Article Published: Wednesday, March 17, 2004 - 11:26:49 PM PST
Fishing Disney's best-kept secret
By Keith Lair
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - When quarterback Tom Brady ran off the field after leading the New England Patriots to a 32-29 Super Bowl XXVIII victory over the Carolina Panthers, he mugged for the television camera and gave the now-stock advertising reply, "I'm going to Disney World!"
To many people, the advertising pitch means theme parks, hoards of people and not a day of solitude.
For many outdoors enthusiasts, the idea of a trip to the 47-square-mile resort would not register a blip on the vacation radar. That, though, would be a mistake.
The land of Mickey and Goofy, roller coasters and water rides also is a land of excellent outdoor activities. There are many opportunities for fishing, horseback riding, camping, cycling, animal-watching, diving, sailing, canoeing, waterskiing, wakeboarding and motorboating.
Crowds at the theme parks? Certainly. Crowds exploring the trails leading off some of the resort areas? Not at all.
"People come here and do not realize we have all these other fabulous activities," horseback guide Beth Colsey said. "It feels like you're having an adventure. It does not feel like you have anything to do with Disney."
Colsey has been leading horseback riders through pines, bay trees and palmettos for seven years from Fort Wilderness, which is a full-service campground, with nightly campfire programs.
But the big draw to the area is the fishing, especially bass fishing.
"Most people do not even think about fishing the first few times they come here," guide Holly Berry said. "And then, they begin to realize ..."
Fishing might be one of the best-kept secrets at the Walt Disney World Resort. There essentially are three fishing areas: Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon, located adjacent to the Magic Kingdom theme park and five resort hotels/campground; Crescent Lake and World Showcase Lagoon, located along Disney's Boardwalk and Epcot theme park and two resort hotels; and Village Lake, located at Downtown Disney Marketplace.
The three bodies of water, totaling approximately 800 acres, can be considered Disney-perfect. There is no drainage in or out of the systems, leading to a perfectly controlled environment.
"This is a natural, perfect playground," said biologist Jeff Holland, who oversees the waters for the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a government entity that has jurisdiction over the lakes.
Holland estimates there are 150,000 Florida-strain largemouth bass in the lakes. There also are bluegill, redear, catfish, gar, mudfish, black crappie and Seminole killifish.
There also are five or six alligators, though both Holland, who has been the lakes' lead biologist for 15 years, and Berry, who has been guiding the lakes for almost 20 years, say they rarely are seen.
The bigger bass are located in the 80-acre Crescent Lake and Downtown Disney waters, where canals intersect with the lakes. The largest fish taken was 14 pounds, 6 ounces, in the Boardwalk area.
But for those desiring to catch a fish any fish the preferred lakes are Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon, which encompass 578 acres. The fish in the two lakes average about 2“ pounds.
Almost 30 years ago more than 70,000 bass fingerlings were placed in Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon, which are no deeper than 30 feet. Fishing operations did not begin until 1977 and there has not been a fish stocking in the lakes in more than 20 years.
"This (Bay Lake) is quantity," Berry said. "That (Boardwalk) is quality. They're completely different."
Holland said the average take is 2“ fish per hour, per angler the highest bass-catch rate in the state. He attributes that to the catch-and-release policy and that fishing can be done only with a guide.
"Everyone comes away talking about all the fish," he said.
For those who want to give their children a first-hand experience on their own, the resort offers a one-hour weekend children's-only program, led by several regular guides.
No fishing license is required for any angler.
And there are other activities for outdoor enthusiasts:
Great Egrets, Blue Herons, Anhingas, Boat-tailed Grackles and cormorants line the shores. Wild turkey and deer mingle with cyclists, joggers and hikers along trails.
Disney employees also say they have seen the Florida panther, an endangered species, wandering through the park's brush.
Certified divers can even get in on the action. Divers are provided with full gear for a dip into The Living Seas aquarium in the Epcot theme park.
The aquarium, at 6 million gallons, is one of the largest in the world. It houses sharks, sea turtles, eagle rays and reef fish. The dive is about an hour in length, and includes a chance to perform for an audience; a restaurant looks in on the aquarium.
There is no current, the water temperature is a constant 77 degrees and there is visibility that is restricted only by the aquarium walls.
There also is a snorkel program for those who do not dive.
All proceeds from the dive support the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, which is used to promote the survival of wildlife and wild places.