September 30, 2010
Whether its edges of weedbeds or midlake drops, knowing how to fish the break points is the key to catching fish here. Listen as an expert explains the bassin'.
By Rod Hunter
In a lake-rich region like central Florida, where waters such as the Kissimmee Chain, Walk-In-Water and Istokpoga draw the lion's share of the publicity, it's not hard for other lakes to slip beneath anglers' radar screens. If Reedy Lake has slipped off of yours, you might want to re-tune the dial. For while this 3,500-acre lake may not be as well known as other nearby waters, it doesn't take a back seat to any of them when it comes to producing bragging-sized bass.
"Reedy is one of those lakes that get overlooked by a lot of anglers," says Reno Alley, "but it's one of the better bass lakes in the area. In fact, during our small local tournaments in the winter and spring months, it often takes a five-bass limit weighing 20 pounds to win, and during the summer months you can figure on 13 to 16 pounds being needed. That's an outstanding average weight, and it stacks up very well with any other lake in the state."
Alley is certainly in a position to know. As one of central Florida's top bass guides, he regularly includes Reedy on his fishing list. That's quite convenient for him, because he also lives on the lake.
"It does make for a short commute to work," he laughs, "but I'd fish it even if I had to make a lengthy drive. This lake turns out a good number of 10- to 12-pound bass, and my best so far is 14 pounds."
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist Jeff Willitzer concurs.
"We did electroshock sampling in March of 2001," he explains, "and just running the shallow vegetation edges in less than 6 feet of water we found that over 90 percent of the bass we shocked up were over 10 inches. Of those, about one-third were over 14 inches, and we sampled a surprising number of fish up to 24 inches.
According to guide Reno Alley, Reedy Lake is one of the top bass producers in central Florida. Photo by Rod Hunter
"We don't often shock up fish that big, which indicates to me that Reedy Lake is a very fertile body of water," he continues. "And it has an excellent forage base. We brought up a lot of big, healthy golden shiners, and there is also a very good crappie population. Our gear can't sample waters much deeper than 6 feet, but from what we saw in the shallows, this is a quality fishery."
It is also a rather unusual lake, at least for the part of the state where it is located.
"Reedy is like a big shallow lake where someone took a monster ice cream scoop and gouged out a big hole in the middle," Alley explains. "But they didn't get the hole quite right. There are sharp drops and ledges all over the lake in the 10- to 16-foot range, and they hold a lot of bass - and big bass - for much of the year."
In addition to a wealth of offshore structure, there is a lot of deep water. The deepest hole drops down to 28 feet, and Alley estimates that at least two-thirds of the lake is over 12 feet in depth. The southeast portion of the lake is the deepest, with sharp drop-offs beginning very close to the outside edge of the weed line.
Large expanses of deeper water are not uncommon in this part of the state. Many lakes in the Orlando area, for example, were formed through sinkhole action and do contain abrupt offshore contour features. However, those are normally associated with relatively clear water. On Reedy the water is anything but clear.
"This is a much more stained lake than most of the others," Alley notes. "The normal water clarity is kind of a brownish stain, and the visibility is such that you can only see a white spinnerbait down to 18 to 24 inches. It sometimes gets a little clearer in the summer, but for most of the year it's pretty dark water."
While Reedy is deep and dark, there is a solid and heavy fringe of vegetation completely ringing the lake's shoreline, out to a distinct weed edge at the 6- to 7-foot depth. The outer weed line is predominantly maiden cane. Inside of that the primary shallow vegetation is large lotus pads, with a mixture of elephant ear pads, dollar bonnets, and some scattered stands of bulrush. Peppergrass also flourishes, and it grows as deep as 12 feet. In many areas it tops out on the surface in the 6- to 9-foot range.
Strangely enough, the lake has little or no hydrilla. But even without that plant, Reedy offers a surprisingly diverse selection of fish-holding cover. Few seasons offer a better chance at one of its larger residents than during the spring spawn.
"January, February and March are your key spawning months on this lake," Alley states. "And by the time you get into late March, much of the spawning is winding down. There will be a lot of fish in that shallow inside vegetation at this time of year, and much of the actual spawning will be done around pads in 3 to 4 feet."
Alley has found that some of the better bedding areas on the lake are along the north shoreline and particularly the northwest corner. But even masters at the sight-fishing game find there are different rules on Reedy.
"This is a very tough lake to sight-fish on," claims Alley. "The water is stained enough that you'd have to be right on top of a bed to see a fish, and that is obviously going to spook them. I don't even try to spot-fish. I just make a few casts to every light spot I see, and if I get a response, I'll stop and work that spot more thoroughly. You may throw at 25 light spots before you find a fish, but when the bass are bedding heavily, it can pay off big."
Indeed, Alley remembers one early March trip when the tactic paid off with two bass over 10 pounds!
"I never saw either of those fish," he notes, "but if you blind-cast at enough light spots, you'll usually find some bass when they are into the spawn."
While veteran sight-fishermen have learned that tube lures and lighter lines are often their most effective tool for enticing big bedding sows, Alley doesn't fiddle with finesse on this lake.
"This isn't a lake to be subtle on," he states, "and that applies to any lure you use. The water color really limits visibility, and anglers are better off with power baits that will put out some noise and vibration. When I am working the bedding areas, I'm fishing 8- to 10-inch curlytail worms in June bug, red shad, or black on blue, and I use a rattling sinker and also add rattles inside the worm. These fish like big, noisy baits."
That same philosophy holds true when "light spot" fishing comes up
short. If the fish aren't holding around the beds, Ally shifts to another pair of power baits - spinnerbaits with a small gold Colorado front blade and a massive No. 7 or No. 8 gold willowleaf on the rear, with a white and chartreuse skirt, or a big single-bladed buzzbait with a plain aluminum blade and a black skirt.
"I'll work both of these baits through the shallow bedding cover in 2 to 6 feet of water all day long during the spring," he explains. "The spinnerbait is a bit more productive if there is an overcast and a surface chop, while the buzzbait seems to produce better in calm water. With those two lures and a big worm, you are in pretty good shape for shallow water on this lake, and I really don't need other baits this time of year. Those three will draw the bigger bass."
While Alley's three-lure approach has proved highly effective, he readily admits that live shiners produce more large bass, and they are a staple on many of his guided trips.
"I want to fish these around the deeper edges of the lotus pad fields," he explains, "especially on any points that jut out towards deeper water, and in any open pockets in the pads just in from that outside edge. It's a game of patience, and I stay at a spot for an hour if I know there are fish shallow and this spot has produced in the past. It's probably the most consistent way to take a trophy bass on this lake during the spring."
While patience is a virtue, so too is being prepared when it pays off. Fishing shiners around tough-stemmed lily pads requires equally tough gear, and Alley relies on 7 1/2-foot heavy-action rods, 25-pound line in green, baitcast reels, and 5/0 hooks. It takes some muscle to winch fish out of that kind of cover.
Should the inside spawning shallows turn out to be unproductive, Alley drops back to the distinct outside edge, paying particular attention to those areas in proximity to spawning sites where he has recently found bass. One kind of top area is a point, and another is an edge coming close to the deepest water in the immediate area. Should that fail to produce, Alley sets his sights a lot deeper.
"Even though this lake is stained," he states, "anglers need to think deep. With the exception of the spring spawn, the majority of the bass, especially the big ones, spend their time in offshore waters in the 10- to 14-foot range. In fact, even at the peak of the spawn there will be fish on offshore structure."
Alley knows that well. In fact, he vividly remembers one day in late March when he and one of his guides dropped anchor on a brushpile in 12 feet of water and caught 25 bass on crankbaits without moving the boat. Among them were two over 6 pounds and one that tipped the scales at 9.14 pounds!
"If things aren't working out in the spawning areas and the outer edge of the weed line," he says, "I would immediately move to open-water structures, even during the peak spawning season."
If there has been recent spawning activity in the shallows, he doesn't have to think very hard about where he wants to start.
"Peppergrass grows all over this lake," he explains, "and it tops out on the surface in a lot of places at depths up to 7 feet. But there is a lot of sub-surface peppergrass in the 7- to 12-foot depth range. You need a depthfinder to locate it, but it's worth the time because those patches are magnets for pre- and post-spawn bass. I want to start by finding the submerged peppergrass that is closest to recently used spawning areas. That's a key staging point for bass moving in and out of the shallow inside cover."
Alley probes this with large rattling plastic worms rigged either Texas- or Carolina-style and also slow-rolls a big spinnerbait down into the grass. He is convinced that a large-bladed willowleaf spinnerbait can be effective throughout the year on this lake because its flash and heavy vibration can trigger reactive strikes from even sluggish bass.
Another key lure in his deepwater tool chest is a deep-diving crankbait in a combination of chrome and chartreuse or chrome with a blue back.
Once the spawning period is over, Alley tends to abandon the shallows and even pays scant attention to submerged cover at depths of less than 10 feet.
"Once you get to the outside edge of the shoreline vegetation in 6 or 7 feet of water," he explains, "you have an open-water flat that slopes out to about 10 feet and then drops off sharply. In some places it may happen fairly close to the grass line and in others it might be a quarter-mile out. But once you hit that 10-foot mark, the bottom starts to break down sharply in well-defined ledges that get down to 14 to 15 feet pretty quickly. Those hard drops are the key to big bass in this lake for at least nine months out of the year."
While the abundance of offshore structure provides excellent holding points for open-water bass, local anglers have sweetened the pot.
"It seems to me that the most productive depth for bass on this lake is right around 12 feet," says Alley, "and there are a number of privately planted brushpiles scattered around that break line. I know of at least 50 of them, and I'm sure there are some I don't know. If I was on this lake from April through December, I think the first thing I would do is turn on the depthfinder and start looking for them. I'd even be willing to spend an entire day without picking up a rod, just to find a bunch of brushpiles. The 14-pounder that is my best fish from this lake came off a 12-foot brushpile in June."
There are also two FWCC attractors, although the buoys have been removed. The wood, however, is still there and it still holds bass. One is at the south end of the lake in 25 feet of water, and the other is in the northeast corner.
For those anglers who think studying a depthfinder while searching for offshore structure is for the birds, there is another option - studying the birds instead.
"Fish surface-school in open water like crazy on this lake," Alley notes. "It starts in early April and runs through July, and the hotter it gets the more they school and they'll do it throughout the day. In April, the gulls are still here, and they flock to surface activity, so you can use them to find bass if nothing else is working."
Reedy Lake may be a bit off the beaten path, and not nearly as well-known as some of its neighbors, but when it comes to producing bass, it doesn't take a back seat to any of them.
FOR YOUR INFORMATIONLocating Reedy Lake is easy, and you don't even have to look for birds. Just go to Frostproof. Once there, find the traffic light in the center of town on State Route 630 (there's only one light and it is right next to the supermarket) and then turn east on State Route 630 for about a half-mile to North Reedy Lake Boulevard. Turn south and follow the signs to the county park and boat ramp. The ramp is excellent, and the park can handle about 50 boat trailers. Restroom facilities are available.
Reno Alley can be r
eached at Memory Makin' Guides at (800) 749-2278 or (863) 635-6499.
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