I won’t show you my injuries. But trust me. They are there--- a scraped thumb and a raw, red arc about a half inch from the base--- the “hurts so good” reminders of a great fishing trip. (For those who don’t know, these “wounds” are sustained by sticking one’s thumb in a bass’ mouth to land it.)
And a great trip is what I had yesterday on Lake Okeechobee with Sam Griffin, the luremaker legend, and Dave Burkhardt, owner of Trik Fish (formerly Triple Fish) fishing lines. We caught 40-plus bass, including a 5-pounder, and several 3s and 4s.
But the day started depressingly slow. During the first three hours, Dave and Sam managed two or three small bass on the wood baits that Sam makes, a Lil’ Richard topwater and a Lil’ Katy crankbait. But I didn’t land my first until nearly 10 a.m.
When we paused for lunch, Dan the creel checker guy stopped by. We told him that action been slow so far, just 16 fish, including a 4-pounder. He surprised us by saying that we had done better than anyone else he had talked to.
For us, at least, the action picked up considerably in our shorter afternoon session, despite light winds that didn’t help the fishing and encouraged hydrilla gnats to be even more irritating than they normally are. Just before 3 p.m., I picked up the big fish of the day, about 5 pounds, on a white swimming jig with a Horny Toad trailer. (Dan Brovarney of Brovarney Baits had told me that was the hot bait, and he was right.)
The swimming jig consistently produced the biggest fish, and I caught nearly all of mine on it. But we also found that the bass would hit Skinny Dippers (soft-body swimbait) in a variety of colors.
Most of our action came in a “pad field” with lots of open water about 4 to 4 ½ feet deep, and our fish were a combination of “resident” fish and “lake” fish. The former are darker, with a yellowish belly, while the latter, usually the bigger bass, have a white underside. Sam said that the lake fish start moving into these backwater areas to spawn in early December.
We stayed within three miles of Harney Pond Canal, and water throughout the area showed good clarity. Mostly we fished places that will be spawning sites later on in the winter, with surrounding hydrilla beds providing protection from wind and wave action.
As is typical of the Big O this time of year, bird life is abundant, another reason that I enjoy going there. Herons, egrets, kites, osprey, pelicans, ibis, and coots--- thousands and thousands of coots--- shared the water with us.
(See more photos from this trip in Escape! Gallery).
This afternoon, I’ll drive down to Lake Okeechobee to fish with friends, Sam Griffin and Dave Burkhardt. Sam is a legend on the Big O, and a long-time creator of some of the best wood topwater baits. He also knows as much about the art of cajoling bass to bite a topwater as anyone I’ve ever met.
A couple of years ago, I caught the 8-5 pictured above while fishing with Sam on Lake Okeechobee.
The Big O is not only a world-class bass fishery, but a national treasure because of its natural beauty, its abundant wildlife, and its popularity as a tourism attraction. One of its inhabitants is the rare Everglades snail kite, which I photographed while fishing with Sam.
Sadly, Lake Okeechobee also is a paradise under siege from pollution. Check out this article to learn more.
Check out my conversation with Terry Brown about threats to fishing and my new book, Why We Fish.