(Pro Tips for other species and topics are available here.)
-- Terry Segraves, Tournament Pro, Guide and Kissimmee Tourism Spokesperson (ExperienceKissimmee.com)
“My Trophy Swims in Florida!” It’s official, I was able to register a Lunker Club bass weighing 9 lbs., 4 oz. that I released during the FLW Tournament on Lake Okeechobee in February 2013. TrophyCatch is a great program sponsored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and funded by numerous business partners. Among the most prominent of those is Experience Kissimmee, which is providing a $10,000 bonus for the biggest verified TrophyCatch bass from Osceola County and an additional $2,500 to a guide that helps a customer catch and release it. Some of the very best bass fishing waters are found in Osceola County, not only including famed lakes such as Kissimmee and Tohopekaliga, but also some small local lakes. Doing your research before you go fishing can be a key to success. Check out the FWC’s Fishing Sites and Forecast page for quarterly updates on major resources and top lakes listed by species, at MyFWC.com/Fishing. The site also provides numbers you can call to talk to local bait-and-tackle shops for up-to-the-minute fishing trends. Visiting TrophyCatchFlorida.com (or the sister resources on YouTube and FaceBook) can help inform you on where the big ones are being caught right now. So do your research and then share your catch by posting your Big Catches and TrophyCatch releases at TrophyCatchFlorida.com. It’s fun getting recognized for a great catch, and even better to be rewarded for letting your trophy swim in Florida.
-- Sean Rush, Owner/Operator of Trophy Bass Expeditions of Central Florida (FloridaTrophyBass.com)
When I helped Bob Williams catch the first Hall of Fame bass inducted into the TrophyCatch program in February 2013, it was on Rodman Reservoir with a big wild shiner. I give my clients three important tips when fishing live shiners for trophy bass. First, it’s live bait so once you get it in position let it do the work, don’t reel it or drag it. Second, always leave the bail open, so the bass doesn’t feel the line. Give it 3–5 seconds to get the bait in position. Bass will often flip bait around in their mouth so they can swallow it head first. Finally, when you set the hook, set it hard. I use a 4/0 hook and 20-pound big-game line, with the hook below the lateral line near the bait’s tail. Remember, be ready to take a quick photo of the entire fish on a scale and tape measure, so you can register your lunkers with TrophyCatch! (see video at YouTube.com/TrophyCatchFlorida.)
Dealing with springtime cold fronts
-- Sean Hoernke, FLW Pro
In the springtime in Florida bass fishing patterns are heavily dictated by the weather. As a general rule of thumb bass move tighter to cover when there are cold fronts and cooler temperatures. This is a great time to use the flipping technique. A heavy sinker with a Texas rigged soft plastic bait is the rig of choice. June bug and other dark colored soft plastics are usually the ticket in heavy cover in Florida. Try to locate the thickest cover available, such as hyacinth mats, reed clumps, and heavy hydrilla mats. These are the type areas the bass prefer when it gets cold.
Spawning area search tactics
-- Glen Lau, Master cinematographer
During spawning and pre-spawn seasons I look for submerged logs where big females have been rubbing away the mossy growth. An early morning presentation of a ¼- to ½-ounce rattling crank bait (chartreuse, chrome or shad are all effective colors) is a good starter for kids and pros alike. Lipless crankbaits cast easily, even into the wind and are very versatile baits. They can be used over vegetation with a steady retrieve. Additionally, if fishing near schooling bait, you can cast beyond them and use a fast retrieve followed by a sudden stop to let the lure sink down below the school and then crank it back up again.
Note: Glen Lau, one of America’s most accomplished bass photographers and cinematographers, has produced an extraordinary collection of award-winning films and still photographs of bass in its natural environment. Many of his action-packed and highly informative films are available on DVD along with art prints ready for framing from www.WildlifeFoundationofFlorida.com. A portion of the sale automatically goes to support the Florida Bass Conservation Center.
Spooning for bass on the Big “O”
-- Scott Martin, FLW Pro and National Guard Team Angler
While fishing on Lake Okeechobee, grass beds are the main structure that big bass will relate to. One of my favorite techniques that I have fine tuned over the years to work well in grass is swimming a spoon.
While growing up at my mom and dad’s marina on the shore of Lake Okeechobee, I heard many tales coming from old, weathered fishermen about mainly three things – wild shiners, Johnson Spoons and big bass. Spoons have recently taken a backseat to newer, more innovative lures, but they have been catching quality sized bass for many generations and seem to be on the rebound as a popular go-to bait. It’s a great bait that is easy to throw and retrieve, and one can cover water with it very quickly. I like to throw ½-ounce spoons on nearly every occasion. On sunny days, I like to throw a black spoon tipped with either a black rubber spinnerbait skirt or an array of dark colored grubs. On more overcast days, I throw a gold spoon with more natural colored skirts and grubs like white or chartreuse.
One strain of grass that works the best for me is peppergrass (pondweed). Over the years it seems to have yielded more quality catches than other types. Some of the other strains that have faired well over the years for me are Kissimmee grass (knotgrass) and emergent grasses.
On the Big “O” fish relate to these grasses year round and a spoon is the next best thing to live bait for catching these giants that have made Lake Okeechobee famous.
Locating Florida bass
-- Jay Yelas, 2002 Bassmaster Classic Champion, 2007 FLW Angler of the Year
Because many Florida lakes have little or no bottom contour changes, the key to finding fish here often lies in interpreting weedlines and bottom composition. I look for places where the hydrilla thins out into patchy, scattered clumps. I stay away from the thick hydrilla beds. Bass prefer hydrilla that is not too thick. If you know how to interpret a good sonar unit, you will be able to find areas of the bottom that are harder than others. Some of these hard bottom spots are shell beds. Bass always prefer a hard bottom. Hard bottom areas adjacent to the outside edge of hydrilla are very good..
Finding hidden hotspots
-- Bernie Schultz, B.A.S.S. Pro
Most people approach Florida’s lakes and rivers by fishing in or around visual cover, such as reeds, grass and docks. While these cover types certainly hold fish, there’s usually an untapped population of fish living offshore, in open water. Bass spend much of their lives in deeper areas away from the shoreline — especially the bigger ones!
Finding these offshore fish can be tricky. A depthfinder is almost essential. Another great tool for finding these fish is an underwater video camera. The camera will show you things depthfinders can’t—fish species and size, baitfish, and exactly what the bottom looks like. As long as the water is relatively clear, an underwater video camera will let you see what actually lies beneath the surface. Surprisingly, fish aren’t camera shy either. Cameras will add another level of fun and learning to your fishing and help you find hotspots that are overlooked by most anglers.
Note: Bernie Schultz is a touring professional angler and outdoor columnist for several fishing publications. Visit his website for more fish-catching strategies and information on vintage Florida-made tackle at www.bernieschultzfishing.com.
Pre-spawn Florida largemouth
-- Brett Hite, FLW Pro, winner of The FLW Tour’s 2008 season opener on Lake Toho in March 2008
During the pre-spawn in Florida, water temperature will be the first factor in successful fishing. South-facing banks and protected areas will warm up first. The second key is looking for spots where stained water meets clear water. Vegetation will clear the water up, so look to fish where there are lily pads, hydrilla and hyacinth. Look for more than one type of vegetation in the area. Look for subtle bays or points in the lake and key on areas where the fish will move to spawn. They will move to the same areas after the spawn, too. Provoke a topwater bite with a plastic frog, and target depths of 2 to 5 feet with a swimming jig, soft stickbait or lipless crankbait.
-- Alton Jones, 2008 Bassmaster Classic Champion
If you have a weak heart, don’t tie on a wake bait. Otherwise, take note:
A true combination of a crankbait and topwater plug, a wake bait is a hard-kicking, noisy, in-your-face sort of lure that truly is one of the most unique lures that has been introduced in a long time. It won’t work all the time; the fish must be in an aggressive mode. But when the situation is right, this bait will prompt ferocious surface attacks.
A real key to success with the wake bait is finding the right speed. Retrieved slowly, it will wobble widely on the surface, with its back out of the water and its rattle clicking methodically. Cranked hard, it will rattle loudly, kick erratically and run barely beneath the surface, pushing out a big bulging wake like a large baitfish swimming right at the top.
Fish the wake bait on heavy line (at least 20-pound test) and hold on tight!.
Chugging a frog
-- Dean Rojas, 2007 Bassmaster Classic Qualifier, holds current BASS single-day five fish weight record of 45 lbs. 2 oz. caught on Lake Kissimmee
The type of retrieve most often used with a frog is a steady and fairly fast presentation across floating and matted vegetation.
When I chug a frog across surface vegetation however, I use a very slow stop-and-go presentation rather than a fast one. I think this gives the fish a better strike opportunity and you get better hookups.
With this retrieve, I do not trim the frog’s legs, and I still move the lure with the rod, not the reel. The rod tip is down and continually jerking.
I think the thing to remember about frog fishing is that fish are going to relate to whatever cover and structure a lake has, so you can, and should, expect a strike on literally every cast. Because I have caught bass on rocks, sea walls, grass, laydowns, and even in open water without any visible cover, I want to put everything in my favor that I can when that strike comes..
Fishing bass in the summertime
-- Glen Lau, Master Cinematographer
Here’s a suggestion for fishing for bass in the summertime. It works great, but you have to have patience. Let’s say you rig a green plastic worm on a 3-0 hook. First run the hook through the head of the worm like you would any other time. Then instead of running the hook through the worm, place it through the side of the worm just under the skin. Make sure the worm is hanging straight and I would suggest using a one-eighth ounce sinker on the line. Cast out to an area where you think there could be fish. Let it sit there up to two minutes or longer. Watch your line. If a bass picks it up and starts to move you need to set the hook. This is one of my favorite ways to catch bass in the summertime. I prefer a green worm 6 to 7 inches in length.
-- Jay Yelas, 2002 Bassmaster Classic Champion, 2007 FLW Angler of the Year
The full moon definitely affects bass behavior and catch ability.
In my experiences during the spring, the bass become very active from about 5 days prior to the full moon to 2 days after it. This period offers some of the best fishing of the year. Later in the spring, the bass spawn big time around the full moon, weather permitting. If you can only fish 3 days per month, regardless of the season, try scheduling your trips during the full moon. There are plenty of other factors that influence bass activity but, all else being equal, the full moon will help the bite..
-- Ish Monroe, Bass Master Elite Professional Bass Angler, 15 Top 10 Finishes, 28 Top 20 Finishes, 6 Bass Master Classic Appearances
There is no wrong time to fish a frog. I catch bass on frogs 12 months out of the year here in Florida. Although they certainly work great in the heavy stuff, you really don’t need matted grass or lilly pads—you really don’t need any type of cover at all. I have a lot of success throwing frogs in open water. Canals are common structural features in many of Florida’s lakes, and the bass relate to the canals year round. Bass are attracted by the cooler water that can be found in the canals, especially in the warmer months. With or without the presence of heavy cover, these canals can be bass magnets and great places to throw a frog.
I like a seven-foot four-inch, medium-heavy to heavy action rod with a high speed reel loaded with 50 to 65 lb braided line for frog fishing. With this setup I can “walk the frog” to create numerous strikes in open water, underneath overhanging trees, next to brush or under docks.
There are many types of frogs available. I fish Snag Proof frogs, and am currently working with them on the new Ish’s Phat Frog. Keep an eye out for it.
Fishing bass in the Summertime
-- Glen Lau, Master Cinematographer
Years ago when I first pursued largemouth bass, there was a fishing lure made by the Heddon Company called the Sonic. It was a small vibrating lure that when reeled through the water made a noise. At that time it was my all time favorite lure. Several bait companies now make small lures that put out a vibration. My favorites can be cranked fast and will go two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half feet deep. This works very well in areas where weeds are approximately four feet below the surface or in open water. It has become my favorite bait for late spring and early summer. I especially like the silver and gold color.
Feeding bass patterns
-- Roland Martin, Legendary Angler and TV Host
Most fishermen think that bass strike because they're hungry. Actually I find that hunger accounts for maybe no more than a third of my strikes but that third is a very important part of the bass I catch, especially early in the morning or late in the evening when the bass are feeding. Feeding bass are the easiest to catch. You can catch them on most lures, because basically all lures at one time or other will catch feeding fish.
In major slow periods the bass will feed for a short time. Another condition that causes bass to feed quite often is weather change, such as a barometric drop, an approaching storm or possibly cloud cover which moved in—all of which affect atmospheric pressure and temperature. Another thing that could influence bass to feed would be a warming trend after a cold front.
My favorite, most basic pattern for catching feeding fish would be a dawn-and-dusk surface-plug pattern. I'm using the word "pattern" to mean the sum total of all the variables in the fishing situation—my topwater treat. It involves getting out before the sun rises or in the twilight hours of the morning or after the sun is setting in the evening and the magical hour begins, because there's no direct sun on the water. It's the time of day when generally the convection currents are low and there is very little sun to move the air around, producing almost a slick or mirror-calm surface. Another condition that is very important to this type of surface action is water temperature. You need warm water, 70 degrees and up for your best surface-lure fishing. Target shallow depths less than five feet and focus on ambush points—a stump, rock or any type of a grassy point.
Concentration adds to success and enjoyment
-- Glen Lau, Master Cinematographer, Author of “Bass Forever”
Concentration and focus are critical aspects of being a good bass fisherman. Casting, boat position and lure selection are all important to getting the bass to strike, but once you’ve got your bait or lure in the water, concentration becomes just as important to your success. You can elevate your fishing dramatically by concentrating on what your are doing and focusing on the environment around you. This is really nothing more than living in the moment and not letting work or home distractions take away from your fishing time.
-- Robert Montgomery, author of Better Bass Fishing and Senior Writer for BASS
Be patient. I know that's difficult to do when you see a spot that's likely holding a bass. But if you cast all around the area as you approach, you might catch the bass, or, just as likely, you might frighten it and make it more difficult — or even impossible — to catch.
That's why you should wait until you are in perfect position to make the perfect cast. You want your first cast to provide you with the best opportunity to catch the fish, when it's just sitting there, waiting for a meal to swim by.
Bass vegetation patterns
-- Walt Reynolds, BASS Touring Pro (retired)
When you grab the family and head to the lake for some weekend fishing, the first question to enter your mind is “where to go.” The hardest part of ensuring a successful trip is finding fish. When going to new waters or areas, unless you have local help, you must be able to read the conditions and available cover to determine where fish are holding that day.
Grass is the prevailing cover in many Florida lakes and knowing the different grasses and why they grow in certain places will go a long way towards finding fish. Most fishermen know that Kissimmee grass, reeds, eel grass and pepper grass are good cover for finding fish. But did you ever wonder why fish seem to like theses grass varieties far better than other grasses? I believe it has more to do with the bottom composition than the actual grass. Bass like a hard, firm bottom rather than a silt or muck bottom. These particular grasses grow only on a hard, sandy or shell bottom. Even though cattails hold fish sometimes, because they often grow in mucky areas, bass will often avoid them.
On your next trip to the lake, notice what aquatic plants are growing in your area, and fish around those that grow on a hard bottom. You will see more fish brought to the boat that way.
Clear water crankbaits on heavy tackle
-- Roland Martin, Legendary Angler and TV Host
In clear water, you’ll often need light line to attract bass when crankbait fishing. To most people, this means light tackle. During the last few years, however, I’ve developed a system of fishing crankbaits combining light line and heavy tackle. I know that sounds strange, but I don’t always do conventional things; you can fish 10-pound line on gear other than light tackle. With enough practice, you’ll develop a feel for fishing light line on a big 71⁄2-foot flipping stick with a high-speed reel, for example.
This setup gives me several advantages over the lighter type of rod used by most crankbait fishermen out there. The longer rod allows me to make longer casts than more conventional, shorter casting rods and the flipping stick enables me to set the hook faster and harder from a considerable distance. If you’re using a 5-foot wimpy casting rod and a 5-pound bass hits your lure from about 70 feet away, it’s a real chore to set the hook: that wimpy rod will only give you about 2 pounds of pressure and the line will have some stretch to it. Under those conditions, you can’t control a 5- pound bass at all. Again, with enough practice, you will develop a feel for just how much pressure you can apply with the big rod to the light line without breaking off.
-- Terry Gibson, Visit Florida & Fishing Insider, Editorial Director, Fly & Light Tackle Angler Magazine (www.FishingCapital.com)
In early spring, I shift focus to bass and panfish fishing, mostly in the Everglades. I love to flyfish with popping bugs, and throw surface lures on plug gear. By April, shellcrackers and bluegills are on the bed, and when they’re not you find them along canal banks or the outside of vegetation lines in open lakes. Water levels are typically lower, so fish are concentrated. Best of all, water temps are warm enough throughout the state for bass to blast anything that resembles food. In April and May, especially on cloudy days, water temps remain just cool enough that fish will sometimes feed on top all day long. The morning and evening bites last all summer.
This is a great time to get kids hooked on fishing – maybe the best in terms of sheer action and building a foundation of fishing skills. Our parents started my sister and me out with ultra-light spinning gear, slinging Beetle Spins at shorelines. Once we got that tactic down, they put fly rods in our hands. Mom wanted panfish for fried fish dinners served with collard greens and cheese grits. Yum! But for sport we loved the acrobatic little schoolie bass that gang up in huge numbers this time of the year.
Hardcore trophy bass hunters score this time of the year, especially during the pre- and post-spawn when big sows badly need calories. Eight- through 10-weight flyfishing outfits can handle throwing big poppers and deerhair bugs, and turning big bass from cover. Conventional anglers can cover a lot of water with paddle-tailed plastic buzzbaits. Walking plugs work well, as do frog imitations. During the heat of the day, find deeper structure and switch to Texas- or Carolina-rigged plastic worms. Fish em’ sloooow, and hang on.
-- Glen Lau, Bass Fishing Hall of Fame inductee, cinematographer and author
Without a doubt the toughest thing about catching bass is finding them. I’d say 90 percent of the bass are in one percent of the water. Like a turkey hunter that seeks out where the birds are roosting before the season begins, a good angler should consider putting down his or her rod and reel and take up a notepad or fishing map of the water body. Cruise the shore mapping vegetation, look for structure like downed trees or piers and where water may be flowing in or out of a lake. See where the locals are fishing and talk to them. Check a contour map, or if you have a depth finder cruise the lake looking for sudden changes in depth that may provide refuges or ambush points for bass. If you want to catch the big bass, pay your dues, do the research, and work promising spots slowly and methodically. After 60 years of filming and chasing bass, I’m still fascinated and still learning. If you love the sport as much as I do, you’ll cherish every moment on the water and want to preserve the memories and the opportunities.
-- Captain Sean Rush, Owner/Operator of Trophy Bass Expeditions of Central Florida (www.FloridaTrophyBass.com)
You’ve probably heard that old saying: Big Bait = Big Fish. Well if your goal is to boat a trophy bass, it’s advice you’d be wise to heed! Think about it like this: What do you think a 250-pound man would rather sit down to at dinner? Half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a 16-ounce steak? The answer is, of course, the steak, and that is the way giant female bass approach feeding. They would rather eat one large bait, for example an 8- or 9-inch wild shiner, and be done, than expend a bunch of energy chasing smaller baits. Going large requires heavy gear. Generally the tackle consists of 7-1/2 to 8-foot flippin’ sticks and stout baitcasting reels spooled with at least 20-pound mono. It also requires patience. Give your fishing holes more time than usual if you feel you’ve found a spot capable of producing a giant. They can take a little longer to entice. They didn’t get big by being easily fooled! This style of fishing can pay off, I mean pay off big!!
-- Terry Segraves, Tournament Pro, Guide and Kissimmee Tourism Spokesperson (www.VisitKissimmee.com)
So you think “it sure would be nice to go fishing and get away from all my problems for a day.” Or, your children are playing computer games and watching TV too much and you want to get them outdoors and involved in a healthier interest. Even without owning a boat or fishing tackle, you can make it happen--consider hiring a fishing guide. With a guide, you may enjoy the trip more because you will often catch more fish, learn new tricks, have proper equipment, and less stress. It is relatively cheap when you consider all you get.
Before hiring a guide select a destination that interests you or one that complements your Florida vacation or business trip. For example, your family is planning a Disney vacation and you heard the fishing is great in Kissimmee. Start with an internet search. A slew of information will come up about the lakes, fishing trends and guide services. Talk to people about places they have fished and enjoyed, and guides they used.
Here are a few questions to ask your guide: What type of fishing do you specialize in and what will we be doing? How much experience do you have and where? Do you have the proper permits, license and insurance? What equipment will you provide and what should I bring? How many hours will we fish and when do we start and finish? What are typical weather conditions and what clothing should I bring? Will you teach me to become a better fisherperson? Do you practice catch and release? What kind of boat do you have and how many people can it fish comfortably? Do I need a fishing license? Do you have referrals? What does the trip cost and what is included for the price?
Ask these questions face-to-face or by telephone, to learn more about the guide and their personality. A lot of guides use live bait (a great way to catch trophy bass). However, if you want to use artificials, remember it is more work and requires more skill, so make sure the guide specializes in using artificial lures. Remember you will spend 4 to 8 hours with a person you do not know very well. Find the right guide to help create memories that will last a lifetime. Great fishing and remember your sunscreen!