Saturday, December 16, 2017

Urban fisheries can be surprising


Ray Watson knows how to get an angler's blood pumping.

"When it comes to bass, this lake has some real monsters," the fisheries biologist said. "But we've got saltwater species, too … lots of mullet and snook."

Did you say snook? In Maggiore?

This south St. Petersburg lake, known for its big alligators, has not really been considered a destination for serious sportsman. But a recent "electro fishing" trip with researchers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission revealed that this urban fishery may have a lot to offer.

"We also see tarpon and the occasional redfish," Watson said. "People can't believe it."

Maggiore, along with Bartlett Lake, Fossil Park Lake, Walter Fuller Lake and Lake Eli, are open to fishing year-round. But every Memorial Day, the city opens more than a dozen smaller lakes for shoreline fishing through Labor Day (see list at end).

Many anglers would not consider fishing some of these smaller ponds. But many of these bodies of water, including Maggiore, have been stocked by the FWC, and they provide excellent angling opportunities.

Maggiore, linked to Tampa Bay by Salt Creek, has long been a secret spot for locals, but a recent field trip with Watson and his colleague, Paul Thomas, showed that this lake is full of life and doing quite well.

"It's in great shape," Watson said. "Our stocking efforts have really paid off."

One way to gauge the health of a body of water is to count fish. But you have to get the fish to the surface.

To accomplish this difficult task, biologists use specially designed boats equipped with a generator, voltage box and two long poles on the bow that dangle electrodes into the water.

The amount of electricity they use varies according to the chemistry of the water. The generator is cranked up, sending out enough current to stun everything within 10 feet of the bow and 6 feet deep.

A biologist scoops up the fish with a hand net. The fish are weighed, measured and returned to the water, unharmed. The fish usually are stunned for about 10 to 15 seconds.

In less than an hour, Watson and Thomas counted more than a dozen large bass, several exotic species that included tilapia and armored catfish, as well as a variety of panfish.

"But where are all the snook?" I asked Watson.

The hard freezes during the winter of 2010-11 nearly wiped out the lake's snook population. But nature has a way of replenishing itself, even after a couple of killer cold fronts.

Watson and Thomas left the shoreline and moved to a deeper channel where a snook could hunker down and hide from the lake's apex predator, the alligator. The biologists hit the switch and within a minute, a stunned large snook was right off the bow.

"Now look at that," Watson said.

You won't find snook in every lake in St. Petersburg but you might catch a seatrout or sheepshead at Bartlett Lake or Fossil Park Lake, which are both considered "saltwater lakes," which means you don't need a license to fish there if you are a shore-based angler.

But if you're looking for place to catch bass, catfish or sunnies, here are a few suggestions:

Booker Creek Park (13th Avenue and 22nd Street N), Childs Park Lake (11th Avenue and 42nd Street S), Crescent Lake Park (22nd Avenue and Fifth Street N), Eagle Crest Lake (Sixth Avenue and 66th Street N), Euclid Lake (25th Avenue and 17th Street N), Moon Lake (13th Avenue and 42nd Street N), Kelley Lake (40th Avenue and 20th Street N), Lake Jude (Sixth Avenue and 55th Street N), Lake Vista Park (62nd Avenue and 14th Street S), Lynch Lake (70th Avenue and 18th Street N), Mastry Lake (64th Avenue and 14th Street N), Mirror Lake (off Fifth Street N, Second Avenue and Mirror Lake Drive N), Ruby Lake (26th Avenue and 35th Street N), Sheffield Lake (24th Avenue and 49th Street N), Sirmons Lake (33rd Avenue and 41st Street N), Teresa Gardens Lake (32nd Avenue and 71st Street N), Viking Lake (75th Avenue and 14th Street N).


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