Sunshine State Largemouth Options

Regardless of where you live in Central or North Florida, one of these fishing options is nearby. The conditions for catching the fish, however, may differ from lake to lake.

Guide Eddie Bussard will be looking for scarce hydrilla "walls" on Lake Toho this month in order to locate largemouths.
Photo by Bud Reiter

There is nothing like a little weather system to either give bass fishing a boost or make it a bust. For example, take September 2004 -- please take it!

Those of us who rode out the "Year of the Hurricanes" will certainly remember last September as a total bust. In fact, given the frequency and the intensity of the hurricanes we experienced, anyone even venturing out onto the water could realistically have had their sanity questioned.

But as veteran Sunshine State anglers know, weather pretty well dictates September bassin' in Florida every year. Last year was merely a case of extremes. Under normal circumstances, September is a month that, while not seeing a full transition from summer to fall patterns, normally sees the fall fling begin. The only things that are required are a few typical September storms, a bit of overcast, and maybe an early cold front. Combined, these things begin to drop the water temperatures enough to shake bass out of their August doldrums and get them feeding. If those conditions develop, September can be a fine month. If they do not, anglers are stuck with August patterns until the weather does cooperate.

No one can truly predict September fishing, unless they can predict the weather. But if we have a normal year, here is what anglers can expect on some of our top bass lakes.

LAKE TOHOPEKALIGA

September can be an excellent month on Tohopekaliga, or Toho, as it is more commonly known. Locating bass is not normally difficult: They are positioned in the offshore hydrilla beds in 7 to 10 feet of water where they have spent the summer. Cooler temperatures get the fish moving, and an abundance of shad can generate some serious schooling activity. Look for bass to be moving early and late in the day along the edges of the hydrilla, where aggressively fishing topwater plugs, lipless crankbaits, and hard- or soft-plastic jerkbaits in shad finishes can produce some fast action. That schooling activity can continue throughout the day if it is overcast.

During a bright midday, anglers casting or flipping soft plastics into cuts and pockets and along hydrilla points score some fish as well.

At least, that's how things normally work. Unfortunately, this September could be different.

"There wasn't a lot of hydrilla left in Toho this spring," said veteran guide Eddie Bussard. "The recent drawdown knocked a lot of it back, and the hurricanes last September ripped up most of what was left. I have found some hydrilla growing a foot or so off the bottom in 6 feet of water, and if we have a normal summer there should be some topped-out hydrilla available this fall. But there may not be much of it."

According to Bussard, finding what offshore hydrilla there is will be the surest path to success this month. It is well worth the time it takes to locate it. Given an anticipated lack of hydrilla, bass are likely to stack up on any they can find in deeper water.

If hydrilla is in short supply, however, Bussard has a back up plan.

"Those fish are going to want to be on the deepest vegetation they can find," he noted. "That could be bulrush points or the edge of a deep maiden cane weedline. That may only be in 5 or 6 feet of water, but they use it if they don't have enough offshore hydrilla. The best areas will be those that have some floating vegetation drifted into the grass to provide mats of overhead cover they can get under. They move out from there to school on shad early and late, and then during the midday they slip back under, where you can get at them with shiners or flipping."

LAKE KISSIMMEE

Bass on Kissimmee share the same late-summer affinity for offshore hydrilla as those on Toho. Unfortunately, like Toho, a recent drawdown and last year's hurricanes depleted a significant amount of it. Bussard notes that the North Cove area did have hydrilla during the spring, but also pointed out that the state was actively spraying it.

This month, hydrilla on Kissimmee could be even more problematical than on Toho. If that occurs, savvy anglers will seek out the same type of deep-water weedlines that are producing on Toho and fish them the same way. They are the preferred alternative cover on Kissimmee, as well.

Another option is to slip through the connecting canals into Lake Hatchineha or Cypress Lake. Both were holding a bit more hydrilla this spring than was Kissimmee and are likely to have more offshore grass this September.

Should this be a wetter than normal summer, however, there is another option -- fishing the flowing water.

"If we get a lot of rain this summer," Bussard offered, "you will have a decent current flow from Toho, through Cypress and Hatchineha, and into Kissimmee. The key areas of the highest current will be where the water enters and leaves the lakes through the connecting canals. These bass are starting to school heavily on shad this month, and these high current areas are a great situation for them to do that."

Key areas include the intersection of the Southport Canal with Cypress and the area around the outflowing Hatchineha Canal on the south end of Cypress. The same situation exists at the inflow to Hatchineha and the outflow where the Kissimmee River leaves the lake. If water is flowing well, look for bass to concentrate in and around any vegetation in the area. Top spots will be bulrush and maiden cane extending towards deeper water, especially if any floating vegetation has drifted in and around to form a mat of floating cover. But do not overlook even shallower cover if there is enough room for a bass to slip underneath it. Heavily matted vegetation, even in 3 feet of water, can hold midday bass if that grass is adjacent to a higher than normal current area.

One of the best spots in which to look for bass schooling in current is the outflow area at the north end of Kissimmee. There is a good dropoff that goes from 5 to 10 feet just out from the Kissimmee River inflow. This spot routinely holds bass under almost any current flow conditions during the late summer and fall, even if hydrilla is not present. Watch for bass surface-schooling over the drop; expect shad-imitating lures and topwater plugs to score here. When the fish are down, Carolina-rigged plastic worms or lizards can be deadly, as can diving crankbaits.

LAKE ISTOKPOGA

Li

ke Toho and Kissimmee, Istokpoga bass are found in offshore hydrilla beds during the late summer and early fall. Unlike the two previous lakes, however, anglers will find some hydrilla here to fish this month.

"The hurricanes last September did trash some of the hydrilla on Istokpoga," admitted long-time central Florida guide Reno Alley, "but a lot was left. The biggest damage was done on the north end, and not a lot of that hydrilla survived the storms. But the south end is looking pretty good."

Alley noted that there was healthy hydrilla in the 6- to 7-foot depth range in many areas on the south end of the lake, especially around Bumble Bee Island. In addition, bulrush and pencil reeds are also very healthy in this area and growing well out to depths in the 4- to 5-foot range. Considering that mid-lake depths on this lake do not get a lot deeper than 8 feet, the abundance of both emergent plants and hydrilla in depths from 4 to 7 feet on the south end spells good news for anglers this month. Alley also pointed out that while the storms did rip up north-end hydrilla, there is hydrilla coming back and there may be isolated patches of topped-out plants in this section of the lake as well. Hydrilla is coming back on Istokpoga, and that's exactly where Alley will be concentrating his efforts this month.

"I want to find hydrilla in the 6- to 7-foot depth range," he explained, "and the best patches are going to be those sections where you have a checkerboard pattern of green topped-out and crowned hydrilla mixed with areas where the growth is still a couple of feet below the surface. This is an ideal environment for late-summer bass, because they have a roof effect where they can get under matted cover, as well as more open areas where they can corral shad to feed. If those crowned areas also form points and pockets, you can bet there will be bass there in September."

Once the proper cover is found, tangling with those bass is not complex. Like most guides, Alley is a big believer in 6- to 7-inch native shiners for those customers seeking trophy-grade fish. Float those a couple of feet under a cork on the windward side of hydrilla points early and late in the day, and in cuts and pockets under brighter light conditions -- fun things can happen!

If artificial lures are on the menu, Alley finds he does not need a big selection.

"Those fish are going to come to the edges of those hydrilla beds to feed early and late, and a gold prism jerkbait is a killer," he advised "You can twitch it on top, or jerk it down, and these bass love it. Another good choice, particularly over the hydrilla that is still a couple of feet below the surface, is a 1/2-ounce willowleaf spinnerbait with a white-and-chartreuse skirt and a gold-and-nickel blade combo. I like a No. 5 or 6 willowleaf on the rear, because these fish can be aggressive, and the more flash the more they like it."

Under bright midday conditions, Alley shifts to a 7- or 10-inch worm in June bug or red shad color. These can be cast into pockets or flipped into matted cover.

If the weather has cooled more than normal, however, bass may move to shallower cover and take up residence in reeds and rushes in the 4- to 5-foot range. Alley finds that flipping a June-bug-colored jig into the reeds is a pretty sure way to find them.

HARRIS CHAIN

Consisting of lakes Carlton, Beauclair, Dora, Little Lake Harris, Big Lake Harris, Eustis and Griffin, the Harris Chain has suffered its share of water woes over the years. In fact, a decade ago many bass anglers declared it "legally dead."

That's not quite accurate. While the chain has not fully recovered from its glory days of 20 years ago, it is quietly producing some very serious bass. Locating them in September is not complicated -- there is only one truly productive pattern.

"Not all the lakes in this chain have come back," Reno Alley cautioned, "but Little Lake Harris and Big Lake Harris, and sometimes Dora, have some good fish. These are lakes where you don't have to worry about finding offshore hydrilla, because there isn't any. Instead, the bass are going to be concentrated along the outside edges of maiden cane beds that extend the farthest into the lake, which is usually at the 6-foot depth."

There is a goodly amount of such cover in the three lakes Alley mentioned, and those are where he recommends anglers spend their time. He also advised anglers to be particular regarding which grasslines they spend their time on.

"The key to finding the grass edges that are holding fish is to find those where you see visible baitfish," the guide said. "If I don't see baitfish, I'll keep idling along until I do. Once I find baitfish, I want to zero in on those extending grass points that have surface vegetation drifted in around them. The combination of visible baitfish and overhead cover on an outside weedline is the surest way to find bass in these lakes in September."

Early and late in the day, topwater plugs and jerkbaits fished along edges are effective. During brighter times, Alley resorts to flipping a 10-inch June bug worm and is adamant that if you are going to flip a worm on these lakes you must flip a big one, because it draws bigger fish!

WINTER HAVEN CHAIN

You will not hear the Winter Haven Chain mentioned among Florida's top bass waters. There is a good reason for that -- it is not one of them! But this month, savvy anglers can still score if they pick their lakes carefully.

"Lake Roy is an overlooked spot this month," Reno Alley assured, "because it has offshore peppergrass beds that draw a pretty good number of fish during the late summer. Lake Lulu is also worth the time. It has some offshore hydrilla beds, and it is one of the very few lakes in this chain that has hydrilla. That stuff holds bass."

During a wet summer, there is another option -- fish the current flow. Rainfall creates water movement between the lakes, and any potentially good cover and the junction of a canal and lake is worth exploring. If all else fails, follow the lead of those anglers who win tournaments on this chain.

"A lot of the club tournaments on this chain," Alley noted, "are won by anglers who do nothing more than circle Lake Eloise throwing firetiger crankbaits along the first sharp drop-off from the shoreline cover. The sharper drops seem to hold a fair amount of fish."

LAKE SEMINOLE

Like on most other lakes this month, Seminole anglers want to think hydrilla. And there is plenty of it here. Savvy fishermen start their search with three key factors in mind First, find the deepest hydrilla edges along main creek channels. Next, find those edges that are adjacent to consistently used spawning areas, and finally, find those edges that have shad on them.

The normal hydrilla growth pattern on Seminole is for it to start on shallow flats and grow right to the edge of a major channel where the deeper water causes it to form a "hydrilla wall." All of these deep-water walls can hold September bass. The best are those that lie along a migration route toward the s

hallow areas that the bass use to spawn in next spring. Add shad, and the action really gets started.

Veteran anglers like to start the day with aggressively fished shad-finished topwater plugs because these lures tend to draw larger fish. Lipless crankbaits are also deadly, and when the sun gets up and sends bass into the grass, do not overlook flipping the edges with soft plastics.

This combination is a simple pattern, and one that is effective this month. Seminole is currently one of the top bass lakes in the state, and this is the easiest way to get into the action.

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