Florida is different


James Overstreet
We moved north on Lake George and found another group of anglers that included Kelly Jordan and Kevin VanDam.

I just wrapped up the first day of the Bassmaster Elite event on the St. Johns River presented by Dick Cepek Tires and Wheels, and I had a pretty good day (20 pounds, 9 ounces for 11th place). Practice and the first day really reminded me of how different the fishing is here in Florida from what I’m used to back home in Michigan.

I love sight fishing anywhere and anytime – not just when the big females are on the beds. There’s just something magical about seeing a fish in the water and trying to catch it, whether it weighs a pound or 10 pounds.

Up north, you can just about drive up to a bass on a bed and the fish will just stare at you. A lot of times it just doesn’t seem to bother them.

Here in Florida, the opposite is usually true. The fish can be super skittish and extremely tough to catch in the shallow, clear water. In fact, if they see you before you see them, it can seem nearly impossible to catch them at times.

I’ve thought about how different sight fishing is up north versus in Florida, and I have a couple of ideas about why it’s like that.

First of all, at the St. Johns River, the preferred spawning areas – areas protected from the wind – are extremely shallow. That makes the fish more aware of anything going on around or above them. Sound and vibration travel extremely fast through water, and the less water there is, the faster those sounds and vibrations alert the bass that something might be wrong. You have to be extremely stealthy not to alert them. Closing a livewell lid or putting your trolling motor in the water must be done with a lot more care than usual … though it’s probably a good practice to always do it as quietly as you can.

For another thing, there seem to be a lot more bass predators down here than we have up north. Sure, there’s the usual fishing pressure, but there are also ospreys, cormorants, alligators, otters and turtles, and they all eat bass – at least occasionally. When you’re a menu item for so many different animals, you should be skittish.

Today, I saw a cormorant take a 12-inch bass off the bed and eat it! No wonder the fish are so spooky. They know they’re being hunted.

The bottom line is that when you’re sight fishing down here in Florida, seeing a bass doesn’t mean you can catch it. You’ve got to be extremely stealthy to give yourself the best possible chance.

The first thing I like to do whenever possible is to keep the sun at my back when I’m coming into an area where I expect to see bass. I also try to keep a lower than usual profile.

Keep noise to a minimum. Run your trolling motor on the lowest speed or use a push pole. And when you can, don’t use either – if the wind’s right, let it take you to the fish.

Think about the area you’re going to fish before you move into it. Use the sun and wind to your advantage when you can. Make sure your gear is ready before you get there so you don’t have to open lids or walk across the deck of your boat more than necessary. Step lightly and keep vibration to a minimum.

It’ll get you more bass in Florida and other places, too.

Remember, it’s all about the attitude!

Kevin VanDam's column appears weekly on Bassmaster.com. You can also find him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.