Ochlockonee River / Lake Talquin
(Leon, Gadsden and Liberty counties)
A hot spot destination for Striped Bass, especially below the dam, as well as, a numbers destination for Channel Catfish and Top Spot for Black Crappie fishing. The Ochlockonee River is a Top Spot destination for striped bass anglers! The Ochlockonee River is impounded to form Lake Talquin reservoir located between Gadsden and Leon counties Florida approximately 10 miles west of Tallahassee. Lake Talquin is bordered by State Road 20 on the east side and State Road 267 on the west and offers numerous access points. Both the river and the lake offer anglers multiple fishing choices. Lake Talquin is known for producing trophy Largemouth Bass but is also a Top Spot destination for Black Crappie anglers and Striped Bass anglers. Attention Striped Bass Anglers: There is an FWC Striped Bass tagging study currently on-going in the Ochlockonee River. If you catch a Striped Bass, please call the telephone number on the tag to claim your prize. Please do not pull the tag out of the fish. Cut the tag off the fish as close to the fish’s body as possible.
NORTH CENTRAL REGION
At nearly 13,000 acres, Orange Lake is the largest public lake in the North Central Region. This shallow lake is designated as a fish management area (FMA) and is located roughly 20 miles southeast of Gainesville. Public boat ramps at Heagy-Burry Park and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Park provide easy access. Heagy-Burry also has a fishing pier. The large open water area is surrounded by shallow, heavily vegetated areas and extensive marsh. Diverse habitat is abundant and this fishery is presently thriving. Periodic drought and subsequent refilling at Orange Lake can ultimately result in tremendous growth in both numbers and size of fish in the lake. This is what we’ve been seeing the last couple years. For example, one bass collected in March of 2017 weighed 9.5 pounds and when recaptured 8 months later weighed a whopping 13 pounds! Of the many eligible bass submitted to FWC’s TrophyCatch program in 2020, 4 qualified as Hall of Fame (>13lbs) fish. In 2019, the largest TrophyCatch bass of Season 7 and the second largest TrophyCatch bass ever (15 lbs 13 oz) came from Orange Lake. If stable water levels persist on the lake, the habitat and fishing should be even better this year. Bass anglers on Orange typically do well flipping soft plastics in and around emergent pads and floating vegetation mats, especially during the springtime spawn. Anglers should also target submerged vegetation such as coontail and hydrilla beds with spinnerbaits, lipless crankbaits, soft plastics, and topwater lures.
Anglers are catching good numbers of really nice black crappie (“speckled perch”) measuring between 10 and 14 inches, with some fish even larger. Most of the anglers are fishing in the northern and southern ends of the lake with a lot of folks using minnows and grass shrimp as bait. Biologists captured on average 1 quality-sized bluegill every minute and it’s not unusual to find a near dinner-plate size bluegill or redear (“shellcracker”) in Orange Lake! While fishing at Orange Lake, you may have the opportunity to participate in the management process. Creel surveys take place on random days throughout the entire spring on Orange Lake to collect information on the fishery and ask anglers their opinions about management.
Arguably the most consistent crappie fishery on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes is the 5,742 acre Lake Marian. Anglers routinely catch limits of crappie trolling or drifting minnows in open water off Whiskey Point, Jordan Slough, and Four-Mile Point. Jig fishing can be outstanding in and around native grasses, bulrush, and lily pads when the crappie are spawning. The majority of crappie harvested at Marian are over 10 inches in length. Historically, crappie reach 10 inches at Marian in two years, and according to age and growth analysis in 2020, the majority of crappie harvested were 3 to 4 years old. Angler creel surveys from January through March of 2020 indicated that anglers caught crappie at a rate of 2.6 fish per hour, which is 1 more crappie per hour than the past couple of years and one of the highest rates in the state. There is a public ramp at the lake just west of highway 441, and there is a fish camp, Lake Marian Paradise, conveniently located nearby.
(Osceola and Polk counties)
Located east of the city of Lake Wales, Lake Kissimmee (34,976 acres) consistently produces good numbers of crappie. During the 2020 angler creel survey, anglers harvested 1.6 fish per hour, which is consistent with historical numbers. Anglers typically catch limits of crappie drifting minnows in open water near the mouth of the C-37 canal, the north end of North Cove, between Brahma and Bird Islands, and around channel markers 7 and 8. Anglers also have success jig fishing in and around patches of lily pads and native grasses in these areas.
Turkey Lake (339 acres) is located just minutes from Orlando attractions near International Drive. Public access is possible through the city of Orlando’s Bill Frederick Park. It is managed as a quality largemouth bass and crappie fishery, but also boasts a good bluegill fishery. When the park was built there was a deed restriction that did not allow for a public boat ramp, therefore, a partnership between the city of Orlando, Bass Pro Shops, and FWC was established to provide a boat loaner program. Four aluminum boats are rented through the city of Orlando for four hours, Thursday through Sunday. While bank fishing has unlimited hours, boat fishing hours are restricted to limit effort and maintain a quality fishery.
Analysis of the angler creel survey from 2020 indicated that the bass catch rate was 0.8 bass per hour, and the crappie catch rate was 0.7 crappie per hour. Turkey Lake consistently produces good catch rates for bass year after year. In early 2020, an angler fishing from one of the piers caught a 16 pound bass. Bass and crappie anglers will regularly catch some quality size bluegill while fishing as well.
Winter Haven Chain of Lakes
The Winter Haven Chain of Lakes consists of 26 waterbodies, tucked in amongst the city streets of Winter Haven in Polk County. These lakes offer some of the finest and most easily accessible fishing for multiple species in central Florida. Lakes in the Winter Haven Chain range in size from 25 to 2,654 acres, totaling just over 9,000 acres of fishable waters. Ample public access is available in the form of 14 boat ramps, 5 fishing piers, shoreline fishing at a half-dozen city parks and public easements alongside the numerous canals which connect the lakes.
The Winter Haven Chain is known for excellent bass fishing throughout the year. The cattail stands on Lake Haines and Lake Rochelle are great for bass angling and when cypress trees are your favorite target, Lake Eloise is packed with plenty of large, beautiful ones to fish a plastic worm around. Lake Winterset has deep crystal-clear water and open water beds of eelgrass which are perfect to run spinnerbaits and gold/silver spoons through. Lake Hartridge also provides excellent bass fishing with plenty of Illinois pondweed (aka peppergrass) that is often loaded with baitfish. Lake Shipp has two public boat ramps and some great flipping opportunities for bass in the cattails along its shoreline. Nearby Lake Eloise has numerous docks, often surrounded by peppergrass, which are a bass angler’s dream to fish. Regardless of what lake is fished, they all offer high quality bass fishing opportunities and the chance of a lifetime to land a trophy-size bass. Live shiners, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits and plastic worm presentations all work well in these lakes. Bass will begin to spawn as early as January and continue through April, depending on water temperatures. During spawning season, anglers should fish shallow areas near cattails, bulrush and Kissimmee grass while using lizards, crawfish and other soft plastics such as the Zoom Z-Craw in Junebug, red shad and tilapia colors.
If black crappie is your target, the Winter Haven Chain has plenty of fishing opportunities for them (or specks as the locals say) as well. Lake Eloise and Lake Shipp are excellent spots for crappie on the south part of the chain while lakes Rochelle, Haines and Hartridge are good locations on the north section of the chain. During cooler months, crappie are taken by drifting or trolling live Missouri minnows or bladed jigs tipped with minnows around offshore submersed vegetation. When waters start to warm in the spring, crappie migrate to shallow waters to spawn and can be caught by dropping jigs tipped with minnows near bulrush, cattails and lily pads.
The Winter Haven Chain also has an awesome panfish fishery for bluegill and redear sunfish (aka shellcrackers). These waters offer a wide variety of habitat for both fish and anglers to choose from including bulrush and cattail stands, cypress trees, open water eelgrass beds and pondweed stands around docks. Crickets, wigglers or grass shrimp are the best live baits when fished under a float with small hook and split shot weight while small beetle spins and jigs can be productive when fished along vegetation.
Lake Istokpoga (27,700 acres) is a large, relatively shallow lake which is located a few miles southeast of Sebring, Florida. It’s a popular winter-time destination for nonresident and local anglers due to its productive fisheries. There are several public boat ramps around the lake, in addition to numerous ramps located at private fish camps, which also have fish cleaning stations. Water levels on the lake are controlled by the South Florida Water management District and fluctuate around 2-3 feet on a set schedule during the year. The lake also boasts four vegetated islands (Big, Bumble Bee, Grassy, Long) and a few incoming creeks which are great locations to catch several species of fish.
Lake Istokpoga has long been known for its trophy largemouth bass fishing. Since 2012, over 550 bass greater than eight pounds, have been documented from the lake and submitted into the FWC’s TrophyCatch Program. Anglers fishing for bass on this lake basically use either live wild shiners or some type of artificial bait. Both types of baits can be very productive depending on the time of year. Bass begin to spawn in mid- to late January depending on moon phases and often move into shallow areas around bulrush (buggy whips), cattails or lily pads on the northern shoreline and around Big Island and Bumblebee Island. Fishing these areas with soft plastics, weightless speed worms and swimbaits will be the best bet during the spawning season. When water temps increase after the spawn, try targeting bass around dense vegetation such as bulrush or cattail while flipping soft plastic baits like crawfish, lizards or worms. Fishing spinnerbaits, spoons or jerk baits around submerged vegetation like eelgrass or hydrilla can also be productive throughout the year.
Lake Istokpoga is also well-known for its black crappie or speck fishery. Anglers come from all over the United States to fill their coolers with this tasty fish on Istokpoga during the cooler months of the year. Most anglers drift live Missouri minnows and grass shrimp in open water or troll with Napier deer hair jigs, tube jigs and Hal flies for schooling fish. Anglers should look for areas with sandy bottoms around bulrush and cattails while fishing minnows or grass shrimp under a cork for spawning fish. Henderson’s Cove and the north end of the lake usually produces good numbers of specks on the outside edge of the pads and grasses near deeper water while open water areas around Big Island and west of Long Island are also good speck fishing spots. The key is to keep moving around until you locate an area with concentrated numbers of fish.
Istokpoga’s panfish fishery is also tremendous and not widely known. The lake boasts nice bluegill and redear sunfish (shellcrackers) which often approach a pound. The fishing gets really good during late spring and throughout the summer when a lot of the seasonal anglers have left for the year. The best method is to use crickets and grass shrimp under a cork for bluegill and red wigglers on or near the bottom for shellcrackers. If you catch a fish, there are likely more in the area, so stay put and be patient for another bite. Fly fishing can also be rewarding for anglers who prefer this fishing method. Locate areas with dense bulrush, Kissimmee grass or cattails for the best action but don’t forget to try the lily pads too. Fishing the shade around cypress trees on the southeast side of the lake can also be productive at times.
Lake Weohyakapka (Lake Walk-in-Water)
Lake Weohyakapka (aka Lake Walk-in-Water) is a relatively shallow, natural lake in eastern Polk County not too far from the town of Lake Wales. A public ramp is located on Boat Landing Road, which runs east off Walk-in-the-Water Road, just a few miles south of S.R. 60. There is little access for bank fishing on the lake, so plan to fish from a boat. The lake is approximately 7,500 acres and boasts some excellent fishing opportunities for several species of fish. Although hurricanes removed all the hydrilla from the water many years ago, the lake still has large areas of vegetation for anglers to target lunker size bass. FWC biologists tag more largemouth bass over eight pounds in this lake every year than any other nearby waterbody. Pitching live wild shiners and flipping soft plastic baits in offshore stands of bulrush (“buggy whips”) in the northern, eastern and southern areas of the lake can be productive during the spring when bass are up shallow and spawning. Spinnerbaits should also produce bass in the spring and summer around grass patches. Bass have also been found in maidencane grass and knotgrass (Kissimmee grass) stands along the eastern shoreline during spring and fall sampling on the lake. Soft jerkbaits and topwater frogs are a must when fishing these areas. Although topwater baits can catch fish throughout the year, summer months offer the best action when the bass are very aggressive. Summertime is also the best time to target bass on the FWC fish attractors using spinnerbaits and Carolina-rigged soft plastics. Fish all around the orange and white buoys because the attractors are spread over a large area but be careful to avoid getting hung up on them if you plan to anchor while you fish.
Fishing for black crappie or specks can also be very rewarding on Lake Weohyakapka as there are plenty of nice fish swimming around for the determined angler. Most anglers prefer to spend their time in open water trolling or drifting minnows, jigs and spinners for crappie. Good numbers and some quality fish are caught in deeper (10 ft) areas of the lake during the cooler months and in shoreline vegetation (bulrush, knotgrass and maidencane) during the spring spawning season. Missouri minnows fished under corks or on small jig heads, as well as Hal-Flies and small spinners, are excellent for catching crappie near dense vegetation such as bulrush, cattail or Kissimmee grass. Seven fish attractor locations were refurbished with artificial brush in December 2020 and should concentrate plenty of fish for anglers offshore. Fish attractors are scattered underwater over an area of about ¼ acre in size and marked with orange and white buoys. Use caution if you plan to anchor when fishing around the buoys to avoid getting hung up on the attractors which are anchored on the lake bottom.
Lake Weohyakapka also has a relatively unknown catfish fishery. There are some nice size white and channel catfish lurking around the lake. A smaller, but just as tasty, cousin which also occupies the lake is the brown bullhead. They are very abundant and often roam around in large schools. Anglers should try fishing the mouths of creeks coming into the lake if water is flowing or around man-made canals. Slow drifting the deeper open water areas can also be productive as well during certain times of the year. The best baits to use are chicken liver, frozen shrimp, live worms or commercial stink baits fished on or near the lake bottom.
(Palm Beach, Martin, Glades, Okeechobee, and Hendry counties)
Long and frequently recognized nationally and globally as a top destination for largemouth bass fishing, even when the bass fishing isn’t at its best, it is still pretty good on “Lake O”. Over the eight completed seasons of TrophyCatch, Lake Okeechobee is one of the top 5 waters for qualifying submissions. With a total surface area over 450,000 acres and over 100,000 acres of littoral and marsh habitat, there is lots of lake to explore, which can make it both challenging and productive. Virtually all classic approaches work, Texas rigged grape/black worms, spinner baits, and frogs; current popular techniques work well too, punching mats with creature baits, monster worms, or swimbaits. If there is one bait that gets talked about year in and year out it is the Gambler Big EZ. A healthy wild shiner is always a good bet too. Crappie fishing is also top notch right now. The strong spawn of 2017 is grown up and providing anglers great fishing. Always a strong producer of white and channel catfish, it is not uncommon for a million pounds of catfish to be harvested annually.
Typically one of the top lakes statewide for angler reported catch rates of crappie, the number of crappie in the 12” range has also been capturing anglers’ attention recently. Prime access points are at Ann Olesky Park and Lake Trafford Marina. Jigging and minnows are both popular and productive. If jigs aren’t producing tight in the vegetation in one place, start drifting or move to another patch of habitat until you locate fish.
Black Crappie Management Plan
Thank you to those who provided input that has been incorporated in the FWC Black Crappie Management Plan. Details are available at the Black Crappie Management Plan website.