September 30, 2010
The temperature may be scalding this time of year in the Sunshine State, but the fish still bite. At least that's true on these North Florida lakes. (August 2009)
Pro angler Pete Thliveros targets boat docks in deeper water during midday hours on Crescent Lake.
Photo by Bud Reiter.
The midsummer months may not be the most pleasant time to pursue bass, but there is no reason why it can't be a productive time. In fact, given that elevated water temperatures raise the metabolism rate of the bass, it's pretty obvious they have to eat.
If they have to eat, they can certainly be caught. It does take some different tactics than those that have proved successful during more temperate months. If your summer bassin' takes place in northeast Florida, here are three lakes that can yield a lot of summer bass, and a look at the tactics that can make that happen for you right now.
SANTA FE LAKE
At 5,856 acres, Santa Fe and the connecting Little Santa Fe seem to provide a mid-sized lake. But they fish a lot bigger than they look. Featuring a very narrow littoral zone, there is more water area deeper than 20 feet than shallower than 3 feet. Between those two extremes is a wealth of water in the 8- to 16-foot depth range. Add the fact Santa Fe has an excellent population of threadfin shad, and it's easy to see the bass don't have to snuggle up under whatever shallow shady cover they can find.
Midsummer anglers on this lake are well advised to think deeper than shallower. That even applies to shoreline cover the first thing in the morning.
"At dawn, I would be looking for the deepest outside edges of the maidencane I could find," said life-long area resident Gary Simpson, who in addition to managing Gainesville's premier fishing supply emporium, The Tackle Box, also pens the fishing columns for the Gainesville Sun newspaper.
"The first thing in the morning," he continued, "a lot of bass will be right on those outside edges in 5 to 7 feet of water. The most productive technique I have found is to toss a very lightly weighted plastic worm to the outside edge and just let it flutter down. A lot of your strikes come as the worm falls. If there are any open pockets just inside the edge, they're targets also."
Top worms on Santa Fe are those in the 6- to 7-inch range, fished with 1/8-ounce weights and in June bug, Red Shad, translucent blue or Pumpkinseed colors.
On most days, that outside edge maidencane action is over within a couple of hours. Under some circumstances, however, a number of bass may remain in the cane -- or the "straw" as local anglers refer to it -- throughout the day. If the water level is up and there is 6 or 7 feet along the outer edge, or if there is a heavy overcast, some bass remain in the cane throughout the day. Flipping the thickest, deepest patches, and especially any areas that might have floating vegetation drifted in around them, with a compact 3 1/2-inch craw can sometimes score at midday.
On most days, however, midday anglers have to set their sights a bit deeper. And there are two effective options.
"Scattered around the lake in 8 to 14 feet of water are beds of green soft, bottom-growing moss," Simpson said. "It's kind of slimy and not a lot of fun to fish with a worm because it will ball up on the sinker. But it can hold a lot of bass this time of year."
There are a number of ways to find these offshore moss beds. The simplest is one of those techniques that have worked for decades. Tie on a minnow lure. It can be any hard-plastic jerkbait that dives to 5 or 6 feet with 50 to 60 feet of line out. Slowly troll it along contours in 8 to 14 feet of water. When you get a strike, mark the spot. It will be over a moss bed.
While the moss presents some problems fishing a worm, there is no doubt that a plastic worm is the most effective bait to use on them. Savvy anglers have learned that there are two ways to beat the moss with worms.
One is to fish a light 1/4-ounce Carolina rig with a floating worm on a 2- or 3-foot leader. The Strike King 3X worms are top choices for this, and with the worm floating high above the sinker it makes little difference how much moss fouls the lead.
Simpson also has another approach.
"The key for me," he said, "is to use a 1/8-ounce sinker on a Texas-rigged worm. Let it fall, and fish it slowly to keep it in contact with the bottom. Every 10 feet or so, pop the worm hard to jerk it up. That knocks a lot of moss off the lead, and sometimes that quick jerk and slow fall back also triggers a strike."
If the moss doesn't produce, it's time to hit the deeper manmade brushpiles, and there're a lot of them at depths from 12 to 25 feet. Some of the better brush is located in Melrose Bay and Bonnet Cove. Some is located in the deep water east of Santa Fe Beach. Other brushpiles are scattered at random around the lake.
Regardless of where you find them -- and you must "find them" because virtually none are marked -- a Carolina-rigged plastic worm is hard to beat, though there are some anglers who do very well with ultra-deep-diving crankbaits. The most popular color patterns are those in chrome or shad, but sometimes a firetiger pattern can produce.
Those experiencing success with the deep divers most often get them down and in contact with the brush quickly, and then just slowly "walk" them through the wood. Pause any time the bait strikes wood.
While the straw, the moss and the brushpiles offer solid opportunities, there is one additional spot that should be checked.
"The cut between Little Santa Fe and the main lake can see surface schooling activity almost any month of the year," Simpson noted. "The key is a breeze from either the north or the south that moves water through the cut, and having the shad up and moving. If you get that, they can school anytime of the day, but most often do it in dim light. Very few Santa Fe regulars pass by that cut without taking a look. If they are schooling, you can have a ball with a countdown crankbait in a shad pattern."
While most anglers chase their bass on Santa Fe during the daylight hours, it is also one of the most popular night-fishing lakes in the area. All of the patterns mentioned earlier can produce well after dark.
"Whether it's night or day," Simpson pointed out, "the bass in Santa Fe seem to shift their patterns between the straw, the moss and the deep brush at random. Experienced anglers check all three, and if they find bass on one of those patterns
and covers, they stay with that pattern."
If probing open-water structure lacks appeal, anglers can shift a bit south and eastward to the three major lakes near Gainesville: Orange, Lochloosa and Newnans. Of the three, Simpson knows just where he wants to be.
"It's no contest which of the three I would be fishing in August," he said. "Orange wins hands down. It's been in great shape the last couple of years and has been producing bass over 10 pounds on a regular basis. It's also one of the easiest lakes to fish during the summer."
One factor making it easy is that Orange is a rather shallow lake, with a maximum depth of no more than 12 feet and an average depth of 5 1/2 feet. Another is that the bass in this lake are very heavily oriented to visible cover, and even in Orange's 12,000-plus acres that's not hard to find.
"There has been an explosion of lily pads in Orange during the last couple of years," Simpson notes, "and the deeper pads in the 5- to 6-foot depth range is where I would likely start early in the morning."
Deep-growing pads can be found in many areas, but the largest concentrations are found in McIntosh Bay, and in the southeast end of the lake. Simpson's approach is simple.
"Orange is a really good topwater lure lake in dimmer light," he noted, "and I'd start the day fishing a surface bait, like a Boy Howdy, Devil's Horse, Zara Spook, or similar lures, around the outer edges of the deepest pads I can find. If the surface baits show me fish, but for whatever reason they turn the baits down, I'd shift to a swimming worm, Trick Worm, or a weedless soft-plastic jerkbait or fluke. Sometimes the bass may be holding just back inside the pads, and these baits will work where the treble hook plugs won't."
As the sun climbs toward midday, the action on the outer pad edges normally slows. But, Simpson doesn't always abandon those pads.
"If I had found a good concentration of bass in a particular section of pads, I'd consider flipping that area at midday," he stated. "But I wouldn't flip 'bare' pads. There'd have to be a significant amount of hyacinth that had floated in to form an overhead cover. If you have that situation and have already located fish, midday flipping with a compact craw or creature-type bait in June bug or black and blue can be very productive."
While pads can hold a lot of bass, so, too, can topped-out hydrilla in the 6- to 10-foot depth range. Orange is a clearer lake than the others in the region and that deeper hydrilla becomes a "home" for many bass throughout the summer months.
One technique that has, literally, been extremely productive for a couple of decades is to get out to the deeper hydrilla at dawn and just watch. Locate those topped-out hydrilla patches -- the best are bright green with a distinct crown -- showing any signs of feeding fish. That may be striking bass, or just skipping baitfish. But once found, you are pretty much set for the day. Work those fish with topwater plugs or lightly weighted plastic worms along the outer edge during the morning, and spend the rest of the day flipping the crowned-out hydrilla in the same area. The bass won't have moved very far, and many will be camped out under that matted hydrilla.
Anglers looking for a complete change of pace from the earlier two lakes might want to shift eastward and launch on Crescent Lake. At 15,960 acres, it's a serious size body of water. But it's actually more like a river than a lake. Fed on the south by Haw Creek and emptying into the St. Johns River through Dunns Creek on the northern end, it has a constant current flow. In addition, distinct tidal action occurs in Dunns Creek, with a slight current effect at the north end of Crescent Lake in Willow Cove.
At 12 miles long, three miles wide and with a wealth of submerged drops, bars and points, the constant current creates an ideal environment for schooling bass; and August is a great month to find them.
Surface schooling bass are a common sight on Crescent during the morning hours -- especially if rainfall has boosted the water flow through Haw Creek. Although the fish can pop up on any of the numerous underwater humps and bars, they often school on extending points. From south to north, those that are normally productive are Fish Hawk Point, Breezy Point, Buzzard Roost, the southwest and northwest corners of Bear Island, Carl's Point, Weidernoch Point, Shell Hill Point and the mouth of Dunns Creek.
Savvy Crescent Lake regulars consider a good set of binoculars to be every bit as valuable as their fishing rods. A quick scan that shows striking fish, or just skipping baitfish, means it's well worth checking that spot out.
While surface schooling bass may look to be feeding ferociously, they can also be surprisingly picky about what they eat. Often, it will be a lure that mimics the size and color of the shad they are feeding on. Experienced anglers often have rods rigged with a Rat-L-Trap, a long-cast bait like a Little George or Hopkins-type spoon, and several sizes of topwater plugs. Shad and chrome finishes are preferred. Those lures can score well when the bass are breaking.
But when the fish are not breaking the surface, many bass can be caught by anglers fishing the area with Carolina-rigged worms. Five-inch translucent blue ones are proven choices. Similarly colored diving crankbaits also work.
While schooling bass are exciting, they can be unpredictable. When that occurs, veteran tournament angler Pete Thliveros has a backup plan.
"This is a great lake for deep wood," Thliveros stated. "Bass spend a lot of time holding on deeper docks and the many old stands of pilings. The best wood is in the area around Crescent City, but there are other small stands of pilings scattered throughout the lake."
Docks are best approached by burning a countdown crankbait around the outer edges to pick off the more active fish before moving in to carefully probe the inner reaches beneath the dock. Lightly weighted plastic worms, tube baits and soft-plastic jerkbaits and Flukes are top choices for this.
The same approach can work in freestanding pilings, but a better bet can often be "milking" a diving crankbait through them. The firetiger Bomber 6a and 7a are perennial favorites, and they are cast to the backside, cranked down quickly and then "walked" through the pilings with a stop-and-go retrieve that allows the lure to float up on frequent pauses.
While the main lake can often provide all the action you can stand, if things slow down, don't overlook Dunns Creek itself.
At six miles long, the winding connection between Crescent and the St. Johns River provides the deeper moving water that many bass favor during the scorching summer months. And those fish aren't hard to find.
The winding creek features a number of sharp bends. The outside bend usually has a deep drop. The inside bend, howeve
r, provides a tapering point reaching toward deeper water. A top tactic is to anchor the boat tight to the pads on the shallow side of the point and fan-cast a Carolina-rigged worm around the deeper portions of the submerged point. This is a tactic that can produce anytime of the day, as long as the tide is moving.
August may be a scorching month, but try these tips on these lakes and you might find the bassin' to be as hot as the weather.