These four lakes can be red-hot for bass this month. Here are the places and patterns that should get you in the midst of that action. (March 2010)
Any bass angler who can't get excited about the month of March should probably take up another sport. Regardless of where one calls home in the Sunshine State, this is a month when you can count on a significant portion of the bass in any lake being in the shallows where they are easily accessible.
Reno Alley concentrates on the bulrush beds at canal mouths when fishing Lake Istokpoga this month.
Photo by William J. Bohica.
In some lakes, those bass may be in a post-spawn mode. In others, they may be actively bedding. In the northern portions of the state, the spawn has yet to start, but the bass are moving shallow during their pre-spawn.
Some lakes may be a bit "hotter" than others, but all are heating up. Here's a look at four lakes that definitely are in the "hot" mode this month.
Best known for its extensive offshore hydrilla beds, there can be a lot of water to sort through on this South Florida lake. But you don't necessarily have to search during the spawn. In fact, once the bass decide to bed, the lake shrinks a lot!
"If we have a mild winter, the first wave of bedding bass will normally happen in mid-January," said veteran guide Reno Alley. "After that there will be a second wave in February. If we have a cooler than normal winter, things just back up a month and the first spawn will be in February, followed by another wave in March. From an angler's perspective, though, the exact timing isn't important because once the first wave hits the spawning site, those bass will be in those areas until at least the end of March."
Finding those spawning sites is easy. Hit the canals, and there are plenty of them on this lake.
A major canal maze exists on the east side of the lake in Istokpoga Estates. Additional manmade canal systems are found in the southeast corner in the Sunvale area, and on the northern end where Arbuckle Creek enters the lake. On the wide and windswept waters of Istokpoga, these sheltered canals are prime sheltered spawning habitat and hold bass throughout the late winter and spring.
"One of the best patterns to take a trophy bass this time of year," Alley noted, "is to slow-troll a live shiner about 6 feet under a float right up the middle of those canals. The bass bed on the edges, sometimes in less than a foot of water, and can be easily sight-fished. But the big females get a little skittish that shallow and ease off the shoreline and hold in the deeper waters in the middle of the canal."
Even if a warm winter brings an early spawn, Alley doesn't discount that tactic through the month of March. Many of those big fish are not in any hurry to leave the deeper canals and can linger well after the actual spawn. The same holds true for smaller bass making their way back to their summer homes in the offshore hydrilla.
"Once the bass finish spawning," Alley said, "the bream move in right behind them and spawn around the mouths of the canals. That sets up a perfect feeding situation for bass to rebuild their strength after the spawn. If the fish have moved out of the canals, they haven't gone very far. There will be plenty of them stacked up around the canal mouths."
Alley's approach is simple. Check the canals first. If that fails to produce satisfactory results, he begins prospecting the areas around the canal mouths, paying particular attention to bulrush patches in 3 to 5 feet of water. Areas where cattails are growing in the shallows behind the bulrushes are of special interest.
His lure selection is equally simple.
"A 7 1/2-inch Culprit worm is my bread-and-butter lure on this lake," the guide noted. "The water is pretty tannic, so I like a plain black worm early and late, and shift to a June bug color when the sun is up.
"If I'm working the outside edges of the reeds," Alley continued, "especially in dimmer light, a gold Bomber Long A, worked as a subsurface jerkbait, can be a killer on bigger bass. If I'm just trying to cover a lot of water to find bass quickly, it's hard to beat a 3/8-ounce white spinnerbait with gold and nickel blades. Add a compact Gambler or Culprit craw for flipping thicker bulrush patches at midday, and that's about all I need to fish this lake in March."
At 2,500 acres, this Tarpon Springs lake is unusual for that part of the state. For starters, it's manmade, and although the surface acreage isn't large, there is plenty of deep water. For most of the year that's where the bass live. But that changes this month as the spawn hits its peak. That puts a lot of those deep-water bass into concentrated shallow-water areas, and the key spawning sites are easy to find.
Soloman Bay, in the northwest corner of the lake, is one of the best spawning sites on the lake. Farther to the south along the west shore is Dolly Bay, another premier spawning area. With both of these sites, look for the early portions of the month to see bass begin to stack up on the submerged main-lake points and channel edges leading into them. Diving crankbaits and Carolina-rigged worms and lizards are top choices here.
As the month progresses and water temperatures warm, the bass move into the bay following outer weedlines, secondary channels and depressions. Weedless soft plastics, spinnerbaits and countdown crankbaits are very effective. Once the bass move inside the weedlines to the beds, sight-fishing with soft plastics can produce.
Farther to the south is Little Dolly Bay. This is a very small area and sees only minor spawning activity. But it's the gateway to the largest maze of manmade canals on the lake, and a key staging area this month. Early in March, Little Dolly can be a real hotspot as the bass stage to move into the canals. Look for them along any outer weedlines or manmade structures. As the bass move into the canals, slow-trolling a shiner right down the middle of the canal is a top trophy tactic, and Tarpon produces some big bass.
One area that shouldn't be overlooked, especially later in the month, is the Outfall Canal on the southern end. With depths to 17 feet and a thin fringe of shoreline vegetation, it holds a year-round population of bass. Those largemouths will be bedding along the canal shoreline this month.
Anglers that can find a collection of shoreline beds, or even just the beginning stages of fanning, can be pretty much assured that those bass aren't very far off and are likely holding right on the veget
ation edge on the canal drop.
Moving up the west coast we come to Lake Rousseau. Like Tarpon, it's manmade and March is also its peak spawning month. Unlike Tarpon, however, spawning bass on this lake are anything but concentrated.
The intricate maze of main-river channels, secondary channels, and offshore humps and bars create a patchwork of spawning flats. Add a wealth of both native vegetation and hydrilla that keep the water very clear, and locating spawning fish can seem like searching for that proverbial "needle in a haystack."
Capt. Jimbo Keith, who has been fishing the lake since childhood, has a way to narrow that search down.
"Anywhere you find a hard sand bottom in 3 to 5 feet of water that has vegetation on it is a place Rousseau bass use to spawn," Keith said. "Some of these areas will be right on the shoreline, while others will be on a mid-lake bar in the main pool, or on submerged points in the upper lake. The easiest way to tell if you have the right bottom and depth conditions is to look for eelgrass or bulrush. Both of these need a hard sand bottom, and that general depth range, to grow. If you find those plants, you're in potentially good water."
Just because it's "potentially good" doesn't mean it's holding bass. Keith's approach is to move quickly to locate largemouths, and there are two lures he favors for that.
"Two of the best lures I've found to work eelgrass or scattered bulrush with," he said, "are the Zoom Speed Worm or the Bass Assassin Charmer, which is a trick-type worm. When rigged correctly you have a weedless buzzbait or spinnerbait, and a stop-and-go sub-surface lure. I can't think of too many spawning flats situations here where they're not a top choice."
The Speed Worm is designed to run at a steady pace. Rigged Texas style, the size of the bullet weight determines the running depth. With no weight it runs on top. Add a 3/8- or 1/4-ounce bullet weight and it runs mid-depth. The Charmer is rigged Texas style without a weight, but with a 12-inch leader connected to the main line with a barrel swivel to prevent line twist. Top colors for either are pearl white, watermelon red or black with blue glitter, depending on the light levels.
Once an active area is found, another effective option early and late in the day is a subtle topwater plug worked slowly. The Rapala No. 13 or Bang-O-Lure can often entice large bass that won't chase the faster moving soft-plastic baits. Gold is a top color for either of the plugs.
Locating spawning areas is the first step, and as long as the bass are up on the flats, the action can be fast. When the bass ease out of the shallows in response to weather or angling pressure, a shift in tactics is needed. But anglers don't have to move very far from those flats to find where the bass have gone.
"A number of prime spawning flats will have eelgrass growing right out to a channel dropoff," Keith explained. "That's a prime place for them to hold if they come off the flat, or for the bigger females to pre-spawn stage before they go up onto the beds. I like to fish these channel drops with a larger worm, like the 7 1/2-inch Bass Assassin in June bug or red shad."
If a nearby channel edge isn't available, savvy anglers break out a flipping rod and start looking for surface matted vegetation on or near the spawning flats. There are a number of small, cattail-ringed islands dotting Rousseau, and bass snuggle up under any vegetation that has drifted into the cattails to form an overhead mat.
Once the spawning sites are found, anglers don't have to get too far from them this month.
Santa Fe Lake
Located in sand hill country, this 5,856-acre lake has depths that dwarf many of its popular neighbors, and the bass use them. For much of the year, anglers catch more bass at depths beyond 7 feet than shallower. This month, however, that changes dramatically!
"March is the peak of the spawn on this lake, and one of the very few times you see fish snuggled right up against the shoreline," said veteran Gainesville angler Gary Simpson, who stays abreast of the angling scene as the manager of the area's largest fishing gear shop -- The Tackle Box. "Sometimes they'll be so far back into shoreline brush that anglers may not be able to reach the actual beds."
Just because anglers may not be able to reach bedding largemouths doesn't mean they can't catch bass. Not all bass are on the beds at the same time, and some are in various staging positions as they move up to the prime spawning areas.
One key spawning area is the long line of cypress trees running along the southern end of the lake. It's a literal forest extending from 8 or 9 feet in depth, back to the actual shoreline. There's also a wealth of fallen timber littering the bottom. The first pre-spawn bass normally stage on the deeper trees on the outside edge.
Early morning anglers tossing Texas-rigged plastic worms in June bug, watermelon red and tequila sunrise) hues, or medium-diving crankbaits in chrome and blue or firetiger may well run into some. As the fish move farther into the spawn, savvy anglers shift to shallow-running wake baits. Pay particular attention to the base of any cypress tree in 3 feet or less water.
"Bass on this lake love to bed right at the base of a cypress," Simpson noted.
Another excellent crankbait choice, especially when it comes to triggering a strike from larger bass, is a 3/4-ounce Rat-L-Trap in chrome and blue, bleeding shiner or Tennessee shad. Retrieve it as quickly as possible without broaching the bait.
If the trees don't produce, Simpson goes to a backup plan.
"Anywhere you find a good sized maidencane bed extending into the shallows can be a bass magnet," he said, "especially if there is soft bottom grass located in deeper water outside of the maidencane. Find the right area and this becomes pre-spawn, spawn and post-spawn habitat that can concentrate a lot of bass for the entire month."
Anglers can locate these areas in two ways. The first is by moving to the extreme inside edge of the maidencane and looking for any signs of cruising fish or fanned beds. Those areas where cypress trees meet maidencane are prime!
The second is by starting offshore of the 'cane and locating fish on the submerged bottom grass. You can watch the depthfinder carefully, maintaining the 7- to 9-foot contour line, while trolling a gold hard-plastic jerkbait that runs about 5 feet deep. Any strike signals a possible bass concentration, and the boat can be stopped to work the area more slowly with a lightly weighted 6-inch plastic worm.
"The key with the maidencane is finding the areas the bass are using, and staying with it to cover all aspects of it," Simpson noted. "That produces Santa Fe bass this month."