I had huge blow-ups on my lure on previous trips. I’d miss the hookset, or if the hook did grab, it would pull during the fight. Things were different this time. The hook held, the fish slugged it out, and after a few tense minutes I grabbed the lower jaw of a nine pound bass, my new personal best.
I was fishing the Fellsmere Water Management Area (WMA), a ten thousand acre reservoir that many think could soon become one of the premier bass fishing destinations in the world. Prior to 2010 this bass fishing playground was farm lands, cattle pastures and orange groves. The St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) purchased the lands from Sun-Ag and started building a reservoir intended to provide a number of benefits including restoration of the Upper St. Johns River, improving flood control during high rain events, providing a water supply for the town of Fellsmere and surrounding agricultural areas, and most importantly to readers of this article, creating a high-quality fishery.
Prior to the reservoir being flooded in 2015, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) invested about $1.35 million on enhancements. They designed and constructed fish habitat in the form of channels, dredge holes, islands and more with the goal of providing the optimum combination of structure for mature bass, shallow spawning areas, and nursery habitat for young fish. The FWC planted over 15,000 trees like bald cypress and red maple on the numerous islands and they stocked over a million bass, brim and crappie.
There won’t be a boat ramp on Fellsmere WMA for at least a year so for now the reservoir is the exclusive playground of shore bound anglers and those fishing from kayaks, canoes and other vessels that can be launched from shore by hand.
Fellsmere WMA is located just east of the iconic Stick Marsh / Farm 13. To get there take I-95 to Malabar Road in Palm Bay. Follow Malabar Road about half a mile east and then turn right on Babcock Street. After heading about 12 miles south on Babcock look for Fellsmere Grade Road immediately after you cross the C-54 Canal. This final leg of the journey is six miles of bone rattling washboard dirt road that leads you to the parking lot for the Stickmarsh boat ramp.
From the parking lot a long levee heads south. The west side of the levee is Stick Marsh and east is Fellsmere WMA. There is a gate across the entrance to the levee with an opening on the right side that is wide enough to fit a kayak or canoe. From the gate you wheel, carry or drag your boat about a hundred yard down the embankment to any spot along the grassy bank that looks convenient for launch.
The levee runs for miles to the south and much of it is fishable for shore bound anglers willing to hike or bike down a dirt road that runs along the top of the berm. There is a dredged channel that averages nine feet deep that runs along most of the levee that is well within casting distance from shore. Bank anglers can fish the weeds and cover along the shore or fish the channel. On my last trip I passed a couple bank fishermen who were about half a mile from the parking lot. They reported having a very successful trip and one of them had just released a five pound bass. On another trip I came across a father son pair of shore fishermen who said they lost a bass they thought was eight or nine pounds.
The general rule of thumb for the Fellsmere WMA is topwater in the morning and subsurface baits as the sun gets higher. There is open water in the channels and some other areas, but most locations are laden with snags making weedless lures a wise choice. A lot of folks like to throw frog lures early and switch to jerk baits or swimbaits later in the day. I’ve had lots of success with Bass Assassin’s Boss Shiner and Shad Assassin. Honestly, just about any bass lure that can be fished effectively around weeds and cover should work well at Fellsmere.
If you want to load up a cooler with fillets to take home then Fellsmere WMA is not the place for you. It is strictly a catch and release fishery, but if you go you’ll be doing plenty of catching and releasing. This is a good place to catch lots of bass and most of them will be quality two to four pound fish with the occasional bigger fish mixed in. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, my best is nine pounds, but I’ve heard of bass up to twelve pounds caught from Fellsmere.
My last piece of advice is to pay attention to the wind and weather forecasts and plan accordingly when you fish Fellsmere WMA. It is a wide open body of water with no place to hide if you get caught in a thunderstorm. It is also easy to get distracted and end up farther from the launch than you expected. One way to put a damper on a great day of fishing is a long, arduous paddle through weedy waters against a strong headwind.
By Paul MacInnis