Freshwater Fishing Tips from the Pros
Florida Freshwater Fishing
Fishing Cover for Bass
Kenzie Harrelson, Osceola Anglers High School Fishing Club
Fishing freshwater lakes in Florida is so exciting whether you are catching TrophyCatch fish or just hanging out with friends and family! When I first started fishing, I quickly learned that structure and vegetation are key points when targeting fish. From lily pads, Kissimmee grass and pencil reeds to thick mud mats, hydrilla, brush piles and eel-grass there are endless places for fish to be caught. When starting out fishing, don’t let others intimidate you. Even the pros started out as beginners and not every day of fishing will be your best, but don’t let that discourage you. Be open to anything and everything. Different types of fishing work best different times of year and being aware of the ever-changing eating habits of Florida largemouths will help you target fish year-round. When fishing, keep in mind that even the spots that are not exactly perfect may be some of the best spots to fish. Try working the lure in different ways and be confident with the types of bait you are throwing. You never know what may get that giant TrophyCatch to smash your bait!
The FWC, along with partners Fishing League Worldwide Foundation and The Bass Federation’s Student Angler Federation, support the creation and success of high school fishing clubs in Florida. For more information about this exciting program visit www.HighSchoolFishing.org.
Cole Thompson, Osceola Anglers High School Fishing Club
When the winter cold fronts start to fade and Florida begins to heat up, it really is one of the best times to be fishing in Florida. This means that fish will begin feeding more and get a lot more active. There are many ways to catch Florida bass during this time. The techniques I like best involve moving baits and covering a lot of water to find those active fish looking for a quick meal. A bait of choice is a weightless swimbait in a color that resembles a bluegill or shiner. A fast retrieve, usually on top of the water, can be very effective when fishing a big area of sparse vegetation such as lily pads, hydrilla, and Kissimmee grass.
Another effective technique can be throwing a vibrating jig. I prefer a ⅜ ounce black-and-blue chatterbait, rigged with a 3 ½-inch swimbait for the trailer. This noisy little bait can help you cover a lot of water and attract a lot of attention from roaming fish ready to feed. The rod I prefer to handle each of these techniques is the 7’3″ medium-heavy Enigma High Performance Titanium Series matched with a 7:1 gear ratio reel. The next time you’re on a Florida lake try this out. Good luck and tight lines!
Bernie Schultz, Bassmaster Elite Series, Bassmaster Classic, and FLW Championship pro angler
So much in fishing depends on knowing when and how much to move your lure. This is especially true when it comes to topwaters. Bass will oftentimes study a surface lure before ever deciding to strike it, especially in the Sunshine State. Florida-strain largemouth are notoriously slow to react, especially under extreme heat or cold.
So how do you know when or how much to move a topwater lure? The answer, of course, starts with the type of topwater—whether it’s a popper, chugger, prop bait, etc. Some are designed more for perpetual movement, while others work better using a stop-and-go type of retrieve. If I’m throwing a popper (like a Rapala SkitterPop or Storm Cover Pop) at schooling bass, I’ll work the lure aggressively—making it spit and slide across the surface. That usually gets a good response. If I’m trying to draw bass from grass, lily pads, cypress trees or some other type of dense cover, I’ll chug the lure more and give it longer pauses.
Prop baits are similar. Some work well when fished quickly and aggressively—usually the tail-spinner variety, like the Rapala SkitterProp. For a treble-hook lure, it’s amazing how well these balsa topwaters come through grass that’s just beginning to top out on the surface.
Tandem-prop models like an X-Rap Prop are a different story. I work them much slower. I’ll cast to or slightly past the target area, then let the lure sit for a few seconds. Once the splash rings dissipate, I’ll give the lure two short pulls—just enough to get the props turning and no more than 6 or 8 inches per pull—then I let it sit again. At that point, I feel I’ve alerted any fish in the area to the lure’s presence. Then it’s a matter of patience, allowing the fish a chance to approach the lure and waiting for a reaction.
The first fish or two will tell you a lot. Did they crash the bait? Did they approach and refuse it? It’s the pause and subsequent movement of the lure that will dictate the outcome. So experiment. If the fish are slow to react, try a slower presentation with longer pauses between pulls. There will be exceptions, but this is a good starting point. And remember, sometimes just letting it lie still is the best approach.
Again, patience and confidence are key. Apply them with the right surface lure and you could easily fool the biggest fish in the lake.
Fish Vegetation for Big Florida Bass
John Cox, 2016 FLW Forrest Wood Cup Winner
Growing up in Debary, Florida, the St. Johns River and Lake Monroe were, and still are, my favorite places to catch big bass. Due to Florida’s warm weather, the lakes and rivers can sustain vegetation like cattails, hydrilla, and lily pads virtually year-round, where big bass love to hide and ambush bait. Although there are many ways to fish this vegetation, there are two ways that often lead to landing a true bucket mouth.
The first way is to work a frog on top of the pads and grass. I prefer a powerful rod for this, like a 7’4″ mod/fast action, heavy power rod. For pads I start working the frog over the cover, pausing it when you get to pad openings and lanes. For grass I may burn it in a little faster, but still pause it when I see a good ambush point. The explosion of the top water strike is so addicting! Just be sure to let that half a second go by before you set the hook, that can increase your hook set chances.
The second way I like to fish vegetation in Florida is to pitch a creature bait with some weight ranging from ½ to 2 ounces depending on if I am flipping or punching. For this I prefer to use a 7’9″ rod that has a mod/fast action with extra heavy power. Use a typical flipping technique, but you want to make sure you have a soft lure placement (no water ripples) and you want to take your time and really hit every pad, stump, and lane you see. Once you catch a fish or two, remember the type of pad or grass they were holding on, and use that knowledge to prioritize the rest of your casting decisions. Once you feel the double tap, use that extra-heavy power to set the hook and hold on! There is nothing like catching a big Florida bass!