This week, Captain Bill Lepree of South Florida Bass Charters took the SA Team out to the Lake Ida and Lake Osborne chain in Delray Beach, Florida. Captain Bill has pioneered Clown Knife and Peacock Bass fishing on this lake, and has single handedly created a million dollar fresh water fishing industry just beyond it’s docks. SA Mag has covered several instances where invasive fish have created a habitat within natural waters due to aquarium dumping. However, we’ve never seen such an active body of fresh water as the Lake Ida/Osborne system.

We left the dock bright and early to be the first to arrive at Bill’s favorite spots. South Florida has been experiencing unusually rainy conditions over the past few weeks which has caused many spillways to open. When the spillways open, it draws all the fresh water towards it; Creating a fast current making it that much harder to fish in bill’s typical spots. The team heads north into the Osborne system, where they found a calmed canal. Bill tells us that it’s the Clown Knife Fish’s mating season and that rushing waters are unfavorable for this species to feed and/or mate, let alone fish.

Today’s bait of choice was Live Shad. Shad are stocked in the ecosystem due to the large influx of predators that have been introduced into the system by residents. Bill arrives at the lake early to cast net his own shad. Bill tells us that the shad ball up in the lake, just like ballyhoo, mullet, or jacks do in the ocean. Shad thrive in both fresh and salt water; The great depths of this lake allows them to form these giant bait balls for safety. When everything wants to eat you as a shad, you find strength in numbers.

Once Captain Bill finds the bend he likes, he drops anchor, and begins live baiting. Bill begins by bridling the shad through the nose so that the hook doesn’t affect the natural swimming presentation of the Shad. Bill advises us to recast the baits frequently; he says that when the Shad hits the surface, it’s first instinct is to swim down towards the bottom as a reaction to shock. The shad is more likely to be struck while on it’s way to the bottom due to enticing a reactionary bite.

Bill’s firre hooked onto an average size Clown Knife Fish; she was roughly 4 pounds. Upon landing the fish, Bill shows us that the fish is covered in bite marks, and that biting is a commonly practiced mating ritual among this species. One particular bite on the head was even able to draw blood. It was a matter of moments later that we hooked into a Florida Gar. This prehistoric beast features a mouth full of razor sharp teeth, armor plated skin, and appears as a solid tube of scaled muscle. This fish wants no part of being held for the camera. The Gar shakes himself free more than three times before being released, showing us that he is true evidence of evolutionary might.

As the morning continues, we noticed countless Clown Knife Fish rolling around the boat. Bill explains that they are air breathers, and that they don’t often eat at the surface, and that their sole purpose of breaching the surface is to breathe. We continued to work this bend, not allowing the uninterested fish all around us to deter us from finishing our spot. Over the next hour and a half, we landed nearly five respectable Large Mouth Bass. The smallest being about 3 lb, the largest being just shy of 8 lb. Despite the rain, mating season, and open spillways stirring up the contents of the ecosystem, every fish we landed was remarkably healthy. Nearly twenty fish were landed and not a single mite or leach was found upon inspection.

Once we noticed that fewer and fewer Clown Knife Fish were rolling around the boat, and that the bass bite had died off, and we decided to make a move. We ventured back down south into the basin of the Osborne Chain on the main lake. Bill knows of a flat, grassy area where nearly all types of local fish congregate. Bill drops the anchor, and pitches his live shad toward the bank. Just a few moments in, we were back in the Clown Bite. Before we knew it, we  were on double and landed the larger of the two Clowns. This fish’s weight approached formidable 8 lb; and was kept in the live well for a short amount of time so we could get a closer look at this South East Asia Native.

The feeding frenzy was far from over. Moments later bill hooked into a 4 lb Peacock Bass; Bill found this very odd considering how far from their optimal feeding conditions we were experiencing that day. Nonetheless, we were excited to land this beautiful South American Exotic Species. Much to our surprise, just moments later, Captain Bill hooked into a Crappie. We were impressed by the ambition of this pan fish, the shad was roughly a third of the size and weight of the Crappie. Regardless, we were excited to see variety on our morning adventures. As the trip was beginning to wind down, we hooked into a Sunshine Bass; a hybrid species of the White Bass and the Striped Bass. This beautiful, mid size game fish is stocked in the Ida/Osborne Ecosystem by the State of Florida. Captain Bill also landed another large Clown Knife Fish, this fish weighed nearly 8lb, and was covered in spots. A truly beautiful specimen.

Right when we thought the feeding frenzy was over, the rod on the starboard aft went off. This fish was peeling drag like we’d never seen from a fresh water fish. We fought this fish for all of a few moments, before it simply let go of the bait just five feet away from the boat. We managed to catch a glimpse of it; the largest Clown Knife Fish that Bill and the team had ever seen. This Clown Knife Fish had to have been upwards of 11 or 12 pounds. To add insult to injury, the fish lingered around the boat for a few moments, swimming backwards, just to observe us before disappearing into the depths of the lake.

Bill and the team decided that the oncoming rain showers served as a good indicator for us to call it a day. We found some cover further south on the main body of Lake Ida, where we released our trophy Bass, Peacocks, and Clown Knife Fish. Once we had this opportunity to take a closer look at the anatomy of the Clown Knife Fish, Bill shows us that this species of fish not only has a row of small teeth along the rim of the jaw, but also a tongue with a set of razor sharp teeth inside that protrude during their mating ritual, and during feeding. It goes without saying that our morning on the water with Captain Bill Lepree was as productive as it was informative.