While the north still shivers in the last throws of winter, normally big bend Floridians enjoy a sanctuary far away from bone chilling temperatures. Even in mid-winter months, southeastern fly fishers can enjoy good bass, bluegill, and crappie fishing on the fly. By mid March, warming daytime temperatures activate pre-spawn crappies, bluegills, and bass to begin to move into shallow creeks and sandy areas to prepare for the spring spawn. I travelled to spend some time with a fishing friend, Mike Coburn, of Tallahassee, and enjoyed my first early spring fly fishing trip for fat "speckled perch", black crappies, or pomoxis nigromaculatus at Lake Talquin.
Although fishing pressure in Florida's big bend has resulted in major depletion of many fish populations, aggressive management including smaller limits, slots, minimum sizes, catch and release waters, and carefully orchestrated drawdowns are helping to meet the needs of increasing fishing pressure from record numbers of anglers. Fishing pressure on Talquin has increased in the past two years, because during the ongoing drought nearby Lake Jackson disappeared back into the receding Florida aquifer, eliminating access to that popular lake.
In the late 1920s, the completion of Jackson Bluff dam backed up the Ochlockonee River, and formed the 8,800 acre Lake Talquin reservoir, just west of Tallahassee. First owned by Florida Power, in 1970, ownership of the lake was transferred to Florida's DNR. By 1980, the city of Tallahassee was allowed to reactivate Jackson Bluff dam primarily for public recreation, and secondarily for hydroelectric power. DNR managed drawdowns were scheduled every 5 to 8 years to maximize aquatic quality, fish production, and general health for the lake's ecosystem. Increases in nesting osprey and increased duck usage for two to three years follow these Talquin drawdowns. In January 1992, Ben F. Curry, Sr. caught the Florida State record black crappie state certified at 3 pounds, 13 and 1/4 ounce female crappies. Fisheries biologists estimated that the crappie was 8 years old meaning it was produced after the Talquin drawdown of 1983-84. Lake Talquin is rated one of Florida's top ten crappie lakes according to FFWCC. The great blue heron seen right kept us close company on this trip. We saw osprey feeding in our cove, too.
If you don't have an experienced local fisher or guide to fish with on Talquin, the Chamber of Commerce or DNR can send you maps of the area. You can obtain an out-of-state short term license by calling 1-888-FISH FLORIDA or 1-888-347-4356, just give basic information and pay with your Visa or Mastercard. A world of information is available at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website -- www.state.fl.us/fwc/. At the homepage, click on Florida Division of Fresh Water Fisheries and you can find lots of information about fishing in the Tallahassee area. If you are flying to Tallahassee, you'll find connecting flights from Atlanta, rental cars, and plenty of lodging available in the city. From Atlanta, Tallahassee is about a 5 hour drive. If you are near, Talquin will be a nice drive-in day trip.
Most locals seeking crappies fish long fiberglass poles tipped with short mono line, styrofoam floats, and live minnows, or spin fishing gear with live minnows or jigs. I fished Talquin with an eight and a half foot medium action 2 weight fly rod, WF2F line, a nine foot leader with 18 inch 4 pound tippet, and a selection of heavily weighted small streamers capable of probing the low visibility water to 9 foot depth. My color selection included black, light chartreuse, white, and craw or burnt orange. Because of the light brown water color, black worked the best by far. To compare scented versus unscented "baits", my host and fishing partner, Mike Coburn, fished spin tackle with float and a live minnow.
This is Florida -- don't use float tubes! and don't pet the 'gators baby. Mike said he had not seen alligators very often on Talquin in the past, but this beautiful sunny day, we had the company of two 8 foot 'gators (one image right) while we fished the creek, and we met a three foot baby 'gator at the boat ramp. Although I prefer to fish small bodies of water from a float tube, snakes and 'gators can ruin one's day in Florida. A flats boat or a simple jon boat will give you the access you need, and will afford protection from the critters.
FINDING SPECS/FLY PRESENTATION
In January through April, seek pre-spawn and spawning crappies by slowly riding the mouths of feeder creeks with fish finder on. Popular creeks are: Little River, Polk, Hammock, and Oklawaha. Looking for schools or individual suspended crappies. You can even let out 30 feet of fly line and SLOWLY troll small but heavy subsurface flies over 15 to 20 foot water to locate suspended fish. If your graph doesn't show fish, move from the mouth of the creek and probe shallower water farther upstream. Talquin is not full of vegetation, but has plenty of wood so proceed cautiously, and fish all woody cover thoroughly. If the water is greater than 14 feet, let out line and jig your fly vertically. If you don't contact fish, move farther back into the shallowest third of the creek and begin probing around lilly pads and the deep water in the center of the cove. Then probe water to the shallow edges of all aquatic vegetation on both sides of the cove. Probe the water in shallow sandy areas. Fish the deepest available water, and probe water to the shallowest. Cast to your targets, let the streamer sink, then slowly strip it back, pausing to let it stay down. Watch your line for "ticks" indicating a strike while your fly is sinking.
During high sun hours, fish quiet, secluded, shaded spots, boat houses, and boat docks, especially older wooden docks featuring lights and rod holders. Fish lilly pads, because crappies will hold in the shade just under the pie plate sized lilly pads. Unlike some other nearby lakes that are choked with heavy aquatic growth, Talquin's aquatic growth provides cover, compliments the ecosystem, and will actually improve your subsurface fly fishing.
FLIES VS MINNOWS
The water visibility was only 3 inches so Mike patiently fished minnows, and I fly fished streamers aggressively with surprising results: I caught at least as many crappies as did Mike. I made more casts and covered more water, while Mike cast less and let his minnow sit longer. The minnow's scent did not seem to offer any advantage in this instance. Conclusion: Don't feel handicapped fishing unscented flies. Although those who research it say that some fish use olfaction more for territorial and spawning activities, some fishes have highly developed olfactory systems. In this case, scent didn't seem an advantage.
There is a 10 inch minimum for black crappies on Lake Talquin, so the crappies grow fat and strong. On a light fly rod, catching Talquin "specs" is productive, fun, and is easy enough to do.
In addition to the crappies in this lake, you may get a welcomed surprise from a fat, rod bending bluegill. This heavy weight gill was really fun on my 2-weight. There may be surprises from other species, too.
Talquin is a beautiful lake, with wonderful scenery, wildlife, and many fun fly fishing opportunities awaiting you. It is a nice drive from about anywhere in the SE Region, and an interesting trip for the family. Whether fly fisher or photographer, Talquin has much to offer.
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