The Kissimmee River is a waterway located in south-central Florida, United States. The river basin forms the headwater lakes of the Kissimmee River-Lake Okeechobee-Everglades ecosystem.
The Kissimmee River appeared in Osceola County as the outflow from East Lake Toho, passing through Lake Toho, Lake Cypress, Lake Kissimmee, and Lake Hatchineha. The Kissimmee River forms the boundary between Polk County and Osceola County, between Okeechobee county and Highlands County, and between Okeechobee County and Glades County before flowing into Lake Okeechobee.
The upper drainage basin of the Kissimmee River begins in the Central Florida Peninsula near the cities of Kissimmee and St. Cloud. A series of small lakes consisting of Lake Mary Jane, Hart, Alligator, and Gentry located to the east of St. Cloud along with East Lake Tohopekaliga form the starting point of the river system in the north.
The drainage flows to the south, gradually blending with Big’ Lake Tohopekaliga, Lake Hatchineha, Lake Cypress, and their tributaries to form the Kissimmee River. This drainage is recognized as the Kissimmee River when it exits from Hatchineha. From Lake Hatchineha, the Kissimmee River flows into the massive Lake Kissimmee.
The Kissimmee River flows between Lake Kissimmee on the north and Lake Okeechobee on the south. The distance between Kissimmee Lake and Lake Okeechobee is less than 50 miles, but the Kissimmee river snaked excessively, adding 50 miles by creating massive floodplains every time it rained. The river initially ran 134 miles total in length; 103 miles was between Lake Okeechobee and Lake Kissimmee. After the canalization in the 1960s for flood control, it now runs only 56 miles in length. Restoration efforts were underway after finishing the channel to restore the Kissimmee River to its original state.
The Kissimmee Chain Of Lakes
The Kissimmee Chain of Lakes comprises eight central water bodies in descending size: Lake Kissimmee, Lake Tohopekaliga, East Lake Tohopekaliga, Lake Hatchinea, Lake Marion, Lake Cypress, Lake Gentry, and Lake Jackson. The Kissimmee Basin includes over two dozen lakes in the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, their associated marshes, tributary streams, the Kissimmee River, and floodplain.
The Kissimmee River and the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes were an integrated system consisting of headwater lakes connected by broad, shallow creeks and wetlands. The Central and South Florida Flood Control Project critically damaged the Kissimmee River and the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. Native wetland plants, waterfowl, and sportfish previously thriving throughout the chain of lakes were all significantly impacted.
Water managers and biologists are working to protect and enhance the habitats in the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes for the economic, environmental, and recreational benefits they provide.
Fishing The Kissimmee River
Since the Kissimmee River Restoration Project’s completion, the Kissimmee River is now full of trophy bass, catfish, black crappie, and various other panfish. Visitors from around the world enjoy experiencing bass fishing on the Kissimmee River near Okeechobee City. The Kissimmee River is a continuous flow of fresh water and a perfect habitat for thriving Florida largemouths, producing good numbers and quality-sized bass.
February through March is the peak spawning time for speckled perch out in current flow areas, typically near the old riverbed. The bass are around and caught year-round. The spawning season can start as early as late November and go through May. Peak spawning months for bass are usually February through April.
Kissimmee River can sometimes be challenging to navigate and especially hard to know what spots hold fish in certain conditions. Fishing with a local expert provides anglers with the best chance at catching a famous Florida bass throughout the year. Fishing charters are ideal for anglers of all ages and skill levels to experience Florida’s beauty and incredible fishing. This area holds plenty of trophies nearing 10 pounds and constant action for fishes of all sizes. Your professional guide knows all the best spots around the lakes and river channels in Kissimmee. Experience the beauty of the historic river and all its returned wildlife, with a chance of seeing a bald eagle, gators, manatees, and much more.
The first lock onto the Kissimmee River is loaded with aggressive bass when it opens, and water starts rushing through. The bass near this lock average 5 pounds and over. This area is full of other predatorial fish as well, such as catfish and bream. The moving water coming through the lock brings in tons of baitfish, insects, and crawfish that drive these predators crazy. When the lock closes, the bite usually stops.
The river’s backwater areas are strips of water between the West shoreline and dirt mounds along the edge. These areas provide good spawning and holding areas for bass, Bluegills, and speckled perch.
The Florida waterway consists of sloping banks and a 30-35 foot center depth. There are about 112 miles of shoreline available in the channel for anglers to cast from the bank. The banks are known to hold some quality fishes. Fishing for bluegill is excellent during April through August, popular among fly fishers. The open water of the Kissimmee River provides year-round speckled perch fishing. This area is surprisingly unpressured since most Florida anglers are accustomed to shallow waters and haven’t adapted well to the 30-foot range. Look for drop-offs and hydrilla beds that will likely be holding bass.
Smaller bass will often strike at small spinners and plastic worms along with the pads and grass. The first lure recommended trying is a diving crank plug, selected precisely for the fished water depth. While retrieving, this type of lure should stay near the bottom. The next most popular lure to try is a jig or plastic worm. A heavy weighted Carolina rig is best if there is significant current flow present. These rigs make for better bottom contact.
Work any high spots or bars on the corners of the intersections. Also, along with the intersection’s mouth, try the drop-off.
Another popular technique is a free-running, vibrating crank plug, such as a Rat-L-Trap. A lightweight plastic worm is often best when fishing over hydrilla and other vegetation inside the intersection’s mouth.
The interior confines of the old channel often provide good fishing and hold much of the spawning beds. The areas open to the main channel at both ends and allow good current flow are usually most productive. Look for reasonable depths that do not become stagnant.
Top Targeted Fish Species
Kissimmee River Restoration Project Overview
The Central and South Florida Flood Control Project (C&SF) damaged the native Kissimmee River-Lake Okeechobee-Everglades (KOE) ecosystem throughout Central and South Florida. Initiatives destroyed the ecosystem by constructing canals and flood control structures in the Upper and Lower basins in Kissimmee, creating significant oxygen demand in the waterway. The channelization of the headwater lakes ruined the river floodplain interactions. The South Florida Water Management District partnered with the U.S Army Corps of Engineers in a project to restore the Kissimmee River Channel.
They completed the Kissimmee River Restoration Project in four construction phases. Phase one construction finished in 2001, and Phase 4 construction finished in 2010. The project restored continuous water flows to approximately 19 of 44 miles of the Kissimmee River. Phases 2 and 3 included backfilling the C-38 canal and restoring flow to 9 miles of the Kissimmee River.
The restoration took place for over 6,500 acres of floodplain wetlands, and they refilled 15 of the 22 miles of canal. The response to restore the historic natural system has dramatically exceeded expectations.
Major initiatives took place in the Kissimmee Basin, including the Kissimmee River Restoration Project, the Kissimmee River Restoration Evaluation Program, and the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes and Kissimmee Upper Basin Monitoring Assessment.
Every restoration project includes ecosystem restoration, evaluation of restoration efforts, aquatic plant management, land management, water quality improvement, and water supply planning.
The Central And South Florida Project
The 1947 hurricanes produced hefty rainfall, which flooded much of these parts of Florida. The U.S Congress authorized the U.S Army Corps of Engineers in 1948 to construct the Central and South Florida Project, the project for flood control. The Central and South Florida Project involved engineered changes to straighten and widen the waterway. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged the C-38 Canal down the Kissimmee valley, shortening the huge meandering river by half.
U.S Congress transformed the Kissimmee River into a series of impounded reservoirs between 1962 and 1971. The restoration project constructed canals and six water control structures regulating water flow within and between the upper basin’s lakes. Before 1962, the Kissimmee River was a beautiful natural flowing waterway full of wildlife. After turning it into a human-made canal, the river was sometimes called “The Big Ditch.”
The project resulted in controversy with biologists because of the believed impact this would have on the ecosystem.
The Kissimmee River’s rerouting was completed in 1971 and was promoted as a new tourist attraction, but the biologists turned out to be right. The physical effects of channelization, including altering the system’s hydrology, eliminated river wetlands, and degraded the Kissimmee River ecosystem’s fish and wildlife. Rerouting the waterway had killed off any ecosystem that relied on the floodplains.
The once meandering 134-mile Kissimmee River turned into a 56-mile-long, 30-feet-deep, 300-feet-wide canal. Excavation of the trench and deposition of the resulting spoil eliminated approximately 35 miles of the waterway and 6,200 acres of wetland habitat in the floodplain. The death of intruding vegetation covered the historic channel’s shifting sand substrate.
Over 90 percent of the river’s waterfowl that lived in the wetlands disappeared. The number of nesting territories for bald eagles decreased by 70 percent. Transforming the river into a straight, deep waterway made it oxygen-depleted, and the type of fish it supported changed dramatically.
South Florida Water Management and U.S Army Corps Take Action
River channelization and degradation of the floodplain lead to severe impacts on the system’s ecosystem. By the early 1970s, waterfowl were almost obsolete. The wading bird populations, a prominent part of the historical system, dropped and were replaced mainly by cattle egrets, a species usually associated with upland, terrestrial habitats.
Stable water levels and reduced water flow also eliminated the river-floodplain ecosystem. The low water flow in the channels resulted in low dissolved oxygen levels, which started replacing popular sport fish species like largemouth bass with fish tolerant of low dissolved oxygen regimes, such as Florida gar and bowfin. Stabilized water levels also largely destroyed spawning and foraging habitat and larval and juvenile refuge sites for fish on the floodplain.
After 23 years of creating this channelized waterway, the government realized restoration was vital. The U.S. Congress then spent 20 years planning how to fix the wetlands of the river floodplain ecosystem, known as the Kissimmee River Restoration Project. The Corps of Army Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District worked closely together using adaptive management strategies to ensure the Kissimmee River Restoration Project meets its goals.
Kissimmee River Restoration Project
Congress authorized the Kissimmee River Restoration Project in the 1992 Water Resources Development Act. The Corps of Army Engineers and South Florida Water Management District will restore the Kissimmee River in four construction phases. Reconstruction began with backfilling 8 miles of the C-38 canal in 1999 to allow rainwater to fill the floodplains in restored locations, and the natural winding floodplains were re-established.
The project will restore the ecosystem of over 40 square miles of river-floodplain ecosystem, including 43 miles of the winding channel and 27,000 acres of wetlands. The Kissimmee River Restoration Project will be implemented and cost-shared by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers (USCOE).
The South Florida water management district and the US Army Corps of Engineers completed this massive ecosystem restoration project in 2014.
The river’s flooding and continual water flow increased oxygen levels, which benefited the entire food chain. Wildlife returned to the restored parts of the Kissimmee River. Oxygenated water flow flushed out the sludge and smothering low-oxygen fishes, sandbars appeared, and the once-dormant plants started to re-emerge. The oxygen flow and plants reappearing created ideal conditions for aquatic invertebrates such as crayfish, shrimp, mollusks, and insects. The return of these bait species boosted fish populations and increased alligator and bird populations. The Kissimmee River Restoration Project attracted sociologists from other states and countries; this is considered the largest ecosystem restoration project globally.
This massive Kissimmee River Restoration Project improved water quality and made the fishing better than ever; many fishers now prefer fishing the Kissimmee River over Lake Okeechobee or Lake Istokpoga.
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Area Things To Do
Kissimmee is near the famous amusement parks in Central Florida. Still, there are plenty of other outdoor activities near the miles of river-floodplain for people to experience nature up close and personal. Popular outdoor activities include airboat tours, kayak tours, and Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park. Other attractions nearby include the Kissimmee Air Museum, Shingle Creek Regional Park, and the Disney Wilderness Preserve.
You can glamp at Westgate Ranch Resort and Rodeo, which has air-conditioned platform tents and full beds. Westgate is a great place that has fun for the whole family. There’s a kid’s park, a petting farm, horseback riding, and air boating. Another popular location is the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, which has horseback riding, hiking, camping, wild turkeys, and burrowing owls.
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