Chasing Florida’s river bass, part 2

By DH Steinour

Read part 1 here.

Inspired by childhood memories of fishing in Pennsylvania, a soldier looks to the Sunshine State’s small-stream species as salve for his post-deployment scars.

Suwannee bass and largemouth bass

The Suwannee bass sparked my imagination for years. It seems like such a prehistoric fish — a small, scrappy creature perfectly made for jungle creeks, having spent eons in crystal clear isolation. Living in the western panhandle, I didn’t have local options for going after them, but I zeroed in on the Wacissa River on the other side of Tallahassee as being the western-most Suwannee bass locale. I figured on rounding out my Florida bass slam with residual largemouth catches out there.

One morning in early May, I took an exit marked by a roadkill alligator looking like a shredded tire that flew off a monster truck. Imagine hitting a dinosaur like that on the way to the launch ramp. Once I parked at Wacissa Springs, I was immediately in Florida wilderness. It was like a scene from Avatar, with towering trees draped in moss and lily pad fields and egrets and grebes and herons and gators. The chorus of bird-speak was loud and throbbing. I launched and started fancasting a white trick worm at vegetation. An early north wind pushed me with the current, and I hit hydrilla stands and eelgrass for the next few hours without a bite. Schools of mullet ran roughshod through the channel, and I dodged gators sunning on weed mats and followed a family of wary otters.

Ducking into a few cuts and springs, I saw a bona fide Suwannee with dark tiger stripes that meandered away from my offerings.

The sun got high and hot and the wind made the trek back to the ramp difficult. I caught a small bass that confused me — I couldn’t tell if it was a largemouth or Suwannee. It had some dark vertical striping and a small jaw, but I neglected to check for a tooth patch and I wasn’t confident it was a Suwannee. I was amazed how unsure I could be about some of these fish; I had caught thousands of largemouth over the years, but some specimens still baffled me.