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by Jim Porter

The Kissimmee Chain of Lakes has been managed by Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission biologists to produce quality aquatic habitat which supports nationally recognized sport fisheries. Over 100,000 surface acres of water offer excellent fishing, hunting and other outdoor recreational opportunities. Twenty public lakes are directly connected by canals that flow south to the Kissimmee River.

Lakes range in size from 200 acres to 44,000 acres, and a wide variety of fishing is available to anglers. Many of the smaller lakes have limited bass fishing opportunities but provide fishermen an option to escape crowded areas.

Five of the larger, more popular bass fishing lakes are briefly Discussed below. Oher article will touch on some of the additional lakes of the chain, As well as the lower Kissimmee River below Lake Kissimmee.

Lake Tohopekaliga (a.k.a. West Lake Toho) (22,700 acres)
An extreme drawdown and muck removal project was completed a few years ago. Approximately 46 percent of the littoral (vegetated) zone was exposed for about two months. Goals of the project were to consolidate bottom sediments, stimulate growth of native aquatic plants and increase production of sport fish. Numbers of young-of-the-year bass peaked in the next year; approximately 1,200 bass per acre were collected in fish population samples. Recent reports from fish camps, fishermen and guides indicate a great increase in 1.5 to 2.0-pound bass caught. Fall creel surveys indicated angler catch rates for bass ranged from 0.30 to 0.41 bass per hour. Over 60 percent of the bass caught during these surveys were released. We anticipate the present angler success and catch rates to continue.

Lake Kissimmee (44,000 acres)
Shallow water littoral habitat on Lake Kissimmee had slowly degraded over the years to the point that a restoration project was scheduled for implementation in 1994. Muck removal, burning and discing during an extreme drawdown wwas used to restore productive aquatic habitat. The extreme drawdown on Lake Kissimmee positively impacted aquatic habitat and fishery resources. Pressure exerted by bass anglers increased 83 percent, while harvest estimates increased by 71 percent. Seasonally, the lake continues to offer excellent bass, bluegill, redear sunfish and black crappie fishing. The last annual creel survey on Lake Kissimmee estimated the catch by bass fishermen at 61,595 fish. Anglers spent 273,515 man-hours fishing for bass and their success rate was 0.40 bass per hour.

Lake Hatchineha (14,500 acres)
Vegetated habitat in Lake Hatchineha produced an average of 6,000 fish per acre weighing a total of 200 pounds during fall 1999 fish population sampling. Sport fish made up 61 percent of the samples by number and 57 percent by weight. The standing crop of largemouth bass was 48 pounds per acre. A fisherman creel survey estimated 3,400 bass were harvested during 22,500 man-hours of fishing effort. Bass fishermen released 1,640 fish, and the release rate for bass under 12 inches was 96 percent. Anglers were in effect, observing a self-imposed (voluntary) 12-inch minimum size limit on Lake Hatchineha.

Hydrilla has caused access problems in Lake Hatchineha for the past five years and chemical treatments may be scheduled. A drawdown is also planned. As dense mats of hydrilla subside in the late summer, fishermen should be able to find bass concentrated around domes of submersed vegetation.

Lake Cypress (5,500 acres)
Angler surveys estimated that Lake Cypress bass anglers caught 2,284 bass during 8,060 hours of fishing. These fishermen released 31 percent of all bass caught. Over 95 percent of the spring effort for bass was directed toward vegetated areas of the lake. The popularity of bass fishing on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes is easily demonstrated by the number of out- of-state anglers. Over 30 percent of all fishermen interviewed on Lake Cypress were non-residents. Bass fishing on Lake Cypress generally improves in April and May when water released through flood control canals concentrates forage fish. A drawdown is planned.

East Lake Tohopekaliga (13,550 acres)
East Lake supports extensive habitat for largemouth bass in the form of bulrush and maidencane communities. Extremely good water quality has been documented in the lake, and nutrient levels are the lowest recorded for all lakes sampled in the Kissimmee Chain. In 1990, a habitat restoration project was completed on the lake. An extreme drawdown in conjunction with muck removal, burning and discing activities was used to improve aquatic habitat. The restored sites have been heavily utilized by sport fish as spawning, rearing and feeding areas. Strong year-classes of bass were documented in 1990 and 1991; these fish should provide anglers with increased catch rates through the the next 10-20 years.


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