From FWC “Fish Busters” Bulletin
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) often focuses on big, marquee water bodies, such as the Kissimee Chain of Lakes or Lake Okeechobee, but also works on smaller water bodies with great fishing potential. Many smaller lakes have fisheries that compare favorably with big lakes when it comes to catch rates and quality-size fish. Check out recent results on TrophyCatchFlorida.com for proof.
Small lakes accomodate smaller boats and are less crowded, appealing to many anglers. Below is a description of five relatively small, public lakes from around the state that are worth exploring with rod and reel.
Lake Gibson, in Polk County, is north of Interstate 4 and Lakeland and comprises 480 acres. Gibson has a productive bass fishery, and recent monitoring suggests the bass fishery excels in number and size of bass. FWC’s current angler survey shows anglers are reporting an average catch of one bass per hour, which is more than double the statewide average. Electrofishing surveys on Lake Gibson have collected bass that ranged from a few inches (a sign of successful spawning) up to 9 pounds. Several bass over 8 pounds were tagged last year as part of an FWC study evaluating catch of trophy largemouth bass. A tagged bass (9.5 pounds) was recently caught and released by a local angler. Lake Gibson is home to quality sunfish and catfish populations, offering multispecies fishing opportunities. The lake has a public boat ramp off Socrum Loop Road and Lake Gibson Drive.
Alligator Lake, in Columbia County, is east of U.S. Highway 441 in Lake City and is between 300 and 800 acres depending on water levels. As with many north Florida lakes, it has been plagued by low water during the last decade. However, Tropical Storm Debby refilled it last June. The FWC was quick to take advantage of the lake’s restored water levels by stocking redear sunfish and bluegill in September 2012, and a stocking of largemouth bass is planned for spring 2013. Despite recent droughts, a handful of deep areas held water. These refuges sustained enough fish to renew the fishery, and fish should grow rapidly due to newly available habitat and resulting forage. In August 2012, Bernard Donnell Jr. caught a near state-record, 17-pound, 1-ounce trophy bass from Alligator Lake. If rainfall keeps Alligator Lake full, look for this fishery to re-establish itself as a winner.
Lake Baldwin is an Orange County lake just north of State Road 50 near Orlando Executive Airport and is approximately 225 acres. Orange County is peppered with scores of lakes, some more deserving of your attention than others. Lake Baldwin is one you should try. There, bass anglers have been experiencing some of the highest catch rates in the area. Bass average 2 pounds or less; however, high catch rates are great for developing a fishing interest in younger anglers. FWC staff planted eelgrass recently, and the city built two fishing piers. Although there is bank fishing in Baldwin Park, the best fishing is by boat. A public boat ramp is on the south shore. Boaters with motors greater than 10 horsepower have a “no wake” restriction.
Lake Osborne is in Palm Beach County just west of Interstate 95 and Lake Worth and covers 356 acres. Amid canals and the urban backdrop of south Florida, Lake Osborne provides exceptional freshwater fishing opportunities. Anglers enjoy catching largemouth bass, sunshine bass, black crappie, bluegill, redear sunfish, catfish and Mayan cichlids in this park-like atmosphere. Sunshine bass are hybrids (produced and stocked by FWC hatcheries) of striped bass and white bass and handle warm waters better than their parents. Look for them in open-water portions of the lake or deep, constricted areas such as the 6th Avenue pass. A large stocking of hybrids last year should have the fishery primed this spring. FWC installed nine fish attractors that congregate fish for anglers. John Prince Park provides bank access, a fishing pier and a public boat ramp.
Merritt’s Mill Pond, Jackson County, is east of Marianna and U.S. Highway 90 and covers 202 acres. Merritt’s Mill Pond is spring-filled with crystal clear water and lots of submerged plants. The pond is known for Florida’s state-record (4.86 pounds) redear sunfish, which was caught in 1986. It still produces quality redear, plus bluegill and spotted sunfish. The water clarity that makes Merritt’s Mill Pond a scenic gem makes fish shy, which can present challenges to anglers and biologists. Despite the challenge, biologists routinely collect quality bass, and recent sampling indicates an increasing average weight of bass. With three access points and lots of protection from wind, Merritt’s Mill Pond is a small-craft-friendly lake, and paddlers may have an advantage in catching more and bigger fish.
Let everyone know about your fishing successes, whether they occur on the small or big waters of Florida. Register at TrophyCatchFlorida.com (you’ll be eligible to win a $40,000 Phoenix bass boat and Mercury motor when you do) and report your big catches. Remember to take a camera, scale and tape measure so that if you catch and release a bass over 8 pounds, you can be rewarded and say, “My Trophy Swims in Florida.”