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Florida Outdoors

Article Index

Alligator Hunting: A One of a Kind Experience -
by Kris Thoemke

Why They Call it Hunting Instead of Killing -
by Kris Thoemke

Florida's Other Crab - by Kris Thoemke

The Waiting Game - by Kris Thoemke

Mounted Memories - by Kris Thoemke

Eco-Touring in Collier County - by Kris Thoemke

Beyond the Largemouth Bass - by Kris Thoemke

Tying One On -- Some thoughts on how to get started tying your own flies -- by Kris Thoemke

The Big Cypress: Adventures in a Vast Wilderness
-- Kris Thoemke spends the day exploring the Big Cypress National Preserve with Preserve biologist Debra Jansen

A Basic Guide to Saltwater Fly Fishing in Southwest Florida -- by Don Phillips

Four Strokes on the Water -- The sound of the future for marine outboards is likely to be much quieter --
by Kris Thoemke

Birding Big Cypress Swamp and the 10,000 Islands --
by natural history writer and photographer Jeff Ripple

Recycling Your Fish -- by Kris Thoemke

Peace, Paddle and Hunt -- by Kris Thoemke

 fish, camp, golf Florida outdoors

Beyond the Largemouth Bass
Here are some offbeat bass species in Florida's fresh waters for anglers to consider
by Kris Thoemke


There are legions of anglers in Florida that have a singular purpose in life - catching bass, specifically largemouth bass. To them it is the only fish to pursue. But, it is far from the only species of bass swimming in Florida waters. Seven other bass species live in the state's waters but you'll have to move around the state to catch them.

Perhaps the most familiar of the "other bass" is the butterfly peacock bass. The Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission introduced this South American native into the canals in Dade (Miami area) and Broward (Ft. Lauderdale area) counties in 1984 to help control some of the other exotic species, most notably the spotted tilapia, living in the canals. I've had several anglers tell me that they are also catching this species in some of the canals in eastern Collier County.

It seems reasonable to expect this because there are connections between the Dade, Broward and Collier County canals where the counties abut each other. Plus, I've had several anglers tell me about p[eople they know who have "imported" live fish from the east coast to canals and private lakes in southwest Florida.

The same techniques used to fish for largemouth bass will generally work for peacocks. In the Game Commission's Everglades Region Fishing Guide the authors recommend using live shiners for bait. Artificial lures will also work and they suggest you try Jerk'n Sam's, L'il Chris' and Baby or Tiny Torpedos. Fish only during the day for this fish because it does not feed at night.

A close relative of the butterfly peacock bass also lives in the same canals in Dade and Broward counties. The speckled peacock bass, distinguished primarily by the presence of large black marks on the fish's cheeks, is an infrequent catch compared to its cousin. If you catch one of these, it must be immediately released unharmed. However, it is legal to keep two butterfly peacock bass but only one may be longer than 17".

To find the other five bass species you need to head to the north Florida lakes and rivers. The striped bass, a species familiar to saltwater anglers along the eastern seaboard, is strictly a freshwater species in Florida. Although there is evidence that a few of the rivers had native populations at one time, most of the fish caught are ones introduced by the Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Both agencies have hatcheries in Florid and annually stock the St. Johns, Nassau and St. Marys rivers in northeast Florida and the Apalachicola and Ochlockonee Rivers and Lakes Talquin and Seminole in the panhandle region.

Stripers can get big. A 15 pound fish qualifies for the state's big catch program and the state record is 42.25 pounds. Anglers fishing for this species usually use heavy bait casting or spinning tackle. Your 9 or 10 weight salt water fly rod would be a good choice if you want to try and tackle one of these fish. The best bait for the big fish is live bait, specifically live shad. Every spring stripers follow and feed on the shad as they migrate up river. Striped bass also hit yellow or white jigs fished close to the bottom. Lake Seminole and the Apalachicola River are the best places to fish for striped bass in the state. Perhaps the best place in this area to fish is from the fishing platform below the Jim Woodruff Dam. The waters below the dam, which, forms Lake Seminole, are called a tailrace and it is here that numerous big stripers are caught. It's where the current state record fish was caught.

Sharing some of the same waters with the striped bass is a much smaller, but native bass called the white bass. Seldom getting bigger than three pounds, white bass school and move up the Apalachicola and Ochlockonee rivers in the spring like the striped bass. Anglers catch them on light tackle using crayfish and live freshwater shrimp. They also like small yellow jigs and it is possible to catch a white bass when fishing for stripers.

White bass are fun to catch but they have another important role in the state's fisheries program. Biologists at the hatcheries cross white bass with striped bass to create the sunshine, or hybrid, bass. Sunshines are bigger than white bass but smaller than stripers. The artificially created fish are stocked into selected rivers and lake in north and central Florida. Coming from parents that don't have a high tolerance for warm water, these fish don't adapt well to south Florida. A limited number of them are in Commission managed fish impoundments in Palm Beach and Manatee Counties.

The Escambia, Apalachicola and Ochlockonee rivers and Lakes Talquin and Seminole are regularly stocked with sunshine and are good places to fish. February and March and September and October are the best months to fish for this species. Anglers use the live shad and the same artificial lures to fish for the striped and sunshine bass.

Northwest Florida is also home to three lesser know bass. Inhabiting only the upper part of the Ochlockonee River and the Suwannee River is the Suwannee bass. This is the smallest species with fish averaging one to one and a half pounds.

If you are looking for small mouth bass in Florida, the closest you will get is the spotted bass. This fish looks similar to a small mouth but is not the real thing. It inhabits all of the rivers in northwest Florida from the Apalachicola River to the Perdido River on the Florida-Alabama border. Gray Bass, a fisheries biologist with the Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, says that a good place to fish for this species is on the Blackwater River, upriver from Blackwater River State Park. "Fish where there is a lot of cover," Bass suggests. "I like to use a small spinnerbiat called a Snagless Sally because it is weedless and works better around the heavy cover the fish prefer."

The rarest bass in Florida is the shoal bass, or redeye bass. It gets the name red eye because of the near or totally red eyes. The species is native to parts of Alabama and Georgia. In Florida, it is only found in the Chipola River and parts of the Apalachicola River. The best place to fish for spotted bass is below Marianna. Here the river has numerous rock shoals which is the preferred habitat for this species. A big fish is one over three pounds. The current state record is 7.83 pounds.

If an angler wants to make a name for himself or herself, one way to do it would be to catch all eight of the bass species in Florida. To make it a distinctive mark, catching an individual of each species that qualifies for the state's big catch program should do the trick.

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