Sunday, October 3, 2010

Lightly fished Lake Manatee is a fly angler's paradise

Sunrise on Lake Manatee often is quite beath-taking

Just one of many bluegill on the Myakka Minnow

Lake Manatee is perhaps my favorite lake to fish.

One reason is that it's close to home. Another is that the lake produces a lot of fish.

I made my first trip of fall to Lake Manatee and wasn't disappointed. I launched my Native Watercraft Ultimate 14.5 shortly after dawn and began catching bluegill and stumpknocker almost immediately on a popper and dropper (bead-head nymph).

The action slowed down after about 30 minutes, so I paddled along the north shoreline to an area where I usually do fairly well. But the popper and dropper just wasn't working. I switched a fly that normally produces, my FLY Nymph.

Wasn't the answer. Got nothing on it.

I noticed a fallen tree about 10 yards from me and figured I'd switch to the Myakka Minnow that I had on my 2-weight rod when I got there. First cast resulted in a feisty, hand-sized bluegill. Over the next three hours, I must have caught 70 bluegill, a few shellcracker and a couple of stumpknocker.

This Lake Manatee largemouth bass fell for a Myakka Minnow

The highlight of the outing was four fish that I couldn't land. I hooked and lost four large channel cats on the Myakka Minnow. Two broke off quickly. I fought another for about 30 seconds when the hook pulled. The fourth fish hit near the shoreline vegetation and headed for the middle of the lake. I back-paddled furiously and fought the fish at the same time. When I was about 50 yards from the shoreline, I concentrated on what I figured to be at least a 10-pound cat. I got the fish on the reel, but that's when the hooked pulled.

I've encountered the cats on a number of occasions. They hit flies readily. They're stronger than an elephant and fight when great determination.

But they're too much for the 2-weight.

Last time this happened to me, I decided to fish a 4-weight with 8-pound tippet. I only hooked one channel cat, but I landed it. To show you how strong these fish are, it took me 5 minutes to land the fish. And it only weighed 3 pounds!

We're entering a special time of year for Lake Manatee, a 2,400-acre reservoir, is located nine miles east of Interstate 75 off State Road 64 in Manatee County. Won't be long before we start catching fat speckled perch (black crappie) which are a blast on fly rod.

There's a 20-horsepower restriction on outboard motors on the lake. If your outboard is larger, you can use your trolling motor.

I launch at Lake Manatee Fish Camp, 23745 State Road 64 E (941-322-8500). Launching is free and the ramp is decent.

I paddle under the bridge and fish the east side of the lake, usually concentrating on the north shoreline.

While I target panfish, I do catch my share of bass. I've taken largemouth to 6 pounds on a variety of panfish flies.

Bass will school this time of year. So, it's important that you keep your eyes and ears open. You can usually hear the bass busting shade in the old river channel. This often takes place in early to mid afternoon the water warms up. That's when the shad begin feeding on plankton.

These aren't typical school bass. They're often 2 to 5 pounds. And they'll hit most anything. The key is to get the fly to the fish quickly.

Flies I prefer include a No. 12 bead-head nymph that I call Aunt Sara's Homely Daughter, my FLY Nymph, Wooly Buggers, No. 10 popping bugs and the ever-mighty Myakka Minnow.

Although the lake has an official name, I call it Gibby's Lake because I'm often the only angler out there. So, it kind of feels like it's my private lake.

Lake Manatee State Park ( is located at 20007 State Road 64. It's a great place to camp.


  1. Only one out there? Not for long!

  2. Steve
    Awesome trip and great post. I have got to see a pic of the Myakka Minnow---I have never heard of this fly. With the success you had there I feel I could have the same success on Smith Lake here in Jasper Al. It is loaded with shad and I have a feeling that is the reason you caught a ton of fish on this particular fly--only guessing here. Have good one.

  3. Bill, try this link:

    You'll not only see a picture of the Myakka Minnow, but also learn the history. By the way, the fly in the lips of the fish in the photos above is the MM.