Southward expansion brings fishable waters

Bob Knorr, of the Village of Collier, casts a line in a pond near Riverbend Recreation Area, which is one of three new additions to the fishable bodies of water in the southern part of The Villages.

The community’s newest fishable bodies of water are on their way to becoming fishing destinations. Villagers looking to cast their rods and reels close to home have more places to do so with the addition of new neighborhoods down south. These venues add to a community with ample fishing opportunities, which helps drive an industry that generates $7.2 billion in economic impact in Florida. Recreation Director John Rohan said the growth of fishing in the community is owed to the numerous bodies of water available for residents to fish. The Villages Recreation and Parks Department collaborated with leaders of The Villages Freshwater Fishing Club to develop and grow catch-and-release fishing in the community’s retention ponds.

He described this partnership as allowing “the creative use of our water retention basins that manage our stormwater” to double as recreational fishing spots.

People can fish in any natural or artificial lake, canal or stream in The Villages that doesn’t cross over or trespass upon private property or golf courses, according to the recreation department. The recreation department currently lists three fishable bodies of water south of State Road 44: a pond that borders the Fenney Putt and Play, a pond outside Everglades Regional Recreation Complex, and a pond near Riverbend Recreation Center.

Jamie Fowler is often found at the pond near Everglades, fishing by the shore and in the water aboard his kayak. His success using both methods varies depending on the conditions of the water.

“We fish right there by Everglades,” he said. “There’s a couple of little ponds where they may have had a fish transferred from one pond to another at the (Marsh Bend) Pitch and Putt. Most of them have been largemouth bass.”

Fowler, of the Village of Hawkins, fishes almost every day for about an hour or two. The waterways near his home allow him to enjoy fishing without too much driving.

Water bodies in and around The Villages are well regarded for their fishing opportunities for two reasons: The recreation department stocking fishable water bodies with fish raised in hatcheries, and the community’s fishing rules that allow only catch-and-release fishing.

Catch-and-release allows fish to develop and mature into the larger, trophy-sized fish many anglers want to catch, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. It also maintains the health of fish populations and the bodies of water where the fish live.

Fish stocking happens after fisheries’ biologists review water bodies’ fish populations, what anglers catch, the condition of the habitat and the community’s wishes, which helps FWC determine when and where stockings should occur, said Rick Stout, director of the Florida Bass Conservation Center.

FWC’s two state hatcheries raised just under 3 million fish during the 2020-21 fiscal year, including 2,750 bluegill fingerlings, more than 83,000 largemouth bass and more than 230,000 channel catfish that were stocked in Sumter County.

It takes time for the results of these processes to make a water body an ideal fishing spot, as the fish need time to grow larger, according to FWC.

Recreation staff continues to update and add fishable areas throughout the community, Rohan said.

And club members down south, including Fowler, are scouting out locations down south that could be future fishing spots, said Randy DiSanto, president of The Villages Freshwater Fishing Club.

“With that being a big area, there’s a lot of potential ponds where you’d be able to fish,” he said.

DiSanto, of the Village of Summerhill, exclusively fishes The Villages’ ponds. He thinks more fishable waters south of State Road 44 keeps pace with growing community interest in fishing.

“Obviously, it means many more places to fish,” he said. “It broadens the scope of the fishing here.”

Perhaps the evolution of one water body not far from the southernmost Villages may serve as an indicator of what could come.

Not far from Villages south of State Road 44 is Lake Deaton, which in recent months has increased in prominence as a bass fishing spot.

Multiple anglers from The Villages Freshwater Fishing Club had success at Lake Deaton during last year’s fishing season.

Lake Deaton also was the site of a big bass catch that was registered with FWC’s incentive-based catch and release fishing program, TrophyCatch.

 An angler named Gregory Theodorides caught a 10-pound largemouth bass there in October 2020.

Senior writer Michael Salerno can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5369, or michael.salerno@thevillagesmedia.com.