Between the normal rains and a tropical system or two, you have a recipe for rising summertime water levels in most lakes. But before those rains come when the water is low, sunlight can penetrate to the bottom. Once it gets started, hydrilla will keep growing upwards as the water rises. The end result? Weeds in deeper water than you might expect. This is the key to a great trick for locating bigger bass in the summer months.
This past weekend I was out doing a little practicing for an upcoming tournament. I had heard that there was vegetation growing up in the deeper parts of the lake, and finding it wasn’t too hard. The trick is finding bass in that vegetation.
Start scouting a lake on a controlled water system like Lake Toho on the Kissimmee chain, and you’ll realize that finding weeds out in the middle of nowhere is easy. But locating fish is harder. This was my situation when I hit the water early Saturday morning. With water being moved out of the chain in case of hurricanes, I had a lot of factors to look at if I was going to find bass.
As expected, I found a lot of vegetation out in the lower portion of Toho. I saw boats scattered here and there fishing in all of that offshore hydrilla so I knew that someone must have found fish out there somewhere. But I don’t like to follow. I always want to find my own stretch — my own section of vegetation that no one else is fishing.
I located a 10-foot hole on my GPS as I was driving around the lake. I figured if there was any vegetation near that at all, I would have found myself a honey-hole. As I worked around the edges, I realized the water was not actually 10 feet deep. Really, it was more like eight. No matter — deep water, find the grass, then add the right bait.
Unfortunately, I did not find any hydrilla. I use a Rat-L-Trap to search out vegetation. I can slow-crank that back to the boat and if there’s anything growing off the bottom, I’ll find it.
I continued to work into shallower water, figuring the less deep it got, the more likely I’d see some weeds. I looked at my graph and saw which way the I needed to go to get to shallow water quickly. I kicked the trolling motor up a couple of notches and took off. Before long, I started feeling hydrilla grabbing at my lure and getting some green sprigs on the hooks.
The Rat-L-Trap is a great bait to find the hydrilla, because you won’t see most of what you really want to fish in. Follow it up with a weedless soft plastic bait you can work through that cover. Knowing the vegetation was there, I put the Rat-L-Trap down, picked up a blue-and-black senko and started working that slowly along the bottom.
By now, two other boats had made their way into my proximity. I just kept fishing and working the edges of the hydrilla I’d found. I reached down to mark a waypoint on my GPS when I felt my first strike, a nice 2.5-pound bass to get the day started.
As I let it go, I looked over my shoulder to see if anyone had noticed and saw the guy next to me boating one a little over 4 pounds. He made another cast and caught one about the same size. I continued heading away from those guys, who had now gotten to within 50 yards of me, and managed to catch two more over 3 pounds. Good enough for me. I had my waypoints saved and took off looking for more of the same structure.
I found one other spot that replicated the one I had just left. It was perfect: Clear water, thick hydrilla in the middle of the clump, thinning out toward the edges. The water depth was just a little deeper than where I had been fishing but it looked great. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to work it as long as I would have liked to and hooked no fish. But if I can get another chance at that spot, I think I can locate fish in that area as well.
Fishing in these types of areas takes a lot of patience. After you identify a large clump of vegetation, it simply takes time to work all the way around it until you find the bass. But once you find one or two, you will probably have found an absolute pile of bass that no one is putting any pressure on.
I know the offshore cover can be tough to locate and then even tougher to decipher. But once you get a feel for it and learn to trust what your electronics are telling you, you’ll be able to have success in areas like this. Put in your time, and don’t get discouraged if it takes more than 10 minutes to get things dialed in.
Once you catch a fish or twos, make some mental notes. How deep is the water? Is the vegetation coming to the surface? How thick is it (and if you can’t see it, how thick does it feel)? What kind of cover is it? Hydrilla, eel grass, pepper grass? Now, go look for similar spots. Once you find what the fish want, you can probably duplicate your success. Crack the code under the water, and you will catch more bass.
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.