Fishing report:  Tournaments on Orange, Lochloosa

Orange Lake
Orange Lake
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The first real bass tournament of the year attracted quite a crowd to Orange Lake and Marjorie Rawlings Park. 

All 74 teams launched at the Marjorie Rawlings boat ramp early on Jan. 21 despite dark and wet conditions. Orange might not have put its very best foot forward, but it produced well enough to retain its high angler esteem.

Four teams finished with bass limits weighing better than 20 pounds.

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Tray Bozeman and Woody Bozeman docked with a five-bass limit that totaled 20.01 pounds. This earned them a fourth-place finish. Cory Kempton and Winston Kicklighter had a 22.06-pound limit for third place. Mike and Ryan Crosby’s five bass totaled 23.18.  And the journeyman team of Johnny and Joey Key claimed the win with a 23.75-pound limit.

The heaviest single bass of the day, an 8.29-pound beauty, fell to the team of Benny Beckham and Paul Braun.  Braun and Beckham finished in 10th place overall.

Put into law relatively recently, Florida’s daily bass limit greatly reduces the harvest of large fish, allowing each angler five bass but only one longer than 16 inches. Only bass tournament anglers who have been granted a bass tournament waiver can possess multiple bass longer than 16 inches until weigh-in.

Orange Lake is something of a superstar — possibly the finest jewel in Florida’s bass fishing crown. With full knowledge of this, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has moved to further protect the treasured large fish that inhabit it.

Whether tournament fishing negatively affects fishing has long been debated.  Without a doubt, though, studies do show that mortality in tournament-caught bass, as well as post-tournament mortality, is most significant in hot weather. Because of this, FWC will not issue Bass Tournament Exemption Permits in the summertime between June 15, 2023, to Sept. 15, 2023, as part of the Florida Trophy Bass Project.

Bass clubs and tournament organizations looking to apply for summertime tournament waivers will receive this FWC message: “During this time, water temperature is at its highest. Despite anglers’ best efforts, recent research has estimated that on average 40% of the bass caught in summer tournaments in Florida die within a few days due to the stress of being hauled in live wells and weighed in tournaments.”

Orange Lake is unique in that the bass exhibit fast growth rates and bass of very old age have been documented from the lake when water remains in the lake long enough. This is a great combination for growing trophy bass in excess of 13 pounds. 

The lake is also entering into a window where conditions are right to continue to produce many trophy-sized bass over the next few years. By protecting the trophy bass currently in the lake, more and larger trophy fish should be caught for several years. 

Anglers wishing to hold tournaments on Orange and Lochloosa Lakes during this time (June 15 through Sept. 15) must do so within current bag and length regulations, and FWC encourages those anglers to consider tournament formats that include catch, weigh, and immediate-release format.”

If convinced of its merit, I believe tournament anglers love their bass and will generally support this new rule.

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