MikeLake1by Michael Lake

I get questions from time to time about the Walt Disney World Bass Fishing Excursions. People ask if I recommend them for kids, or even if I recommend them at all. The questions are of varying complexity, but all really come down to the same thing – what do I think of spending precious vacation time at Walt Disney World on a fishing excursion, when there’s already not enough time to do everything you might want to do.

Bottom line – I do recommend the fishing excursions, if they fit into your overall plan. The challenge, of course, is that a fishing excursion is especially susceptible blowing up the best laid plans. Mother nature has her own plans. You’re dealing with a wily critter in its natural environment, who doesn’t care whether or not you’re having a good time. This is not a FastPass-enabled attraction, nor is it a quick service restaurant. While it’s rare, you might not even be rewarded for your effort. After that 6 hour wait, you can be pretty sure that you’ll eventually get your 90 seconds (don’t go there) with Elsa. Billy Bass doesn’t offer performance guarantees. And that’s before you take into consideration Central Florida weather patterns that can generously be referred to as “unpredictable.”

If you’re still interested (or maybe struck by a sudden urge to see “where the hell this might go”) read on.

I know I’m not the first to write about this – you can find out plenty of information about WDW Fishing excursions just by running a Google search. But this is my personal take. I write as a bass fisherman who regularly plies the waters around Central and South Florida. I also happen to be friends with a few of the guides on Disney property, as well as some of the off property guides. I’m not going to go into detail about off property fishing excursions here, but I will say that I would personally take the Disney Excursions over off property fishing trips. But more on that comparison later.

First, the basics (straight from Disney’s site):
Choose from Guided Bass Fishing Excursions, which includes a 21-foot Tracker pontoon boat that can accommodate up to 5 Guests, and Bass Nitro Fishing, which features a tournament-style Nitro Bass boat for one or 2 people.

Both 2-hour and 4-hour excursions are offered, and if available, an extra hour may be added in person at the Marina. Solo anglers may book an afternoon excursion at a reduced rate.
All Walt Disney World Resort fishing excursions include:

  • An experienced guide
  • Rod and reel
  • Tackle
  • Artificial and/or live bait
  • Non-alcoholic beverages (Guests may not bring beverages, food or coolers aboard.)
  • One year BASS (Bass Anglers Sportsman Society) membership, which includes 11 issues of Bassmaster Magazine (one membership per excursion)

So which is the better choice?

The pontoon boats are really large, really spacious and really good for kids. As a matter of fact, if you’re taking kids, this is your only real option, in my humble opinion.

The pontoons are tight with five adults, but with a couple of adults and up to three kids there’s more than enough room. They offer a very stable, very safe fishing platform. If you fall off this thing you tried really hard (this is also known as “jumping”). Most DisWives are really into the safety aspect, so this is important.

They also have comfy bench seating and canvas tops that provide welcome shade, especially if your trip is in the summer. If you’re taking kids, take the pontoon. (If you’re taking teenagers—-remind them it’s a long swim back to shore. But I digress). You’re only out there for a maximum of four hours (or maybe five, Disney just added an hour extension option on afternoon trips). But that can be a loooooooooong four hours if you’re on edge or uncomfortable. Under Florida Law, all children under 6 MUST be in a life jacket while onboard at ALL TIMES. The guides will not deviate from this law (nor should they).

The Nitro bass boat excursions are, I think, mainly for guys who are taking the excursion too seriously (to the point of not being any fun); or for someone who just wants to have that “Tournament Bass Fishing Experience.” Bass boats were designed by tournament fishermen for the purpose of getting to your fishing spot as fast as possible, with all your gear, while providing a maneuverable platform for serious, hardcore, close quarters fishing. They are not designed to be comfortable, and they get you very close to the water—which can be unsettling for some kids. Most bass boats are capable of highway speeds (mine runs 75 mph), which is admittedly part of the fun. If I’m being honest, the main draw of the Nitro boats is the ability to go fast, and fish fast when you get there…neither of which are going to happen on a Disney Fishing Excursion. The guides are not going to be allowed to “air the hull out”, especially in the crowded waters in and around the resort waterways. And even if they were allowed to do it, they couldn’t do it for very long, simply because there’s not enough space and it’s just not safe, any way you slice it. If you have a teenager who is really into fishing, this might be a fun option, but you’re not going to get the full “bass boat experience”, and they’ll be left a little bit wanting. If YOU YOURSELF are a serious bass guy, and want to really get in and do some technical flipping, this option may be good for you.

I go fishing to catch fish. And I own a bass boat.
I take the pontoon trips. Just sayin’.

MikeLake2Whichever boat option you choose, you’ll hit the water well-equipped. But more important than most of the “stuff” that you’ll have with you, you’ll have a guide. You don’t have to go it alone. This is a good thing. While fishing may appear to be a guy in a boat who found a place to stop and just dropped a line, it’s far more complicated than that. Don’t believe me? Try it. Let me know how it works out for you.

All of the guides employed by Disney are strong fishermen who know how to put their clients on fish. All of them spend a great deal of time on the water and know where the fish are at any time of day or year. Of course each of the guides is a unique person with a unique personality. Some are much better than others from a “gee I enjoyed sharing the boat with that guy” perspective. All of them will make sure you are in good areas to catch fish, but not all of them will be fun to share the boat with.

I sort of have a beef with Disney on this one, from a customer service perspective. You’re spending several hours in close quarters with a Disney Cast Member who is focused on you and you alone – a highly unusual situation. These guys have a huge opportunity to make your trip, ahem, “Magical”, and some of them could do a better job at being a magic-maker. The good news is, the good ones far outnumber the bad. I’ve only had two that made me cringe. The others have been outstanding. The really good ones go out of their way for you (some will even creep over their time limit if they can).

Keep in mind that what you get out your trip is as much up to you as it is up to them. The good guides will enjoy the interaction and will get excited when/if you do. Even small fish can be exciting for children, and they love it when everyone gets as excited as they do, after all, who doesn’t like catching a fish? Respect the fishery and keep in mind they’re doing the best they can, but on some days there’s nothing they can do to make the fish bite. Always follow their instructions, because they are under intense scrutiny with regard to safety. Use your head. Don’t be stupid. Any guide will tell you they’re responsible for all actions of their clients. If something bad happens to you, it will be his fault, regardless of whether or not you followed directions. One last word on guides. Tip. Amount depends on you, but tip anyway. Naturally, you’ll tip larger for a better trip or a great time – even if the fish themselves were uncooperative.

MikeLake3All equipment provided is serviceable for a two to four hour trip. It’s almost exclusively spinning gear, as baitcasting gear is not good for beginners and is much harder to maintain. You don’t need to bring or buy your own gear on a Disney fishing excursion. I don’t.

Bait and Tackle. Most Disney Fishing is live bait – specifically, shiner fishing. Keep this in mind if you have sensitive kids, some youngsters have a hard time with the idea of putting a minnow on a hook. My own son has days where he doesn’t mind, and others when it really bothers him. I’m not able to make a call on my own kid, so I’m not going to try to make one on yours. Even some adults get hinky about live bait (I guide, I’ve seen it). You’re impaling a minnow on a hook. You have to decide for yourself if you’re OK with it. But regardless of your decision, it’s easier to deal with the situation if you (and your child) know what to expect.

The boats are stocked with artificial baits, and it will depend on the guide what kinds he has in the boat. I still think artificial baits are a poor choice for these trips. You have two to four hours, and you want to make the most of that time. Live bait will out fish artificial every day and twice on Tuesday. That’s just how it is. The fish in Disney are also what we’d call … educated. It’s very hard to write that about an animal with a brain the size of a split pea, but it’s absolutely true. The Disney lakes are micro environments and the fish are harassed by Anglers nearly every day, all day. Sure there’s breaks built in between, but for the most part the angler pressure on those fish is very high. They have become very sensitive to what they bite when it comes by.

Consider your own eating habits. You eat steak. You like steak. Then one day you try tofu. The next day you have your choice of steak or tofu. What do you do? If you’re reading this, I’m betting you eat the darn steak. Anyone who chose tofu over steak stopped reading this column at about line two. If you chose tofu over steak and you’re still reading this … you can find any manner of Therapist in your local yellow pages 😉 . Shiners are steak, lobster and chocolate cake to the Florida Strain Largemouth Bass—which is your target for the day.

All that to say that Shiner fishing is the way to go. The really good news is that Shiners are outrageously expensive (they’re sold by the dozen), but are provided for you as part of your excursion fee. Drinks, and sometimes snacks, are also provided by the guides. Here again, your experiences may vary. I’ve had guides who had water and nothing else, and guides who, despite what’s on the website, provided nothing at all. The best guides had fully stocked coolers with water, Gatorade, soft drinks and light snacks. Don’t count on that, though, and be prepared. They should at least have water, even though some don’t. Ask before you leave the dock. Officially, Disney won’t allow outside food and drink on the boat. I’ve found that most guides hold fast to this rule, as they should. You also get a year subscription for Bassmaster Magazine. I get it. I like it. I’m a dedicated Bass Fisherman. They give you a card, and it’s up to you to send it in if you want. If you’re into bass fishing, it’s a nice little add on. If not, don’t send the card in. Entirely up to you.

And now, we finally get to the two kinds of questions I’m asked most often about Walt Disney World fishing excursions:

How much is it? Is it worth it? What about other trips to nearby lakes? How do they compare?
Prices range from $170.00 to $455.00 for a Walt Disney World fishing excursion:
$170 – 2 Hours (Single Person) 1:30 ONLY
$270 – 2 Hours (2-5 People) 7:00 & 10:00 ONLY
$235 – 2 Hours (2-5 People) 1:30 ONLY
$455 – 4 Hours (2-5 People) 7:00am – 11:00am & 10:00 – 2:00

On its face, it looks expensive (like most things Disney). Comparatively, it is a bit higher than local Toho or Kissimmee Guide Services, which run anywhere from $275.00 to $150.00 for half day trips. In the small print, however, you discover that the rates for these non-Disney excursions generally do not cover bait, and may not cover fuel expenses. Shiners can run $22.00 a dozen or higher, and I can guarantee you no true guide leaves the dock without three or four dozen of them – I didn’t when I was working as a guide. It’s just the nature of the beast. I always gave clients an option on how many shiners I brought, with the understanding that once they were gone, they were gone. I also know I was an exception, not the rule, mainly because I wasn’t trying to make a living at it, and was only helping out a friend who ran a Guide Service company. He has since retired.
At Disney, it’s all included in in the package. You are not paying extra for bait or fuel surcharges. You get as many shiners as you need. If you start to run out (unlikely), they radio for more to be brought to them and you don’t miss a beat. (You’re not going to run out though, they carry three to four dozen at least in the tanks, and they replenish after each trip). The costs are literally all inclusive at Disney. (Except, of course, for that tip I mentioned earlier).

Where do we fish?
Much like real estate, a huge consideration for any fishing excursion should be location, location, location. Disney Bass Excursions are held on waters associated to the departure marinas. You can fish Bay Lake on Excursions departing from Fort Wilderness, Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge, Polynesian or Grand Floridian. Epcot-area waters are available through the Yacht Club. Downtown Disney (or Disney Springs) waters are accessed from Old Key West and Port Orleans Riverside. Caribbean Beach lakes are available through, naturally, Caribbean Beach Resort.

Which waters you fish is up to you and most people end up picking a location closest to where they happen to be staying. That might be the best option for you, and I will say that most waters tend to fish about the same. They are all managed very well, and all of them have their own niche with their own unique positives and negatives. No two places are the same, and they aren’t intended to be.

But this is my column, and I get to give my opinion, and my favorite place to fish at Walt Disney World is Epcot. When you fish the Epcot waters you get to fish World Showcase Lagoon. Go in the morning and you get to fish in there before the park opens. There’s something super cool about fishing inside the park while the music is going and they’re prepping for the day. There’s more than just that though….for some reason there tend to be bigger fish in those waters. On an Epcot excursion, you will fish World Showcase Lagoon as well as the waterways around the Swan and Dolphin and the pond just outside Hollywood Studios. Great ambiance + Great Fishing + Larger Fish= Awesome. You can also take that Excursion and stroll into Epcot for a brew right after the trip. I challenge you to do better than that. The better guides prefer this lake as well, and that says it all.

Second, based on the fishing alone, is the Downtown Disney area. There are probably more dedicated fishing locations on these waters than anywhere else on property. Look around if you ever get on the water taxis from the Downtown tie in Resorts to Downtown (excuse me—Disney Springs). You’re going to see multiple fish feeders positioned in and around the area. Those are there for one reason and one reason only – to attract concentrations of fish. And they work VERY well. For sheer numbers of fish, this is the best stop, though the ambiance is lacking. Purely personal opinion there. Not a bad choice for kids who don’t really care about the surroundings. In the summer time, there is more shade on these waters than any of the others, and that can be nice too.

Coming in at a surprising third place would be Bay Lake. Contrary to some of the advertisement pictures, I have never been taken to Seven Seas Lagoon by any of the Bay Lake guides. I know some of them fish there, but they don’t stay long, and they don’t fish there often. Officially, the fishing is better on Bay Lake. Unofficially, there are concerns about water traffic on the lagoon, especially during park hours. You are going to fish mostly on Bay Lake. The fishing is good. Can’t complain. But no better than Epcot, and without the ambiance, and with fewer numbers than at Downtown. You will also take a beating from the sun during the summer, even with the cover up. Keep that in mind with the little ones. Hard call on this one to be honest. At first look, the location is almost impossible to beat. I mean, it’s RIGHT THERE AT THE PROMISED LAND. But you don’t really get to fish there, and it left me a little disappointed. I wanted to fish and get a fish picture in front of the damn castle. You’re fishing open water brush piles with little to no landmarks and usually away from all the good stuff you want to look at (like the aforementioned castle). I get it. The fish are there, and you do catch them. But I think the ambiance part of the experience was lacking. On the positive side, you can take an early morning Excursion out of Contemporary and then walk right into Magic Kingdom for the rest of your day, which is pretty cool in and of itself.

Coming in last would be Caribbean Beach. Fishing is good, maybe even better than at some of the other places because it’s not fished as much. Location? Well, if you’re not STAYING at Caribbean Beach I can’t think of any reason you’d go out of your way to fish there unless nothing else is open. If you are staying there, it’s a nice experience and convenient.

I truly believe all of the Walt Disney World locations offer a superior experience to the off site trips. I don’t care what anyone advertises, if you opt for a trip to Toho or Kissimmee, you’re going to spend a lot of time on the road. Figure at least an hour to Toho, probably two to Camp Mack on Kissimmee. Orlando traffic sucks, and you’re going to get caught in it going to either of those lakes. You’re going to wake up really early, and be gone most of the day. For folks on a Disney Vacation, I think they’ll spend a lot more time than they really want, or count on, if they do an off property trip. On a Disney Excursion, you can use resort transportation and you’re right there where you want to be once you’re done.

If the weather gets bad, you’re still at Disney if things get cut short. I’ve also seen one too many guides keep people on Central Florida lakes when they should have been off much earlier. Conditions can get really nasty on Toho or Kissimmee with even mild winds, while the Disney waters are much more protected and simply don’t get as bad. That’s not to say the weather will always cooperate. It won’t. Thunderstorms and wind are simply a fact of life in the area. But at least you’re “close to home” as they say, should things get ugly.

Bottom line about Bass Fishing Excursions offered at Walt Disney World Resort: You’re going to catch fish. As with anything, your enjoyment of the experience is as much up to you as it is any other factor. Get out there and fish. You really can’t go wrong.

See you on the water!

Oh! One last thing. If you have a day to spare, with nothing to do, and you don’t mind driving a couple of hours down the turnpike to the city of Okeechobee; call and book a guided trip out on the Big O. (Lake Okeechobee) It’s a bucket list lake and you won’t be disappointed. Otherwise, if it’s only one part of a family Walt Disney World vacation, take a Disney Excursion. You won’t regret it.

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