Fee Fishing in Florida
Charles E. Cichra
2 8 1982
Florida Cooperative Extension Service
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida, Gainesville
John T. Woeste, Dean for Extension
Charles E. Cichra is Assistant Professor, Extension Fisheries Specialist, Department of Fisheries
and Aquaculture, IFAS, University of Florida, Gainesville.
Fee Fishing in Florida
Charles E. Cichra
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 transpor-
tation 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 fish-
ed. In general, fish populations in ponds are under-
harvested. These can be turned into alternative sour-
ces 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,
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
1i1iY OF F '1fi!RAiES
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.
Figure 1. Long-term fishing leases generally involve quality
fishing. Location, aesthetics, and good fishing are
all key selling points.
Long-term leasing generally involves quality
fishing for largemouth bass or panfish. Location and
aesthetics are often the most important selling points
(Fig. 1). Many people fish to relax and to escape the
hustle and bustle of their daily life. They desire a
quality fishing experience.
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 har-
vestable-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
owner, and the terms of liability. A lease similar to
that used for hunting could be used to draw up a
The lease should be drawn up with the advice
of an attorney, fisheries biologist, or other profes-
sionals. 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 page
8 contains most of the possible terms and contin-
gencies 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
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
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 improve-
ments 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 land-
owner 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.
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 travelling 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
Figure 2. Sign posted along the roadside to attract anglers
to a day-lease fishing pond.
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 (Fig. 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 fisher-
men 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 re-
motely located. A major expenditure is liability in-
surance. Current cost 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 fisher-
man 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 (Fig. 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 sup-
Figure 3. Harvest by anglers at day-lease ponds generally relies on natural reproduction of fish species such as the bluegill
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
the price of the adult fee. Senior citizens are some-
times 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. Current-
ly it is not legal to sell black bass based upon the
number caught or their weight. Fishermen can, how-
ever, 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 man-
agement. 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 man-
agement because the rate of angler success is gener-
ally greater in well managed ponds.
Fish-out ponds involve the highest level of man-
agement, 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 catch-
ing fish. Fish-out ponds are appealing to families
with small children because of the increased likeli-
hood 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. An-
glers 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 seinedd) 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 (Fig. 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
.4 t., -
Figure 4. Fish-out ponds should be constructed for easy harvest by seining and aesthetically appealing to patrons.
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 (Fig.
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.
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
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. Day-
light hours are common, many remain open after
dark especially on weekends.
Figure 5. A live-tank should be maintained to supply live fish to anglers who don't catch enough fish from the ponds or to
individuals who don't fish, but would like to purchase fresh fish for the dinner table.
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
Costs and returns It is difficult to determine
costs 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 ap-
propriate 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
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 artifi-
cially maintained populations.
Fish-out operators must have a heavy commit-
ment to public relations, marketing, promoting, and
a sensitivity to public wants and behavior. Such oper-
ations 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.
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 simul-
taneously 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 dis-
persed 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
Fee fishing operations in Florida are rapidly in-
creasing 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 in-
come, but the most important thing to remember
about fee fishing is that it involves people manage-
ment 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
For additional information on fee fishing and
pond management, contact your local county agricul-
tural 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."
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
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 LAND-
OWNER 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
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 proper-
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
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
WITNESS LESSEE (Space should be
provided for each lessee to
Marion, W.R. and J.A. Hovis. 1985. Developing a Hunting Lease in Florida. Florida Cooperative Extension Service.
Fact Sheet WRS-1.
This publication was produced at a cost of $1,051.00, or 53.0 cents per copy to provide current information to pond
owners about considerations of having a fee fishing enterprise. 8-2M-89
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION SERVICE. UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA. INSTITUTE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES, G.L.
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