2012-02-08 / Outdoors

Little-known Lake Trafford provides best crappie fishing around

Southwest Florida’s beloved Lake Trafford has been named one of the best black-crappie destinations in the Sunshine State, proving what locals know — the lake southeast of Fort Myers is a gem, often overlooked by anglers who have saltwater on the brain.

The beaches may beckon for surf fishing and the back bays may brim with redfish, seatrout and snook, but if you want to switch from a salty-blue to a lush-green landscape and a freshwater fish that can entertain you and fill your belly, head to Lake Trafford and catch bucket loads of crappie.

Bob Wattendorf of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission waxed poetically about them recently in his Fish Busters’ Bulletin at www.MyFWC.com, encouraging anglers to pursue and enjoy “the succulent panfishes.”

For those unfamiliar, black crappie also are known as “speckled perch” or “specks” and are silver-white, speckled all over with black blotches. The fish have two symmetrical fins along the top and bottom of the body. The Florida state record is 3.83 pounds. Yes, that’s a big crappie.

Crappie are popular sport fish. Although many are caught on minnows, jigs are highly productive too. 
PHIL CHAPMAN / FWC Crappie are popular sport fish. Although many are caught on minnows, jigs are highly productive too. PHIL CHAPMAN / FWC The meat is sweet tasting — better than the bluegill or perch you may remember from your youth up north and the closest you’ll get to eating something native that resembles the lovely taste of walleye. (No, I’m not a Midwesterner, but I’m no fool. I seek out walleye on local menus when restaurants feature it.)

Families can plan fun day-trips and weekends around crappie fishing. The bag limit is 25 fish per person. Once you locate a school, “Fish on!” is the main vocabulary aboard. Kids love this; even octogenarians go for it. When you go crappie fishing, you find yourself smiling at the multigenerational anglers around you.

Crappie anglers seek schools of fish using multiple rods, such as this “spider rig.” 
JOHN CIMBARO / FWC Crappie anglers seek schools of fish using multiple rods, such as this “spider rig.” JOHN CIMBARO / FWC Although there are websites, television shows, books, magazines and professional tournaments dedicated to crappie fishing, locals need look no further than Lake Trafford.

Located in Immokalee about 30 miles southeast of Fort Myers, 1,500-acre Lake Trafford is a place you can drift minnows early morning or near dusk in the middle. Or FWC biologist Ralph LaPrairie recommends trying jigs along the shore. FWC biologists sampled record numbers of young crappie last year and expect many of these fish to start recruiting into the fishery this year and next.

Of course, more local knowledge is available in the marina shop.

Lake Trafford Marina is one of those places people like to call Old Florida. The mom-and-pop business opened in 1975 and today is still referred to as a fish camp. The shaded porch helps. Anglers come for bass, catfish, shellcracker, bluegill and, of course, crappie. At www.laketrafford.com, there is the promise of “tall tales and fishing info,” which includes where the fish are biting, bait to use, what’s biting, what got away, who to follow and why and that you should come back to the marina because it’s “a good place to eat since you didn’t catch any.”

But that’s not likely the case — crappie anglers rarely are skunked. The fact that the state’s annual top crappie-destination lists included Trafford buoys the theory that any trip to Lake Trafford now through spring for these tasty panfish is well worth it. ¦

— Betsy Clayton is a freelancer based on Pine Island and also is Lee County Parks & Recreation’s waterways coordinator. Contact her at boatingbybetsy@yahoo.com.

>> Freshwater licenses: Instant licenses are
available at www.MyFWC.com/License or by
calling 888-FISH-FLORIDA (347-4356). Licenses also are for sale at Lake Trafford Marina.
>> Crappie regulations: www.MyFWC.com/
Fishing and select “fresh water.”
>> Where to get crappie: Been to Lake Trafford too often? Here are the other top-ranking
black crappie fishing holes, according to
FWC, but be ready to make it a weekend
getaway instead of a day-trip:
Rodman Reservoir (between
Gainesville and Palatka)
Lake Monroe (near Sanford)
Lake Talquin (west of Tallahassee)
Lake Weohyakapka /Walk-in-Water
(east of Lake Wales)
Lake Weir (southern Marion County)
Lake Arbuckle (east of Frostproof)
Lake Marian (east of Lake Kissimmee)
Lake Marion (east of Haines City)
West Lake Tohopekaliga
(south of the city of Kissimmee)
Lake Kissimmee (east of Lake Wales)
Mosaic Fish Management Area
(southern Polk County)
Lake Istokpoga (near Sebring)

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