By Sue Cocking, Guy Harvey Outpost staff writer Late summer/early autumn is prime time for flats fishing in the Keys and the Bahamas. With few visiting anglers and plenty of bonefish, you have the shallow, …
Lake Tarpon: It’s All About the Bass
Despite its name, Lake Tarpon on Central Florida’s Gulf coast is best known for its outsized largemouth bass– not the leaping ‘silver king’.
Rated one of the Sunshine State’s top ten bass lakes by biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, this 2,534-acre urban lake near Tarpon Springs has relatively low fishing pressure and “excellent bass population and size structure”, according to the agency.
It’s home to the unofficial second-largest bass ever caught in the state– a 19.6-pounder taken by Riley Witt in 1961 using a live eel for bait. And it’s been giving up good numbers of six- to 10-pounders ever since. Anglers also catch chain pickerel, crappie, shellcracker (red ear sunfish), bowfin (mudfish), and the occasional snook.
Tarpon? Not so much.
“There’s some small ones in a canal, but they’ve got lockjaw,” said 30-year veteran bass guide and tournament competitor Captain Gene Goldman.
No matter. Goldman keeps plenty busy guiding customers from all over to catch fat black bass on all sorts of baits: plastic worms, crankbaits, spinnerbaits, swim jigs, and live shiners. Not long ago, he escorted Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak to catch and release a lunker estimated at over ten pounds using a Strike King swim jig decorated with a Keitech trailer near a patch of reeds on the lake’s north shore. Smoak is back at Lake Tarpon this week trying to catch one even bigger.
What sets Lake Tarpon apart from other bass fisheries, according to Goldman, are four factors: its variety of habitats –bulrush and cattails rimming the shores; offshore humps; brush piles; and peppergrass beds–that invite the use of all sorts of artificial and natural baits; being spring-fed, it always holds water during droughts; despite its urban location, there’s very little pollution; and the fish are very tolerant of human activity.
“On weekends in the warmer months, there’s water skiers –it’s a zoo–but still we catch fish,” Goldman said.
Like in any lake in Florida, Lake Tarpon bass can be finicky following passage of winter cold fronts. On the day I fished, Goldman and I couldn’t even get the fish to eat live shiners. But the very next day, the lake turned back on and Goldman’s two customers released 11 good-sized bass in a half day of fishing.
If you are planning a fishing trip there, check out Florida’s TrophyCatch program at trophycatchflorida.com. It’s a citizen-science program that rewards anglers for documenting and releasing bass of eight pounds plus.
To book a Lake Tarpon fishing trip with Captain Gene Goldman, visit www.captaingenebassfishing.com.