Lake Tsala Apopka Information Guide - Florida bass fishing guide to Lake Tsala Apopka, a Florida lake known for bass fishing.
Lake Tsala Apopka Jim Porter
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Lake Tsala Apopka is a 19,000-acre natural resource in Citrus County. Shallow, heavily vegetated marshes intermingled with open water pools compose the majority of the lake. Floral City Pool, Inverness Pool, and Hernando Pool are the main segments of the lake which are separated by natural features and water control structures.

Since Tsala Apopka is the largest freshwater resource in Citrus County, efforts have been made to improve recreational opportunities, while providing land for residential development. Constructing canals, impounding the Withlacoochee River and installing water control structures were considered necessary to accomplish some of these goals.

Extreme vertical water level fluctuation of 9 to 10 feet occurred in the lake prior to installation of water control structures during the 1960s. "Expected benefits" of water level stabilization were: reasonable predictability of water levels, increased fish production, and improved angling success. The first of these anticipated benefits has been realized, improvements to the fishery have not occurred, since they are not consistent with water level stabilization.

Prior to installation of water control structures approximately three decades ago, natural water level fluctuation was caused by drought and flood. Droughts exposed shallow areas and floods temporarily inundated adjacent lands that were normally uplands. With the exception of Floral City Pool, which that may still experience draw down conditions during drought, the remainder of the system is not allowed to reach either high or low pool stages that natural conditions create.

Fish population surveys indicated that the poundage of all fish produced per acre varied from pool to pool. Floral City yielded the lowest standing crop of combined fish species with 54 pounds per acre; Hernando Pool followed with 69 pounds per acre; and Inverness Pool had the highest yield with 219 pounds per acre. Production of "harvestable-sized" (>10 inches) largemouth bass was also variable from pool to pool. Floral City Pool produced less than four 3.5 bass per acre, Hernando Pool produced nine bass per acre, and Inverness Pool produced over 20 bass per acre.

Reproduction of largemouth bass in Tsala Apopka has not been a problem, although survival and growth into "harvestable-sized" classes has been poor. based on available data. Low natural productivity of the lake, stabilized water levels and harvest by anglers may be reasons for poor bass recruitment.

Sediments deposited on lake bottom become thicker if not exposed to sunlight and air. Oxygen levels can reach zero in these sediments and invertebrate production is greatly reduced where sediments are deep. Some invertebrates provide vital food sources for juvenile fish including largemouth bass and other pan fish, as well as forage fish species. Although deep sediments were not documented as a problem from studies conducted by South West Florida Water Management District, sediments were common and are responsible for limiting invertebrate production. Extreme water level fluctuations also help consolidate bottom sediments and maintain healthy stands of native aquatic vegetation.

Another factor influencing bass production in Tsala Apopka appears to be hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata). Hydrilla is an exotic plant species and is often considered undesirable. However, hydrilla may function as a replacement for lost native vegetation or may provide additional habitat for sport fishes. Historical fish population data indicate that production was higher in sample sites when it contained hydrilla. Consequently, a management hurdle is presented by hydrilla, since this exotic often out-competes native vegetation and creates monotypic, dense mats which are not quality bass habitat.

Quality habitat is needed to maximize sport fish production. Aquatic vegetation is a key element of fish habitat. Largemouth bass production could be improved by allowing a greater range of water level fluctuation in Lake Tsala Apopka. Consolidation and compaction of bottom sediment will improve habitat for invertebrate production, and stimulate the growth and diversity of native aquatic vegetation. Hydrilla must be controlled to encourage native plant regrowth, and facilitate long-term habitat management.

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