This winter seems unending with front after front. If the cold is getting you down, Angler’s Resort in central Florida is a fantastic getaway for anglers and their families. The hurricanes of 2004 wreaked havoc on the fish populations in the Dunellon area, but they have rebounded and many species have stronger populations than before the storms. Lake Rousseau is now poised to be one of the premier trophy bass fishing destinations in the country.
My family and I got away from the hustle and bustle back home by spending a Valentine’s weekend at Angler’s Resort. With a tackle shop, restaurant and tiki bar (The Blue Gator), pontoon boat tours, airboat rides, and canoe and boat rentals, there is no need to leave.
Keith Austin, a full-time guide who fishes out of Angler’s Resort, showed me the ropes about fishing Lake Rousseau, a remnant of the Cross Florida Barge Canal. Keith fishes both the Rainbow and Withlacoochee rivers and the lake, but at the time was on quality fish in the lake. After loading the livewell with several dozen lively wild shiners from the Angler’s Resort bait shop, we headed to a public boat ramp about halfway down the lake.
After an exhilarating run that lasted maybe 30 seconds (if time to get up on plane is included), we dropped off plane and eased to the edge of the channel. With standing timber everywhere, it was not surprising to me that we were going to fish none other than standing timber. As we drifted toward the submerged stumps and timber, Keith’s depthfinder showed us leaving the channel and coming up on a five to seven foot flat strewn with submerged stumps.
“I’ve been in some good fish lately on the stumps next to the channel,” Keith shared.
He netted an 8-inch shiner and skewered it through both lips with my 2/0 Gamakatsu Shiner SE hook. He pointed to a cluster of stumps and told me to pitch the shiner just past them. I did as he suggested and fed line out while the shiner swam down into the danger zone. Not more than four or five pulls of line, and my line jumped and started to move off. I laid back into a solid 4-pound largemouth bass. After but a couple jumps, the fish pulled free. Keith pitched a shiner into a nearby stumpfield and landed a 5-pounder. During the first 10 minutes of fishing, we had hooked nine pounds of bass. I was liking this wild shiner fishing! I am not a neophyte to shiner fishing, but I have a lot to learn, and could tell I was learning from an expert. Keith has guided full-time out of Dunnellon for the last 20 years. His background is competitive bass tournament fishing with lures, but he uses shiners on most of his guide trips because of their effectiveness. Lake Rousseau is also a great lake for artificial lures, such as punching vegetation mats with plastic crayfish, so if that is your interest, Keith can definitely accommodate you.
We moved to several different flats during the afternoon, slowly trolling the shiners or casting them to prime cover. At one spot, Keith caught a five pound bass from a tree-top.
“Whenever you are catching five pound bass, 10-pounders aren’t far away,” he stated.
Literally seconds after his comment, I made a pitch to some open water between stumps. As I peeled off line, my line jumped, and I set the hook on a heavy fish. With my flipping stick totally doubled, I was able to work the behemoth to open water without her wrapping me around a stump. Two jumps later, and my 10-pounder was safely in Keith’s net. In only 3 hours fishing with wild shiners that afternoon, Keith and I had boated a dozen bass averaging 5 pounds. That 10-lb., 0-oz. bass was the second of my fishing career to pull the scale to double digits.
While our trip was in mid-February, Keith said that by April the bass will have mostly completed their spawn and will be feeding up before the summer heat. He surmised that the fish will probably be on the edges of the channels just like when we fished, but they will be heading to deep water instead of heading to the shallows, as when we fished. You can book Keith by calling him at (352) 795-8665. If you come to spend a week, it would be wise to book Keith for at least a day early in your trip, not to steal his spots, but to learn what the fish are doing. To me, it is worth the money to save a couple days trying to figure it out on your own.
Crappie and bluegill (bream to most of the locals) fishing is also excellent in the rivers and Lake Rousseau. The typical curly-tailed grubs and live minnows both take their share of crappie. Crickets are the mainstay for bluegills, but beetlespins catch a bunch of fish when they move to the shoreline.
As well as fantastic fishing, there are many family activities in Dunnellon. Capt. Jon Semmes’ singing river tours are a relaxing way to view all types of wildlife and learn about the Dunnellon area. Because he grew up on the river, he is able to share personal insights, as well as a historical perspective. You can check out all the tour details atwww.singingrivertours.com or call Jon at (352) 804-1573. For those looking for an “extreme-sports” way to see the rivers, Capt. Bob Jewett (www.captbobsairboattours.com – phone: (352) 586-4657) charters exhilarating tours of the gorgeous Withlacoochee River. Rainbow Springs State Park is an interesting family outing. Bring your bathing suit if you want to jump in the cool, super-clear water. These are just three of the many family opportunities in the area.
Whether fishing, boating, canoeing, airboating, kayaking, birdwatching, or relaxing is your thing, Angler’s Resort in Dunnellon is the perfect get-away. Each of the staff there was dedicated to providing top-notch customer service. With reasonable prices, clean rooms, and “Old Florida” charm, my family and I simply fell in love with the place. Dunnellon is one of those timeless destinations in which you can easily get lost, and Angler’s Resort is the perfect location from which to make those family memories. If you just have to get away from the cold winter, fly into nearby Ocala or Orlando and make the short drive west to Dunnellon.