The weather outside was frightful…at least on the gulf, with 20 knot winds. Capt. Thompson offered me a great Christmas present…a trip on Rodman Reservoir, one of the best bass areas in the country. I used to bass fish a lot, at Orange, Lochloosa and Newnan’s Lakes, and once on the Ocklawaha (which was dammed to create Rodman), but had never been there. We went with Capt. Sean Rush, of Trophy Bass Expeditions (www.floridatrophybass.com) who was involved in the infamous Florida Sportsman Calendar shoot with Tommy. Sean was a great guide….immaculate high-quality equipment, a great boat, and has been fishing this area for 30 years. When fishing for large bass, Sean favors using wild shiners, so Tommy and I gave up our avoidance of live bait for a day. This is an interesting area to fish; the river was dammed at the time the cross-Florida barge canal was being built in the late ’60s. It resulted in a large body of fairly shallow water with tons of cypress stumps and vegetation that rapidly became a nationally-known bass destination. Every five years or so, there is a draw-down of the water to kill some of the shore vegetation, and we are in the midst of one of these drawdowns. With the dropping water levels, the fish are concentrated and the fishing gets even better. This picture , showing the old water levels on the trees, will give you an idea of the amount of draw-down at this point, with another five feet or so to go.
With ten dozen wild shiners in Sean’s tiller-driven custom Sea Ark, we ran to some areas at the junction of the river and the reservoir. We were using 20 pound mono on baitcasters, tied directly to J-hooks without a leader. Most of the time we free-lined the baits near shore vegetation, trying to get the shiners to swim up under the vegetation….where as Sean stated, “they might see some eyes looking back at them”.
We started catching bass immediately, most in the 2 to 3 pound range. A major challenge for me was not using the braid I use exclusively, because mono requires a fair amount of experience to differentiate the pulling of an excited shiner from the fairly subtle tap of the bass eating it. Most of the time I knew I had a fish on when I saw the line moving away from the shore steadily. The hookset required some effort as well because of the stretching of the line which just doesn’t happen with braid. However, after a few fish, being professionals, we figured things out. Along with some fine bass, we also tangled with some chain pickerel. I’ve studiously avoided any pictures of the “cypress bass” (otherwise known as mudfish), but I did catch one that went at least 6 or 7 pounds).
All told, we caught around 30 bass, with the largest being this 6-pounder. We lost some fish that were certainly larger, several to straightened hooks. We had about 20 minutes of brief sunshine but most of the day was overcast and we had one little bit of rain, but in spite of fairly windy conditions, we were well sheltered in the area.
This was great fun. It has been about 10 years since I last went bass fishing, and in spite of the fairly tough conditions, we were able to fish in comfort, which would not have been the case on the gulf. Special thanks to Tommy and Sean. This is something we’ll have to do again. And I strongly recommend Sean as a knowledgeable guide when you decide you want to get that trophy bass.
Oh, and in spite of the Napoleon Dynamite reference, no, we didn’t keep any bass to eat. Catch-and-release is the way to go.