Rodman, other big-fish spots in Central Florida, turn on in winter.
October 2011 Tampa Tribune
By Frank Sargeant

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It's the lake that almost wasn't. Rodman Reservoir has been under threat of permanent drainage many times over the past decades as conservationists seek to restore the area to the natural basin of the Ocklawaha River. But bass anglers around the nation are awfully glad that Rodman is still there; it's perhaps the best spot in Florida to catch a 10 pounds plus bass, and we're entering the best time of the year for the big ones to bite according to guide Sean Rush, who eats, lives and breathes Rodman bassing.

"I thought all the rain we had recently might turn off the fish after a really good early fall," says Rush. "But this week they have just been going crazy we're catching a bass on almost every bait."

He said that his three most recent trips have averaged 30 bass per, with many fish over the 5-pound mark.

The tactics that work best for the big fish, Rush and others say, is to use wild shiners available at baitshops around Salt Springs and other towns close to Rodman and fish them on wide-gap "Kahle" hooks and heavy tackle, typically 65 pound braid with big two-handed 8-foot rods. The powerful tackle is not necessarily needed to whip the bass, but rather to dredge it out of the cover where most bites come. (You may be shocked at the prices of the baits $12 to $15 per dozen is common in prime season, and you can use up to five dozen in a good day.)

The shiners are often tail-hooked and encouraged to swim up under the vast rafts of hyacinths and other floating weeds that cover much of Rodman's shoreline. The bass live under this "roof" of vegetation and are very hard to catch with conventional lures, but the shiners go back in where they feed and draw the bites.

Some anglers also nose hook the shiners and slow troll them along the edge of the weeds, or on the weedy edge of the old river channel, which they can follow with sonar and GPS.

When a fish takes, sometimes announced by a washtub sized explosion under the weeds, the angler drops the rod tip, takes up slack, and sets the hook hard enough to haul out a walrus. If the fish is hooked, it can sometimes be scooted up through the weeds and skated along the surface.

Otherwise, it will wrap itself in 50 pounds of weeds, and the only way to get it is to push the boat into the glop, follow the line, and grab the fish by hand. It's a long way from whipping a snook or a tarpon in open water, but if you want to catch a really big bass, this is by far the best way to do it.

And there's probably no better place to catch a double-digit fish than Rodman from late December into early April, as the giant females pack on weight during the spawn.

Nearly all bass caught this way are released, and state biologists say that fishing during the spawn has no apparent affect on bass populations. For those who want a mount, fiberglass mounts that look much better than a skin mount are available through area taxidermists.

Other lakes that produce big fall and winter fish on shiners include Kissimmee, Okeechobee, Toho, Istokpoga, Rousseau, George and Crescent.

Fishing wild shiners takes some specialized equipment, including a large, well-aerated baitwell and "shiner salt" minerals that help harden the scales and calm the baits in the well so that they stay lively longer. For those who are not hard-core shiner anglers, it's much easier and cheaper to hire a guide than to set up your own boat for the tactics.

Sean Rush can be reached at

Rodman is likely to be particularly productive this year because it's being "drawn down" to eliminate excessive weed growth and help the bottom solidify to provide better spawning areas. As the lake level goes down, thousands of fish are forced out of the cover and into the old river channel, creating a sort of "fish soup" where tremendous catches are possible. This year's drawdown will begin right after Thanksgiving and continue through March, providing an angling bonanza for anglers who can manage to launch their boats off the low-water ramps.

We are a full time Ocala, Florida Fishing Guide Service and fishing charter service. We have been guiding customers to trophy fish in the Ocala, Florida area for over 25 years.

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