Having fun in Florida

It’s hard to believe that I’m now starting my 11th season fishing professionally in the U.S. Back in 2012 when I got my start, I would have been happy to fish one season and enjoy the experience. I had a friend from Minnesota I guided a few times and became good friends with. He had the means to help me out, and that’s really how I got started fishing professionally.

In those early years I had some tough tournaments, but I did well enough to keep going and here we are today. Fishing bass tournaments has become my job, and I consider myself lucky every day. I still find ways to struggle in some situations where I just don’t have a lot of experience — fishing tidal waters, flooding situations and Florida — but I try to keep learning and honing my craft.

One aspect of fishing the Bassmaster Elite Series I love the most is we usually start the season down in Florida. I always try to get down there a week or two early to have some fun in the boat and get back into fishing mode. I don’t particularly love tournament fishing in Florida because I typically don’t get to fish my strengths, but I really enjoy fishing in the Sunshine State. You have a chance at a truly giant fish on every outing, the weather is usually pretty good and there is a ton of water to fish.

The venues where we have Elite Series events are off limits for a month before the three-day practice period we get before each event. So when I get to Florida early, I don’t get to fish the actual water body where our tournament is — in this case it was Okeechobee. Usually I spend most of my time fishing smaller lakes looking for good fishing. I want to get bites and catch big fish, and some of these smaller waters that don’t host tournaments are often the best. Lakes like Headwaters, Keenansville, Stick Marsh and Istokpoga are all waters that I’ve spent time on in the past and had some great days in the boat.

On my way down this year, I spent a day fishing at the St. Johns River. It’s a venue where I haven’t had the best track record despite fishing there several times. I got in a day out there to try and learn a few things because we’ll most likely go back at some point down the road. I had a good day, but most of the fish I caught were all on spots that I found in the past that let me down in past tournaments. Isn’t that how it goes?

I should try to spend more of my fun days fishing in Florida on some of the bigger bodies of water with a history of hosting big tournaments — places like the Kissimmee Chain or the Harris Chain, because it’s likely that we’ll return to those venues for events in the future. There is some value for me in fishing new water however, just to stay sharp on the routine of finding fish and figuring out how to catch them. 

One of the fun parts of fishing the smaller lakes in Florida is you get a sense of adventure that I enjoy. While it is a busy state with a large population, Florida has a ton of water and a lot of remote areas where you can get away from the hustle and bustle and enjoy all kinds of wildlife and natural vegetation. There are alligators everywhere in these remote locations as well as a variety of waterfowl.

Some lakes have turned into hidden gems that have kicked out some big fish over the years. I spent a day with Seth Feider at one such lake back in 2013, and he put the biggest bass I’ve ever had my hands on in the boat — a 13-06 pound back lake giant.

Before I head south I like to study maps, looking for boat ramps and try to fish at least one new lake each year. Some turn out to be good and others are a bust, you just never know. But fishing new water is an adventure, and it’s good practice for me because it helps improve my ability to efficiently break down new water to find fish.

Florida is a special state for bass anglers, and I look forward to visiting every year.