It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!
If Florida fishing didn’t excite you in the summer, it will definitely get you in the fall and winter. Instead of putting our boats away and waiting for spring, those of us here in Central Florida are gearing up for the best fishing of the entire year. We don’t need ice augers and rarely worry about “layering.” In short, it’s just about perfect here right now and all the way through the spawn.
This is one of my favorite times of the year to use swimbaits. The Strike King Shad-A-Licious, Yum Money Minnow, Basstrix Paddle Tail and Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper are some of my favorites. Depending on prevailing conditions, I will change between swimbaits and their respective action.
And, believe it or not, the shallower the fish get at this time of the year, the better the fishing gets. This is not a time when you need to count your swimbaits down to the productive depth and slowly reel them along. You want to get in the thickest cover you can find, make a mile-long cast and steer the bait through the cover, knowing that with any turn of your reel handle your bait could be annihilated by the biggest largemouth you’ll ever put a hook in.
That’s what makes Florida bass fishing so special. Any cast could bring you the bass of a lifetime. There aren’t many places that can make that claim, just ask Paolo Coletti. Paolo traveled to Florida from Italy this week and landed the biggest fish of his life, a 10.8 lb. monster.
For this swimbait pattern, you’ll want to spool up with some stout braided line — nothing less than 50-pound-test — and just enough weight to make the long cast, but not get the bait mired in the cover. I wouldn’t use anything heavier than 1/4-ounce, and I like conventional slip sinkers for this pattern because they protect the soft nose of the bait as it’s coming through cover. Belly weights or weighted hooks also work, but you will go through a lot more baits and spend more time re-rigging and straightening out your lure.
Now is also a great time to catch big bass on top. Buzz frogs like the Zoom Horny Toad, Yum Money Frog, Stanley Ribbit Frog (a great value) or Strike King’s Rage Tail Toad can generate some vicious strikes from big fish. Floating frogs like the SPRO Bronzeye Popper are great when I want to slow down and keep the bait in a specific zone. The floating frogs are also terrific “comeback” baits for the times when you miss a good strike (it happens to the best of us) and want to give the fish another chance. Paolo’s fish came on a white Stanley Ribbit Frog.
Speaking of strikes on baits like that, one question I get all the time is how do you set the hook when a bass grabs your topwater frog? It’s a tough one to answer, but my best advice is count to two after or wait for pressure after the hit and then set the hook — hard! You won’t catch every fish that way, but I find my hook-up percentages are best when I follow my own advice.
Of course, sometimes a big fish will short strike you right at the boat or hit the lure the moment it touches the water or do something else that’s totally unpredictable and unexpected. When that happens, you’re on your own! Reflexes are going to take over, and I wish you the best. If you fish enough, those situations will certainly get the better of all of us. There’s just no way to wait two seconds when the strike splashes water in your face!
If the bass simply aren’t shallow enough for the swimbaits or topwaters, now is a great time to fish lipless crankbaits and really cover some water. The Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap is the standard in this category, but I like to mix things up with Cotton Cordell Spots or a Yo-Zuri Rattl’n Vibe. I think bass can get conditioned to the look or sound of our baits, and trying something they haven’t seen before can make a big difference.
One area where Florida bass fishing seems to be a lot tougher than it is in other places is when a weather front passes through. Everyone has their theories, but post-frontal Florida largemouth fishing can be t-o-u-g-h! That doesn’t mean you can’t catch ‘em, though. It just means you have to change gears — sometimes literally!
I find that after a front passes, it’s best to slow way down. You know the old joke from ultra patient anglers. They tell you that if you think you’re fishing too slow you should slow down even more. Well, there’s a lot of truth to that, especially if you’re talking about Florida bass after a front.
One way to slow down is to shift away from your high gear-ratio reels. If you usually use a 7:1 or 6:1 reel, try using a 5:1 or even an old cranking reel that’s slower than that. You’ll slow down your presentations and give these Florida bass more time to strike.
Of course, the other way to slow down is to show more patience. I’ll usually opt for Yamamoto Senkos, Kinami Flashes (they’re the same bait), Zoom Flukes or Carolina-rigged soft plastics after a front passes, and I’ll really “soak ‘em.” Generally speaking, you can’t fish them too slow, especially when you’re after Florida bass. And when you slow down, be sure to experiment with size and color, too. You never know what might trigger a strike.
Suspending jerkbaits are another great tool when you want to slow down after a front. I love the Smithwick Suspending Rogue and break it out whenever a front passes and the vegetation is sparse enough to work it through without constantly fouling the hooks. The slim profile is a great baitfish match, and a suspending bait is something I can fish as slowly as a plastic worm and still appeal to bass that are looking for baitfish.
While the heavy cover consistent with Florida lakes can seem too dense for jerkbaits, don’t make the assumption they won’t work around the edges and open pockets. Be sure to bring your favorite jerkbait when you come to the Sunshine State, you might be pleasantly surprised.
See you on the water!