Late Spring For Largemouths

Late Spring For Largemouths

Across north Florida, the spring fades early to summer's heat. Here are the places to target bass in April before it starts to swelter! (April 2008)

With the eelgrass returning to Lake George, Don Weaver expects to battle more bass like this one.
Photo by Bud Reiter.

In April, it's doubtful that there are any "bad" places in Florida to fish for bass. It's as good a month as you'll find. But some bets are better than others, especially as you move into the north-central and northern portions of the state.

Here's a look at three lakes you don't want to miss this month.

LAKE GEORGE
Wide, shallow, windswept and lined with lush eelgrass and dollar bonnet beds, Florida's second-largest lake has traditionally been among the top bass producers. At least it was until the 2004 hurricanes uprooted that "lush" littoral zone vegetation.

During the following years, the lake has yielded its bass grudgingly. The fish were still there, but without the bass-attracting grass, anglers were baffled as to where to find the largemouths. This year, that changes because the grass is back!

"The eelgrass is growing back real well," says Don Weaver, a veteran Georgetown guide. "The east shore came on last year, and now we've got a lot of grass along the west shore, especially around the mouths of Silver Glenn and Salt Run, and all the way up to Rocky Point.

"Those areas were barren -- like bald -- for the last few years, and it was hard to catch a fish. With all the grass we have now, this is going to be a banner year."

Tapping into that is simple. Just fish the lake the way you did in 2003.

Historically, the spawn here can begin as early as late January. February can be strong, but March has plenty of bedding fish, too.

April is the tail end of the bedding season. Some fish are still bedding in the extreme shallows, but most are in a post-spawn condition.

That's good, because post-spawn bass are on an eating binge. Since the grass is back, they don't have to move offshore to find food. Bream, shiners, and shad are spawning in the grass now, and that's where the bass will be.

Now that you can find grass this year, here are some ways to take advantage of it.

For those hitting the lake at the crack of dawn, two very effective patterns exist. The first is to move to the inside edge of the eelgrass beds, where they meet up with shallow dollar bonnets in about two feet of water. Look for any such area where some bass are still bedding and light colored beds are visible. Then throw a very quiet topwater plug, like a Rapala Minnow or Bomber Long A in gold color. Fish slowly, cover the inside edge and don't be surprised by an 8- to 10-pound bass!

The second pattern is to move to the outer edge of eelgrass points that jut into deeper water. Pay special attention to those that the wind has been blowing on for a day or so.

Spinnerbaits are deadly here, since the bass are feeding on small shad. A 1/4-ounce willow-leaf blade bait with a white skirt and gold or nickel blade is an excellent choice. So is a 1/4- to 1/2-ounce white buzzbait. That topwater offering often takes larger fish.

Under bright daylight conditions, that shallow action can slow down by 10:00 or 11:00 a.m. However, if there is a heavy overcast and a light breeze, the bass may hang in the deeper grass points throughout the day. If they turn off on the blade baits, shifting to soft-plastic weedless jerkbaits or Trick Worms will often score.

Savvy anglers also remember the grass points where they found fish during the morning -- and will frequently find the largemouths there again in late afternoon.

With the return of the eelgrass, there are a lot of places to fish. It can take some time to locate the vegetation that's holding bass.

Veteran anglers often start their search in those areas that have had the wind blowing on them for a day or so. That moves the shad schools around, and the bass follow.

If the grass doesn't produce, next turn your attention to thicker patches of dollar bonnets, especially those located near spawning areas. Bass snuggle up under these during periods of bright light and respond well to floating frogs and lizards crawled slowly over the mats.

This is a good situation for using 30- to 40-pound-test braided line. Those tend to cut through the pad stems and give you a fighting chance of getting the fish out.

SANTA FE LAKE
Santa Fe is an unusual lake for the Gainesville area, in that it's one of the few natural lakes with deep structure in this part of the state. A rather short maidencane-laced littoral zone ends quickly at five- to six-foot depths, and large areas of the lake plunge deeper than 14 feet.

There's even plenty of water in the 20- to 25-foot range. Along with deeper water, Santa Fe boasts numerous submerged points and bars, many with a shell bottom -- and a strong threadfin shad population.

Combine depth, structure and offshore forage, and you have a lake that has offered remarkably stable angling over the last decade of severe water fluctuations. Finally, Santa Fe hosts a good bass population.

Admittedly, those fish spend a lot of time in open water, but that changes in March and April.

These are normally the peak spawning months on this lake, and bring a lot of bass into, or very near, the extreme shallows. There are a number of prime spawning sites available to them.

There are several manmade canals on the lake and, like canals anywhere, these will draw fish. One lies midway down the eastern shoreline and another on the south end just west of the public ramp canal, with two more in the northwest corner of Little Santa Fe Lake. If water levels are sufficient, largemouths will be using them.

Water clarity in these canals is not normally good enough to actually spot fish on their beds, so savvy anglers cast to any bright-colored spots they see on the bottom. Compact soft-plastic craws, tube lures, and finesse worms are excellent choices, with June-bug, red shad or a black-and-blue combo being local color favorites. If the bright spots are there but the bass don't bite, veteran anglers then flip the heavier surface-matted, cover in the vicinity.

The area around Melrose Bay at the southeast corner of the lake is another traditional spawning site. The bay itself has fish bedding right on the shoreline or around docks. The smaller bay at its entrance is another potentially productive area.

Just to the north of the entrance, the large maidencane beds are more key areas, although it's seldom possible to spot beds until you are right on top of them. Local experts normally fish this region with Texas-rigged plastic worms, or soft-plastic jerkbaits rigged with just enough weight to get them down a couple of feet. For those jerkbaits the preferred colors are gold flake, firetiger, or natural shad.

The same tactic works anywhere else you find substantial maidencane beds connecting deeper water with the shoreline. There are a number of these along the west bank, and some on the lower eastern shoreline.

Bass bed in maidencane pockets or on the inside edge of the stand. That's especially true if there are dock pilings in the vicinity.

One last major spawning area is worth noting. In fact, it's often where lake experts start their day.

Commonly called the "Trees," this is a two-mile stretch of shoreline at the southern end of the main lake that's loaded with mature cypress trees extending out into seven feet of water. Around them is a wealth of fallen timber, right up to the shoreline, where scattered maidencane offers prime spawning sites.

This is one of the most picturesque spots in Florida -- and one of the most productive places on this lake for anglers.

Soft-plastics are an excellent choice in this area, but don't overlook crankbaits. Shallow-running, square-billed crankbaits can be deadly when banged through and off wood structure in this region. That applies to high-speed countdown crankbaits as well. One of my favorite and most productive lures is a 3/4-ounce Rat-L-Trap in bleeding shiner or Tennessee shad color patterns. Retrieved as fast as possible without broaching the lure is the way to fish it.

Pre-spawn and spawning, bass can be very aggressive or quite deliberate. But under either circumstance, a fast-moving crankbait zipped by their nose provokes a strike and is a very effective April lure anywhere in this part of the state.

Santa Fe Lake is unusual, one of the few natural lakes with deep structure in this part of the state.

That's especially true of the larger fish. At least one 12-pound Santa Fe largemouth fell victim to a high speed Trap in recent years.

All of the above areas and patterns are normally at their best before noon. But that doesn't mean you need to go home after lunch. This month can see some exceptional midday action, if anglers are willing to vacate the shoreline cover.

There are numerous brushpiles on the lake in 10 to 20 feet of water, and some fish move to them during midday. However, many more opt for areas of the equally abundant bottom grass -- especially in the six- to eight-foot depths lying right off of prime spawning sites. Bass tend to make the short move from the spawning areas to those places during the midday, and do so in concentrations. Find such a site and a midday limit of largemouths is quite possible.

How you find them is up to you, but there are a number of such spots along the west shoreline, in Bonnet Cove, along the lower half of the east shoreline and scattered throughout Little Santa Fe Lake.

One lake regular -- an elderly gentleman in a 16-foot skiff with a 15-horsepower motor -- does little more than troll a gold Bomber Long A along that six- to eight-foot break. When he gets a hit, he tosses a marker buoy, stops and works the area with plastic worms or a jerkbait. It's not uncommon for him to catch 15 to 20 fish in an afternoon.

If water is moving through the lake, another option is to fish the cut between the main lake and Little Santa Fe, the area around the mouth of the Santa Fe River at the northwest corner of Little Santa Fe Lake or, in the southwest corner of the big lake, the mouth of the Santa Fe Canal.

There's plenty of ways to catch bass on this lake, and April is a great month to try them all.

LAKE TALQUIN
At 8,500 acres, Lake Talquin is a significant body of water. But it fishes even bigger than that!

This man-made lake features a wealth of offshore structure and a massive shad population that lets bass live and feed in those deeper waters.

Numerous small creeks, coves and the submerged points connecting them to the main lake provide additional options for the fish.

There are plenty of places for largemouths to hide. But that changes in March and April.

"Unlike a lot of the lakes in the southern part of the state, Talquin has a very compressed spawn and pre-spawn period," explained veteran guide, Mike Mercuri. "Everything pretty much happens in two months -- March and April. And this is a great time to fish this lake."

Bass spend the winter months in the deeper main channel areas. But by late February, they're thinking about spawning and begin to make short movements towards the sheltered creeks where they bed.

By March, those movements are much stronger. "During March," Mercuri agreed, "you want to be looking at the main-lake creek channel points that connect with the smaller creeks. The bass want to get into those creeks to spawn, and move into them when the water temperature reaches about 65 degrees. But we don't normally have that temperature in March, so the fish tend to stack on those creek channel points."

There are several ways to tap into those point-hugging bass. Carolina or Do Nothing worm rigs are local favorites. Since the water is normally stained, dark-colored worms in black, blue-and-black glitter and June-bug are generally better bets.

Rigging with a floating worm or 5-inch lizard is sometimes more effective than traditional worms.

Rat-L-Trap style baits in red crawfish or blue chrome are other options. These can be cast to the deeper portion of the drop and banged along the bottom, from deep to shallow. Or if active fish are seen, just zip it across the point. But be aware that largemouths share these points with striped bass, and that both fish love crankbaits.

During warming trends or on any sunny afternoons, bass frequently move all the way up the point to the wooded shorelines. This is especially true on those points with the wind blowing directly onto them. In such shallows, hard-plastic jerkbaits like the Bomber Long A or Rapala Minnow can be deadly. Highly visible colors like chrome-and-blue or white-and-chartreuse are top choices.

The same holds true for spinnerbaits worked right to the shoreline wood. But on this lake, the tradition

al colors aren't always best.

"These fish like a big, gaudy bait that produces a lot of vibration," Mercuri offered. "It's easier for them to find. I like skirts in chartreuse-and-orange or straight chartreuse, and rig them with gold Colorado blades in size 7 or 8. Subtle spinnerbaits aren't nearly as effective."

As the creek arms warm towards that magic 65-degree temperature, the bass push farther up the points. Savvy anglers do the same. Mercuri's end-of-March tactics normally have him starting on the shallow end of the points and moving up the creek itself.

Shoreline wood is a prime target for Texas-rigged worms, spinnerbaits or jerkbaits. Covering lots of water is a key.

"Most of these creeks and coves are not very big, Mercuri noted, "and the bass can move pretty quickly in them. You may catch them halfway up the creek one week, and all the way at the back the next. I want to move pretty quickly and figure out just where they are."

Once that's determined, the cover options become more defined. Channel bends, swings, and points are prime spots, and savvy anglers probe the shoreline wood carefully.

Bass that are actually spawning are most often found on any shallow flat containing coontail or lily pads lying adjacent to the main or secondary channel. The water is normally too dark to let you actually spot fish on a bed, although the bright spots are often visible. Casting to them with soft-plastics is effective, but don't overlook spinnerbaits and buzzbaits in the vegetation itself.

If docks or bulkheads are present, try those as well. Bass on Talquin tend to bed right next to them.

Normally, the spawn winds down by the end of April. But some largemouths hang around the spawning creeks for several weeks before they begin migrating back to the main lake.

The spawn doesn't last long on this lake, but the action can be frantic this month.

Find more about Florida fishing and hunting at FloridaGameandFish.com

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