Tucked between the end of hunting season and the heat of summer is a magical time on the water. The mornings are still cool, and the middle of the day is warm enough to make you shuck off your sweatshirt and enjoy the sun.
Spring is when Florida’s “other” angling is the best. This is the fishing that many anglers don’t think about: crappie fishing in the northern and central parts of the state, bream in urban ponds statewide, and colorful peacock bass in south Florida.
Nicole Kierl, a fisheries biologist in the Panama City office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said black crappie is one of the first fish species that starts spawning in the spring, which is why many anglers target them from February through April.
“They typically hang out in deep holes until they come up to spawn,” Kierl said. “They like depths of 20 feet, but they come up to spawn as shallow as 3 to 8 feet deep. They’re more of a cool water fish, which is why they aren’t as abundant as bass or bream here.”
In April crappie are almost through spawning.
“There are probably some still on the beds, and a few others still in the shallow water,” Kierl said. “But most of them will be more into eating than protecting their nests, and they have started heading for deeper water.
“The timing of that depends on how cold the winter was; if we have a cold winter, they tend to stay up higher longer.”
In terms of baits for April, Kierl said to try jigs or small minnows.
“A lot of anglers like a 1/16-ounce to 1/8-ounce curly-tailed jig in yellow, chartreuse, pink or white,” she said. “Some anglers are successful with night fishing for crappie, using the same baits but fishing with a lantern.”
A number of lakes in northern and north central Florida hold crappie. Biologists pointed to several of those as being “best bets” for crappie next spring.
Lake Talquin — Located between Tallahassee and Quincy, Lake Talquin is an 8,800-acre impoundment with a 10-inch minimum size limit on the crappie to help maintain the fishery. The state record black crappie of 3-pounds, 13 1/4-ounces was caught from the man-made reservoir.
Orange & Lochloosa Lakes — These lakes are between Ocala and Gainesville. The fishery here has been excellent the past couple of years, and fish of 1 to 2 pounds aren’t unusual. Good baits here include jigs and minnows, or a combination of jigs tipped with minnows.
Lake Weir – Located in south Marion County, Lake Weir is a 5685-acre body of water with lots of depths exceeding 20 feet and an irregular bottom. The FWC maintains 12 brush fish attractors, which you can easily spot by looking for the large yellow buoys. Most anglers use minnows and grass shrimp near the attractors, but some drift the open waters.
Lake Weohyakapka (Walk-in-Water) — This 7800-acre lake is east of Lake Wales, and at one time had a problem with hydrilla. However, since the hurricane year of 2004 the lake has been clean, so there’s plenty of open water to troll for crappy.
Missouri minnows fished under corks or on small jig heads, as well as Hal-Flies and small spinners, are excellent for catching crappie here.
Start talking about urban ponds, and you’re talking fishing that many city dwellers can reach in just a few minutes. In fact, that was the point of the Urban Pond Program, which developed Fish Management Areas statewide to allow anglers in the cities to have easily accessible fishing opportunities.
The FWC Division of Freshwater Fisheries manages about 80 water bodies throughout the state that are designated as FMAs. These are mostly community-based fishing lakes or FWC managed impoundments. Many of these impoundments are stocked with channel catfish, largemouth bass and sunshine bass. Automatic fish feeders and fish attractors concentrate fish for bank anglers.
Fish Management Areas are located in every FWC Region in the state. Not all of them are urban ponds, but a substantial number of them are located in cities areas. Obviously we can’t cover all 80 of them here, so for more information, go to the FWC Web site at www.myfwc.com and click on Fishing. Next follow the links through Freshwater, Freshwater Sites and Forecasts, and Fish Management Areas.
The best part of the Urban Ponds Program is that those FMAs are loaded with bream and other easily caught fish! You can pick up bluegill, redear sunfish, and warmouth, with a side helping of catfish and even a few exotics such as Oscars.
Bluegill eat almost anything. They love insects, insect larvae, and crustaceans, but also bite fish eggs, small fish, mollusks, and snails. The most popular baits, however, are crickets, grass shrimp, and worms. Or you can try artificial lures, including small inline spinnerbaits and popping bugs.
Here’s a look at few of these ponds.
Piney Z Lake – This 193-acre lake is within the city limits of Tallahassee and is actually one arm of Lake Lafayette. Piney Z is laid out for bank access, with more than 3 miles of shoreline and several “fishing fingers” jutting into the water for anglers.
To the east in Jacksonville, seven ponds provide access for residents all over the city.
The Bethesda Fish Management Area is located in the Northside Recreation Complex of Florida Junior College. It covers 15 acres, and has good bank access. More than two dozen fish attractors are scattered along the bank and in the center of the lake.
At just over 6 acres, Oceanway Fish Management Area is north of the Oceanway Sports Complex. A covered dock provides fishing access even during inclement weather. A number of fish attractors are located around the bank and in the center of the pond.
Crystal Springs Park in western Jacksonville has a small pond of less than two acre. On this lake fishing is limited under 16, over 64 or disabled anglers and those accompanying them.
Hanna Park Fish Management Area is located inside Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park. Thi
s area has a total of 27 acres of ponds, including two small “finger” lakes. There are a number of fish attractors around the bank.
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