Fishing

Lake Istokpoga gaining notoriety as a trophy catch locale

 

Scocking@MiamiHerald.com

Some call it the “Rodney Dangerfield” of Florida bass lakes, getting little respect compared to its larger neighbors, fish-rich Okeechobee and Kissimmee. But 28,000-acre Lake Istokpoga has caught a lot of anglers’ attention recently with some outstanding catches.

Consider:

• The Outdoor Channel’s Major League Fishing, tournament fishing’s version of Survivor featuring 24 of the top pros in the nation, taped a show here in the middle of Hurricane Sandy’s onslaught last October. Although no one’s talking about exact weights pending the show’s airing in April, rumor has it someone released a 9.2, and there were plenty more quality bass caught that week, despite the howling winds.

• Nine Trophy Club entries – bass weighing 10 to 12.9 pounds – have been verified on the lake since the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission launched its Trophy Catch program last October. According to FWC figures, another 17 have been verified from 8 to 9.9 pounds. The top entry was Charles Beatty’s 12.4-pounder caught Dec. 6 on an artificial lure.

• At the Bass Champions Senior Tour in early January, the winning five-bass total was 34.43 pounds, anchored by a 10.4-pounder. The Okeechobee-Istokpoga Team tournament Jan. 27 had a winning bag of 37.13 pounds, with the largest fish weighing 9.3.

• Electro-fishing the lake in late February, FWC biologists saw good numbers of 25-plus-inch fish – usually over 8 pounds – and more in the 3- to 5-pound range, according to biologist Steve Gornak. Scientists use an electric cattle-prod-like device to stun fish temporarily so they can be sampled and then released.

FWC officials say this central Florida “lunker locker” is no fluke. They credit a 2001 restoration program that drew down water levels and scraped away muck on the lake bottom, followed by regular herbicide treatments to thin out hydrilla, and mechanical removal of floating tussocks. Regulations, they say, are aimed at nurturing a trophy fishery: a three-fish daily bag limit with a 15-24-inch slot and an allowance for one fish over 24 inches.

Anthony Hunt, a member of the pro staff at Roland and Mary Ann Martin’s Marina on Lake Okeechobee in Clewiston, heard plenty of buzz about Istokpoga and checked it out late last month.

“I heard there were fish that could eat people in here,” Hunt said. “I had to come see.”

On his first visit to the Highlands County lake, Hunt and a companion caught and released about 20 bass up to 4 ½ pounds using artificial baits. They found nearly all of their fish on the west side near Lake Istokpoga Marina around mixed vegetation with lots of little fry swimming around.

The 36-year-old Tamarac pro said the bass seemed to be in all phases: pre-spawn, spawn and post-spawn.

“I am impressed with how healthy the lake is,” Hunt said. “You can tell by how healthy the bass look.”

But not everyone is singing Istokpoga’s praises.

Joe Crowley, who bought Istokpoga Marina in 2002, says the FWC is over-treating with herbicides.

“If they keep treating hydrilla, they’ll destroy our lake,” Crowley said, adding that the lake used to have a good population of frogs, considered a bellwether of environmental health, but now he hardly sees any.

And bass guide/fishing columnist Dave Douglass of Avon Park wrote an article in the Highlands Today newspaper disputing FWC assertions that the number of bass larger than 8 pounds is on the rise.

Douglass cited FWC angler survey figures showing lower numbers of lunker bass reported in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons than during the 2009-10 period when 1,142 bass over 24 inches were reported by 3,014 anglers. He predicts less than 1,000 will be caught in the 2012-13 season.

But Gornak says it’s typical of bass fisheries to fluctuate from year to year, and he says the overall long-term trend is up. His boss, southwest regional fisheries administrator Bill Pouder, agrees.

“We see more trophy fish in our creel than we do with most other lakes in the state,” Pouder said. “I am cautiously optimistic that it’s going to be over 1,000 when we finish creel surveying in June.”

Read more Outdoors stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
A cheetah and her offspring at White Oak near Yulee.

    WILDLIFE | White Oak Conservation center

    Exotic, endangered animals thrive at Wild Oak preserve

    The North Florida facility that rehabilitated a young, injured Florida panther has a long tradition of helping threatened and endangered species.

  • outdoors

    South Florida fishing report: April 16, 2014

    Kim Mills of the Kelley Fleet reported all of their day boats have had catches of sailfish, dolphins, blackfin tuna, bonitos and cobia. All of the catches were made outside the outer reef. Captain Wayne Conn from the party boat Reward out of Miami Beach Marina reported on a recent night bottom fishing trip his 40 customers landed close to 400 yellowtail, mangrove and mutton snappers.

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">Tribute: </span>Runner’s shoes are laid out in a display titled, ‘Dear Boston: Messages from the Marathon Memorial,’ in the Boston Public Library.

    In My Opinion

    Linda Robertson: Runners remember Boston Marathon tragedy

    Amber Seidle-Lazo had run 26 miles of the 26.2-mile Boston Marathon when she was stopped by police one year ago on April 15 and told the finish line was closed.

Get your Miami Heat Fan Gear!

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category