More than 102,000 genetically pure Florida Bass now call Orange Lake home after the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management completed their scheduled released of young of the year bass into the now full lake. Orange Lake, located about 20 miles southeast of Gainesville, is a 12,550 –acre Fish Management Area and historically home for serious largemouth bass fishing. However regional drought conditions left lake water levels declining in recent years which severely depressed fish populations in the lake. Especially hard hit were native largemouth bass populations. Lake water levels declined to approximately 1/10 of its normal level due to drought conditions.
In 2013 when water levels in the lake began to increase, Allen Martin, FWC regional freshwater fish biologist determined that Orange Lake bass fishery would need some help. “Since existing populations are so low right now, the fingerlings should help jump start the recovery, Martin said.” To produce the bass that were stocked, Martin first had to submit a stocking request to the Florida Bass Conservation Center (FBCC), the state’s newly renovated fish hatchery located in Sumter County. This bass stocking is somewhat unique, in that the bass that were stocked in Orange Lake this March were actually spawned out-of-season way back in October 2013. Thanks to some pioneering work with largemouth bass spawning, biologists at the FBCC have perfected a spawning technique which allows adult broodfish to be spawned in the fall, and the offspring reared through the winter months, yielding a 4” or larger bass sub-adult in the early spring. The potential advantage to stocking these larger sized fish in the early spring means bass are totally piscivorous at this size, foraging on minnows rather than feeding on insects, which smaller bass typically eat.
To accomplish the release of bass required a concerted effort of several FWC offices. The bass were transported from the FBCC hatchery in large aerated water tanks, holding approximately 12,000 bass in each tank. Arriving at the boat ramp at Cross Creek, each tank of bass had to be tempered to acclimate the fish to the lakes water chemistry and temperature. Once tempering was completed, fish from the hatchery were then loaded to tanks on FWC boats. They were then shuttled out to different areas of the lake by staff from the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and the Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management and released. Weight of all the bass released in Orange Lake totaled 2,495 pounds, requiring 4-consecutive days to complete.