ALLIGATOR CHAIN OF LAKES
Lying five miles to the East of the city of St. Cloud and approximately 30 minutes from Disney World, the seven key lakes, which form the Alligator Chain, are easily accessible. In fact, the local main thoroughfare, Highway 192/441, actually splits the chain in half as it runs from St. Cloud to Melbourne. However, few passersby even realize the lakes are there, in that only a very brief glimpse of the broad expanses of blue-green waters on either side of the highway can be seen from that vantage point. The waters are clean and pure, with no pollution from sewage or agriculture. And, the scenery and wildlife provide a quality outdoor experience.
In doing our research towards possibly using the area for this piece, we were told that fishing was not too good on the Alligator Chain. The excuse given was that the lakes were probably victims of 'overfishing'. So, we sampled the waters on four occasions during a four-month period. The results of those excursions speak for themselves: 81 largemouth bass (all released) and 152 speckled perch (crappie). Obviously, we feel certain the lakes can provide quality fishing for the reader. An additional item we noted is that the fishing pressure appears very light.
The Alligator Chain is in the upper Kissimmee River drainage basin. The seven lakes (Center, Coon, Trout, Lizzie, Alligator, Brick and Gentry) are all connected by canal systems, but the Alligator-to-Gentry canal has a fixed spillway, which precludes navigation. All the other canals are navigable, with the exception of that to Lake Brick during periods of low water. In addition, the Lake Brick connection will only support small to medium fishing boats. Except for a couple of minor private ramps, the launching facilities for the Alligator Chain are limited to a public ramp in the Alligator/Gentry canal at the south end of Lake Alligator (off State Road 534), a marina (the Alligator Lakeside Inn) at the north end of Lake Alligator (on Highway 192/441), and a public ramp on Lake Gentry at the end of State Road 534A. Brick Lake has an unimproved launch area at the end of a dirt trail off State Road 534, but it is limited to basically canoes and small 'Jon' boats.
Center Lake : This most northern lake of the chain is a small, shallow body. The northwest section is in a natural state, with the remainder lightly developed. There are homes along the east shore and a private resort/campground at the south. The shoreline is basically a narrow band of grass, with a few reeds and an occasional lily pad. There is no significant structure or special cover zones which would allow us to pinpoint fish locations with any relative degree of consistency. We only caught two bass here and both were at the mouth of the canal leading down to Coon Lake (sometimes called Lost Lake).
Trout Lake : Trout Lake has a lot of potential, especially for bass angling. The narrow southeast corner is
heavily vegetated and very fertile. It is an excellent place for fishing live shiners during the cooler months and for 'flipping' plastic worms during the summer season. A Johnson spoon or a floating worm rig should do well in the early spring. Thin grasses are found in the west and southwest portions, with heavy growth reappearing on the north side. The northwest section is the deepest part of Trout Lake, with some fairly steep slopes in places. A few shell beds may be found on some of these sloping areas. Look for bass to use the shell beds, particularly during the period immediately after the spawn. Some sparse, underwater grass beds will also be found here. They can be located by using a depth sounder and watching for their growth in 6-8 feet of water. The mouths of the short connecting canals can be productive for bass, particularly if recent rains have created moving water conditions. Speckled perch will be found in the open water areas of
the northwest, near the deepest sections. Drifting live minnows is the best approach.
Coon (Lost) Lake : Except for a few homes on the northwestern shore, this lake remains in its natural state. It is bordered by lots of grass, appreciable reed stands and some pad fields in the northeast and southern reaches. The vegetation near the deep water of the northwest shoreline will hold bass in appreciable numbers. For spawning bass, look to the hard sand bottom just to the east of the canal from Center Lake. Speckled perch can be taken drifting live minnows and small jigs in the western half of the lake, near the deeper water.
Lake Lizzie : This body provides good speckled perch fishing from November through March. Drift fishing produced best along the deeper eastern half of the lake, and seemed better near the southern end. Spawning of these tasty panfish, which usually takes place during February, will occur mostly along the grasses of the southern and eastern shoreline. Bass fishing potential is high in Lizzie. We found some isolated submerged grass beds around the major depression in the eastern half of the lake and these held good concentrations of largemouths. Although we took no large bass, it is certain that some are available. A second productive location was the mouth of the canal leading down to Alligator Lake. The channel of this dredged canal actually extends approximately 50 meters out into the main body of Lake Lizzie. The water to either side is 4-5 feet, while the canal extension into the lake has 8-9 feet. The observant angler will note his depth sounder showing good grass beds in the center of the canal channel extension. We simply anchored off to the side of the canal extension and cast plastic worms into its deeper waters. This produced well. In the late winter and early spring, a vibrating crank plug, such as a Rat-L-Trap, should also work well. Although boat traffic may prohibit still fishing for any appreciable period of time, live shiners should prove productive in this location. The northern one-third of the actual canal leading over to Alligator Lake has 9-11 feet of depth and a narrow grassline along each side. We noted than many small bass use this area and are prone to take a small, 4-inch plastic worm. A small crank plug, such as a Norman Little Scooper, will also produce when retrieved along the edge of the grass. If there is a noticeable current flow through this canal, the potential of taking a large bass is high.
Alligator Lake : Of all the chain, this lake provided the better and most consistent fishing, both for speckled
perch and bass. The north and west shorelines are populated with homes, while the remainder is sparsely settled. The shoreline has mostly grass bands, with a few areas of reeds. The better reeds for bass were along the southern ends of the lake. There are three areas of deep water in Alligator Lake, with some depths approaching 30 feet. In addition, it is a rather large body, approaching 4 miles in length. Coupling these characteristics with the existing fertility, we would expect to find good fish populations. And, in fact, we do. Numerous trophy bass, up to 14 pounds, were caught during the early part of this year (1989) and their pictures adorn the wall of the local Alligator Lodge marina office. Good catches of smaller bass were taken and released by our party from November through February. Our better method was to locate deep water and slowly idle our boats towards the shallows until we started to encounter submerged grass. This vegetation normally occurred at the 7-8 foot level, with the grass standing 2-3 feet off the bottom. This gave us about five feet of open water over the top of the grass and we selected our lures accordingly. The previously mentioned Little Scooper plug, on 14-pound test line, ran about 4-5 feet deep on a medium retrieve with the rod tip held high. A Rat-L-Trap lure could be easily controlled in this depth range, as well. And, of course, the reliable plastic worm was appropriate for the type cover. The crank plugs were very productive until the water temperatures dropped in late December. After that, the predominance of bass came on the worm. Possibly because of the time of year, a small, 4-inch worm worked best. The December-February period produced good catches of speckled perch, although they were noted to be slightly less than the average size we would have expected. The open water, near the three deeper holes, produced very well when we drifted them using live minnows and small, white plastic grubs. Prior to the spawn, the productive drift depth was approximately eight feet. After the spawn, the most effective depth range was 10-12 feet. The speckled perch spawn in Alligator Lake appeared to peak in the mid-February timeframe, with the more productive areas being the grass beds along the southern and eastern shorelines. During the spawn, small jigs and live minnows were fished in the holes within the grass beds and along the outer edges.
Brick Lake : In the southeast corner of Alligator Lake, a small canal will be found leading over to Brick Lake. While the canal is normally passable to smaller boats, it does have a number of old logs and other debris, which can be hazardous during low water conditions. This is a rather isolated body of water and, as such, has relatively little fishing pressure. Additionally, no large boats will normally be found, due to the previously mentioned lack of access and facilities. There is no development on Brick and it is still
in a natural state. The lake is nearly completely surrounded by cypress trees and is a wildlife-watcher's bonanza. Because of the dominate cypress growth, the waters are stained a dark red by tannic acid. We think this lake is the 'sleeper' of the chain. While we only caught a few fish from its waters, Brick holds a tremendous amount of potential, especially since it receives so little fishing pressure. We noted submerged grass beds in the 8-12 foot range in the southwest portion of the lake. We did take a few bass from this grass on the 4-inch worm and on small, slowly fished Beetle-Spin lures. In addition, some small bass were located around the outer, submerged knees of the cypress trees. During the late spring and early summer, we would expect to find more bass relating to the cypress growth. However, once the heat of summer arrives, disregard this pattern and move to the open water grass beds. Drift fishing for speckled perch should, as is normal, be keyed to the areas of deeper water. Although we were not able to confirm it, it appears that speckled perch should spawn well along the southern shoreline cover. Just as you exit the canal into Brick Lake, there are the remains of an old barge to your left front. The old metal ribs should still be standing and visible. Be sure to toss a plastic worm around these and the old wooden remains below the surface. Local anglers tell us that more than a few bass have been taken here.
Lake Gentry : This is the last lake of the Alligator Chain and connects the series to the Kissimmee River basin at Lake Cypress, just below West Lake Tohopekaliga. As noted earlier, the connecting canal from Alligator Lake is blocked and separate launching into Gentry is required. Lake Gentry was difficult to fish for bass and we only located three productive locations. In addition, we found virtually no submerged vegetation in the open water areas. The first productive bass location was a hard, rough bottom area approximately a quarter mile due south of the launch ramp. This was located at the bottom of a steep slope
where the depth went from six to 15 feet. The roughness may have been rock (most probable) or shells (would seem to be a bit too deep for that). We used a Carolina-rigged worm, primarily because of the depth, and it produced fairly well. We expect there area other similar locations in the deeper sections of Gentry, if the angler will take the time to search them out. The second location was the canal coming in from Alligator Lake. There is a depression on the east side of the entry point of the canal and some associated bottom irregularities and grass. Bass will use this area. We found a plastic worm and a Rat-L-Trap lure worked here. As you fish this area, watch your depth sounder for a couple of small humps in the depression. Concentrate on these. The canal, itself, has 10-12 feet of water and some grass both along each side and submerged in the middle. We found numerous small bass holding in the deeper, submerged grass. The small worm was the most productive lure. The canal which exits Gentry in its southwest corner is also known as Canoe Creek. It is blocked by a fixed spillway and passage to Lake Cypress is not possible. As we moved into the canal mouth, we found that the depth dropped from about four feet to ten. We also found bass along the slope of that drop. Approximately 50 yards into the canal, there is a sudden depth change, as the waters drop into a 17-foot hole and then come back up to ten. This location is easy to find with a depth sounder and should be fished thoroughly with a plastic worm. Our largest bass, at six pounds, came from the upstream edge of this hole. Anytime current is flowing, canals are ALWAYS good!! (Hint, hint) Local anglers advised that drift fishing for speckled perch was best in the center portion of the lake. This coincides with the deep-water locations, we noted. Spawning was noted as best along the west and southeast shorelines, with the peak being in mid-to-late February.
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