No State in the Union, or for that matter any country in the world, offers the quality of largemouth bass fishing that Florida routinely provides. And, few Florida residents are more than a short drive from it.
But, some lakes are more productive than others due to current water levels, previous spawning cycles, and a number of other factors. If you’re looking for the best the Sunshine State has to offer bass anglers, here are six lakes to keep in mind this year.
Here’s what to expect for bass fishing in Florida in 2014.
One factor fisheries biologists consider when assessing the overall health of a lake’s bass population is the catch statistics from local club tournaments. Many feel that if it takes a 3-pound-per-fish average to win, the population is healthy. A four-pound average is excellent. Get above that, and you’re into Great!
By that criterion, Lake Kissimmee is the hottest bass lake in Florida right now.
“All through 2013, even in the summer months, it was taking 30 to 35-pounds of bass in a five fish limit to win those little weekly club tournaments out of Camp Mack,” says veteran guide Reno Alley of Memory Makin’ Guides (1-800-749-2278).
That’s a 6-pound or better average! And, there are plenty of big bass. The largest Alley knows of was in the 15-pound range, but there were numerous 8- to 10-pound fish.
Hydrilla is the key to finding those bass. There is plenty on Kissimmee and it grows out to mid-lake depths of up to 8 feet. Just where in the hydrilla the bass are depends on the season.
Bass are spawning this month on the extreme inside edges of the hydrilla. Scattered vegetation, especially Arrowhead, is favored. Alley likes the Sebile Magic Swimmer in rainbow color to probe the shallows.
Once the spawn winds down by late April, hydrilla becomes the dominant factor. The bass move to the inside hydrilla edges, ranging further outward as temperatures rise. By late summer, the offshore hydrilla is where anglers want to be.
Regardless of where in the hydrilla the bass are, the basic pattern is simple: get out early, watch the hydrilla edges for signs of feeding fish, use locator lures like Magic Swimmers, Rat-L-Traps and topwater plugs to find a concentration of bass.
When the sun climbs to midday, don’t leave that spot because the bass won’t. They just slip back under the hydrilla. Alley notes that most tournaments are won by anglers flipping the hydrilla where the have found fish. Top flipping baits are Berkley or Gambler craws, or Culprit swimming tail worms.
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Thanks to stable lake levels, highly fertile waters, abundant shad, and FWC shoreline vegetation restoration projects, this Tallahassee-area lake ranks right up with the best Florida has to offer.
“There are little Thursday evening tournaments that last about three hours, with a three-fish limit, and it takes 12 to 15 pounds to win,” says Jeff Dubree of Whippoorwill Sportsman’s Lodge (1-850-875-2605). For the full-day tournaments with a five-fish limit, it normally takes 25 to 30 pounds to win.”
That’s a serious fishery, but one that is a bit different than most Florida lakes.
This man-made reservoir features a maze of offshore channels, points and deep-water structure. Shad are the dominant forage, and for most of the year there are far more bass deeper than 10 feet than there are shallower. Savvy anglers have learned to key on shad movements along main lake points, and channel edges. Top lures for those experts are deep diving crankbaits, countdown crankbaits, and Carolina worm rigs. Seven-inch green pumpkin worms are deadly!
At least, that’s how things work most of the year. There are some changes beginning this month.
April is the peak of the spawn on Talquin. The majority of the spawning occurs in the shallow creek mouth coves ringing the lake, and in the quiet backwaters of some creeks. This month sees the bass beginning a predictable migration from their deep-water haunts to those shallow spawning sites.
Look for bass to start staging on the main lake points leading into the coves. Early in the month they may not move further than the deeper end of the point connecting with a channel. As the water warms they hold farther up the point, and by March, expect them to be probing the shallow end, and entering the coves themselves.
During April, look for bass to be bedding around any shallow vegetation within the covers, and especially along man-made bulkheads. Weedless soft plastics and gaudy spinnerbaits can be big producers then.
The Big O experienced uncomfortable water level fluctuations in 2013, but it didn’t seem to hurt the fishing.
“Even with the water level fluctuations it was taking anywhere between 23 and 26 pounds of bass, with a five-fish limit, to win the one day club matches we hold,” says Mike Krause of the Roland Martin Marine Center (1-863-983-2128). “Even during the summer months, it was taking a bass over 8 pounds to win big fish, and I did see an 11.3-pound fish come in.”
The Big O’s legendary bass fishing is alive and well, and getting in on it for the next few months is easy.
This is a major spawning period and the vast majority of the bass are going to be in the extreme shallows in two to four feet of water. Look for peppergrass, lotus pads, and other shallow water vegetation. Quite topwater plugs, like the Rapala, and similar stick baits, can be deadly along cover edges during the early morning.
As the sun climbs, bass retreat to the cover where weedless soft plastics like floating lizards, Horny Toads, Frogs, and swimming worms can fill the livewell. If fish just boil at these quicker- moving baits, shift to a Texas-rigged plastic worm and work the area thoroughly.
By mid-May, the bass are pulling back towards deeper, open waters. A key staging point during this migration is any bulrush patch in four to seven feet of water – especially those on points leading to the main lake.
Bass anglers along the Big Bend don’t have as wide a selection of waters available to them as many other anglers do. But, Rousseau is a top choice. Sometimes referred to as “the other Rodman”, it was the western impoundment for the Cross Florida Barge Canal. Like Rodman, it’s a man-made reservoir carved out of a forest, and consists of a main river channel with numerous side channels, stump flats, and shallow backwaters. There’s a lot of water to fish, but it’s productive. For local club tournaments with a five fish limit it normally takes 20-pounds to win.
For the next few months, however, anglers can simplify their search for bass.
“The key spawning months on this lake are February through May,” says veteran guide Jimbo Keith who mixes fresh and saltwater on the Saltwater Assassin II (352-535-5083). “Those fish are looking for hard sand bottom areas in 2 to 4 feet of water. That may be along the banks, or on some of the shallow bars in the main pool. One easy way to figure out if you’re in the right area is to look for any patches of eelgrass. It grows on the right kind of spawning bottom, and the bass love it.”
Keith favors topwater lures like the UnFairLures Dawg Slider in shad color. It can be deadly early and late, or under a heavy overcast. In brighter midday conditions he opts for the Bass Assassin Rail Worm. It’s a notched paddle tail, swimming worm. Black with blue or watermelon red colors. Rigged with a 4/0 worm hook and a 3/16-ounce bullet weight sinker, it can cover a lot of water to both locate and catch bass.
Accurate tournament statistics on Lake George are impossible to determine because anglers have the option of fishing the St. Johns River above and below it, as well as locking into Rodman or running through Dunns Creek to Crescent Lake to accumulate their catch. Most don’t talk about where they caught their fish.
But, this 46,000-acre wide spot in the St. Johns River currently ranks as one of the state’s best bass waters. Eelgrass has returned in abundance, and multiple years of mild winters have produced excellent spawns and year classes. As one veteran guide put it, “I’ve seen more 8- to 12- pound bass in the last three years than I did in the previous decade.”
This month is a great time to tangle with some!
Spawning in the main lake begins in February, with the biggest bass often spawning first. It then continues into May. Look for the first spawners to show on the inside edges of the eelgrass beds near Silver Glenn Run, Juniper Springs, and Salt Cove. When March arrives, spawners blossom all along the east shore, the Jetties, and around Hogg and Drayton Islands on the north side of the lake.
Sight fishing for bedding bass with weedless soft plastics can be productive. If the beds are there, but no bass, check the nearby eelgrass with spinnerbaits and swimming soft plastics. The bass won’t be far from the beds.
One way to quickly determine if bass are spawning in a particular area is to look for floating, bright green, eelgrass. The bass uproot this when they fan a bed.
As the spawn winds down in May, the bass are in no hurry to leave the eelgrass. Bream move into the same areas to spawn and the bass feast on them. Buzzbaits, spinnerbaits, and swimming worms can be deadly during the morning and evening hours well up into August.
The spring and summer is definitely the time to hit this lake.
Every lake goes through cycles of productivity. That’s largely based upon water levels, littoral zone vegetation, weather during spawning cycles that affects year classes, and sometimes through angling pressure. A great lake can crash. But, they can also rise from the ashes like the mythical Phoenix and become the “sleeper” lake of the year.
Newnan’s Lake could be it for 2014.
During the 1970s in the Gainesville area, Newnans was the lake anglers went to when a 10-pound bass was the goal. That area also includes such fabled lakes as Orange/Lochloosa, and even Rodman Reservoir. Incredibly fertile, Newnans grew bass fast! And, they looked like phosphate pit bass — short, thick, heavy, and shaped like footballs. Sticking a hook into a Newnans bass was like setting the hook into a concrete block that was moving.
Water level woes trashed the lake in the 1980s. Anglers couldn’t access the lake, and spawning sites shrank. Bass populations plummeted, and anglers wrote the lake off as dead.
That started changing about four years ago.
“Water levels on Newnan’s have been restored, “ says Gary Simpson, who has been fishing the Gainesville area lakes for 45 years, is and the outdoor writer for the Gainesville Sun newspaper and operates Gary’s Tackle Box (352-372-1791) in Gainesville. “But, those low water levels were good for the lake. They served as a natural drawdown that rejuvenated the littoral zone. During that period, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also did a lot of vegetation planting that further improved the spawning cover and provided protection for juvenile fish.
“This lake,” he notes, “is not only back to where it was during its glory years, but it may even be better. I was catching 6- to 8-pound bass three years ago. There’s plenty of bigger bass now.”
Fishing Newnans today is no different that it was then. Visible shore line cover is the place to be. During the February though May spawning season, get into 2 to 4 feet of water. After that, move out to the visible emergent cover in 5 to 6 feet of water. Weedless soft plastics, spinnerbaits and buzzbaits are the proven lures.
The free launch at Powers Park Ramp on State Route 20 is a great place to start if you’re looking for a 10-pound bass.
Don’t forget to share your best bass photos with us on Camera Corner for your chance to win free gear!