Virtually anywhere you turn in Florida has some good largemouth action to offer. But these waters should be the cream of the crop in 2011.
You don't create a quality largemouth bass fishery overnight. In fact, a good fishery today has its roots in events that occurred a half-decade, or more, in the past.
It takes time, even in the best habitat, for a bass to reach the 7- to 12-pound range. That normally takes five years or more from the day the fingerling was hatched. That also assumes that there was an abundant spawn to produce good successive year classes during that time frame, which is largely dependent upon good spawning weather and an absence of killer cold fronts. That will build the population base. For them to reach quality size they need a habitat where they can grow and prosper, combined with harvest regulations that prevents an entire year class from winding up in the skillet.
If a lake is "hot" for quality bass in 2010, it's likely because of the weather, habitat, and regulations that occurred since 2004.
The good news is that all the above has occurred. Discounting the severe winter of 2010, the previous five years were about as good for bass as you can get. Mild winters, habitat restoration, and effective harvest regulations have resulted in a bass boom across the state. It's hard to find "bad" bass fishing on any major lake or river. As always, though, some spots are better than others. Here are five lakes that will be top producers this year.
Although it's not very big at just over 5,000 acres, this Tallahassee area reservoir has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of Florida's top quality bass lakes. It doesn't produce as many ten-pound-plus bass as do waters in the warmer southern portion of the state, but the numbers of 5-pound or bigger bass are impressive. Fishery biologists note that any lake that requires a limit of bass averaging 3 pounds each to win a club tournament is a healthy fishery. On Talquin, a 4- to 5-pound average is needed.
The peak of the spawn occurs in April, and the preferred spawning sites are the numerous creek cove arms dotting the lake. That means that this month sees schools of big spawning bass in the final stages of the pre-spawn. They are moving up from the deeper waters of the main reservoir towards the coves. They stage on the main-lake points leading to the coves.
Savvy anglers start this month on the points, and putting the boat on the shallow end while working their lures up the point from deep to shallow. Carolina worm rigs in black grape, June bug or green pumpkin are top baits. Countdown crankbaits like the Rat-L-Trap in gold or chrome with a blue back are also effective when walked up the point like a jig.
As April approaches, anglers follow the bass into the coves. Pay particular attention to wooded shorelines, tossing Texas-rigged plastic worms or gaudy spinnerbaits that produce a lot of vibration. Try models with 3/8-ounce single spins and a No. 4 or 5 Colorado blade, matched with an orange and chartreuse skirt.
When the spawn arrives, its time to probe bulkheads, docks, and other man made structure.
By May, the fish are back on the same main-lake points you found them on in March, and then scatter to deeper channel edges for the summer. Many, however, make early and late forays to points to feed.
A top guide on Talquin is Mike Mercurri, who can be reached through Whippoorwill Sportsman's Lodge at (850) 875-2605.
There are a lot of similarities between Rousseau and Rodman Reservoir. Both are man-made lakes constructed as part of the ill-fated Cross Florida Barge Canal, Both were the result a damming a river that was already excellent bass fisheries. Both feature distinct submerged channels with a lot of downed timber. And both quickly earned reputations as top quality trophy bass lakes.
The biggest difference is that Rousseau took a major hit from a 2004 hurricane. Vegetation was destroyed and a major fish kill occurred. That took Rousseau of the A List for a couple of years, but it has roared back! Vegetation has returned and is lush and healthy. Five years of favorable weather produced great years-classes, and the 10-pound bass are back.
This month sees the start of the spawning season, which continues well into April. Given the maze of channels, flats, and shoreline, locating the prime spawning areas can be tough. Veteran guide Jimbo Keith has a way to shorten the search.
"Find eelgrass, " he said. "It grows at the right, 2- to 4-foot depth and on the hard bottom that bass want to spawn on. It may be along the shoreline, or on a bar in the middle of the main Pool. But, if you find eelgrass you've found a potential spawning spot."
Sight fishing bedding bass with soft plastics is a productive tactic. But, if beds aren't visible, working the area with spinnerbaits, topwater plugs, or Trick Worms can produce.
Once the spawn ends the bass move back to channel edges, especially those lined with vegetation. Topwater baits early and late, with plastic worms like Keith's favorite 7 1/2-inch Bass Assassin in June bug or watermelon red are effective. Savvy anglers flip the cover edges at midday in any area where they found bass earlier.
Jimbo Keith can be reached for guide service at (352) 535-5083.
Few, if any, lakes in Florida have experienced the ups and downs this one has over the last 30 years. That's largely due to a sinkhole that occasionally opens up and drops water levels to the point where anglers can't access the lake. When the water level in Orange is up it is one of the top trophy bass producers in the state. Right now the water is up, and has been for the last few years. The number of 10-pound bass Orange has yielded during that time are staggering! Bass approaching 15 pounds were also caught in 2009 and '10.
"If I had to pick the one lake in Florida right now in 2011, where your chances of catching a 12-pound bass were the best, it would be Orange Lake," said Gary Simpson, the outdoor writer for the Gainesville Sun newspaper, a top-ranked bass tournament competitor, and the manager of the Tackle Box, which is Gainesville's premier tackle shop.
March is the beginning of the spawn on this lake, but don't look for the fish to move to the shoreline because most areas are too silted to fan a bed. Instead, bass move to isolated lily pad beds in 2 to 4 feet of water and fan a bed on a hard root cluster. Sight fishermen spot the beds as white areas in a mass of tangled green roots, and present weedless soft plastic lures. When the spawn winds down in mid-April, many fis
h remain in the pad clumps, where Horny Toads, soft plastic jerkbaits and Texas-rigged worms attract them.
By May, many have moved to offshore hydrilla beds where they spend the rest of the year. Savvy anglers get out early and watch for feeding activity. Cast to that action with Rat-L-Trap type lures, topwater plugs or soft plastic jerkbaits. As the sun climbs, flipping the crowned out portions of the hydrilla can produce the biggest bass of the day.
Gary Simpson can be reached for guide recommendations at the Tackle Box by calling (352) 372-1791.
From February through June, this wide spot on the St. Johns River can be one of the hottest bass lakes in Florida, thanks to the return of the eelgrass. Look for bass to begin spawning in the west side tributary of Salt Run as early as January. By February, bass spawn around the mouths of the other west coast springs, at Silver Glenn and Juniper. By March, the lake erupts with bedding bass anywhere there are major eelgrass fields. Numerous bass larger than 10 pounds were taken in 2010.
A quick key to finding areas in the massive eelgrass bed where bass are spawning is to look for chopped eelgrass stalks floating on the surface. Bass physically uproot the grass to make their beds.
Swimming plastic worms, 1/4-ounce white spinnerbaits or subtle topwater lures like the No. 13 Rapala Floating Minnow in gold are good choices to cover an area.
Beds on George are easy to find. They're the bright white spots on the inside edge, or even in the middle of, the grass fields.
Once the spawn is over, stay where you found spawning fish and work the outer portions of those grass beds early in the day with spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, and swimming plastic worms. The fish haven't moved very far. As the summer moves towards the May through July period, the action in the lake shrinks to just the first few hours of the day. Savvy anglers shift to the north end of the lake where the current runs stronger. Target the grass lines around Hogg and Drayton islands, or the western shoreline between Rocky Point and Mud Springs.
A killer pattern from April through July is to be on the western shoreline the last hour of the day when the sun has dropped behind the tree line to shade the water, and throw a 1/2-ounce white buzzbait on the grass points extending to deeper water. A very real chance at an 8-pound-plus bass is possible.
Contact Don Weaver at (386) 467-2526 for guide service.
Currently, Toho ranks as one of top lakes in the Kissimmee Chain. It takes a five-bass limit in the 25- to 30-pound range to win a local club tournament, and bass of 15 pounds were caught in 2010! Getting in on that big bass bonanza means fishing hydrilla.
In recent years, Toho has become a hydrilla-dominated lake. The weed is prolific, and grows in water depths of 3 to 4 feet, out to the deepest edges in about 9 feet. For virtually all of the year, those major hydrilla fields are the home of the bass. The only real exception is during late January and February at the peak of the spawn, when bass move to the maidencane beds inside the hydrilla line.
This month, look for largemouths to be moving from the maidencane back to the hydrilla. Top bets are the shallow side of the hydrilla beds in 3 to 5 feet of water, especially those areas where maidencane points meet hydrilla.
A very effective rig has been a 7- to 10-inch plastic worm in June bug or black-and-blue flake on a 12-inch leader Carolina rig and a 1/4-ounce sinker. Swimming this through shallow hydrilla is deadly!
Concentrate on the inside edges of the hydrilla until June, then start working outwards to the deeper edges as summer heat sets in. Standard hydrilla-lake tactics are to get out early, watch for feeding activity, and feed them topwaters, vibrating crankbaits or swimming worms until the action slows. Then, flip the crowned out hydrilla at midday with compact craws in those areas where you found fish earlier.
Veteran Toho guide Reno Alley can be contacted toll-free at (800) 749-2278.