There are so many popular lakes to fish in Florida, smaller lakes like Istokpoga often get lost in the shuffle. But the lack of publicity for the 16,792 acre lake in Highlands County, Florida is a good thing for anglers who fish it regularly and don’t want any more company. It is about five miles from the town of Lake Placid.
Even though it isn’t well known, it still holds it’s own with bass anglers. The lake is 11 miles wide at its largest point and is fed by two creeks, Arbuckle Creek and Josephine Creek. The lake is dotted with huge patches of grass, reeds, and lily pads that provide the best fishing structure for anglers.
Despite being a fairly large lake, the area is extremely shallow. The average depth is about four feet. Because of that shallow depth, a little wind can kick up some big waves in a hurry and a lot of wind can make the lake treacherous. That reminds anglers of the early beginnings of this lake when native Americans first discovered the area in Central Florida. Apparently the early Seminoles trying to cross the waters were caught in the mire and drowned in whirlpools. So it was named Istokpoga (is-ta-po-ga), meaning “people have died”.
But a little common sense and a keen eye on the weather report can help fishermen overcome that danger. And a trip here is well worth the effort.
Bass fishing is the most popular sport here. Crappie fishing is good, but the fishing is limited to mostly smaller “specks” as some people here call them. Lake Istokpoga has quality fishing for black crappie. The best speck fishing occurs during winter months drifting over open water, particularly in the northeast and southwest corners. Drift fishing with live minnows and grass shrimp works well, as does trolling hair jigs for suspended fish. One spot that is always good for crappie is the Henderson Cove area, especially on the edges of the lily pads near deeper water. Bream fishing is good especially around areas with boathouses and piers and in the canals.
Bass fishing is best in the spring, when the fish hit the edges of the many grass and reed “islands” in the lake for spawning. In fact, this lake has one of the highest catch rates in the state. It has some huge bass, but not as many trophy largemouth as some of it’s bigger counterparts in the state. When fish get in the open pockets and points of the aquatic vegetation, they provide some excellent angler activity. Fishing for bass is best flipping jigs and plastics into the reeds and grass. Black and dark colored jigs seem to work best with dark or watermelon or pumpkinseed colors best for the trailers. Creature baits work well, here, too, fished with fairly large weights to help punch the lure through the grassy cover.
There is some good fishing around the docks and boathouses, but anglers do have to be careful near the banks of many areas of the lake due to extremely shallow mud flats.
This lake has just about any kind of aquatic vegetation that fish like to hide in, including spadderdock (bonnets), bulrush (buggy whips), cattail, and pondweed (pepper grass). There are tons of Kissimmee grass on the southend and this area is particularly productive when there is flow into the Istokpoga Canal.Canals and cuts like this one, which is off County Highway 621, are popular and productive spots for largemouth. Two popular creek mouth areas at Arbuckle and Josephine Creek offer good fishing for bass, especially if there is flow in them. Moving water brings the bass into these areas to feed.
Deepest parts of this lake go about 10 feet and most of those spots are in the southwest corner of the lake. They are good for fishing almost anytime, but especially in the summer months.
Because of the large number of threadfin and gizzard shad on the lake, many anglers catch the biggest bass using live bait. Wild shiners can be caught by anglers or purchased at marinas. By the summer months, bass will move deeper into the grass to hide and come out to school and chase shad along the weed lines in the more open areas.
Anglers have access to the lake at public ramps all around the lake. They are located off of U.S. Route 98, Lake Boulevard off Cow House Road and Highland Lake Drive off of County Route 621. There are several fish camps on the lake and several spots like the Cow House Road boat ramp where anglers can actually wade fish.
This lake isn’t located near a lot of major activities but there is still plenty to do nearby. The Sebring International Raceway is just north of the lake. The Highlands Hammock State Park offers bicycling, birding, camping, hiking, even has a park tram tour is a guided, narrated tour which offers visitors the unique opportunity of viewing alligators, turtles, wading birds, deer and other wildlife relatively close up. The tram departs from the Civilian Conservation Corps Museum, runs through old growth hammock along the Cypress Swamp Trail.