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Tips from the Pros

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Punching Mats in Florida

Rich Howes, a Bassmaster Classic contender, has entered his own catches in TrophyCatch.

A popular technique with Florida bass anglers is punching grass mats. The grass can be anything, including hydrilla, hyacinths, chopped up Kissimmee grass or water lettuce. Bass in Florida love to bury themselves in and under these grass mats.

To be successful with this technique, be sure you are using proper equipment. It starts with a long, heavy-action rod, I typically use a 7’6″ or longer Fitzgerald rod. A high speed 7:1 Bass Pro Shops Pro Qualifier Reel or something similar is necessary to gather in line quickly and use 65-pound braided line or stronger. You will want to start with a heavy tungsten weight of 1 to 2 ounces, which needs to be pegged to the line using a bobber stopper or plastic T-peg insert. Next you will want to use a snell knot to attach a very stout 3/0 or 4/0 flipping hook, like a Strike King Hack Attack flipping hook. Finally use a quality soft plastic bait.
My mainstays are a Tightlines UV whisker punch’n rig or a Gambler BB Cricket.

Pitch or flip the heavy weight right on top of the grass. The bait will either go through on the initial fall or you will need to lightly shake your rod up and down to feel the bait make its way underneath the grass mat. Once underneath you will often feel the fish bite right away, but sometimes it is necessary to jig the bait up and down to trigger a fish to strike. When you feel the bite, set the hook with some authority and do your best to take control of the fish to get it out and on top of the grass as quickly as possible. Of course once you put it in the boat take a picture of that Trophy on a digital scale and do all the things necessary to upload your TrophyCatch at TrophyCatchFlorida.com! All of the tackle necessary is available at Bass Pro Shops or through other TrophyCatch sponsors.

Springtime Fly Fishing

Dr. Martin Arostegui, was the first IGFA angler to reach 200 World Records and is now at 440.

Springtime is my favorite season for freshwater fishing, especially in South Florida. As waters warm up and the water levels in the Everglades reach their lowest point of the dry season, many fish migrate from sawgrass areas to deep-water holes and canals adjacent to the Everglades. You can fish from land, canoes, small boats or more traditional bass fishing boats.

This is a perfect time to find that trophy largemouth bass as well as a large variety of other freshwater fishes such as bluegills, redear sunfish, warmouth, crappie, pickerel, bowfin, catfish and Florida gar. I enjoy catching all of them, an attitude that has helped me document over 440 International Game Fish Association world records for various species and line classes. This is the same generalist approach that provides diverse fishing opportunities year round to participants in the FWC’s Big Catch angler recognition program (BigCatchFlorida.com).

Springtime is also a great time to fly fish for largemouth bass. I like weedless poppers that imitate small frogs and cast them with a 9-weight fly rod and floating line. It is important to use weedless poppers, so you can cast them into structure or over lily pads without fear of the fly becoming stuck. If the top water bite is not happening, I switch to black or purple rabbit strip flies and cast a sinking fly line. I have caught many big bass using these techniques.

Fly-fishing for smaller fish can be a lot of fun. I recommend a light fly rod, say a 5-weight rod and a small panfish-size popper. This set up will attract many species including all kinds of sunfish. Occasionally, a large bass will inhale the small popper.

All freshwater areas are fragile ecosystems that require our care and attention to remain healthy. Protect the habitat and carefully handle and release fish that you aren’t going to keep, or can’t keep legally.

Ladies please note that your trophy fish may be a World Record. There are many freshwater record opportunities for lady anglers in Florida, in part due to new categories being opened, see IGFA.org for details.

Casting to Isolated Cover

Trevor Fitzgerald is owner-designer of Fitzgerald Rods, a full-time policeman and BassMaster Southern Open winner.

A great way to target TrophyCatch-sized bass, heavier than eight pounds, or numerous smaller bass in Florida is by casting to isolated cover. In Florida, bass can be caught casting to isolated cover year round, but spring and summer are the best times to catch a trophy because of the spawn. January through April bass will spawn in isolated cover like lily pads, reeds, hydrilla or Kissimmee grass. May through July the bluegill will spawn in and around the same isolated cover that the bass used to conduct their spawning activity. Once bass are finished spawning, they will stay in the area to feed on bluegills that are then spawning.

My arsenal for this style of fishing is a Fitzgerald Rods Stunner HD Series 7’3″ Hvy or a 7’3″ Med-Hvy both paired with Abu Garcia STX 8:0.1 gear ratio reels. My favorite two baits for this technique are a Gambler EZ Swimmer paired with a Gambler 6/0 EZ Hook or a Gambler Ace available at Bass Pro Shops with a 1/4 oz weight and a 4/0 Owner hook. My line of choice for both baits is 65-pound SpiderWire braid. When I’m fishing the EZ Swimmer, I cast way past the isolated cover and slowly swim the bait close to the cover under the surface. When I’m fishing the Gambler Ace, I cast just past the isolated cover and drag it up to the cover, where I like to lightly twitch the bait. These techniques will increase your odds of catching that TrophyCatch-caliber bass.

Smart Trolling Motors Search, Find, Chase and Remember for You!

Todd Kersey is owner of “The Florida Fishing Network” and a well-known bass fishing guide.

The last decade has seen a boom in technology; the fishing industry has witnessed fishing poles get lighter and more sensitive and reels that cast further with ease. Daily advancements in tackle are unveiled, such as lures that light up or have sonic vibrations, and fishing line twice-as-thin and twice-as-strong as just a generation ago. Electronics are smarter and able to find fish better — not only under the boat, but also alongside. Don’t forget about power anchoring systems, like Power-Pole.

Advancements in tackle, boats, rods and reels are small and steady over time. If you look at where the trolling motor was and where it’s going; it could be the biggest single fishing advancement of the next decade!

Let’s break it down…

Huge engineering advancements have gotten the trolling motor to this point. Today you can track trails and mark spots with little effort. The modern day advancements of integrating the trolling motor with the leading brands of fish finders have opened a whole new world to grow into. Think back to when you first had a PC, then a laptop, followed by tablets and now smart phones.

So ask me why you need a smart trolling motor? My response would be, “why do you need a smart phone?” If you think about what you’re able to do with your phone today, you’re already starting to see why smart trolling motors will be a standard issue for every angler.

Still don’t get it? Let’s imagine you’re out fishing with your favorite partner, your fish finder alerts you that it found a school of fish, it tells the trolling motor where to position the boat and then stops at that precise moment when you should cast. You cast and fish on!

Even better, while you’re taking a picture and releasing the fish, getting a cold drink and giving your partner a high five the smart trolling motor follows the fish, as your fish finder communicates the direction and speed the fish are traveling. Your smart trolling motor does everything while adjusting to a 15 MPH cross wind. You fix your bait, stand back up, your phone communicates with the smart trolling motor, slows down and points to the school of fish, you cast and Fish ON again!

Do you see the future yet!

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