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By Jim Porter

Bassin' in Florida is good year round. However, for catching sheer quantities of bass, we have to go with the fall season. Late September through mid-December finds the fish increasingly active, and the cooling water temperatures set off some spectacular feeding binges. Top water schooling activity reaches its peak in early November. We all know how great the Farm 13/Stick Marsh is (www.stickmarsh.com/stickmarsh). This year, we predict that it may have the most visitors ever and the parking areas will overflow. So, we decided to provide some alternative locations for consideration. The waters listed here are exceptionally good and most hold big bass. The exception is the Nassau River, which is tidal water. Tidal waters usually hold large numbers of bass. But, true giants are rare.

We surveyed a number of Florida bass fishing guides and some professional outdoor writers in the State and asked the following question: "For sheer numbers of bass, what are the best waters in the State?" The following is a summation of their answers.

LAKE OKEECHOBEE: The Big O is not always on our list of trophy bass spots, simply because it does not produce that many fish over ten pounds for waters its size. However, for large quantities of bass, Okeechobee stands tall in the saddle. This South Florida 'fish factory' is possibly the finest bassin' location in the world, especially for fish between four and eight pounds. With 760-plus square miles of fertile, weedy waters and numerous deep canals along its rim, Okeechobee is the top choice as the State's finest bass-producing area. For first-timers on its massive waters, an investment in initial guide service is strongly recommended. In places, you cannot even SEE across this lake (some 34 by 17 miles), and it is easy to get lost. So, be sure to carry a map and a compass. Excellent facilities are available in Clewiston, Moore Haven, the city of Okeechobee, and other boundary towns. Many guides work the lake.

LAKE KISSIMMEE: Located approximately 40 miles North of Okeechobee, Lake Kissimmee has long been recognized for its outstanding bass angling. After a recent drawdown, it has been producing many giant bass. And, the overall numbers caught of all sizes are staggering. Anglers who locate school fish often take as many as 100 a day. If you happen to be on Kissimmee when the bass are extremely active, significant numbers can be taken directly from the grass beds on spinner baits and Johnson spoons. This lake is somewhat isolated and has no major cites along its shores. The best place to base yourself is the town of Lake Wales, approximately 15 miles due West, or St. Cloud, 25 miles north.

ST. JOHNS RIVER, NORTHERN SECTION: From big Lake George, all the way North to Jacksonville, this legendary, South-to-North flowing river is hard to beat for large numbers of bass. School bass areas are easy to locate in its moving waters, especially from June through October. During this period, baitfish lead a very hazardous life and top water breaking bass are very active. Particularly good is the northern section where the water is effected by the ocean tides. The reversing currents and fluctuating water levels cause the fish to gather at predictable locations. Excellent facilities are available all along this stretch of water, as are many guide services.

NASSAU RIVER: Few anglers, other than the 'locals', know of the fine bassin' available on this tidal river. Located approximately 15 miles to the North of Jacksonville, the Nassau is literally alive with bass, particularly in the two to four pound class. For the angler who understands fishing tidal waters, this is a true paradise. Almost as satisfying as the fishing is the natural, unspoiled scenery. The Nassau River is the 'sleeper' of our list, with a bass fishery rivaling any in the State.

RODMAN RESERVIOR: Rodman underwent a massive fish kill some years ago. Plus, destroying its dam and returning it to a swamp have been hotly debated topics. However, the good Lord must truly love the bass fisherman, as Rodman still produces large numbers of fish. Located on the northern edge of the Ocala National Forest and just off the St. Johns River, Rodman is formed by the feeding waters of the Oklawaha River. It was dammed as a part of the ill fated Cross Florida Barge Canal project. While the reservoir provides excellent bassin', that beautiful river is in a class by itself. Once the angler gets over the sheer beauty of the Oklawaha, he will find it holds an outstanding population of fighting largemouths.

LAKE TALQUIN: Just West of Tallahassee, in the Florida panhandle, lies famous Talquin. For years, it was one of the Sunshine State's premier bass lakes, particularly for trophies. Then, suddenly, the fishing began to decline with alarming rapidity. The Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission determined that Talquin was losing its fertility and took action to restore it. This action came in the form of a major drawdown of the water levels, thus allowing plant and insect life to reestablish themselves and to kill off unwanted vegetation. This was accomplished on a number of occasions in the past 15 years. Lake Talquin now teems with young bass in the two-three pound range. It still has a good population of larger fish, but the smaller ones are so dense that it is hard to get a lure past them. For the sheer gluttony of catching scads of small bass, Lake Talquin is THE place. A word of caution is in order for newcomers to Talquin: it is relatively shallow and infested with stumps and timber remains. Be especially watchful, refer to your lake map and take it slow.

MAN-MADE CANALS: The State of Florida, particularly the Southern half, abounds in man-made drainage canals. Some are very large, rivaling rivers in size, but the majority is small. A relatively undiscovered 'secret' about Sunshine State bassin' is the tremendous populations of fish in these waters. Except for the larger ones, few boat ramps and improved access points exist on the canals. For the small boat angler, who is willing to manhandle his rig into the water, some of the State's finest bassin' awaits. Many can be easily fished from the bank. Canal bass generally average around two pounds, and there are lots of them. Never pass up a good-looking canal if you have the time to spare. If you get down to the Ft. Lauderdale, and on to the South, these canals teem with the South American Peacock Bass, as well.

As a supplement to the many conservation and fishery management programs of the State, the real key to the preservation and sustainment of Florida's excellent bass population rests with you and I, the sportsmen. Please, practice catch and release and only keep what you can really use.

  • Blue Cypress Lake, near Vero Beach
  • West Lake Toho, on the south side of the city of Kissimmee
  • Lake Rousseau, near Dunnellon
  • Lake Isopopka, near Sebring
  • The Alligator Alley canals along I-75, between Miami and Naples


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