Fall Smallmouth Fishing

Rules To Live By

Bass Fishing For Beginners

What do you think of when you hear the name--Okeechobee? Do you see visions of giant bass busting your lure on every cast? Do you imagine catching too many bass that won't fit in your livewell? Do you imagine pulling into the boat launch at the end of the day, letting out a gasp of air and saying, "Those fish wore us out!" instead of the other way around?

These were just three of the hundreds of dreams I had for two months before Thanksgiving break when I was finally going to fish this legendary lake with a friend, Allen Weorner, his dad George Weorner, and his son-in-law Randall. I was consumed in anticipation. This would probably be the best bass fishing trip I've ever been on. I was so geared up and ready to go. It was all I thought about.

Then finally, the day came on November 23. We left Foley, Alabama at 2:00 headed toward Sebring, Florida. The following day at about 8:00, we head for Okeechobee. That two-hour trip seemed to take all day. All I could think about was hitting the lake and hooking up with that first monster bass. It almost killed me. Rule #1: Don't get over-excited.

We pulled into the Roland Martin Marina and hotel at about 10:00-10:30. After checking into the hotel and eating a slightly early lunch, we filled our livewell with eight-inch shiners and launched our boats into the dark water of the outer canal. After gaining three feet of water inside the lock and dam, we were officially on Lake Okeechobee. "Here we go, boys," I said to myself. We passed the no-wake zone and roared off.

We pulled into a beautiful spot 4- to 5-miles from the lock. I put on a shiner that could bite off a few fingers if it had teeth. I flipped it near some grass that was under an overhanging tree. I saw large fish boil the surface to my left. I thought to myself -- A bass had to eat my shiner soon. Rule#2: Bass don't have to do what you want them to do.

I looked back and saw my cork sink under the surface. It completely disappeared... Then it popped back up. Then, it sank back under. I was just about to set the hook when it came up for the second time. "What the heck," I said. I finally realized it was my shiner that was pulling my cork under.

An hour passed, and we were still fishless. It was weird because there were fish boiling and busting all around us, but nothing would touch our shiners. Allen and I decided to move off the shore about 200 yards into the grass flats and fish the breaks and holes. Again, there were fish busting everywhere, but nothing would come close to looking at our shiners. I decided to tie on a Slug-Go on my other rod while Allen tied on a buzzbait. "They've got to hit this," I said to him(remember rule #2).

After throwing to every likely spot and at every swirl, all we got were weeds. After moving around to several different spots, we were still without a fish. We pulled into the lock at the end of the day, very confused. We checked with some locals there and asked if they had caught anything. They had pretty much the same day. One older man said he caught one small bass. He also said he'd caught an eight and a nine-pounder the week before way out in the middle on peppergrass in about 10- to 15-feet of water. To our surprise, he caught them on shiners. I used to believe that they were the best live bait you could use, but my opinion has changed. During the whole trip, they produced a gar and a catfish.

On day two, we headed for the peppergrass. It was supposed to be a twenty-minute ride straight out from the lock to the grass, but it sort of....disappeared. The fish finder only picked up a flat bottom and a massive hole with no fish. We rode around and around, and then we rode some more, but we never found it. So, we went further down the Westside to an area that had flooded timber protected by a vast grass bed.

It seemed impossible to me that we would go fishless again. We put the trolling motor down and started fishing. The same thing happened. Unbelievably huge boils twisted the water all around us. The reeds shook when gigantic bass were chasing everything but our shiners. Two hours passed, and we hadn't a bite. I gave up on the shiners and fished a Spit'n image by that point. I'd been seeing some schools of shad swimming through the grass, so it seemed to be the best lure since it has the best resemblance of a shad—still, no fish. We moved into the timber. Surprise! Fish busting every ten seconds, but not a thing hit shiners, my Spit'n image, my spinnerbait, my worm, or my Slug-Go. I tried pretty much every possible technique I could think of. It only made me more confused.

Finally, somebody caught a fish. But, it was the gar. A guy fishing next to us caught a small bass on a chartreuse spinnerbait. Then I remembered what a bass looked like. That was it, until later that afternoon when the catfish were caught. The only fish the dollar-a-piece shiners caught were stupid fish.

For the rest of the afternoon, we rode around to every likely spot in the world, and we only got wet lures and expensive dead shiners (I hate them now, they cost me 30 dollars, and I hardly ever used them). On the upside, we saw some BIG GATORS. We have gators down here in south Alabama, but the ones we saw made them look like little lizards. I made sure I looked around a couple of times before reaching out to unhook a snagged lure.

Day 3: We gave Okeechobee a rest and took a short drive to the Kissimmee River. To save time explaining, we saw gators but no bass. After two hours, we packed it up and headed a few miles to Lake Istokpoga. Allen, Randall, and I pulled in 35 yards from shore.

Whenever I say we pulled in somewhere, I can't say it was full of weeds because the lakes down there are solid weeds around the edge. The water was about 4 feet deep with a sandy bottom.

I started throwing a Rat-L-Trap into pockets and along the edges. Nothing. By this time, a fish would have had to yank the rod out of my hand for me to get a reaction because I forgot what it felt like to get a hit. Rule #3: When it comes to bass fishing, never give up while there's still time to fish.

Then I told myself I couldn't get into the cast 'n' tug mode. It's where you're fishing, but not really. You're just throwing your lure and not presenting it. You're not looking for the strike and where it might happen because I snapped out of it and started fishing when I did.

I decided to slow down. I decided to fish simpler. I tied on a 10-inch blue worm and threw it deep into the reeds. Slowly up, and then let it fall. Slowly up, give it a tap, and let it fall. Thump, thump. "Hey, who's tuggin' on my line?" Thump, thump, thump. "I got a hit! I got a fish to hit! WAHOOO!!" Too bad because when I set the hook, I missed him.

I was mad. I was furious. However, even though I missed the fish, I discovered something. I didn't give in and say, "That's it, these fish just can't be caught." I stuck with it and thought out what I would do on the next cast.

I wouldn't get another bite until late that afternoon. Finally, Randall caught a bass while we trolled the weedlines with Rat-L-Traps and Rapalas. He hooked it in the side, and there wasn't much fight for him. It might have gone a pound and a quarter.

At about 3:00, we moved to a vast grass island further out in the lake with some pieces of land in it. Then at about 4:00. I caught my first of the trip. It nailed my number 11 Rapala that I pulled over the moss. I mean, he lit it up. I was so proud of that fish. If you just could have seen me. That was the one moment that fully restored my confidence. It was the only other fish caught that day.

Last chance: Saturday morning came. We had three hours to fish before we had to pack it up. We headed for winding Arbuckle Creek. It was some of the prettiest scenery I've ever seen. And besides that, I caught more fish. Three, to be exact, and lost one right at the boat. Randall also caught another bass on a Rapala fat rap. The ones I caught hit a purple and green jerk worm along the weeds. I think the key was that there was current. The water was cool too. I stuck with a simple twitch-and-fall technique. Those four bass nailed it like a freight train.

Remember the rules:

  1. Don't get over-excited. You just might set yourself up for a significant gash in your confidence, and it's a lot harder to build it back up again.
  2. Fish don't have to do what you want them to. They can be somewhat predictable, but you can't control what they do.
  3. When it comes to bass fishing, never give up while there's still time to fish. I could have skipped that lasts three hours and got some extra sleep. But in that three hours, I caught more fish than in the two and half days before. You never really know when the fish might turn on.

I hope that anyone who reads this will learn what I learned. (Special thanks to George Weorner for a great trip and for paying for mostly everything!)