Sneaking onto a golf course to catch a few unguarded bass is one of the most time-honored traditions in flyfishing, especially if you’re a golfer. Who among us hasn’t walked down some random Sun Belt fairway (or rough, more likely) only to peer upon a hungry four-pounder lurking in a water hazard along the way? What a waste, right?
“I shall return under cover of darkness and subdue said largemouth,” the tougher, more rebellious version of you says to yourself.
But what if you didn’t have to sneak? Ninety-acre Shingle Pond serves as a looming water hazard on the Greg Norman-designed Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes Golf Club, in Orlando. It also doubles as home to the resort’s flyfishing operation, run by former Bass Pro Shops employee and fanatical fly fisher, Michael Hawkins.
As an angler, Hawkins was well aware of every flyfisher’s inability to walk past water without looking in. But unlike so many otherwise worthy golf course employees, Hawkins helped convince Orlando Grande Lakes management to do something about it. The resort teamed up with G. Loomis for rental rods, and bought five Hyde Pro Series drift boats to float around on Shingle and other resort ponds.
“We probably own the only drift boats in Florida,” Hawkins said as we made our way down to the dock. “But they make it a much more comfortable, enjoyable experience for our guests.”
Not only were we able to find a few willing largemouths—even in mid-February—alongside Grande Lake’s impeccable fairways, but Hawkins also has access to nearby Shingle Creek, the northernmost headwaters of the Everglades. The creek offers a totally different Spanish-moss-covered environment that a bird-watching spouse might enjoy, even if you’re the only one who’s into fishing. After lunch in the clubhouse, we put kayaks on the creek and found bigger bass, a small pickerel, and a family of gators sunning themselves.
Here’s one of the great things about Orlando: like Vegas, almost everyone gets there eventually. Disney World. Sea World. Weddings. Business conventions. If you’re lucky enough to get sent down on a corporate dime, then take an extended coffee break one morning. Grande Lakes is less than 12 miles from Disney World, and less than three miles from Sea World, so take the 10-minute drive and go throw poppers for a couple hours. (The resort offers two- and three-hour trips, for those who can’t get away for an entire day.) Even if the nightly price at a Ritz-Carlton is a bit beyond your range (as it was for me), you can still grab a nearby hotel—there are hundreds—and come by for a day of fishing only.
While on the water, Hawkins told me that the flyfishing operation at Grande Lakes is one of the more profitable activities at the resort. Not in terms of overall dollars of course, but in terms of profit margin. It seems flyfishing pros charge a bit less than golf pros, and the upkeep costs are considerably less.
So why don’t more golf courses offer flyfishing as an option? Who knows. But as another largemouth inhaled one of Hawkins’ custom deerhair Clousers, I was glad I’d stumbled across at least one that did.