March 23, 2015
On lakes with shad populations, don't miss the early morning spinnerbait bite.
First few hours of daylight, points with mixed vegetation produce frequent strikes and angry leaps from shad-crazy largemouth bass.
Explosive bass fishing doesn't end with the coming of these hot, still days of midsummer. If you can urge yourself out of bed early, there's a window of fast action to enjoy.
I'm talking about the excellent spinnerbait fishing that occurs on many of our waters. Shad have matured to 1 to 3 inches, and they often congregate in open water early in the morning. These baitfish reflect light and give off vibrations as they swim, perfectly matched by many kinds of spinnerbaits.
If there's edge cover nearby—such as the mixed lines of Kissimmee grass, spike-rush and other grasses common to Florida lakes—you're likely to find largemouth bass herding shad into a vulnerable position.
That's where the safety-pin style spinnerbait, with its essentially weedless configuration, excels. You can cast the spinnerbait into indentations in the grass, or pull it across points.
Last summer, I fished with Capt. Mike Shellen out of Okee-Tantie, on the north side of Lake Okeechobee. Shellen had picked out a likely stretch of grass from experience—but a fishermen paying close attention could've located a similarly productive stretch.
“Sometimes you can look up ahead and see fish busting bait,” he said, “but if you're astute, a lot of times you can hear them ‘cracking' in there, as I like to say.”
Over the course of the morning, Mike and I saw and heard obvious detonations as bass rushed shad along the grass edge. Quick casts to the vicinity met with hard strikes, but it seemed the fish were moving. I began looking for flips, flashes and ripples of agitated baitfish—ones that looked like they were next on the hit list. Casting in anticipation of the rush was a good move, several times. A fast retrieve worked best, making the spinner blades hump the surface. Some hits came right in the gras —and sometimes so quick you'd swear the fish were poised to take the bait before it hit the surface. On days when reactions aren't so explosive, Shellen suggests varying things up. “A retrieve that is so slow it just keeps the blades turning and gets the bait lower in the water works better some days,” he said. “And then there are times when we have success by throwing to the edge of cover and letting it free fall, watching for the line to jump indicating a strike.”
Going too far back into the vegetation—attractive as it looked to me—was unproductive. Those pockets closer to shore simply didn't have the shad, which was clearly what the fish wanted. Shellen described the best areas as having a mixture of cover.
“Spike rush, and around that, eelgrass, peppergrass and sections of interspersed Kissimmee grass. And if it's broken up with trails in there, that's gold. I also look for dips, curves and points, where fish will hold in an ambush position.”
Mostly he uses 3/8- and ½-ounce spinnerbaits this time of year, a bit on the light side, “mainly so they do not get hung up as easily in the grass,” he explained. Rods are heavy 7-footers for leveraging fish out of cover, with 50- or 65-pound braided line.
“White with double willowleaf silver blades is a good pattern, but I'll have three or four colors tied on different rods—a white and chartreuse combination, a gold color and a black or other dark color. I use silver and gold blades, but I also like to have some with copper blades.”
Between the half-hour before and the hour after sunrise, Mike and I caught about two dozen fish. But around 8 a.m. things seemed to slow down. Those head-turning “cracks” as fish took shad became rarer. “As the sun gets higher, the fish move farther into the grass, and closer to the bottom,” said Shellen.
I tried a black curl-tail worm with a tungsten bullet weight, and pitched it into the now-quiet indents in the grass. I bumped it along the grass stems and earned several thumps and a few more bonus fish. Could've kept at it, too, but with clouds building and heat rising, we made the call to head for the ramp. FS
First published Florida Sportsman July 2014