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Tips from the Pros

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Shiners and Structure

Lake Istokpoga has become one of the most productive trophy bass lakes in the country following major habitat enhancement programs by the FWC. Anglers can be extremely productive fishing this revitalized habitat using shiners, if they know what to look for and follow some simple tips. Big bass congregate around thinned-out cattail. This should be even better after FWC conducts a prescribed burn in spring 2014. Similarly, bulrush in 5 to 6 feet of water, or spatterdock that is not too dense both provide great habitat.

For shiner fishing, I use a 7.5- to 8-foot, medium-heavy to heavy fiberglass or composite rod, with a level-wind bait-casting reel. Since you will be manhandling big bass through vegetation, load up with 30-pound big game monofilament; for our application, braided line floats too much. Use a 4/0 or 5/0 hook, with a heavy weed guard for an 8- to 9-inch shiner, and hook it through both lips. Approximately three feet up from the hook add a bobber.

Cast the shiner into the thinned vegetation that I described before and let the bait swim with the bail open. The idea is for it to work its way back into the cover where the big bass will be lying in ambush, especially on sunny days. On a cloudy day or around dawn or dusk, you may find the trophy bass cruising a little further from cover.

If you are using more than one rod, set the clicker to warn you if a bass hits your bait and starts taking line. Give it a moment, lock the bail and then set the hook hard. Get it headed out of the vegetation and reel fast, ensuring that you maintain tension on the line. Do not forget if it is over 8 pounds it is eligible for TrophyCatch (See Angler Recognition Programs), so try not to exhaust the fish letting it fight too long. Get it to the boat, take a full-body photo of your catch on a scale, and kiss it goodbye when you let it swim off and proclaim “My Trophy Swims in Florida!”

Freshwater Fly Fishing

Freshwater fly fishing? You mean like on a Western trout stream? Sure we do that in the Sunshine State. I built a career based on the premise that it’s highly effective, and easy to learn with a little practice.

I guided fly fishing trips from Everglades canals to ditches in strip malls. Customers caught tarpon, snook, largemouths and bluegills—and everything in-between. What did I learn while we flailed away? That most fish were hooked within a few feet of the bank, and that the species changed according to season.

Speaking of seasons, here in South Florida we only have two: a rainy period that stretches from June to October, and the rest of the year, which is essentially a drought. When the water starts dropping, usually sometime in December, predators are forced into canals where there’s more competition. That’s when they’re sitting ducks for a well-placed lure.

Fly casting differs from spin and plug casting in that the weight of the line delivers a lure that’s practically weightless. This enables anglers to cast diaphanous (and more-effective) offerings that fall to the surface with scarcely a ripple. The method is deadly: a term eschewed by fly fishers who’d like us to believe they release what they catch. Theirs is a “Conservationist Thing” and something worth striving for.

Fly shops and retailers can help choose an outfit: typically a 7- or 8-weight spooled with a floating line. The catch phrase here is “nothing fancy.”

As far as fly patterns, one stands above the others: the cup-faced popper. Largemouths assault the larger sizes—#6 through 1/0—while the smaller versions wreak havoc on pan fish: both natives and exotics, including occasionally, the butterfly peacock. Toss a “bug” near the shoreline, or emergent vegetation, before beginning a short strip retrieve. Although weed guards are essential for fishing around cover, I seldom see them on commercially-tied bugs—another reason I make my own.

Here’s the lesson I hope you remember: if there’s a hidden subtext to freshwater fly fishing, it’s that it has little to do with status or image. Fly fishing, in contrast, is everyman’s sport and a sure-fire way to enjoy explosive action—especially in springtime when the water drops.

Swim Baits

Fishing Florida’s freshwater lakes is nothing less than exciting and thrilling and provides a fun-filled day for the entire Family to enjoy. Florida is known as giant bass country and Lake Okeechobee is one of the top fisheries in the country. When we hear someone say Lake Okeechobee, we immediately associate it with fishing thick, heavy cover and “power fishing”. Power fishing can be very productive, and one very effective lure is the swim bait.

Swim baits are made of a soft but tough plastic-like material that stands up to lots of cranking and reeling bringing it through the thickest grass. Fishing with swim baits can be a little tricky but here are a few tips to get you rigged properly. Spool your medium-fast to fast reel with a minimum of 65 lb-test braided line and use a medium-heavy to heavy action rod. When rigging the lure first add a sinker stopper to your line (this allows the weight to remain against the swim bait at all times) then a small 1⁄32 oz slip sinker (this allows just enough weight to get that extra long cast when needed and helps keep the swim bait upright as you’re cranking it) then your hook. I prefer a wide-gap 5/0 hook. You can purchase hooks specifically made for swim baits. Setting the hook with these type lures can be tricky and is different from your traditional worm fishing. With swim baits, it is all about timing. Once the bass engulfs the swim bait—do not immediately set the hook—allow the bass to take the lure for a few seconds (waiting for the “tick” feel) then set the hook with authority. Be prepared, when the big bass slams the bait it is like hitting a brick wall. Hang on and do not allow any slack once you start reeling it in.

When my clients and I submit our catch into the FWC’s TrophyCatch program, we always remember to handle the bass lovingly, by putting it in an aerated livewell in between taking pictures. Be sure to dip your measuring board into the water allowing it to cool first before laying your fish on it for length measurements. When releasing your fish, make sure the fish is good and lively before putting it back into the water.

Fishing Contours

The key to finding fish is structure and contours. This is especially true in bass fishing, with changing patterns and depths related to seasonal migrations. With modern technologies, Navionics offers maps for electronic plotters and mobile device apps to show these bottom contours on most Florida lakes. Reading the detail just takes a little practice. Each “contour line” indicates a change in one foot depth. Basically like a step. They either go up or down and some are closer or farther apart. As these lines/steps get closer this means a drop-off or a ledge that will hold fish. The tighter/thicker the lines, the more dramatic a drop-off. A surrounding area that shows depths decreasing would indicate a deep hole–a great spot for summer fish when they drop to deeper cooler waters. Conversely, if the surrounding area shows depths increasing, then potentially you are looking at an offshore hump that can hold suspended fish that may be feeding in current as bait goes by or a schooling area on a reef.

Many fishermen talk about fishing points, but which ones and why? With the aid of an electronic chart with contours, a point can be “patterned”. In winter/spring, look for a point that shows contours that have a lot of space between them. This means a shallow sloping flat. These are areas that fish can use to warm up and may provide a spawning area or pre-spawn staging prior to moving shallower.

A point that shows fast declining contours is more of a feeding location. Bass can move quickly from deep water up onto the shallows and attack a bait. Contours are also important with vegetation lines. If bass are holding in a four-foot depth along a weed line, contours can show you where that four-foot depth is so you can potentially match that with a weed edge for more success.

If you don’t own a bass boat or electronic GPS, but bank fish, kayak, canoe, or have a pond crawler, don’t fret! One can still take advantage of this information with a Navionics mobile app that shows the same chart detail on your phone. Navionics supports the FWC TrophyCatch program (, see maps with verified catches). To see more examples of what these contours look like, please visit and check out the online charts.

Regulations in red are new this year.

Purple text indicates an important note.

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