March 17, 2016
By Bob McNally
Some Florida anglers believe the chance of catching a trophy bass — 8 pounds or more — in the Sunshine State is pretty much limited, if not impossible. That, thankfully, is wrong, as catch-and-release fishing, slot limits and better management on many waters has made for outstanding bass action in a number of Florida areas.
Few Florida waters consistently give up as many big bass as 35,000-acre Lake Kissimmee, located south of the town with the same name. Kissimmee is shallow and fertile, and largemouths begin heading for shallow water in late January or early February. Spring fishing usually peaks in early March and ends in June.
During spring, largemouth bass are found in water 1 to 4 feet deep, and the best fishing often is found near clumps of arrowhead weeds.
A 2-inch rain (common April through September) on the Kissimmee chain of lakes will cause run-off water to flow into Lake Kissimmee. Under such conditions bass action can be excellent because bass school and feed at the mouths of small feeder creeks and sloughs. Prime spots for bass following rains are "Jack's Slough" at the lake's southeast end, the mouths of small drainage ditches in "North Cove" at the north end, "Polluted Waters" and the mouth of "Tiger Creek" on the west shore.
Other top bass spots on the lake include the north shoreline east of canal C37, the east shore at "Seven Palms," "Ox Island" and "27 Palms" and on the west shore along "Philadelphia Point."
Anglers who target grassy edges along the islands in the lake can also do well. "Lemon Point" at the north end of Storm Island is a good bet. The north shore of "Bird Island" and the north and east sides of "Brahma Island" often have outstanding bass action. Also, the "Rock Bed" just off the south end of Brahma Island frequently gives up big bass.
ST. JOHNS RIVER
For more than 100 years, anglers have flocked to the St. Johns River and it's tributary streams and lakes in northeast Florida in search of big largemouth bass. Even though the river has increasing pressure, fishing remains excellent. Hundreds of 10-pound bass are caught annually, and fish in the 12- to 15-pound class are recorded every year.
February, March and April are very popular bass fishing months, as this is spring in north Florida when bass move shallow for spawning. The St. Johns River is big, deep and diverse, with many thousands of acres of choice bass water available.
In addition to the river itself, there are "lake" areas nearby, such as Lake George, the smaller Little Lake George and Crescent Lake, with good fishing. Many additional smaller rivers and spring creeks pour into the St. Johns, and all have bass. The Ocklawaha River is one such bass feeder of the St. Johns.
During the early season (February), spring creeks feeding the St. Johns are excellent for big bass. Largemouths in the creeks turn on long before fish in the main river because spring creeks have a constant, year-round temperature. In early spring, creeks are like hot water discharges, so bass congregate nearby.
Spawning bass move onto St. Johns River flats early and late in the day, at night and during overcast conditions. In warm weather bass are scattered over eelgrass flats and can be aggressive. The best flats often have thick eelgrass in water 2 to 4 feet. Some anglers drift flats with live shiners, but wading or drifting while casting spinnerbaits, weedless spoons, floating plastic worms and jerkbaits can be deadly, along with topwater plugs. If no fish are found, move off flats and work deeper water, which can be anywhere between 200 to 1,000 yards offshore.
There are a number of fishing camps and plenty of bass guides along the St. Johns, especially in the towns of Welaka, Palatka and Sanford.
STICK MARSH (A.K.A. FARM 13)
Central Florida's Fellsmere Reservoir or "Stick Marsh" wasn't supposed to be a hot bass spot, but anglers aren't complaining about the incredible largemouth action available in the 6,300-acre impoundment west of Vero Beach.
Bass weighing up to 17 pounds have been recorded, with lots of 10-pounders being caught regularly. In fact, biologists say nearly a quarter of the bass in the lake are 14 inches or longer. Moreover, creel statistics show three-year-old bass weigh 4 1/2 to 6 1/2 pounds, and a typical spring catch is 30 bass per boat, with each fish weighing more than 3 pounds. One reason the lake maintains such superb numbers and sizes of bass is that most of the largemouth bass in the lake are released.
The "Stick Marsh" is the result of a water treatment pond project designed to help clean the headwaters of the St. Johns River. The project began in the 1980s, creating a lake that opened to fishing in 1989. Since then, it has become one of the hottest bass fishing spots in the state.
The "Stick Marsh" is a maze of cover and is an inviting place for object-oriented casters. Prime spots for fishing the lake are near reeds, beds of hyacinths and flooded willows. In addition, trolling with live shiners can account for multiple bass over 8 pounds.
TSALA APOPKA CHAIN OF LAKES
At 19,000 wacres, the Tsala Apopka Chain of Lakes, near Inverness, is one of the largest, most productive bass waters in Florida. Tsala Apopka is an Indian name meaning "many waters," and there are about 50 small lakes in the chain, many of which are unnamed.
Tsala Apopka is a natural lake chain, with only a few man-made boat trails and canals. There are dozens of islands, hundreds of miles of productive shorelines and numerous finger lakes that wind for miles. Tsala Apopka anglers also have access to the Withlacoochee River, which connects to the southern end of the chain. There are more than 30 square miles of open fishing water, and not much development.
It wasn't that long ago that Tsala Apopka had very low water, but levels have been back to normal for several years. This natural draw down rejuvenated the lakes, and made for outstanding big bass fishing. Lakes average 12 to 15 feet deep, with holes to 25 feet. The water in the lakes has a slight tint, and hard, sand bottoms. There also is a lot of vegetation for fertility and abundant fish forage. Many bass in the 3- to 6-pound range are available, and the lake record is a hefty 15-pound, 3-ounce brut.
Good bass fishing can be found in 5 to 7 feet of water off vegetated points. Flipping with jigs and plastic worms works well in weed beds during bright, sunny weather. Some lakes have hydrilla weeds and good catches of bass are made near their edges. Good action also can be found in canals and deep, mid-lake spring holes.
American Indians named it Lake Weohyakapka, but for ease of pronunciation, locals call it "Lake Walk-In-Water." Bass anglers, however, call it one of the best bass fisheries the Sunshine State has ever seen. Even the state fisheries department recognizes the lake south of Orlando and Lake Kissimmee as one of the most remarkable big bass fisheries Florida has had in recent years.
Anglers regularly pull 8- to 12-pound largemouths from the lake, often by slow-trolling wild shiners. Such talk about big bass on a public lake smack in the heart of Florida and near major tourist centers may sound like hyperbole, but the lake is the real deal. The best fishing is in spring and fall, but big bass still bite throughout the summer. The key to the lake's productivity is vegetation, with numerous big beds sitting in water around 6 to 9 feet deep.
Rodman Reservoir has long been on many Florida anglers' favorite bass list. But in the last few years it has really become known for producing nice bass.
Last January, visiting angler Dwight Whitmore of Ringgold, Ga., caught-and-released a 14-pound, 1-ounce largemouth bass on the 9,000-acre Rodman Reservoir, a lake that feeds abundant spring water from its Ocklawaha River dam into the St. Johns River south of Interlachen.
During a three-day trip with Capt. Sean Rush of Salt Springs, Whitmore, along with Josh Broome of Lafayette, Ga., caught-and-released 66 largemouth bass, including seven in the 7- to 12-pound range in addition to Whitmore's behemoth.
Rodman produces countless bass over 8 pounds annually, and has given up at least two bass over 14 pounds in the last three years. Its towering flooded palm and cypress trees, bright-green carpets of floating lettuce grass, flats full of lily pads and hydrilla weed beds jammed full of uncountable types of aquatic forage make Rodman unique in the world of bass fishing. As such, weedless lures are advised. Spinnerbaits and buzzbaits are top choices, with the venerable "Snagless Sally" a favorite.
The lake has a reputation for being clear, which presents problems when big fish are hooked because light line is mandated much of the time (under 12-pound test). For this reason, night fishing with big buzzbaits and topwater plugs, using stout 20- to 25-pound test line, is a quite popular method.
Boat access is excellent on Rodman, but care is needed in running because of an abundance of flooded timber, stumps and floating logs. Don't get in a hurry and keep a line in the water. Bass on Rodman can be found virtually anywhere, and some of the biggest are caught from the most unlikely places.