(2.1) LARGEMOUTH BASS - Largemouth Bass of the Ocklawaha River, Florida

Largemouth Bass of the Ocklawaha River, Florida

 




An Information, Opinion, and Sources Report
Compiled by "Ocklawahaman" Paul Nosca 
With the assistance of Captain Erika Ritter and K. Alwine 
Created: 21 November 2011 
Last Revised: 12 August 2020

 

NOTE: Some of the credible written works by others (i.e., magazine/newspaper articles, web pages, etc.) that are referenced in this report would not be considered "peer-reviewed" scientific documentation.

                                                                                                      

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Largemouth bass are inextricably linked to the Ocklawaha River and the St. Johns River tidal estuary that it flows into. The largemouth bass, naturally present in all 67 counties, is undoubtedly Florida's most important and popular freshwater sport fish; making this particular black bass species a sizeable component of this state's economy. The combined Ocklawaha and St. Johns drainage basin is possibly the most significant river-estuary waterway of Florida, past and present, while this system is of legendary reputation among anglers of largemouth bass who seek 10-pound plus trophy fish. Many fishing tournaments, tackle shops, and guides rely upon the continuance of the bountiful largemouth bass fishery that has existed within the Ocklawaha and St. Johns River valleys.



 

This report -- compiled by a fisherman who fishes from a man-powered canoe and has actually caught over 2,000 largemouth bass on artificial lures from the Ocklawaha basin -- will attempt to consolidate available information, from many sources, about the largemouth bass of the Ocklawaha River along with related St. Johns River or other Florida data. It is intended to be informative reading for bass anglers and environmentalists alike.

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

INTRODUCTION

1. OCKLAWAHA RIVER AND ITS BASIN

2. OCKLAWAHA RIVER SEGMENTS: ST. JOHNS RIVER TO LAKE GRIFFIN

3. OCKLAWAHA RIVER: WATER FLOWS AND LEVELS

4. LARGEMOUTH BASS OF FLORIDA: SPECIES

5. LARGEMOUTH BASS OF FLORIDA: AGE, GROWTH, SIZE, AND DENSITY

6. LARGEMOUTH BASS OF FLORIDA: MOVEMENTS IN LAKES AND RIVERS

7. LARGEMOUTH BASS OF FLORIDA: FISHING IN RIVERS

8. LARGEMOUTH BASS: TERMINOLOGY OF BIGGEST FLORIDA CATCHES

9. LARGEMOUTH BASS: BIGGEST FLORIDA CATCHES

10. LARGEMOUTH BASS: BIGGEST ST. JOHNS RIVER BASIN CATCHES

11. LARGEMOUTH BASS: BIGGEST OCKLAWAHA RIVER BASIN CATCHES

12. LARGEMOUTH BASS: BIGGEST RODMAN RESERVOIR CATCHES

13. LARGEMOUTH BASS: OCKLAWAHA RIVER ESTIMATED BASS BY SEGMENT

14. LARGEMOUTH BASS: OCKLAWAHA RIVER ACTUAL CREEL SURVEY DATA

15. FLORIDA POLICY REGARDING RODMAN RESERVOIR

16. OCKLAWAHA RIVER BASS FISHING IS SPECIAL!

CITATIONS / REFERENCES

 

 

1. OCKLAWAHA RIVER AND ITS BASIN

 

Is it the Ocklawaha or Oklawaha River? The United States Board on Geographic Names in 1992 changed the official spelling back to "Ocklawaha", which was the original traditional way that this river's name was spelled from 1824 until 1892. The Federal government had officially decided in 1892 that the spelling should be "Oklawaha" and it was so for a century. Ocklawaha (Native American for "crooked" or "great" water) is the correct way to spell its name.  

 

The Ocklawaha River basin, also known as Florida's Central Valley, contains one of the state's most ancient rivers at some 17,000 years old. The named mainstream of the Ocklawaha River is 78 miles long measured from its mouth at the St. Johns River estuary upstream to its head at the north end of Lake Griffin (elevation 59 feet). However, an 1891 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers navigation survey of the Ocklawaha River reported that the north-flowing waters of its entire drainage basin were 125 miles in length from the tidal St. Johns River upstream to the point of its first emanation (66.5-foot elev. Apopka Spring which flows into the "Gourd Neck") at the extreme south-western end of Lake Apopka. It is possible to travel in a small vessel from the Ocklawaha's mouth at the St. Johns River to Lake Apopka (elev. 66 feet) by moving through four sets of navigational locks. Rising about 246 feet above Lake Apopka's western shoreline is Sugarloaf Mountain, of the Lake Wales Ridge, which at 312 feet above sea level is peninsular Florida's highest natural elevation -- and the most prominent hilltop in the entire state. The basin's most south-western cruising water of Lake Louisa (elev. 98 feet), head of the Palatlakaha chain of lakes and fed by the drainage of the Green Swamp, can be reached by portaging over several Palatlakaha River water control structures upstream of the south-west corner of Lake Harris (elev. 63 feet). By far, the Ocklawaha River basin is the longest and largest stream-flow volume tributary of the entire St. Johns River basin.

 

The entire Ocklawaha basin is generally divided into two parts for water management purposes by the huge inflow of the 5-mile long Silver River into the Ocklawaha River. The "Upper Ocklawaha Basin" contains all of the waters that feed the Ocklawaha River upstream (south) of and before the confluence with Silver River. The "Lower Ocklawaha Basin" includes the Silver River plus any waters that enter the Ocklawaha downstream (north) of the junction all the way to the mouth at the St. Johns. Upper Ocklawaha Basin waters include the Ocklawaha chain of lakes (Griffin, Eustis, Harris, Dora, Beauclair, and Apopka) and the Palatlakaha River with its chain of lakes (Lucy, Cherry, Minneola, Minnehaha, Louisa, plus others) along with a portion of the Green Swamp.

 

Lower Ocklawaha Basin waters include world famous 73-degree F Silver Springs, arguably Florida's original tourist attraction, at about 40-foot elev. some 56 miles upstream from the St. Johns River. Amazingly during some extreme drought years the Silver River (a.k.a. "Silver Springs Run") provides over 80% of the Ocklawaha Basin's total discharge into the St. Johns River. Other Lower Ocklawaha Basin tributary streams include: Daisy Creek, Eaton Creek (drains Charles, Eaton, and Mud lakes), Mill Creek, Orange Creek (drains Orange, Lochloosa, and Newnans lakes), Bruntbridge Brook, Deep Creek, Sweetwater Creek, plus the upper section of Camp Branch (diverted into the Lower Ocklawaha Basin by the Cross Florida Barge Canal). In addition, some 30 or so other artesian springs (besides the Silver Springs group in Silver River) feed the Lower Ocklawaha Basin -- many of these 73-degree F cool-water "jewels" are drowned in Rodman Reservoir which is the man-made backwater that formed behind Rodman Dam. Rodman Reservoir is also known as Rodman Pool or Lake Ocklawaha while Rodman Dam is also known as Kirkpatrick Dam.

 

From the influx of the Silver River downstream to the St. Johns River, the Ocklawaha meanders for 51 river miles through a 1/2 to 1-mile wide forested floodplain except where altered by Rodman Reservoir. This luxuriant, jungle-like, swamp forest of bald cypress and mixed hardwoods was originally 36,000 acres in size. Along many of those 51 miles the Ocklawaha has secondary channels or side-creeks making it a braided-stream with many additional miles of flowing rivulets, some canoe-navigable but others totally un-navigable. Between Rodman Dam and the St. Johns River, for example, the main Ocklawaha River channel is about 12 river miles long but a detailed search of United States Geological Survey topographic maps reveals that there are about 52 miles total of flowing stream channels here separated by floodplain swamp islands.

 

Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission (1970) Florida Wildlife magazine:

"During its geologic life, the river has carved out a mile-wide valley through which it now flows. During the annual rainy season, the water flows over its low banks and spreads out on the valley floor. When the water is low, the flow from Silver Springs makes the Oklawaha run crystal clear for miles. These rich, fluctuating waters have created dynamic conditions necessary for the maintenance of a productive sport fishery, which includes...largemouth bass...The Oklawaha in its natural state is a cool, highly enriched, densely shaded, fast-flowing, neutral pH river."

 

President Richard Nixon, in his 19 January 1971 statement about halting construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal project, described the Ocklawaha River as:

"[A] uniquely beautiful semi-tropical stream, one of a very few of its kind in the United States, which would be destroyed by construction of the Canal."

 

Bass and Guillory (1976):

"Although the Oklawaha River is a 'sand-bottomed' type stream, as defined by Beck (1965), it has several unique characteristics. Its swift current and steep gradient of 60 feet from headwaters to its mouth more typically exemplifies a Piedmont-type stream. The water quality of the Oklawaha River is dynamic, depending on the dominance of either pure Silver Springs water, degraded discharge from the upper Oklawaha chain of lakes though Moss Bluff Dam, or tannic-stained runoff from the floodplain."

 

Worth (1984) with Doug Hannon (the "Bass Professor") in Bassmaster magazine:

"We drifted on, the mysterious siren song beckoning us around the next bend, then the next, and the next. Time melted in the sleepy afternoon sun as we were carried on the current past moss-laden cypress and palms so ancient in their appearance, we wouldn't have been surprised had a brontosaurus lumbered out from behind them!"

 

"We might have been in a time warp, so wild and prehistoric this place appeared. But it was 1984. We were floating down the Oklawaha, one of Florida's finest bass fishing rivers."

 

 

2. OCKLAWAHA RIVER SEGMENTS: ST. JOHNS RIVER TO LAKE GRIFFIN

 

Proceeding upstream from its mouth at the St. Johns River, this report shall divide the 78 stream miles of the named Ocklawaha River into the following five segments:

"Lower Ocklawaha River" is from mile 00 St. Johns River upstream to mile 12 Rodman Dam;

"Rodman Reservoir" is from mile 12 Rodman Dam upstream to mile 33 Eureka Dam;

"Middle Ocklawaha River" is from mile 33 Eureka Dam upstream to mile 51 Silver River;

"Upper Ocklawaha River" is from mile 51 Silver River upstream to mile 64 Moss Bluff Dam;

"J.D. Young Canal" is from mile 64 Moss Bluff Dam upstream to mile 78 Lake Griffin.

 

 

3. OCKLAWAHA RIVER: WATER FLOWS AND LEVELS

 

The "Lower Ocklawaha River" is about 12 stream miles long and approximately 100 feet wide with a gradient averaging 0.35 feet/mile. Bacon and Black (1891) measured the current velocity in this segment of the Ocklawaha at from 0.6 to 0.7 mph. When inside its low banks, the Lower Ocklawaha River (including its many side-creeks) covers perhaps 165 surface acres. St. Johns River elevation is tidal while upstream at the Rodman (also known as Kirkpatrick) Dam tailrace the mean is about 4.5 feet above sea level. Long-term median discharge from the Rodman Dam tailrace into the Lower Ocklawaha River is some 1190 cubic feet per second (CFS). Summer water temperature in this segment averages 82 to 83 degrees F (28 to 28.5 C). Before the advent of Rodman Dam, the river at that location had an average water temperature of about 79 F (26 C) in the summer. The mostly natural Lower Ocklawaha River has been mentioned for possible inclusion into "Wild and Scenic River" status.

 

"Rodman Reservoir" contains about 21 stream miles of the Ocklawaha and is 13,000 surface acres when maintained at 20 feet above sea level or some 9,200 acres if maintained at 18 feet. The original river and creek channels inundated as a result of Rodman Dam would only amount to perhaps 300 surface acres. Gradient of the natural river channel for these 21 miles (now usually inundated by Rodman Reservoir) averaged about 0.7 feet/mile. Bacon and Black (1891) measured the current velocity in this segment of the Ocklawaha at from 0.8 to 0.9 mph. Long-term median discharge from the Middle Ocklawaha River at Eureka into the upstream head of Rodman Reservoir is some 991 CFS. Going upriver from the tail-end of the reservoir near the dam to its beginning at Eureka it transforms through three aquatic habitat zones: lacustrine (lake-like without current), transition, and riverine (river-like with some current). Summer water temperature in the lacustrine zone near the dam averages 83 to 84 degrees F (28.5 to 29 C) while in the riverine zone closer to Eureka it could be about 80 F (26.6 C). Keep in mind that about every three years, Rodman Reservoir undergoes a planned maintenance draw-down to about 11 feet above sea level with only 4,300 surface acres of water.

 

The "Middle Ocklawaha River" is about 18 stream miles long and approximately 50 to 100 feet wide with a gradient averaging 0.9 feet/mile that supports a swift current. Bacon and Black (1891) measured the current velocity in this segment of the Ocklawaha at from 0.9 to 1.2 mph. When inside its low banks, the Middle Ocklawaha River (including its side-creeks) covers maybe 180 surface acres. River elevation at Eureka averages 20.5 feet while upstream at the SR-40 Bridge (just below the Silver River inflow) it is usually about 36.5 feet above sea level. Long-term median discharge from the beginning of the Middle Ocklawaha River at the SR-40 Bridge is some 935 CFS. Summer water temperature in this segment averages a cool 75 to 77 degrees F (24 to 25 C) as it is heavily influenced by the 74-degree F (23.5 C) summertime inflow from Silver River. The mostly natural Middle Ocklawaha River has been mentioned for possible inclusion into "Wild and Scenic River" status.

 

The "Upper Ocklawaha River" is about 13 stream miles long and approximately 50 to 100 feet wide with a gradient averaging 0.10 feet/mile. Bacon and Black (1891) measured the current velocity in this segment of the Ocklawaha at from 0.35 to 0.4 mph. Much of this segment has been channelized while some is the man-made "Kyle and Young" or "Morrison Landing Extension" canals. At usual water levels the Upper Ocklawaha River fills about 110 surface acres. Some river restoration work is being performed in this segment by the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD). River elevation at just below the Silver River inflow averages 36.5 feet while upstream at just below Moss Bluff Dam the mean is about 38 feet above sea level. Long-term median discharge from the Moss Bluff Dam tailrace is 191 CFS. Summer water temperature in this segment averages 84 degrees F (29 C).

 

The "J.D. Young Canal" is about 14 stream miles long and approximately 50 to 100 feet wide with a negligible gradient. Bacon and Black (1891) measured the current velocity in this segment of the Ocklawaha at from 0.35 to 0.4 mph. It is mostly a man-made canal, that parallels the abandoned longer and much more winding original Ocklawaha River channel, at about 59 feet above sea level between Moss Bluff Dam and the open waters of Lake Griffin. The J.D. Young Canal fills about 118 surface acres at its usual water levels. River restoration work is being performed in this segment by SJRWMD. Summer water temperature in this segment averages 84 degrees F (29 C). 

 

NOTE: Official water temperature measurements are usually taken during the morning hours from flowing current (if any) about one foot below the surface. Any summertime readings from shallower water (or water without any stream-flow) and/or later in the day would quite possibly display an even higher temperature.

 

IMPORTANT: Warmer water holds less of the dissolved oxygen that is required by largemouth bass and other fish for survival.

 

 

4. LARGEMOUTH BASS OF FLORIDA: SPECIES

 

Biologists generally agree that only 2 naturally occurring varieties of largemouth black bass inhabit Florida freshwaters. Peninsular Florida, south and east of the Suwannee River, is the native home of the Florida largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides floridanus) subspecies which have a lateral line scale count of 69 to 73. Panhandle Florida, north and west of the Suwannee River, is populated with naturally reproducing hybrids (Micropterus salmoides salmoides x Micropterus salmoides floridanus) of the northern and the Florida largemouth bass subspecies having a lateral line scale count of 66 to 68. Pure strain northern largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides salmoides), lateral line scale count of 59 to 65, are not thought to be native to any Florida waters.



 

Largemouth bass are considered to be a "lentic" freshwater species meaning that they can exist successfully in lacustrine (still-water lake and pond) environments. They do not require flowing current for any of their usual life cycle. In spite of this, largemouth bass do naturally populate and thrive in any Florida freshwater stream systems of suitable size.

 

The Florida largemouth bass is the native largemouth bass subspecies of the entire combined Ocklawaha River and St. Johns River basins.

 

 

5. LARGEMOUTH BASS OF FLORIDA: AGE, GROWTH, SIZE, AND DENSITY

 

Largemouth bass in Florida are adults with the ability to reproduce at 2 to 3 years old or when the males are 10 inches and the females reach 12 inches. Females grow faster and larger than males. Most of the 15 to 19-inch "quality" bass are females. "Memorable" largemouth bass of 20 to 23 inches long (about 4 to 7 lbs) and "trophy" size bass of 24 to 26 inches in total length (about 8 to 10 lbs) -- plus any longer and heavier "lunkers" -- are almost always females.

 

Porak et al. (1992):

"POPULATION DYNAMICS...GROWTH RATES...By age 2 or 3, females grow much faster than male largemouth bass. Male largemouth bass seldom exceed 16 inches, while females over 22 inches are common. At 5 years of age females may be twice the weight of males...One-year old largemouth bass average about 7 inches in length. Largemouth bass grow to an adult size of 10 inches in about 1.5 years in a fast-growing population and 2.5 years where slow growth rates are found. For larger fish preferred by many anglers (15 inches and larger), it may require 2.5 years for females in a fast-growing population, but more than four years for females in a slow-growing population. In both cases, males take two additional years to attain 15 inches. Females require 5.5 to 6.5 years to attain 20 inches, depending on growth rates, while males rarely attain this size. Thus, virtually all trophy largemouth bass are females."

 

"TROPHY BASS...Trophy largemouth bass (10 pounds or larger) average 10 years of age, but they have ranged from 4 to 16 years old. Growth rates for trophy bass vary between water bodies and are probably related to the productivity of the system, type and sizes of forage fish and amount of fishing pressure...SURVIVAL RATES...Most largemouth bass are less than 4 or 5 years old, and bass 6 to 8 years of age have become uncommon in recent years. The oldest bass collected, 16 years, were from the lightly fished Dead Lake (Gulf County). Since fish generally do not stop growing, their ultimate size depends on how long they live. In the case of Florida largemouth bass, females not only grow faster but tend to live longer than males."

 

"Bass populations range from 5 to 50 adult fish per acre in Florida lakes."

 

 

6. LARGEMOUTH BASS OF FLORIDA: MOVEMENTS IN LAKES AND RIVERS

 

Largemouth bass inhabiting large river systems can be quite nomadic in nature following migratory forage species such as shad and also seeking water levels or temperatures to their liking.

 

Moody (1963) Florida Wildlife magazine:

"Results of the bass tagging study...in Lake George suggest that the bass population may consist of a resident segment with restricted movements and of a mobile group which tends to move about more freely in the St. Johns...One-third of the tagged bass recoveries were made outside of Lake George, both upstream and downstream from it, and in its tributaries. Some of these fish were found to have traveled more than 100 miles from Lake George."

 

Porak et al. (1992):

"BEHAVIOR AND MOVEMENT PATTERNS...Florida biologists have found that the majority of bass tend to stay within one mile of tagging sites in lakes and three miles in rivers. However, it has been estimated that 10 to 20 percent of a bass population moves great distances. Tagged largemouth bass have traveled up to...51 miles in the St. Johns River."

 

 

7. LARGEMOUTH BASS OF FLORIDA: FISHING IN RIVERS

 

Florida contains well over 7000 natural lakes for bass anglers to fish but has only about 50 sizeable flowing rivers. Many of those 50 freshwater riverine bass habitats have been altered somewhat by man so that they are not completely free-flowing from their source to their mouth anymore. Still there are many avid bass fishermen who prefer the aesthetics of cool-flowing, tree-lined and shaded Florida streams to the thousands of lacustrine freshwaters that are available in this state; especially in the summertime. An old proverb (original author unknown) of some freshwater anglers goes like this: "There are lake fishermen, and there are river fishermen, and seldom do the twain agree!"



Worth (1984) in Bassmaster magazine quoting Doug Hannon (the "Bass Professor"):

"'As far as largemouth bass go, I'd say that rivers offer today's Bassmaster angling opportunities that perhaps are simply not available in lakes -- even the best lakes.'"

 

"'Rivers are magic!' said Hannon as we drifted quietly along the Oklawaha. 'There’s something satisfying about fishing where the water carries you at its own pace. The environment rolls by as you drift past. I think of fishing a river in the same sense as watching a motion picture, as compared to fishing a lake, which is more like looking at a snapshot. In a river, you’re almost overwhelmed by the power of its life and motion. It keeps calling you on; you just want to go around one more bend!'"

 

Hill and Cichra (2005):

"McLane (1955) found largemouth bass throughout the St. Johns River system, Florida, except for sulphurous, hypoxic spring boils, very shallow habitats (e.g., shallow swamp streams), or ephemeral wetlands. Largemouth bass was found over all substrates and at all depths, with or without vegetation, in quiet waters or in moderate currents. Although McLane (1955) mentioned a lack of this species in certain spring boils, he and others have frequently collected largemouth bass in springs, runs, and spring-fed rivers (e.g., Caldwell et al. 1955; VanGenechten 1999)."

 

"Stream largemouth bass are commonly thought to inhabit mainly pools, backwaters, and other habitats with relatively low current velocity...In the Chipola River, Florida, largemouth bass was most common in pool habitats and was most associated with areas of reduced current and higher-than-average amounts of woody debris (Wheeler and Allen 2003). Nevertheless, larger individuals (300 mm TL) in the Santa Fe River often were collected from turbulent, higher velocity habitats. Additionally, largemouth bass was found in shoals as well as in pool habitat in the Chipola River (Wheeler and Allen 2003). Based on such evidence, Wheeler and Allen (2003) concluded that largemouth bass may be more general in habitat use in streams than commonly thought."

 

 

8. LARGEMOUTH BASS: TERMINOLOGY OF BIGGEST FLORIDA CATCHES

 

UNDOCUMENTED indicates big, heavy largemouth bass reportedly caught in Florida that are not recognized as being documented catches by the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame (NFWFHF), Bassmaster magazine (BASS), and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) or its predecessor Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission (GFC). The overwhelming majority of heavyweight largemouth bass reported caught from Florida are undocumented as the process to officially document is very meticulous.

 

DOCUMENTED indicates big, heavy largemouth bass caught in Florida that are recognized as being documented catches by the IGFA, NFWFHF, BASS, and FWC or its predecessor GFC. The quite meticulous procedure to officially document requires documenting the weighing of the fish on a certified inspected scale in the presence of 2 disinterested witnesses plus measuring its length and girth along with an inspection to verify the species by a qualified person. Also a clear photo must be submitted plus in some instances the first 25 feet of the fishing line that was used and possibly even more required information.

 

NON-CERTIFIED indicates big, heavy largemouth bass caught in Florida that are recognized as being documented catches by the IGFA, NFWFHF, and BASS -- but were never examined and weighed by personnel of FWC or its predecessor GFC.

 

CERTIFIED indicates big, heavy largemouth bass caught in Florida that are recognized as being documented catches by the IGFA, NFWFHF, and BASS -- plus they were examined and weighed by personnel of the FWC or its predecessor GFC.

 

Other big bass documenting organizations of the past were the International Spin Fishing Association and of course Field & Stream magazine -- both of which -- in 1978 turned-over their official freshwater fish record-keeping duties to the IGFA. Field & Stream magazine's documentation of heavyweight fish catches dated back to 1911 when their annual fishing contests began.

 

 

9. LARGEMOUTH BASS: BIGGEST FLORIDA CATCHES

 

Back in 1969, before the advent of overweight California-caught transplanted Florida-strain bass, Field & Stream reported that only 3 largemouth bass weighing over 19 pounds had ever been officially documented since record keeping began in 1911. Those 3 bass were: (1) 22 pounds 4 ounces by George Perry in 1932 from Montgomery Lake, Telfair County, Georgia; (2) 20 pounds 2 ounces by "Fritz" Friebel in 1923 from Big Fish Lake, Pasco County, Florida; and (3) 19 pounds 15 ounces by R. E. Lucas in 1927 from Keystone Lake, Hillsborough County, Florida. The 19-pound largemouth bass was caught by W. A. Witt in 1961 from Lake Tarpon, Pinellas County, Florida.




A listing of the "All-Time Top-25 Biggest/Heaviest Largemouth Bass Ever Caught (Or Reportedly Caught) in Florida" is available online. It includes any available reported catches whether undocumented, documented, non-certified or certified. https://sites.google.com/site/ocklawahaman/all-time-top-25-biggest-fl-largemouth-bass

 

Before numbers 1 to 25 is a section beginning with letters A to H of undocumented extremely big largemouth bass that were reportedly caught in Florida. The reported weights of all of these "lettered" bass exceed that of Florida's heaviest-ever documented record largemouth bass.

 

Number 1 is the 20-lb 2-oz (31-in length and 27-in girth) largemouth bass caught 19 May 1923 by Frederick "Fritz" Friebel from Big Fish Lake in Pasco County. Friebel's catch is the heaviest documented largemouth bass from Florida and is the non-certified state record. It was the heaviest bass entered in the 1923 Field & Stream annual fishing contest.




A 19-lb 15-oz largemouth bass caught by R. E. Lucas in 1927 from Keystone Lake in Hillsborough County is number 3 on the list. It is Florida's 2nd heaviest documented largemouth bass ever and was the 1927 Field & Stream fishing contest winner.

 

Further down on the list is the 19-lb (31-in length) largemouth bass caught 21 June1961 by W.A. Riley Witt from Lake Tarpon in Pinellas County. The Witt fish won the 1961 Field & Stream fishing contest for "Florida Bass" and was formerly the non-certified state record -- before evidence of the Friebel 1923 catch came to light.



Much further down on this list is a 17-lb 4-oz (30-in length and 22.5-in girth) largemouth bass caught 6 July1986 by Billy O'Berry from an unnamed lake in Polk County. Between the Witt and the O'Berry fish are many documented plus even many more undocumented catches. The O'Berry bass is the heaviest documented catch that was ever examined and weighed by personnel of the FWC or GFC. As of this report, it is still the current certified Florida record.

Some big largemouth bass specimens caught over the years in Florida were long in inches of total length but lean in pounds and ounces of weight. The documented world record longest largemouth bass ever caught anywhere was taken from Lake Toho in Florida by Bill Whipple on 11 August 2002 and was 33 inches in total length but weighed an amazingly light 14 lbs 6 oz! At least three bass were reportedly 32 inches long but only weighed 17 to 17.25 lbs each.

 

 

10. LARGEMOUTH BASS: BIGGEST ST. JOHNS RIVER BASIN CATCHES

 

Over the years, perhaps hundreds of 10-lb and heavier trophy largemouth bass have been harvested from the St. Johns River and the connected natural lakes of its basin (not including any waters of the Ocklawaha Basin). Reports have been found of at least 6 bass from 15 lbs up to over 16 lbs plus 7 more weighing from 17 lbs to 18 lbs 13 oz caught from the St. Johns and its natural lakes such as Lake George, Crescent Lake, and Lake Blue Cypress.

 

Possibly, these heavyweight St. Johns River largemouth bass are the result of being able to consume a much larger variety of nutritious forage than most bass in Florida. This un-dammed estuary is inhabited not only by the usual types of freshwater prey but also by free-ranging marine or brackish-water fish species plus small crabs, giant river prawns, and large shrimp.

 

Hunn (1991) Florida Wildlife magazine:

"But of all the items on a bigmouth's dinner menu, saltwater shrimp is undoubtedly the most unusual...However, there are a few expert fishermen who know that in tidal streams, black bass love to dine on live shrimp...Talk to cagey Florida anglers who fish the...St. Johns...rivers, or most any stream with a viable shrimp population nearby."

 

Hill and Cichra (2005) noted that Harris (mud) crabs and river prawns were found in largemouth bass stomachs.

 

The heaviest documented largemouth bass ever reported from the St. Johns River itself weighed 18 lbs 13 oz (29.5-in length and 26.5-in girth). This bass was caught near Green Cove Springs on 12 April1987 by Buddy Wright. No documented Florida-caught largemouth bass from a river has ever weighed any more.

 

An 18-lb 4-oz largemouth bass taken from the St. Johns River on 16 December 1948 by J. W. Smith was the winner of the 1948 Field & Stream annual fishing contest.

 

The "catch and release" Farm 13/Stick Marsh and Taylor Creek man-made lakes of the upper St. Johns Basin have produced about a dozen largemouth bass (2 documented) at 18 to 20 lbs.

 

 

11. LARGEMOUTH BASS: BIGGEST OCKLAWAHA RIVER BASIN CATCHES

  

Over the years, many 10-lb and heavier trophy largemouth bass have been harvested from the flowing Ocklawaha River and the original lakes of its basin (not including Rodman Reservoir).

 

Lake Weir, Lake Lochloosa, Orange Lake, and Newnans Lake combined have reportedly produced at least seven largemouth bass from 15.5 to 18.5 lbs. These lakes are all part of the Ocklawaha Basin.

 

Orange Lake, according to Snellings (1975) in a Sarasota Journal (26 March 1975) newspaper article, grew a much larger bass: "A 21 1/2-pounder was removed from the shallow water of Orange Lake in 1954, but was not caught on rod and reel."

 

At least three reports have been found of 15 to 15.75-lb largemouth bass catches since 1970 from non-Rodman Reservoir segments of the Ocklawaha River itself.

 

The Ocklawaha River gave-up a 29.5-in long largemouth bass (probably about 17 lbs) in March 1979 to R.L. Westbrook of Ft. McCoy, Florida. It was the winning entry in the Ocala-Marion County 1979 "Big Bass Bonanza."

 

The biggest largemouth ever supposedly taken from the Ocklawaha River was reportedly 21 lbs 3 oz and beyond 32 inches in length. It was caught near Moss Bluff by Thomas A. Johnson of Ocklawaha, Florida on 2 January 1975. There is at least one photo from the Ocala Star-Banner newspaper, in 1975, of this extremely long bass which looks very much longer than the Ford "5th generation" pickup truck 21-inch height tailgate that also appears in the picture.

 

After being weighed at a nearby fish camp and photographed, this fish was eaten before the GFC was ever notified of its existence. With only the available photos of Johnson's catch and not the fish itself, GFC was never able to certify the WEIGHT of this bass as HEAVIER than the then recognized 19-lb state record -- so this Ocklawaha River "giant" never became the new Florida certified record largemouth bass.

 

Johnson's bass, as reported, weighed more and was longer than any of the top-ten heaviest documented Florida-caught largemouth bass. Those ten also were never certified by the FWC/GFC. It ranks among Florida's heaviest undocumented largemouth bass which were reportedly heavier than the current 1st place non-certified but documented 20-lb 2-oz state record.



 

The Thomas A. Johnson 2 January 1975 bass is the heaviest and longest largemouth bass ever reportedly caught on rod and reel from the Ocklawaha or St. Johns River basins. This bass was supposedly taken at least 25 miles upriver on the Ocklawaha from Eureka and would have hatched from its egg many years before the 30 September 1968 completion of Rodman Dam. Perhaps it may be conjectured that this huge bass could have survived for about 15 years within the safe refuge of the 5-mile long Silver River -- closed to all fishing by state law since 1929 -- while venturing out into the Ocklawaha River only occasionally as a "tackle buster" until it was legally caught near Moss Bluff during that relatively warm winter of 1974-75?

 

Worth (1984) in Bassmaster magazine quoting Doug Hannon (the "Bass Professor"):

"Hannon believes rivers have what it takes to grow not only big bass, but the biggest bass."

 

"'For a bass to get very big, it has to live a long time -- it will take a 14- to 16-year old bass to be of world record proportions. However, bass won't live long in warm water. In the North, bass have been reported that are 18 years old; of course, their limited yearly growth rate keeps them from becoming record fish.'"

 

"'Florida's short, pure rivers -- such as the Silver or Rainbow -- have what it takes to produce a world record bass,' Hannon believes."

 

"Hannon pointed out that the very best Florida bass rivers connect to more fertile waters, adding to their potential. 'The Silver connects to the Oklawaha, the Rainbow to the Withlacoochee; the bass can utilize the clear, short river for spawning and to moderate their environment and the more fertile waters for feeding.'"

 

 

12. LARGEMOUTH BASS: BIGGEST RODMAN RESERVOIR CATCHES

 

Since Rodman Dam was closed across the Ocklawaha River on 30 September 1968, untold dozens of 10-lb plus trophy largemouth bass have been caught from Rodman Reservoir (a.k.a. Rodman Pool or Lake Ocklawaha). As of this writing at least 9 huge bass in the 15 to 16-lb class have been reported taken from Rodman Reservoir including the 15-lb 4-oz pound trophy caught by Mr. Avery Fields, Sr. on 4 November 1974 that won the 1974 Field & Stream annual fishing contest for "Florida Bass."

 

Henry (2003):

"Rodman Reservoir is a popular largemouth bass fishery with a reputation for producing trophy fish...During the spring of 2000 two largemouth bass were caught from the reservoir weighing 7.7-kg and 6.8-kg (Dan Canfield, Florida Lakewatch, personal communication)." NOTE: 7.7 kg = 16.94 pounds and 6.8 kg = 14.96 pounds.

 

The heaviest largemouth bass ever taken from Rodman Reservoir reportedly weighed 17 lbs 2 oz on the day of catch and was 29.75 in long. There is at least one photo available of this impressive fish that was caught on 11 March 2000 by Mr. E.C. "Doodle Bug" Dressler. State biologists viewed this bass while it was still alive in a large aquarium but newspaper accounts say that it was not weighed on a certified scale then.



 

Henry (2003), about research conducted on Rodman Reservoir during 2000-2002 involving the sampling of 2,638 bass collected by electro-fishing or tournaments:

"Female largemouth bass in the whole sample did not exceed 600-mm TL, whereas males did not exceed 530-mm TL. Female largemouth bass reached a mean length of 587 ± 20-mm TL by age-10, whereas male largemouth bass reached a mean length of 435 ± 6-mm TL by age-10...Female largemouth bass at Rodman Reservoir reached memorable size between ages 6 and 7... A previous study by Allen et al. (2002) examined gender-specific growth rates for 35 largemouth bass populations in Florida lakes and found that female largemouth bass with average growth reached memorable size between ages 6 and 7. Therefore, female growth rates at Rodman Reservoir were about average in comparison to other Florida water bodies." NOTE: 600 mm TL (total length) = 23.6 inches, 530 mm = 20.9 inches, 587 mm = 23.1 inches, and 435 mm = 17.1 inches.

 

 

13. LARGEMOUTH BASS: OCKLAWAHA RIVER ESTIMATED BASS BY SEGMENT

 

Using the biologists' figure of 5 to 50 adult largemouth bass PER SURFACE ACRE OF LAKE WATER, the following population estimates may be calculated for the five Ocklawaha River segments:

 

Lower Ocklawaha River reaches from mile 00 St. Johns River upstream to mile 12 Rodman Dam and occupies about 165 surface acres (secondary channels included) when inside its low banks. Adult largemouth bass population in this segment could range from 825 up to 8,250 fish.

 

Rodman Reservoir reaches from mile 12 Rodman Dam upstream to mile 33 Eureka Dam and occupies about 9,200 surface acres when maintained at 18 feet elevation. Adult largemouth bass population in this segment could range from 46,000 up to 460,000 fish. Somewhere in the lower 1/3 of that range -- maybe between 46,000 and 138,000 bass -- is probably the much more accurate estimate because Rodman Reservoir undergoes a planned drawdown every 3 to 4 years, during the wintertime, to about 4,300 surface acres at 11 feet elevation. The estimated bass population for 4,300 acres, using the biologist's formula, would be 21,500 up to 215,000.

 

Middle Ocklawaha River reaches from mile 33 Eureka Dam upstream to mile 51 Silver River and occupies about 180 surface acres (secondary channels included) when inside its low banks. Adult largemouth bass population in this segment could range from 900 up to 9,000 fish.

 

Upper Ocklawaha River reaches from mile 51 Silver River upstream to mile 64 Moss Bluff Dam and occupies about 110 surface acres at usual water levels. Adult largemouth bass population in this segment could range from 550 up to 5,500 fish.

 

J.D. Young Canal reaches from mile 64 Moss Bluff Dam upstream to mile 78 Lake Griffin and occupies about 118 surface acres at usual water levels. Adult largemouth bass population in this segment could range from 590 up to 5,900 fish.



 

14. LARGEMOUTH BASS: OCKLAWAHA RIVER ACTUAL CREEL SURVEY DATA



Paul Nosca maintains computerized records of all his fishing trips on all waters, amounting to a personal "creel survey", which date back to 1990. Analysis of the inches-total length catch-size information may offer some insight into the population dynamics of a particular fish species for a certain river segment or other body of water.



Paul Nosca, during his lifetime, has caught more largemouth bass from the (1) Ocklawaha River basin than from any other river or lake basin. In descending order, these are the next 3 basins (all are in the Tallahassee, Florida area) that he has caught the most largemouth bass from: (2) St. Marks-Wakulla River basin, (3) Ochlockonee River basin, and (4) Lake Jackson basin.



The actual 1990 to 2018 (29 years) personal creel survey data of largemouth bass caught and measured (and most then released) by Paul Nosca while exclusively using artificial lures (e.g., 1/4-ounce buzz-baits and spinner-baits) from his man-powered canoe in the flowing Middle Ocklawaha River (between Silver River and Rodman Reservoir)  --  with fishing trips during all 12 months of the year (including: high and/or low water stages, inclement weather conditions, and unfavorable moon-influenced events)  --  show these cumulative results (updated through 1 January 2019):

Success Rate = 1.14 bass caught (kept and/or released) per hour of bass fishing;
42% = less than 12 inches in total length; 
58% = 12 inches or longer in total length; 
25% = 14 inches or longer in total length; 
6% = 17 inches or longer in total length; 
1% = 20 inches or longer in total length.



NOTE: Available fisheries literature suggests that a 14-inch long female Ocklawaha River largemouth bass will probably be from 3 to 4 years old and males may take 2 more years to reach 14 inches. 20-inch long females likely are 6 to 7 years old and males almost never reach 20 inches in length.



Interestingly, the Middle Ocklawaha River creel survey data above is very similar to the inches-total length catch-size cumulative statistics for largemouth bass caught by Paul Nosca from the two other flowing river systems that he has bass-fished the most: the Tallahassee area's Ochlockonee River basin and St. Marks-Wakulla River basin.


 

  

15. FLORIDA POLICY REGARDING RODMAN RESERVOIR

 

The 30 September 1968 completion of Rodman Dam caused the loss of 21 river miles of free-flowing riverine ecosystem. Florida's peninsula was blessed by the Creator with thousands of lakes but very few swift-flowing streams of any considerable length. The "pre-Rodman Dam" 56-mile long "Silver-Ocklawaha River" was unique in this state by virtue of having one of the world's greatest-flow 1st magnitude artesian spring groups (73-degree F Silver Springs) as its supreme headwaters with unimpeded access for fish and other aquatic life located more than 50 miles above tidewater influence.

 

It has been Florida's official policy since 1995 that the Ocklawaha River shall undergo a partial restoration that makes it once again a free-flowing stream from Moss Bluff and Silver Springs to the St. Johns River. Commercialized largemouth bass fishing interests plus funding and permitting issues continue to stymie this restoration process.

 

Governor Lawton Chiles on 16 June 1995 issued:

"After a careful review of the Ocklawaha River/Rodman Reservoir issue, I am hereby directing the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, in cooperation with the St Johns River Water Management District, to proceed immediately in applying for permits to restore the Ocklawaha River and in moving forward with a plan to begin an orderly and phased drawdown of the Rodman Reservoir."

 

Clugston (2002):

"The ultimate destiny of the impoundment is confounded by an ongoing dispute between sport fishermen, who wish to preserve the dam and reservoir, and environmentalists. The first group touts excellent largemouth bass fishing and economic benefits to nearby communities. The later group emphasizes the importance of a free-flowing river for the benefit of all flora and fauna, many of which are listed by Florida as endangered, threatened, or species of special concern."

 

Muller and Associates, Inc. (2007) in "Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway Management Plan":

"Numerous groups have urged the removal of the Kirkpatrick (formerly Rodman) Dam and restoration of Rodman Reservoir to the Ocklawaha River floodplain since the 1970s because of the impact of the reservoir on the Ocklawaha River and floodplain and associated ecosystems. There is resistance to this from other groups such as sports-fishing related organizations and businesses. The Governor and Cabinet, sitting as the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund, have an established policy that the Ocklawaha River should be 'partially restored'... with the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection as the lead agency. However, the Legislature has not appropriated funds for this purpose. If funds are made available and permits are issued, it is the intent of FDEP to undertake this restoration. SJRWMD is investigating the potential impact on the St. Johns River from restoration of the Ocklawaha."

 

"By 2057, the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway exceeds the original vision. Through an enthusiastic and determined effort, the uplands and wetlands of the Greenway are now restored natural communities, not just in appearance, but in function as well. The Ocklawaha River is once again free-flowing, and its formerly submerged floodplain is flourishing...The Ocklawaha River continues to produce trophy bass, and people still enjoy the simplicity of catching panfish with their kids. The paddling trails of the Greenway continue to be popular. Paddlers can enter the Ocklawaha from a variety of access points, including the St. Johns River. Public ownership of the Ocklawaha River banks allows paddlers to immerse themselves in the experience of an undeveloped river and floodplain. Some choose to paddle upstream from the St. Johns River to the Silver River; others prefer the easier, downstream paddle originating at Silver Springs...CFG staff are planning events for the 50th anniversary of the designation of the Ocklawaha River as a National Wild and Scenic River."

 

The restoration of a free-and-swift flowing Silver-Ocklawaha River system by the breaching of Rodman Dam would allow a second native game-fish species of bass -- the Atlantic-race striped bass -- to again make annual spawning runs from the St. Johns up the Ocklawaha and into the Silver River like these once-endemic stripers did in the past, prior to Rodman. Two species of highly prized and sought-after bass -- Florida largemouth and Atlantic-race striped bass -- could once again naturally populate the Ocklawaha River and Silver River of Marion County, Florida.



 

 

16. OCKLAWAHA RIVER BASS FISHING IS SPECIAL!


The remnant free and nearly natural section of the Ocklawaha River  --  which comprises most all of the state designated "Ocklawaha River Aquatic Preserve"  --  contains its original strain of Florida largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides floridanus) plus other fishes that have adapted over the centuries to its swift-flowing lotic ecosystem, which is rarely found anywhere else in peninsular Florida. This is "Real-Florida" bass fishing for stream-bred, riverine-adapted largemouth bass native to this canopied, cool-water, spring-fed river for perhaps thousands of years.



The aesthetic quality of this Ocklawaha angling experience may be comparable to having the unique opportunity to fish for wild, non-stocked rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) in one of their surviving unspoiled, cold-water, Pacific-slope streams  --  where rainbow trout have been native for thousands of years  --  in Oregon, Washington (state), or Alaska some 3000 miles or more away from north-central Florida.



Or maybe being able to enjoy the rare pleasure of doing a fishing trip for wild, non-stocked smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu) on one of their precious few remaining boulder-strewn, cool-water, free-flowing, spring-fed rivers  --  where smallmouth bass have been native for a thousand years or so  --  in the Ozark or Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, Missouri, or Oklahoma at least 1000 miles from Florida’s Ocklawaha River.

YES, OCKLAWAHA RIVER BASS FISHING IS THAT SPECIAL!

 

 

CITATIONS / REFERENCES

 

Bacon, J. H. and W. M. Black. 1891. "Report of the Chief of Engineers, U.S. Army; Appendix O - Report of Captain Black (pages 1620-1627); Improvement of the Ocklawaha River, Florida; Report of Mr. J. H. Bacon, Assistant Engineer, United States Engineer Department, St. Augustine, Fla., 11 May 1891." U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

 

Bass, D. G. and V. Guillory. 1976. Cross Florida barge canal restudy report; fisheries study (Volume 1, 2, 3). Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, Tallahassee, FL.

 

Clugston, J. P. 2002. Fishes of the Ocklawaha River, Florida. Florida Defenders of the Environment, Gainesville, FL.

 

Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. 1970. "The Oklawaha River" article. Florida Wildlife magazine (November 1970, page 24-26). Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, Tallahassee, FL.

 

Henry, K. R. 2003. Evaluation of largemouth bass exploitation and potential harvest restrictions at Rodman Reservoir, Florida. Master thesis. University of Florida, Gainesville, FL.

 

Hill, J. and C. Cichra. 2005. Biological synopsis of five selected Florida centrarchid fishes with an emphasis on the effects of water level fluctuations. Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL.

 

Hunn, M. 1991. "Shrimp-eating bass" article. Florida Wildlife magazine (September-October 1991, page 5-8). Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, Tallahassee, FL.

 

Moody, H. 1963. "Fishing and boating facts: The St. Johns River" article. Florida Wildlife magazine (August 1963, page 21-27). Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, Tallahassee, FL.

 

Muller and Associates, Inc. 2007. Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway management plan (15 June 2007). Prepared with Office of Greenways and Trails, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Tallahassee, FL.

 

Porak, W.; S. Crawford and R. Cailteux. 1992. Biology and management of the Florida largemouth bass. Educational bulletin No. 3. Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, Tallahassee, FL.

 

Snellings, B. 1975. "Is that whopper a record? It's easy to find out" article; "Outdoors" column. Sarasota Journal newspaper (26 March 1975, page 3-C), Sarasota, FL.

 

Worth, D. 1984. "Doug Hannon on river bassin' [sic]" article. Bassmaster magazine (September-October 1984, page 33-46), Montgomery, AL

 

 

SUGGESTED REFERENCE FOR THIS REPORT:

Nosca, P. 2020. "Largemouth bass of the Ocklawaha River, Florida" webpage report. "Ocklawahaman Paul Nosca reports" website. Paul Nosca, https://sites.google.com/site/ocklawahamanpaulnoscareports/largemouth-bass-of-the-ocklawaha-river

https://sites.google.com/site/ocklawahaman/largemouth-bass-of-the-ocklawaha-river

 

"There are lake fishermen, and there are river fishermen, and seldom do the twain agree!" – Original author unknown.

 

 

Email: ocklawahaman1@gmail.com

 

 

End.

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Paul Nosca,
Aug 12, 2020, 12:40 PM
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