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Freshwater Fishing Tips from the Pros

Fishing Regulations Florida Freshwater Fishing

Tips for Fishing Florida’s Crowded Bass Waters

Jesse Tacoronte, pro angler and Enigmafishing.com.

Earlier this year, I found myself fishing against over 100 of the best bass anglers in the world in the Bassmaster Elite Series event at Lake Okeechobee. These guys are experts at finding bass. They have the best equipment, the fastest boats and—with $100,000 on the line for the winner—plenty of motivation to win. The lake was fishing small that week, which meant fishing in crowded areas full of other anglers. That part of the equation, at least, was just another Florida day on the water. It’s no secret that the Sunshine State, where I’ve lived for two decades now, is home to an army of anglers fishing the area’s blue water, estuaries and freshwater fisheries from the panhandle to Key West. Lakes and rivers are often crowded, but when it comes to bass fishing, there are a few tricks you can use to catch fish in the middle of the pack.

The first thing you have to remind yourself about Florida bass is that they are almost always grass-related fish: they spend their lives in the grass, and they aren’t migratory like saltwater species. Because of this, anglers often congregate in grassy areas like hydrilla flats, where they can flip and punch their lures down into the lair of the bass. Oftentimes, these areas attract more than one boat at a time, and you can play off of other fishermen to help yourself catch fish.

I like to fish the inside edges of grass with a jig or a flipping stick. I use a 7’11” HPT Series Enigma rod for flipping, with 40-65 lb braided line and the fastest reel I can find. Because these bass aren’t migratory, if they move they move to adjust to their surroundings. And that means if they aren’t on the inside edge, they’re on the outside edge. Sometimes, I’ve found that the noise from another boat’s trolling motor will even push bass towards me. If flipping and punching isn’t working, you can switch to a lighter setup, something like a 7’3″ Medium/Heavy Enigma Aaron’s Edge Rod with 12-15 lb fluorocarbon and another fast reel. This will allow you to work the edges of the grass with a finesse bait like a Tightlines UVenko or a trick worm.

Search for irregularities in the grass: stuff like sharp edges and holes. Don’t overcomplicate it. And remember—if you find yourself in crowded waters, don’t be discouraged. Fish are everywhere in this state.

Letting the Fish Tell You to Stop

JT Kenney, Bassmaster winner and four-time FLW winner.

I’ve been fishing my whole life. I’ve seen a lot of mistakes made on the water. The most common mistake I see anglers making is not stopping or slowing down once they get a bite. This is a must in Florida. The fish really school up in our lush grass beds. And we have a lot of them. What I mean by that is rarely are the fish scattered throughout an entire grass bed. Typically there will be two or three areas where most of the fish are congregated. I like to use a spinnerbait or a lipless crankbait to cover water, zig-zagging back and forth across the grass bed until I get a bite. As you are fishing along and get that bite you need to stop right there. Chances are there are more fish there than just that one. Use your Power-Poles to stop you on that spot and fan cast all around. I’ll continue to cast the spinnerbait or lipless crank until the fish stop biting it. Then I will pick up a stick worm, slow down and really work the area over. Fan cast the stick worm in the same way you did the faster lures but work it very slowly through the grass. Sometimes you may have to move the boat a few yards one way or another to relocate the fish again. If you follow this simple tip, I know you will catch more fish as you enjoy the wonderful fishing opportunities Florida has to offer.

Florida Cool-Weather Fishing

Gary Clouse, pro angler and owner of Phoenix Bass Boats.

I love to come to Lake Okeechobee in December leaving the cold in Tennessee behind to catch those big Florida largemouth. The December weather is usually stable and the fish are in a pre-spawn stage. I look for hard bottom areas and flip or pitch soft plastic at round reeds. When I pull into an area I put my rod in the water and check the bottom. If you feel solid sandy bottom, that’s good. You can usually actually feel and hear your rod tip in the sand. If it feels soft, with your rod tip sinking in several inches and you pull up a soft decaying vegetation type bottom on your rod guides, I usually move on. In the case of a cold front I go to hyacinth mats. It can be slow going and you may not get a lot of bites, but can pay off with bigger fish.

Power-Poles are a huge advantage in Florida. There is no question that they can help you catch more bass by being able to stop your boat and fish quietly and slowly. Find a hard bottom area, stick your Power-Poles, and flip your favorite soft plastic and good luck!

Locating Prespawn Largemouth Bass

Tim Frederick, LakeBigBass.com and FLW Tour Professional.

From mid-November through February one of the most effective methods to find prespawn TrophyCatch bass is a lipless crankbait. Focus on areas close to spawning areas with changes in depth along with some type of structure. Types of structure to target include timber, hydrilla, eelgrass, shell beds and bridge pilings. Water temperature is a major factor this time of year. You should be looking for temperatures from 45-60 degrees. With colder water temperatures you will want a silent lure with a tight wobbling action. When the water temperature reaches 55 degrees you will want to switch to a loud, rattling lipless crankbait. One of the most important techniques for this type of fishing is to reel your lure as slowly as possible.

This time of year another effective lure is a suspending jerk bait. The key to fishing a suspending jerk bait is the cadence of the retrieve. Try different retrieves until the fish let you know what they like. One of the most common mistakes new anglers make is using a fishing rod that is too long and heavy an action. Ideally you will want a rod in the 6’6″ to 6’9″ range with a medium-fast action.

The other bait I will have tied on this time of year is a Carolina Rig. Normally I will set up my Carolina Rig with a ¾ ounce weight and a trick worm or a Senko type bait. When you slow down and drag the Carolina Rig it can catch you large numbers of bass and the TrophyCatch you are looking for. All of these baits I am throwing on fluorocarbon line. I believe that fluorocarbon line is critical to a successful trip this time of year. These tips will help you land your TrophyCatch across the Sunshine State.