Author: “Ocklawahaman” Paul Nosca
It was the mid 1960’s. My older brother had already been called away a year or so before by President LBJ–Allen did come back home OK later. A politically inspired boondoggle project known as the Cross Florida Barge Canal, which planning studies calculated would make NO “cents”, was already decimating parts of Florida’s beautiful and historic Ocklawaha River Valley. I was a skinny kid saltwater fishing with natural baits on the Pinellas County coast, sometimes getting there by bicycle or city bus. Then I heard-tell that the man-made ponds scattered around my parents’ north St. Petersburg home had bass in them that could be caught from the bank on “rubber worms”. So after enough lawn mowing jobs for pay were completed, I bought a Mitchell 300 along with a medium spinning rod plus some 8-cent each plastic worms from an Eckerds drug store (10-pound mono, weed-less hooks and split-shot sinkers, too). This was the crude start of my bass fishing addiction. I learned to reel-in those worms moving VERY SLOWLY–“like molasses in wintertime”, ha! This was SLOW fishing but my trophy bass from that era was 23 inches long and reigned as my record “lunker” for a couple of decades.
Then in 1973, I was able to move to the Ocklawaha River Basin / Ocala National Forest area of north-central Florida. Experiencing the myriad natural lakes along with the several streams of this “Big Scrub” region of Lake, Marion and Putnam counties would be a dream come-true for many anglers. But up until 1980, my demanding job and family situation left me precious little outdoors time. My fishing days in a 10-foot johnboat with a bum 3-horse (I paddled most of the time) were few and far between–I ended up selling it.
By 1980, however, I had managed more off-duty time and bought my first canoe enabling the “birth” of this paddling Ocklawaha “river rat”. I developed an infatuation for using a Mitchell 308 ultra-light and “Beetlespin” lures in the shaded river’s current for tasty bream along with small but feisty bass. This was more satisfying to me, most of the time, than fishing those plastic worms SLOWLY in the un-shaded (for me) still-water lakes for their usually larger bass–which I also still did. Occasionally, though, even these Ocklawaha bass were bigger than a UL could handle without breakage in the river’s strong current and wood structure. Accordingly, in 1986, I started experimenting fishing streams with buzzbaits and spinnerbaits on more “medium-sized” spinning tackle–I’ve very rarely used plastic worms or any other lures since, even when I’m “forced” to bass fish a lake or pond!
My 25 years since of River “Bassing” with buzzbaits and spinnerbaits from a canoe (or wading) has taken place on many different north Florida rivers and creeks plus also a few streams in other parts of the South. It is my favorite outdoor pursuit and ranks among my “Top 5” interests in life, “for true”. I’ve caught river largemouth bass up to 25 inches, smallmouth bass to 19 inches, spotted bass to 17 inches, shoal bass to 18 inches, Suwannee bass to 16 inches, striped bass to 32 inches and white bass to 17 inches–all while employing the same general technique for fishing moving water with “spinners” that I have used for mountain trout up in the Blue Ridge.
The Ocklawaha River Valley is and has been “home” except when family or duty has required me elsewhere. My retirement “Last Stand” is with my Sweetheart Erika along the “Middle” Ocklawaha River. This is the natural swift-flowing 18-mile segment (between Silver River and Rodman Reservoir) which was rescued from imminent destruction in 1971 when the Cross Florida Barge Canal project was HALTED by President Nixon.
Captain Erika, my “better half” (I never reached that pay grade in the Army), is a “Cracker” with family “roots” here back to the “Antebellum Era”. We both strongly advocate for the breeching of Rodman Dam to allow for the restoration of the entire 56 river miles from Silver Springs to the St. Johns as a free-flowing stream again and the “re-birth” of some 20 cool-water artesian springs that have been inundated.
Fisheries biologists back in 1961 determined that only 2 river systems in Florida contained native naturally reproducing populations of striped bass: the Apalachicola-Chipola and the St. Johns-Ocklawaha. “Stripers” in Florida are a riverine fish requiring cool-water refuges in the summer for survival and about 50 miles of swift current for successful spawning. Rodman Dam has stopped the natural reproduction of striped bass because there are no longer enough miles of suitable stream left in the entire St. Johns River Basin (whose longest tributary is the Ocklawaha). Non-hatchery raised “stripers” should not be allowed to be extinct where they were Florida “natives” in modern times. We want springtime striped bass “runs” out of the St. Johns up the Ocklawaha to Silver River AGAIN! Although Erika proficiently catches river bass on buzzbaits and spinnerbaits from a kayak, WE would leave enough for “SEED”!
I hope that you enjoy YOUR free-flowing rivers and MY river bass photos.
“Ocklawahaman” Paul Nosca