Florida is full of small lakes and ponds that just aren’t accessible by powerboat. You can walk the shoreline and cast for bass, but nothing beats that on-the-water vantage point for working weed beds and drop-offs. That is where a kayak can come in handy. A decade ago, canoes outsold Kayaks at a rate of 5–1, but today, those numbers are reversed. These easily maneuverable boats are well suited for fresh water, for when it comes to stalking big bass you won’t find a quieter watercraft on earth.
Kayaks are relatively easy to paddle and steer. If you want to reposition your fishing platform for that perfect cast, a few flicks of the paddle will get you there. Kayaks are also light. The average plastic boat weighs between 50 and 80 pounds. The average person can put a kayak on the roof of a car without throwing out their back. With a kayak, there is no waiting in line at the boat ramp. Just pull your car alongside the road and slide your kayak into the water. These boats are also virtually indestructible. Unlike a fiberglass hull, you don’t have to worry about running into tree stumps. They require virtually no maintenance. If you are really picky, you might rinse it off with fresh water after paddling. But that is about all it takes to keep one in shape. And when you look at the cost of a sea kayak vs. a bass boat, there is no comparison. Most kayaks cost less than $1,000, and kayaks hold their value. If you see a new model you like, trade-in for it. Most dealers sell used boats as well as new ones. And if that isn’t enough to get you in a kayak, think about the exercise factor. If you want a good workout, you’ll get it paddling a kayak. Who said fishing was a lazy man’s sport?
Homer Circle—‘Don’t Ever Stop Fishing’
Glen Lau’s Fishing Tribute to Uncle Homer: Homer Circle (1914–2012), best known to millions of anglers and readers as “Uncle Homer,” was still fishing with me at 97. We met when I featured him in the movie “Bigmouth” and developed a close friendship that included almost weekly fishing trips on our favorite Florida waters.
No man ever embodied the love of bass fishing more or provided more tips to anglers then he did in his 36 years with Sports Afield and penning BassMaster’s “Ask Uncle Homer” column. I took this photo of Uncle Homer with an 11 lb., 5 oz. trophy Florida largemouth just a few months before he passed on. Our last trip was just five days before he died. We fished from 2 in the afternoon until 5, and he caught six and I caught five, which is just the way I like it. So the tip I want to pass on from my fishing buddy is make time to fish and fish for a lifetime. I’ll close with his own special prayer:
The Fisherman’s Prayer
by Homer Circle
God grant that I may fish until my dying day;
And when at last I come to rest, I’ll then most humbly pray;
When in His landing net I lie in final sleep;
That in His mercy I’ll be judged as good enough to keep!
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 measurer, so you can register your lunkers with TrophyCatch! (see video at YouTube.com/TrophyCatchFlorida.)
Peacock bass are special to me — I’ve been making a living by guiding for them for more than 20 years — but trophy peacocks are even more extraordinary. Butterfly peacock bass are smaller than largemouth bass, and each angler will have his or her own opinion, but for me any peacock over 4 pounds is a special fish — what I consider a “trophy,” and qualifies for the Big Catch angler recognition program.
Trophy peacocks can be caught year-round, but late February through April is best when these fish start spawning and become more territorial and more aggressive. This spawning period begins first in the southern canals, and starts later — around late May — in the northern extent of the peacock’s range, like Lakes Osborne and Ida. Of course, cold weather can delay or disrupt this pattern.
When the time is right, you’ll find trophy peacock bass over a hard surface such as submerged rock or concrete — in preparation for spawning — the opposite of the soft, sand bottoms preferred by largemouth bass. Like trophy largemouths, however, the bigger peacocks are often found deeper. My best lures for trophy peacocks are bucktail or Road-Runner jigs, in 3⁄8–½ oz. sizes. I prefer chartreuse/white, red/white, or red/yellow. You want to keep the jig moving with a bouncing motion on a tight line, and repeat until they eat the jig. You have to find the fish to catch them — it’s all sight fishing — and I wear a quality pair of polarized sunglasses. The difference a good pair makes is like night and day.
I strongly advocate catch-and-release during this time period — released peacocks will return to where they were caught and continue their spawning activity. These fish are special and different, very much worth protecting, and Florida has a great peacock fishery — thanks to the FWC.
“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.
Regulations in red are new this year.
Purple text indicates an important note.