If you’ve been waiting for the bass spawn to get rolling in central Florida, wait no longer.
Actually, a lot of fish already have spawned. But in general, April 1 (Tuesday) is the can’t-miss date for most lakes from Tampa northward throughout the peninsula. It will help that the new moon was Saturday night, as bass — like many species — seem to spawn heaviest on new and full moons.
If you go freshwater fishing only one week each year, this would be the week.
Catching spawning bass can be anything from a gimmie to an incredibly frustrating failure, depending on the mood of the fish, where they’re located and how hard they’ve been fished.
Basically, largemouths in central Florida spawn at depths of 1 to 5 feet — or at least those are the ones you can see. In clear water with deep cover, they often spawn as deep as 10 feet.
The males, smaller than the trophy-sized females, arrive first and fan out the bed, a bowl-shaped indent in sand bottom, usually 18 to 24 inches wide. With bright sun, these are often visible to anglers wearing Polarized sunglasses. Ease along the shoreline at the appropriate depths with the troller on low, working with the sun at your back during the bright hours of the day for best visibility.
As in spotting saltwater bonefish and redfish, the higher you can position yourself, the better you’ll see into the water.
Spawning fish generally require a slow-moving bait to draw a strike, so soft plastics or jigs are by far the most popular choice during early April. Basically, the lures are flipped or pitched into the beds, then twitched and danced there until the fish decides to take. Floater-diver topwaters also can sometimes lure a strike if worked very slowly directly over the bed.
Bass also frequently spawn in areas where they can’t be seen from the surface, such as under blown-down trees or beneath hydrilla patches. A thorough flipping of these areas with snag-resistant jigs or Texas-rigged worms or craws might find them.
Because the cover is thick and the spawners tend to run extra large, most anglers opt for heavy-action rods more than 7 feet long, armed with low-geared baitcasters and 65-pound-test braid.
While fishing for visible bass always adds excitement to the pursuit, it also can be a challenge. Just as you can see the fish, it’s often possible for the fish to see you, so a silent approach and a soft delivery are necessary.
Persistence also pays. Some bass might ignore a lure for 20 casts, then suddenly take on No. 21. And if the fish temporarily abandon a bed, it’s no sign that the spot won’t produce. They can be spooked off by other anglers, but will soon return when things settle down. And a late blast of cold air overnight might move them off for a full day, but an area with active beds will have fish again as soon as a sunny afternoon warms things up.
There are endless good lakes throughout central Florida, among them Kissimmee, Toho, East Toho and the entire St. Johns Chain, including Dexter, where last weekend bass pro Chris Lane brought in a five-fish bag that topped 37 pounds — more than 7 pounds per fish.
Lake Tarpon is probably the best bass lake in close proximity to the Bay area. Other good locations are Lake Rousseau, on the Withlacoochee River, and Rodman Reservoir northeast of Ocala.
Biologists across the South universally agree that fishing during the spawn does not harm bass populations. It takes only a few successful nests to produce far more bass than the carrying capacity of any given lake, so capturing some of the spawners does no permanent harm. And these days, most bass are released in any case, so the impact of exercising the big females is negligible.
The spawn comes and goes all too quickly, often in just a week or two on a given lake. However, lots of large fish hang around in the shallows for another week or so afterwards, and these fish are hungry and active.
You often can catch them on more active lures such as spinner baits, buzz baits and swim jigs.