Florida Fishing Venture
Make Your Next Guided Florida Fishing Venture A Successful One
By George Welcome
You have discussed it with your friends, thought about it for weeks on end, dreamt about it in the wee hours of the morning, and now the decision to make the trip to Florida to fish with a guide is but a few short steps away from fruition. The spouse has agreed, the boss is going to give you the time off, and your buddy has agreed to join you in your journey to the land of big bass and warm weather. The question now is: how do you make sure that your preparations help to ensure the best possible chance at achieving your goals?
Make your fishing vacation more enjoyable by remembering that it is a fishing vacation. Be prepared to enjoy the whole experience, which includes kicking back and enjoying your friends, your surroundings, and your brief respite from the daily cares of your life.
The first step is to be sure that you have established your actual fishing goals and then ensure that they are in fact realistic, based on the amount of time you plan to spend seeking those goals. The majority of bass fishermen will tell you that they are going to Florida seeking that elusive goal of catching a bass over ten pounds. If this is your goal have you considered how much time you will be able to spend in this endeavor? Fishing for a bass that size is what you have been doing since you started bass fishing; will eight hours on the water really give you that chance you are looking for? Your decisions to hit the waters of Florida are a step in the right direction, but remember, fishing is fishing: can you realistically expect to get it done in an eight hour day?
Choosing the lake to fish in Florida is difficult but with some investigation fiction can be separated from reality. The Florida Game and Fish commission makes a list each year of what they consider the top ten bass lakes which will give you a starting point. This list is based on both shock surveys and creel counts that are reported by fishermen during creel surveys. You now need to narrow the list down to your selection and the only way to do this realistically is to get several references based on other people's experiences.
Lake George is one of the premier largemouth bass fishing lakes in central Florida. It is the second largest lake in the state (46,000 acres), and is 18 miles northwest of Deland and 29 miles east of Ocala.
Lake George is one of the many natural lakes on the St. John's River. It has extensive vegetation that provides excellent habitat for bass. Wade fishing in eelgrass with plastic worms fished on the surface, and other top water artificial lures, is productive. Fishing with live shiners is an excellent method for catching trophy bass during the spring spawning season.
Hot spots on the lake include Juniper, Salt and Silver Glen spring runs on the western shoreline. In winter and early spring, look for bass to congregate at the jetties on the south end of the lake. Casting deep-diving crank baits near old dock structures along the northeast shore and off Drayton Island can also be productive.
STICK MARSH/FARM 13 RESERVOIR
Created in 1987, the Stick Marsh/Farm 13 Reservoir is synonymous with trophy bass fishing. This 6,500-acre reservoir near Fellsmere, west of Vero Beach, became one of the hottest bass lakes in the country during the past decade. FWC biologists predict a continuation of excellent largemouth bass fishing in upcoming years. Electrofishing samples continue to indicate good reproduction and growth of bass in the reservoir.
Anglers can locate bass throughout the reservoir among a variety of habitats including woody stump fields, submerged canals and hydrilla. Summer 2004 hurricanes drastically reduced levels of hydrilla throughout the reservoir, however, which can affect where bass are located. Anglers should keep this in mind when trying to pattern fish. Plastic worms, spinner baits, crank baits, soft jerk baits, and top water propeller baits are effective. Wild golden shiners are the top choice for anglers looking to catch a trophy fish.
The recreational harvest regulation for largemouth bass anglers is catch-and-release. There is a two-lane boat ramp, paved parking lot, picnic pavilions and rest rooms. No gasoline, food, ice or other facilities are available on site. This area is part of the St. Johns Blue Cypress Management Unit, see here for a recreational map of that unit.
WEST LAKE TOHOPEKALIGA
Located adjacent to the City of Kissimmee in central Florida, the 18,810-acre West Lake Tohopekaliga has long boasted a reputation among both recreational and tournament anglers of producing excellent fishing and trophy largemouth bass. The lake received national attention during year 2001 when professional angler Dean Rojas broke the all-time B.A.S.S. tournament record for total weight with a catch of 108 pounds of bass. During the four day competition, two 40-pound-plus limits, 21 bass over 10 pounds, and 251 five-fish limits were brought to the scales. Two-and-one-quarter tons of bass were weighed in during this fishing tournament.
An extreme drawdown and habitat enhancement project was conducted on the lake during spring 2004 to enhance critical shoreline habitat for fish and wildlife utilization. In all, 8.4 million yards of organic material, and associated vegetation that was too thick to provide good fisheries habitat, was removed from 3,506 acres of lake bottom. Subsequently, rainfall from the rash of hurricanes during 2004 quickly re-filled the lake to normal levels.
Most anglers targeting trophy bass use live golden shiners during early spring. Shiners are fished inshore near native vegetation or topped-out hydrilla . Plastic baits (worms, crawfish and lizards) flipped along grass edges, hydrilla, and bulrush will also catch quality-sized bass. Spinner baits, soft jerk baits and chugging baits can also be very productive at times. Both Texas-rigged and Carolina-rigged plastic worms, and rattling crank baits, top the list of favorite lures during warmer months of the year.
North Steer Beach, Brown's Point and Goblet's Cove are popular fishing spots on the lake. Fishing in Shingle Creek and St. Cloud Canal can be outstanding when flow is present through these tributaries. Eight, man-made fish attractors hold good concentrations of fish in deeper areas of the lake during the summer.
Covering approximately 35,000 acres, Lake Kissimmee is the largest of five main water bodies on the famous Kissimmee River in central Florida. Lake Kissimmee is nationally renowned for producing high quality fishing.
The lake underwent restoration activities in 1996, when nearly 24 miles of shoreline were enhanced through removal of accumulated organic sediment and associated vegetation that was too thick to provide good fisheries habitat. As a result, more beneficial native grasses became established in firm, sandy enhanced areas, which provided spawning and nursery habitat for fish.
Although fishing success slowed following the enhancement project, anglers are once again enjoying good catch rates of largemouth bass. Tournament anglers on Lake Kissimmee are posting winning weights of 18 to 20 pounds of bass. Results of an angler survey indicated that bass anglers had an excellent catch rate of 0.54 fish/hour during spring 2004.
Strong winds associated with hurricane activity during fall 2004 cleared vegetation from some areas of the lake, which allowed anglers to fish these areas that had been inaccessible prior to the storms. Some areas of Lake Kissimmee that were impacted by the winds include the shoreline between C-37 canal and the Pig Trail, Lemon Point and Grassy Island.
Expansive stands of native aquatic grasses at Philadelphia Point, North Cove and Brahma Island provide anglers with cover to flip plastic baits or slow-troll golden shiners for spawning bass during the winter and spring. Rattling crank baits, soft jerk baits and Texas- or Carolina-rigged plastic worms fished in open-water or along edges of vegetation are productive during summer and fall. Fly fishermen have good success wade fishing along the miles of shoreline on Lake Kissimmee.
Rodman Reservoir, east of Gainesville and south of Palatka, covers 9,500 acres of prime largemouth bass habitat. Since its creation in 1968, Rodman Reservoir has been known for trophy largemouth bass.
Much of the fishery's success is attributed to abundant habitat in the form of stumps and submersed aquatic vegetation, and periodic drawdown that occur every three years. Although drawdown on Rodman are used primarily to control invasive aquatic vegetation, biologists have demonstrated a relationship between strong largemouth bass year classes and reservoir drawdown. Beginning in November 2004, the reservoir will be lowered seven feet from normal pool levels, and will be refilled to normal water levels by April 2005.
During this time period, largemouth bass anglers can expect to experience excellent fishing. Fish can be caught using a variety of baits around river channel bends, from Kenwood to Cypress Bayou, as well as areas in the main pool. The best technique to catch trophy bass is to use wild shiners. Plastic worms, soft jerk baits and crank baits should also be productive.
Lake Tarpon is a 2,500-acre lake near Tampa/St. Petersburg in Pinellas County. This lake has consistently produced high quality largemouth bass fishing for years. Most fish range from 12 to 16 inches long; however, quality and trophy fish are also present in good numbers. Biologists have observed anglers catching upwards of 20 fish, including an occasional 10-pounder.
Anglers are most successful flipping or pitching plastic worms along canal and bulrush edges. Offshore bass fishing is productive for anglers who fish around ledges, humps, coontail, and eelgrass beds. Popular lures offshore include shad-imitating jigs, crank baits, jerk baits and top water baits. Fishing with wild shiners and live shad is also effective.
LAKE WEOHYAKAPKA (LAKE WALK-IN-WATER)
Lake Weohyakapka, commonly known as Lake Walk-in-Water, is a 7,500-acre water body. The lake is located south of Orlando and east of Lake Wales, and it is just south of S.R. 60. Lake Walk-in-Water has a national reputation as an outstanding spot to catch largemouth bass. Anglers frequently catch up to 25 bass a day with several ranging from four to eight pounds. The lake also produces many trophy bass exceeding 10 pounds each year. A 15- to 24-inch slot limit regulation and a three-bass daily bag limit are in place to help maintain quality bass fishing. Anglers may keep three bass per day, either under or over the protected slot range, of which only one bass greater than or equal to 24 inches is allowed.
Typically, the best technique to catch trophy bass is to drift live wild shiners over hydrilla weed beds in the northern half of the lake. Soft jerk baits, lipless rattling crank baits, and plastic worms also produce bass in areas of offshore hydrilla. Angling techniques may have to be altered during 2005 because the 2004 hurricanes temporarily cleared most of the hydrilla from the lake.
Pitching live wild shiners and flipping soft plastic baits in the bulrush ("buggy whips" or "round rush") and cattails in the northern and eastern areas of the lake should be successful through spring 2005. Spinner baits should also produce bass in the bulrush and cattail stands. Bass were concentrated in these areas during fall 2004 electrofishing surveys. Remaining hydrilla beds in the cove south of the boat landing will hold good numbers of fish as well.
Top water lures are also productive, particularly chuggers or the walk-the-dog types of baits. Although top water baits catch fish throughout the year, summer months offer the best action when schools of bass roam deep-water areas. Bass should become less concentrated on the shoreline as off shore hydrilla beds grow back through the summer.
Largemouth bass anglers who fish the Kissimmee Chain of lakes to the north and Lake Okeechobee to the south often overlook 28,000-acre Lake Istokpoga. Situated in Highlands County between U.S. 27 and U.S. 98 south of Sebring, Istokpoga is the fifth largest natural lake in Florida and has an average depth of only six feet. During angler surveys conducted from October 2003 throughout May 2004, anglers caught 124,993 bass, of which almost 55,000 were 2 pounds or heavier, and 1,448 bass were over 8 pounds.
Although bass fishing is excellent throughout the year, April and October are the best months for anglers looking for cooler weather and lots of bass. From January through April, bass can be found spawning in bulrush, cattail, and other vegetation over sandy lake bottom in areas that were enhanced during the 2001 drawdown. Spawning bass can also be found around the lake's two islands (Big Island and Bumblebee Island). Flipping soft plastics (dark colors such as "red shad" and "junebug" work best) in bulrush patches and in pockets of submerged vegetation can be productive during this time of year.
In spring and summer, top water lures and jerk baits worked over the top of hydrilla and pondweed in the south half of the lake are often successful. Weedless spoons tipped with grub tails and spinner baits fished over pondweed south of Bumblebee Island are deadly on bass during early morning. Rattling lures (silver, gold, and "Tennessee shad" are excellent colors) can also be effective during summer and fall as baitfish school in open water areas along the north end of the lake. A live shiner fished a few feet under a popping cork is the most reliable bait for catching trophy bass.
Lake Istokpoga has a 15- to 24-inch protected (no-harvest) slot limit for bass with a three fish daily bag limit, of which only one bass may be 24 inches or longer. All residents between 16 and 65 years of age and all non-residents are required to have a fishing license.
DEER POINT LAKE
Deer Point Lake is a popular largemouth bass fishing destination in Florida's panhandle area near Panama City. Although largemouth bass fishing typically slows down during the winter months in Deer Point Lake, it picks up again in mid-February and March, and becomes red hot in April and May. Through mid-February 2005, a drawdown of the lake will move largemouth bass out from shoreline habitats, aggregating them into deeper water. This is an excellent time for some wintertime largemouth bass action. Catches of 20 bass during a morning fishing trip can be common during the drawdown.
One-thousand largemouth bass weighing up to 11.7 pounds were collected and tagged in Deer Point Lake in February 2003 and 2004. The largest reported trophy largemouth bass caught by an angler in 2003 weighed 12.2 pounds and 10.2 pounds in 2004. If you catch a tagged bass in Deer Point Lake this spring, you are urged to contact the FWC Regional Office on Deer Point Lake by calling the telephone number on the tag (850) 265-3676. Also, if you catch a tagged bass and wish to release the fish, please clip the tag as close to the fish's skin as possible. Do not attempt to pull the tag out. Remember to please clip, keep and return the tag. Prizes will be awarded for all returned tags.
Anglers unfamiliar with Deer Point Lake should try fishing for largemouth bass in the old creek channels of Bear, Cedar, and Econfina creeks with plastic worms, diving crank baits or rattletraps. Bayou George and the flats area at the confluence of Bayou George and Deer Point Lake are also popular largemouth spots. Also, try targeting docks and boathouses along the creek channels and at the mouth of Bayou George. Anglers should exercise extreme caution during boat operation due to the tremendous amount of flooded cypress stumps and snags found in the lake.
The Suwannee River is a pristine, black water stream flowing 213 miles in Florida from the swamp-like region at the Georgia border to salt-marsh tidal creeks at the Gulf of Mexico. In between are rocky bluffs and shoal areas in the upper reaches and floodplain cypress tree-hardwood swamp borders, lined with water lilies, in the middle sections. The Santa Fe River is a significant tributary and has abundant spring flow influence, making the water clearer, yet more productive for submerged vegetation and fish food organisms.
Although the Suwannee River is not known for trophy largemouth bass, good catch rates can be expected, and quality-sized bass are frequently caught by anglers. The smaller but feisty Suwannee bass species also occurs throughout much of the river system, and fish large enough to qualify for FWC's "Big Catch" Suwannee bass certificates (minimum: 16 inches or 2 pounds) can be caught by anglers in the Santa Fe.
Crawfish are the main food item for bass in the whole river system, so anglers should fish accordingly. Plastic worms, lizards, and crawfish; jigs with orange skirts and pork rinds; and metallic crank baits are all standard lures that catch fish in the river. While the scenery may change every 20 or 30 miles, the key to catching bass is the same. Deep structure, or shallow structure that has deep water nearby, is what anglers should always look for. Suwannee bass, more common in Santa Fe River, prefer current where water moves around cypress trees or in mid-river at low water levels. Changing depths will change location of current structure.
The lower Suwannee River moves more slowly and bass utilize shoreline cover of fallen trees and cypress trees on outer bends. Plastic baits, rigged Weedless, can catch bass in the pads of inside shallow banks. Live shiners can be fished into brush piles from upstream by letting them float downstream. Small bass will hit a fly or a small floater-diver fished along the bank in the Suwannee.
The estuary is also productive. In the fall when shrimp are in the river, fishing can be outstanding. Tidal creeks are a unique fishing experience.
EVERGLADES WATER CONSERVATION AREAS 2 AND 3
The Everglades Water Conservation Areas (WCAs) are south Florida marshlands intersected with over 200 miles of canals. WCA-2 has 210 square miles of marsh, and WCA-3 covers approximately 915 square miles of marsh. Originally designed for flood control and water supply, the area provides some of the best largemouth bass fishing in the country.
The best fishing usually occurs in the spring when dropping water levels concentrate fish in the canals. April is the peak month with angler catch rates as high a 4.1 bass per hour in the L-67A Canal. Last year, from December through May, anglers enjoyed catching an average of 2.44 bass per hour, and 0.42 bass 14 inches or larger per hour, in L-35B and L-38E canals.
Most anglers fish in the canals rather than in the marsh. Anglers work canal edges with plastic worms, soft jerk baits, and minnow imitations. Flipping the vegetation is also a popular technique. During high water, anglers will often enter the marsh areas where bass can be found in the open slough areas. The L-67A Canal and Alligator Alley Canals have access trails off of them that are specifically cut to provide boats access to adjacent marsh areas.
A special bass fishing regulation is in affect in south Florida, including the Everglades Conservation Areas, where only one bass of the five-bass daily bag limit may be 14 inches or longer. This gives anglers the opportunity to harvest smaller bass, but still prevents over-harvest of fish over 14 inches in total length.
This 15,725-acre lake borders the east side of Crescent City on the Putnam/Flagler county line. Crescent Lake flows into the St. Johns River via Dunns Creek on its north end. Past electrofishing samples for largemouth bass revealed one of the highest catch rates recorded for areas on the St. John's River. Largemouth bass up to 20 inches long were well represented in the sample and good numbers of larger fish (8 [pounds or larger) were collected.
Fall/early winter fishing tends to be best near deep-water structures such as dock pilings. Preferred artificial baits include plastic worms, spinner baits and crank baits. Live golden shiners are always a popular bait.
Selecting a guide
The one to answer these questions about lakes would be the guide that you have selected to assist you with fulfilling your objectives. Herein lies the most difficult step in your planning of what you hope is the bass fishing trip of a lifetime. However, with just a little homework you can, with reasonable accuracy, find a reputable and reliable guide. Once you have narrowed the field down based on the lake you want to fish, then interview the respective guides. Find out if the guide's objectives and yours actually match. Don't be afraid to ask questions about the guide's service, the guide's history on the lake, and references of others that have fished with the guide. If the guide has a web page visit the page and carefully check all their pages including any reference/comment pages that they may have and actually call some of the references.
Some of the important questions that you should be asking: Does the guide fish or advertise multiple lakes or does the guide concentrate on one or two lakes? A guide that works multiple lakes will probably not be very familiar with any one of them as to what is currently taking place. What was happening ten days ago is history so unless the guide is working the lake frequently you just might be hiring someone for a searching expedition. In many cases guides will advertise multiple lakes just to get the phone call and will then attempt to steer you to their lake that they are familiar with which might not be the lake you intended to go to.
Does the guide have an open list of references that you can freely choose from or does he only have a select few that you can contact? References are only good if you can freely pick them and then talk with the people. Another good source of reference today is the internet. Don't be afraid to inquire on any of the major bass pages on the internet about the guide and any experiences that others have had with that guide.
Does the guide talk freely about locations they fish or does the guide refer to secret honey holes? Realize that there really aren't secret honey holes on the Florida lakes, but the reference to them is meant to lure you into hiring that person. There is a big difference between a guide that stays current on his lake and one that uses such terms as secret honey holes. Look for proof that the guide stays current on his lake and conditions. A good source to verify the guides activity is again the internet. Look through various bass related pages to see if the guide posts fishing reports regularly, and then read them thoroughly to see if the guide is open in his presentations or just give numbers out. Does the guide have adequate equipment? You don't need a bass boat to catch a big fish but eight to nine hours in a Jon boat can be quite uncomfortable and at times not quite up to the safety standards that you might expect. If you have special accommodation needs be sure to let the guide know up front. It is too late once you have arrived at the lake. Ask the guide what will be supplied and what you will be responsible for. Every guide has a different list of what they supply. Ask the guide what hours you will be fishing, what time you will meet, and where you will be meeting. In general, ask questions that will ensure that you and the guide are compatible in nature and objectives.
What to bring
Once you have settled on a guide it is time to review with the guide what baits are currently working and what to bring with you. Taking your entire tackle bag is not only unfruitful, but can be very difficult when working with the airlines.
Generally the baits that work best in Florida can be weaned down to a handful of selections. It is not necessary to bring a tackle bag that is set up for Lake Erie all the way to Florida as many of the baits that are appropriate for one lake may be totally unneeded on another. Some guides supply baits and tackle. Be sure to ask what kinds of bait and tackle are supplied and be sure to ask by name brand. Ask the guide if they supply rods and reels. It may be a good idea if the guide supplies rods to just bring your reels with you so as to not have to deal with the transportation and chance of breaking your rods. Be sure to ask the guide what baits can be gotten locally. Many baits that are commonly used can be gotten here in Florida, and based on the amount of time you have here, you can save a lot of hassle by simply getting them when you get here.
Suggested Florida tackle (although not restricted to), would be:
- Various plastics in dark colors (Yamamoto Senkos in 5" are highly recommended)
- 4/0 Offset Worm Hook (We Prefer Gamakatsu)
- Small Barrel Swivels For Carolina Rigs (#10)
- Bullet Weights (3/8 Ounce Is Most Common For Carolina Rigs)
- Storm Rattlin' Chug Bug 3.5" 3/8oz (Chrome & Blue, And Your Other Favorite Colors)
- Any Of Your Favorite Top Water Lures
- Bill Lewis 1/2 Ounce Rat-L-Taps (Chrome Blue w/ Orange Belly, Craw Dad, And Fire Tiger)
- Buzz Baits (White, White And Chartreuse)
- Spinner Baits (Fire Tiger, White, etc:) (Terminator T1 3/8 oz With Thumper Blades work extremely well)
- Flukes (Watermelon, Salt And Pepper, ) (Zoom Salty Super Flukes work well)
- Line of choice: (17-20 pound test recommended)
- Hard Jerk Baits (Bomber Long A (B15A) 4 1/2" Shiner Pattern)
- Rain Gear (rain suit recommended - ponchos are inadequate)
- Sun Protection; (Minimum 35 SPF Is Recommended)
- Layered Clothing For Those Cold Periods
- Snacks, Lunch, Drinks as needed: Some guides supply them and some don't. Be sure to ask!
- Camera For Those "Big Ones"
Be sure to inquire about fishing licenses. Florida requires all non-residents to have a fishing license. Although in salt water the boat can hold a license for occupants, in freshwater this doesn't exist. The license is your responsibility. You can get a license at any Wal-Mart in Florida, or by contacting the Fish and Game @ 1-888-FISH-FLOrida (347-4356), or on the internet at https://www4.wildlifelicense.com/fl/start.php/.
Travel and hotel accommodations need to be arranged as early as possible. Well thought out and advance travel arrangements can save you a lot of money. Hotel/Motel accommodations need to be taken care of as early as possible. There are many events taking place in Florida that can make accommodations almost impossible to get if you wait until the last moment.
With some planning and some thought you can make your trip to Florida one to be remembered for a lifetime. Without it, your trip could be remembered as the biggest disaster you were ever involved in. Be thorough and complete and you will definitely have the odds in your favor for a very successful trip.