A Disney Fishing Adventure For The Whole Family

By Charlie Levine

Escape the crowds for some quiet casting on a kid-friendly guided fishing trip right inside Disney's Orlando park.

Lila shows off her catchLila, 6, shows off her catch after a successful day of fishing with Disney World Fishing Excursions. (Photo: Charlie Levine)

One of the most memorable experiences offered on Walt Disney World property never has a line. You don't even have to pay to park, and there's no gift shop to tempt the little ones. This experience takes place on the water, and while there aren't any free-falls or loop-the-loops, you will find yourself beaming and taking more photos than you can count.

With 11 locations offering guided fishing trips throughout Walt Disney World's 46-square-mile resort in Orlando, Florida, the park has been quietly making family memories on the water since 1977. Thanks to an insanely productive largemouth bass bite and a 2013 partnership with the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF), there are no signs of slow-down for this successful program.

Disney World Fishing Excursions presented by TakeMeFishing.org are a perfect complement to any family trip to "The Happiest Place on Earth." The two-hour fishing trips provide a welcome escape from 45-minute wait times to meet a princess or digging deep to buy a round of hot dogs. And you don't need to be an experienced angler; the guides will show you the ropes.

Casting Off

We met our guide Tim Martin at the docks located behind the Contemporary Resort, adjacent to the entrance to Magic Kingdom. Tim went over the plan for our fishing trip. He told us we'd be fishing with live shiners brought in fresh from Arkansas, and we had our choice of spinning reels or bait casters. We had two young anglers with us — my 4-year-old son, Maxon, and our family friend's daughter, Lila, age 6.

Tim and I decided that the spinning reels would be easier for the kids to master, so we skipped the bait casters. After a life-jacket fitting for the youngsters and a safety discussion, we walked down the docks to board the 21-foot Fishin' Barge, a pontoon boat made by Sun Tracker and powered by a 50-hp Mercury outboard.

Disney also offers bass boats, but we found the pontoon boat perfect for this type of lake fishing. The canvas bimini top provided some much-appreciated shade from the warm June sun, the copious seating easily accommodated five anglers, and the boat was very stable and comfortable — an attribute for little ones as well as elderly folks. The boat also held two baitwells on the bow, and one was bubbling away with a few dozen shiners swimming in circles. Maxon immediately stuck his hands in the baitwell trying to catch some shiners with his mini mitts while he asked the guide a barrage of curious questions.

"Do you catch sharks here?"

"No, not in the lake," Tim said. "Sharks live in saltwater. But we have some bald eagles nesting nearby that may make an appearance."

"Do you feed them?" Max asked.

"The eagles? No, we don't feed them."

"OK," Max said. "When do we start fishing?"

I smiled and breathed easy. Max had found a new victim for his long list of life questions, and for now I was off the hook. After a short run to the opposite side of the lake, Tim dropped the Power Pole to hold our position along a stretch of grassy shoreline. If you looked off to the undeveloped side of Bay Lake, it was surprisingly serene, with tall cypress trees cloaked in moss. You'd hardly know that millions of tourists pour through this area on a regular basis.

There was a drop-off on the opposite side of the boat that Tim said would most likely hold fish. It was 10:30 a.m., and the temperature was creeping into the mid-80s. When it gets hot, bass tend to go deeper and park themselves in cooler water. The guide baited up Lila's hook, patiently showed her how to cast by holding the line, flipping the bail on the reel, and swinging the rod while releasing the line. He then did the same for Max. It's always amazing to me how much more intently my children listen to other people. He's gone fishing with me a handful of times and prefers to cast "his way," not my way. But on this boat, he listened to the guide. I felt a wave of pride watching him handle the rod and cast his own bait as he chatted with Tim. I think Max was on his fifth or sixth question when his rod heeled over and he hollered. At first he was a bit startled, but then his voice rang with delight: "I feel a fish!" Then the pocket fisherman showed his face of determination as he worked the reel handle around and around, gaining line on the 3-pound largemouth. Before Max's fish was within sight, Lila made a similar sound. She was hooked up, too.

We fished the first spot for about 45 minutes, catching a dozen or so bass from 1 to 3 pounds and losing several more. We were more than content to stay put, but when Tim asked if we'd like to check out the Seven Seas Lagoon,we all agreed to go for a ride. Bay Lake is a natural body of water, and Seven Seas Lagoon was created when the resort was built in the 1960s. Apparently the visionary Walt Disney had a feeling that fishing would benefit the park, and had 70,000 bass fingerlings released into these waters when the resort was under construction.

Some of Disney's premiere properties, including the Grand Floridian and the Polynesian Village Resort, are located on the shores of Seven Seas Lagoon. From the water, they look gorgeous. Even better, some of Tim's go-to fishing spots are also here.

A bevy of sparkly fireworks shot out from behind Cinderella's Castle as we motored past, which Tim explained was part of a show finale. The kids loved it. I did, too. As we cruised by the ferryboat dock that shuttles tourists from the parking lot to Magic Kingdom, I couldn't help but thank my lucky stars that I was on Tim's Fishin' Barge and not waiting in the mass of bobbleheads lined up along the bulkhead to board the ferry. I've ridden that ferry with a double-wide stroller, elbow-to-elbow with families from around the world. The cushy chair on the pontoon boat was a tad more comfortable and a million times more relaxing.

"We still have plenty of time. You guys want to catch more fish?" Tim asked the kids, who enthusiastically said "yes" and bounced up and down. We made our way over the water bridge (yes, cars pass under the boats as the vessels run from Seven Seas Lagoon back to Bay Lake) and slipped past Fort Wilderness. This time Tim watched his Lowrance HDS 7 plotter with side scan to find the top of an underwater mound. He parked us over top of it, and we put the baits out.

In just a few minutes, the kids were doubled up again ... and again. I even caught a few, as did my buddy Justin, Lila's dad. After another 12 or so bass, we made one more move, to a spot next to the docks at Fort Wilderness. Tim told me to cast a bait right into the corner of the dock. As soon as it hit the water, the bait was devoured by a greenish-yellow flash. I was close to the largest fish of the day. The fish was no contender to the 10-plus-pound lake record, but it was a solid fish. Tim netted my catch, and I grasped the fish's lip tightly and started posing for a photo just as the fish shook its head, slipped out of my grip, and fell back into the water. We all laughed and agreed that we'd have to come back and search for it another day.

Spreading The Love

The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF) and Disney partnered in 2013 to increase promotion of on-site fishing and boating opportunities to the resort's 48 million annual visitors. The program includes guided fishing trips on pontoon boats and bass boats as well as shoreside fishing in ponds.

"RBFF and Disney share values of conservation and family fun," says Frank Peterson, president and CEO of RBFF. "Our great relationship gives families the unique chance to enjoy an incredible fishing and boating experience in the heart of Walt Disney World Resort."

Disney offers fishing trips on two types of boats: a 21-foot Tracker pontoon boat that can take five anglers, and a two-person Nitro bass boat. The trips cost the same: $270 for a two-hour trip, and $455 for four hours of fishing. The price includes equipment, bait, and nonalcoholic beverages. The trips leave from several properties within the resort. Call (407) 939-2277 for more info or visit disneyworld.disney.go.com/recreation/fishing. 

Charlie Levine is a lifelong angler and boater turned marine journalist with multiple publications. He is currently the editor and publisher of fishtrack.com, a website that provides anglers with tools they need to help them catch fish. He is now grooming his sons Maxon and Cooper to be his angling buddies.

— Published: December 2017

Let's Grow Fishing

In 2016, the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation launched a program designed to grow fishing participation among youth and minority populations. The "60 in 60" program provides grants, education, and marketing tools to help state and local fishing and boating stakeholders increase participation from the current 46 million anglers to 60 million anglers by 2021 (60 months). The ultimate goal is fostering gains in boating and conservation. The program is supported by BoatUS, among other boating and fishing organizations. takemefishing.org/60in60


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