Bass tournament shows lake ‘is alive and well’

OKEECHOBEE — Water levels and wildlife were among the topics of discussion at the Water Resources Advisory Commission (WRAC) meeting on Feb. 2.

“Lake Okeechobee is alive and well,” said Mary Ann Martin of Clewiston.

“We had a huge bass tournament out there this week; 250 boats showed up; 500 anglers were on that water catching fish. We had a two-day full staff group of fishermen out there, and then it cut to the top 10 on the last day.

“We were 153 lbs. short of 10,000 lbs. of fish caught during those three days and that was incredible. The largest fish caught was 10 lbs. 9 oz. The guys just had a great time. They came from all over the United States and there were some people from other countries,” she said.

FLW tournament winner, 19-year-old Taylor Ashley.

The 19-year-old kid who won the tournament brought in 65 pounds of fish and he won $65,000 cash, she said. He’d never fished on Lake Okeechobee before.

“Lake Okeechobee is the dream of every fisherman who wants to come and catch a trophy fish. Thanks to our efforts in keeping that lake healthy — not toxic, trust me — it is alive and well and it would be a lot ‘weller’ if this lake keeps going down and we start getting our permits in order and we start striking matches. That’s the healthiest and the cheapest way to clean the lake is to burn it. All of the debris that is sitting on the bottom, comes out, dries out and it’s all back down to the hard rock, the hard sand, and it’s wonderful.

“We are spending millions and millions of dollars on Lake Okeechobee, poisoning our waters, killing the vegetation, sometimes it goes into the good vegetation. I still think there is a better way to get rid of this problem. I still support mechanical harvesting. It’s not invasive. You don’t tear the habitat up. You get rid of the exotics that need to come out,” she said.

“We’ve had horror stories from fishermen about sprayers who don’t know what they are doing,” she said.

January rainfall finished up just below average with about one and half inches of rainfall, John Mitnik, Director for Operations, Engineering and Construction. Majority of the rain in the South Florida Water Management District fell in the water conservation areas south of the EAA, he said.

Six of the last seven months have been below average rainfall throughout the system, he said.

Since November of 2016, rainfall is well below average for the dry season. “A stark contrast to last dry season,” he said.

“A lot of rain the dry season will come during the month of March,” he said.
Lake Toho has been steady since the passing of Hurricane Matthew.

He noted that parts of the Kissimmee River have to be kept low to accommodate the work on the Kissimmee River Restoration.

Mr. Mitnik said Lake Okeechobee has been going through a steady recession of water level, as is normal during the dry season.

He said the predictions now indicate a normal dry season with a 10 percent chance of a low water situation by June and a 10 percent change of high water situation by June.

Newton Cook of United Waterfowlers Florida said he went out to the 16,000 acre FEB (the A-1 Flow Equalization Basin in the Everglades Agricultural Area) “for another tour while the ducks are here.”

“There are quite a number of ducks out there,” he said.

He said the FEB will be an incredible place for hiking, biking, birding, gator hunting and duck hunting.

“It sits right on top of STA (stormwater treatment area) 3/4, across the road from STA 2,” he said.

“The big spillover that we have of hunters who cannot get in on the walk-ins will be able to drive 10 or 15 minutes and put their kayaks into this 16,000 acre place,” he said.

“It’s going to be an incredible opportunity for folks,” he said.

The WRAC is an advisory body to the SFWMD Governing Board and the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. It is a forum for improving public participation and decision-making about water resource issues in the District.

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