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Naturally Beautiful

With more than 1,400 lakes in the county, it’s easy to understand why most residents boat, fish, swim or water-ski. Lakes, in fact, make up 17 percent of Lake County’s nearly 722,000 acres.

The Harris Chain of Lakes gives all residents equal access to many fishing opportunities. “Chain” describes how the lakes are all interconnected, meaning a boat in one lake may access any of the others by way of naturally occurring rivers or man-made canals. With so much water, a private fishing hole is never far away.

Lake Griffin, seven miles long by 2-1/2 miles wide, is a major link in the Leesburg-to-Atlantic Ocean chain. Extensive management programs are attempting to restore the lake. Average depths are 7.74 feet. Bass fishing is best in canals. For more information on fishing, go to page 12, or call (352) 360-6760.

Lake Harris is the largest and, arguably, prettiest lake in the chain. The depth is 12.01 feet and the bottom is sandy with a few mucky areas. The lake’s shoreline is filled with native aquatic grasses.

Little Lake Harris covers about five square miles, and has a varied bottom that includes some grassy areas. The west side is sandier, with shoreline grass beds. Howey-in-the-Hills and Astatula have ramp access. Little Lake Harris is good for one to three-pound bass year-round, but has seen bass up to 13.5 pounds, with 75 percent caught using artificial worms. A half-mile bridge that covers the center of the lake is a virtual mecca in winter and spring for night fishing, lantern-wielding speck anglers, spring to summer bass bridge-trollers and year-round panfish anglers. Hickory Point offers a day-use marina (no overnight mooring) and fishing piers.

The mooring facility accommodates boats up to 10 by 30 feet. The park features a two-story, screened pavilion that accommodates groups from 25 to 275 people. All or part of the pavilion may be reserved up to a year in advance for special events. For more information, please call the Lake County Water Authority at (352) 343-3777.

Haines Creek flows northwest from Lake Eustis to Lake Griffin, a distance of four miles. Once crooked, the creek has been channeled. A lock and spillway at Lisbon on Route 44 oxygenates the water, attracting bass year-round, speck in winter and panfish and catfish in the summer. There is also good bass fishing near lily pad oxbows. Access is best near Lisbon.

Lake Eustis is another major lake leading to the Atlantic, covering nearly 19 square miles and is largely hard-bottomed. The Dead River and Dora Canal flow into the south end, and Haines Creek exists to the west. The lake has a shoreline filled with native aquatic grasses. The lake averages between 11-15 feet in depth. Bass fishing, especially trolling, is good along the east shore between Eustis and Tavares. Rock areas along Lake Shore Drive produce panfish in the spring and summer. Both Eustis and Tavares have boat ramps.

Lake Dora covers almost 15 square miles. Accessible from Mount Dora or Tavares, the depth ranges between 11 and 15 feet. From April through July, anglers catch bass with top water lures, plastic worms and shiners (the bait of choice). Trolling is excellent. The lake has cattail shorelines with a variance of cypress covers and lily pads to the north.

Dora Canal is a mile-long waterway that connects Lakes Dora and Eustis at the Tavares city limits. Noted for its scenic beauty (its nickname is “the most beautiful half-mile of water in the world”), it produces panfish in the spring.

Lake Yale, without a city on its shoreline, is a favorite of local fishermen. The average depth is between 16 and 19 feet. There is good, year-round bass fishing with plastic worms; speck and panfish catches are excellent; and bank fishing at the park areas produces excellent results.

For nature lovers, the Ocala National Forest is only 20 minutes north of Leesburg. Part of what is known as the “real Florida,” the forest attracts over two million visitors per year and covers more than 450,000 acres. Established in 1908, it is the oldest national forest east of the Mississippi, the southernmost forest in the nation and is home to hundreds of varieties of birds and animals.

The Ocala National Forest Interpretive Association conducts bus tours in the winter. The forest also has a number of picnic areas and hiking trails, as well as camping, swimming, fishing, canoeing, horseback riding, a visitor center and bookstore. For more information, contact the Forest Pittman Visitor Center, 45621 State Road 19, Altoona, FL 32702, (352) 669-7495.

In Leesburg proper, Venetian Gardens is one of Central Florida’s most aesthetic family-oriented parks. Located on the shores of Lake Harris, this 100-acre public park features boat ramps, a beach, baseball fields, tennis courts, shuffleboard courts, a pool open in summer and a cultural center. The name comes from Venice, Italy in recognition of the park’s canals and bridges. In addition to Venetian Gardens, the entire Leesburg area has more than 22 parks. d

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