SEBRING — Expect more — and bigger — fish in the lakes if Florida Fish & Wildlife has its way with proposed regulations.
Expect uniform regulations too. Currently, said Highlands County Lakes Manager Clell Ford, “It’s just an incredible checkerboard out there. I would have no idea if I was violating the law.”
Florida is divided into five zones, and different quantity and size limits are posted on hundreds of lakes. That’s why Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is holding public meetings this year to discuss changes in largemouth bass regulations. Two hearings have been held in Lake Wales and Lakeland.
FWC’s proposal: fishermen may bag five largemouth bass per day, but only one can measure longer than 16 inches.
“More females will produce more eggs,” Ford explained. The length limits target males, which are usually smaller.
And that’s fine with Dave Douglass, a Highlands County fishing guide.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Douglass, who has written about the proposal in Highlands Today columns. “There are arguments on the FWC website, and I agree with every reason they list.”
Douglass is a sport fisherman, but when he fishes for dinner, smaller fish taste better anyway.
“Under 16 inches are much better to eat,” Douglass said. “Old fish are like an old cow. They don’t taste as good.”
His experience is that 95 percent of fishermen these days feel the same way — they catch fish for fun, not the dinner table.
Currently, Highlands County also has two bag limits, Ford said, three fish per day from Istokpoga; five from the other 100 lakes.
Limits are posted at most launch ramps, Ford said, “but you have to know that there are two different limits.”
Lake Walk-in-Water near Frostproof and Lake Istokpoga have their own limits because of FWC experiments started a decade ago to determine how to grow bigger fish in Florida lakes. Another good idea, Douglass said.
“I personally think the FWC does a great job, and so does the county lakes manager (Ford), and (Highlands County Parks and Recreation Director) Vicki Pontius. And everybody likes to throw stones at the water management districts, but they have done a great job. Fishing hasn’t been this good since the 1980s. Some people tell me they haven’t seen fishing this good in their lifetime,” said Douglass, who caught three 15-pounders in Istokpoga last year alone.”
FWC is more interested these days in producing trophy bass, Douglass said, and that brings tourists. “Florida has become the bass capital of the world.”
Lake Istokpoga is known as Florida’s lunker lake — more than 1,000 bass over 8 pounds were caught in less than a year, according to FF&W’s Fish Busters Bulletin.
“That’s what draws the crowds,” said John Ruggiero, president of Highlands County Lakes Association and a member of the county tourism board.
Most water bodies adopt fishing regulations, he said. “If there were no regulations, there would be no more fishing. People would fish them to death. This way, we’ll keep the population up in the lake, and we’ll have more record fish.”
The Highlands County commissioners voted Tuesday to send a letter supporting the proposed largemouth bass rules.
More about largemouth bass and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regulations: go to MyFWC.com/Fishing, visit Black Bass Management, Regulations links under Freshwater Fishing.
Current Highlands limit
5 fish per day
14 inches or longer
One may be longer than 22 inches
Current Istokpoga limit
3 fish per day
All must be shorter than 15 but longer than 24 inches
Proposed statewide limit
5 fish per day
One may 16 inches or longer