Photos courtesy of the Friends of Lake Apopka

From the Friends of Lake Apopka

FOLA recently partnered with the town of Montverde, the The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Shelley’s Environmental Systems, and the owners of a defunct citrus grove to transport the remains of old citrus trees into the lake. Anchored to the lake bottom in strategic locations, the tangled branches and roots will provide habitat for Lake Apopka’s re-emerging game fish population. They also will provide ideal locations for anglers to hook fish.

 A decision by the owners of a defunct citrus grove in the town of Montverde to level their land has provided the opportunity to rebuild a number of submerged structures – known as “fish attractors” – in Lake Apopka. The fish attractors will provide habitat for the re-emerging game fish population in Lake Apopka, once the bass fishing capital of Florida.

A decision by the owners of a defunct citrus grove in the town of Montverde to level their land has provided the opportunity to rebuild a number of submerged structures – known as “fish attractors” – in Lake Apopka. The fish attractors will provide habitat for the re-emerging game fish population in Lake Apopka, once the bass fishing capital of Florida.

The old 127-acre grove lies on the west shore of the lake within the town of Montverde. The out-of-state family that owns the property decided in 2020 to level the property because the land was no longer productive, according to Paul Larino, Town Manager of Montverde. Land clearing began in December and a contractor with a front-end loader began uprooting the trees. The old grove happens to lie immediately adjacent to the Montverde boat ramp, which provides access to Lake Apopka.

Biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission noticed the work on the grove and came up with an idea: Figure out how to transport the old trees into the middle of the lake and anchor them to the bottom in 17 strategic locations. The branches and tangled roots will serve as excellent habitat for game fish and will provide ideal locations for anglers to hook fish.

Biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission noticed the work on the grove and came up with an idea: Figure out how to transport the old trees into the middle of the lake and anchor them to the bottom in 17 strategic locations. The branches and tangled roots will serve as excellent habitat for game fish and will provide ideal locations for anglers to hook fish.

“Several years ago, we built fish attractors with dead trees and they have worked out well. But over time, the branches in those locations have decayed and fallen away,” said Scott Bisping, FWC Fisheries Resource Biologist who oversees the study of recreational fishing in the Harris Chain of Lakes. “These citrus trees represent the perfect opportunity to rebuild the fish attractors and continue to provide great habitat for game fish and other species.”

Bisping reached out to the property’s local caretaker, who in turn reached out to Montverde’s Larino. The town manager contacted FOLA, which brought in Shelley’s Environmental Systems, a Zellwood-based provider of environmental services to property owners and local governments throughout Central Florida. Owner David Shelley personally brought in an excavator with a grapple bucket to lift the trees from the shore onto a small, self-propelled barge owned by the FWC. Shelley donated the use of the excavator, the fuel, and the services of an operator for the duration of the project. The idea to recycle these dead citrus trees – that otherwise would be burned – fits with Shelley’s corporate mission of recycling waste products, Shelley said.

“We are happy to help,” Shelley said. “I’ve been fishing in Lake Apopka since I was a boy. Anything we can do to help make the lake better is going to make life better for all of us.”

Biologists from the FWC began hauling loads of citrus trees from the Montverde boat ramp on January 19. Bisping said he expects crews to rebuild all 17 fish attractor locations, using more than 100 old citrus trees.

“This is a great example of how community-minded folks can come together for the benefit of the environment,” said FOLA President Joe Kilsheimer. “We had a short window to pull everything together and it all worked like a charm. FOLA wishes to thank the Town of Montverde, the property owners, the FWC, and Shelley’s Environmental Systems for the chance to create better fish habitat in Lake Apopka.”

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