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Swamp Bass

By Corky Decker

If it's not easy getting there, it's probably worth the effort.



My new friend, Jeff, asked if I was okay with a bit of a walk to the lake.

Naturally, I asked if I could bring my lab. “Not a good idea,” Jeff said. “Wear waders and travel light. I have all the tackle we'll need. Be at the house at 6 a.m.”

The next morning in Jeff's truck, he explained what lay ahead of us. Years ago, he discovered a trail into a hidden lake, a long way back through a swamp. He'd even hauled an aluminum boat out there. I asked him how many buddies used his boat. He told me he'd never seen another soul out there. I knew right then that this was going to be very special.

But, it wouldn't be any ordinary walk. We hauled our gear in a single person kayak: a trolling motor, a fresh 12-volt truck battery, a small cooler with ice, drinks and lunch, spin outfits for each of us. Surviving the two-mile hike while pulling the load was tough, but without my guide I would've never even found the lake, let alone his boat hidden among the thick cattails. On these kinds of pursuits, I would strongly recommend doing at least one dry run to get a good GPS track with waypoints at landmarks—especially on your first attempt to find a hidden gem before carting all your gear along.

We caught bass all day long ranging from 1- to 4-pounders. Jeff said he thinks the reason there aren't many larger ones (6 pounds is his max, here) is that there are so many bass competing for the food source. Our tackle box consisted of a plastic bag with a heap of black plastic worms, hooks, bullet weights and a half dozen Rapalas. We used the Rapalas trolling, and cast worms at the weed lines.



Back home that night, I reflected on what I'd experienced. Over the next few days, I spent a lot of time on Google Earth, looking at Florida's huge tracts of hunting and fishing lands: Wildlife Management Areas, publicly accessible military properties such as Eglin Air Force Base, and timber and ranch lands with private leases.

Hidden lakes are attractive and challenging, but make no mistake: You are—as we used to say as kids—“in Indian country.” Float tubes are probably not a good idea around Florida's alligators. Bring a kayak, walk slow and watch for snakes.

When you find your backcountry pond, make sure it's not on private property; if it is, ask the landowner for permission.

Realistically, I would limit the distance to a mile or less (the two miles with Jeff was a huge job). These trips should be all about having fun. Make a list of what you need and check the item off as you pack. You really don't want to forget something important, like the bug spray. Breathable waders are the best. You can hike in them all day long and they take a pretty good beating. In briars or really bad stuff I'll wear a large size pair of quail pants over the Gore Tex. I do this a lot chasing wood ducks.

My list would also include Gatorade, about a gallon per person. As for personal flotation, I love my CO2 camo duck vest. With its game bag in back, shell pockets in front, it lets me carry lots of stuff. I got mine though Cabela's years ago and test the CO2 system once a year; it's never failed to inflate and the CO2 replacement cartridges are pretty cheap. FS

First published Florida Sportsman January 2015

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