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Bass Oasis: Florida's Lake Tarpon

This popular Tampa-area bass lake remains a haven, especially for those who like to throw live bait for lunker largemouths.

Bass Oasis: Florida's Lake Tarpon

Florida’s Lake Tarpon has a robust population of ravenous largemouths that have a hankering for live bait. (Photo by Larry Larsen)

Lake Tarpon is located in one of the largest metropolitan areas (Tampa/St.Petersburg/Clearwater) in the state of Florida. The 2,500-acre residential lake in Pinellas County lies just 10 miles west of Tampa on the east side of the city of Tarpon Springs. Despite its proximity to countless freshwater anglers in the Tampa Bay region, the lake’s fishery held up to heavy fishing pressure in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Today, the fishing pressure has subsided, and the bass population is vibrant with an excellent size structure. Most of the anglers on Lake Tarpon practice catch-and-release, which helps make these waters pressure-resistant and allows the bass to flourish.

In fact, Tarpon is rated one of the top 10 bass lakes in the state by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) fisheries biologists.

SUPPORT SYSTEM

There are two main reasons for the excellent bass fishing here: an abundance of natural forage, like threadfin shad, and the availability of aquatic vegetation. On Tarpon, the baitfish prosper in the tannin-stained waters and grassy habitat along much of the shoreline. Readily available plankton and nutrients feed the threadfin, which in turn keep the bass population well-fed and strong.


The lake has 16 miles of irregular shoreline, and much of it is natural topography. Obviously, some of the waterfront homes on the lake—and all of them in the canals—are bulkheaded. You’ll also find many docks.


Lake Tarpon is roughly a mile wide and stretches about 9 miles long. It has an average depth of 8 feet and drops to a maximum of 15 feet. There are also numerous dredge holes and drop-offs adjacent to shallow vegetated flats. Much of the depth variations are from the initial lakefront development in the “very early days” (early 1900s) when lot owners used bottom fill for lot enhancement and minimal building restrictions were in place.

AQUATIC ATTRACTIONS

Submerged mussel bars are located on mid-depth points that extend out into the lake. Pasture Fence Point, Piney Point and Sandy Point on the eastern side of the lake are top “named” areas to chase springtime bass. On the western side of Tarpon, anglers should check out Wall, Lons and Salmons Bay points, which often contain “bar” bass, particularly when wind-blown. Creek mouths and drainage ditches often attract forage and bass, too.

Rimming much of the shoreline are bulrushes, reeds, cattails (in the shallowest areas) and maidencane (or Kissimmee) grass beds. There are several dense, vegetated banks on the eastern side of Lake Tarpon near Brooker Creek, which flows out of the Booker Creek Preserve.

While there are no FWC state fish attractors on the lake any longer, several privately placed brush piles reportedly exist. Many are productive if you have insider information on where to find them. Offshore in mid-depths, there is peppergrass (or eel grass) and some milfoil. Here, and on some of the deeper submerged humps, you’ll find small beds of hydrilla, which also hold bass.




Lake Tarpon used to have extensive hydrilla growth, but state agencies have been spraying chemicals to kill most of that vegetation. There is not much hydrilla today, according to former guide and lakeside resident George Medders.

“It is being over-sprayed, which hurts the lake’s water quality in my opinion,” says Medders. “Fortunately, they are never going to get rid of it. Hydrilla is the best vegetation to find some of our larger bass, but’s there’s only isolated patches around the lake. If you can locate hydrilla on this lake, you’ll catch bass.”

Lake Tarpon Bass
Lake Tarpon is flush with forage and fantastic cover—both critical components to this healthy and vibrant fishery. (Photo by Larry Larsen)

BAIT UP

Bass concentrations can be found throughout the lake, and when the fish stack up and become competitive, most lure presentations will produce. Spinnerbaits, such as Hildebrandt’s Tin Roller, and jerkbaits like Berkley’s Magic Swimmer both work well. Soft-plastic flukes, grubs and tubes are effective in the shallow shoreline areas. Canals attract bedding bass, and smaller lures and a quiet approach often pay dividends here. Crankbaits and spinnerbaits fished on points and deeper irregular shorelines are effective.

Recommended


While a wide range of artificials will catch bass on Lake Tarpon, many anglers here prefer to use live bait, such as shad or shiners, drifting them over submerged grass beds or near weedlines in shallower waters. Grassy patches in the canals are prime spots to swim a live bait, too. Many anglers will target threadfin schools with cast nets and then fish them around near-surface vegetation in deep offshore waters.

The shiner population in Lake Tarpon varies from year to year. Currently, it is diminished and cast-netting them can be difficult. Local bait shops often sell hatchery shiners, and larger wild golden shiners can be found if you call around to bait shops in the area. Other productive areas to fish shiners are around the mouths of canals and in the shallow bays.

Bass also congregate in areas where there is current during heavy rain events, such as the mouths of canals, creeks and drainage ditches. Soft swimbaits like Berkley’s Agent E, SpoolTek’s Pro 4-inch Fatty or the Band of Anglers’s Minwaow Pro are very effective in such places. Jigs and steadily retrieved spinners also work well.

Toss soft plastics (rigged Texas- or Carolina-style) or drop-shots to drop offs and deeper banks or flip them under promising looking residential docks. Schooling bass on Lake Tarpon will follow bait pods of shad. Once located, fishing is usually excellent with shad-imitating submergent baits like suspending jerkbaits or lipless crankbaits.

Lake Tarpon Florida
Locating stands of submergent vegetation—whether nearshore or offshore—is often the key to catching fish on Lake Tarpon.(Photo by Larry Larsen)

SEASONED LARGEMOUTH

Keep an eye on the lake’s canals during falling water levels. In February and early March, bass could be spawning, but during unusually cold weather, pre-spawners may still be in deep water. Some of the more productive open-water areas are in Dolly and Little Dolly bays on the west side of the lake. The mouths of the canals in the bays are consistently productive year-round because the deep water is located near shallow flats.

When water temps start to warm, big bass head to shallow spawning areas along the shore and on the flats. They stage on the edges of bulrush stands, near the maidencane or around other vegetation. Catch rates for bass are highest in the spring when bass are feeding heavily after the spawn. Productivity increases as the water warms, with April and May being peak months.

Double-digit bass are sometimes taken in the spring. The unofficial record for Lake Tarpon is a 19-pound largemouth reportedly caught on a live eel in a canal on the south end of the lake in 1961. Just a few years ago, a 15-plus pound largemouth was caught, according to Medders.

Lake Tarpon
Anglers visiting Lake Tarpon will discover a diverse Florida habitat with a seemingly endless variety of cover to fish. (Photo by Larry Larsen)

In early-summer months, bass head back to offshore areas in slightly deeper water, so anglers should concentrate on open-water areas, points, ledges and the deeper flats. Some anglers will locate brush piles or man-made structures with their GPS units and catch fish. Others hit the main-lake points and mid-lake shell bar areas in June. Early in the morning and late in the afternoon are the best times to fish in summer as temperatures climb.

Finding submergent vegetation and weed edges is often the key to finding and catching fish then. On weekends, when boating traffic increases, you might give night fishing a go, as it can be very productive as bass attempt to avoid boaters and high temperatures.

EASE OF ACCESS

Getting onto Tarpon is a cinch from these public parks.

Public access to the lake is widely available in two county parks. A.L. Anderson Park off U.S. Highway 19 on the northwest side of the lake at Solomon Bay has an excellent ramp, which is open 24 hours a day.

John Chesnut Sr. Park off County Road 611 (East Lake Road) at the southeast corner of the lake has a great launch ramp but is open only during park hours, which is from sunrise to sunset.

Both Anderson and Chesnut parks offer fishing piers that some land-bound anglers may enjoy. For information on Lake Tarpon guide services, contact Gene Goldman (captaingenebassfishing.com) or Lenny Crispino (cptlenny.com).

WHILE IN TOWN

The Lake Tarpon area is home to plenty of worthwhile attractions.

Lake Tarpon map
Lake Tarpon is located north of east Tampa Bay.

The area around Lake Tarpon is family-friendly, with a variety of things to do off the water. The famous Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks are a few miles away with their museums, Greek art and culture, as well as dolphin, sightseeing and diving tours.

Sandy beaches are scattered along the nearby Gulf of Mexico; Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island state parks lie just offshore. Golfers will enjoy playing a round at nearby Innisbrook Copperhead golf course just west of the lake, and there are many other courses in the area.

A few miles farther south is the Clearwater Beach area, and there are many renowned family attractions in Tampa such as Busch Gardens, the Florida Aquarium, ZooTampa at Lowry Park, the Museum of Science and Industry and others. The Sunken Gardens attraction, helicopter and speed boat tours and various kayak tours are found in the St. Petersburg area and around Tampa Bay.

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