Much to the dismay of saltwater anglers, the season is waning rapidly.
Soon the cold breath of winter will make fishing less productive. King mackerel will wind past the coastline, and grouper diggers will have to fish between the cold fronts and their associated winds to find quarry. The flats will become seemingly void of life the colder that ambient temperature becomes.
Freshwater anglers, on the other hand, should be ready to ratchet up their activity. Largemouth bass anglers and those in pursuit of black crappie bass will begin to enjoy time on the water. As cooler weather settles in, largemouth and crappie action heats up.
With the refill of lakes, rivers, streams and ponds, there will be more places to fish. In all, this should be a productive year. Many Nature Coast anglers who have had to travel to find bodies of water with enough water to launch their boats can remain local.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, places such as the Tsala Apopka chain - including the Floral City pool, Hernando pool and Inverness pool - are fishable and should produce. This shallow, heavily vegetated 19,000-plus-acre body again will be a premier destination for anglers. With increased water levels allowing more reliable levels of dissolved oxygen, the Tsala Apopka pools are on the rebound. If favorable conditions continue, fish populations will respond.
The Withlacoochee River and Lake Rousseau should provide plenty of action. The river again is navigable, and improvements to Lake Rousseau will make it easier to find fish.
The hydrilla in Lake Rousseau is under control, making navigation simpler. Shoreline treatment of hyacinths and water lettuce has resulted in many new fishable edges. The main channel has been straightened, and many of the stumps and hidden obstacles have been cleared, though secondary channels contain submerged hazards. Care and caution should be exercised when operating a vessel in the lake. In the Withlacoochee River, high water levels, black water and fast currents persist. Target calm spots where suspended particulates have had a chance to settle. The area from Lake Rousseau to State Road 200 is the most dependable.
Off the beaten trail there are many backyard ponds and small lakes that, while during the drought may have looked more like savannahs than bodies of water, now are full. Fish populations may not be up to normal, but these smaller destinations are producing.
Many backyard waterways are holding enough water to support fair-sized boats, though smaller vessels such as canoes and kayaks are the better choice. Fish populations will be skittish from the massive changes that have occurred the past 18 months.
In Hernando County, freshwater opportunities are limited to Hunter Lake, Lake Theresa, Lake Lindsey and Mountain Lake. Water level fluctuations and overly abundant vegetation at times make launching more difficult. In Pasco, anglers have their pick of Moon Lake, Middle Lake, Crews Lake and the Withlacoochee River.
All of these areas have had issues throughout the drought. Some have seen drastic reductions in populations, though all are on the mend. Anglers should practice catch-and-release to help the healing process. Biologists know it may take up to five years to recover from the effects of the drought. There are fish to be caught, though in many places they will be smaller.
"During the first year of growth, largemouth bass attain a size of approximately 6 to 9 inches," said Sam McKinney of the FWCC. "By the time they reach five years of age, most reach the 15-plus-inch mark depending on location and food sources."
Crappie grow and repopulate a bit faster. Most anglers begin taking fish in the 10-12-inch range. Recovery in those numbers should be good in three years. "Nobody likes a drought," McKinney said. "In the short run, anglers will find locating big fish tougher, but in the long run, this past drought will have tremendously positive effects."