Florida has a bunch of great lakes and waterways to catch bass. Places like Lake Okeechobee, the Kissimmee chain of lakes, and the St. John’s River are widely known even outside of this great state. But there is one type of water that I think gets overlooked when it comes to bass fishing, and I can tell you first-hand, targeting these overlooked spots has paid off big in the past.
The famous lakes and rivers of our state have been producing exceptional quantities and quality of bass for generations. Other bodies of water, like the Harris chain of lakes and Lake Walk-in-Water, are pretty well-known and also produce great number of big bass.
But what about the canals? Those little ditches that pull water to fields for irrigation, or connectors dug to link lakes together, might never make it on a list of bass hotspots or get mentioned in the outdoor magazines. Yet these often-overlooked waters can hold some really good fish.
Last week I happened to be on the Harris chain and decided to fish one of these canals that connect the many lakes together. I can tell you that I had one of my better days of fishing. My buddy Terrie and I put 10 bass in the boat with only one of them not being a quality fish. We managed one over five pounds and another over four pounds. The rest were all somewhere in between.
I have my theories on why these canals get overlooked. First, there is not a lot of visible structure in some of these waterways. If you’ve ever run the canals on Lake Kissimmee, you mostly rocks. Sure, there are a few small points, and some grass or reeds grow where the water is shallow and the sun can get to the bottom. You may even see some hydrilla in spots during the summer months, but mainly you do not have a lot of cover to fish. This causes people to drive right by.
Another theory is that most people just don’t believe bass live in these areas. After all, you don’t see a whole lot of fishing shows filmed on the canals. I think this is the main reason why people don’t stop to fish in these kinds of places.
While fishing one of these canals last weekend, I noticed that it was quite different from those on Kissimmee. It wasn’t as deep, and there were no rocks. Plus, there was a lot of cover for the bass to utilize: Lily pads, wood and vegetation lined the shores.
Some parts of the canal are no-wake zones, while other sections allow you to run wide open in a very narrow area. That makes fishing this type of water a tad scary. You have to know where you are and what others are doing around you. If a boat is coming through at full throttle (and throwing a full-throttle wake), you may want to sit down for a second as it passes. It’s always better to be safe when fishing these types of areas because the width of these waterways isn’t much.
Depth and cover should always dictate what type of bait you choose. If the water is shallow, you may want to stay with a Texas-rigged soft plastic. If it’s deeper and you have some defined lines of cover like we did up on the Harris chain, then your options open up. You can toss crankbaits parallel to the edge, or a chatterbait into small pockets of the vegetation, or even a topwater. Really, your choices are almost limitless if you have deeper water with a defined edge.
Always check what type of cover forms that solid edge. Often that edge is defined by the water depth — once you hit a certain depth, the vegetation stops growing and you just have bare bottom. This edge can be a great spot with the right bait, so throw everything you can at them until you find out what triggers a bite.
We had the good fortune to fish an area with lily pads. For me, that means getting out a swimbait and going to town until they absolutely quit biting it. Every bass I caught was on that bait. And I can tell you honestly that I missed a few that might have given the one over five pounds a run for its money in the weight category.
While we were there catching fish, we watched boat after boat run past us and never stop to wet a line. We didn’t see one boat stop to fish. Again, this goes back to my theories that people either think there are simply no bass there or they think that they can’t catch them in this type of water.
But I’m here to tell you that you can absolutely catch fish in these canals. My wife’s biggest bass ever came out of a canal. These areas are no joke and can produce some spectacular results, if you slow down long enough to toss a bait.
And it’s not just the canals that connect lake chains. Roadside canals in the southern part of the state hold a lot of bass as well, and you don’t need a boat to fish them. You can do it from the bank if you can get to the canal. Give it a try and see if you can’t get bit in a place everyone else just drives right past.
Greg Bartz is a tournament bass fisherman based in Lakeland. Greg fishes lakes throughout Florida’s Heartland and enjoys RV travel around the Southeast with his wife and tournament partner, Missy. Contact him at Greg.Bartz@SummitHoldings.com.