Almost Skunked

Although I'm the editor of an offshore big-game fishing magazine, I spend quite a bit of my time bass fishing. It's a type of fishing that's readily available here in central Florida, which was at one time known as the bass capital of the world. Lake Apopka and the St. Johns River system provided a perfect habitat and climate for year-round growth, and the bass were both big and plentiful.

Lake Apopka was killed by the nutrient runoff from farming operations, but central Florida still holds several of the nation's top bass lakes. This past Labor Day I got a chance to revisit one of the best and most exclusive bass lakes in all of Florida, and maybe the world: Lake X in St. Cloud.

Lake X was the testing facility for Mercury Marine from the late 1950s until 2001. It was owned by Kenneth P. Kirchman, owner and founder of the banking software company Kirchman Corp., who passed away just a few years ago, leaving the lake and 10,000 acres surrounding it to a foundation meant to preserve and protect the old Florida lifestyle and landscape. I used to work for Kirchman in my youth as a designer of banking-software manuals - heading up the graveyard shift from 4 until midnight. I didn't get to flex much creative muscle, but it did get me an in to fish Lake X!

I met my good friend Dave Underwood (Marlin's wonderful illustrator) while working at Kirchman, and his late wife Jill actually referred me for the job I have today. Underwood was a higher-up at Kirchman Corp. and was allowed to take guests out to Lake X for overnight trips on occasion. He ended up asking me to go along on one of the coveted excursions, and I immediately jumped at the chance.

Privately held since the late '50s, Lake X managed to stay pristine - in every sense of the word. The surrounding property is enclosed by a 10-foot-high game fence, and no one gets in or out without permission. The lake and the surrounding acreage are chock full of native wildlife, including incredible herds of deer, more turkeys than you could ever shoot, and a giant tannic lake full of huge black bass. It's a Florida paradise and I fell in love with it from the get-go.

I hadn't been back to the lake since Kirchman's death four years ago, so I was wondering how much the place had changed. Thankfully, it hadn't.

I'd like to say that Underwood and I tore the bass up like we usually do - but that wasn't the case. While normally you could expect to catch 30 or more big bass a day on just about anything you throw at them, the heavy rain and hot water must have given the bass lockjaw, because they just weren't biting. Underwood caught three and I caught one - but I didn't care a lick. Just being out on the lake surrounded by that little bit of unspoiled Florida was enough to bring a smile to this Cracker's face. Sand, cypress, Spanish moss and dark water - there's nothing prettier to a Florida boy.

Thanks go out to Mr. Sandy Smith for allowing me to come back and fish this wonderful spot. Smith is a pretty avid fisherman himself - his team on_ Zues_ just won the BBC championship!