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

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">Good to go:</span> Ryan Bancroft of Weston measures one of the lobsters he caught in the waters of Biscayne Bay near Fishermen’s Channel in July 2013.

    Lobster fishing | Annual two-day miniseason (Wed.-Thu.)

    Claw and order expected for Florida’s annual two-day lobster miniseason

    Florida’s largest undeclared state holiday — the annual two-day lobster miniseason — arrives Wednesday and Thursday. Thousands of hopeful scuba divers, snorkelers and bully netters will crowd the state’s waterways, vying for neighborhood barbecue supremacy.

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">Saving the day:</span> John Long releases a tarpon caught on fly rod by Sue Cocking off the Marquesas Keys.

    In My Opinion

    Tarpon make for nice backup plan

    Captain John Long and I zipped west in his skiff from Key West to the Marquesas Keys on Wednesday, filled with anticipation of permit. A few days earlier, anglers competing in the three-day Del Brown Invitational Permit Tournament had released 15 on fly and the winner, Nathaniel Linville, had five releases. That might not sound like much to a non-fly angler, but it’s huge. And on the previous day, Long and a friend had no less than 40 shots at permit on the flats west of Key West. They hooked two and lost them.

  •  
Shane Hutto of Orlando holds up a large red snapper he caught off Port Canaveral with Cop Out Charters.

    Final red snapper of the season ready to be snapped up

    Only one weekend remains open in this summer’s eight-day red snapper recreational mini-season in federal South Atlantic waters. Anglers have from one minute after midnight Friday until midnight Saturday to bring home one fish per person of any size. After that, the season will be closed indefinitely.

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