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Fishing the Winter Park Chain of Lakes, Florida

What makes these lakes special?

There are many reasons for visiting these lakes. The water is rather clear and healthy for fish and many other creatures including otters, birds, gators, and people. There is plenty of history around these lakes with the city of Winter Park surrounding them. Winter Park was started by New Englanders as a vacation home community just outside Orlando. People noticed these beautiful lakes as a railway from Orlando to Sanford, was being placed next to them. Presidents from many years ago have stayed at the Alabama Hotel on Lake Maitland (It was turned into condos a while ago). One very interesting feature that everyone likes, is the canals connecting all the lakes together. If you aren't catching fish in one lake, then go to the next one. The fish populations differ in each lake so I always fish about three different lakes each trip. There is a scenic boat tour that goes through three of the lakes that can make going through the canals a pain. One of the canals is over a quarter mile long and only wide enough for the tour boat. You might wonder how busy a tour boat on these lakes can be. Well, they actually have several pontoon boats and I usually see three full boats following each other on a week day. Carrot Top lives on The Isle of Sicily. Must be why they're busy. I believe there are several famous people living around that lake, but I forgot who they are. Also, there are always many birds around the lakes. Bald Eagles, Osprey, Kingfishers, wood peckers, various wading birds, and ducks, call the lakes home. Kraft Gardens on Lake Maitland is loaded with nesting birds every year. There are so many, you need an umbrella. Seriously, it's bad. So there you have a few reasons why these lakes are different than any other around. Whatever it is you like, whether it be fishing, kayaking, boating/skiing, sightseeing, birding, swimming and Carrot Top watching, it's great place to check out.

The lakes included in the chain are: Minnehaha, Nina, Maitland, Osceola, Virginia, and Mizell

Map of the chain of lakes. No labels

Map of the chain of lakes. No labels

Map with boat ramps, library, and canals labeled. The white lines connecting the lakes are where the canals are.

Map with boat ramps, library, and canals labeled. The white lines connecting the lakes are where the canals are.

What about the fishing?

Ok, well first you need to know where you can drop the boat/kayak in or the docks that you can fish off of. On the right is a map of the lakes. There are only two public boat ramps, lakes Virgina and Maitland, and there is a six dollar fee to use the ramps each time (for motor boats only, not kayaks or canoes, we're special). You can also get a yearly permit at the Winter Park library or the tax collectors office. The library is just north of the boat ramp on Lake Virginia, almost on the same street. The Lake Virginia ramp is at the end of Ollie Ave off of 426/Fairbanks Ave., next to Dinky Dock Park and Rollins College. There are two lanes with a small pier you can fish off. There is also another pier on the other side of the beach/swimming area. The Lake Maitland ramp is off of 17/92 in Maitland just a half mile south of Horatio Ave. There are two lanes with a dock on each side you can fish off. The only other public pier I know of is the one at Kraft Gardens on the southern shore of Lake Maitland. I have seen people fish off the shore near the canals and bridges on the little public land there is around them. Unfortunately, there aren't many spots to fish from land. I actually bought a used kayak just to get out on the water and really fish.

OK, but what about the fish?

I've seen Large Mouth bass, Talapia, Spotted Gar, Bream (Brim), and Black Crappie. There is also supposed to be Sunshine Bass (Large Mouth Bass and Stripped Bass hybrid). The bass usually school in the morning and afternoon, just before sunset, but they will change their patterns with the weather, so don't be surprised if they school at noon if it's cold. It seems the best schooling is on Lake Virgina, that's where I have done my best fishing as well as many others. I've only caught Crappie on Lake Mizell, but they are supposed to be in good numbers on all the lakes. While I've caught big bass on all the lakes, the biggest so far, for me, have come from little Lake Nina (Google Earth shows it as Lake Mud). It's a little lake between Lake Maitland and Lake Minnehaha, and the most natural looking one. I don't think it gets fished a lot cause of its size, but I like it cause of it's peacefulness, and of course, it's big fish. I've also seen a lot of otters in that canal, so keep the camera in hand, cause they are quick. I've heard several people saying that Lake Minnehaha is great for fishing, but I rarely fish it because, when I get there, there is always a water skier making big waves everywhere, so I turn around (big waves + kayak = no bueno). Lake Mizell is also popular with fishermen due to it being rather quiet. The skiers would rather go on the larger Lake Virginia right next to it. After everything, I would tell someone new to the lakes to fish the east side of Lake Virginia. That's where me, and others, catch the most in a short time, especially if they are schooling. It's not unusual to catch 15 bass in an hour at the right time, when they are schooling. Another tip is to look for birds hanging around a certain area. There are Terns (bird similar to a seagull), that I usually see in certain spots on the lake. They know where the fish are better than us, usually, so I would hang out around them if you don't know where to go. They wait for a bait fish to jump, trying to escape the school of big fish, and then fly over and grab any confused bait fish.

Good Lures

This cheap Yo-zuri crank bait has been very lucky for me.

This cheap Yo-zuri crank bait has been very lucky for me.

A white spinner usually works well

A white spinner usually works well

Lures and bait

First off, I must say that if you're attacking a school of fish, they probably will eat whatever you throw at them. Schooling fish roam around looking for smaller fish to eat. This means that your best bet it to use a lure that best looks like the fish they are looking to eat. Spinners and chrome crank baits work great for me. Crappies also like the white spinners, it seems. Many people use the old rubber worm in the many grass beds that cover the lake bottoms. I personally don't use them much on these lakes. I usually am after the schools that patrol the deeper waters at sunrise and sunset, which seem to love my chrome crank bait. It's better fishing for that short time, but when they aren't schooling, you're forced to try everything else. That's when you use the artificial worms, lizards, frogs, and, of course, live bait fish. I don't have a fish finder on my kayak yet, but I suspect there are many deep holes near the shallows that the crappie hide in. I usually find them by accident, blind casting all around me with a small spinner. I just reel it in a little, let it drop a little, reel, drop, reel, drop, etc. The spinner blade makes a certain movement as it falls, that will attract their attention. Weedless setups are a must. There is eel grass everywhere. If you can see the bottom, you're looking at grass.

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Fishing gear you might need:

I hope some of this information helps. I Wrote this article because I just could not find any information about fishing the chain. If you have more information, tips, tricks, or whatever, just put it in the comment section below. Have fun and good luck!


Matt on November 11, 2015:

How do you fish for the crappie? Do you just troll rooster tails or drift minnows?

Ed on July 22, 2011:

I fish Lake Maitland in my kayak. I've had good luck fishing around the island in the middle of the lake, just before sunrise. Primarily use topwater artificials, because of the grass/weeds. Recently have caught nice (17-19") bass using a frog-painted Jitterbug.

robert on March 14, 2011:

Im a total newbie when it comes to freshwater fishing, and i was wondering what the best setup is for largemouths during the spring?

John on October 12, 2010:

Nice article. I am 53 years old and grew up in Maitland. My parents and I fished Lake Maitland a lot for many years and caught many, many bass. We fished live shiners, plastic worms (black w/red tail, blue, blue with red tail,& topwater lures (Rapalas & tiny torpedos mostly). That chain of lakes has many big bass and for years there were huge hydrilla mats on Lake Maitland that kept a lot of people from fishing them.

I bought a paddle boat at Costco and have a 1988, 15 foot center console (blue) I got recently with my step son, and plan on fishing the lakes again. If you see me give a wave, I'll be watching for your yak.

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