October 04, 2020
Best bets for big bass bites.
Why is it that seasoned bass pros can quickly break down a lake and dial in the productive spots? Reasons are numerous, but one of the biggies is target identification. Florida's weedy lakes can overwhelm you with vast habitat that “all looks fishy.” However, consistency hinges on learning to identify the types of vegetation most favored by bass.
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Ish Monroe offered some insights on what he looks for in Florida lakes.
Hyacinth: Typically found in dense, emergent rafts, this free-floating weed is subject to prevailing winds—a fact Monroe leverages for identifying promising areas. For example, an easterly blow piles the mats into those west side pockets. Hyacinth mats provide broad, shadowy spaces below the canopy.
“It's some of the best big-fish cover because it creates a blanket over their heads and a clean bottom,” Monroe said. “Fish can see your bait. With one flip of their tail, they can be 6 feet to the left, right, in front or behind them to eat. Obviously, fisheries managers don't like hyacinth because it's invasive, but it's excellent bass habitat.”
Hydrilla: Another invasive, this rooted weed represents one of the top bass magnets in Florida lakes. Particularly widespread in the central to southern parts of the state, hydrilla is a killer prespawn staging habitat. It's also an oxygen-rich summer lounge and a winter heating blanket.
“If you don't know where to start on a lake, find the hydrilla and that's going to be the best place to start looking,” Monroe said.
Mixed Mats: Hard structure such as stumps or laydowns amid hydrilla mats merits extra attention. Otherwise, look for points, edges and any contour variances that redirect baitfish movement and provide ambush spots for bass.
Monroe describes a particularly attractive weed accumulation we encountered during a day on Lake Toho: “This is the ideal mat; it has hyacinth on top, it has blown-in hydrilla, Kissimmee grass, alligator grass and even some pond weed,” he said. “It has hydrilla growing around it, but there's a canopy overtop and it's clear underneath because the canopy shuts out most of the light and the hydrilla can't grow.
“That makes it an ideal place to ambush bait, so the bass will sit there and wait for something to swim out of the hydrilla and into that open area.”
Monroe said these multi-faceted mats hold such potential that he'll mark them on his Lowrance GPS and return several times during a day because you never now when that fish is going to get hungry. Also, as conditions change, so does the fish's positioning.
“The sun is always changing and whether it's heating the mat on those cold winter days, or providing a cool, shady area on warmer days, the fish will move to adjust their comfort level,” he said. “You have to come back to these spots a couple different times and usually one of those times will pay off.”
Similarly, FLW Tour pro JT Kenney knows that a raft of hyacinth blown into a solid hydrilla mat will choke out the rooted vegetation and leave a cozy cavern below. Another thing Kenney looks for is a recently sprayed hyacinth raft. The dying vegetation attracts maximum crawfish attention and opportunistic bass are keen to sit below and pick off the easy meals.
Want to capitalize on this occurrence? Punch a heavily weighted craw or creature bait through a decomposing raft, pull the bait up until you make contact with the bottom side and then yo-yo the bait up and down to simulate a scooting crawfish.
Also worth a look:
This includes water lilies—round pads lying flat on the water with white flowers—or spatterdock—heart-shaped leaves usually standing above the surface with yellow flowers. “Fresh, green pads are a great place for fish in the prespawn, spawn and post spawn,” Monroe said. “They'll use the bases of the stems as a hard spot to spawn on, they'll use the pads for shelter and ambush.”
Options include the thin, wispy bulrush (a.k.a “buggy whip”); sprawling stands of Kissimmee grass (ranging from crisp green to golden brown) and the lush, green maidencane resembling terrestrial grass. These taller plants offer easy comings and goings with variable degrees of shade. Look for heavier traffic during prespawn and postspawn transitions. FS
Florida Sportsman Magazine September 2017