Christopher Hackney stood waist-high when he first fished with his dad at the Edward Medard Park Reservoir. He has been coming back ever since.
"The variety of fish is great," the 23-year-old Plant City resident said as he plopped a lure into the water. "It's quiet here, too."
Medard may be home to schools of bluegill, channel catfish, sunfish, black crappies and much-prized largemouth bass, but lately the 770-acre lake just south of Plant City has fallen off the radar. Once home to dozens of anglers daily, Medard sees only a handful now, mostly because of a 2-year-old catch-and-release policy.
But that could change soon.
Hillsborough County commissioners approved a plan last week to designate the reservoir a fish management area. Management partners the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Southwest Florida Water Management District (commonly known as Swiftmud) have already signed on to the idea. The county's okay was the last hurdle.
"The benefit to the angler is this will help in maintaining a quality fishery," Fish and Wildlife spokesman Gary Morse said. "All that's left is to sign the documents."
The designation allows a local view toward state fishery regulations. In practical terms, it means officials can impose size and catch limits provided they fall within fishery regulations. In effect, it reverses catch and release.
The current ban on fish removal is set to expire at the end of the year. Commission biologists are monitoring fish levels to determine whether to extend the ban or allow it to expire. So far, the populations seem to be expanding to healthy levels.
Medard will enjoy a sizable bounce once catch and release ends, park manager Jeff Mausch said. The ban followed a $1.9 million restoration by Swiftmud and Fish and Wildlife that included a new boardwalk, boat ramp and restocking of the reservoir.
"They've done a nice job," he said.
Likewise, Hackney said lifting the ban would bring back crowds that fell off two years ago. Weekends seem to be picking up, but weekdays are still slow. He said he doesn't mind throwing fish back but can understand the frustration other anglers feel.
"There are a lot of good eating fish in here. Bass is one of the best tasting fish you can eat," he said. "But me, I just like fishing. This is a nice way to spend your time."
Medard would join 85 other fish management areas around the state, including Dover District Park, Steven J. Wortham Park and Al Lopez Park.
Rich Shopes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2454.