Florida Bound

Want to catch a Florida lunker? Now is prime time.
Huntsville Times, Alabama
By Frank Sargeant

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Most bass anglers in the eastern U.S. view Florida as the promised land when it comes to landing that once in a lifetime 10 pound bass. The Sunshine State is the fountainhead of the fast-growing Florida-strain largemouth, and it has a year-around growing season that allows lots of fish to make it to the double digit mark.

But as many traveling fishermen have learned to their disappointment, catching a giant is a tough proposition most of the year your odds are probably better at Guntersville in March than in Florida anytime other than winter.

But for the next couple of months, a unique combination of circumstances has turned one Florida impoundment into "lunker-stew". Fish over 10 pounds are being caught daily, and 7-pounders don't even merit mention.

The lake is Rodman Reservoir northeast of Ocala, an impoundment of the Ocklawaha River, which is a tributary of the St. Johns.

Rodman always fishes great in winter, but this year is special because it's a drawdown year lake levels are being lowered dramatically to kill off an overgrowth of hydrilla and hyacinths, as they are every few years.

"You've got the same number of fish in half as much water," says Captain Sean Rush of Silver Springs, one of the better-known guides on the reservoir. "Plus, all the big females are in full spawn, so the odds of getting really heavy fish are just great."

Yeah, they are--check out Rush's 10-month catch record, as recently cited in "Bass Times" magazine:

135 of the bass went over 7 pounds

73 went over 8 pounds

49 went over 9 pounds

19 were over 10 pounds

8 were over 11 pounds

3 were over 12 pounds, including one that went 13.

Note that he made these catches through October BEFORE the drawdown started! Rush says the fishing has gotten a lot better since!

His best day fishing strictly wild shiners bought from Orange Springs bait shops was 144 bass. He says anglers who like to toss vibrating crankbaits or speedworms can catch 50 fish a day, though those who want fish over 8 pounds will definitely do better with the 6 to 8 inch shiners.

Rush likes 20-pound-test mono and 4/0 Eagle Claw hooks, which he fishes on powerful 7 to 8 foot baitcasting rigs. The baits are usually free-lined, though he sometimes adds a cork to help keep track of where the baitfish swims, and when he fishes the channel he nose-hooks the bait and adds a bit of split shot.

Most of the fish are on the edge of floating hyacinth mats, and Rush tail-hooks his live baits and lets them run up under the cover in 1 to 4 feet of water. He also does well around creek mouths and along the submerged river channel.

Though cold fronts can slow the fishing for a day or two, it never shuts down completely this far south, particularly for livebaiters. Between fronts, you can anticipate daytime temperatures of 75 time to peel off the shirt and make like a lizard. Overnight lows are typically in the 40's to 50's.

Rush says anglers who bring their own rigs to the lake may need four-wheel-drive to launch and load at the low-water ramps, some of which become pretty challenging. The drawdown is slated to reach low pool this week, then start to refill March 1.

There are several motels that cater to anglers in the Fort McCoy and Salt Springs area, just minutes from the lake. Reservations will be necessary during the drawdown, however, because anglers from all over the Southeast are pouring in to sample the action.

It's about 570 miles from Huntsville to Rodman, but the drive goes fast when you're dreaming of giant bass.

For more on fishing Rodman Reservoir, visit Sean Rush's site at

We are a full time Ocala Florida Bass Fishing Guide Service and fishing charter service. We have been guiding on Rodman Reservoir, Ocklawaha River, and Ocala National Forest Lakes for over 25 years.

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