ABOUT THE FARM 13/STICK MARSH
THE ST. JOHNS RIVER TRILOGY - EPILOG
"I HEARD THE FARM 13/STICK MARSH IS DONE FOR"
by Jim Porter
"I don't know who told you that crock", I responded. "Let me look at my log book and I'll get back to you."
The title comment and the response were Internet traffic items on a fishing site discussion page that I frequent. One thing I have found in all my years, both as a fisherman and as an outdoor writer, is that rumors beget rumors. Someone made a trek to the famous Brevard County, Florida, fishing Mecca and couldn't find the bass. So, the obvious excuse was that "there are no fish left there".
Wrong!! I say there, boy -- WRONG!!!
I live 30 minutes (even less, if my fishing habit hasn't had a 'fix' in 48 hours) from the Farm 13/Stick Marsh complex in east Central Florida. And, in 1990, I was one of the first to fish it at the invitation of its Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission Project Officer, Fred Cross. Conservatively my wife, friends, special parties and I spend 100-150 days on it. I have studied aerial photos of the area before and after it was flooded. Plus, I made the first map of the impoundment in late 1990. I KNOW the water well.
While the Farm 13/Stick Marsh complex has undergone many physical water management engineering changes, the fish have been basically unaffected. I will be the first to admit that the catch rates are down from the hey-day years of 1990-1995. But, that decline has NOTHING to do with a decline in the numbers of fish. It has to do strictly with the anglers' abilities to adapt and adjust to the changing habitat.
- In 1995, my boat had more than 4000 bass come over the side , averaging some 38 per trip out. And, the vast majority of those excursions were under 4 hours and were comprised of 2 people.
- The years prior to 1995 had generally the same statistics.
- Years 1996-1998 reflected gradual declines, with 1998 records indicating approximately 2500 bass being taken.
- During 1999 and 2000, the catch rate for the year was approximately 24 fish per trip, based on 2 people and 3-4 hours out.
- During 1999 and 2000, we released 480 bass over 5 pounds, 290 over 6 pounds, 33 over 8, 22 at 10 and above, and a 15.2 pound giant.
- Our catches are made using artificial lures.
- The BEST bass fishing is when the weather is the HOTTEST.
So, you see, Virginia, the Farm 13/Stick Marsh really DOES still exist. And, it exists, not just in the hearts of anglers, but in the proof that its great fishing still abounds.
The problem, my dear, is the fishermen still think of the bygone days of easy fishing. They remember how great it was when there was very little grass for the baitfish to hide in and for the big predators to key to. They remember when the hydrilla and coontail moss populations were so sparse that the bass stacked on the few grass beds like the proverbial cordwood. They remember when the big schools of 2-3 pound speckled perch gathered in the 20-foot water of the divider canal before the spawn because there was a lack of good grass cover.
Yes, those days are gone.
The King is dead. Long live the King.
BUT, the new King is still one of the best fisheries to be found anywhere. The Farm 13/Stick Marsh bass catches can still average 2 ½-3 pounds per fish. The knowledgeable angler can still reasonably expect to catch 50 fish per day. The trophy bass are still there in large numbers. In fact, I believe the fishing is actually getting better.
Obviously, in an impoundment as small as the Farm 13/Stick Marsh complex, I cannot divulge exact locations for fishing success. That would put 50 bass boats and 3 canoes on each hole. What I will do, however, is try and explain what the angler needs to look for and the adjustments he/she needs to consider.
The impoundment, being near Florida's East Coast, is very prone to coastal winds. While most anglers scorn wind as a nemesis, wind is actually one of the angler's best friends. Used properly, the wind makes 100-bass days very possible.
Wind makes waves. BUT, wind also produces moving water - induced currents, if you will. The Farm 13/Stick Marsh is now inundated with lots of dense beds of vegetation. That vegetation provides impediments to those water currents, resulting in a 'funneling' or 'channeling' of the flow. ANY mass in the area of moving water is an obstruction to that flow and the water will break around the obstruction. Moving water diverted from its natural path also creates eddies in the vicinity of the obstruction. Fish LOVE moving water; especially where it flows through narrow passages or along such features as old submerged canals. Fish LOVE eddies because they are good energy-efficient holding areas. Moving water carries plankton and other small aquatic life, which are the food staples of the small fishes. Small fish gather on the flow to feed. Bigger predators gather on the flow to feed of the small fish.
There are also a few active water-level control gates that feed into the Farm 13 side, as well as one near the boat ramp area. Moving water does not have to be wind-related.
'Nuff said on moving water.
There is a big difference between 'structure' and 'cover'. Structure is a reference point for fish, for holding and/or for movement paths. Cover is a concealment item, both for predators and prey. There is a LOT of cover in the Farm 13/Stick Marsh. But, there is precious little structure. When you find both together, things get right for schools of bass.
There are 5 predominate structure features in the Farm 13/Stick Marsh:
- Submerged canals
- The submerged levees adjacent to those canals
- Small drainage ditches that connected to the major canals
- A few isolated piles of dirt or other debris (possibly the remains of a burned shed or a pump house, etc.)
- Old roads used by the farm equipment to work the fields that once made up Farm 13
If you understand how to evaluate and approach structure for locating bass, you need no more from me on that subject.
The 'cover' in the complex can be a real pain at times and a real blessing others. During the dry season and the accompanying lower water levels, the grass becomes the lure-fouling monster of the Ages.
BUT, when the rains comes, and the water rises --- tie yourself to the boat seat, Gerty, them fishes are fixin' to get with the program!!.
Picture this situation: the water rises and gets 6-12 inches OVER the vegetation growing in an area of heavy timber remains or along a submerged structure feature. Now, think 'jerkbait, weightless worm, shallow spinnerbait, buzzbait, topwater lure, BIG bass ---. Think real hard.
Now, a word on artificial lures.
A fish is basically dumb as a rock. He/she will try and eat most anything that moves and will then fit in his/her mouth. So, the choice of lure is NOT driven by brand name, color, or most characteristics presented by advertising hype and fisherman hearsay.
Lure choice, whether for Farm 13/Stick Marsh use or any other locale, is dictated by 3 factors:
- Depth (you must reach the fish properly)
- Adaptability to the cover/structure present (it won't be hung or fouled all the time)
- Speed (primarily a seasonal/Water temperature issue)
We can't toss a deep crank plug into the middle of a surface grass bed and a floating worm may generally be useless over 20 feet of water in the bisecting canal. Sometimes the slow, subtle presentation of a slowing sinking jerkbait works much, much better than the fast, noisy retrieve of a TinkerToy-type buzzbait. Just because you and I 'like' a certain lure, or caught fish on it over on Lake Kissimmee last week, has absolutely no bearing on whether it is the lure of choice for the Farm 13/Stick Marsh.
Here are the lures we use successfully. I am listing some brands and models for depth or style reference only. ANY lures, which duplicate these lure types in depth and adaptability to cover, are acceptable.
½ and ¼ oz Rippler buzzbaits, dark color; 3/8 oz spinnerbaits, single #5 Colorado silver blade; Jitterbug; Pop-R; Spittin' Image; Zara Spook; unweighted worm pulled slowly across grass
Sluggo-type jerkbait; 6 inch worm with 3/0 hook and no weight, fished as a slow fall lure in grass; Bang-O-Lure; suspending Rapala
Texas-rig worm, 4 inch straight-tail worm, dark color, with 1/0 hook and 1/8 slip sinker; Carolina-rig worm, 4 inch straight-tail worm, dark color, with 1/0 hook and ½ oz sinker; 3 inch Mann's StingRay grub, smoke or dark color
Crank plugs (depth zone coverage from 6 inches to 12 feet):
½ to 1 oz RAT-L-TRAP; 3-inch Fat Free Shad; 2 ½ inch Fat Free Shad; Swimmin' Image; Rebel Wee R; 6 inch swimming worm rig (corkscrew action)
We sincerely hope this helps, not only in fishing the Farm 13/Stick Marsh, but also in other areas the reader may visit. Remember, there are 4 primary 'truths' of fishing:
- CATCHING fish is EASY; FINDING them is the hard
- Dry lure catch darn FEW fish
- The harder you fishes, seem how the 'luckier' you gets
- Mamma always said 'PLEASE, BE SAFE'
Good luck and good fishing!!!!
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