The hap­pi­est place on Earth — for an­glers.

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY PAUL ABERCROMBIE travel@wash­post.com Abercrombie is a Tampa-based writer.

Early one re­cent Satur­day morn­ing, as my wife and 12-yearold son slept, I sneaked out of our home in Tampa and drove about an hour to Walt Dis­ney World.

That’s right. I went to the Mother of All Theme Parks with­out my fam­ily.

To be fair, my visit in­volved nei­ther my son’s beloved Space Moun­tain roller coaster nor my wife’s cher­ished Haunted Man­sion.

I was af­ter a dif­fer­ent kind of the king­dom’s magic: large­mouth bass.

Guided fish­ing ex­cur­sions on four of the sprawl­ing Cen­tral Florida park’s nat­u­ral and man-made lakes have been of­fered for nearly two decades, although rel­a­tively few folks know about it.

“We fly un­der the radar big time,” Dis­ney fish­ing guide Tim Martin said with a laugh, shortly af­ter I met him that morn­ing at the Con­tem­po­rary Re­sort’s boat ramp.

Yet, as I’d soon learn, here you’ll find some of the best large­mouth bass fish­ing in Florida.

Aboard one of the Dis­ney fish­ing fleet’s near dozen 21-foot Tracker pon­toon boats, we made the quick trip from nat­u­ral Bay Lake to man-made Seven Seas La­goon. The first spot we wet our lines was across the lake from the park’s iconic Cin­derella’s Cas­tle.

Guests can choose live bait or ar­ti­fi­cial lures. Although I brought my own fly rod, I took Tim’s sug­ges­tion to give live stuff a try. Sec­onds af­ter the wrig­gling fin­ger-long shiner bait­fish on my hook hit the wa­ter, I felt a strike. Af­ter a brief fight, I’d caught and re­leased my first fish, a pretty two-plus-pounder. A half dozen casts— and as many plump fish— later, I teased Tim that Dis­ney must have divers sta­tioned be­neath us, at­tach­ing fish to our hooks. Nah, Tim as­sured me, fish­ing here is the real deal. At­ten­tion to healthy habi­tat, and a catch and-re­lease-only pol­icy, has helped make for “the high­est [large­mouth bass] catch rate of any­where in Florida,” he said.

This be­ing Dis­ney World, Tim said that if a guest does drop, say, a wal­let or cell­phone over­board, park divers can be sent to re­trieve it.

“This re­ally is the per­fect way for fam­i­lies who don’t know about fish­ing or boats to have fun fish­ing,” he said.

By the time we were ready to head to the next fish­ing spot, I’d heard a good chunk of the Dis­ney tunes reper­toire broad­cast from across the lake, in­clud­ing “It’s a Small World” and “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me).” I en­joyed the ef­fect, but Tim con­ceded that some guests pre­fer to fish more re­mote ar­eas. “We can make fish­ing here as Dis­ney as you want it to be,” he said.

At our sec­ond stop, be­side the pink-and-white con­fec­tion that is the Grand Florid­ian Re­sort& Spa, I de­cided to give an ar­ti­fi­cial lure a shot. In this case, Tim’s go-to is a Zoom fluke, sev­eral inches of white plas­tic that when jerked in the wa­ter re­sem­bles a flee­ing fish.

With a sidearm cast, I skipped the lure a few feet be­low fancy seafood restau­rant Nar­coossee’s, which juts out over the wa­ter. I’d only be­gun to try giv­ing it an al­lur­ing twitch when a fat bass pounced on it.

Nar­coossee’s is one of a num­ber of Tim’s fa­vorite fish­ing spots in th­ese lakes, in­clud­ing one far­ther out in the same Seven Seas La­goon. Be­low are the ru­ins of a since-aban­doned wave-mak­ing ma­chine. The sub­merged wreck­age makes for a nifty struc­ture from which hid­ing bass can am­bush prey, Tim said. As if on cue, my first cast here yielded yet an­other feisty fish.

Along with bass, the lakes are home to cat­fish, crap­pie, bluegill, long­nose gar and the oc­ca­sional chain pick­erel. It’s not un­com­mon to wit­ness a bald ea­gle snatch­ing a fish from the wa­ter and car­ry­ing it off in its talons. “That is just so cool to see,” Tim said, beam­ing.

For many guests, a Dis­ney ex­cur­sion is their first time fish­ing. A good num­ber of th­ese new­bies get hooked (as it were) on the pas­time here. In­deed, a woman who’d joined her hus­band and kids on a fish­ing ex­cur­sion months ago de­cided re­luc­tantly to take a cast, her first ever. She caught an eight-pound lunker, among the big­gest bass Tim has seen in the lakes. “She loves fish­ing now,” Tim said.

Guests can — and of­ten do — re­quest any of the dozen-odd guides. Sev­eral vis­i­tors are what you might call hard-core fish­ers. A fa­ther and son who’ve re­turned an­nu­ally for a hand­ful of years al­ways re­serve Tim as “their” guide. On their lat­est visit, they fished ev­ery day for three weeks. “That’s a lot of fish­ing,” Tim said.

Most par­tic­i­pants are dads han­ker­ing to play a lit­tle fish­ing hooky. “While mom and daugh­ter are hav­ing their Bib­bidi-Bob­bidi-Boo fun, dad can go fish,” Tim said, not­ing that he has run across a fair num­ber of more adamant types who say “the only way I’m even go­ing to Dis­ney World is if I can go fish­ing.”

Ab­surd as it sounds, catch­ing bass with con­ven­tional gear that morn­ing be­gan to seem al­most too easy. Which is why I de­cided a lit­tle more than half­way through our two-hour trip to break ou tmy fly rod for what I fig­ured would be more chal­leng­ing an­gling.

Tim aimed our boat to shal­lower wa­ters, where my lure, a float­ing bass pop­per fly, would work best. Mid­dling fly caster though I am, I man­aged to de­liver my fly to about where Tim sug­gested, a shaded spot a foot or so from a small wooden dock pil­ing. When the first tiny rip­ples had set­tled, I gave the line a quick yank, mak­ing the lure lurch with a wa­tery bloop sound. Be­fore I’d yanked again, a bass in­haled it.

If not for my prom­ise to be home for lunch, I prob­a­bly could have kept catch­ing fish at this im­prob­a­ble pace. Headed back to our dock in the mid-morn­ing heat, we passed var­i­ous Dis­ney at­trac­tions, in­clud­ing the Poly­ne­sian Vil­lage Re­sort, whose tiki kitsch vibe I’d loved even as a child.

As if read­ing my mind, Tim told me the ho­tel was among the best places in the park to get an adult drink, a treat most guests are un­aware is al­lowed dur­ing fish­ing ex­cur­sions.

“Next time, if you like, we can dock and you can run in and get a drink and jump back on the boat for more fish­ing,” he said.

As if I needed an­other in­cen­tive to go fish­ing here.

DIS­NEY

DIS­NEY

Fish­ing tours have been of­fered onWalt Dis­ney­World’s nat­u­ral and man-made lakes for decades, but few guests know about them.

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