FISHING

Bass fishery comes back to life in Lake Trafford

 
 
Ross Myers of Pembroke Pines holds up two nice largemouth bass he caught and released on a recent fishing trip to Lake Trafford in Immokalee.
Ross Myers of Pembroke Pines holds up two nice largemouth bass he caught and released on a recent fishing trip to Lake Trafford in Immokalee.
Sue Cocking / Miami Herald Staff

scocking@MiamiHerald.com

Back in the late 1970s, angler and marine artist Ross Myers of Pembroke Pines routinely enjoyed 100-bass days fishing in 1,500-acre Lake Trafford near Immokalee.

“Phenomenal,” Myers said. “One of the hottest fisheries around.”

Myers’ friend, freshwater guide captain Joe Gruny of Lake Worth, had similar bass experiences on the lake until the mid 1990s. That was when the largest natural lake south of Okeechobee crashed from too much muck and too little oxygen that just about wiped out the bass population. Neither Myers nor Gruny fished there again — until two weeks ago.

Both were pleasantly surprised.

“No slime. No nastiness,” Myers said. “The water was definitely cleaner.”

Added Gruny: “There was an abundance of bait fish which tells me there’s bluegills and crappie — forage for the bass to eat. It tells me the fish are healthy.”

Fishing “blind” after so many years, the pair didn’t exactly bust the bass, but Myers caught and released two to about 4 pounds using a Gambler Senko worm.

In a local tournament held a few weeks beforehand, the catch was much better. Winners Dennis Spayberry and Chris Krill weighed five bass totaling 28.23 pounds. Their largest was 7.53. Runners-up Ken Willis and Charles Bass had a 25.41-pound sack with a big fish of 6.71.

Those results are particularly pleasing to Barron Moody, regional fisheries administrator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, whose agency joined with the South Florida Water Management District to restore the lake beginning in 2004.

“It’s not saying everybody’s going to have those results, but that told me you could go out to Lake Trafford and have decent bass fishing,” Moody said.

Meanwhile, populations of bluegill and black crappie are booming, and Lake Trafford has been ranked as one of the top 10 crappie fisheries in the state.

From 2004 to 2010, workers dredged 6.3 million cubic yards of muck coating the lake bottom at a cost of about $21.3 million. The FWC restocked the lake in 2010 and 2011 with 500,000 bass fingerlings from the agency’s Richloam hatchery. Now, those fish reportedly make up 40 percent of the population.

Aquatic plants such as bulrush and Illinois pond weed have been replanted while exotic hydrilla is being limited to five acres or less. Moody says the agency is being careful about treating the hydrilla with herbicide to prevent a build-up of dead vegetation that could deplete oxygen levels in the water. Future projects in conjunction with Collier County involve controlling shore erosion at lakefront Ann Olesky Park and the adjacent boat ramp.

“We’re not done. Lake Trafford is still on the radar,” Moody said. “We’re enjoying the success a little bit now.”

Anglers may keep five bass per day with a minimum size of 18 inches and there’s an allowance for one fish 22 inches or larger.

Ski Olesky, owner of Lake Trafford Marina and widower of the park’s namesake, is glad the bass are coming back but wishes the FWC would manage them for catch-and-release only.

“I discouraged people for years from fishing,” Olesky said. “After they dredged, I wanted this fishery to grow. I told white lies.”

But now the secret is out and fishermen have an even greater incentive to check out Lake Trafford: The FWC just announced it will award a prize package to the first angler to weigh a bass heavier than 8 pounds under the rules of the statewide TrophyCatch program. TrophyCatch rewards anglers who catch, document, and release exceptional bass; visit TrophyCatchFlorida.com.

Gruny, who guides mainly on Lake Okeechobee, says Lake Trafford’s new-found bounty provides additional options for South Florida anglers when the fishing is off in the Everglades and the Big O.

“I’d probably bring my son out here so he could cut his teeth on driving the boat and finding the fish,” Gruny said.

Added Myers: “The money they put into it and the looks of the lake, it has a lot of potential. I’d like to see it a year from now.”

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