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Fish are back, with new rules at Medard Reservoir

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Published:   |   Updated: May 6, 2013 at 04:43 PM
TURKEY CREEK -

Medard Reservoir is restocked with big Florida large-mouth bass and other native species dumped in the lake late last year.

After a couple of years with barely any water and few fish as the Southwest Florida Water Management District drew down the reservoir to repair its banks, fishing there now may be better than ever, said Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Biologist Paul Thomas. “Anglers out there are happier than they’ve ever been,” he said.

But with the new fish, including bluegills, shell crackers and channel catfish, come new rules.

The reservoir, located in Hillsborough County’s Edward Medard Park on Turkey Creek Road, south of Plant City, is now a state-designated Fish Management Area. That allows regional biologists to monitor fish populations there and tweak rules more easily, should an issue arise, Thomas said.

He and county parks officials worked with a focus group of Medard fishermen and women to come up with the rules, including one that limits commercial fishing in the reservoir to Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday only, leaving the weekends for recreational anglers. Commercial netters target Medard for non-native blue tilapia and suckermouth armored catfish.

There are also bag limits. Recreational anglers are limited to taking five bass daily and only one can be 16 inches or longer.

The Fish Management Area agreement makes it easier for a site to change regulations and rules, said Jeff Mauch, general manager of regional parks for the county. The county can now host focus group meetings to find out what users want and then make changes based on that, he said.

“There’s less red tape to change a rule,” Mauch said. “The premise behind it is to create an excellent fishing area. To do so, you need to have fishermen able to experience good catches.”

So far, so good, Thomas said.

“Anglers are already catching big fish,” he said.

The reservoir, which is owned by the water management district, officially reopened to fishing in December 2012.

“Recreational fishing came back slowly and already, the fishing community has been notified how good the fishing experience is,” Mauch said. “Word of mouth is bringing them back.”

While water was still low in the 700-acre reservoir during repairs, several artificial reefs, or “fish attractors,” were installed in the lake, Thomas said. GPS coordinates for those spots in the reservoir are listed at the boat ramp so anglers can easily find them.

“Does that mean they’ll catch big fish every time they go to those areas? No,” Thomas said. But, they’re a good place to start.

Thomas called this whole series of events “a text book case for fishery science and management.” Many of the fish have been fin clipped so state officials can monitor the population, tell how old the fish are, how long they are living and how fast they are growing.

“This fish management agreement allows us to protect the fish and the quality of fishing here,” Thomas said.

Hillsborough County recently upgraded the boat ramps in the 1,284-acre park and now rents canoes at the former phosphate pit-turned reservoir. Now, the county Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department is about to begin renovations on the campground there, adding electrical hookups for recreational vehicles and new water lines, Mauch said. Tent camping accommodations will remain in place.

The park also offers picnic areas, picnic pavilions and barbecue grills, disc golf, spots for bird watching, an observation tower, a playground and restrooms.

There is a $2 entrance fee for up to eight people. The park, located at 6140 Edward Medard Parkway, is open in spring and summer from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Anglers must possess a state freshwater fishing license.

yhammett@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7127

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