I'm a grass fisherman. I grew up fishing grass in Ontario, and I cut my teeth flipping milfoil, cane, pads, pencil reeds – a bit of everything. That's why Florida feels a little like home to me. The temperature might be 80 degrees different in January, but I feel like grass is grass and I'm very comfortable fishing Florida right in the thick of it.
A lot of people would assume I grew up fishing smallmouth, but honestly, the smallmouth weren't dominant back then. We didn't have the zebra mussels and the water was dirty, so the largemouth dominated. But when the zebra mussels cleared the water, and the gobies came in, the smallmouth just kept getting bigger and bigger.
People are also surprised when I tell them that the lakes in Florida look and fish a lot like our lakes in Southeastern Ontario – you're working through heavy, mixed vegetation and looking for hard-bottom areas. We have most of the same variety of grass – milfoil, pencil reeds, pads, coontail, hydrilla, arrowheads, cabbage. The only thing we don't have is hyacinth and Kissimmee grass.
Search the sweet
What I like so much about grass is that anytime you get around grass, you know you're around fish to a certain extent. And you can fish it any way you want. You can wind baits through it. You can fish it slow. You can fish over the top. Basically you can do what you want.
But the real key is there are certain little sweet spots in the grass that seem to hold fish. Not everyone is always keyed into that, and it seems like a lot of times I can find my own thing in a big patch of grass.
The sweet spot could be anything – a tip along the grassline, a clean spot, a hard bottom, a dropoff. If the water's clearer you can try to see the differences and find sweet spots like the points and indentations, and where it changes from real thick to sparse. When I can't see, I like to idle down the edge of the grass and use my Garmin SideVü imaging to see the tips and indentations and mark them with waypoints.
And even though I can usually find sweet spots that I have to myself, the smaller field this year in the Bassmaster Elite Series should really have a big impact on fishing in the grass areas. Overall the grass should get less chopped up and the fish less spooked.
I always try to work my way quietly through grass areas. People don't realize that fish can hear the trolling motor in 5 or 6 feet of water. The fewer the boats, the better. And I'll often use a push-pole to work my way to a sweet spot, then put down my Power-Poles to anchor up and work the area. Using the push-pole, I believe, significantly increases my chance of bigger bites.
St. Johns scouting
We're starting the tour at the St. Johns, and I've never been there, so I'm heading down this month with my dad to take a look and get my bearing. I'd like to find the grass if I can, to narrow down where I'd like to fish. We only have three days to practice when we get there, and I don't want to waste a lot of time driving around areas where there's no grass and no fish.
Plus, it's cold and icy back home so I won't be complaining about driving down to do some bass fishing in some 70- and 80-degree weather.