April 02, 2012
There really isn't a bad month to fish for largemouth bass in Florida. It's just a matter of picking the water body that is enjoying seasonal peak conditions, and then applying the most effective techniques.
Here are five spots, and the techniques to fish them, that can make this April a memorable one.
At over 37,000 acres, Lake Seminole could be considered a pretty big lake. But, this month, anglers want to think smaller.
There are many sheltered backwater areas on this lake and they warm far more quickly than main lake, or flowing river areas. In an unusually warm winter, some may begin to warm to proper spawning temperatures as early as February, although most don't reach those temperatures until March. Regardless of when they warm, anglers can expect them to hold a lot of bass this month!
The waters along the shore of the Apalachee Wildlife Management Area on the western boundary of the reservoir, and west of State Route 271, normally warm first. Some bass may even be spawning in late January.
From there, the spawning activity moves eastward from February on. These eastern backwaters include the Ranger Station Tract; the area around Island Point and the waters behind it in Cypress, Hickory and Turkey Ponds; the entire Fish Pond Drain area; the Georgia Duck Refuge; the backwaters around Perkins and Fort Scott Islands along the Flint River; the Ten Mile Still Landing area; and the numerous backwaters off of the Chattahoochee River.
Some of these areas have deeper holes that form year-round habitat, while others are only used seasonally during the spawn. Regardless, many main-lake bass migrate to and from them during the spawn. In April, some are spawning, while others have finished and be moving back to the main lake. The pathways they use are where anglers want to be!
"There may be a lot of entrance points to these backwater areas," said veteran guide Mike Sloan, "but the ones I want to key on are the deeper main channels that connect them with the main lake".
Bass moving into the spawning areas stage predictably along points and sandbars bordering the channels. Once in the spawning areas, those deeper channels and cuts become their refuge points, when they are not actually on the beds. Once the spawn is over, the bass reverse that migration as they move back to the main lake using the same pathways they used to get there.
"Bass tend to stack up during these migrations, " Sloan noted, " and when you find one you normally find a bunch. It's not a matter of fishing 200 yards of channel edge and catching a bass every 100 yards. They are in bunches and I want to move fast to locate them."
Among his favorite locating lures are countdown crankbaits, like a Rat-L-Trap in Rayburn red, if cover permits. In vegetation a 1/2-ounce spinnerbait with a white skirt, and a tandem gold willowleaf rear and nickel Colorado front blade, serves the same purpose.
Along most channels, grass, lily pads and wood are the dominant cover. But, there is one other cover Sloan looks for.
"Hydrilla won't have surfaced out yet," Sloan said "but there will be submerged patches and the bass love those. You'll have to find it with a depthfinder, but when I do I'll cover it thoroughly with the faster baits first, and then when the bite slows I'll shift to a Senko in green pumpkin or watermelon red."
To contact Mike Sloan, call Wingate's Lodge (229) 246-0658.
Moving a bit south and east, we come to Lake Talquin. Fed by the dark and very fertile Ochlockonee River, this 5,000-acre man-made reservoir ranks as one of the top bass fisheries in Florida. Local club tournaments normally take a 4-pound-per-fish average to win, and any biologist will tell you that is a solid fishery!
Catching those bass, however, requires an in-depth knowledge of the maze of offshore channels, submerged points, bars, drops, and ledges, because for most of the year that's where the bass live while they grow fat on the abundant shad population. Anglers catch more bass from waters deeper than ten feet than they do from shallower water.
Except for April.
That changes this month because April is the peak of the spawn and the bass have to move shallow. And, they don't have a lot of prime shallow water spawning habitat available to them, so they do become quite concentrated!
Like Seminole, the bass seek out quiet backwaters. Unlike Seminole, there are far less of them for the bass to use.
There are some backwater areas in Little River, or Rocky Comfort, Ocklawaha, and Hammock creeks. Another option is any of the small coves and indentations that also dot the lake. Given the dark waters, the bass require a minimum depth of 2 to 3 feet to bed, and any sheltered cove will do.
The key pathways to those bedding areas are the main-lake points that connect them to the open waters. The entire month of April sees bass on those points. Some are heading in, others finished and moving out, and some just waiting their turn. Those fish may be holding at various depths along the point, and veteran guide Mike Mercuri uses a number of techniques to locate them.
"Early or late in the day a lot of those fish will move right up to the shallow end of the point," Mercuri said. "A gaudy spinnerbait with a big gold Colorado blade and a florescent chartreuse and orange skirt is a good choice to slow-roll through shoreline wood. I want something bright, with a lot of vibration.
"Texas-rigged plastic worms and lizards in black/blue or Green Pumpkin are also good bets."
Under midday skies the fish often drop deeper on the point, but Mercuri doesn't often leave the shallow end.
"I like to park on the shallow end, cast to the deep end, and fish up the point," he noted. "This keeps my lure in contact with the structure and I can cover the entire point to find the depth they're holding at."
A Carolina rig with a 4-foot leader, a 1/2- to 3/4-ounce weight and the same color worms and lizards is an effective choice. So too is letting a Rat-L-Trap type lure hit the bottom while bouncing back up the point like one would fish a jig.
As the bass move into the coves to spawn they normally follow deeper shoreline edges and channels until they reach a spawning site. And, there aren't a lot of those.
"There isn't a lot of vegetation," Mercuri said, "so any patch of lily pads or other plants are prime spots and I'll work them thoroughly with worms. Fallen timber is also good, and they'll often just fan a bed on a log. They love to bed along berm walls and around dock posts.
"The water is usually too dark to sight fish bedding bass," he concluded, "but fishing these areas blind with worms or spinnerbaits will put you on them."
Mike Mercuri can be reached by calling (850) 876-2605 at Whippoorwill Sportsman's Lodge.
MIDDLE ST. JOHNS RIVER
It doesn't get as much publicity as many lakes. But, this month the stretch of St. Johns River between Georgetown and Palatka is an excellent place to be!
April is the tail end of the spawning season in this section of the river. The early part of the month sees some bass on the beds, and it largely is over by May. But, those fish still are in or around the bedding areas.
One spot to check is any man-made canals. They offer prime, sheltered, spawning areas. There is a canal system in Georgetown, one in Welaka, another near Buffalo Bluff, and a couple in Dunns Creek. These feature a main canal that branches off into numerous intersecting canals. The larger bass that have not left the canals often hold right in the middle of the deeper canals and more than a few guides have earned excellent reputations by doing nothing more than slow trolling shiners up the middle of the canal under a float. Anglers who favor lures can accomplish the same with medium diving billed crankbaits. Keep an eye on the banks as you do, however, because there may well be a bedding bass or two.
Another sheltered spawning site is Little Lake George at Welaka. The eastern section is a shallow mixture of eelgrass and milfoil, with numerous docks. Spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, soft plastic "Toads" and topwater plugs can be deadly in there early and late in the day.
Those looking to sight fish bedding bass should take a slow spin through the maze of lily pads located between the mouths of Bear Creek and the Oklawaha River. This small section can often hold big bedding bass well after the majority of the fish have finished spawning.
In the main river there are many bass that have finished their spawn and are now ready to eat. One of their favorite dining areas is the outer edge of eelgrass beds extending towards deeper water on an outside river bend. Another is eelgrass meeting deeper water on a submerged point.
One key to this fishing is the tide. This section of the St. Johns sees noticeable tidal action that reverses the water flow. The incoming tide can push the bass inside the eelgrass, while the outgoing tide brings them to the edge. Combine the outgoing tide with early and late light levels that shade the edge of the grass, and the action can be furious with buzzbaits, Horny Toads, spinnerbaits, or double-propeller topwater plugs.
Savvy anglers pick the outgoing tide and fish the western shoreline in the late afternoon. The best time is once the sun hits the tree line and shades the water. In the morning the eastern shoreline is better.
If a heavy overcast and a breeze exist, forget the time of day, and just pick the outgoing tide.
For guide services for these waters, contact Capt. Don Weaver at (386) 467-2526.
LAKES WOODRUFF & DEXTER
Moving south, we come to another portion of the St. Johns River that doesn't get the notoriety it deserves. Consisting of 2,200-acre Lake Woodruff and 1,800-acre Lake Dexter, with the river flowing through them, it always ranks highly in state creel surveys. Recent years, however, have been even better.
"The best bass I'm aware of recently was over 12-pounds, but there have been quite a few 8- to 10-pound fish caught," said long-time guide Rick Rawlins. "We have had excellent conditions during the last couple of years."
This month, anglers have a couple of effective options when it comes to tangling with those bass.
Bass begin spawning in Woodruff and Dexter in February and are on the beds through early April. Key areas of those lakes are where eelgrass and dollar bonnets form large flats with a defined outer edge meeting the main lake waters. Those bass on the beds are inside, while those in the post-spawn mode are feeding on the outer edge and are ready to eat buzzbaits, spinnerbaits, plastic frogs, topwater plugs and worms.
If the lakes prove slow, anglers can often find faster action in the river itself.
"We get a real good run of shad in the river during the late spring," Rawlins said. "We can normally count on it from mid-April through May. That draws a lot of bass and they don't chase those shad. They just lay in ambush and explode on them when a school comes by. The action can be pretty fast."
The key areas for those schooling bass are the mouths of intersecting creek channels, and the lily pad beds at the mouths of the smaller mud lakes. You see them surface schooling when the shad arrive, but when the shad aren't there the bass still are. The largemouths can be caught on spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, plastic worms, and topwater lures.
Rick Rawlins operates Highland Park Fish Camp. For more information on fishing this area contact him at 1-800-525-3477.
No mention of Florida's top-notch bass waters would be complete without Tohopekaliga. Anglers in B.A.S.S tournaments have set impressive creel weight records on this lake when the tournament circuit stops there during the January and February spawn.
April can be every bit as good. But, anglers need to change their patterns.
"These bass are completely done with the spawn by April, " said veteran guide Reno Alley. "You may find a few hanging around the deeper cover edges out from the spawning areas, but the Mother Lode is holding on submerged hydrilla beds in the middle of the lake in 7 to 9 feet of water."
The key to tapping into this bass bonanza is to first find those hydrilla patches. They are not topped out this month, and the plants are 3 to 5 feet below the surface. They also won't be extensive beds. Many of the best are in the 1- to 2-acre size range. Anglers don't easily spot them with the naked eye, but those who put their boat up on a slow plane and watch the depthfinder can find them easily. A couple of marker buoys define them. Once a few are located, anglers won't have to leave them.
"These are where the bass will hold," Alley said. "And, once you find which patches are holding bass you can fish them all day."
During the early or late hours, Alley opts for aggressive surface lures to determine which patches have bass. A black buzzbait is an excellent choice, as are quick-moving topwater lures. The hydrilla is within 4 to 5 feet of the surface and the bass move that far for a surface bait. Other options are running a Rat-L-Trap in pumpkinseed, chrome-and-blue, gold with a black back, or firetiger schemes quickly near the surface, or ripping a spinnerbait through the upper portion of the plants. These locate active fish.
When the activity drops off at midday the bass don't leave their hydrilla patch. They just drop deeper. So, does Alley's approach.
"You've got 4 or 5 feet of hydrilla on the bottom that the bass will bury down in," he said. "I like the Gambler Big EZ swimbait because you can cast it, let it sink, and just crawl it through that thicker grass. Another good bet is a 1/4-ounce Carolina rig with just a 1-foot leader and a 7- to 10-inch Culprit worm in June bug or black with a blue tail. If you crawl these through that grass you can catch those bass all day long.
To contact Reno Alley about a day of guided fishing, call him at Memory Makin' Guides at 1-800-749-2278.