Sunday, February 27, 2011

Leesburg Bass

Harris Chain bass must continue their annual spawn on a limited number of calm, hard bottom areas. Any angler who has put time on the water during the spawn has found the few hard bottom areas in canals, and these areas get tremendous fishing pressure. Bass are resilient, and they spawn on the rhizomes of spadderdock pads that dominate the shoreline of several lakes. This is what the good anglers focus on.

February in 2011 brought two full moons; the first moon brought freezing temperatures and the second brought warm spawning temperatures.

On February 12th following the colder moon, I fished an American Bass Anglers (ABA) one-day tournament. I was greeted to 41-degree air temperatures in the morning and 60s by weigh-in time. Water temperature ranged 54-58 degrees in the main lake and canals were colder (51F). Clean beds lacked any sign of male bass and conditions told me that my group of fish had ceased their spawning attempts. No bass fry were visible so I knew the bass had yet to spawn in this canal segment of Lake Eustis.

During this ABA tournament, I resorted to using lipless crankbaits over three feet deep bladderwort grass in the main channel to catch my fish. As slow, steady retrieve caught bass in the 3 to 4 pound range with several missed strikes as I lifted the chrome bait out of the water. I believe these were the female bass staging to spawn, as they were located immediately next to the clear-water spawning canals in Lake Eustis. It took 16 pounds to win the tournament and I placed in the top-ten with close to 10 pounds. On the same day, a friend of mine won the Fisher’s of Men tournament with a similar winning weight throwing lipless crankbaits in 6 feet deep hydrilla. Ironic how we both found the same pattern, under the same cold-front conditions, working totally different lakes with dissimilar water clarities.

A week later on February 18th the full moon had shown and spawning conditions in Little Lake Harris ripened. Confirmed reports of 20 to 30 pound bags came from canals and lily pad fields in the little lake. Main lake temperatures reached 70 degrees and canals rose to mid 60s.

On February 25th I practiced for the Bassmaster Weekend Series (BWS) tournament following the warm full moon and found sparse signs of bass spawning activity. A buck here, a cruising four-pound female there, and clean beds. Water was 71-74 degrees, and I could not find bass fry to indicate that the bass had successfully spawned. Fishing during practice was tough, with only three bites coming from pitching a sinko to spadderdock pad clumps in the stained water located at the mouth of spawning canals in Lake Harris and Little Lake Harris.

The BWS tournament was won with only 19 pounds, and many of the heavy-sticks who brought in 30-pound stringers the week before could only manage 15 to 19 pounds. Co-anglers in the tournament caught good bass throwing lipless crankbaits from the back of the boat and most boaters targeted spawning bass using pitching techniques. I found a fresh group of bass had moved up to spawn in the canals of Haines Creek and Lake Griffin. I finally observed bass fry and the guarding bucks easily hit soft jerkbaits. Many of the four to six pound females were still in the act of spawning, and failed to get them interested in my baits. I left the Harris Chain with water temperatures in the mid 70s, and bass starting to spawn on the main lakes. I learned just how quickly the Harris Chain bass move up to spawn and back out to fatten up on young gizzard shad. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Making Sense of It All

In bass fishing there is a saying, "It all makes sense once you start catching fish".  Bass fishing to me is the exciting process of putting together a live-action puzzle.  Every piece of the puzzle is a variable.  Most variables are constantly changing and in motion: weather conditions, sunlight penetration, fish behavior, fish location, and boat position.  Add to these factors the vast number of fishing lures that an angler has to choose from and you almost get a sense of overwhelming odds against the angler. 

Figuring it all out makes a fishing trip worth something special.  It is only after you catch a fish or two does the puzzle start to make sense.  Take for instance my last tournament experience.  The weekend before the tournament the water was warm and bass were setting up to spawn.  I had found some bass on shallow-water beds and I planned on catching them in the event.  Nevertheless, a cold front the night before the tournament dropped the air temperature 20 degrees and altered my day.  After I ran across the lake in 30 degree morning air temperatures the first thing I had to do was thaw out my hands and feet.  This Florida angler is not fond of winter weather! 

The harsh cold front ended up lowering the water temperature in my spawning area over ten degrees and caused my bass to leave the beds.  On most Florida lakes you can find the bass repositioned somewhere nearby, a dropoff or deep hole, but not on the Harris Chain of Lakes.  Harris bass flat disappear! 

After fishing for nearly three hours without a bite I finally decided to change my approach and leave the shallow water behind me.  I went back to a fall/winter fishing pattern where my bass keyed in on shad. One of the best lures that I use to mimic shad is a lipless crankbait.

An hour into my new fishing pattern and I caught a two-pound bass. The fish swallowed the crankbait and gave me a clue that I did everything right to fool that fish: the right color, right lure speed, the right fishing depth.  That single hit reminded me of a similar fishing trip and put another piece of the puzzle together.  When my next bass was a four-pounder I knew that I had figured something out. The only problem was that this last fish did not eat the lure well; in fact, it was only hooked with one barb of the treble hooks.  That told me something was wrong with my presentation or the fish-feeding period was slowing down.  A few casts later I missed a two-pound bass that swam up to eat my lure just when I was lifting it out of the water to make another cast. The conditions were changing and I lost the piece of the puzzle that told me lure color and presentation. 

Regardless of this loss I maintained the same lure and presentation until the event was over.  After landing eight bass and missing three I felt my performance was acceptable but not great. I felt confident about putting some of the puzzle together and giving me a chance to win, but I never figured out the other changes I needed to make to get the fish to bite later in the day when they quit feeding so good.  

I walked away from the tournament in seventh place and feeling good about the experience that I had gained in adapting to changing cold-front conditions. Maybe next time I will put enough of the puzzle together to win.