Where to catch a trophy this winter

Every bass angler on the planet want’s a trophy-sized black bass. But wanting and getting are two different things. First you have to find the right place, and then you have to fish it correctly.

The three best places, in my opinion, are Texas, California and Florida. I’ve fished all three and I have immense respect for all three. All things considered, however, the one I most often recommend is Florida.

I’ll be the first to admit that in recent years Florida’s reputation as a big bass factory has suffered. I’m not sure why. It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s been 10 years since the last hurricane or seriously cold weather has hit down there. That’s a long time in a subtropical environment. And, the state is working hard on their trophy bass program.

Simple geography also factors into my recommendation. If you live in the Northeast or Midwest, Florida is only a day’s drive away. Get a couple of your buddies together and you’ll be there before you know it.

The most important thing, though, is that the fishing is great. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Florida has a solid population of 10-pounders and it’s full of 3-, 4- and 5-pounders. But they don’t jump in the boat. Or, to put it more bluntly, a lot of guys struggle in the Sunshine State.

The thing that gets most anglers is that the water’s shallow and most of the bass fishing is weed oriented. The shallow part is an advantage. Most of us are better anglers in shallow water and, because of that, we like to fish shallow.

The weeds are another matter. In many of the lakes down there it’s difficult, or impossible, to get up against the shoreline. You’re fishing out in the middle of the lake. You can still catch them, however, if you use basic shoreline principles. Think about edges and changes, and fish anything you see that looks different.

There’s a wide variety of artificial lures that’ll work in Florida waters. Plastics, topwater plugs, vibrating jigs, lipless crankbaits and kicker-type frogs all have their place. (For some reason hollow body frogs don’t seem to be as effective as they are in other parts of the country, so I didn’t include them in my list.)

Of all the lures I mentioned, plastics are your best overall choice. You need something that’ll work through very heavy vegetation without hanging up. A Texas rigged plastic bait is as good as it gets at that. Florida fishing isn’t about dragging a jig through wood without snagging. That’s not what Florida vegetation is all about.

If you go on top, and a lot of anglers do, start with a propbait. For some reason propbaits are especially effective down there.

You have the possibility of catching a trophy (10 pounds or better) on any cast, with any lure and in any lake, but I’d say the majority of the really big bass fall for a wild shiner. Shiner fishing, or any live bait fishing for that matter, isn’t as easy as it looks. It’s very much a skill. If you don’t know what you’re doing, get some help before you spend a lot of money and waste a lot of valuable fishing time.

Some of the places I would recommend you fish are the Kissimmee Chain, the Butler Chain, the St. Johns River and the Stick Marsh. They’ll all produce, and so will the catch and release lakes Florida is managing. They’re scattered around the state. You can find one near where you’re staying through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The final thing I want to mention is Florida’s feared cold fronts. I know you hear all the time that Florida strain bass won’t bite during a cold front. That’s nonsense. They will bite. They have to eat. Just approach them differently — deadstick a plastic stickbait, wacky worm or rig up a heavy weight and punch the heaviest vegetation you can find.

With cold fronts in mind you’ll still want to take warm clothes along. Long underwear, bibs and a jacket as well as a warm pair of gloves are worth their weight in gold when it turns cold.

I’m not saying Florida is perfect. It isn’t. But it is a great place to go in the winter if you’re from the snow country. Besides, you can always combine a fishing trip with a family vacation. Spend half you’re time on the water and the other half at Disney.