45 minutes south of all the theme parks and the hustle and bustle of Orlando, tucked back in the hammocks is a small dirt road with a sign. That miniature billboard states “Fish the Pit!” On a shield that says Osceola Outback Adventures. The dirt road lead you to a small shack/bait shop and parking lot situated next to a canal. Next to the bait shop 3 large tannin colored ponds. If you were to just walk up to the property it would look like a water holding area. 3 big paddle wheels turning and aerating the ponds remind me of steam ferries from the riverboat days. This unassuming place holds a visitor from Australia. Barramundi.
Barramundi are a brackish water fish from Down Under. They are known for their fighting spirit, acrobatics and food quality. They are an aggressive species that can grow to be 100 plus pounds. They are one of the most sought after fish in the world, gracing the bucket lists of every angler who hears about them. While the wild Barramundi do reach epic sizes, these guys typically max out at 15 pounds. That is because Osceola Outback is also a fish farm and they like to keep the fish in marketable sizes, so they can supply fish markets in the US.
The Barramundi cannot survive outside of the ponds at Osceola Outback as they require warmer waters than the Florida winters provide. When they built the ponds they drilled thermal wells to bring up warmer waters to help the fish survive the dips into the cold. Thus creating a survivable environment as well as a way to keep the Barramundi from becoming another invasive species here in Florida.
I met with Mike Headley from Kenansville Guide Service, he guides the trips at Osceola Outback as well as in the surrounding lakes. He gave us the rundown on Barramundi behavior in the ponds and what we should expect for the day.
Mike has been fishing this area all his life. He has guided thousands of trips and landed 100s of trophy class Florida Largemouth Bass. His professionalism and experience shows. Thorough instruction, knowledge of the behavior of the fish and how they responded to changing weather conditions were top notch. There was always an anticipation on every cast that I would hook into a Barramundi. It was never a guessing game of if this is the right spot or not. He was willing to change gear and change spots if the fish weren’t responding. Like a good fishing guide will do.
While Osceola Outback has some great fishing gear, I decided to test out a Coastal Predator Incursion Series Bait Caster Rod against the famed fighter from Down Under. The lure of choice was a chartreuse 1/4 oz. jig head with a white curly tail grub. Mike instructed us on how to get a reaction bite out of them. “Let the jig sink to the bottom, leave a bend in the line. Twitch it twice and let it sit for 5 seconds then do it again. every once in awhile give it a couple big jerks.” He also told me that the Barramundi love to chase the jig but will only occasionally strike it while it’s moving. The key is the pause between the twitches. 5 casts in and I’m hooked up with my first Barramundi.
True to the tales, hooked Barramundi go ballistic. They are like fighter jets in a dog fight when they get hooked. Imagine hooking into a gymnast doing a floor routine, the level of power and acrobatics would be on par. It only took one for me to understand and appreciate these sportfish for what they can do. It also gave me an understanding as to why they are such a popular quarry. My first Barramundi was only a 6lb fish, imagine hooking into a 50 ponder!
The Coastal Predator Incursion Series Rod performed beautifully against all the Barramundi I hooked into. This one was acid wrapped, which means I was fighting the fish more than the torque on the rod.
It was a day of catching, not fishing. An awesome facility, great friendly guide and lots of fish. In my 3 hour trip I stopped counting when I got to 10 in the first half hour.
Osceola Outback has other offerings besides the Barramundi Pit. They also offer guided bass fishing, bowfishing and soon some really awesome stuff that I will go back for. Adding some more species and some more on site opportunities to catch fish.
Go out of your way to fish at Osceola Outback, or reward the angler in your life who was dragged to the crowded parks in Orlando. It is worth the trip either way.