August 14, 2011

Friends of Okeechobee

If you are not familiar with the constant fluctuation of Lake Okeechobee, let me tell you it is more than annoying for those who enjoy fishing the legendary lake.  The water levels change constantly due to rain and lack of it.  But it is not just the rain that affects the water levels, it's also poor management of the lake.  They often allow more water to flow out than what comes in.  The water flows out of the lake into the Caloosahatchee River that runs a quarter mile from my house.  The Caloosahatchee has it's own set of ecological issues, but Okeechobee is basically the kidney for the whole state's water. Water is constantly coming in from different directions, but just as fast (or faster) it runs out of the lake causing the water to remain dangerously low.  Everyone wants to have control of the water: farmers, ecological groups, fishermen, politicians; basically everyone has an idea to protect their best interests.

Right now the lake is at 10.33 feet above sea level.  I have added a Lake O water level meter on the side of this site.  As it is now, it is too low for safe fishing (in my opinion). Sure, if you know the lake, you can know the deeper spots to run, or just fish the rim ditch that runs around the lake, but the lake is notorious for ripping lower units off the back of boats and damaging props.  Surprisingly, the lake has plenty of rocks and reefs that are not good for safe boating.

Aside from just being low, the fishery itself is in danger.  The past two years have been high and stable for the most part.  As a result, the fishing on the lake has been awesome! Look back at the record breaking FLW Tour Open in February as proof.  The spawns over the past few years have been great, the grass was everywhere and the big fish were biting.  

Okeechobee with high water levels

Okeechobee with low water levels

As a result of the great fishing, the small towns around the lake were thriving.  Cities like Clewiston, Belle Glade, Moore Haven, Buckhead Ridge, Lakeport and Okeechobee were doing well despite the nationwide economy.  These small towns all depend on the hotel, gas, tackle, food and other revenue that mostly fisherman provide.  If you have ever been to these towns, you would see that fishing is a major part of the economy.  When the water is low, the fisherman simply don't go as often and they lose sales.  It's about more than just fishing.

A new group called the Friends of Okeechobee has been created to "stop the horrible mismanagement of the lake, including water levels, dredging, spraying. All are welcome. Please come to support this cause.  The lake level affects all businesses around the lake from gas stations, hotels, restaurants, to fishing guides. Things have to be changed!! Meeting at former Northlake Marine, 1205 SR78, Lakeport. Please repost this to your site!" I found that on the Lake Okeechobee Outdoors Facebook page.

As you can see, it says "former" Northlake Marine.  That is a perfect example of what the water levels do to the businesses around the lake.  When I first moved here a few years ago, Northlake was one of the biggest Ranger dealers in the country.  The low water from 2007-08 was the reason they started doing badly and they were never able to recover.  

This is something that affects everyone who enjoys bass fishing in Florida; residents, visitors, tournament anglers.  Everyone is affected.  If you are in South Florida or have ever fished Okeechobee, do what you can to support the Friends of Okeechobee.

Check out this video to see what it is like this year.

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