Fish of the Three Rivers and Silver Springs
The Ocklawaha Fishing Story
The Ocklawaha River was a magnificent fishing area prior to Rodman/Kirkpatrick dam construction.
1955 Daytona Beach News Journal – “Norma Clifton of Daytona Beach was over at the junction of the two rivers Friday and reported seeing large catches of the stripers being made. An unconfirmed report said that one man had caught 100 of them in three days.”
Historic Fishing Photos
On Fish and Me
St. Johns Estuary Fly Fisherman – Rami Ashouri
The Silver Springs Fish Story – Bob Knight
Striped Bass Story - Erika Ritter
Champion Bass Fisherman – Bill Rossi
Bring Back the Fish
Many of the species caught before the river was dammed are no longer present or rarely seen in the upper reaches of the Ocklawaha River and Silver Springs. The Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam has not only impacted the natural section of the Ocklawaha it has also reduced fish and shellfish populations in Silver Springs, the St. Johns River, and the Atlantic Ocean. Many species depend on migration upstream or downstream from Silver Springs to the Atlantic. And the sluggish river, reduced freshwater flows, warmer water temperatures from blocked springs, and unfiltered water due to lost wetland forests have negatively contributed to St. Johns River Estuary fish habitat.
In addition to good fishing, a restored river would bring back much larger striped bass (not the hybrid sunshine version) and would create a more sustainable fishery from the Ocklawaha to the St. Johns and the Atlantic Ocean. Lost fish is not the only environmental impact, a sluggish, warmer river has created massive islands of invasive aquatic vegetation that impede navigation and block boat ramps along the riverway.
The poster to the right highlights species that have or are disappearing from the Ocklawaha River and Silver Springs. Other essential species such as the striped and white mullet and channel and white catfish have been decimated. These fish helped keep the ecosystem in balance by consuming algae and cleaning the river bottom. They were a focal point for tourists at Silver Springs. Recent studies show those iconic species are being replaced by exotic fish like the Tilapia and Armored Catfish.
The only way to get these species to come back and bring back their productivity is to provide a natural river connection by breaching the Rodman Dam.
Bring Back the Big Ones: Fish Weights and Sizes
Anglers mostly want to experience the thrill of the adventure, catching the 'big-one', and telling that story over and over to friends. Most freshwater fish are midgets compared to anadromous fishes that could potentially return and be restored for angling. If you want to brag about your fishing prowess in freshwater, bring anadromous fish back to the Ocklawaha.
Typical Freshwater Sportfish
Largemouth Bass (aka Black Bass) - a 10-lb fish is considered a 'Trophy Bass' in Florida, even a 5 lb to 8-lb fish is a boastful big-one. A 'giant' bass is 15-16 lb. Official record in Florida is 17.27 lb.
Channel Catfish - a 12-lb fish is a Trophy Fish in Virginia - and qualifies for a 'Big Catch Recognition' certificate in Florida; Florida record 44.5 lb
Black Crappie (aka Speck) - a 2-lb fish is a monster and qualifies for a 'Big Catch Recognition' certificate; Florida record 3.83 lb
Bluegill - you can brag about a 1-lb catch - and get a 'Big Catch Recognition'; Florida record 2.95 lb
Anadromous Fishes now rare in St. Johns River, but potentially recoverable:
Striped Bass - 'Big Catch Recognition' 12 lb; official record in Florida freshwater is 42.24 lb
American Shad - 'Big Catch Recognition' 3 lb; maximum species weight 12 lb; official record in Florida 5.19 lb
Atlantic Sturgeon (currently restricted from harvest) - attains several hundred pounds, not legal now as a sportfish, but juveniles in the 5-30 lb range are caught incidentally in the St. Johns River system.
Shortnose Sturgeon (currently restricted from harvest) - attains 100 pounds, not legal now as a sportfish, but juveniles in the 5-10 lb range are caught incidentally in the St. Johns River system.
Courtesy: Ken Sulak is a retired U.S. Geological Survey Biologist after 50 years of research and publication on deep-sea, coastal, estuarine, anadromous, and riverine fishes. Dr. Sulak has degrees in biology and marine science from Harvard University and the University of Miami.