Frostproof Bassin' in January

The area around this Polk County town can provide some varied bass fishing this month. Listen as guide Reno Alley reveals the secrets of fishing these waters.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Rod Hunter

The sign on the edge of town says Frostproof, but that's not totally true. You can get frost in Frostproof. Been there, done that. In all fairness, however, I've only seen it once during the 15 years I've been visiting this pleasant little Polk County town. Compared to the weather in many other areas of the state, that's not too bad. And it's one of the reasons that Frostproof has become one of my regular winter destinations. The other reasons are lakes Reedy and Arbuckle.

If those names don't ring an immediate bell among bass anglers, it's not surprising. Given that they are within a stone's throw of lakes Kissimmee and Walk-In-Water, and no more than a short drive from Lake Istokpoga, they tend to get overlooked a lot. Veteran guide Reno Alley, who lives on Reedy Lake, knows that well.

"You could call these some of the better-kept secrets in this part of the state," he said. "The big-name lakes draw a lot of anglers and offer excellent fishing, but these two lakes hold their own with any of them, and I think they are a better bet for 10-pound-plus bass because of that lack of pressure."

If you're tired of fighting the crowds, here's a look at how to tangle with some of those bruiser bass this spring.

REEDY LAKE

Located in Frostproof itself, Reedy Lake comprises 3,483 acres. Compared to some nearby waters, that's not overly large, but the lake "fishes bigger" than that due to its layout.

"This is an unusual lake for this part of the state," Alley noted, "because most of the water is over 12 feet deep, and there is an abundance of very distinct offshore structure breaks. The lake is shallow around the banks, but it is a pretty brief shelf. Once you get 50 to 100 yards off the shore, it starts to drop to deeper water."

The maximum depth is 28 feet, and the south end of the lake is the deepest section. Numerous areas of the lake fall within the 12- to 16-foot depth range with distinct drops and ledges. It is almost as if someone took a big ice cream scoop to the center portion, but got a bit sloppy and missed a few spots.

That results in a lot of deep-water habitat, and that is further augmented by deep-water vegetation. Hydrilla is lacking, but peppergrass is alive and well.

"Peppergrass is a key open-water cover on this lake," Alley explained. "The largest concentration is normally on the southwest side of the lake and it will top out in 7 to 9 feet of water. In other areas, it will grow in the 7- to 12-foot depths and doesn't top out. Those offshore, submerged grassbeds are a bass magnet and hold a lot of fish throughout most of the year. You need to find them with a depthfinder, but it's worth the time it takes to do it."

A deep lake with abundant offshore structure and vegetation is uncommon in this area, but not unheard of. What sets Reedy further apart is its water color. While most deep, heavily vegetated lakes are quite clear, Reedy is anything but.

"This lake stays stained most of the year," Alley said. "Normally, you can only see a white spinnerbait down to about 2 feet. Most lakes that have deep water and offshore vegetation are clear and have to be approached with lighter line and finesse tactics. Not this one. That darker water makes it a power bait lake and you can use heavier line and aggressive lures all year long. It's rather unique in that respect."

Alley notes that for much of the year the most consistent depth to find bass is about 12 feet. That is where most of the brushpiles put out by local anglers are located, and there are a lot of them! It also is where the deeper peppergrass beds and a number of very productive drops and ledges are found. Banging these areas with big Carolina-rigged worms and lizards, slow-rolling a heavy spinnerbait, or working deep-diving crankbaits can produce some impressive fish. Alley's best from the lake weighed 14 pounds.

That reliance on offshore structure can make it a tough lake for infrequent visitors who lack the knowledge of key deep-water covers. That's also why I like it in the spring. I don't have to be smart because all of those big bass that have been fattening up on offshore shad schools are going to hit the shallows to spawn. And on this lake, there isn't a lot of that to hit.

Spawning normally begins on the first moon in January and is usually over by mid-March. Those fish don't have a lot of water to spawn in.

"The shallow shoreline areas in this lake are very narrow," Alley agreed. "There is shallow-water emergent vegetation all around the lake from the 6-foot depth line. But, that 6-foot dropoff depth doesn't extend very far from the shoreline. Once you get anywhere from 50 to 100 yards, you are going to be on the outside edge of that emergent vegetation.

"Maidencane is normally the grass that will grow on that outside dropoff. Inside of that, you have a lot of big dinner plate-sized lotus pads, some elephant ear pads, and dollar bonnets. That narrow shelf is where the bass are going to spawn, and it's not that big an area to search through."

While a variety of vegetation runs riot in the restricted shallows, Alley noted that the best spot to find bedding fish is in the big lotus pads. Any area of the lake that has them can be productive, but during the early spawn of January through mid-February, he normally concentrates his efforts along the north and northwest shorelines.

For those who favor sight-fishing for bedding bass, Reedy is not very friendly. The darker waters make it tough to actually spot fish on the beds. In this case, savvy anglers blind cast to the "white spots."

"Beds on this lake show up as bright spots, and not much else," Alley noted. "It's very difficult to actually see the fish and gauge how big it might be. But if you see any kind of a flash of movement, it's worth fishing that bed.

"I had one day in mid-February a couple of years back where I caught two bass over 10 pounds just blind-fishing beds with an 8-inch June bug worm. The more of those white spots you fish, the better your chances are of running into some big bass."

If a tour of the shallows fails to reveal the coveted white spots, then the fish haven't fully moved up yet. But during the January through early March period, they are thinking about it. That means they are close to those shallow spawning areas.

"Unless I know that fish were bedding heavily the previous day, I normally start the morning on the outside edge of the spawning areas," Alley stated. "A big-bladed spinnerbait with a No. 7 or No. 8 gold Colorado blade and a white and chartreuse skirt is one of the most effective lures on this lake in the spring. Fish it quick, make the blade bulge the water, and cover a lot of that outside edge."

If bass show themselves, but don't take the bait, Alley shifts to an 8- to 10-inch worm in June bug or red shad. He matches it to a rattling sinker and a glass rattle also inserted into the body. He's a big believer that darker water requires some noise.

If bass are found on the edges in the morning, Alley normally moves inside in the warmer afternoon to look for bedding fish. If the bass aren't on the edge, he surmises that they are still staging and have not yet moved up to spawn. That means shifting the attention to deeper water.

"The major pre-spawn staging spots will be those submerged peppergrass beds in 7 to 12 feet of water - especially those that are located close to the shallow spawning sites," he said. "If you can locate some of these within 100 yards of that inshore emergent grass, you should find some bass. Those same grassbeds also see a lot of bass in the post-spawn period, so it's worth the time it takes to find them.

"This can be a challenging lake for most of the year," Alley concluded, "but it's pretty easy when those bass move shallow to spawn because they don't have a lot of options and locating them is easy."

Access to Reedy Lake is equally easy. There is a free public boat ramp just off state Route 630 east of Frostproof. Take state Route 630 to North Reedy Lake Boulevard, turn right and follow the ramp signs.

LAKE ARBUCKLE

Located a few miles southeast of Reedy Lake, Arbuckle comprises 3,800 acres. It actually connects to Reedy via a shallow creek that is seldom navigable. Like Reedy, it, too, offers dark water, but that is where the similarities end.

If finding bass during the spring is simplified on Reedy Lake, it is even easier on Arbuckle. This is a shallow, bowl-shaped lake with only a few spots dropping to 12 feet. Very little offshore structure exists, but there is a large littoral zone loaded with lily pads, maidencane and bulrush.

"There will always be some bass on the outer portion of that shallow vegetation," Reno Alley assured. "There will be some every season of the year, because it is the prime feeding area. During the spring, it is also the doorway to the shallow spawning areas, and that makes this lake pretty simple - everything centers on the outer weedline in 3 to 5 feet of water."

Bass begin to spawn on Arbuckle in January and are normally finished by early April. Given the water clarity, which is even darker than Reedy Lake, those bass spawn very shallow in 2 1/2 feet or less of water. Before they actually move onto the beds, however, they can stack up on that outer weedline. And they have definite preferences as to what areas they want to stage on.

"The first thing I am looking for on this lake," Alley explained, "is a point of bulrush extending out from the main weedline, and that has a bunch of pads just inside the point. This combination of bulrush and pads seems to be a magnet for Arbuckle bass through the entire spawning period and even well into the summer. Even when the bass are spawning on the inside shallows, there will be bass coming and going on these points. Concentrating on this cover, especially during the morning hours, is the surest way to find bass on this lake."

Unfortunately, finding them and getting them into the boat can be two entirely different matters. Hooking one of the big bass - Alley knows of 15-pound fish that have come from this lake in recent years - in a tangle of pad roots requires some serious tackle if you want a fish instead of a fish story. Alley considers 14-pound-test line on baitcasting gear to be as light as he wants to go on this lake, and normally restricts it to tossing topwater plugs and crankbaits along cover edges. For running worms, spinnerbaits and buzzbaits through the pads, a stout 20-pound casting rig gets the nod, while a heavier 30-pound rig is reserved for flipping chores. If shiners are used, 40- to 50-pound line is his choice.

"This is not a lake where you need much in the way of finesse," Alley mused. "This is a real power bait lake."

Among Alley's favorite lures is the same outsized spinnerbait recommended for Reedy Lake. It can be fished in the same quick manner to locate fish, but he also finds it very effective when slow-rolled through pad roots. An overlooked, but deadly choice, is a black-skirted, single-blade buzzbait. A lot of anglers may think that January and February are too early for a surface-frothing buzzer, but Arbuckle bass crush them from pre-spawn to after the post-spawn.

If quicker moving blade baits fail to produce, Alley shifts to a plastic worm. These can be cast or flipped - the latter being very effective in those areas of pads that have floating vegetation drifted in around them to form an overhead cover. When it comes to colors, he is convinced that June bug is invariably the best choice; and when it comes to size, he wants to make certain he gets their attention.

"I seldom throw a worm smaller than 8 inches on this lake," he argued, "and 10 inches isn't too big. I always use a rattling sinker and an inserted glass rattle when I am flipping. You're only flipping 3 to 5 feet of water and it is very dark. Most of my hits don't come on the fall. I don't think the fish get a real look at the bait as it falls. Most of my hits come after the bait has hit the bottom and I jiggle it around a few times and make a little noise. This is one lake where you need to slow down, take your time and keep the bait on the target a little longer when you are flipping."

If the outer cover doesn't produce, especially during an afternoon on a warming trend, Alley moves inside to look for bedding fish. Again, there is a key cover area.

"Several years back, they did mechanical cattail removal in the extreme shallows and opened up a well-defined band of shallow water in the 1- to 2-foot range," he said. "There are cattails on the shallow side, emergent vegetation on the outside, and a clean band of water in between. That band is where the majority of the bass spawn."

Even in that extremely shallow water, bass are very difficult to spot on a bed before you get close enough to spook them off. The best you can expect is to see is a light-colored, "orangish" spot, and maybe some water movement as a bass patrols the bed. Savvy anglers sight-cast those targets with tube jigs or plastic worms, and 6-inch worms can sometimes outproduce larger offerings. Alley also notes that hard-plastic jerkbaits can be deadly when worked along cattail edges.

"It's not a difficult lake to fish," Alley said. "There are only a few basic patterns and area types you need to consider during the spring."

The best access to Arbuckle is from the Polk County Parks and Recreation Department boat ramp on the north end of the lake off Arbuckle Road. It is free to use and easily handles the largest bass boat.



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