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Catch Confirms Trophy Bass Await Florida Anglers

Here’s a “fish of a lifetime” certainly worthy of mention.

FWC’s Tom Champeau was fishing with Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris (right) and NASCAR champion Tony Stewart (left) when he caught this 11-pound, 8-ounce largemouth bass.

Capt. Mike Tipton was guiding them on the upper St. Johns River near Three Forks Conservation Area when the big fish struck.

“Catching and releasing a trophy bass while fishing with the founder of our major sponsor was an incredible experience,” said Champeau. “The only way I could have scripted it better would be for either Johnny or Tony to catch her.”

Bass Pro Shops is a major partner for Florida’s new TrophyCatch program.

Champeau’s catch will be entered. But as an FWC employee, he is not eligible for any rewards other than a handsome certificate commemorating his catch.

“Catching a bass of a lifetime, with Johnny Morris and a racing legend like Tony Stewart, was the best reward I could ever ask for,” said Champeau.


Check Out Florida's Overlooked Fisheries

Long and lean largemouth sampled at Merritt's Mill Pond. FWC photo.

(The good folks at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission provide the following information about some of the state's smaller and lesser known bass waters --- waters well worth exploring.) 

By Bob Wattendorf, Drew Dutterer and Bill Pouder

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) works hard to maintain our status as the “Fishing Capital of the World” by actively managing fishery resources to foster the best fishing opportunities possible.

For obvious reasons, the FWC focuses a large amount of effort on big, marquee water bodies, such as the Kissimee Chain of Lakes or Lake Okeechobee, that are widely known and heavily utilized by anglers. But, we don’t overlook smaller water bodies that have great fishing potential, and neither should you. In many instances, smaller lakes may have fisheries that parallel or exceed those of big lakes when it comes to catch rates and size structure of fish. Just check out some of the recent results on for proof.

Small lakes offer an alternative experience, accomodate smaller boats and are less crowded. Here, we offer a sampling of five smaller, public lakes around the state (one from each FWC management region) that might be flying a bit under the radar but are well worth exploring with rod and reel.

Lake Gibson – Southwest Region

Location: Polk County (just north of Interstate 4 and Lakeland)

Surface area: 480 acres

Lake Gibson touts a productive bass fishery, which has been hot lately for anglers in the Lakeland area. Recent monitoring suggests the bass fishery excels in terms of both the number and size of bass. This has been evident through FWC’s current angler survey; anglers are reporting an average catch of one bass per hour, which is more than double the statewide average. Electrofishing surveys on Lake Gibson paint a similar picture. Sizes of these bass ranged from a few inches (a welcome sign of successful spawning) up to a respectable 9 pounds. Several bass over 8 pounds were tagged in the last year as part of an FWC study evaluating catch of trophy largemouth bass in Florida. A tagged bass (9.5 pounds) has already been caught and released by a local angler. Lake Gibson is also home to quality sunfish and catfish populations, offering an opportunity for a multispecies approach to fishing on smaller waters. Lake Gibson has a single, public boat ramp off Socrum Loop Road and Lake Gibson Drive.

Alligator Lake – North Central Region

Location: Columbia County (east of U.S. Highway 441 – inside city limits of Lake City)

Surface area: 300-800 acres

Fans of Alligator Lake have not had much to be excited about in recent years. As with many lakes in Florida’s North Central region, it has been plagued by low water issues during the last decade. However, now anglers have good reason to be optimistic, as 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 this spring. Despite persistent low water conditions, there were a handful of deep areas that held water throughout the drought. These holes likely sustained enough fish to renew the fishery, as fish will grow rapidly due to newly available habitat and resulting forage. In August 2012, Bernard Donnell Jr. provided compelling evidence that at least one bass not only survived but flourished: He caught a 17-pound, 1-ounce trophy bass from Alligator Lake. If rainfall keeps Alligator Lake full, look for this fishery to quickly re-establish itself as a winner.

Lake Baldwin – Northeast Region

Location: Orange County (just north of State Road 50 and the Orlando Executive Airport)

Surface area: 225 acres

Among the hubbub of sprawling Orlando, you’ll find that Orange County is peppered with scores of lakes. Some are more deserving of your attention than others, and Lake Baldwin is one you should try. There, bass anglers have been experiencing some of the highest catch rates in the area. Bass are averaging 2 pounds or less; however, high catch rates are great for developing an interest in bass fishing for younger anglers. FWC staff have planted eelgrass recently, and the city built two fishing piers. There is also bank fishing in Baldwin Park, but the best fishing is done by a boat. A public boat ramp is on the south shore, and boaters with motors greater than 10 horsepower have to abide by a “no wake” restriction.

Lake Osborne – South Region

Location: Palm Beach County (just west of Interstate 95 and Lake Worth)

Surface area: 356 acres

Amid canals and the urban backdrop of south Florida, Lake Osborne provides exceptional opportunities for freshwater fishing. Here, anglers can target a myriad of species (largemouth bass, sunshine bass, black crappie, bluegill, redear sunfish, catfish, and Mayan cichlids). Lake Osborne’s sunshine bass fishery is a favorite among locals and is a blast when the bite is on. Sunshine bass are hybrids (produced and stocked by FWC hatcheries) of striped bass and white bass and handle the warmer waters of Florida much better than their parents. Look for them in open-water portions of the lake or deep, constricted areas such as the 6th Avenue pass that can funnel migrating fish. A large stocking of hybrids last spring should have this fishery primed this spring. FWC installed nine fish attractors throughout the lake, which congregate other species. John Prince Park provides bank access, a fishing pier and a public boat ramp.

Merritt’s Mill Pond – Northwest Region

Location: Jackson County (east of Marianna and U.S. Highway 90)

Surface area: 202 acres

Merritt’s Mill Pond is a spring-filled impoundment characterized by crystal clear water and lots of submerged plants.  The pond is known for having produced Florida’s state record (4.86 pounds) redear sunfish in 1986. The redear fishery has subsided somewhat but still produces quality redear, plus bluegill and spotted sunfish. The water clarity that makes Merritt’s Mill Pond a scenic gem makes sport fish exceptionally shy, which can present challenges to anglers and biologists. Despite the challenge, biologists routinely collect quality bass, and sampling over recent years 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.



Politics Keeps Us Off the Water

What the heck is this?

It's a red snapper caught by the people who operate Apex Fishing Charters in Louisiana.

That thing behind the lady with the fish? An oil rig.

The feds --- the thoughtful nameless men and women who are protecting these beautiful fish by keeping us off the water 99 percent  of the year --- are also blowing up three of them a week. And killing 30,000 pounds of snapper every week.

Read The Politics of Red Snapper at The Online Fisherman to learn more.


Anti-Angling Bias in D.C. Remains a Threat

As they quietly go about their business behind closed doors in Washington, D.C., politicians and bureaucrats within the Obama Administration pose a significant threat to the future of fishing. It’s not easy to keep up with what they’re doing, but fortunately the Activist Angler has a trusted source for information about the anti-fishing movement.  

He has just provided me with a disturbing reminder that those who want to tell us where we can and cannot fish in public waters remain colossally ignorant and/or colossally disdainful of recreational angling.

They remain so despite attempts at educating them about the importance and value of recreational fishing by the American Sportfishing Association, Center for Coastal ConservationCongressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, and other organizations.

What’s the latest evidence?

It resides within the National Marine Protected Areas Center website maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which has been pushing a preservationist, anti-fishing agenda for four years. Much of that agenda focuses on zoning uses of our oceans and the waters that connect to them, courtesy of a National Ocean Policy created by Executive Order.

In categorizing those uses, anonymous bureaucrats have come up with four general categories: Recreation & Culture; Fishing, Hunting & Gathering; Energy; and Other Maritime Activities.

Now, “recreational fishing” is called that for a reason. It’s a form of recreation, with minimal harvest and minimal impact on fisheries stocks. Additionally, nearly 60 million Americans call themselves anglers, and they spend hundreds of millions dollars annually pursuing their pastime, with much of that money benefiting fisheries conservation.

Fisheries advocates have been hammering this message to the administration since President Obama took office. But blindly following their preservationist ideology, the bureaucrats pay lip service to the distinction and then go on about their business of ignoring it.

In other words, recreational angling is not listed in the Recreation & Culture category. Instead, it is paired with commercial fishing in the Fishing, Hunting & Gathering category.

“Only NOAA could lump fishing with a rod and reel into the same category as dredging and trawling – and to think we pay for this!” says my source.

And we’re going to pay additionally for it with reduced access unless we unite in advocacy through Keep America Fishing and other groups and unless we make sure that our members of Congress are educated and stepping up to protect our rights.


Fishiding Improves Fisheries Reclaimed Materials

Fishiding photo by Engbretson Underwater Photography

Much of the best artificial fisheries habitat comes from Fishiding, one of the sponsors of this website. It’s doing great things to improve fishing using materials that otherwise would end up in a landfill.

That’s why engineers have recommended its products for a restoration effort at California’s Lake Machado near Los Angeles. Reasons include the following:

“The inert, reclaimed PVC limbs will last for decades or more underwater. The PVC material attracts bio-film and peripyton growth excessively, superior to other products. The ability to bend to shape and drop in the water landing upright, is another key feature.

One of Fishiding’s latest innovations is the bait-ball artificial habitat feeder, created using Floating Island International Technology. It converts nutrients into fish food by providing surface area for the food to grow naturally.

According to Fishiding, “Units can be installed by hanging from piers, docks, rafts, etc., suspended off lake bottom at any desired depth or free-floating within entire water body from surface to any depth.”

If you own private waters in need of habitat or if you’re involved with a habitat project on public waters, you should check out the options that this innovative company offers.