South Florida's Overlooked Bass Ponds

South Florida's Overlooked Bass Ponds

Exactly what is a fish management area? Let's have a look at four of them in Deep South Florida and what they offer to bass anglers.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Carolee Boyles

Talk South Florida bassin', and big water comes to mind. Every angler who's hungered for a lunker dreams about Lake Okeechobee. Then there are the conservation areas, Lake Catherine, Lake Ida - even the canal systems cover a lot of water. All of these are places bass anglers frequent.

But the south end of the peninsula has a lot of small waters that hold bass too. It comes in the form of state fish management areas (FMAs) and city and county park lakes. Some of these small ponds are in urban areas, and many have good bank access.

Fish management areas are lakes and ponds designated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) and managed by the Community-Based Fisheries Project of the agency's South Region office. These lakes increase fishing opportunities in urban areas through intensive management on selected small lakes, and offer easy, convenient access to local anglers.

Management of these ponds includes supplemental stocking and feeding of fish, the placement of fish attractors, and installation of aeration systems. All of these ponds also have special angling regulations that protect the fisheries.

There are four FMAs in the FWCC South Region. These are located at Tropical, Plantation Heritage, Okeeheelee and Caloosa parks. Of the four, three are good bass lakes. The fourth is pretty mediocre.

"I just finished electrofishing all of my ponds in December," explained John Cimbaro, the fisheries biologist who manages the Community Based Fisheries Project for the South Region, "and I consider light-tackle bass fishing to be good at Okeeheelee, Plantation Heritage and Tropical. The bass are small at Okeeheelee especially - less than 12 inches is average - and somewhat less so at Plantation - less than 14 inches is average - but still fun on smaller tackle.

"Tropical had the largest bass," he continued. "We've documented fish up to almost 9 pounds in the past, but nothing close to that size in the last two years."

Cimbaro went on to say that Caloosa Park is much less of a bass fishing destination than the other three, although it can be productive for catfish and panfish.

LAKE OKEEHEELEE FMA

According to Cimbaro, the Lake Okeeheelee Fish Management Area has a 157-acre lake, with a smaller, intensively managed area of 11 acres. The lake is located in Okeeheelee Park in Palm Beach County.

"It's a clear sand-bottom lake with plenty of native submerged vegetation," he added.

Species in the FMA include largemouth bass, channel catfish, bluegills, redear sunfish, Mayan cichlid and spotted tilapia.

"Fishing for largemouth bass is good, with many smaller fish for light tackle," the biologist said.

There's excellent shoreline access around most of the lake.

"A number of weed-free bank access zones are maintained in both the fish feeder section and the rest of the lake," Cimbaro offered. "An excellent concrete boat ramp accesses the non-feeder part of the lake. Kayak and small craft rentals are available.

"Bass can be found near any of the installed fish attractors," he said. "Bass also associate closely with stands of spikerush and bulrush found throughout the lake."

"Light tackle with 6-pound-test line and light or ultralight lures are good for the bass," Cimbaro continued. "Smaller plastic worms, minnow imitations and spinnerbaits all do well for bass. Shiners are the best live bait. Small streamers and cork or deer-hair popping bugs also work well for bass when you're fly-fishing."

A couple of special regulations impact bass fishing on this lake. Gasoline motors may not be used on boats, and all black bass must be released immediately.

To reach Okeeheelee Park from I-95 in West Palm Beach, exit at Forest Hill Boulevard and head west. The park entrance is between Jog Road and the Florida Turnpike overpass.

Go past the first entrance that leads to the Okeeheelee Golf Course to the second entrance. Once you're in the park, stay right to reach the section of the lake that has fish feeders. Continuing on this main road takes you to the non-feeder portion of the lake.

FISH MANAGEMENT AREAS


Caloosa Park Lake

Palm Beach County

4 Acres



Lake Okeeheelee

Palm Beach County

157 Acres



Plantation Heritage Park Lake

Broward County

6 Acres



Tropical Park Lake

Dade County

12 Acres

 

TROPICAL PARK LAKE FMA

Tropical Park Lake FMA, in Dade County, takes in only one of the four lakes in Tropical Park. Named North Lake, this pond covers only 12 acres and has a rocky bottom.

"It has steep shorelines and is very clear most of the year," Cimbaro said. "It also has an abundance of submerged native vegetation."

The lake contains largemouth bass, channel catfish, bluegills, redear sunfish and spotted tilapia.

"Largemouth bass average 14 inches, and fish over 8 pounds have been documented," Cimbaro pointed out.

He went on to rate the fishing for bass as excellent and fishing for the other species as good.

"There's fair shoreline access around the southern lobe of the lake, particularly off the fishing peninsula," the biologist added. "Anglers can access the lake via the jogging path leading from the park's Boxing Cen

ter. No boating is available.

"Largemouth bass can be found associated with submerged vegetation around the entire lake. Bass also suspend along the steep shoreline drop-off of the fishing peninsula and can be found near the riprap on both sides of the vegetation enhancement site."

Cimbaro recommended medium tackle with 8-pound to 10-pound-test line for the bass, since lunker-sized fish take the lure occasionally.

"Plastic worms, minnow imitations and spinnerbaits all do well for bass; shiners are the best live bait. Fish deep if you don't receive strikes near the surface."

Regulations on the lake call for all black bass to be released immediately.

As far as the other three lakes in the park are concerned, fishing is allowed but probably not worth the trouble.

"I've occasionally seen anglers at Boating Lake," Cimbaro said. "There are some butterfly peacock in there, based both on angler reports and electrofishing, but very few fish overall.

"Swimming Lake has very few fish, and they're mostly quite small. Hidden Lake is not very accessible, being in a heavily wooded area. There's not much reason to fish these other lakes."

To reach the Tropical Park Lake FMA, exit the Florida Turnpike at the SW 40th Street (Bird Road) exit. Go east to Tropical Park, which is on the south side of the road.

PLANTATION HERITAGE PARK LAKE FMA

According to Cimbaro, Plantation Heritage Park pond is quite small, at only about 6.4 acres. It is situated in Broward County at Plantation.

"It's a clear, sand-bottom lake with shallow shorelines and shelves with some deep holes near the center," he described. "There's excellent shoreline access, with one side of the lake almost entirely open to fishing on foot. The other side has a number of open areas between cattail stands."

The pond contains largemouth bass channel catfish, bluegills, redear sunfish and spotted tilapia.

"The average size of the bass is 12 inches," the biologist noted.

Additionally, he characterized the fishing for bass as good.

Cimbaro recommended medium-light tackle with 6- to 8-pound-test line and smaller lures for bass. As on the other small FMA ponds, down-sized plastic worms, minnow imitations and spinnerbaits all do well for bass.

Cimbaro stated that there are three fish feeders and an aeration system in place to enhance fishing and improve water quality. Near the pond, two informational fishing kiosks provide information about species and techniques, as well as a fishing map of the lake.

"Bass will be located near any standing vegetation in the lake and also patrol the edges of the dropoffs present," Cimbaro offered.

All black bass caught in Plantation Heritage Park FMA must be released immediately.

To reach Plantation Heritage Park from Interstate 95 in Fort Lauderdale, go west on Davie Boulevard until it turns into Peters Road. Continue west to South Fig Tree Lane and turn right. The park entrance is on the right.

CALOOSA PARK LAKE

According to John Cimbaro, Caloosa Park Lake covers just 4 acres and has a sand bottom. The park is positioned in Palm Beach County at Boynton Beach.

"There's excellent shoreline access around nearly the entire lake," he said. "However, some parts of the shoreline are very soft. There's no boating available on the lake. Two fish feeders, native vegetation plantings, and an aeration system enhance the fishing and the lake habitat."

The lake contains largemouth bass channel catfish, bluegills, redear sunfish, Mayan cichlid and spotted tilapia.

"The bass average about 12 inches," Cimbaro revealed. "Fishing for largemouth bass is poor in the lake, because there are few bass present."

The few bass available in the system are dispersed throughout the lake.

Special fishing regulations on Caloosa Park Lake call for the release of all black bass.

To reach the park from I-95 in Boynton Beach, exit at Woolbright Road and head west. Turn left on Congress Avenue. The park entrance is on the left side of the road just past SW 23rd Avenue/Golf Road, and is marked by a sign. The lake itself is in the back of the park, where the road loops around.



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