Florida's Real Bass Fishing Capital
By Captain Ed Bussard
The St. Johns River has always been known as the Bass Fishing Capital of Florida but in recent years, it has lost some of it's limelight to other bodies of water in Florida. This beautiful Florida waterway stretches 310 miles starting from wetlands and marshes south of Melbourne, Florida, and then flowing north through Jacksonville, Florida, finally emptying into the Atlantic Ocean at Jacksonville Beach. The northern section of the St. Johns River from Lake George to Jacksonville Beach is a tidal river. South of Lake George to the head waters in Melbourne the river has a north flowing current without a tide.
The area of the river that I am writing this article about deals with the Central St. Johns River from Lake Harney, north to Lake George which is approximately a 75 mile stretch of the St. Johns River.
The bass fishing through out this section of the River is next to none in terms of the sheer numbers of Bass and Trophy Bass. One of the reasons this section of the St. Johns produces such great bass fishing is the speed limits and idle zones that are through out this area of the river. The 25 mph speed limits and the numerous long idle zones do not draw a lot of bass tournaments simply because, who wants to run their bass boats at 25 MPH or less.
Bass fisherman can use this to their advantage as the fishing pressure is very low. The speed limits and idle zones also eliminate a lot of boat traffic on this section of the River which makes for a great way to spend the day bass fishing, or just going for a nice quite nature ride as the river banks which are full of wildlife. Deer, Wild Hogs, and Bald Eagles are seen on a daily basis and the St. Johns River is also home to over 300 Manatees.
Bass fishing on the St. Johns River can be tough for the new comers as the river banks are laden with the fallen trees and the large lily pad fields that line the river. All these areas look promising, and many new fisherman to this area have a hard time figuring out just where to start.
Summertime patterns can be easy to establish once you learn the bait fish that the bass are feeding on. Early summer is usually the tail end of the shad run which starts in the early spring. During this period the bass will usually be on most of the main river points, sand bars, or shell beds. They stage in these areas to ambush the 3 to 5 inch size shad that line the river heading north to the Atlantic Ocean. The top water action can be non stop and these fish can be spotted very easy as they crash the water in feeding frenzies on most main river points. Catching these schooling fish can be done in a number of ways. A few of my favorite's are casting soft jerk baits, or top water prop baits. A good cast into these busting fish will get a bite most every time. You can also cast net these shad and free line them into these schooling fish with great success.
After the shad run is over, the bass start to feed on the natural forage that lives in the river. Wild River shiners and pan fish are at the top of their food chain list during this period. Most Lilly pad fields will hold a bulk of the bass during the summer months as the pan fish will be spawning around these areas. This is when the river becomes a flippers dream as most days will produce big numbers of bass, along with some real trophy size fish. Flipping a 6 inch worm rigged with a 1/4 oz rattle weight can be heart stopping. On the windy days, burning a spinner bait through these big pad fields, and dragging a soft plastic frog over the pads can be quite deadly in locating and landing some nice size fish.
The fall of the year can be great fishing as well, but a lot of your success will depend mostly on the water levels. Most years we see the river being high, or above average depending on the amount of rain fall we see during the summer. Another factor is the number of Hurricanes and Tropical Storms we see during the summer.
Early fall we have another shad hatch. Just like the summer months, the schooling fish can get very active. Later in the fall, the bass will start to roam the banks of the river and start to migrate towards the spawning flats where they will spend most of the winter. This part of the fall is when you need to fish as much as possible to keep up with the bass movement. One day they are on a stretch of river bank, and the next day they may be a mile a way. A small number of bass will still be in the pad fields if that area is one that doesn't have much current running through the inside section. These types of pad fields will make good areas for the bass to spawn. If the current is to strong, the bass will not spawn, and will move on to a different area where the current is slack.
Fall of the year is also a great time to fish the fallen trees that line most of the banks along the St. Johns River. I try to look for the trees that have fallen within a few feet of the main river channel as this tends to be the best areas for the bass to ambush bait fish in the current. A deep diving crank bait, or a spinner bait slow rolled through these trees can bring some real excitement to a day of fishing.
Winter time is spawning time and this is when the artificial action can get tough, but the shiner fishing is at it's best. The reason the artificial fishing can get tough is we will start to see big drops in water temperature. Most new fisherman visiting Florida from our northern states find it hard to believe Florida bass go dormant when the water temperature drops from the 70's to the mid 50's, as they just left home catching bass in 40 degree water temperatures. The thing you have to remember is our average water temp in the winter will be in the mid 70's, and a drop of more then 15 degrees will send these Florida bass into shock.
During the colder days, the mid afternoon bite will always be better as the water warms. Shiner fishing is the most consistent way to catch these dormant fish as anytime you can dangle a steak (shiner} in front of them, they just can't resist taking a shot at it. During the winter a bass will stick to one area, not moving from place to place. After the spawn gets started and it is not necessary for the bass to move long distances, they will not be burning a lot of energy, and there for they are not hungry everyday.
On the warmer days of the spawn, the artificial bite can be unreal on the larger flats sitting off the main river. Some of these flats that have hydrilla and eel grass have clean enough water to sight fish. Your day can be successful with artificial baits fishing the Lilly pad fields on these larger flats. If there is no hydrilla or eel grass present, this will usually mean that the bottom is soft. In this case the bass will spawn on the big root systems of the Lilly pads. A good way to detect spawning activity is watching the pad steams as the male bass will rub on the root of a pad to fan off a spot for the female to lay her eggs. The female will also many times use this big root to rub her sides to help her to release her eggs. Watch for the pad steams to shake, and you have found the right place to fish. Fan casting a worm with a lite weight, or weightless, will trigger these fish to bite on the warmer days. But again, a shiner fished under a cork is hard to beat.
Spring Time Bass Fishing Is Red Hot On The St. Johns River. This is the time of year I like the best on the St Johns River as everything is taking place. We will still have some late spawner's, and we will have a big number of fish in the post spawn mode feeding heavily. One of the special things about the river during the spring is the many different shad hatches are taking place. Unlike any other lakes or rivers in Central Florida, the St. Johns River has the American Shad that migrates from the ocean up the St Johns River to the Central area to spawn. This shad hatch takes place at the perfect time of the year when the bass are in their post spawn feeding pattern. The big trophy bass can be caught in great numbers, and on a regular basis. The top water action will be great, you can catch these St Johns River Bass just about any way you wish to fish. Rattle Traps, Spinner baits, Carolina Rigged worms, soft plastic jerk baits, hard jerk baits, and on and on. Again just like the early summer months, these fish can be seen busting these big American Shad up and down the river on most points, and shell beds. Many out of state fisherman think of schooling fish as small fish, but the fact is we catch just as many 10 pound fish schooling on these big shad in the spring as we do during the spawn.
I hope this article will help you enjoy what the Beautiful St. Johns River has to offer and help you understand why this river is still called the Bass Fishing Capital Of The World.
EDDIE'S LATEST FISHING REPORT
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June is here and the Trophy Bass Fishing continues to be great. We had 20 plus fish the morning of a 4 hr trip with lots of topwater action. We’ve had some 40 to 50 fish on 8 hr trips with Live Bait Wild Shiners. Remember we are located less than 30 minutes from New Smyrna Beach and less than 45 minutes from Daytona Beach FL.
It’s the month of May and the Shad Spawn is still going on which means more TROPHY BASS!
The shad spawn has begun. Hopefully, we can keep the weather in check and get rid of these crazy windy days we have been having.
March 25, 2020
Bass Challenger Clients are all leaving town with smiles on their faces. The St Johns River is on fire!
March 10, 2020
Bass Challenger Clients are smiling ear to ear with their St Johns River Trophy Bass Catches this winter.
Remember the St Johns River is only minutes from Orlando, Disney World, Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach, and Cocoa Beach FL. Check our Trophy Pages.
Thanks From Capt Ed Bussard and Bass Challenger Guide Service Guiding Clients To Trophy Bass In Central Florida For Over 31 Years
See Ya out there!!!
GOD BLESS OUR TROOPS
If you would like to book the bass fishing trip of a lifetime with one of Florida's oldest guide services please call Capt Ed Bussard at Bass Challenger Guide Service.
SLOW DOWN AND FIND A NICE SECRET
by: Don Wilson
Debary---Slow 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 bass.
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.
Deltona fishing guide Eddie Bussard is one of them.
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 ounces.
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 fishing pressure---Beresford---has 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 8 pounds
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 move.
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 the water.
"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 said.
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 bass.
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 ramp.
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."
originally published in the Orlando Sentinal
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