Florida’s Crystal River has been one of my favorite places to fish since I first visited there in the mid 1990s.
No, it’s not place to catch trophy bass.
I like it for the variety of fish that it offers, as well as its natural beauty and wildlife, including manatees, dolphins, and a multitude of bird species.
The most interesting thing for me is how the fishery has evolved since I first went there. In the 1990s, the aquatic vegetation was abundant, especially in the canals, and so were the bass. Additionally, sea trout and jacks were common, with redfish a little less so. Snook were rare visitors, as were tarpon.
Today, that grass is all but gone, gobbled up by the manatees, who keep it browsed down almost to the roots. And without the vegetation to soak up nutrients from runoff, algae blooms through much of the system and visibility is greatly reduced. Additionally, as winters have moderated, huge numbers of snook have moved in, competing with bass for both forage and habitat. As a consequence, largemouths aren’t nearly as numerous.
Still, it’s one of my favorite places.
I fished there yesterday with long-time friends Dave Burkhardt, and Matt Beck, photo editor and outdoor writer for the Citrus County Chronicle. Matt probably knows the fishery as well as anyone, and we had a great day on the water with him. (Matt tells me that he is going to include my new book, Why We Fish, in his two-part, gift ideas column.)
We caught bass, snook, redfish, jacks, and ladyfish. Sadly, the bite was slow and quality fish had lockjaw. The only real angling excitement occurred when Matt lost a nice snook near a dock. (I won't embarrass him by posting the photo of the small snook that he did catch.)
But the fish were there; we saw them moving. They simply weren’t inclined to bite. We also saw manatees, dolphins, eagles and another recent arrival, the wood stork, as well as some beautiful shoreline vistas.
By the way, Audubon Florida is concerned about those birds and fish having enough to eat. Check out this article about the need to protect baitfish.