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Publication #CIR809

Fee Fishing in Florida 1

Charles E. Cichra2

The number of resident anglers in Florida is rapidly increasing due to the growing interest in fishing and Florida's rapidly growing population. In addition, millions of non-resident anglers vacation in Florida each year. Fishing pressure on our public waters is increasing, with many anglers looking for alternative places to fish. With increasing transportation costs and license fees, many anglers are looking for alternative fishing opportunities closer to home. Fee fishing, paying for the right to fish and/or paying for any fish that are caught, is becoming popular among anglers. Many ponds are seldom fished. In general, fish populations in ponds are under-harvested. These can be turned into alternative sources of revenue.

There are three basic types of fee fisheries: long-term leasing, day leasing, and fish-out operations. Exclusive fishing rights to a private pond or lake can be leased on a long-term basis to an individual or group of individuals. This type of leasing arrangement is commonly developed between hunters and landowners (Marion and Hovis 1985). Management of the pond is often the responsibility of the lessee. Day leasing involves collecting a daily user fee from the fisherman. Pond management is the responsibility of the operator. Normally, only those fish produced within the pond through natural production are made available to the angler; however, the pond may be stocked on an occasional basis with catchable-size fish, such as channel catfish. Generally, ponds stocked with largemouth bass and bluegill are day-leased. 'Fish-out', 'put and take', or 'pay by the pound' fisheries involve stocking a pond with fish and then charging the angler for each fish that is caught. Consequently fish populations in this type of operation must be maintained at artificially high levels by regular stocking of catchable-size fish, usually catfish.

Fee fishing appeals to a wide variety of individuals: experienced anglers who seek particular species such as largemouth bass, anglers who simply like to fish but are limited by time or resources such as owning a boat, families with small children, the physically handicapped, and the elderly. Fee fishing can be attractive to tourists or individuals who fish on an occasional basis because no license is required to fish in a private fish pond of 20 acres or less provided it is located entirely within the private property of the fish pond owner. In addition, no fishing license is required to fish in a fish pond of more than 20 acres if the pond is located entirely within private property and the fish pond owner has obtained a fish pond license. The cost of this license is $3.00 per surface acre per year and the license may be obtained from the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.

Long-term Leasing

Long-term leasing generally involves quality fishing for largemouth bass or panfish. Location and aesthetics are often the most important selling points ( Figure 1 ). Many people fish to relax and to escape the hustle and bustle of their dally life. They desire a quality fishing experience.

Figure 1. 

Unlike hunting leases which require a large quantity of land to support adequate game, fishing leases can be rather small in size. One acre of water can naturally produce 300 to 400 pounds of harvestable-size fish per year with proper management. So a minimum number of acres of water can produce many hours of productive fishing.

Steps - The major steps involved in leasing a pond are 1) locating the individual or group of individuals that plan to lease the fishing rights, 2) establishing the terms of the lease, and 3) drawing up the written lease.

Interested parties can be contacted through word of mouth or through newspaper or magazine advertisements. The amount of effort and money that is expended in locating possible lessees for the property should depend upon the quality of the fishery and the location and visual attractiveness of the pond. These factors will also determine the value of the lease. A trophy bass fishery, in close proximity to a large metropolitan area, and at an attractive site will bring top dollar. An adequate effort should be expended to ensure that the best price is obtained by the property owner.

The lease should spell out exactly what each party gets. In particular, who will have access/fishing rights to the pond, how long the lease will be in force, the price per year, under what conditions the lease can be broken, any fishing limits or regulations that are to be followed, other privileges that are included in the price such as camping or swimming, what management practices will be followed (i.e. aquatic weed control, lake drawdown, and stocking) and who will provide the cost of seeing the work through, what privileges will be retained by the customer, and the terms of liability. A lease similar to that used for hunting could be used to draw up a fishing lease.

The lease should be drawn up with the advice of an attorney, fisheries biologist, or other professionals. The lease can be an informal agreement that is not written down if the two parties know and trust each other. In most cases, however, a written lease is recommended .

While the sample fishing lease printed on the last page contains most of the possible terms and contingencies of an agreement, it is recommended that an attorney be consulted when the document is drafted. Two copies of the lease should be prepared and signed, one for the pond owner and one for the lessee.

Cost and returns - The major costs to the pond owner will be in locating a suitable lessee and having the lease drawn up. Advertisement costs can be highly variable. The cost of having the lease prepared by an attorney should be minimal. Any work requested by the lessees should be paid for by the lessees.

Monetary returns vary substantially from less than $100 per year to almost $100,000 per year. A 3,600-acre reservoir in east central Florida currently leases for $85,000 per year. Access is limited to 60 individuals. The amount of the lease increases each year with the CPI (Consumer Price Index), not to exceed a 5% increase in any one year. The members must jointly pay for liability insurance. Any improvements made to the site should increase the property value for the owner.

Advantages and disadvantages - A long-term lease can be of quite an advantage for the landowner. The pond owner needs only to deal with one or several individuals on an occasional basis, minimizing his labor. The landowner will have someone on the property looking after it, decreasing problems with theft, vandalism and fire. This should be particularly appealing to absentee landowners. Often the lessee will "post" the land for the landowner which serves to limit trespassing problems. The pond owner can also require the lessees to pay for liability insurance.

One disadvantage to this form of fee fishing is that not all ponds have suitable fisheries, locations, or aesthetics to interest someone in desiring to lease the fishing rights. Leased lakes also tend to be larger in size than what many land owners have available on their property, thus restricting this form of fee fishing to landowners who own large ponds.

Day Leasing

An aesthetically-pleasing pond or one that offers good fishing tends to attract the interest of local fishermen. Many fishermen will ask the land owner for the right to fish such a pond, while others may trespass to gain access. Such an "attractive nuisance" may be considered a liability, but such a situation can be turned into an alternative source of income. Instead of allowing free fishing for all, a pond owner can charge a nominal fee for a day of fishing. Hence, the term "day leasing". Family and friends can still be allowed free access to the pond. A number of ponds, particularly in north Florida are operated in such a manner. Ponds located near travel trailer parks and overnight camping areas may attract a number of non-resident fishermen.

Ponds of at least an acre in surface area, but commonly upwards of 5 to 10 acres in size are good prospects for day leasing. Most are located in close proximity to a public road and have good visibility to individuals traveling by. Harvest by fishermen relies primarily on natural production of the pond. Most fishing is for species such as the largemouth bass, bluegill (bream), redear sunfish (shellcrackers), and crappie (speckled perch). Channel catfish can be supplementally stocked to attract fishermen. Much of the fisherman's interest is in the spring of the year when these species are close to shore and easily caught.

Steps - Advertisement of a day-lease operation can be as simple as by word of mouth. This method will generally restrict use to local fishermen, and thus a small group of anglers will use the pond and a small income will likewise result. Larger numbers of fishermen may come to such a pond simply by posting a sign along the roadside ( Figure 2 ).

Figure 2. 

Location of a day-lease pond should be close to the manager's residence, so that he can be assured that all anglers pay the entrance fee. The simplest way to collect the entrance fee is to have the fisherman drop it off in a deposit box as they enter the property. This reduces the time expended by the manager in collecting fees. This method works well when dealing with small numbers of local anglers who can be trusted. One way to regulate access to the pond is to require anglers to check in with the manager before gaining access to the pond. This can sometimes prove to be inconvenient when it disrupts work or family life. Limiting the hours of operation and even the seasons of the year when the pond is fished can relieve some of this inconvenience. A third method of keeping track of those who have paid is to allow anglers open access to the pond. The manager can then simply stop by the pond on a regular basis and collect an entrance fee. If large numbers of anglers frequent the pond, a dated receipt, ticket, or permit could be given to those who have paid. This could be obtained directly from the manager or through a nearby store that could retain a portion of the fee as a handling charge. The manager can then simply stop by the pond and make sure that each fisherman has a current ticket. This last method greatly simplifies knowing who has or has not paid the entrance fee. A seasonal pass could also be sold.

An aesthetically appealing pond site helps attract users. The site must be kept clean of litter. Trash containers should be located on site and emptied regularly to ensure their use by patrons. Any litter on the ground should be picked up. Added features such as pavilions, a picnic area with tables, and shade trees will help increase the attractiveness of the site. Minimal toilet facilities are encouraged, but are usually not supplied. Access to the water should be maintained by mowing the banks and managing aquatic vegetation.

Costs and returns - The cost of maintaining such an enterprise are intermediate to those of long-term leasing and operating a fish-out enterprise. The major cost is that of collecting the daily use fee or checking fishermen for current permits. Moderate travel expenses may be incurred if the pond is remotely located. A major expenditure is liability insurance. Current costs for such insurance run from $350 to $1500 per year for $2 to 3 million worth of insurance. This cost can be reduced if the day-lease is operated as a "club". (Most insurance companies charge reduced rates for such operations.) The fisherman is given a membership card when he first fishes the pond. This card is then presented to the pond owner during future fishing trips to the pond. A small one-time fee is often charged for processing the card. In addition, the normal entrance fee is charged for each day of fishing.

Input into the pond is usually minimal because the pond owner can rely upon the natural production and carrying capacity of the pond to produce the fish that are harvested ( Figure 3 ). Supplemental stocking can increase the catch by the anglers and their interest in returning to the pond. The cost of such a program varies with the quantity and cost of the fish stocked. Returns from a stocking program can far outweigh its cost. Additional costs that may be incurred are those associated with properly managing the pond for fishing. These include such practices as aquatic weed control, fertilization, liming, and supplemental feeding.

Figure 3. 

Daily fees in Florida generally range from $2.00 to $7.00 per day for adults for bass/bluegill ponds, but can go as high as $50.00 per day for ponds with quality bass fishing. Children should be accompanied by an adult and are often admitted free or at half of the price of the adult fee. Senior citizens are sometimes given a discounted price. Several individuals in north Florida are managing their large (more than 50 acres) ponds for "trophy bass" fishing. The cost to fish in a "trophy bass" fishing pond with a limit of one 10 pound, or larger, largemouth bass may net the pond owner upwards of $1,000 per day. Currently it is not legal to sell black bass based upon the number caught or their weight. Fishermen can, however, be charged for the right to fish for bass.

Advantages and disadvantages - One advantage of a day-leasing operation over that of a long-term lease is that in a day-leasing operation no long-term commitment is made, allowing the pond owner to be more flexible in the use of the pond. The day-lease relies on natural fish production and a minimal input of time and expenditures on the part of the manager, which are distinct advantages over that of a fish-out operation. The day-lease operator can simply charge for access with no management. By requiring a fee, the day-lease will allow serious fishermen to have access to the pond, while keeping others out.

Day-leasing requires more time on the part of the pond owner than is required in long-term leasing of a pond. Time must be spent policing the pond area for litter and for collecting the access fee. Ponds that are intensively managed for fishing have greater appeal to anglers than ponds with little or no management because the rate of angler success is generally greater in well managed ponds.

Fish-out Ponds

Fish-out ponds involve the highest level of management, the highest costs, and potentially the highest returns to the pond owner of any type of fee fishing enterprise. They provide the excitement and challenge of fishing with improved chances of catching fish. Fish-out ponds are appealing to families with small children because of the increased likelihood of catching fish. They can be an excellent place to take someone who is learning to fish because of the ease of catching fish.

Steps - Catchable-size fish are stocked at densities well above the standing stock which would be present in the pond by natural production. Anglers are allowed to fish the pond for the stocked fish. A minimal entrance fee is usually charged. An additional charge is then paid for any fish that are caught. Price is based either on the number or weight of the fish in the angler's creel.

Fishermen must be told what they can and cannot do, how they will be charged and hours of operation. This can be done verbally or by posting signs. Most operations use signs so there is no dispute while the anglers are fishing or when the anglers leave with their catch.

A minimum of two ponds should be at the site. This allows the fishermen to select the pond where they would like to fish. Having more than one pond will allow the fishery to continue in operation should a disease outbreak occur in one of the ponds. When the fish become "smart", they can be removed from the pond with a net (seined) and placed into another pond to stimulate them to bite.

Ponds should ideally be of a variety of shapes and sizes to give the fishermen the feeling of a natural setting (Figure 4).

Figure 4. 

The pond bottoms should be smooth and the banks not so irregular as to prevent the ponds from effectively being seined. The ponds should be about one half acre in size. This will accommodate a fairly large number of people who will be able to "reach" most of the fish, but will not be so large that the ponds can't be easily seined. Ponds should be about 4 to 5 feet in depth. This will allow easy seining of the ponds and good survival of stocked fish. If water levels fluctuate, this should be the minimum depth encountered during the year. Well water can be supplied to maintain water level and water quality.

Currently, the only fish that is available in quantity for use in fish-out ponds in Florida is the channel catfish. They can be purchased locally or hauled in live from out of state. Other species are difficult to obtain in abundance or do not hold up well to hauling and stocking procedures. Additionally, special rules apply to the sale of game fish, and certain game fish species, such as largemouth bass, may not be sold individually or by the pound. The tilapia or Nile perch would make an excellent hot weather fish, but this species can only be possessed in the state by special permit of the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.

One problem with catfish fish-out ponds is that only about 60-70% of the fish are caught before fishing success drops off to less than a profitable margin. You must, therefore, have a market for those fish that will not bite the hook. These fish can be seined from the pond and placed into live tanks and sold to individuals that don't want to fish or to those that don't catch enough fish to meet their needs ( Figure 5 ). You must manage your inventory and keep the fish flowing through the operation as fast as possible. You may have to arrange for some restaurant outlets to market these fish. These fish won't turn much of a profit, and may even cause a net loss, but you must get rid of them in order to keep the best biting fish in large enough quantities in the ponds so that the fishermen are successful.

Figure 5. 

Dead fish should be collected from around the perimeter of the ponds each morning. Records of their weight should be kept, so that this loss can be recorded. Fishing with minnows should not be allowed in order to prevent disease organisms and parasites from entering the pond. Other baits can be allowed. Spring (February-May) is usually the best sales period of the year in Florida because during this time people have the urge to fish and catfish are generally most willing to bite. Sales as high as 3000 pounds per week have been recorded during the spring at fish-out operations in Florida, most of which is sold on weekends. Fishing success and angler utilization slow down in the heat of the summer. An upswing in sales will occur in the autumn as temperatures begin to cool. Florida has an advantage over other states to the north in that catfish will often bite during the winter, especially if it is mild. Fish-out operations are generally open on weekends. Some are open seven days a week. Daylight hours are common; many remain open after dark especially on weekends.

Shaded areas, picnic tables, food and beverages, bait, tackle, rental equipment, ice, and a fish cleaning service all improve the business opportunity and customer satisfaction. Advertising does not have to be limited to word of mouth, but can include billboards, printed fliers, newspaper advertisements, and even radio and television commercials. Prizes can be given to anglers who catch extremely large fish or specially tagged fish.

Costs and returns - It is difficult to determine cost for such an enterprise because many items enter into the picture. The major expenditure will be for fish. Live catfish can be purchased in Florida for $0.75 to $1.10 per pound. An entry fee of $1.00 or more per person should be charged. The price per pound of catfish sold varies from $1.25 to $2.00 per pound live weight. Again, a major item would be the cost of liability insurance.

Labor will also add up. Someone must be at the site during all hours of operation to rent and sell concessions, to weigh catfish and collect the appropriate fees, to keep the facilities free of litter, and to minimize the loss of catfish by theft.

Other costs include construction of an office and concession area and toilet facilities, fencing or natural barriers to keep trespassers out and catfish in, catfish feed, and monitoring and maintaining proper water quality.

The returns from a fish-out operation is limited only by the number of pounds of catfish that can be sold. A 7-acre fish-out operation located in Escambia County, Florida has sales as high as 80,000 pounds per year. Channel catfish are obtained at $0.75 per pound delivered and sold for $1.35 per pound live weight. Of these, 16% were sold out of holding tanks. This operation has 11 small ponds.

If fish are cleaned on the premises, county health department requirements should be followed. This usually requires a triple stainless steel sink with running water to be on the premises. Fish cleaning service runs around $0.30 per pound live weight.

Several operators have indicated that they make more money from selling drinks, food, bait, and tackle than from the catfish that are sold.

Advantages and disadvantages - A distinct advantage of fish-out operations is in pond size. Small ponds are well suited to such operations. Ponds can also be located within city limits and at major highway intersections. Also, fishing does not have to rely on natural production, but upon artificially maintained populations.

Fish-out operators must have a heavy commitment to public relations, marketing, promoting, and a sensitivity to public wants and behavior. Such operations are usually near large population centers and highly visible to the public. A lot of time is required on the part of the manager, who must deal with "people problems" such as litter and theft. The risk of liability is greatest for this type of fee fishing enterprise because of the large number of fishermen involved. Thus, the fish-out operator should have adequate liability insurance.

Conclusions

Fishing has a different meaning for different people. Fee fishing is a means through which Florida pond owners can supply fishing opportunities to the increasing number of anglers in the state and simultaneously use an under-utilized resource for economic gain. Fee fishing is both a form of entertainment and a source of fresh fish for the user.

Fee fishing operations are also good markets for fish producers in Florida. Production acreage in Florida is generally small in scale and highly dispersed geographically. Producers can sell their fish live as an unprocessed product of varying size and in varying quantities. Producers can get a higher price per pound from fish-out operators than paid by processors.

Fee fishing operations in Florida are rapidly increasing in number, but vary substantially in their success. Little is known as to why this variation occurs and what attracts anglers to these facilities. Moderate to large-size ponds with controlled access are best suited for long-term leasing, while small to moderate-size ponds can be day-leased or stocked and used in fish-out operations. Pond construction costs are not listed above. Such costs could be substantial.

Fee fishing can be a source of additional income, but the most important thing to remember about fee fishing is that it involves people management more so than fish management. If an individual does not want to take the time to deal with people, yet wants to use his pond as a source of revenue, then they would be best advised to lease it on a long-term basis to minimize the amount of contact with people.

For additional information on fee fishing and pond management, contact your local county agricultural extension agent, your county Soil Conservation Service agent, or the nearest regional office of the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. Local phone numbers for these agencies are listed in the government section of your phone book.

A Sample Fishing Lease

Although it is possible to prepare a written fishing lease on your own, it is recommended that you consult your lawyer during the actual drafting of the document. The money you pay for this service may well be worth it in avoiding potential problems. Also, it is important that at least two copies of the lease are prepared and properly signed; one copy should be kept by the landowner and the other by the lessee(s).

The following is an example of a typical fishing lease. This example only serves as a guide and is not intended to be used as an actual legal agreement without the approval of an attorney.

Sample Fishing Lease

This lease made and entered into this _______ day of __________, 19__, between _______________, hereinafter called the "LANDOWNER," and ______________ (the person or group to whom fishing rights are being leased), hereinafter called the "LESSEE."

WITNESSETH THAT:

  1. LANDOWNER for and in consideration of the rents and covenants hereinafter referred to does hereby lease unto LESSEE for the purpose of fishing for (bass, catfish, bluegill) the following premises (describe the tract of land and/or pond to be leased).

  2. The term of the lease will be for the period of one year, beginning on _______________, 19__, and ending on _____________________,19__.

  3. LESSEE shall pay unto LANDOWNER a rent of $ ________ in cash, one-half of the total to be paid on or before _____________, 19__, and the balance to be paid on or before _____________, 19__.

  4. LESSEE will abide by the State and Federal laws regarding quantity of catch (limit) and minimum size of fish, e.g., 12-inch minimum for bass fishing, and will report quantity and size of fish caught to the LANDOWNER so that records may be accurately kept.

  5. LANDOWNER reserves the right and privilege for a maximum of (give number of people) persons from his family to fish on the leased property at any time.

  6. LESSEE may permit guests to accompany him upon the leased property for the purpose of fishing for (bass, catfish, bluegill) but the number of guests the LESSEE may invite upon the leased property shall not at any time exceed (number agreed upon).

  7. LESSEE will not cut, injure, or destroy any trees, crops, roads, fences, buildings, or other improvements located on the leased property, and LESSEE agrees to compensate LANDOWNER for all damages so caused as determined by LANDOWNER. Vehicular travel is limited to established roads now located on leased property.

  8. LESSEE will not assign this lease or sublet the leased property or any part thereof without the written consent of LANDOWNER.

  9. LESSEE agrees to save harmless LANDOWNER against any and all claims of loss, damages, liabilities, or other expense of any nature, character, and kind that may arise out of, be connected with, or as a result of LESSEE'S occupancy and activities on the leased property.

  10. If LESSEE defaults in the performance of any of the conditions or covenants hereof, then such breach shall cause an immediate termination of this lease and a forfeiture to LANDOWNER of all rentals prepaid.

  11. LESSEE and his guests (may) (may not) camp overnight on the premises and (may) (may not) swim in the pond.

  12. LANDOWNER agrees to maintain adequate weed control in and around the pond, and (describe any additional management practice that will be performed, e.g. periodic stocking with catfish, feeding of fish, etc, or any other facilities that will be provided for the lessee's use).

______________________________

LANDOWNERLESSEE

______________________________

WITNESSLESSEE (Space should be

provided for each lessee to

sign.)

References

Marion, W.R. and J.A. Hovis. 1985. Developing a Hunting Lease in Florida. Florida Cooperative Extension Service. Fact Sheet WRS-1.

Footnotes

1.

This document is CIR809, one of a series of the Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date August 1998. Revised May 2009. Reviewed June 2012. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Charles E. Cichra, Assistant Professor, Extension Fisheries Specialist, Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.