Diverse scenery, low fishing pressure and ambiance amid the solitude of nature. Now that sounds like a perfect place to visit.
Such areas exists throughout Florida in the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the system exists for the benefit of rare or endangered plant and animal species. But within refuge boundaries lie vast aquatic habitats and abundant angling opportunities with a diverse menu of fresh and saltwater game fish.
You can find plenty of good fishing outside refuge boundaries. But these special places encompass unique ecosystems. Since 1903, when President Roosevelt established the nation's first refuge (Pelican Island in Florida's Indian River Lagoon), the objectives have been protection and preservation for natural habitat and its inhabitants.
The federal government has determined that fishing is an acceptable activity in many refuges. The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966 empowered FWS to open refuges to fishing and other recreational activities when compatible with the purposes for which individual refuges were established and acquired. Three decades later, the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 helped solidify angler access to refuge waters.
Florida has 28 National Wildlife Refuges. Nature Coast refuges include:
Lower Suwannee NWR in Chiefland (fresh and saltwater environments).
Cedar Keys NWR in Chiefland (saltwater).
Crystal River NWR in Crystal River (fresh and saltwater).
Chassahowitzka NWR in Crystal River (saltwater).
These refuges offer memorable fishing in magnificent environments. While working a spinnerbait or plastic worm for largemouth bass, you're likely to spot bald eagles, sandhill cranes and red tail hawks as well as abundant alligators. In coastal habitat, roseate spoonbills, great blue herons and white pelicans frequent areas loaded with redfish and speckled trout.
Through it all runs an undercurrent of economic impact. The waters of many refuges do more than perpetuate fishing, they also bear significant benefits for local economies.
Rods and reels, tackle and bait, boats and motors, and secondary items such as coolers, sunglasses, sun block, beverages, food, ice and photography supplies add up to serious dollars. Local shops and guides owe some portion of their existence to the business the refuges generate.
In 2004 the FWS provided evidence of this in its study "Banking on Nature 2002: The Economic Benefits to Local Communities of National Wildlife Refuge Visitation." The study showed that 35.5-million visits to the nations refuges generated more than $809-million in sales of recreational equipment, food, lodging, transportation and other services in 2002, the most recent study year. It's probably fair to attribute a good chunk of that to fishing-related expenditures.
Refuges accounted for nearly 19,000 jobs and more than $318-million in employment income in 2002, compared to 10,200 jobs and $163 million in 1995.
Ultimately, the $1.12-billion in total sales and tourism-related revenue, plus employment income attributed to refuges in 2002, was nearly quadruple the NWR Systems $320-million operating budget for 2002. When traveling around the country, always check with state fish and wildlife agencies and individual refuge administrative offices for current regulations. For NWR listings by state, visit http://refuges.fws.gov/