February 15, 2022
By David A. Brown
With the nickname “Sunshine State,” it’s no surprise that Florida sees its largemouth bass spawning much earlier than much of the nation.
This head start is great for tournament circuits and it offers anglers an opportunity to practice their sight-fishing skills for a longer period. However, this is no cake walk and consistency requires an informed and measured approach.
1. Know The Timing
Given the state’s length, all of Florida’s bass do not spawn at the same time. Making his home in Clewiston, at the south end of Lake Okeechobee, Bassmaster Elite Scott Martin sees the drama unfold every year and notes that varying temperature zones will see a cascading spawn.
“We actually have a spawn on Lake Okeechobee in October,” Martin said. “You can’t necessarily depend on it, but you can definitely find fish spawning in October. November is better, December is almost full and on into January, February and March.
“I’ve seen fish on beds as late as May, so we have a a 6-month spawn — some old-timers say it’s even longer than that. Lake Okeechobee has the longest spawn in the country.”
This lengthy spawn continues through much of South Florida, but into the central region, Martin expects the action to start in December. North Florida sees its spawn kick off in Jan or February. The benefit here is the seasonal overlap.
“In Florida, you can fish all three stages of the spawn at the same time, depending on where you are,” he said. “You could be on Lake Okeechobee in January and there’s tons of postspawn fish and spawners, then at the same time, you have fresh fish coming up in Central Florida; but you go to Lake Seminole or the St. Johns River and they’re prespawn.”
2. Sensitive Creatures
The Florida-strain bass’ enormous size potential belies a pitifully low tolerance to weather changes; particularly cold fronts. When they’re on, these fish will give you all you want, but let a cold front sweep through and these big green sissies define the term “lock jaw.”
In fairness, most Florida bass, except for those in the upper extremes, simply don’t live through the true winter seasons that fish elsewhere endure. This, plus the generally shallow nature of Florida fisheries means a cold spell will shut these fish down.
Martin stresses another Florida preference: “Water clarity, water clarity, water clarity. It doesn’t matter how good those fish are biting, if the wind from a cold front muddies that water, nine times out of 10, you are not going to catch them.
“Also, spend a lot of time on your trolling motor looking for the right kind of bottom and clarity. Understand what areas of the lake in a particular year are staying clean more consistently than others, because it changes year-by-year, based on water level and amounts of submerged vegetation.”
Tip: Even if a wind doesn’t muddy your area, surface disturbance compromises sight fishing. If you’ve located fish on a wind-exposed bank, turning your boat sideways to the area and dropping PowerPoles or Minn Kota Talons or Raptors blocks the blow and leaves you with a smooth surface and better visibility.
3. Moon Meaning
We hear it so often: bass spawn on a full moon. Well, Martin said that’s not entirely incorrect—it’s just not the whole picture.
“You don’t need a moon to trigger a spawn,” he said. “The moon is a good indicator, but it’s not the indicator in Florida. These fish spawn on a warming trend.
“Those fish hold up on the cold days and they spawn on the warming trends. So, it doesn’t matter if you have a quarter moon, new moon or full moon; if it’s a warming trend and you’ve had some cold weather holding those fish back, they’re going to the hill.”
4. Bait Logic
Because Florida bass often spawn in clusters, peppering an area with moving bait presentations is a good way to get one or two to blow up, boil, chase or actually bite. In any case, such territorial activity quickly identifies an area worth exploring.
“I like a Chatterbait a swimbait, or swim swim jig and I’m looking for groups of fish moving in,” he said. “If you can find an area that has the right kind of bottom and the right depth—2 to 3 feet of water, hard sand bottom, broken grass — those area areas I’m going to spend a lot of time in.
“When I find this scenario, I’ll expand around those areas. A lot of times those bigger fish will bite those moving baits, but sometimes, you have to flip; especially when you start getting those cold fronts the arrive every week or week and a half.”
Flipping may include a range of Texas-rigged baits from lizards and creature baits, to craws and worms. He is fond of a Googan Baits flipping jig with a Googan Baits Crackin’ Craw. A 3/4-ounce jig handles most scenarios, but he’ll go as heavy as 1 1/2-ounce in denser cover.
“On the cycle of those cold days, those fish are going to gravitate toward the flipping bite on those colder days; and then on those warming trends, that’s when the moving bite tends to turn on better,” he said.
Closing with a technique tip, Martin fishing his jig with more of a swimming presentation than dragging.
“You pitch the jig beyond the target and high stick it past the cover, so it comes into the strike zone moving and falling at the same time,” Martin said. “That really makes those fish react.”
The heavy cover in which Florida bass often spawn is part of this, but it’s also because bass have a love/hate relationship with bluegill. The chunky panfish make dandy prespawn meals, but once the eggs are laid, there’re no greater threat than a nest-raiding bluegill.
“A lot of people look at a jig and say ‘That’s a crawdad,’ and it is imitating a crayfish of some sort; but in Florida, the main forage is not crayfish—it’s bluegill and shiners. That’s what swimming a jig resembles.”