Lake Okeechobee

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Bounty in the Everglades

Rest of dry season advantageous time to fish river of grass

By Byron Stout
Originally posted on April 20, 2006



Getting there: Access to the Everglades Water Conservation Areas is excellent, with more than a dozen concrete ramps maintained by state and local governments. Ramps are available along Alligator Alley (I-75), the Okeechobee Road (U.S. 27), the Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41), and Miami-Dade County Road 997.
Sawgrass Recreation Area: Two miles north of Interstate 75 on U.S. 27. Boat ramp, johnboat rentals, full bait and tackle, food. (954) 389-0202.
Holiday Park Recreation Area: Six miles south of Interstate 75 on U.S. 27. Boat ramp, rowboats, johnboats, bait, tackle, food. (954) 434-8111.
License: A freshwater fishing license is required to fish in most cases. Exemptions include anglers younger than 16 and Florida residents 65 or older. Check with county tax collectors for other exemptions. For an instant license by charge card ($3.95 surcharge) call 888-FISH-FLORIDA (888) 347-4356).
Fishing regulations: South of State Road 80, the daily bag limit on bass is five, with one fish longer than 14 inches. The limit on peacock bass is two, with only one longer than 17 inches. The limit on bluegill and other native panfish is 50, all species combined. There is no limit on oscars, Mayan cichlids or other exotic species.
Health advisory: There are mercury health advisories against eating bass and other fish from the water conservation areas. For more information go online to the Florida Department of Health (

The Gambler Ace worm — red metalflake glinting within its 5-inch body of watermelon-rind-colored plastic — was intended for bass. But nobody told that to the fierce little red-eyed warmouth that mistook the wobbling lure for the meal of a lifetime.

What ensued wasn't much of a battle, but it was the first of many in Everglades Water Conservation Area 2 — known as the Sawgrass Recreation Area — where Clewiston Capt. Mark King and his dad, Dave, renewed old times Monday morning. Besides the chunky warmouth, the day's catch also included the intended bass, plus bluegill, stumpknockers, gar, and more than a few brawny bowfin, or mudfish as the toothy brawlers are not-so-fondly called.

Farther south, in WCA 3, anglers find much the same cast of characters, if they can get through the Mayan cichlids and oscars. Asked how the exotic panfish were biting down in the L67A canal, Holiday Park Recreation Area employee Kelly Sims said, "Only in the hundreds."


Bass are forced out of the vast Everglades marshes by falling water. They sit out the dry season in the canals, where access is excellent along the federal highways.
From now through the rest of the dry season, well into May or possibly June, that's the way it will be in the Everglades. As the spring sun and winds dry out the shallow river of grass, fish normally spread out over thousands of square miles of marsh are annually forced into the relatively tight confines of the canals.

Alligators grow fat and anglers grow tired in the resulting bounty of fishing, which just doesn't get any better.

For the Kings, the fun started when they took their first Everglades trip several years ago. Dave treated Mark, who was then driving a tractor-trailer rig between Ohio steel mills and Chicago, to a trip with retired guide Bobby Livers.

"We caught more than 40 bass over 4 pounds. Forty-one, I think," Dave recalled.

"That's what made me decide I wanted to be a fishing guide," said Mark, who now works out of Scott Martin's Anglers Marina in Clewiston, mostly on Lake Okeechobee. But for anglers who want lots of action, he frequently trails his boat to the Sawgrass Recreation Area, where he often starts fishing without ever having to start the big engine on his 20-foot bass boat.

The four-year fishing guide notes that first catch of big bass was unusual for the size of the fish, but not the numbers. How well the largemouths bite depends on fishing factors including the gravitational effects of the sun and the moon (see The News-Press Fishing Forecaster), ultraviolet exposure (bass hate cloudless skies), and moods even the fish can't explain.

Overall, however, it doesn't get any better in Florida, at least mathematically.

According to Everglades fisheries biologist Barron Moody, on average the WCAs produce bass at more than twice the rate of Florida's next-best lakes (Okeechobee and the Stick Marsh). The bass catch rate peaked last year in April and May at 3.92 bass per hour of fishing effort.

Catch rates soar from there for the combination of oscars and Mayan cichlids. Last year during the peak four weeks, April 6 through May 3, panfish anglers averaged 13.45 fish per hour.


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