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Lake Seminole has new lure for anglers

Seven thousand 6-inch largemouth bass join the improved lake.

By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
Published November 3, 2007


State biologists made a special delivery last week to Lake Seminole, injecting new life into the lake.

Lots of baby fish - 7,000 largemouth bass, to be precise - were dumped in the 700-acre lake as part of an experiment that state officials hope will transform it into a mecca for sports fishermen.

The project is a joint venture of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the University of Florida.

Commission biologists will keep track of the bass for the next 90 days, coming out to the lake periodically to see how well they're growing and if they're surviving in the wild.

The bass were raised at the wildlife commission's Florida Bass Conservation Center at the Richloam Fish Hatchery in Webster and fed food developed for hatchery-raised bass by Dr. Paul Cardeilhac of UF's College of Veterinary Medicine in Gainesville.

"They're thrown into the big city per se, and they're country folks, so it's survival of the fittest," fisheries biologist Bill Pouder of the wildlife commission said. "A lot of the fish are not going to make it."

Traditionally, hatchery-raised bass have not fared well in the lake, for many reasons. One was the condition of the lake, but that has been improved in the past six years with massive projects. In one, the lake level was lowered so parts of the bottom could be scraped, some vegetation could be removed and other plants could be installed.

"The habitat changes that have occurred are more conducive to fish and wildlife now," Pouder said.

In past years when Fish and Wildlife has stocked the lake, officials have simply backed up a truck full of 1- to 2-inch fingerlings and dumped them all at the public ramp. Instead of swimming out into the lake, the fingerlings hung around the ramp, where food was scarce and where they fell prey to birds and other fish.

This time, the wildlife commission released bigger bass, about 6 inches long - adolescents. At 6 inches, the bass can eat other fish, so they are not so vulnerable, Pouder said.

And rather than dumping them at the ramp, commission biologists plunked groups of them in various spots around the lake where the vegetation provides better habitat.

Also, while in the hatchery, the fish were not only given the special fish pellets, but live fish to eat to ease the transition to a diet in the wild.

"We want them to eat other fish," Pouder said. "When they do eat other fish, they tend to grow faster."

These fish have metal chips in their cheeks so that biologists gathering specimens can scan them with a wand, like a metal detector, and tell which fish are the ones they released and which are not.

"It'll give us a kind of general idea of survival," Pouder said.

It's unclear how much the project will cost, but it will be worth it, the biologist said.

"The overall goal is to create a quality fishery out there for the anglers," Pouder said. "For fresh water, (largemouth bass are) the most sought after sport fish in the state, probably in the country."

In a coastal county like Pinellas, he said, there are few places where such bass can be easily found. So it makes sense to encourage their growth in the county's two largest lakes, Seminole and Tarpon.

The news that the state is working to stock Lake Seminole with largemouth bass came as a pleasant surprise to the folks at Dogfish Tackle, a fishing supply store just down Park Boulevard from the lake.

A long time ago, Lake Seminole was a grand place to fish, Dogfish manager Dave Bayes said. The lake began deteriorating, partly because of storm runoff from Park Boulevard and other nearby streets. But it has gotten better now that work has been done on the lake.

"We're definitely starting to hear a buzz," Bayes said.

Local sports fishermen put on their own small tournament just in the past couple of weeks, he said. Six or seven managed to hit the five-fish limit.

"They said the lake itself looked good," Bayes said.

Stocking the lake and encouraging fishermen to come to the area will be good for the city's economy, he said. Fishermen buy gas, food and other equipment while in the area.

"It's a huge impact," Bayes said. "People who don't fish don't really have an idea."

Mark Ely, the city's director of development, said he did not know the fish had been added to the lake. He was also unsure of the possible financial impact on the city's economy. But, he said, he was glad to hear the lake is improving.

"It's a testament to Pinellas County Environmental that the lake has been cleaned up enough to consider it as viable for a fishery," Ely said.

[Last modified November 2, 2007, 22:29:27]

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