FLORIDA’S NEXT WORLD CLASS FISHERY

I’ll admit I missed my opportunity. Back in the day, Stick Marsh / Farm 13 was considered one of the best bass fisheries in the world. Anglers from all over the country traveled to the manmade reservoir just south of the Brevard/Indian River County line to sample the world class fishing. I promised myself I’d make the hour drive south to Stick Marsh. Time passed and I never made it. The Marsh lost its luster. It’s still a decent fishery, but it is not considered world class anymore.

Life gave me a second chance, and that second chance goes by the name Fellsmere Water Management Area (WMA). What is commonly referred to as the Fellsmere Headwaters Lake is a ten-thousand-acre reservoir that many think could surpass Stick Marsh in its heyday. Prior to 2010, this bass fishing playground was farmlands, cattle pastures and orange groves. The St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) purchased the lands from Sun-Ag and built a reservoir intended to provide several benefits including water supply and flood control, but most importantly to readers of this article, the creation of a world class fishery.

Prior to the reservoir being flooded in 2015, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) invested $1.35 million on enhancements. They constructed fish habitat in the form of winding channels, dredge holes, flats, islands and more with the goal of providing the optimum combination of structure, depth and spawning zones to support a thriving bass, panfish and forage population. The FWC planted over 15,000 bald cypress and red maple trees on the numerous islands, and they stocked over a million bass, brim and crappie.

I took my first trip to Fellsmere Reservoir two years ago and have been returning regularly ever since. I could share a bunch of anecdotes about how good the fishing is, but I’ll just get to the point and say it’s outstanding. If you don’t believe me, just look up “Fellsmere Reservoir” on YouTube.

For a few years now the reservoir had been the exclusive playground of shore bound anglers and those fishing from kayaks, canoes and other vessels that can be launched from shore by hand. That’s all about to change. Construction of the long-awaited boat ramp started on January 7th. The completion date hasn’t been nailed down, but it should be some time around May or June. The new ramp will include a floating dock, restrooms and parking for thirty vehicles with trailers.

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.

If you want to use the current kayak launch, head all the way to the end of Fellsmere Grade Road to the parking lot for the Stick Marsh boat ramp. From the parking lot, a long levee extends south that separates Stick Marsh from the Fellsmere Headwaters Lake. You wheel, carry or drag your kayak about fifty yards south of the parking lot to the well-trod launch at the base of the levee.

The new boat ramp will be on the northeast corner of the reservoir making for a shorter drive down the washboard dirt road. The ramp will drop you off in a north-south canal that runs for about three miles before you enter the main body of the reservoir.

Fellsmere is loaded with weeds. Much of the reservoir is covered with hydrilla. Reeds line the shore and crop up in shallower areas. Lily pads show up in spots, and mats of hyacinths drift around with the wind and can pile up almost anywhere. Channels crisscross and wind their way throughout the reservoir and there are dredge holes, some of which are over thirty feet deep.

Fellsmere bass are not picky. A variety of lures work, but keep in mind you’ll often be fishing around weeds. I’ve taken a lot of trips to Fellsmere and have met many kayak anglers at the launch and on the water. I always take note of what lures they have tied to their rods. Based on my unscientific survey, I’d say the most popular bait is a four to five-inch soft paddle tail swimbait rigged weedless, “Texas” style. Speed worms, also rigged weedless, are a close second, followed by stick worms rigged wacky style. Almost everyone has a topwater plug tied to at least one rod, either a walk-the-dog plug, a propeller bait or a plopper style lure. Other popular lures include frogs, bladed jigs, flukes and spinnerbaits.

If you want to fish Fellsmere WMA from a kayak or other paddle craft, you should pay attention to the weather forecast. There is no place to hide on the reservoir should you get caught in a thunderstorm. Also keep track of the wind forecast and plan your route accordingly. Having to paddle two miles back to the launch through matted hydrilla against a stiff head wind can put a major damper a good day of fishing.

One final note, if you want to bring home a cooler full of fillets then Fellsmere Headwaters Lake is not for you. This is strictly a catch and release fishery, but if you go, you will be doing a lot of catching and releasing. Be prepared to wear out a bunch of lures and come home with a severe case of bass thumb.

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