For bass anglers, the words “Florida” and “bass fishing” are almost synonymous. When anglers think of Florida they envision 10-pounders lurking around in lily pads and shallow reeds, waiting to engulf a lure. Indeed, Florida is considered a dream bass fishing destination for many.
However, when anglers from other parts of the country finally get to visit Florida for a bass fishing trip, they often discover Florida bass to be quite a bit different than other largemouth bass found in the U.S. That’s because Florida bass are, in fact, a different strain of bass when compared to the conventional northern strain largemouth bass.
Telling a Florida strain largemouth apart from a northern strain bass is nearly impossible from just physical appearance alone, however, the behaviors, habits and preferences of the two breeds are fairly different. Florida bass are much more wary, finicky and sensitive to weather than their northern cousins. The types of lures Florida bass consistently prefer are different as well.
To get the best tips on fishing for these precarious Florida bass in their native state, there is no better panel to consult than the Major League Fishing pros who qualified for the MLF World Championship held in Sebastian, Fla. Collectively these pros have a heap of fishing experience in the Sunshine State. They are well aware of just how idiosyncratic Florida bass can be. So let’s turn to them for their top-10 tips on bass fishing in Florida.
One of the most common complaints first-timers have in Florida is that everything looks the same. Whether you visit the massive Lake Okeechobee or the flooded farm fisheries like the Stick Marsh or Kenansville, the lakes really do look the same with miles and miles of vegetation.
Mike Iaconelli offers one of the most powerful tips for deciphering these enormous salad bowls: find mixed vegetation.
“So much of Florida’s lakes are the same: miles of reeds, acres of matted hydrilla, eelgrass beds that go on forever – it can be so overwhelming and intimidating,” Ike said. “So I always start my search where different grasses and vegetation mix together. Maybe it’s a seam where hydrilla meets reeds; maybe its hyacinths on top of matted hydrilla. Instead of one long line of reeds, look for reeds that are more broken or clumpy with other vegetation like eelgrass growing in the pockets and gaps. You can’t go wrong with mixed vegetation in Florida.”
This great tip comes from Iaconelli as well. And it’s one reason he likes mixed vegetation because mixed veggies often giveaway changes in the bottom.
“So much of Florida is so flat that just a 6- to 18-inch change in the bottom can be a huge fish magnet,” he added. “That’s why vegetation seams are so critical to look for because they usually signal a change in contour or bottom composition. Eelgrasses and peppergrass usually grow in harder, sandier bottom. So if you’re in a huge expanse of hydrilla and suddenly find a patch of eelgrass or peppergrass – bingo, you have found a change in the bottom thanks to mixed vegetation.”
Some of Florida’s fabled bass fisheries have a lot of silt in the water. Fortunately, the massive amount of vegetation in Florida lakes helps filter this silt from the water. But when the wind blows and shakes the silt loose, it can give the water a putrid, turbid look. If you see this, keep moving until you find cleaner, clearer water.
Greg Hackney is a big proponent of finding clearer water while fishing Florida Lakes.
“A lot of Florida lakes have that dark tannic color to it,” Hackney advised. “That tannic color is fine, but you want a nice, clear tannic color – like fresh brewed tea – it’s dark, but it’s clear, that’s the water color I like in Florida. If it’s turbid and turned up it’s a bad deal; for some reason they just don’t bite very well when the water is turned up like that.”
Jigs and spinnerbaits and crankbaits are great fishing tools in other parts of the country, but when it comes to fishing Florida’s weedy waters, soft plastics are the undisputed heavyweight champions of all lures.
Several MLF pros harped on this tip, specifically suggesting soft plastic stick baits in a 6- to 8-inch size rigged Texas style as a staple that Florida bass can’t resist.
One thing that is not complex or overwhelming in Florida fishing is choosing the right lure color. Junebug is the outright top choice with just about any given soft plastic, from stick baits like Senkos and Trick Worms to beaver-style creature baits. Other colors similar to junebug are fair game too, such as black and blue flake, tequila sunrise or plum. There is just something about a dark colored base plastic with a green or blue glitter flake that really tricks Florida bass time and time again.
When it comes to Texas-rigging weedless soft plastics in Florida’s weedy waters, Mike McClelland always adjusts to the lightest weight possible.
“Since Florida has so many different densities of vegetation, constantly changing your weight on Texas rigs to match those different densities is critical,” said McClelland. “You can’t believe how many more bites you will get on an 1/8-ounce weight versus a ¼-ounce weight when fishing something like sparse eelgrass or lily pads. The trick is to get that worm to fall as naturally as possible.
“Wind is a major factor in this choice, too,” he added. “If it’s dead slick, you might even consider going weightless or down to a 1/16-ounce. Often times I’ll have several rods rigged with the same soft plastic but with different weights to match vegetation and wind conditions.”
Floridian Bobby Lane has spent his life catching Florida strain bass and when asked for his top piece of advice, Lane doled out two words: slow down.
“When I say slow down, I don’t just mean on your trolling motor, but also on your presentation,” he explained. “When I see guys fish Florida for the first time, they want to tear through pad fields or Kissimmee grass with the trolling motor on high, whizzing a spinnerbait or buzzbait. They’re used to fishing for northern strain bass that will chase a lure down because they’re aggressive. Florida bass, however, need something to quietly appear in their space and stay there – you almost have to tease or pester the fish into biting. Leaving the lure in their face as long as possible greatly improves your chances of getting bites, especially big bites.
Jeff Kriet said a mistake he made on one of his first trips to Florida was not carrying enough firepower for big bass.
“Years ago I had to fly to Florida for a fishing deal and at the last minute I just threw some standard 7-foot medium heavy rods with 15-pound line in the rod tube,” Kriet recalled. “I mean it was adequate tackle; I caught a few fish on scattered open-water stuff without a problem. Everything was fine until I pitched a little too far into a reed head and got totally horsewhipped by a giant bass. That fish never checked up and had its way with my stuff. Needless to say, now I always take heavy action flipping sticks and 50- and 65-pound braid when I fish down there.
“I bring that up because so many folks go to Florida to catch that big bass of a lifetime. They pack their spinning poles with 12-pound test and that’s a good way to get your heart broken. I’d recommend carrying one or two flipping sticks with at least 30- to 40-pound braid. That way when ‘ol’ big’ grabs your stuff in thick vegetation, you’ve got a better chance of landing her.”
Weather and water conditions are always a big part of fishing. But Florida bass are particularly melodramatic when it comes to weather. Cold fronts especially make them pout. Wind is not their friend, either. Florida bass are much like the tourists that visit the Sunshine State – they want sunny skies and warm weather. To put the odds in your favor, wait for chamber of commerce weather.
Northern strain largemouth are prone to be loners. One fish may take up residence on a dock or lay down and be the only bass on that whole structure. But Florida bass tend to group up more. As Lane points out, “If you catch one, stay put because chances are there are more around.”
So there you have it. If you’re headed to Florida, take some stout gear and junebug colored soft plastics, find mixed vegetation in clean water on a nice day and if you get a bite, work the area slowly and maybe, just maybe “ol’ big” will be on the end of your line.