Thursday, March 30, 2017

Tiger Lake offers fantastic fly fishing for bluegill and other species

John Weimer of Sarasota battles a bulldog bluegill on fly rod at Tiger Lake in Polk County.
Thank you, Chuck.

Weimer shows off a fine bluegill.
The late Chuck Collins introduced me to Tiger Lake more than 25 years ago. I'll never forget Collins telling me about the population of large bluegill in the 2,200 lake located in Polk County near the small city of Lake Wales.

I don't fish the lake often, but it doesn't let me down when I do.

When I first started fly fishing the lake, I used only small popping bugs designed to catch bluegill and bass. Since then, I've added nymphs to me arsenal.

I drove to Tiger Lake recently with John Weimer of the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers in Sarasota. Weimer had never fished the lake, but came away very impressed.

"What a great lake," he said. "I don't know how many fish we caught."

We launched our NuCanoe kayaks ( at Bud's RV Park and Marina (1700 Tiger Lake Road, Lake Wales, 893-696-2274). Launch fee is $5 and there is ample parking. The lake is just a short paddle from the ramp.

This speckled perch fell for a Gibby's Snymph.
Weimer and I paddled into the lake and began fishing immediately. He caught a 3-weight fly rod with a Gibby's Snymph under a strike indicator. I cast a No. 10 popper on a 3-weight rod.

We caught a few fish (bluegill and shellcracker) around Kissimmee grass and reeds,  but the action wasn't what we had envisioned.

"Last time I was here, we caught a bunch of fish along the north shoreline," I told Weimer.
We fished that shoreline for the next five hours and caught more fish that we could count. We caught bluegill to 10 1/2 inches, plump shellcracker, feisty largemouth bass and chunky speckled perch (black crappie). I'm not sure if the fish quit hitting or we ran out of time.

I'm sure we caught more than 100 fish.

Tiger Lake has plenty of fly-eating shellcracker.
At one point, Weimer, who moved to Florida from his native state of Oregon, caught 10 bluegill in row from a small opening in the lily pads.

We caught a few fish from grassy areas and around reeds. However, most of the fish were concentrated in the vast fields of lily pads.

I'm sure poppers would resulted in plenty of bluegill. But I'm not certain we would have caught any shellcracker or speckled perch on poppers.

I've been using Gibby's Snymphs (simple nymph) since I created the pattern a few years ago with great results. The nymphs work well on most freshwater lakes, ponds and streams. I usually tie them on No. 10 hooks, but I'm sure you could tie them on larger and smaller hooks and do well.
I used a brown Snymph; Weimer an olive.

Bass fishing can be quite good on Tiger Lake. A few years, we shot a TV show at Tiger. We planned to video the excellent bluegill action, but bass kept getting in the way. Took an hour or so (and a half dozen 3-4-pound bass) before we hooked a bluegill. Bass just wouldn't leave our flies alone!

It's interesting to note that Tiger Lake rarely is mentioned among Florida's top spots for bluegill. Yet, fly fishing for bluegill on the relatively shallow lake consistently is very good to excellent.
I can't imagine another lake being any better.

Bass, speckled perch and shellcracker, as you might imagine, are likely bonuses.

If you're thinking about fishing this hidden gem, you might want to take a 7- or 8-weight fly rod with floating line for bass. Try poppers early, and then switch to worm-like flies, Clouser Deep Minnows or Joe Mahler's Straw Boss.

Also, carry a 3-weight for smaller poppers and a 2-weight for nymphs. I'm sure my Myakka Minnow will result in a bevy of big bluegill.

Next time we get a prediction for light wind, you can bet I'll be heading for Tiger Lake. That's the body of water that Chuck Collins introduced me to more than 25 years ago.

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