June 11, 2010
Bass anglers on Florida's renowned Lake Tohopekaliga (Toho for short) have hit the jackpot - again. Anglers are catching their limits of trophy-size largemouth bass with astounding regularity, as the lake proves and improves its reputation as one of the top-five destinations in the world for those who seek the ultimate bass-fishing experience.
During the past several weeks, local tournament anglers have discovered a veritable bonanza of trophy-size bass, as catch rates continue to heat up. One possible reason, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) biologists, is that the extended cold winter delayed spawning and post-spawn feeding activity.
Last weekend's Toho Open, a one-day tournament, saw the fifth-place finisher catch a five-fish limit tipping the scales at 31 pounds, while the winners, Jerry Williams and Jessie Windsor of Orlando, netted more than 38 pounds. Mark Detweiler at Big Toho Marina in Kissimmee reported that at local tournaments hosted there on Wednesday nights, participants boasted winning totals in excess of 20 pounds.
"Big bass have shown themselves in ever-increasing numbers since last fall. I've been fishing here since 1983 and I've never seen anything like this. It's mind-boggling," said Terry Segraves, a well-respected professional angler who lives in Kissimmee and serves as a tourism spokesman for the area.
According to local experts like Segraves, patterning the big fish is not difficult. Early morning anglers are finding schooling fish in the 1- to 2-pound range, with some much bigger fish mixed in those schools. However, the really big fish are feeding on the edges of the deep grass beds after the sun comes up. Typically, anglers catch the big fish a few hours after sunrise and a few hours before sunset, as is the case here. However, what is unusual is that they're also catching big stringers of trophies throughout the day.
FWC fishery biologist and avid bass angler Marty Mann believes the great trophy fishing is the result of the agency's aggressive management of Lake Toho, the birthplace of the first large-scale drawdown (1971) to improve of fish and wildlife habitat. In 2004, the FWC conducted its most recent in a series of drawdown projects on Lake Toho.
"One of the biggest problems for sportfish is decaying plant and animal materials that build up on the bottom of a lake over time. These sediments cover and suffocate the eggs of sportfish and rob oxygen from the water as they decay," said Mann.
Improvements to fish habitat are accomplished by lowering the lake to expose mucky sediments to sunlight and air, thus allowing sediments to consolidate into a hard substrate. In some places, crews scrape dried sediments and truck them to disposal areas. The result is a clean, hard, sandy bottom. Once the water level returns to normal, the hard bottom provides quality spawning areas for sportfish and a substrate that promotes the growth of beneficial aquatic plants, where bass can feed and grow to trophy size.
Kissimmee Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Tom Lang welcomed the news that the fish are biting. "For our visitors looking for memory-making experiences to punctuate their vacation or holidays, this is good news. We recommend they get here fast, because you never know when the tide may turn with the fish."
For more information on bass fishing in Osceola County's Lake Tohopekaliga, go to the Freshwater Fishing area of MyFWC.com/Fishing and select Fishing Sites and Forecasts, or contact the Kissimmee Convention and Visitors Bureau at VisitKissimmee.com.
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