Florida’s top 10 bass lakes for 2003



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FLORIDA’S TOP 10 BASS LAKES FOR 2003

Anglers consider largemouth bass the most popular sportfish in North America. The Florida Legislature designated the Florida largemouth bass, a unique subspecies that grows larger and is reputed to be a greater angling challenge than its close cousin the northern largemouth bass, as the official state freshwater fish of Florida.

Florida is proclaimed to be the “Fishing Capital of the World,” in part because of the great diversity of sport fishes and habitats found here, the numerous documented world records and their economic importance. One quick fact: the total economic impact of sportfishing in Florida ranked number one in 2001 and was $7.5 billion, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The second highest economic impact was in California with only $4.5 billion. Freshwater anglers spent 12.2 million days fishing for bass in Florida during 2001, and each angler averaged fishing for bass more than nine days.

With largemouth bass found in almost every freshwater body in Florida and with more than 7,500 lakes available, anglers may face a tough decision about where to fish. The following list of Top 10 Bass Lakes aims to help anglers find a quality place to catch trophy bass. For more information on Florida’s freshwater fishing opportunities, fishing forecasts, tips and regulations visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC’s) Division of Freshwater Fisheries Web site at www.floridaconservation.org/fishing/forecast/index.html.

FWC fisheries biologists have selected these Florida lakes (in no specific order) as top bass fishing destinations for 2003.

LAKE GEORGE

Lake George is one of the premier bass fishing lakes in central Florida. It is the second largest lake in the state (46,000 acres) and is 18 miles northwest of DeLand and 29 miles east of Ocala.

Lake George is one of the many natural lakes on the St. Johns River. It has extensive vegetation that provides excellent habitat for bass. Wade fishing in eelgrass, with plastic worms fished on the surface, and other topwater artificial lures is productive. Fishing with shiners is an excellent method for catching trophy bass during the spring spawning season.

Hot spots on the lake include Juniper, Salt and Silver Glen spring runs on the eastern shoreline. In winter and early spring, look for bass to congregate at the jetties on the south end of the lake. Additionally, casting deep-diving crankbaits is productive near old dock structures along the northeast shore and off Drayton Island.

There are many fish camps and landings on the lake and the St. Johns River. There is one public boat ramp with limited parking on the south end of the lake off Blue Creek Lodge Road. A fishing pier is on the east side at the end of Nine Mile Point Road.

Due to low mercury levels in this lake, the Florida Department of Health recommends following the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s general guidelines for fish consumption (see below).



STICK MARSH/FARM 13 RESERVOIR

The Stick Marsh/Farm 13 Reservoir, created in 1987, is synonymous with trophy bass fishing. This 6,500-acre reservoir near Fellsmere, west of Vero Beach, became one of the hottest bass lakes in the country during the past decade. FWC biologists predict a continuation of excellent bass fishing in coming years. Electro-fishing samples, during 2001 and 2002, indicated good reproduction and growth of bass in the reservoir. The winter/spring 2001 angler survey indicated the highest total angler effort on record for largemouth bass since 1994. Anglers caught 65,943 largemouths, of which 88 percent were reportedly greater than 14 inches in total length. An estimated 451 trophy bass (over 8 pounds) were caught and released during the four-month angler survey.

Anglers can locate bass throughout the reservoir among a variety of habitats including woody stump fields, submerged canals and hydrilla. Plastic worms, spinner baits, crank baits, soft-jerked baits and topwater propeller baits are effective. Wild golden shiners are the top choice for anglers looking to catch a trophy fish.

The regulation for largemouth bass is catch and release. There is a two-lane boat ramp, paved parking lot, picnic pavilions and rest rooms. No gasoline, food, ice or other supplies or facilities are available on the site. This area is part of the St. Johns Blue Cypress Management Unit.



WEST LAKE TOHOPEKALIGA

Bordering the city of Kissimmee to the south, the 18,810-acre West Lake Tohopekaliga has long been a popular bass fishing lake for both recreational and tournament anglers. In recent years, both Bass Anglers Sportsmen Society (B.A.S.S.) and Forrest L. Wood (FLW) bass tournaments have taken place out of the Kissimmee lakefront park. Winning weights are routinely in the 18- to 25-pound range. To date, the largest bass documented from the lake weighed 17.10 pounds.

Flipping plastic worms, crayfish and lizards in shoreline vegetation is a common technique among successful anglers. Casting Carolina- or Texas-rigged plastic worms, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits or top-water propeller baits in these areas are also popular methods. Anglers fishing live golden shiners account for some of the larger bass caught from the lake.

Due to elevated levels of mercury in this lake, consumption of largemouth bass should be limited. Women of childbearing age and children under age 10 should not eat more than 8 ounces of bass over a four-week period. All others should limit consumption of bass from this lake to no more than 8 ounces a week.

For more information about the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, visit www.floridakiss.com.

RODMAN RESERVOIR

Rodman Reservoir, east of Gainesville and south of Palatka, covers 9,500 acres of prime largemouth bass habitat. Since its creation in 1968, Rodman Reservoir has been known for trophy largemouth bass. The state’s largest bass of 2000, 15 pounds and 17 pounds, came from the reservoir during March. Much of the largemouth bass fishery’s success is due to abundant habitat in the form of stumps and aquatic vegetation and periodic drawdowns. Strong year classes of largemouth bass are produced following drawdowns, which allow a higher percentage of fish to reach trophy sizes.

Largemouth bass are most active during the cooler months. Anglers targeting trophy largemouth bass use golden shiners, either floated under a cork or free-lined. Most big bass are caught in the pool area, known as the “stump fields,” along the river channel. However, many trophy bass come from the area between Cypress Bayou and Kenwood Landing, including Orange Springs. Successful anglers use artificial baits, such as deep-diving and lipless crank baits, spinner baits and soft plastics.

Access to Rodman is available at several locations. Among the most popular are Eureka east and west off C.R. 316, Rodman Recreational Area west of S.R.19 and Orange Springs Recreational Area, Cypress Bayou (Paynes Landing) and Kenwood Landing off S.R.315.

Due to low mercury levels in this lake, the Florida Department of Health recommends following the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s general guidelines for fish consumption (see below).

LAKE TARPON

Lake Tarpon is a 2,500-acre lake near Tampa/St. Petersburg in Pinellas County. This lake has consistently produced high-quality bass for years. Most fish range from 12 to 16 inches long, however, quality and trophy fish are also present in good numbers. Biologists have observed anglers catching upwards of 20 fish, with an occasional 10-pounder.

Anglers are most successful flipping or pitching plastic worms along canal and bulrush edges. Offshore bass fishing is productive for anglers who fish around ledges, humps, coontail and eelgrass beds. Popular lures offshore include shad-imitating jigs, crankbaits, jerkbaits and topwater baits. Fishing wild shiners and live shad is also effective.

There are two public boat ramps within county parks. Anderson Park boat ramp is on the west shore, off U.S. 19. Chestnut Park boat ramp is on the east side of the lake, off C.R. 611. Some bank access is available in both parks. Boardwalks and piers serve as excellent fishing locations.

Due to elevated levels of mercury in this lake, consumption of largemouth bass should be limited. Women of childbearing age and children under age 10 should not eat more than 8 ounces of bass over a four-week period. All others should limit consumption of bass from this lake to no more than 8 ounces a week.

LAKE WEOHYAKAPKA

Lake Weohyakapka, commonly known as Lake Walk-in-Water, is a 7,532-acre lake, off S.R. 60 south of Orlando, east of Lake Wales. The lake has a national reputation as an outstanding spot to catch largemouth bass. Anglers frequently catch up to 25 bass a day with several ranging from 4 to 8 pounds. Weohyakapka also produces many trophy bass exceeding 10 pounds each year. Last year, Walk-in-Water anglers entered 130 bass with a qualifying weight of 8 pounds in the FWC’s Big Catch Program. A 15- to 24-inch slot limit regulation with a three-bass daily bag limit is in place to help maintain quality bass fishing. Anglers may keep three bass per day, either under or over the protected slot range, of which only one bass greater than or equal to 24 inches is allowed.

The best technique to catch trophy bass is to drift live wild shiners over hydrilla beds in the northern half of the lake. Hydrilla can pop up anywhere in the lake, so time spent looking for smaller, lesser-known pockets may be rewarding. Jerkbaits, lipless rattling crankbaits and plastic worms also produce bass in the offshore hydrilla. Topwater lures are productive, particularly chuggers or walk-the-dog type baits. Although topwater baits catch fish throughout the year, summer months offer the best action, when schools of bass roam deep-water areas. Flipping soft plastic baits in the bulrush and behind cattails in the northern and eastern areas of the lake also works well January through March. This technique is effective for smaller bass, but larger female bass spend the majority of the year in offshore hydrilla.

A public ramp is on Boat Landing Road, which runs east off of Walk-in-the-Water Road. There is little access for bank fishing.

Due to elevated levels of mercury in this lake, consumption of largemouth bass should be limited. Women of childbearing age and children under age 10 should not eat more than 8 ounces of bass over a four-week period. All others should limit consumption of bass from this lake to no more than 8 ounces a week.

LAKE ISTOKPOGA

Bass anglers who fish the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes to the north and Lake Okeechobee to the south often overlook 28,000-acre Lake Istokpoga. Situated in Highlands County between U.S. 27 and U.S. 98 south of Sebring, Istokpoga is the fifth-largest natural lake in Florida. Anglers frequently catch bass up to 8 pounds, with some between 10 and 13 pounds. An angler caught a 16-pound bass in March 1998.

Bass fishing is excellent throughout the year. From January through April, bass spawn in bulrush and other vegetation along shallow-water areas enhanced during the 2001 drawdown and around the lake’s two islands (Big Island and Bumblebee Island). Flipping soft plastics in bulrush patches and in pockets of submerged vegetation can be productive during the winter. In spring and summer, topwater lures and jerkbaits worked over the top of hydrilla and pondweed in the south half of the lake are often successful. Weedless spoons tipped with grub tails and spinnerbaits fished over pondweed south of Bumblebee Island are deadly on bass during early morning. Rattling lures (silver, gold, and “Tennessee Shad” are excellent colors) also can be effective during summer and fall as baitfish school in open water areas along the north end of the lake. A live shiner fished a few feet under a popping cork is the most reliable bait for catching trophy bass.

Lake Istokpoga has a 15- to 24-inch slot limit for bass with a three-fish daily bag limit, of which only one bass may be 24 inches or longer. All residents between 16 and 64 years of age and all non-residents are required to have a fishing license.

Due to elevated levels of mercury in this lake consumption of largemouth bass should be limited. Women of childbearing age and children under age 10 should not eat more than 8 ounces of bass over a four-week period. All others should limit consumption of bass from this lake to no more than 8 ounces a week.

EVERGLADES WATER CONSERVATION AREAS 2 AND 3

Everglades Water Conservation Areas are marshlands bordered by canals. Area 2 consists of 210 square miles of Everglades marsh connected with perimeter canals, and Area 3 covers 730 square miles of wetlands bordered by a canal system. Originally designed for flood control and water supply, the area provides some of the best bass fishing in the country.

The best fishing usually occurs in the spring when dropping water levels concentrate fish in the canals. April is the peak month with angler catch rates as high a 4.1 bass per hour in the L-67A Canal.

Most anglers fish in the canals. Anglers work edges with plastic worms and minnow imitations. Flipping into the vegetation is also a popular technique. During high water, anglers often will enter the marsh areas where bass can be found in the open slough areas. The L-67A Canal has trails off of it specifically cut to provide boat-access to marsh areas.

The L-67A and L-35B are two popular canals in the area for fishing. The L-67A Canal has access at the north end at Holiday Park, off U.S. 27, where camping and boat rentals are available.

At the south end, it is accessible at the S-333 water control structure off Tamiami Trail (S.R. 41). The L-35B Canal access is at Sawgrass Recreation Area, off of U.S. 27 and has boat rentals. Boat ramps are available at all three sites.

Mercury health advisories follow current length limits established for largemouth bass caught in the water conservation areas with recommendations made based on bass length. For largemouth bass less than 14 inches, women of childbearing age and children under age 10 should not eat more than 8 ounces of bass over a four-week period. Others should limit consumption of bass from these areas to no more than 8 ounces a week. No one should consume largemouth bass greater than 14 inches in length.

LAKE OKEECHOBEE

Lake Okeechobee is consistently one of Florida’s top producing bass lakes and is one of the best lakes in the country for bass fishing. Situated in south central Florida, the “Big O” covers 730 square miles and is easily accessible from Florida’s east and west coasts. FWC biologists are expecting a tremendous year class for this lake this year. Due to the water level fluctuations, this lake is also experiencing positive changes in vegetation.

Anglers are routinely catching big bass weighing 10 to 12 pounds. The lake record is 15 pounds, 5 ounces. Lake Okeechobee is currently averaging 500 tournaments a year. Anglers do well fishing in bulrush near Eagle Bay Island, Little Grassy Island and King’s Bar at the north end of the lake. At the south end, anglers are effective fishing in eelgrass in the South Bay area. The largest bass are caught using live golden shiners and casting into, or along edges of, vegetation. Plastic worms and spinner baits are often productive. Casting lures near vegetation often produces the largest numbers of bass.

Lake Okeechobee has a 13- to 18-inch slot limit on bass, meaning all bass between 13 and 18 inches must be released unharmed. The statewide creel limit of five black bass with only one longer than 22 inches total length applies.

Sixteen boat ramps and numerous fish camps surround the lake. For more information contact the Clewiston Chamber of Commerce at (941) 983-7979 or the Okeechobee Chamber of Commerce at (941) 763-6464.

Due to low mercury levels in this lake, the Florida Department of Health recommends following the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s general guidelines for fish consumption (see below).



CRESCENT LAKE

This 15,725-acre lake borders the east side of Crescent City on the Putnam/Flagler county line. Crescent Lake flows into the St. Johns River via Dunns Creek on its north end. Past electro-fishing samples for largemouth bass revealed one of the highest catch-per-unit-efforts recorded for areas on the St. Johns River. Largemouth bass up to 20 inches long were well represented in the sample, and good numbers of larger fish (over 8 pounds) were collected.

Fall/early winter fishing tends to be best near deep-water structures such as dock pilings. Good artificial baits include plastic worms, spinner baits and crank baits. Live golden shiners are always a popular bait.

Several fish camps provide access to the lake on the western and southern shorelines. A public boat ramp is near downtown Crescent City, one block east of U.S. 17, and another is on the northeast shore off S.R. 20/100. Bank access is limited to these facilities.

Due to elevated levels of mercury in this lake, consumption of largemouth bass should be limited. Women of childbearing age and children under age 10 should not eat more than 8 ounces of bass over a four-week period. All others should limit consumption of bass from this lake to no more than 8 ounces a week.

Where low mercury levels have been reported, general EPA guidelines recommend a woman who is pregnant or may become pregnant, or a nursing mother should eat not more than 8 ounces of bass in a week’s time. Children under age 10 should eat no more than 3 ounces of bass in a week’s time. All others are not advised to limit consumption of largemouth bass. Consumption recommendations should not deter anglers from enjoying recreational fishing, and many bass fishing enthusiasts voluntarily pursue the practice of catch-and-release to help conserve the resource.



SPECIAL NOTE: Students across the nation are learning about their state fishes (the Florida largemouth bass is Florida’s freshwater state fish) and displaying their artistic talent in the 2003 Wildlife Forever State-Fish Art Contest. The State-Fish Art Web site, www.statefishart.com, provides a downloadable entry form, or students can call the toll-free number, 1-877-FISH-ART, to request an entry form through the mail. The deadline for submissions is March 31. With the Wildlife Forever State-Fish Art Contest, young artists nationwide create an illustration of their state fish and a written composition on its behavior, habitats or efforts to conserve it. Entries are grouped by grade level: 4-6, 7-9, and 10-12. The winning artwork from each state is featured at the Wildlife Forever State-Fish Art Expo and displayed online for one year at www.statefishart.com and at www.FloridaFisheries.com/kids/Funstuff.html where you can find other educational games and information about freshwater fishing as well.

NOTE: For more information about these lakes, contact the following FWC biologists:

  • Lake George and Crescent Lake – Joe Jenkins (386) 985-7880

  • Lakes Weohyakapka and Tarpon – Tim Coughlin (863) 648-3202

  • Farm 13/Stick Marsh Reservoir – Bob Eisenhauer (407) 752-3115

  • Rodman Reservoir – Eric Nagid (352) 392-9617

  • Lake Istokpoga – Beacham Furse (863) 462-5190

  • West Lake Tohopekaliga – Marty Mann (407) 846-5300

  • Everglades Water Conservation Areas 2 and 3 – Jon Fury (561) 625-5122

  • Lake Okeechobee – Dan McCall (863) 462-5190


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