FLORIDA FRESHWATER FISHING TOUR: EAST LAKE
The reader is advised to take note that this article concerns East Lake Tohopekalgia (usually shortened to `Toho'), and not its more widely known cousin, West (or Big) Lake Tohopekalgia. While located adjacent to one another, just South of the Orlando metropolitan area, and connected by a canal, each of the lakes are very different and have their own `personalities'.
West Lake Toho is noted to have islands, a flowing feeder creek, a long cove extending to the East, normal water clarity, and a tremendous amount of vegetation, both along the shorelines and extending well out into the lake proper.
East Lake, on the other hand, is exceptionally clear, often with good visibility to depths of 7-9 feet. It contains much less vegetation than West Lake Toho and, with the exception of its northwest corner, the existing growths are basically confined to a narrow band of perimeter reeds and thin grasses. While there exists the same tannic acid stain common most of the waters of the Sunshine State's natural lakes, the lesser vegetation results in only a noticeable color rather than a dark stain. East Lake is nearly circular in shape and covers approximately 12,000 acres. It is a perfect example of what is often called a `dish-pan' lake. There are no continuously flowing tributaries, as such, and the lake level is maintained by the drainage influx of upper watershed lakes, run-off from the surrounding areas, rains, and normal water table seepage.
The St. Cloud Canal exits East Lake in its southwest corner and connects to West Lake. The canal in navigable for a short distance, but has a lock (number S-59) which is not passable by boat.
C-29 canal connects East Lake, through Fells Cove and small Ajay Lake in the northeast corner, to the upper watershed lakes of Hart and Mary Jane. These two bodies are the actual start of the famous Kissimmee waterway, which eventually stretches its way South to sprawling Lake Okeechobee. Navigation is limited, but possible, up to lock number S-62 at Lake Hart.
Runnymede Lake, a small shallow body, lies just off the southeastern rim of East Toho and feeds into the main lake by way of a navigable, connecting canal.
With an average depth of 10-14 feet, and a maximum of 18 in one small location, the lake bottom is predominately clean and hard. A few good shell beds exist, as well as some bottom rock structure. The latter is somewhat difficult to find, but is well worth the effort when you do. A heavily weighted plastic worm is the best rig to use for locating these rocks, as well as the shell beds.
A couple of these rock areas can be found in the close proximity of the single fish attractor located in the northeast corner of the lake. Forget using the fish attractor as an indicator of artificially placed brush tops. Instead, use it as a reference point in the search for the rocks. One `patch' of rock will be found approximately 30 yards West of the attractor marker, at a depth of 10-12 feet and adjacent to a small two-foot drop-off. The depth sounder will show the surrounding area to resemble the start of a small gully running to the West, towards the deeper water. Another area of either small gravel or shells lies directly in front of the St. Cloud canal and approximately 300 yards out into the lake. There is no reasonable way to locate this open water feature consistently, short of a good Loran-C unit. I use a heavy, one-ounce slip sinker and a Carolina rig worm and just `feel' the bottom until I locate the hard, rough bottom. This particular place has always produced bass, so it worth the effort to locate each time.
There is apparently no open water vegetation in East Lake, save the small strips of shoreline cover. However, in the northwest corner of the lake, the Boggy Cove area provides a large concentration of reeds, pads and grasses for the shallow water purist who desires to `fish the cover'. Likewise, the connecting neck between the main lake and Fells Cove contains a bountiful amount of growth cover. Let's take a tour of East Lake Toho and note the specific landmarks and characteristics of this fine body of water. We'll start at the St. Cloud canal, simply because it is a major feature of the lake.
If the reader will recall, we stated above that a lock restricts navigation of all but a small portion of the canal. However, that short distance can be especially bountiful for the bass angler, if the lake is being lowered or if the effects of recent heavy rains are being drawn off. The presence of current flow in the canal draws bass to feed along the edges of the canal and, especially, at its mouth. To either side of the mouth, we find the same stands of reeds that ring the lake. And, when the water is flowing past them, they form excellent ambush points. A plastic worm, or a floating Bang-O-Lure, usually work best in these locations, with the former being the better choice. An important point to note is that the bass do not always take up position in the canal or along the edges of the reeds when the water is being pulled through the lock. Quite often, they will school in the open water just in front of the canal opening. When this is the case, the fish usually give themselves away by chasing baitfish on the surface. The top lure for these conditions is the vibrating crank plug, such as the Bagley `Shad-A-Lac' and Lewis `Rat-L-Trap'.
A tip worth its weight in 10-pound bass is that the plastic worm also has an excellent application in this open water location. Once the surface action has ceased, try tossing a lightly weighted plastic worm into the same area. Normally, the bass are still there and have just settled to the bottom in wait for the next baitfish school to happen by.
Moving up the West shoreline, there is little deviation of any significance. All we note are the standard East Lake reed band and minor grasses along the shore. Experience has shown, however, that any indentation or protrusion of the reed-line, no matter how slight, has the potential to produce fish. Be particularly attuned to the protrusions of reeds out towards the open water, as bass like to set up ambush points at these type locations.
Just before we come to Boggy Cove, we note the marshy land area referred to as Hillard Island. The significance of this landmark is actually the widening of the shallow-water flat in front of it. On the edge of the flat, generally where the depth changes from three to six feet rather quickly, we have noted productive shell beds. These will be found right at the upper lip of the drop-off feature. There do not appear to be too many of these beds, but they generally produce fish when found. Bass hold on them year-round, except just before and during their spawning season. While the bass are away, it appears that large schools of shellcrackers and some speckled perch (crappie) move onto the shell beds for short periods. If you get a lot of light strikes, but no `takers', during this season, consider changing lures and checking for concentrations of pan fish. Boggy Cove can be fished in just about any manner the shallow water enthusiast desires. The thick cover calls out for the angler who likes to flip for bass. In the outer reed bands, where the intertwining grasses are less dense, a spinner bait and plastic worm work well. Be sure to cast the lures well back into the reeds along these outer edges, as snags will be few.
The open water pockets within the Boggy Cove growth will normally have hydrilla and coontail moss under the surface. A spinner bait and top water lure are good choices here. In this one section of East Toho, we often find a concentration of small chain pickerel and they all seem to fall in love with white spinner baits. Although they have too many bones to be easy eating, the pickerel are game fighters and their fillets very tasty when rolled in corn meal and deep-fried. The bass spawning season will find largemouths occupying their beds along the outer reeds of the Boggy Cove area, as well as within the open water pockets of the growth. Most beds are usually found in relations to the reeds, but some will be on clean sand in the lily pads.
These exact same locations will hold huge schools of spawning bluegills and shellcrackers in the June-September timeframe, with July and August being the prime months. The better places for these panfish will be within the interior of the Boggy Cove cover.
The northern shoreline of East Lake can be good for bass angling and has the advantage of warming more rapidly in the early Spring. This means that bass spawning will usually begin earlier than in other parts of the lake. Additionally, the effects of the brisk, northerly winds of late Winter and the coming Spring will be lessened along this section of the lake. There are two major fish camps along this shoreline, just off paralleling Highway 530.
Fells Cove occupies the northeast corner of East Lake Toho. The connection between the two bodies is a boat trail running across a wide expanse of reeds, pads and grasses. Usually, there is too much boat traffic and it is too narrow to fish in the trail. However, during the more undesirable times to be on the water (i.e., rain, cold weather), the edges of this vegetation slash can produce outstanding bass action. I particularly like to fish it during extended periods of foul, rainy weather when the high-powered, `go-faster' pleasure boats are all on their trailers in someone's garage. The water in the boat trail is deeper than in the adjacent areas of vegetation and that answers `why' the location holds fish.
Fells Cove is generally a saucer-shaped, dishpan lake, with little difference from larger East Toho. The cover along the West and North shorelines has always proven to be the best for bass, probably because the deeper water (about 9-11 feet) is closest to those areas. Again, be sure to home in on the small pockets and reed points. Panfish usually spawn heavily in the cover of the southeast shore. Drifting for speckled perch (crappie) is most productive in the open waters of the West side of the lake.
The bass of Fells Cove can often be located on hard bottom areas or shell beds in the open portion of the lake, normally in the deeper sections towards the West side. Since the lake is relatively small, a quick way to locate these fish has been to troll. For control purposes, we like to use only a short line and a fairly deep-running plug. A Rebel Deep Wee-R or a Bagley DB-I will run approximately 10-11 feet deep on 60-70 feet of 12-pound test line, which is the general depth we want to work. Once we locate the bass school, we drop a reference marker buoy and simply cast to the fish. Remember not to place the marker directly on the school location, as you may spook the school or take the chance of tangling a lure in it later. When fishing a school of bass, such as found here, do not return any fish to the water until you are ready to move off the school location. Otherwise, the released bass may return to the school and his nervousness cause it to spook and move away. A short distance down the East Lake shore below Fells Cove, we find a few buildings visible in the trees. The local people refer to this a the Boy Scout Camp and its significance to us is as a reference point. One-half mile South of the Camp and one-half mile West into the lake, we find the fish attractor and associated rocks that were mentioned earlier.
The East shoreline should be approached the same as the others, in that the angler would be wise to key to the small pockets and protrusions of the reed line and grass. Small Runnymede Lake lies just of the southeast corner of East Lake Toho and has a connecting canal. The reeds and grass on both sides of the canal mouth are fairly productive bass locations. The deeper water drop-off, out in front of the canal mouth, can be even better. Watch for a few surface schooling bass here.
We have often found an abundance of small bass holding on the reeds and grass down the sides of the canal, itself. Approximately 40 yards into the canal and on the right (South) side, there is a small, narrow cut running back into the marsh. For a good distance, this cut has 5-6 feet of water in it. Don't pass it up, as it often produces a big bass. Be prepared for fast action, in that the hooked bass will probably have no place to go except back under your boat.
At the very South end of East Lake Toho lies a public launch ramp and parking area. It is protected from the winds by a dike, which often produce a few bass. Always fish it with a plastic worm, especially on Sundays and early in the week. If a tournament was held out of this launch area over the weekend, they released their fish here and you can probably catch a few of them.
The better times to fish East Lake for bass are during the months of December through March, with live wild shiners being the most popular lure. Artificials work best in October and November and again in March through early June. Spinner baits and top water minnow imitations, such as the Bang-O-Lure and Rapala, are top local choices, with the reliable plastic worm being second. Hot weather is flipping time for bass, so go to East Lake's thickest cover or offshore shell beds and rocks.
Speckled perch (crappie) fishing picks up in the late Fall, just after the first cool nights arrive, and improves up to and through the Spring spawn. Spawning usually occurs in late January through March, when the fish will be found in the reeds and standing grasses. At all other times, the crappie will be schooled in the open water and must be caught by drifting small minnows and jigs. During the hot months, drift the baits at 12 feet (or two feet above the bottom) in the deepest parts of the lake. Just before and after the spawn, look for them to be 5-7 feet deep more near the shorelines.
East Lake Toho is the `sleeper' in our 12-part series on Florida fresh water lakes. It produces many trophy bass annually and is an excellent crappie lake. Try it; you'll like it!
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