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The bass at Stick Marsh are so huge, the bait they devour is big enough for your dinner table. But beware of the stumps.

By TERRY TOMALIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 9, 2001


Stick marsh -- The first thing you notice are the stumps. Thump!

"We'll hit at least eight or nine on our way out," said Lenny Crispino as he piloted his bass boat across the flooded farmland. "As long as we go slow, we should make it."

This 6,500-acre impoundment area near Vero Beach in northwest Indian River County has been a mecca for bass fishermen since its creation in 1987.

Stick Marsh, which is connected to Farm 13, has been rated as one of Florida's top 10 fishing lakes and is known for its high catch rate and proliferation of trophy largemouth.

"I think one reason why the fishing is so good is that it is hard to get out here," Crispino said. "If you don't know what you are doing, you can get into some serious trouble."

The first time Crispino fished the Stick Marsh/Farm 13 complex, he found several of the submerged tree stumps the hard way ... while flying across the water at 55 mph.

Nowadays, the Pinellas-based fishing guide takes it slow as he navigates the Stick Marsh obstacle course en route to the hydrilla prairies of Farm 13.

Thump!

Even though Stick Marsh can be hazardous to propellers and the lower units of outboard motors, it still draws dozens of boats on a weekday, even more on weekends. Crispino, owner of Tarpon Tom's bass fishing specialty shop in Palm Harbor, makes the three-hour run at least once a month

"If you live in the Tampa Bay area and you want to get into some trophy bass, outside of Lake Tarpon, you are going to have to drive two or three hours," Crispino said. "It is not uncommon to catch 50 bass in one day here. And there are plenty of fish over 10 pounds."

Most anglers bypass Stick Marsh for the adjacent Farm 13. Water depth averages 4 to 8 feet and the large hydrilla islands scattered throughout the lake provide excellent cover for largemouth bass. The vegetation covers about 20 percent of the lake's surface, so there is no shortage of weed lines to fish.

In the winter, Crispino favors live bait, the bigger the better. But he usually brings his shiners from home because most of the bait shops in the Stick Marsh/Farm 13 area are picked clean by locals.

"I have had customers look at the bait I use and say, "Hey, I'd be happy to catch a bass that big,' " he said. "But if you want to catch a trophy fish, you are going to need big bait."

It's been said that it is a good thing that bass don't get any bigger than they do, for if they did, we'd never go swimming again.

"Pound for pound, they are one of the most ferocious predators on Earth," Crispino said. "A 12-inch bass will try to eat a 12-inch bait."

But fishing with live bait isn't as easy as it seems. Anglers accustomed to fishing with artificial lures sometimes find themselves yanking the bait out of the fish's mouth when they set the hook.

"Let it take the bait," said Crispino as a big bass zeroed in on a fat shiner. "Now take in all the slack on your line ... wait ... now set the hook."

The bass tried to run for the weed bank, but the stout rod helped turn it back to the boat. The battle was over as quickly as it had begun. Crispino grabbed the fish by the lip, then quickly returned the 5-pound bass to the water.

"Farm 13 is strictly catch and release," Crispino said. "That is another reason why the fishing is so good."

If you go

The closest towns or cities to Stick Marsh/Farm 13 are Melbourne, Palm Bay, Vero Beach, Sebastian and Fellsmere. No gas, food or bait are available on site. The reservoir can be accessed by taking County Road 512 into Fellsmere, north on C.R. 507, then west on the Fellsmere Grade that parallels the C-54 Canal. The launch area is about 6 miles.

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