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Specs may be doing just fine

Posted on Friday, March 14, 2014 at 1:45 pm

DanPearsonJ. Daniel Pearson
Under the Bobber

My column two weeks ago on the decline of spec fishing in Osceola County drew some interesting comments from local anglers. Many agreed that the black crappie fishing has shown significant decline in area lakes, while others said they have been doing just fine.
Perhaps the most interesting response came from Marty Mann, a state fisheries biologist. His first point was that spec fishing tends to be cyclical in Florida, sometimes in multiple-year cycles.
While there is no proven explanation for these cycles, Mann said low water levels, harsh weather conditions and food availability most likely all play a role. Mann also noted than spawning habits of specs are not consistent as they are with bass. While bass have a prolonged spawning cycle, specs have a much shorter cycle. This can lead to a boom/bust result in reproduction classes. When conditions interrupt the spec spawning cycle, it often leads to down years in spec reproduction.
Mann also agreed that weed spraying had an effect on spec fishing, but not in the way I portrayed it.  He said that lack of spraying is more of a detriment to spec fishing. According to research, Mann noted that the black crappie species prefer little to no coverage and will often only forage heavy grass areas at night to feed. He cites the fact that spec fishing was poor in Lake Toho for several years when hydrilla was choking the lake, but improved dramatically after massive spraying and hydrilla harvesting programs took place.
The fact that specs will forage grass areas at night also leads us to an interesting question: what are the specs actually eating? Mann said one electroshock study of specs showed the stomach contents of both juvenile and adult fish.  Researchers were surprised to see both adult and juvenile fish stuffed with Hexagenia, a mayfly nymph.  The implications of this are simple.  Many spec fishermen assume adult specs feed on other fish and use baits such as minnows and jigs.  Mann says it may be possible that insects remain the favorite food of black crappie throughout their life cycle.
This brings us to creel studies, which are actual hard data on what fisherman are catching over a prolonged period of time. Studies were done on Lake Toho in the fall (not considered prime spec season) and Lake Kissimmee in the winter/spring season over a five-year period. After a high rate 1.58 fish caught per hour in 2010, catch rates on Lake Toho have dropped each year to a level of 1.33 in 2013. A catch rate of 2.00 is considered excellent. (Keep in mind averages can be held down by a number of factors, including inexperienced fisherman, bad weather, etc.)
Mann concedes spec fishing has been down the last couple of years, but he also believes it can be blamed on several factors, including the fact that hydrilla has become an increasingly bad problem on Toho. As far as Lake Kissimmee, which saw an outstanding catch rate of 2.36 fish per hour in 2010 fall to 1.77 last year, Mann says lower water levels may be the culprit in that decline.
In short, Mann agrees the spec fishing has been in decline the last couple of years. Hydrilla infestation, lower water levels, milder than normal winters, and other factors can be blamed. But Mann also believes that these factors are all part of a cycle and spec fishing can improve just as a quickly when these factors are addressed.
Short Strikes:  Next weekend a Lake Toho stop is scheduled on the Paralyzed Veterans Association Bass Fishing Tour…I hope to bring you a write-up on that event in my next column. Richard Clinton of Dade City was spec fishing on Lake Iola last week when he got the surprise of a lifetime. Clinton was fishing with a minnow on light gear in 32 feet of water when something huge grabbed his bait. An intense tussle ended with Clinton netting a mammoth brown bullhead catfish that measured 22.25 inches long, weighed 7.02 pounds and had a girth of 15.5 inches. That fish not only was a new state of Florida record for the species, but it was just ounces off the world record of 7 pounds, 6 ounces caught in a New York lake in 2009.  You can send me your story ideas, pictures, and comments to and as always: Tight Lines and Good Fishing.