By Amber Nabors
Lake Trafford in Collier County recently received national recognition for its resurging bass fishery, made possible by ongoing restoration projects. Highlighted in the July/August issue of Bassmaster magazine, 1,500-acre Lake Trafford has overcome a history ridden with devastating fish kills and unhealthy habitat to boast quality populations of black crappie (speckled perch) and largemouth bass, all thanks to a partnership between the determined citizens of Collier County, the South Florida Water Management District, Big Cypress Basin and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
“Lake Trafford is an important resource for boating, fishing and wildlife viewing,” said Barron Moody, regional administrator for the FWC’s Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management. “One of the FWC’s primary goals in the restoration of Lake Trafford was to create healthy habitat for Florida’s fish and wildlife resources, which in turn has generated more recreational opportunities for anglers and outdoor enthusiasts.”
Historically, Lake Trafford suffered from excessive algal blooms and frequent fish kills. These detrimental algal blooms were fueled by a thick layer of muck created from a buildup of detritus, or dead plant material, at the bottom of the lake. The SFWMD and the FWC provided $15 million to dredge millions of yards of muck from the lake, which allowed beneficial plants to expand, improving habitat for fish and wildlife.
Following dredging, the FWC stocked the lake with more than 500,000 largemouth bass fingerlings produced at the Florida Bass Conservation Center at the Richloam Hatchery, and planted approximately 75,000 bulrush plants to provide healthy habitat for the fingerlings. Future plans for supporting the long-term health of Lake Trafford include reestablishing native submerged aquatic vegetation, controlling nutrient runoff, managing the growth of exotic vegetation and monitoring the continued recovery of the lake’s fish and wildlife populations.
Bassmaster magazine is published by the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, the nation’s largest bass fishing organization, and annually lists its top “100 Best Bass Lakes” in the United States. Bassmaster staff review data provided by fish and wildlife agencies, results from bass tournaments, opinions from professional anglers and other data to determine their ranking.
Florida had the second most lakes on the“100 Best Bass Lakes” list with Lake Okeechobee, Lake Tohopekaliga, Rodman Reservoir, St. Johns River, Lake Istokpoga, Lake Rousseau and north Florida’s Lake Seminole. For the second year, Bassmaster staff also used the FWC’s TrophyCatch database for their evaluation. TrophyCatch is a partnership between biologists, anglers and fishing industry giants such as Bass Pro Shops used to document the catch-and-release of bass weighing 8 pounds or more in Florida. In order to be eligible for prizes, anglers are required to submit photos of their catch, showing its weight on a scale, before releasing the fish back into the water. The FWC’s biologists use TrophyCatch data for bass research, better management of Florida bass fisheries and to promote the catch-and-release of trophy bass.
During the Bassmaster’s top “100 Best Bass Lakes” selection process, Lake Trafford received significant consideration and Bassmaster staff were impressed when they learned the story of the lake’s rebirth and how it gained its reputation as an excellent bass fishery. While not included in the top 100 list, Bassmaster published an editorial that praised citizen-driven restoration efforts and crowned Trafford as the “101st best bass lake.”
“I am so very proud that Bassmaster highlighted the dedicated efforts of our local citizens to raise support for Lake Trafford,” said Liesa Priddy, Collier County resident and FWC Commissioner. “The grassroots effort made by Collier County community members is what brought us to this pivotal moment for the health of Lake Trafford and the creation of this vibrant fishery.”
Priddy credits concerned and motivated citizens like Ski Olesky, owner of Lake Trafford Marina. “The movement to build support for Trafford restoration would not have happened if not for Ski and his late wife Annie,” said Priddy.
Today, Olesky runs airboat tours on the lake, educating visitors about the lake’s abundant fish and wildlife species with a powerful message that conservation is everyone’s responsibility and that ordinary citizens can make a huge impact.
“Fishing at Lake Trafford is great—and improving every year,” said Olesky. “I’m looking forward to the lake being back to one of the very best bass fishing spots in the state, thanks to the good work done by the FWC, SFWMD and Collier County residents. This lake’s success has truly been a partnership effort.”