Most of the world’s best golfers this week gather at the TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium Course in Ponte Vedra Beach. They’re there to tackle undulating and tricky greens, tough bunkers, tight fairways, and water hazards full of gators, snakes and sometimes round white balls.
But also on the agenda of some of those elite golfers is fishing in the ponds, lakes, lagoons and famous water hazards in and around the Stadium Course. Those waters are loaded with fish, including largemouth bass the size of newborn babies. The Sawgrass complex of lagoons and other watery spots is chock full of heavyweight bass, many weighing well more than 10 pounds, and fish to 15 pounds have been caught.
Those are truly world-class fish that many anglers in many places would pay a bundle to hook.
Often before or after a practice round, or a tough day in the rough, players such as Davis Love III, Tiger Woods, Boo Weekley, Greg Norman, Mark O’Meara and many others have been known to hang up a graphite driver in favor of a graphite casting rod at The Players.
The bass fishing is so good in waters at the Stadium Course that years ago it was voted the best for big bass by elite PGA Tour fishermen.
A poll was taken among the golf pros who fish different courses on Tour to learn which of the many places they visit offers the best fishing. The Stadium Course won by a wide margin.
Only players with PGA credentials, very special guests and perhaps course residents are allowed to fish Stadium Course waters, especially during the tournament. But area anglers should take a tip from the golfers that some of the best and most consistent fishing that anglers could ever hope for can be found in the water hazards and nearby ponds and lakes of golf courses.
Not only do golf course waters have bass, but many are loaded with bluegills, crappies and catfish. In coastal regions, often saltwater species seep into the freshwaters or tidal waters of golf courses. Plenty of golf courses in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas are full of fish such as red drum, flounder, baby tarpon, snook, ladyfish, black drum and other species.
While great fishing can be discovered in golf course waters, it’s probably wise not to eat fish caught from them because of the pesticides and fertilizers used on nearby turf. Nevertheless, for fun catch-and-release fishing, few places offer better action than golf course waters.
Getting permission to fish golf ponds can be challenging, particularly on private country clubs — which frequently offer the best action. But it’s worth the effort gaining access. Sometimes meeting and talking with the club pro is worthwhile. Explain you’ll not interfere with golfers on the course, and all fish will be released unharmed. Some golf courses are closed on Mondays, which is a prime time to fish their waters, and permission to fish is more easily obtained then. Dawn, dusk and night fishing is worthwhile because golfers are not on courses, and anglers don’t interfere with play.
In many golf course communities, residents and their guests are allowed to fish, so it pays to make friends with golfers. Golf resorts are popular vacation spots, and guests often have permission to fish water hazards as long as they don’t hamper golf play.
In large golf Meccas, frequently several courses are available, and many feature large, wandering connected ponds and creeks that snake around the area. Many such waters appear small, but instead might cover hundreds of acres, with many places surrounded by overgrown vegetation that’s ideal fish habitat.
Sometimes small, lightweight johnboats, canoes, kayaks and float tubes can be put in, which allows anglers to get far away from golfers and other people — to waters rarely fished. Electric fishing motors often are allowed on boats in golf course communities.
At some golf resorts, angling by visitors is encouraged on water hazards, to the point that improved boat ramps are available, and large bass boats even can be launched and used for fishing. Usually, no big outboards can be used, however, only quiet electric motors.
An important plus for golf course waters is that most are small, shallow, and have limited fishing pressure. Therefore, it takes comparatively little time for anglers to locate fish. More often than not, course ponds and lakes were dug by construction crews for use as fill when building greens, tees and bunkers.
Consequently, water hazards commonly have great structures such as holes, underwater islands, humps, bars, tapering points and drop-offs. Some golf ponds are mini-reservoirs, complete with creek channel edges, flooded timber and stumps, riprap and deep dam water.
In some shallow, natural golf course waters there is no well-defined structure to hold fish. In such waters, the outside edges of grass lines and lily pads might hold almost every fish in the lake or pond. Sometimes, ponds have deep undercut banks that harbor big bass and other species, particularly in sunny weather. Find a cool, shady bank with overhanging willows or other trees and you might have discovered the best fishing spot on an entire water hazard.
Bulkheads around greens and near fairway bunkers, and small footbridges for golf carts over water hazards, also can be outstanding fishing spots. I once stopped on such a bridge on a public Florida golf course and looked down into the shadows, hoping to see bass or bream.
Instead, I spotted a school of about a dozen catfish, none less than 10 pounds.
A little schmoozing of the club pro got permission to fish for the cats, and that afternoon friends and I worked them over using baits on bottom. We caught over a dozen hard-fighting channel cats, including one behemoth pushing nearly 20 pounds.
We released every cat, and have several times since fished the same water hazard — no doubt landing and releasing some of the same catfish over several years.
Not once have we seen another angler working the same spot, though many dozens of golfers cross the bridge daily.By Bob McNally