conservation Area Brochure.
A map is available courtesy of the South Florida Water Management District, where you can also find water stage information and other useful facts.
Water levels in the Water Conservation Areas (WCAs) typically peak in October. The high water tends to disperse fish by giving them access to the extensive marsh areas. Some fish will, of course, remain in the canals. This high water allows anglers to utilize the numerous marsh access trails off Alligator Alley and the L-67A Canal to pursue bass in the marsh (‘the flats’). Anglers may also be able to gain access to marsh fishing in areas of WCA 2, although no marsh access trails are maintained there. Fishing in this typically dense cover requires weedless presentations. Typically, floating soft plastics, such as trick worms or soft jerk baits, are good lure choices. Alternatively, pitch large Texas rigged plastics into openings in the vegetation. Please remember that displaying a 10x12" orange flag 10 feet above the bottom of the hull is required for all vessels entering the marsh. Anglers seeking panfish should probe deeper pockets along the vegetation with crickets or worms, moving frequently until fish are located. Those preferring lures should make long casts with Beetle spins or tiny crankbaits parallel to shoreline vegetation. Regardless of species targeted, don’t continue to fish unproductive water – keep moving until fish are located; consider fishing early or late in the day, or even at night for best results. Oscar’s and Mayan Cichlids have once again started show up in angler creels. Anglers have success for these nonnative species with crickets, worms and small jigs. These species like to hide think inside the spatterdock along the edges of the canals. Anglers should pursue them similarly to bluegill, moving along the canal edges until schools are located. Anglers might also be surprised to catch a peacock bass in their creel, as numbers for these tough fighting species are rebounding from the devastating cold water fish kill in 2010. While not in numbers high enough to specifically target, they are rebounding and showing up in angler creels.
If targeting fish in the marsh/flats, do not forget to display an orange flag (10”x12”) 10 feet above your vessel when entering the Everglades.