DOWN AND FIND A NICE SECRET
by: Don Wilson
speed zones designed to protect manatees
from boaters have had an expected
bonus---turning an eight-mile stretch
of the St Johns River into a bass
angler's version of a ghost town.
Most of those who regularly fish the
river for bass have gone elsewhere,
meaning the fishing pressure is almost
nil. Yet the section of river between
the Highbanks Road Ramp and Lake Beresford
is home to some of the St Johns' biggest
A handful of locals know this and are
willing to spend hour or more putt-putting
their way to hot spots they know they'll
have to themselves.
fishing guide Eddie Bussard is one
Born in Sanford, Bussard has fished the St Johns for 30 years, 28 years as a
guide. During the spring and early summer, this is his favorite stretch
of the river. His personal-best bass was caught here. It weighed 12 pounds, 2
That's why, in a recent bass tournament for the Paralyzed Veterans of America,
Bussard was willing to spend 90 minutes chugging from Lake Monroe to Lake Beresford
while other anglers stayed in Monroe or headed south, where there were no manatee-protection
zones to slow them. In two days of fishing, he weighed in 10 bass that totaled
nearly 20 pounds.
He would have more than doubled that,
and likely won the tournament, but
Bussard lost four big bass, probably
weighing 8 pounds or more. One
bass got entangled in a tripod of telephone
poles supporting a channel-marker light.
Had someone been around with a net,
he'd have boated the fish, but all
Bussard could do was watch helplessly
as the bass jumped several times
inside the tripod and finally escaped.
Another was lost to the huge wake of
a passing yacht.
State fisheries biologists said one
of the area's lakes with the least
some of the largest bass.
"We were shocking and tagging
bass in Beresford, and we saw quite
a few nice bass," said Joe Jenkins,
the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Commission biologist who monitors the
river. "We tagged 54 fish that
were more than 22 inches long".
A 22-inch bass would weigh approximately
Earlier this week, Bussard showed
just how productive the section
of river can be. Anchoring just off
the entrance to an oxbow, he started casting
a diving crankbait to a point near
the backwater's entrance.
"There's a sunken log right there,
and the fish will be holding along
that log," he said.
In a dozen casts, he caught four bass,
most of them small keepers of
1-2 pounds. Bussard decided not to
spend more time at this spot.
"There's not much bait here---
not near as much as there was last
weekend," he said. "Both
days of the tournament, I had a limit
here in 15 minutes."
Idling down river to a spot near the
entrance to Lake Beresford, he
anchored out of the channel and started
casting crankbaits toward the
channel. The only other boat traffic
consisted of sightseers in a rental pontoon
boat, chugging slowly along.
Retrieving the lure along an underwater
point, where the depth goes from 5or
6 feet to 13 feet, he caught a number
of small bass, again most at least
14-inch keepers. Again, the lack of
bait in the area convinced him to
Bussard idled upstream to a large
field of cow lilies, or spatterdock,
just off the main channel. He began
flipping a 6-inch plastic worm into
small openings in the pads. The first
few fish were small, but Bussard was
patient. After nearly 20 minutes of
working the pad field, he set the hook
on a 6 pound bass. Grinning, he
unhooked the bass and lowered it into
"I knew she was here--- I just
didn't think it would take this
long to find her. Right here is where
I lost those four good fish last Saturday," he
Moving across the river to another
pad field, he repeated the performance,
catching a fish slightly smaller.
Bussard fishes only pad fields in
deeper water. He wants at least
6 feet of water on the outside of the
pads. Shallower pads usually attract smaller
By noon, he caught 15 bass, the five
largest totaling probably more
than 20 pounds.
The wind died, the fish stopped biting,
and it was time to head back to the
He said the bass fishing is just peaking
and his tactics would work any-where
along the river.
"April, May and June are my best
months on this river. This is
when the bait, menhaden, start to bunch
up and are migrating back to sea," he
said. "The bass are going to be
at points near drop-offs, where the
bait are holding. Anything that
goes into at least 13 feet of water
will give you a steep enough drop
to find the fish."
He said the same technique will work
in the narrow segment of river south
of lake Monroe.
"You go to almost any of those
points south of the (State Road)
415 bridge, and you are going to catch
fish now. But by late June, it will
be over--- the bait will have gone."
Don Wilson can be
reached at 407-420-5397 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
originally published in the Orlando