Warmth, sunshine and bountiful fishing make South Florida a must-do destination for anglers this winter. But there’s more than fish beneath the surface!
Here, the winter months are known as manatee season, that treasured time of year when the gentle sea cow can best be seen meandering along regional waterways, grazing aquatic grass and drawing the “oohs” and “ahs” of onlookers above. There’s just nothing like it.
Knowing your way around South Florida’s waterways, as well as the ins and outs of manatee safety, can help you enjoy the season to the fullest! Read on as we share a few of our top tips.
Getting around on your Robalo
Before diving in, let’s explore the basics behind some of South Florida’s most popular destinations.
If you’re heading south for the winter, you’re going to want to spend every minute possible on the water. And with plenty of waterways in South Florida, from interconnected paths to offshore hotspots, you’re well-equipped to do exactly that.
If a leisurely on-the-water “stroll” is your style, cruising along one of the region’s beautiful Intracoastal waterways is a great way to go. In Fort Lauderdale, the famous Intracoastal stretch takes you on a scenic route of some of the state’s most opulently designed estates, as well as bustling seafood restaurants and waterfront cafes you can stop at for midday fuel-ups! Of course, it’s not all about glitz and glamour. From the waterway, you can travel out to the Atlantic expanse, where offshore fishing abounds. At this time of year, you can’t go wrong trying for some seriously impressive catches: cobia, king mackerel, sailfish, barracuda and many more. And it only gets better from here on out.
Another gorgeous Intracoastal experience awaits a bit farther north in West Palm Beach. Dock and dine, admire the classic cityscape or stop and enjoy the Saturday farmers market. Here, it’s all about kicking back and enjoying the ride.
If you’re searching for quieter digs, a trip down to the Florida Keys might be just what you need. Here, the skyscrapers of South Florida mainstays like Miami and Fort Lauderdale give way to pastel homes-on-stilts, fishing shacks and waterfront inns that lend a quiet, cozy charm to your entire experience. But don’t confuse the sunny tranquility with a lack of action on the water—some of the state’s best sport fishing and trophy-worthy catches happen here, especially in villages like Islamorada or down in Key West proper.
Where to find manatees
Now, about those manatees! You have the chance to spot them just about anywhere you’ll be boating in South Florida—except, of course, the offshore. Manatees like to graze the bottom of the water while still being close enough to come up for air every now and then (that’s why manatee noses are the most common part of the sea cow to be seen peeking above the surface).
While manatees abound at this time of year, they still like to gravitate toward a few specific spots. Because it’s winter, they like warmth—so you often have a chance to find them clustered up by springs, brackish rivers, canals and even the water near electric power plants. You might even find them meandering up toward your local marina, around docks or the coastal vegetation you’re fishing.
Because they can be just about anywhere, it’s helpful to have some key manatee safety tips in mind. Be mindful of no-wake zones and other signage letting you know that there might be manatees in the area. While observing the speed limit, you can also keep an eye out for swirls on the water’s surface indicating that a manatee is grazing below—and of course, the classic tail, or nose peeking up for air. The polarized shades you use for fishing are also helpful here, since they can let you see movement in the water more easily. If you do see a manatee, don’t approach it. You might even want to stop altogether to simply admire the animal from afar! Don’t worry, these are pretty slow movers, so you have time to stop and enjoy the view, and perhaps even snap a photo.
Get even closer
Seeing a manatee in the wild can be a truly awe-inspiring experience. The aptly nicknamed “gentle giants” of the water rarely move in a hurry, simply enjoying their time in the water and soaking up the warmth and sunshine from above. We can learn a lot from their smooth, laidback style!
If you want to get even closer to manatees, you can rent a canoe or kayak and explore some of the places where they are most likely to be seen. You can even enjoy the view from land! As we mentioned earlier, power plants are great gathering spots for manatees because of their warm water. In Riviera Beach, you can head to Manatee Lagoon, stationed at a Florida Power & Light plant, where manatees often flock in droves during periods of cool, sunny weather.
While manatees can be seen in the Sunshine State all year-round, it’s the wintertime when they truly come out in full force—and wow, is it a sight to see! We hope that these tips help you make the most of your time in South Florida in the cool months ahead.