Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists, list of 10 favorite bass-fishing lakes for 2003.

Absent from this year's list is Lake Kissimmee, a longtime favorite that has lost many of its large bass. The lake has begun to show signs of recovery, with a healthy population of 13- to 14-inch bass, said Marty Mann, a biologist with the FWC's Kissimmee office.

Lake Kissimmee is the best in the Kissimmee chain for speckled perch (black crappie), bluegill and shellcracker (redear sunfish), Mann said.

New on the best-bass lakes list this year is Crescent Lake near the St. Johns River northwest of Daytona Beach. FWC biologists using electric stunning methods for sampling fish there turned up "good numbers" of 8-plus-pound bass. Fall and early winter tend to produce the best bass fishing at Crescent Lake.

Other top 10 bass lakes designated by the FWC are:

Rodman Reservoir, east of Gainesville and south of Palatka. The state's largest bass of 2000 - 15 pounds, 17 ounces - came from the reservoir. Most big bass are caught in the "stump fields" along the river channel. Limited-consumption mercury warnings apply for women of childbearing age and children under 10.

Lake George, east of Ocala and northwest of Deland. One of the many natural lakes along the St. Johns River, Lake George is the second-largest lake in the state, behind Lake Okeechobee, and is a favorite for those who enjoy wade fishing with plastic worms or top-water lures. Limited-consumption mercury warnings apply for women of childbearing age and children under 10.

Lake Tarpon, north of Tampa near Tarpon Springs. Lake Tarpon anglers often catch 20-plus bass, most of them 12 to 16 inches but some up to 10 pounds. Flipping and pitching along bulrush edges and canal banks can be productive, as can fishing humps and eelgrass beds offshore. Limited-consumption mercury warnings apply.

Lake Tohopekaliga, also known as Lake Toho, just south of the town of Kissimmee. This lake has produced a documented 17.1-pound bass. And this is the lake that produced Dean Rojas' record-setting string of five bass that weighed 45 pounds, 2 ounces in January 2001. Plans to drawn down Toho for shoreline restoration have been postponed until the fall. Limited-consumption mercury warnings apply.

Stick Marsh/Farm 13, near Fellsmere west of Vero Beach. The re-flooded farm fields have become a hot bass-fishing spot, and FWC sampling in 2002 confirms "good reproduction and growth" of bass. Anglers find fish near stumps, submerged canals and hydrilla domes. All bass must be released.

Lake Walk-in-water, off State Road 60 east of Lake Wales. Anglers frequently catch 25 bass, with several in the 4- to 8-pound range, by drifting live shiners over hydrilla domes on the northern half of the lake. A three-bass limit and 15- to 24-inch slot limit apply, as do limited-consumption mercury warnings.

Lake Istokpoga, between U.S. 27 and U.S. 98 south of Sebring and east of Lake Placid. This lake is known for large bass, with regular catches of 8-pounders and some between 10 and 13 pounds, the FWC said. Live shiners and pitching soft plastics in bulrush patches around the lake's two islands can be productive. A 15- to 24-inch slot limit and three-bass bag limit apply, as do limited-consumption mercury warnings.

At 730 square miles, Lake Okeechobee is the state's largest lake and borders western Palm Beach and Martin counties. (If you can't find Okeechobee, you don't belong on a lake.) A 2001 drought helped marsh grasses regenerate on the big lake. Anglers find fish on bulrush at Eagle Bay Island, Kings Bar and Little Grassy Island on the north end and in eelgrass near South Bay on the south end. Plastic worms and spinnerbaits usually are productive. All bass 13 to 18 inches must be released. A limited-consumption mercury warning applies for women of child-bearing age and children under 10.

Everglades Water Conservation Areas 2 and 3, off U.S. 27 in western Broward and Dade counties. The best bass fishing tends to be in the spring, when falling water levels force bass to move from shallow marshes into canals. The L-67A and L-35B, accessible from Everglades Holiday Park and the Sawgrass Recreation Area off U.S. 27, are two popular fishing canals. Because of mercury, no Everglades bass longer than 14 inches should be eaten. Limited consumption is advised for the smaller bass.

 

The FWC also lists its top 10 lakes for speckled perch (black crappie), bream and catfish. Go online to www.floridaconservation.org and click on freshwater fishing. A free brochure on Florida freshwater fishing destinations and tips can be found on the Web site or obtained by calling the FWC at (850) 488-4676.