The Bass Pro Tour is in Florida right now, so I’m half a continent away from my home in Oklahoma. If that seems like a great distance, it’s nothing compared to the gap between bass fishing in Florida and the way you fish Oklahoma…or Alabama…or New York.
Every time I come to Florida, I think that these must be the most educated bass in the country. The weather is sunny and nice more than 300 days a year. Unless a hurricane is blowing through, there are anglers on the water. These fish rarely get a break.
For many, Florida is a bucket list bass destination. Where else can you catch a 10-pounder while the non-anglers in the family watch the next launch from the Kennedy Space Center or check out the rides at Disney?
But a lot of touring pros don’t like Florida. They struggle to catch fish or to catch the “right” fish — the big ones that move you up in the standings and add a zero or two to your prize check.
Florida bass fishing is not easy, and there are probably a few reasons for that. For one, the fish are pretty educated. The popular lakes get a lot of pressure all year long. For another, Florida bass are actually their own species. They might look like ordinary largemouths, but they’re different and I think they’re more susceptible to weather changes and generally more difficult to catch.
Finally, Florida lakes are salad bowls. They’re mostly very shallow with little contour change and lots and lots of aquatic vegetation of all kinds — Kissimmee grass, hydrilla, pickerelweed, cattails, arrowheads, eelgrass, lily pads, and more.
I have to admit that there was a time when I did not look forward to Florida tournaments. I struggled here early in my career until I simplified my game plan.
Now I take a two-prong approach to tournament fishing in the Sunshine State.
First of all, I fish fast in practice. My goal is to get a lot of bites and hook into a big fish or two, but also to keep moving and cover lots of water.
Second, once the tournament starts, I go to the area where I had my biggest bite and commit to it. Ideally, I’ll fish there all day long and not start the outboard again until it’s time to put the boat back on the trailer.
Pretty simple, huh?
It works for me because it’s tough to pattern bass in Florida. Things look very much the same all over. You can’t run channel bends off points because there are no channel bends and few — if any — true points. Instead of developing a pattern, I look for a productive area. Then I’ll try to find the pattern within that area. Maybe I can figure out that bass are holding along the transition from lily pads to Kissimmee grass…or something like that. It definitely pays to pay attention to the details.
When I’m practicing in Florida and connect with a good bass, one of the most important things I do is tap the button on my front deck that deploys my Power-Poles. I want to stop the boat immediately and work that area over hard. Most often, there are more fish to be caught.
In addition to simplifying my search for Florida bass, I simplify my lure selection, too. Generally speaking, my baits fall into three categories: 1. Search lures, 2. Saturation lures and 3. Pitching and punching lures.
I search with lures like spinnerbaits, bladed jigs, swim jigs and swimming worms. I generally like dark jigs and worms and light-colored spinnerbaits, but I’ll mix it up until I find what the bass want. These baits help me cover water and find the areas holding fish.
Once I find some fish, I’ll work the area over with my saturation baits — swimming worms like the Berkley PowerBait Wind Up and Texas-rigged worms like the Berkley PowerBait Bottom Hopper. With these lures, I slow way down and try to interest the bass that are less aggressive. My favorite colors in Florida are junebug and black-and-blue.
Finally, if the bass are in the really thick stuff, I’ll go in after them with heavy braid and flipping and punching gear. My favorite bait here is the Berkley PowerBait Change Up in junebug. It’s compact, but meaty, and it handles a 5/0 Berkley Fusion19 Heavy Cover Hook really well.
That’s it! That’s how I approach Florida. As you can see it’s pretty straightforward and simple, and I find that’s usually best. It’s worked well for me in the past, and I hope it serves me well this time, too!