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Beat the cold with Florida fishing

The Bassmaster Elite Series opens in February on one of my favorite places to fish – Lake Okeechobee.

Florida is a place I go to get away and hone my fishing skills before the season opens, and it’s a popular fishing vacation spot for weekend anglers.

I was there last month, and I plan to go back again before the tournament begins. I like staying in Okeechobee City and put in at the north end of the lake and fish all the way down to the Harney Pond Canal.

I like that area because it’s protected from the north wind and there is a lot of good water to fish. If the wind gets really bad on Okeechobee, lakes like Kenansville, the Stick Marsh, Garcia and the newest addition, Headwaters, can be good backups. They all average about 2,500 acres each and are easy to fish.

One bad thing about fishing south Florida in January and February is that area is so susceptible to cold fronts that it can really hurt the fishing. I always tell anglers that if you’re going to Florida that time of year – and can plan accordingly – watch the weather and pick a period when high temperatures are averaging in the 80s and lows in the 60s.

If you don’t, a cold front can shut down fishing on Okeechobee for a week or more and ruin your trip. You can still catch fish, but man, you really have to work for each bite.

I know, because I’ve made those trips from my Tennessee home. I’ve been there during a cold front and know that if I had stayed home and fished Old Hickory I would have caught more bass.

Again, the smaller lakes in the area can give you better results during cold fronts because they have a lot of fish and get less fishing pressure.

When the weather is stable at Okeechobee, look for cleaner water areas with scattered grass. There’s hardly any hydrilla in the lake these days so the water will dirty up and clarity is key, especially during the spawning season. Once you find clearer water, target scattered vegetation, such as pads, round reeds, flat reeds or any grass up shallow.

That’s where I like to fish a bladed jig, swimming worm or flip into thicker patches of grass. Flipping a black and blue Senko on a 1/4-ounce weight is always good there.

If you get hit with a cold front, slow way down and start punching the thick hyacinths. That’s the best way to get bites on tough days during one of those dreaded Florida cold fronts.

Of course, you can also go shiner fishing and catch a lot more. I just prefer the feel and excitement of getting a bite on an artificial lure and never knowing how big the bite will be until I set the hook.

Having said that, I think shiner fishing with my Garmin LiveScope would be really exciting because I could watch the Shiner swim around and the bass eat it.

Florida bass grow big and fishing in warm, sunny conditions is a great substitute when it’s cold and snowy in the North. Plan your trip accordingly and you will discover why so many anglers rave about Florida fishing during the winter months.