FWC News Release

Where does your money go?

Ever wonder where your money goes when you plunk it down for a fishing license? A great way to illustrate your dollars at work requires a trip to Lake Panasoffkee in Central Florida.

Lake Panasoffkee, designated an Outstanding Florida Water, is a 4,460-acre Fish Management Area in Sumter County, near Interstate 75. But it took some major efforts to help it maintain that designation.

In the 1950s, it was one of the state's best places to fish, with 15 active fish camps. By 1998, however, 12 of those camps had closed. Measures to prevent flooding and maintain water levels prevented the lake from naturally cleansing itself. Development in the watershed and the spread of nonnative plants had decimated the habitat and with it the lake's ability to sustain a fishery. But today Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) freshwater fish biologists predict that Lake Panasoffkee will be one of the best bream-fishing sites in the state during 2009.

How did this happen? It started when you bought that fishing license.

The FWC contributed about $2.3 million to the $28.3 million needed for the four-step restoration program that started in 2003 and wrapped up in 2008.

The first step in the process restored public access and re-established a navigation channel at Coleman Landing.

Next, dredging removed more than 3 million cubic yards of sediment to create 765 acres of hard-bottom area suitable for native vegetation and native fish spawning, especially around historic spawning sites near Grassy and Shell points. The effort also enhanced recreational access, navigation and fish populations.

After that, dredging another 4.9 million cubic yards of muck from the east side of Panasoffkee exposed 979 acres of healthy lake bottom.

Finally, to improve access and reduce the reintroduction of sediments and exotic plants into the lake, 41 residential canals were dredged.

Submerged aquatic vegetation is critical to healthy Florida lakes because it acts as a buffer against shoreline erosion, reduces sedimentation, cleanses the water and provides vital fish and wildlife habitat.

Recent electrofishing samples have shown large numbers of threadfin shad (excellent bass and speckled perch forage) and largemouth bass in the 1- to 3-pound range with very full stomachs. Obviously, bass are feeding heavily on the readily available threadfin shad. Try fishing with a floating Rat-L-Trap or shallow-diving crankbait with chartreuse in it (to match the threadfin's yellow/green tail). Jerkworms and spinnerbaits will also produce schooling-size bass.

Local anglers are concluding that this has been one of the best years in the lake's history for catching schooling-size largemouth bass. Jim Veal Sr., owner of Pana Vista Lodge, reported seeing more schooling bass this year than in the past 50 years he has been associated with the lake. FWC biologist Bret Kolterman also observed more bass this year than in the previous 20 years he has been sampling the lake. Kolterman reported seeing more 3-5 pound bass this year and expects that Panasoffkee should be producing more trophy bass in the near future. Most bass collected during electrofishing samples were hanging off the shoreline in slightly deeper water.

Electrofishing samples also showed large numbers of smaller-sized bluegill around eel grass beds and near shore. Good numbers of 9- to 10-inch bluegill were also observed. Fishing with crickets or grass shrimp around eel grass beds should work well for the available bream.

Anglers reported good catches of large crappie this season, and biologists have seen more crappie in their sampling.

Two new fish camps have opened, helping the local economy and drawing in additional anglers from around the country.

Florida's recreational freshwater fisheries generate $2.4 billion in local economic impact annually and support 23,500 jobs (2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Related Recreation, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau).

Now when you put down the money for that fishing license, you know it's money well-spent.