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He guides his boat carefully over the submerged cypress stumps; it's just barely light and he doesn't want to risk hitting anything. The sunken timber is a challenge for boats, but fantastic for fish. It's the fish that brought him to Lake Rousseau in the Cross Florida region, the largemouth bass in particular. Within 10 miles of the Gulf Coast, Lake Rousseau has a well earned reputation as an exceptional fishing lake and today it's his turn to catch the big one. By the end of today, he hopes to be sitting on the deck of the lakefront home he's renting and telling his friends fish tales about the one that didn't get away. Regardless of how it ends, he'll get to spend the day fishing, and Lake Rousseau is the perfect lake for it.
In 1904 the Camp Phosphate Company received a permit to build a dam on the Withlaloochee River near Inglis. Built for hydroelectric power, Inglis Dam was completed in 1909. The Florida Power Corporation later took ownership. Lake Rousseau is the resulting impoundment and one of the oldest of its kind in Florida. In 1965 the US Army Corps of Engineers took over responsibility for the management of Inglis Dam, and today Lake Rousseau is only used for flood control.
Stretching 5.7 miles long and covering parts of Levy, Citrus and Marion Counties, Lake Rousseau sits 11 miles from the mouth of the Withlaloochee River. The 157 mile-long Withlaloochee River makes up both the inflow and outflow of the lake, and Lake Rousseau also receives water from the Rainbow River. Lake Rousseau includes the small original lake and the river channel. When the lake was impounded a significant amount of timber was flooded, providing excellent cover for the fish. In addition to the bass, the lake is full of perch and catfish, and the crappie and shell crackers grow exceptionally large. The same timber that makes Lake Rousseau a great fishing lake makes it a challenging boating lake. It is not safe to power boat, jet ski or water ski. The lake is best is explored slowly and by canoe and kayak. Below the dam, the Florida Marine Patrol Station allows boaters and anglers access to the Withlaloochee River and on to the Gulf of Mexico.
Lake Rousseau is connected to the Cross Florida Barge Canal. Construction on the ill-fated canal started in May 1933 as a way to connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico for barge traffic. The project was stopped and started several times before finally being stopped in 1971 by President Nixon. Only two sections of the canal, including the section connecting Lake Rousseau to the Gulf of Mexico, were completed before construction was halted primarily because of environmental concerns. Today the canal has become the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway, providing a 110 mile-long corridor with space for bird watching and wildlife viewing. The Lake Rousseau portion of the greenway starts at the Inglis Dam Recreation Area.
The Inglis Dam Recreation Area includes a picnic area and boat ramp and provides access to the trails on Inglis Island. Created in the 1960's with the construction of Inglis Lock and Barge Canal, the 1,200-acre island is criss-crossed with trails. The main trail starts at the Inglis Dam, and there are beautiful views of Lake Rousseau and places for bank fishing.
Lake Rousseau is a short drive from Goethe State Forest. Covering parts of Levy and Alachua Counties, the forest has a wide variety of habitats, including scrubby flatwoods and dome and basin swamps. There is also a large section of old-growth long leaf pine flatwoods providing a home for one of the largest populations of red-cockaded woodpeckers in the state. Visitors can explore the State Forest on foot, bike, or horseback and there is hunting allowed in season.
The Halpata Tastanaki Preserve in Marion County and slightly southeast of Lake Rousseau has over 8,000 acres of wetlands, floodplain swamp and scrub full of plants and animals. Miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding wind around the preserve. The Withlacoochee River runs through the Halpata Tastanaki Preserve before continuing on to Lake Rousseau, and anglers will find plenty of opportunities for bank fishing. Named for Seminole Chief, Halpata Tastanaki or "Chief Alligator," the Preserve has a rich history and includes the site of the historic community of Stockton established after the Second Seminole War.
Less than an hour to the west of Ocala, Lake Rousseau is bordered by the towns of Inglis and Dunnellon. The lake's shoreline is dotted with cabins, cottages and vacation rentals. There is also lakefront real estate available for sale. Private marinas and lakeside restaurants along with shops and various accommodations in nearby Inglis provide visitors with any amenities they might need.
With its fish filled waters and easy access to the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Rousseau is an angler's dream. Add the wildlife, birds and beauty of Cross Florida and there is sure to be something to please everyone.
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