Mining Clear Springs' lunkers

Behind lock and key in hidden corners of the Sunshine State lie liquid vaults of hefty largemouth. Florida's reclaimed phosphate pits are the fodder of bass fishing legends, with ol' mossback growing big in the nutrient rich and forage aplenty environs of these private waters. Unfortunately, most such pits are the VIP playgrounds of the ultrawealthy or well connected angler, unavailable to the masses. Enter Clear Springs Trophy Bass Expeditions.

Located in Central Florida's Polk County, Clear Springs consists of numerous lakes, ponds and canal systems ranging in size from 5 acres up to several hundred acres. Most of this reclaimed phosphate mining land lies within the Peace River basin.

"We have been intensely managing these pits for the past seven years, and the results have been spectacular," says manager J.B. Edwards.

"It is common to have catches of 50-plus-bass per boat per day, and a legitimate shot at a double-digit fish," he continues.

 While fishing a 50-acre pit with BASS General Manager Tom Ricks, we very nearly verified both of these statements. Using a spinnerbait (white with double willowleaf blades, as shad are the forage of choice here), Ricks very quickly tallied more than a dozen bass before I ever felt a bite on my Texas rigged 7-inch worm. He was burning the bait through flooded brush on a shallow flat. However, one pitch to a blowdown turned my jealousy into excitement.

 After setting the hook, my line sliced quickly from the shallow bank of the lake toward the depths of the pea-green water. Once boated, the largemouth weighed in at 8 pounds, 6 ounces. And if we missed the 50-fish mark by the end of our trip, it wasn't by much.

 If you decide a visit behind these padlocked fences is something you would like to try, the Clear Springs adventure includes a guide and use of an aluminum bass boat. You'll want to bring your own tackle — and a camera. It's not every day you get to fish Florida largemouth-rich waters that see very little pressure, and you are likely to catch a fish of a lifetime.

 Clear Springs Trip Check

 Location: Clear Springs is located in Central Florida's Polk County, about 40 miles east of Tampa near Bartow, Fla. This destination is a reasonable drive from Orlando, Central Florida's tourism mecca.

 Lodging: Anglers can stay in Bartow, which has many hotels to choose from, including a Holiday Inn.

 Local Info: To book a fishing trip to Clear Springs, contact J.B. Edwards at 901-488-6837, 863-285-2434, or jbeenterprises@aol.com.

 Web Site: For more information on Bartow, the second oldest city in Florida's Polk County, visit http://bartow.govoffice.com/.

 Weighing In

 14-5 — The record largemouth from these phosphate pits

 300 — The acreage of the largest lake in Clear Springs

 $550 — The fee to fish Clear Springs. This includes a boat for up to two fishermen, a guide, drinks and snacks. There is a two-day minimum

 50 — The number of bass you can expect to catch each day — several of which should be dandies

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