Anything Fly Fishing

The Ocala National Forest- On the Fly

4 Mins read

The bug, a size 2 fly rod mouse imitation, hit the water with a gentle splat. Immediately, the water bulged nearby, a large bulge, a harbinger of good things to come. After a long moment, the bug just disappeared. It could have been a bluegill strike. I set the hook with authority. The fish, surprised, wallowed on the surface a moment, the way only a large bass can. Then the water exploded, and the battle was on!

A few years back, a drive through the Ocala National Forest stimulated my curiosity. Some research and a campsite reservation at Juniper Springs National Recreation Area followed. I make a trip or two there every spring, ever since.

A real bucketmouth, on a surface fly.

One needs to think about where to fish when one visits the Forest. You find over 600 natural lakes and ponds here. The Oklawaha River and Rodman Reservoir are on the west side, the St. Johns and Lake George on the east. The Alexander Springs Run offers a quality fishery. Salt Springs, sadly, not so much.

I visited Salt Springs one time. Not one, but two boat ramps are found here. In spite of the motor vessel traffic, I launched the kayak for a stroll around. I saw some fish, including several bass and a stingray. There were lots of crab pots. Plenty of motorboat traffic, especially for a Monday.

What I did not see was any aquatic vegetation. The frenzy of herbicide spraying that happened all along the St. Johns River a couple years back apparently happened here, too. After just a few minutes I returned to the boat landing, loaded up, and drove to Alexander Springs. I wanted greener pastures.

Once at the entrance, the folks there suggested I launch at the CR 445 bridge, assured me my vehicle would be safe there, and saved me the entrance fee. I took their advice and drove over. Nice ramp, parking sufficient for a few cars.

I dropped the boat in, happy to see the lush vegetation, and started flailing with the fly. Bang! Right away I had a little bass. Bang! There’s a stumpknocker. Bang! A bluegill. Bang! A real one, wrapped me right up in the water lilies. A kayak is light enough that even with the wind and current you can pull yourself right over. I reached into the weeds and grabbed my prize.

Scrappy bass, Alexander Springs Run.

South Grasshopper Lake has a pot-holed dirt road leading to it. But the road is hard-packed- even my Toyota Sienna van can make it back there. The water is clean and there’s LOTS of aquatic vegetation! It’s full of fish.

Sellers Lake is another lake that simply looks awesome. It has a boat ramp and more traffic than Grasshopper Lake, but it likewise is loaded with fish. It’s the only lake in the Forest where I’ve caught schooling bass; that is, bass busting minnows on the surface, out in open water. Schoolies are usually modest in size, but the visual aspect makes fishing them a lot of fun.

A fattie on a popper, Sellers Lake.

OK, some nuts and bolts here. There are thirteen national forest campgrounds in the Ocala Forest. Most are found on the recreation.gov website. They are not all the same. Some, like Juniper Springs and Alexander Springs, are developed campgrounds with running water, flush toilets, and hot-water showers. They cost more.

Others, like Lake Delancy and Hopkins Prairie, are more rustic. Pit privies, no running water. Considerably less expensive, though, for those willing to carry in their water and perhaps dispense with bathing for a few days. I prefer Alexander Springs, but stay where you want.

I fish out of a vintage Ocean Kayak. With all the water here, just match your boat to the water body. You can find great Forest fishing whatever your vessel is. Waders, you’re pretty much out of luck here. Kayak rentals are available at the Alexander Springs Recreation Area.

The spring run is a gorgeous and productive place to fish, too. I’m tossing my flies with a five-weight loaded with a weight-forward floating line, often a #6. Makes those bugs fly a little easier. My flies are usually tied on #2 hooks, poppers, gurglers, and various streamers. Lately I’m enamored of bunny strip flies. Although I never have one, a sinking line could certainly be useful sometimes. I prefer casting floating bugs, sometimes at the expense of larger fish. I get enough fatties to keep me happy, though.

Be sure to carry some streamers!

On any trip where you are searching new areas, you can expect wild goose chases. I once went to Lake Delancy campground. When I got there, there was no access to the lake, none I was willing to try without a machete. I’m usually pretty tolerant in this regard, too!

Some of the streamers I carry, and my favorite surface fly, the “mouse,” at the bottom.

Plan B, go to Hopkins Prairie campground. I get there. The lake looks interesting, little bushes, most dead, sticking up all through it. Lots of water lilies and other vegetation. There’s no ramp (there was, just not where I was), but getting to the water is not hard. I think I can catch fish there and drag the boat down to the water.

Two minutes later, the coolest bite of the day soon happened- the one described at the beginning of this article.

I didn’t get that fish. He soon wrapped the leader around one of those little bushes, something that happened several more times that day. The hook on all my mouse flies are barbless. When a decent fish wraps the line, they just shake their head and the hook comes out. So it happened with this one. It was the best fish I’d yet hooked, I lost it, and I was bummed. It’s fishing. Get the line untangled and make another cast!

Any lover of nature will enjoy a trip to the Ocala Forest. Birds of all kinds, bats, deer, lightning bugs, you’ll see all of them and more. I always have a fantastic time there!

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