Big Bass on the Big O

By: Terry Tomalin

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If you're a travelling angler, or even a fisherman who has lived here all of your life, don’t forget that Florida has more than 7,000 lakes and ponds and more than 12,000 miles of rivers and streams.

No matter where you go in freshwater, north or south, you are bound to find largemouth bass.

But no lake in the state has the history of Okeechobee. Fed by a constant supply of fresh water from the Kissimmee River and blessed with ample aquatic vegetation, the lake has always been the standard by which all other Florida lakes have been judged.

Lake Okeechobee always has been known for producing trophy bass. And while a 10-pound largemouth might be every angler's dream, most folks would be satisfied with one or two half that size. Finish the day with one 5-pound bass, or five 1-pound bass for that matter, you should consider yourself lucky.

Many believe that Florida's largemouth bass is a distinct species; others think it merely a subspecies. But the debate is academic. No one disputes that Florida's fish grow bigger and fatter than any other species of bass. One reason is a year-round growing season; warm water and ample vegetation make for big bass.

Micropterus salmoides floridanus were once found only on the Florida peninsula, but they have since been introduced in Texas, California and as far away as Japan. Females live longer than males and are more likely to reach trophy size. Most conservation-minded anglers release large, breeding fish. 

But you don’t have to be a professional bass fisherman to catch trophy-sized fish. With a little advice, anglers can swing by their nearest sporting goods store, stock up on some artificial lures and learn to fish like a veteran of the professional tournament trail.

Spring is the best time to fish for the legendary Florida bucketmouth. The live bait of choice for most anglers is the golden shiner, fished under a cork. When it comes to artificial lures, the weedless, or Texas-rigged, plastic worm is the most popular. Jerk worms, spinner baits, crank baits and topwater plugs will also work under a variety of conditions.

A simple spinning outfit rigged with 12- to 15-pound test line will work in most Florida lakes. Bass typically hang around structures such as grass beds or submerged logs, so you'll need a sturdy outfit to keep from losing fish.

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