Lake Okeechobee

Residents, anglers have mixed reactions to Lake Okeechobee

 

Some say there is no harm to Lake Okeechobee being overflooded, but not everyone agrees.

 
Captain Chet Douthit of Clewiston holds up a bass he caught and released using a swimbait in Lake Okeechobee.
Captain Chet Douthit of Clewiston holds up a bass he caught and released using a swimbait in Lake Okeechobee.
Susan Cocking / Miami Herald Staff

If you go

To book a bass fishing trip on Lake Okeechobee with captain Chet Douthit, call 863-228-0347.


scocking@MiamiHerald.com

A vexing South Florida paradox: Coral Springs angler Tim Feller celebrating his $9,800 tournament win with 10 bass totaling 41 pounds in two days on Lake Okeechobee at the same time angry residents of downstream Stuart are protesting fish kills and algae blooms in the Indian River Lagoon.

With water levels in the Big O at around 16 feet above sea level — more than a foot higher than average for this time of year — the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is releasing millions of gallons per day into the St. Lucie River estuary to the east and the Caloosahatchee River to the west to ease pressure on the aging dike surrounding the lake.

Residents on the receiving end of the muddy, brown deluge are so upset they’ve held public demonstrations and urged President Barack Obama to come see the devastation firsthand.

In sharp contrast to the plight of coastal residents, anglers on the Big O are enjoying bountiful bass fishing and a healthy ecosystem.

“I promise you: Okeechobee is the best lake in the U.S.,” said 30-year veteran bass fishing guide and tournament pro Chet Douthit of Clewiston. “High water is not bad on the fish; it’s hard on us.”

When lake levels are high, Douthit explained, bass, crappie and other fish have more territory available to find food and shelter.

“They move way back in toward the banks or out on the flats where it’s so thick you can’t go,” he said. “The lower the lake is, the more to the outside of the grass lines the fish have to stay and they’re easier to catch.”

For example, Feller’s victory in the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League Gator division super tournament Sept. 22 stemmed from flipping a green pumpkin/chartreuse Gambler tube with a one-ounce weight into the outside edge of a thin fringe of hydrilla. Two of his winning fish weighed 10 and eight pounds.

Douthit said he would prefer lower lake levels — not just for ease of catching, but to ensure healthy habitat. Prolonged high water can drown peppergrass, bulrush and other vegetation that gamefish and their prey need in order to thrive.

But regardless of the fishery, he said, the Corps has no choice about whether to release water from the lake because of the flood risk.

“This is just Mother Nature,” he said. “You got to get rid of the water. We just can’t keep holding it. When you get 10 inches of rain in two days, it’s got to go to the ocean. We have to let it go. It’s just a year we’ve got to deal with.”

That assessment is echoed by Don Fox, a 31-year veteran biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Okeechobee.

“The Army Corps doesn’t have any options,” Fox said. “I can’t throw rocks at ’em on this one. They’re doing what they can when they can.”

Fox said the big lake has been “relatively healthy” the past few years, with growing bass and crappie populations and no loss of vegetation.

Like just about everybody around the lake and downstream on both coasts, the biologist is keeping his fingers crossed that the remaining two months of the Atlantic hurricane season give Florida a break. The last thing anyone around the lake or downstream needs right now is more heavy rain.

“You’re not out of the woods in October,” Fox said. “We get a storm, we’re in trouble.”

Read more Outdoors stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
Greg Shaughnessy, left, and Dillon Justice show off a large snook they caught and released using a SpoolTek lure in Jupiter Inlet.

    Outdoors

    New SpoolTek lure catches monster snook in dark of night

    There’s an oft-repeated bromide that nothing good happens after 2 a.m., but that’s not necessarily true when it comes to snook fishing. Snook angler extraordinaire/fishing tackle maker Dave Justice insisted that that’s when he, his son Dillon, 18, employee Greg Shaughnessy and I should test his latest innovation, the SpoolTek, for catching huge linesiders in Jupiter Inlet.

  • Fishing Report

    South Florida fishing report: Aug. 20, 2014

    Captain Jimbo Thomas from the charter boat Thomas Flyer out of Miamarina at Bayside reported that large schoolie dolphins have been pretty thick along a giant weedline that has been located between 20 and 25 miles offshore of Miami.

  • South Florida outdoors notebook: Aug. 20, 2014

    Bassbusters Florida will hold silver and gold division team tournaments Saturday and Sunday out of Roland Martin’s Marine Center in Clewiston. Register at 5 a.m. both days. Weigh-ins will begin at 3 p.m. For more information, call Chris Fickey at 941-232-9539.

Miami Herald

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