FLORIDA FRESHWATER FISHING TOUR: PART VI - LAKE CRESCENT
By Jim Porter
Of all the lakes visited during our fishing tour, perhaps none is as unique as Crescent. Situated just a few miles East of massive Lake George and the St. Johns River, Crescent is approximately 30 square miles of clean, sparkling water, lush shoreline vegetation, and excellent scenery. The very first thing we noted, as we traveled up the lake, was a majestic bald eagle serenely overlooking his domain from a atop a long-dead cypress tree. Its uniqueness, though, stems from the fact that it has a very large variety of potential fishing features. Shallow grass, shell beds, sharp drops, ledges, deep water, pad fields, logs and cypress trees, creek channels, canals, boat docks----Crescent has them all. 'Versatile' might be a good, descriptive term for this Sunshine State body of water.
Crescent Lake is fed by marsh drainage and the input of two small creeks on its South end. It is connected to the St. Johns River, approximately six miles to the North, by Dunns Creek, a twisting, winding tributary which has good angling in its own right. To some extent, the water levels in Crescent are effected by the St. Johns River and by the tidal effects from the Northern portion of the river basin.
The lake averages about 10 feet deep, with some sustained areas of 12-14 feet along the lower West shoreline and a deep 20-30 foot channel between Crescent and, at its lower end, smaller Dead Lake.
Crescent Lake, like most waters in this portion of the state, have a very detectable saline level. This results from spring and seepage waters passing through massive oceanic mineral deposits left from the period when this part of Florida was a part of the ocean floor. (Refer to the May 87 issue of FG&F for the article titled 'St. Johns River:
The Flowing Water Bass Factory' for more on this subject). The result is that Crescent has a very large and thriving blue crab fishery. As you journey the lake, the styroform or cork floats that mark the hundreds of crab traps will be readily noticeable.
One particular 'oddity' about Crescent, which is sure to make the structure-oriented bass fishermen sit up and take notice, is the excellent drop-off that runs parallel to the shoreline for nearly the entire circumference of the lake. In general, the bottom topography of the lake shows a slight tapering out from the shoreline until a depth of 5-7 feet is reached. Then, there is a very rapid descent into 10-14 feet. The steepness of this drop varies from place to place, and therein lies the 'seek and discover' aspect of finding the ideal bass holding locations. As was anticipated, the bass we located during our visit were on the steeper sections of the drop and where the bottom was hard or rocky. We will let you in on these locations a bit later, as we tour the lake.
A point to note is that the majority (but, not all) of the previously mentioned crab traps are placed near the edge of this drop, with most being on the shallow portion. By following the floats, the angler without a depth sounder can generally stay near the drop line.
We noted an absence of open-water vegetation in this lake. There is little, if any, hydrilla, milfoil and other grasses. The only lily pad fields of significance are in the shallow Green Bay basin.
Where there was once an abundance of eel grass on the shallow flats, now there is only a smattering of the fish-attracting growth. We suspect that the excessively cold winters of the past few years may have effected it, but are not sure. However, Lake George, only 10 miles distant, appears to have an abundance of the growth. If deliberate eradication or pollutant effects are to blame, we certainly hope the proper authorities reconsider the value of eel grass. It fouls no propellers, does not impede navigation, and will not choke the waters. It appears only to be beneficial for the food chain of the lake and the sport fishermen.
Let's start our tour of Crescent Lake at Crescent City, on the center of the West shoreline. There are a few motels, camp grounds, ramps and fish camps all along Highway 17 and directly within Crescent City, in that both are directly on the shore of the lake. In addition, we found good food and service at the small local restaurants. In particular, an eatery called 'The Coffee Shop' (middle of town on Highway 17) had good food, exceptionally good service and the largest menu for a small place we have ever seen. Their specialty-three solid meals a day.
Leaving the Crescent City public ramp, we move North up the West shoreline. Immediately noticeable are the crab trap markers, the numerous docks and boathouses, and the promised drop-off 30 yards out from the shoreline. Speckled perch (crappie) anglers make fantastic catches of their favorite fish from around the pilings of these docks and boathouses during the Fall months. Mid-October through early December are the months to toss small jigs, spinners and live minnows around these structures.
The first significant feature we located was Carls Point. It doesn't look like much, at first glance. However, what you can see is not what you should fish. A look at our map will show that the point actually goes out a good way under water. The top of it is hard and has some shells on it. Baitfish seem to congregate here. In April-May and again in early November, watch for surface schooling bass here.
The drop-off of the point is steepest on the South side and drops from six to 12 feet. It appears to have some rock on the slope, as it is somewhat hard and rough. We found a school of bass in residence here. Although we caught them on a Carolina-rigged plastic worm, a medium-depth crank plug could have been expected to work as well. This type location is common to other parts of the lake and we expect the bass will generally use it year-round, so long as the food, supply remains. We suggest that during the warmer months, you position the boat in the shallow water and cast deep; during the cold periods, position over the deep water and cast to the top of the drop. Whether fishing up or down the drop, make the cast and the retrieve generally parallel to the drop-line, so that the lure is moving along the slope as long as possible.
A bit further up the shore is Weidernoch Point. The first two docks South of this point have some very sparse eel grass beds on the shallow shelf in front of them. The small cove on the South corner of the point has a series of pilings which extend out to the edge of the drop-line, and slightly beyond. Both bass and crappie can be caught here. Watch for the crappie to school in open water about 50 feet out from the pilings.
Weidernoch Point is similar to Carls Point, except that the drop-off is much closer to the reeds and grass. The top of the point is hard and the steeper portion of the drop is on the South lip. The bass found here were on the Southeast corner of the drop, where it turned back towards those pilings in the cove. Also, a couple of bass were found in the reeds along the shallow shore of the point.
Our next stop was Shell Hill Point. On the map, you will note a submerged high spot off the south tip of the main point. A fish attractor marker is located there and you will find some brush near it. This entire area is excellent for crappie during December and January for those drifting with live minnows. Simply use your depth sounder and stay in the 5-6 foot water.
The North end of Lake Crescent, where it exits into Dunns Creek, is shallow and has some grass and pads. The most eventful features, however, are the downed trees in the backwater areas. If the trees show a root mass still attached, there will be a hole in the lake bottom where they were pulled out. Always toss a plastic worm into the root mass and that hole. Bass love to hide there.
Sikes Cove starts our movement down the East shoreline. About the only thing noted here was the remains of a few pilings or possibly tree trunks. Be careful and run your boat only in the deep water, off the drop-line.
Salt Branch Canal is a bit shallow to get into, but it can be done. We found it to hold some small fish, but nothing of size. I suspect, however, that a good number of bass will use it to spawn. (Please release any bedding bass you may catch.) This little canal is also a great place for your lunch break, especially in hot weather. The trees fold over it and provide constant shade and a cool breeze.
The large flat to the North and South of Buzzard Roost has some very isolated eel grass and other submerged vegetation, but it is sparse. However, the actual shoreline, with its cypress tree and knees, downed trees, and logs is one of the most natural places to toss a spinner bait and plastic worm that was ever made. In addition, the water remains about 4-5 feet deep right up to the edge of the shore. Nowhere else in Crescent did we find this condition. Although it was loaded with bass the day we visited, it did provide some excitement. However, even if you never catch a bass here, it is worth fishing all day just because of the scenery and because it looks so darn perfect!
Bear Island has a good drop-line around it, similar to the lake shoreline drop. We found an exceptionally good drop-off location on the Northwest corner of the island. It was very steep and very hard. The bass were holding just on the edge of the drop, rather than down the side of it.
McReynolds Island and Fish Hawk Point are shallow and not too beckoning. However, Green Bay, just further on, was a different matter. The water depth is good and the rear half of the bay is filled with lily pads. The local anglers explained that this is always a good place to catch bass, especially just before and after the spawn. Since there is virtually no open water grass, a vibrating, free-running crank plug can be very effective when fished along the edges of the pads and in the boat trails. Spinner baits were also deemed effective during early Spring and late Fall. Plastic worms will also produce but, due to the muck bottom, very light slip-sinkers must be used and the lure must be kept moving.
These pad fields are also productive crappie locations during the spawning months of February through March. Local anglers explained that the tasty panfish will school in the open waters just prior to and after the spawn. However, during the spawn, they will be with the pads. We were advise to fish the northern portion of the pads for crappie and the southern edges for bass.
In the rear of Green Bay is a narrow pass leading to Dead Lake and a couple of small creeks. This pass has very steep sides and 30 feet of water in the center. The bottom is very irregular and feels hard, somewhat like it might be Conquina stone (a form of small pebbles, sand and shells compressed into a hard mass). This depth and structure tells us to look for Winter and Summer crappie suspended at 10-20 feet. Chances are also good that bass may be found along the steeply sloping banks.
Dead Lake, itself, was not productive for our party, but the local anglers proclaim it excellent for crappie during the Spring and late Summer. Drifting small live minnows and jigs was the suggested method.
Additionally, the rear of the lake, in the Bull Creek area, was indicated as a good spawning location for bass. The small high spot noted in the lower portion of Dead Lake has no significant drop-line, but was indicated as a good location to find suspended crappie going to their spawn. (Keep in mind that pre-spawn crappie are always suspended shallower than those in a post-spawn state).
The mouth of Haw Creek, at the neck entering the Dead Lake basin, has a fine bar on the East corner, approximately 100 feet out from the bank. An old piling slightly into the creek mouth can be used for reference once you get lined up with the bar. The bar is at a depth of 8 feet, the adjacent creek channel is 12, and the associated drop-off of the Dead Lake neck goes into 20 feet of water.
Coming out of Green Bay and starting up the West shoreline, we come to Breezy Point. There is a good, hard drop-line off this point, approximately 100 yards from the shore. We found deep crank plugs (in this case, a black and silver Bagley DB III) worked well, pulled parallel to the drop and at approximately the 10 foot level. There appeared to be a good amount of rock on this drop-line, so we suspect a jig and rind would work well during the Winter months. Obviously, a plastic worm would be a good choice year-round.
Just past Breezy Point, we find an uneventful cove. Then, as we swing back to the North and the Crescent City lake frontage, numerous piers and boat houses again appear. As indicated earlier, these are very good during the Fall months for crappie. During the hotter months of the Summer, bass can often be taken from the shaded areas of the boathouses, as well. For both species of fish, attempt to place the bait or lures under the structure.
Accommodations, guide services, and general lake information is available from Georgia Boy's Fish Camp. Phone: (386) 325-7764; Mailing Address:
217 Butler Drive, San Mateo, Florida 32189. Their email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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