By Chris Decker
On the national level, the warm weather of Florida is generally a place where tournament organizations travel in the first few months of the season in search of giant bass, when the rest of the country is mostly still dealing with cold and snow.
During January and February, Florida fish are either in the prespawn period or are starting to lock down on beds and spawning. But what happens to Florida fish in fall conditions like the College Series anglers are facing at the Carhartt Bassmaster College National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops at the Harris Chain of Lakes?
Polk State College anglers Kyle Stafford and Jake Stines are both Florida natives and are here to provide some answers after dropping 18 pounds, 2 ounces on the scales on Day 1 of the National Championship.
The duo qualified for the tournament through the Florida B.A.S.S. Nation event on their home waters of the Kissimmee Chain. Stafford and Stines are one of the only Florida based teams in the field this week and have plenty of experience on the Harris Chain as well.
“It's a tough time of the year,” Stafford said. “So a lot of guys are going to find them offshore and we are catching them shallow. You can find them shallow, you can find them deep and everywhere in between. It really spreads everything out.”
Largemouth are the only species of black bass in Florida and with vegetation being the main cover in the lake, Stines said it makes it difficult for a lot of guys to solve Florida lakes this time of the year.
“The versatility of the fishery is the main difference,” Stines said. “If we were up North we could target spots, smallmouth. It’s strictly vegetation so it makes it difficult for a lot of guys to come here. In my opinion, it really makes it stand out as a fishery. You can catch them in 15 feet of water or in 10 inches.”
Stafford and Stines said there is currently a lot of grass in the Harris Chain of Lakes, but as the season progresses and cold fronts start coming through more often, the grass will start to die off. Stines said he thinks much of the field is relying on hydrilla mats this week.
“It gets a lot of bait in there and makes the fish feed pretty good,” he said. “That’s probably what a lot of guys are targeting this week.”
During the fall, Stines said there are several different baits you can rely on in Florida Lakes. If you are fishing deep, he said big worms and crankbaits will get the job done a lot of the time. In shallow water, flipping and punching as well as a speed worm work well this time of the year.
“Vegetation is the main thing,” he added. “Whatever specific vegetation you are fishing dictate what you can throw around it.”