North Florida Bass Fishing Waters for 2018
March 08, 2018
Despite widespread damage throughout Florida, the bass fishing waters in the northern half of the state escaped Irma's wrath relatively unscathed.
Back on Sept. 9, Hurricane Irma blasted into the Florida Keys and then for two days battered the peninsula, as it moved steadily northward. After its second landfall around Naples and Marco Island, the storm moved inland through central and north Florida, wreaking havoc along the way.
As with any such event, concern for lives and lost property are the first orders of business. Only later do folks survey what the hurricane meant for fisheries. As the year enters the prime months for targeting largemouths in north Florida, it's time to take a survey of the region and its bass waters.
When the storm reached the bass lakes and rivers to the north of a line from Tampa to Orlando, it had weakened a great deal. Still, the flooding and winds did have some effect on that part of the state's fishing waters.
Fortunately, nature has a way of being prepared for the problems she inflicts upon an area. Plants, animals and fish all take such events in stride and are soon on their way back to normal.
"In general, impacts were less than with earlier hurricanes that ripped out vegetation," said Allen Martin, fisheries biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "We're not sure why that didn't happen this time."
As it turns out, the biggest culprit affecting fishing was what washed into the river systems. The downpours of rain and heavy winds associated with Irma carried a lot of organic matter from the swamps into the waterways, along with stagnant, warmer water. Additionally, the organic muck stirred from the bottoms of streams put a real nutrient stew in the water. Even worse, hurricanes usually cause several days of cloud cover, which creates a "perfect storm" to cause a fish kill.
The clouds block sunlight that aquatic plants use to produce oxygen in the water, causing respiring that uses oxygen. Additionally, the water coming from the swamps is dark and tannic, which further blocks sunlight and adds to the issue.
Thus, with no new oxygen being produced and decaying plant material using up what's already there, a fish kill becomes inevitable. Indeed, two large kills were recorded, along with scattered smaller ones across north Florida.
"We've seen some kills and we expect dead vegetation to collect and decay, which could lead to more," said Barron Moody, FWC biologist. "But, history shows we will recover."
Based on those assessments, there were four fisheries that were heavily affected by Irma. Three of those took a hit, but surprisingly, the fourth actually improved due to the violent weather.
ST. JOHNS RIVER
The St. Johns is the state's biggest river. It was heavily affected by Irma's visit, which came in the form of fish kills. The portion that took the brunt of the impact was from just south of Lake George at the town of Astor and upstream.
While the FWC termed the fish kills as "not unexpected or catastrophic," the local populace had a differing opinion soon after the storm, with a front row seat to see the masses of floating fish, as well as having to endure the smell.
"There are blankets of dead fish, primarily from Astor to as far south as you want to go," said Stephen Bishop. "I've got contacts from all corners telling me the same thing. I've experienced this before, and it was nowhere near this size."
By the end of September, the fish kill had tapered off. While bream and bass were present, including some 5- to 7-pound largemouths, the vast majority of the fish were reported to be tilapia. Indications were that the bass population may have taken a hit, but should still have plenty of fish this spring.
As to catching them, two patterns apply. To begin, the fact vegetation was not uprooted is good news. The abundant lily pads and dollar pads still provide shoreline mats upstream to Lake George, toward lakes Dexter and Woodruff. Targeting the edges with live golden shiners is the go-to method for hooking big bass.
Those shiners can be in the 7- to 8-inch range and fished under floats with only minimal weight. Casting to the edge of the weed line and letting the bait swim up under the mat is the preferred tactic.
Those who prefer artificials should look for spawning beds in backwater ponds off the main river or in canals and feeder creek mouths. The best tactic is to drop plastic baits, either with or without weight, right in the beds. Worm, craw and lizard patterns all work for this fishing.
Pro Adrian Avena: Big Bass on Big Worms