Freshwater Fishing Tips from the Pros
Topwater Fishing in Florida
Shawn Elder, TrophyCatch participant
Florida is a great place to catch lots of trophy fish with topwater baits. If you want to try getting some topwater action, I recommend using a medium heavy or heavy action rod with 30-50 pound test braid. Any topwater lure that makes noise such as the Gambler Big EZ, Whopper Plopper, frogs, etc. works the best on lily pads or along grass lines. Trophy fish are smart and will try to get you caught on these pads and in the grass so you should always use braided line to pull these fish out. Try looking for water that is about 3-6 feet deep and reel as slowly as possible while still having your lure make noise and action. If you see a specific spot you want to cast on, try casting as far as possible past the spot before retrieving your lure. Early mornings, during sunset and days when the lake is very calm will always be the best time to fish topwater. You should also try to avoid having multiple lures close to each other at the same time and try to stay as quiet as possible, having your lure make almost all of the noise. Florida is also heavily fished by locals and tourists, so you should try looking locally on Google Maps for bodies of water that look hidden or not fished very often. Try looking for lakes or ponds that have very few docks or boats along the shore and lots of vegetation. Big fish can also be caught where you wouldn't be able to bring most jon boats and especially bass boats. I personally use a kayak but you can also use smaller jon boats, Gheenoes and canoes to get through swamps or very shallow water for that trophy bass!
Berkley PowerBait Fools Pressured Fish
By Keith Carson, 2021 Bassmaster Classic Qualifier
Florida has a lot of bass, but it also has a lot of grass and a lot of fishing pressure, especially on some of the better-known lakes in my part of the state. My confidence in the Berkley PowerBait MaxScent baits skyrocketed as I learned how to use it to catch pressured fish. The secret to the bait’s effectiveness stems from the development of a soft bait that dispenses more scent than other soft baits on the market while preserving action and presenting a taste and texture that bass won’t let go. My go-to technique for catching pressured fish is something I like to call “finesse punching.” To do this, I rig a 6-inch Berkley PowerBait MaxScent The General on a 5/0 round-bend hook. Using a 1/2-ounce tungsten sinker on 40-pound-test braid, I look for main-lake grass points that should hold fish given whatever current there is at the time. Flipping the bait into the hydrilla or grass, the shape of The General and the slimmer profile of the tungsten weight causing less disturbance to the water. With little to no splash to spook the fish in the grass, the bait’s slow, controlled fall allows a scent field to develop. As it passes by the ambush-ready bass holding in the grass, it looks and smells like real food. When bass bite MaxScent baits, they are presented with a texture that’s very natural in terms of texture and taste, meaning they hang on longer to allow more time for hook sets. During tournament practices, I’ve even been able to get bass to the boat without a hook in the fish. When it comes to fooling big, pressured Florida bass, don’t be afraid to put the power of science and research on your side.
Florida’s Speckled Perch
Gary Simpson, Gary’s Tackle Box, Gainesville
Across the south, no freshwater fish has a bigger army of angling fans than the crappie. Here in Florida, the generations-old term for the much-sought favorite is ‘speckled perch’. The ‘speck’ spends most of its life out in the deeper, open water of our lakes, feeding mostly on minnows. When autumn arrives, the specks’ feeding ramps up, and the best speck catches will be made through the colder months. During fall and winter, anglers typically drift open water with crappie jigs or live minnows set deep beneath floats. The most eagerly-anticipated event for the speckled perch lover is the comparatively brief spell when the fish move into weedy or brushy shoreline cover to spawn. Timing is critical, but this is the best period of time to catch the heaviest-bodied ‘slabs’ of the year. Here in the north part of the state, it’s a pretty good bet that the days around the full moon of February will see the strongest spawning activity. But, depending on the weather, the spawning peak can arrive in January or March. A couple of decades ago, a 3-pound 12-ounce speck hung on the wall at McGilvray’s Fish Camp on Newnan’s Lake. Caught in 1964 by Johnny McGilvray, this fish was for some years the Florida record. The old fish camp is long gone, and the Florida record speckled perch, listed properly in the record books as ‘Black Crappie’, is now an ounce heavier. I often think of that impressive mount that looked out over the minnow tanks, drink coolers, and the racks of lures, hooks, and weights. The giant slab gave hope to all of us who were about to head out onto the lake to try our luck. I have no idea where it ended up, but I hope that, somewhere, the mounted fish is still intact as a remnant of North Florida’s fishing history.