One of America’s most famous bass fisheries is hotter than ever. On the fringes of the Everglades, an angler’s dream trip awaits. -Joe Sills
The bass fishing world was left in awe of Lake Okeechobee in May of 2023 when each of the Top 20 teams at an event in the Roland Martin Marine Center weighed in bags of more than 30 pounds. The weigh-in sent shockwaves through Florida’s bass fishing community, confirming a yearlong build up announcing the indisputable return of the Big O.
The winning weight that day, 36.82, barely edged out a second-place finisher at 36.19. And while the events of that May day represent a perfect storm of timing, opportunity and luck, they allude to the beasts currently roaming beneath the waves of Florida’s largest freshwater fishery.
On the lake’s south shore, the Roland Martin Marine Center in Clewiston is without a doubt the most well-known tackle store on Lake Okeechobee. The signature store of one of bass fishing’s most respected tournament anglers remains a focal point for area competitions and last-minute tackle purchases before heading out.
North shore anglers have a quiver of fine, independent tackle stores to choose from as well, though. Garrard’s Bait & Tackle and Okeechobee Fishing HQ both offer aisles littered with lake favorites and essential tackle for your trip, while a handful of other outfitters like Big Water Bait & Tackle and Lake & Trail USA bridge the gaps.
Parks, Museums and Outdoor Adventure
Believe it or not, the fun isn’t relegated to the water at Lake Okeechobee. After hours, the Everglades headwaters come alive at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve, Florida’s very first International Dark Sky Park. And though official park hours end at sunset, anglers can reserve an astronomy pad to soak in the night sky far removed from the glow of the Sunshine State’s cities.
On weekends, visitors can board a prairie buggy for an elevated guide of the largest remaining stretch of Florida wild prairie on the planet. The two-hour daytime tour helmed by park rangers dives through the area’s history as a U.S. Army bombing range in World War II, educates anglers on native plants and grasses and uncovers the curious history of cracker cow hunting.
Okeechobee Airboat Rides takes anglers to waters where bass boats can’t go. These eco tour and wildlife adventure experiences skim by lingering alligators and educate visitors on the menagerie of captivating avian life—like sandhill cranes and snail kites—found on the lake.
At Okeechobee Battlefield Historic State Park, a grim Christmas Day in 1837 is remembered. Here, on the shores of one of bass fishing’s greatest fisheries, more than 1,000 U.S. military and volunteer soldiers clashed with several hundred Seminole and Miccosukee warriors during the Second Seminole War. The park itself is tucked away on a side street in the town of Okeechobee, and presents a worthy detour for history buffs passing through the area.
Elsewhere in Okeechobee, year-round events like the Okeechobee Art & Wine Walk, Top of the Lake Art Fest, Festivals of Trees and Okeechobee Main Street Christmas Festival provide a full calendar of pop-up activities for visitors passing through the area. They serve as an excellent excuse to disembark from the truck and trailer to explore a quaint, historic downtown.
Lodging, Camping and Resort Life
Camp lifers have plenty of options around Lake Okeechobee, especially on the northern shore. Steadfast travel companion Kampgrounds of America operates a resort site with cabins, RV hookups and tent campsites that features a 9-hole golf course and a pair of pools. The Zachary Taylor Waterfront RV Resort delivers 210 full hookup campsites, and onsite boat ramp and more than 100 boat docks adjacent to waterfront sites, making access a breeze. They also offer boat rentals for those fishing on the fly. On location bike rentals and a gated storage yard also make offsite excursions a breeze.
Further south, a collection of national brand hotels like Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn and America’s Best Value Inn populate Clewiston. However, The Roland Martin Marina also offers lakeside condos, small rental cabins, hotel rooms and an RV park with full hookups to compliment the marina and Scotty’s Tiki Bar onsite.
Per usual, websites like Airbnb and VRBO are replete with privately-owned vacation rentals around the area as well.
Eats and Treats
In Okeechobee, Lightsey’s Seafood Restaurant shines as one of the area’s iconic eateries for outdoor lovers thanks to wildlife-lined walls and fresh delicacies like stone carb, oysters and a Sunday seafood buffet complete with peach cobbler, collard greens and catfish. Nearby Parrot Island brings live music to an outdoor dining atmosphere complimented by dishes like mahi and shrimp tacos, sashimi and conch fritters. Meanwhile, The Tin Fish brings home the bacon with fried shrimp, oysters on the half shell and loaded spuds.
Barbecue lovers can get their fix in Clewiston at Sonny’s BBQ. While adventurous eaters might choose to make their way through a zoo of local fauna on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation to the Swamp Water Cafe. Open most days from 7:00 a.m., the cafe serves up everything from breakfast sandwiches and oatmeal to shrimp rice bowls, burger baskets and carrot cakes.
A taste of Florida’s excellent Cuban cuisine can also be found at Lewiston’s Café Tropical, where oxtail, yuca and black bean dishes await.