Sometimes I feel paralyzed by possibility when I look into my freshwater tackle box and think about what I should throw to bass. What won’t those big-mouthed beasts eat?
I have caught them on artificial lures ranging from tiny mayfly-imitating flies to gigantic plastic worms that are nearly as long as the fish.
The Florida-strain largemouth bass is a voracious predator. Favorite prey items include reptiles such as snakes and frogs, and small birds and insects. They also inhale crawfish and other crustaceans, as well as a variety of worms.
Forage fish species, including shiners, mullet and several species of shad are near or at the top of the list in terms of providing them with the nutrition they need to spawn and guard young virtually year-round. However, dietary preferences shift due to availability and ease of catching prey.
But in the springtime and through most of the summer, the fly and lure choice becomes easier because bass are often focused on bluegill bream and other panfish that spawn during these months. These panfish leave protective cover to fan out nests or “beds” over rocky or sandy bottom in depths with optimal water temperatures and dissolved oxygen levels for the eggs to ripen.
When the sun is high enough you'll see irregular golden, shell-covered ovals on the bottom, with bright, purple and copper bream darting about attempting a difficult balance between defending eggs and avoiding big predators, including old bucket mouth. So you want to match the color, appearance and behavior of these frantic little fish.
Color selection is simple. You can’t go wrong with flies and lures that are combinations of black, blue or purple, and copper or silver. For anglers fishing with conventional tackle, the swim jig is one of the best lures to fish during bluegill spawning season. Clewiston-based, top-ranking bass pro Brandon McMillan has his own signature series jig that has proven itself many times in terms of tournament winnings. I like to add the back half of purple Skinny Dipper to the hook as a trailer, which gives it a lifelike “tail.” You simply swim over beds and around likely ambush points. Hang on.
They hit this thing so hard that even a small fish will initially have you convinced that you’ve got one for the weigh-in. This combination and other weedless combinations like it work very well in Florida’s shallow, weedy lakes. These include Lake Okeechobee from Clewiston's Roland Martin Marina around to Okeechobee City, Toho in Kissimmee, and Water Conservation Areas 2 & 3 west of Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Check out this video of bass fishing on Toho.
Fly anglers should try weedless deerhair bugs and poppers in back and purple, with a little flash added. As the sun gets higher, switch to bait-fish imitating patterns in the same colors. Use a stout leader -- at least 30-pound monofilament -- for the poppers and bugs, because monofilament also floats. Use 30-pound fluorocarbon for subsurface fishing in heavy vegetation.
You’ll need it!