November 21, 2022
It’s the annual question: When is it okay to start playing Christmas music? Most fall into either the “before Thanksgiving” or after “Thanksgiving” crowd.
As far as this seasonal debate, it’s Each to their own.
But how about spawning bass? For most, even thinking about those shallow waterbed hunts prior to New Year’s Eve is, well, it’s just not right.
That’s a clearly understandable perspective, even in the Southeastern U.S.—unless we’re talking about Florida. Yep, while much of the nation is starting to shiver, parts of the Sunshine State are getting an early look at largemouth bass reproductive rituals.
Before Thanksgiving, no less.
“Fish in Florida are thinking about spawning way before any other fish in the country,” said Bassmaster Elite Scott Martin, who calls Florida’s Lake Okeechobee his home waters. “Anywhere else in the country, you’re in the fall fishing patterns and chasing tiny shad around, but in South Florida, there’s a move of spawning fish.”
A Wider Window
Given its southern latitudes and mostly mild weather, Florida offers fish favorable spawning conditions that begin shaping up not long after the Autumnal Equinox and last well into the following year’s second quarter.
Tales of spotting legitimate bed fish in every month of the calendar are neither rare, nor unfounded, as Florida’s length (about 447 miles) spreads the fun across a broad range. And with seasons less sharply defined than states to the north, the bass are in no great rush.
So, rather than distinct and predictable spawning waves, Florida often sees disjointed movements with fish pretty much doing their thing whenever the conditions feel right. Moons matter, but Florida anglers put less stock in lunar influence.
As Elite pro Bernie Schultz of Gainesville points out: “Our fish can spawn at any phase of the moon. I just think it comes down to water temperature (mid to upper 60s), water clarity or the amount of water they have to spawn in.”
Know the Playing Field
Martin agrees and points out one of the biggest factors in capitalizing on the early prespawn staging and the subsequent spawn—tightly focused effort. They could by just about anywhere, but they’re not.
“What you have to remember is that this time of year in Florida, you can have one of the best days you’ve ever had, or you might never get a bite,” Martin said. “What happens, especially in South Florida, is these fish utilize a very small percentage of (a spawning area). Instead of being spread out, most of the fish will be in one small spot.
“They group up more this time of year than any other time of the year. Literally, you can be fishing in 5 feet of water with cattail clumps and holes in the grass all around you and you will catch 20 fish in a row on the exact same cast, when the same exact type of spot 5 feet to the left of right, you don’t get a bite.”
Martin’s advice: Pay close attention to exactly where the bites occur and make sure you get another cast right on the hot spot. Stopping to take photos, weigh fish and celebrate a big catch is fine, but drop the shallow water anchors to maintain your position.
Covering water with bladed jigs, lipless crankbaits, or soft body swimbaits will identify staging or bedding fish. The former typically crush the search baits, while the latter run out to shoo away intruders. Even territorial wakes and boils help the cause.
On target, jigs, Texas-rigged lizards and creature baits are tough to beat, while unweighted stick worms—Texas or wacky style—deserve a place in the arsenal. Be methodical and intentional to find the zone and then exploit it until they stop biting.
ConFronting the Cold
Florida winters will not impress anyone to the north, but while the state sees shorter durations, Florida bass experience a handful of shivering moments each year. It’s the classic catch-22—Florida deals with less cold weather, but when it arrives, the fish act like the world is ending. Lockjaw, pouty face, bad mood—call it what you want, they’re not having it.
“The one thing that does hurt you in the fall is that first big cold front,” Martin said. “Usually, in November or December, we get one pretty big cold front and that shuts the fishing down for the week; but the fish rebound pretty well once it warms up again.”
Of course, fish have to eat and while fronts shut down spawning activity, anglers often salvage the day by looking for bass in cover adjacent to the bedding zone. Docks, mats, pads, or deeper, denser grass offer refuge from bright post-frontal skies and the accompanying high pressure.
Flipping/punching, skipping and dragging jigs or Texas-rigged stick baits and smaller creature baits might tempt a big one eager for an easy meal.
Fish deal with this every year, so they’re not going to over-extend themselves. They won’t be too far from a safe, comfortable fallback spot, so size up the area and envision a course from the spawning zone to post-frontal protection.
If the weather stalls the early Florida spawning movement, chances are, you won’t have to move far to find the relocated fish.