Lake Istokpoga nursed to lunker lockerby: theangler
Istokpoga is the fifth largest natural lake in Florida and has an average depth of 6 feet. Recent angler surveys estimated more than 1,000 bass over 8 pounds being caught in less than a year. Bass angler catch rates were relatively slow in 2011 but increased significantly in 2012, as evidenced by the lake’s early prominence in the TrophyCatch angler recognition program, which began on Oct. 1.
Lynn Ogle topped that fish a month later with a Trophy Club (10-12.9 pounds) entry that tipped the scales at 10 pounds 4 ounces and was 27 inches long. Besides bragging rights and the great feeling of knowing she’d released her trophy to grow and fight another day, she’ll receive a long-sleeve T-shirt from Bass King, and two $50 gift cards, plus a framable certificate and window decal.
Quality trophy bass fishing in Istokpoga is no fluke. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has worked long and hard with local anglers and businesses to bring the lake back. In the early 1960s, water-level stabilization began limiting water fluctuations, resulting in excess vegetation and organic build-up.This is a major detriment to natural habitat rejuvenation and flushing of Florida lakes.
These lakes historically experienced droughts that allowed muck to dry out and blow away, exposing a firm sand bottom that holds aquatic plants and provides bedding areas for bass and other sunfish. Subsequent high water levels would extend into the flood plains, allowing exceptionally strong-year classes of fish to develop.
From March through July 2001, Istokpoga benefitted by a drawdown and mechanical muck removal. A total of 1,308 acres were scraped and 2.4 million cubic yards of material removed from 21 miles of shoreline.
To maintain quality habitat, herbicide treatments and mechanical harvesting are used to treat 500-1,000 acres annually, targeting tussocks and plant monocultures to improve fish and wildlife habitat. This helps prevent muck buildup, and reduces the chance of major plant die-offs, which cause fish kills.
By 2003, the scraped areas responded with eelgrass, a highly desirable native aquatic plant. It became dominant. By 2009, acceptable fish habitat covered 9,375 acres or 33 percent of the lake. Twenty percent to 40 percent aquatic vegetation is ideal.
Stakeholders are actively engaged. In 1997, Lake Istokpoga was established as a Fish Management Area, and shortly after that the Lake Istokpoga Management Committee was formed at the request of the Highlands County Board of County Commissioners. The management committee consists of county and FWC staff and board-appointed representatives from local user groups (e.g., fishermen, guides, fish camps, homeowners associations, Audubon, etc.). The committee allows lake managers to present management actions to members for discussion and input.
In addition, the Friends of Istokpoga is a nonprofit group established in 1998 (Istokpoga.org), where management activities are conveyed to the group quarterly, including hydrilla treatment and habitat restoration plans. Friends of Istokpoga has a quarterly newsletter that includes routine input from the FWC.
The FWC also conducts annual angler (creel) surveys from October through June. To supplement that information, nonlethal electrofishing surveys collect fisheries data each fall, winter and spring. The 2012 surveys documented the highest largemouth bass success rate (0.82 fish per hour) since the drawdown.
Besides the aggressive habitat restoration program and extensive efforts to prolong the benefits and manage aquatic vegetation in the lake, the FWC has also used regulation management in an effort to help create a trophy fishery. Lake Istokpoga has a 15- to 24-inch protected (no-harvest) slot limit for bass with a three-fish daily bag limit, of which only one bass may be 24 inches or longer.
Several fish camps and four public boat ramps provide access to the lake. For information about lodging and amenities, contact the Greater Sebring Chamber of Commerce (863-385-8448).
Management of Lake Istokpoga is a stellar example of the FWC using a variety of management techniques and soliciting public input to provide an exceptional fishery. Sign up for TrophyCatch today, and make plans to catch and release your own trophy to swim in Florida.
Added: Thu Dec 20 2012
Last Modified: Mon Jan 07 2013