September 30, 2010
Looking for a largemouth that tops 8 pounds this summer? Then these are the Sunshine State waters you should be fishing! (July 2008)
Capt. Rick Rawlins took this "hawg" from the St. Johns River near Deland.
Photo by William J. Bohica.
Some anglers feel that the season for "big bass" ends about the same time the spawning season does. But others have learned differently.
In fact, a number of experts feel that the summer months provide excellent opportunities for a trophy.
One reason why is that higher water temperatures increase bass' metabolism, which requires more feeding on their part.
Another is that mid-summer fish are often easier to locate because they have certain habitat requirements -- and those aren't hard to predict.
There is truth in both explanations. And surprisingly, some of the biggest bass taken each summer are caught in the middle of the day.
There's logic in that as well: Feeding bass are likely to be roaming bass.
During the midday hours, they've stopped roaming and are just hanging out where they feel comfortable.
On many waters, those areas can be identified. Anglers can concentrate their efforts in the "high probability" areas instead of casting at random.
Not every lake can provide that scenario. But if you're looking for a trophy bass this summer, here are five top lakes that do -- along with expert tips on how you can capitalize on the situation.
The entire Kissimmee Chain ranks as some of Florida's better bass waters. But when it comes to big largemouths during the summertime, veteran guide and tournament competitor Rick Gibbs narrows down his search to just one lake -- and one very specific depth and cover situation.
"In July and August, the bigger bass are going to congregate on the deepest maidencane edges they can find," Gibbs stated. "And Kissimmee has the best deep grass.
"Those are the maidencane points in five to seven feet of water that jut the farthest from the shoreline to deeper water. I like to fish the thickest, densest grass points I can find. Those bass are basically going to live there for the summer months.
"Early and late, they'll slip out to the edges to feed and then bury back inside during midday. If I'm looking for big fish, I spend the whole day on those deep Kissimmee grass points."
The early-morning hours invariably find Gibbs tossing a topwater plug along the outer grass fringe.
He favors a Bomber Long A in gold shiner color and generally starts by twitching it softly on the surface.
If that fails to produce, he gets a little more aggressive with his retrieve and works it like a jerkbait.
When the sun comes up, he spends the rest of the day flipping.
"When those bass stop feeding on the edges, they go back inside the grass," he said, "and I'll flip anywhere from two to eight feet inside the beds.
"I concentrate on the thickest grass, especially if any floating vegetation has drifting in to form a mat."
Gibbs noted that Kissimmee has an excellent crawfish population, and that grassbeds are their home.
So he favors -- depending on the water clarity -- the Gambler Crawdad in black with blue glitter, black with red glitter, or pumpkin-color patterns.
"Some of the biggest fish come right in the middle of the day," the guide said, "when they have stopped roaming and settled down in the grass. Flipping that thicker grass is an excellent way to bust a big bass on Kissimmee in the summer."
ST. JOHNS RIVER
Winding its way for over 300 miles, the St. Johns is Florida's largest river, and one of the Sunshine State's top bass fisheries for most of that length.
Those looking for trophy bass during the midsummer months, however, need to focus in the Deland/Lake Woodruff section.
The fishing pattern for this region is simple.
"In the main river or the back creeks," said longtime guide Rick Rawlins, "you should fish fallen treetops that have at least 10 feet of water under them."
"Our best bass last year from that pattern was 11.1 pounds. But there were also plenty of 8-pound-plus fish."
Such cover isn't hard to find. The current constantly erodes the shoreline and regularly topples trees into the river.
The main river channel has plenty of trees, and the side creeks and cuts that include Norris Dead River, Zeigler, Tick Island Run, and St. Francis Dead River offer more.
A fallen treetop over deeper water is a perfect summer home for any bass, and there are several proven techniques for prying those fish loose.
"Most of the guides fish them with live shiners," Rawlins noted.
"You can put a float four or five feet above the shiner, anchor upcurrent of the treetop, and let the current help hold the shiner against the tree."
Those favoring lures have found that flipping plastic craws and worms can be deadly and has won more than a few tournaments on these waters.
Another tactic -- and the one that produced the 11.1-pound fish in 2007 -- is to cast a Texas-rigged plastic worm in black-and-blue or red shad upcurrent of the tree and to let the moving water drift it underneath.
Regardless of which tactic you choose, be in no hurry for a shoreside lunch.
"Most of the big fish come in the middle of the day when they have stopped roaming and are laying up," Rawlins emphasized.
Few waters in the state produce as many trophy bass as Rodman Pool, and that doesn't change much during the summer months.
When it comes to tangling with lunkers, anglers have several options.
"Rodman has always been one of Fl
orida's best night-fishing lakes," said veteran angler Gary Simpson. "Because of the clear water, the bigger bass feed and roam a lot at night."
Simpson, as an outdoor writer for The Gainesville Sun and manager of The Tackle Box angling emporium in that city, is in a position to know.
The top nighttime lures are noisy, aggressive surface baits. One of the most productive is a 1/2- to 3/4-ounce black buzzbait, but the Muskie Jitterbug also has its share of fans.
Don't overlook a 10- to 12-inch black or other dark-colored plastic worm rigged weedless to swim near the surface. It can be deadly, particularly when bass are boiling on surface plugs, but not taking those baits.
Key areas to concentrate on are the four- to six-foot depths in back bays that offer a scattered mixture of hydrilla and native plants.
Others are right on top of the berm in the Barge Canal itself -- the "stump flats" or finger points that extend into the pool from the main river channel. Finding Rodman bass at night is best accomplished by staying on the move and covering as much water as you can. Then once you locate fish, stay on them.
When the sun starts to poke over the horizon, however, prime target areas become much easier to define.
"If there's a classic big-bass pattern on Rodman, it's subtle topwater plugs at dawn, along cover edges that break sharply to deep water," Simpson offered. "Best and most consistently productive is to work those plugs right along the edge of the berm wall in the Barge Canal. Over the years, the number of 8-pound-plus bass it has produced is staggering."
At night, aggressive baits work well, but dawn finds quieter surface lures the best bet. Slender minnow plugs, like the Rapala Minnow and Bomber Long A, are deadly when twitched slowly on top. The most productive colors are gold or shad finishes. Savvy anglers pull their boat in tight to the berm wall to cast parallel to the structure. The strike zone is right on the berm edge, and this keeps the lure there longer.
As deadly as this pattern is, once the sun rises fully over the horizon, it's over. The bigger bass will bury into heavy cover. But that's not bad, because you can still find them -- and right in the middle of the day!
More tournaments on Rodman have been won by anglers flipping surface matted cover than by all other techniques combined. If you're fishing Rodman on a midday in July, you need a flipping rod.
"Midday summer bass move under mats of surface cover," Simpson agreed. "The key covers will be those heavy mats of water lettuce and hyacinths that form a solid roof.
"The water underneath that can be as much as 10 degrees cooler than open water. And when you factor in the shade, you have a perfect midday holding point for mature bass. You find them scattered all over the pool.
"The ones I want to key on are those located near a channel drop or some other form of deepwater break," he continued. "The bass want to position near a sharp break. And when a mat forms near a break, it becomes the perfect cover.
"The great thing about mats," Simpson added, "is that they're easy for both the angler and the fish to find. They concentrate midday bass. A lot of big fish get caught from them between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., when the big bass are just laying up."
The mats Simpson described are heavy enough to appear to be solid cover. Punching through them to get a bait down to the bass calls for a heavy sinker.
Tungsten models in the 3/4- to 1 1/4-ounce size are preferred. A stout hook in the 3/0 to 5/0 range, combined with a 3 1/2- to 4-inch soft-plastic craw completes the rig.
Some anglers favor a 6-inch paddletail worm, which has often drawn bigger fish. Under normal conditions, darker colors like black, blue or June bug are very effective. If the water is extremely clear, a watermelon with red flake can be the ticket.
Among Panhandle anglers, Talquin ranks as one of, if not the top bass producers in the area. Thanks to an abundant open-water shad population, and a wealth of main-lake and secondary points or submerged creek channels, it's often viewed as a "structure lake." It also offers excellent surface schooling activity.
For big bass during the summer months, however, guide Mike Mercuri takes a different approach.
"If I'm targeting bigger fish," he said, "instead of just numbers, I'm going to get off the main lake and get into the creeks. I'm going to ease along the creek channel and fish the lily pads along the channel edge.
"We have more lily pads in these creeks now than I've ever seen, and they are holding a lot of bigger bass through the summer."
A number of creeks are feeding Talquin, and all have good lily pad growth. Much of it consists of the larger lotus pads, but dollar bonnets are present in some creeks. Among those creeks Mercuri that favors are Oklawaha, Polk, Rocky Comfort and Soapstone, plus the Little River. All feature a defined channel in the six- to nine-foot depth range, with pad beds extending out along the flats.
When selecting the pads he wants to fish, Mercuri looks for two key indicators:
"The pads that extend closest to the actual channel drop are normally the most productive," he explained. "The bigger fish don't want to stray too far from that channel this time of year, and I tend to concentrate on those.
"I also watch to see if there are any shad flipping in those pads. When you find channel edge pads with shad, you find bass, and it doesn't really make any difference what time of day it is. Some of the best fish are caught in the middle of the day."
Weedless soft-plastic frog baits are top producers when skimmed over the pads. But savvy anglers also keep a rod rigged with a weedless soft-plastic jerkbait or plastic worm close at hand.
When a bass misses a surface bait, casting that "comeback" lure into the boil quickly often catches the fish.
While all of the above-mentioned waters have stable reputations for producing big bass over the years, the real sleeper in the crowd for 2008 might be Orange Lake.
"Stable" isn't the word that would apply to this Gainesville-area water body. It has been decidedly up and down over the last 15 years and has almost gone dry on several occasions.
At the moment, however, it is decidedly up -- at least as far as 8-pound-plus bass during the summer months are concerned.
And given current water conditions that concentrate those fish into definable cover, Orange could be
the best of the bunch.
"Over the last two years, the summer bass fishing on Orange has been hot," Gary Simpson agreed.
"More 8-pound bass have come out of this lake than from most of the other lakes in the area combined. A lot of them are topwater-lure fish."
Getting in on that action is easy -- assuming you can get on the lake. Recent water levels have been very low. One dependable site for launching larger bass boats is the Heagy-Burry Park ramp at the town of Orange Lake. It lies on the extreme southwest corner of the lake in McIntosh Bay, just off U.S. Highway 441. It is also convenient to the fishing.
"McIntosh Bay has been the real hotspot the last couple of years," Simpson said. "The key pattern has been to fish those areas where hydrilla has come to the surface and formed surface mats with a scattering of open pockets, in any depths from two to six feet. The best technique has been to fish a Horny Toad, Scum Frog, or other weedless floating bait over the top of this cover.
"If you get there at dawn," he continued, "you get numbers of fish. But the best fish seem to come in the middle of the day when they have stopped roaming and are burrowed up under matted hydrilla. They are sitting still, under cover, and looking up. I'd rate midday as the top time to catch a big bass in this situation."
The Horny Toad-type baits cover a lot of water quickly. However, if fish attack but don't take the lure, Simpson recommended shifting to a double-propeller bait like the Devil's Horse or Boy Howdy and slowly working any open pockets in the hydrilla in that area.
That can call big bass.
"Orange Lake has come back really well," Simpson concluded. "It hasn't had a lot of angling pressure over the last couple of years, but the habitat is there for bass.
"Last year, I saw a lot of 8-pound fish, and a lot were caught on topwater baits during the summer."
Stick with these summer hotspots, and one of those fish could be yours!
Find more about Florida fishing and hunting at FloridaGameandFish.com