The Natural Wonders of Lake Panasoffkee
by Gian Di Bella
Throughout our lovely state of Florida we are blessed to find aquatic environments worthy of a paddle and kayak or canoe. It is often difficult (as kayakers) to find bodies of water not crowded with heavy boat traffic and motorized personal watercraft. This being said, our weekend trip was destined for Sumter County; a place where nature is present in every aspect.
Given this trip was exploratory I was assisted by Doug Smiley, Josh Slager (Owner of 42 Tackle Co.), and Walt Palen (Shallowfly Walt). Both Josh and Walt are at the top of their field in the fishing community, and it didn’t take us long to figure out what makes this place an outstanding getaway within a short distance of home. The lake is spring fed, holds vast grass beds, valuable structure, gives access to the Withlacoochee River, and is surrounded by productive Wildlife Management Areas that offer otherwise unlikely wildlife encounters. Complete with fish species like Largemouth bass, Crappie, Bluegill, Shell-cracker, and catfish, rest assured this body of water holds the freshwater species you seek.
There are many benefits to the Lake Panassoffkee watershed area for those of us who prefer the quiet, natural approach to some much needed recreation. We launched at Marsh Bend, a creek that joins Lake Pan the Withlacoochee River. Being that a cold front was approaching and winds were picking up, we were blessed with a launch that offered us easy escape to the safety of the river. Not many places can provide this type of last minute change without having to cancel our trip, and today was a bonus!
Our valiant attempt was to catch the first wave of low pressure that preluded the imminent cold front, hoping the first rain drizzle would set off the feeding frenzy. We rigged our kayaks for the long day on the river, loaded up on bottled water, and double-checked our arsenal of artificial baits courtesy of 42 Tackle Co. Given the main riverine forage of wild shiners, worms, crayfish, and frogs, Josh was kind enough to provide enough baits of each variety. Set for the day ahead, we had a last minute brief on conditions, safety, and float plan before the fun began. Having little knowledge of what structure we would find, I let they boys’ angling expertise speak for itself on this journey.
As we paddled along toward the river, I was awe-struck with the abundance of birds and wildlife that populate the surrounding cypress swamps and pine flats. We saw a variety of different waterfowl, birds of prey, signs of feral pigs, and the always welcome river otters. Waterfowl species included Moorhens, Wood ducks, Snowy egret, Tri-colored heron, Limpkin, White ibis, Anhinga, Double-crested cormorant, and the odd Great blue heron here and there. We also encountered many other species that are highly coveted by bird-watchers such as Osprey, Red-shouldered hawk, Red-tailed hawk, Merlin, and the often under-rated Turkey vulture. It is plain to see for all who come and visit that Sumter County’s natural wonders are abundant with wildlife in all forms.
Looking a bit more closely at our adventure, I can now realize that Mother Nature had different plans for us. The night before had provided enough rain and drop in temperature to effectively shut down the fishing. Despite our best efforts and skilled angling, the fish seemed to have stopped feeding. Josh Slager emerged victorious by landing the only Largemouth bass of the day, and leaving the rest of us as they say “Skunked.” This would normally be a problem, were it not for the natural beauty that engulfed our presence. Our passion for adventure had landed us smack in the middle of Florida’s best kept secret.
We discovered nearly crystalline streams where fly-fishermen could sight fish their target species. Areas where we could return to hunt for deer and wild boar were also a welcome addition. Best of all, we found many outstanding grassy areas to pursue Largemouth bass, along with miles of untouched shoreline that play an active role in the survival of this vast, breath-taking ecosystem. Although we spent a relatively short amount of time there, I can surely think of four guys that are anxiously awaiting the next trip to further explore this treasure.