As bass fishing matured in popularity with outdoor enthusiasts over the past several decades, no other location became and remained at a status that could only be labeled “legendary” more than the Rodman Reservoir. Located in Putnam and Marion Counties in Florida, the 16 mile long lake only covers 9,500 acres, but it’s a giant when it comes to producing monster bass. Over time, “Rodman” and “lunker bass” became synonymous.
The reservoir was created in 1968 when an earthen dam was built across the Ocklawaha River, backing up water into a fertile area that has never failed to produce a fine chain of fisheries resources.
Since the 1990s, the reservoir has been drawn down every 3-4 years to expose the lake bottom, allowing organic material (muck) on the bottom of the lake to oxidize and dissipate. This keeps the muck from building up in the reservoir and maintains hard bottom for fish spawning and native plant growth. Expect a catch and release only policy during the drawdown. Fishing is still allowed, but the lake is down to only a fraction of it’s normal self.
The lake is located 15 miles south of Palatka and about 40 miles from Gainesville.
The lake has tremendous amounts of structure that are great for raising and growing largemouth bass. The reservoir from Eureka Dam to Payne’s Landing consists mostly of flooded woodlands. The lake narrows down from Payne’s Landing to Orange Springs and consists of a mix of stumps, many of which are underwater, and large areas of floating vegetation. The third area of the lake from Orange Springs to Kirkpatrick Dam includes the river channel and part of the old discontinued Cross Florida Barge Canal. It is also a mix of floating and submersed vegetation, dead standing timber and submerged and partially submerged trees and stumps. Most of these areas are 6-8 feet deep. The Barge Canal and the existing river channel have water depths up to 30 feet deep. Submersed vegetation like hydrilla, coontail and eelgrass, is common in the pool section of the reservoir.
When it comes to largemouths, numerous 10 pounders are caught here but even more 7-8 pounders make up the commonly caught big bass. It hasn’t been too long since a 17.20 pound monster came from Rodman. That one scared the scales off the current Florida record of 17.27 pounds. Many predict that the new state record will one day come out of Rodman.
For the most part, large live shiners are used for the biggest catches. However, anglers fishing with large artificial lures also have regularly good success. Shiners can be fished below a float or fished on a free line around weed edges, drop-offs, stumps and other cover. Lipless crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and various soft plastic lures are among the most effective artificial baits. If it’s a big fish you want, fish the biggest lures you can find.
Where’s the best spot? A big one can lurk anywhere here, but for numbers of big bass, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says most are caught from the pool area along the river channel known as the stump fields. The section of the reservoir between Cypress Bayou and Kenwood Landing is often productive. You can catch bass at Rodman Reservoir at any time of the year, but the cooler months tend to be the best. The hot weather seems to make the fish lethargic and drive them deep into the cover.
The crappie in this lake are black crappie and can be caught by trolling live minnows and/or jigs along the edges of the Barge Canal. The big river bends in the Kenwood area are also popular. Crappie hit lures include beetle spins, small plastic tail jigs and rooster tails in the 1/32 to 1/16 ounce size. Anglers after slabs throw small minnow type plugs like Rapala lures. Bream anglers can expect to catch plenty of bluegill, redear and warmouth between Orange Springs and Cypress Bayou. Worms and grass shrimp get best results in the summer months.
Popular boat ramps include the Orange Springs Boat Ramp, the Rodman Kayak Launch, the Kirkpatrick Dam boat ramp on the northern end, and the Eureka East and West ramps on the south end. The Kenwood Recreation area is also located just off the main lake.
While fishing is the main draw to the lake, kayak and canoe lovers also find many areas to explore along the edges of the lake. Birdwatchers flock here, too. The St. Johns River Water Management District has documented 115 bird species at the Rodman Reservoir Complex.
The City of Gainesville is the largest population center near the lake. You will find plenty of accommodations, restaurants, and attractions there. The town hosts the Florida Museum of Natural History, the Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation, Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, Depot Park and more.