By David A. Brown
Special to BassFan

Florida has long endured mockery from the rest of the country over two points: weather and depth. When Sunshine State residents talk about winter temperatures plummeting in the 40s, some guy in Chicago just rolls his eyes, while referring to deep water as 10-12 feet earns similar disdain from Great Lakes anglers.

Humorous as they are, both instances illustrate a key point in fishing everything is relative.

Fact is Florida bass may live in less demanding habitat, but they do experience winters impact and they do make seasonal adjustments.

People think that Florida bass live in the grass year-round, said FLW Tour pro Mike Surman. Some do, but a lot of our fish live offshore where there are large populations of shad and only a certain portion of the fish on any given lake are in the grass. If that wasnt true, youd see anglers catching 30-pound bags throughout the year.

There's usually a larger portion of the fish out deep roaming and relating to the shade. There are certain times when they migrate in more than others. One of the key times is the spawn; another is the shad spawn.

Worth noting: Florida winters arent always defined by low temperatures. Daylight periods are the unchanging seasonal measurement, but even well before the vernal equinox shifts back to more daylight, Florida anglers are often catching winter bass while wearing shorts and T-shirts.

There are also rare days where layered clothing with bibs and insulated jackets are needed; but regardless of how you dress, understanding a few points about Florida bass will help you score more winter hook ups.

Finding Fish

As Surman says, Florida lakes may lack prominent bass habitat, but thats not necessarily a negative. Here, the fish have learned to work within their limits.

The crazy thing about Florida is that you can find them offshore in about anything, he said. When theyre actively feeding and chasing shad, theyre kind of nomadic.

Courtesy of Mike Surman
Photo: Courtesy of Mike Surman

FLW Tour pro Mike Surman knows that big Florida bass spend much of the cool season in deeper offshore waters where they chase shad.

Tour pro J.T. Kenney, who recently joined the Major League Fishing roster, adds an important observation: Florida lakes dont really have those distinct contour lines of, say, Kentucky Lake (or other TVA reservoirs), but the fish will still relate do depth changes. Instead of like a 14- to 18-foot drop, it may be 4 to 6. Its all relative, but fish will definitely relate to these subtle depth changes.

Surman adds that Florida bass hugging those subtle offshore contours will leave their depth variances when its time to feed. In these times, theyll use their strength in numbers to corral food.

In some lakes, the fish will use rock piles or distinct contour lines to ambush prey, but in Florida, they use their brothers, Surman said. So the great thing about Florida fishing is that when you find them offshore, it is unbelievable how many fish are out there.

In a lot of lakes (throughout the country), schooling fish are small; but in Florida lakes, the biggest fish of the year can be caught offshore. I once doubled with an 8-pounder and a 6-pounder on the same bait. Thats not typical, but Ive caught a lot of 6- to 8-pounders.

Surman attributes this abundance of larger schooling fish to the fact that Floridas mostly featureless, bowl-shaped lakes offer big bass little offshore cover where they can set up shop and ambush prey. Instead, they have to get out and actually work for their meals.

Our offshore fish move around more, following shad, Surman said. They can be more difficult to find, but when you do find them, it can be some of the best fishing of the year.

Moreover, Kenney, said Florida bass spend a lot of time in river channels like the St. Johns and Kissimmee, as well as various canals. Examples of the latter: The flood control canals linking the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes (Toho, Cypress, Hatchineha and Kissimmee).

I think if theres deep water available and theres forage in it, I think theyll inhabit it more than most people may think, he said. Everything being relative, but deeper water and anything with a little current is attractive. What it does is it stacks up the baitfish, which stacks up the bass.

Find and Engage

Surman said that locating Floridas offshore fish is more about his eyes than his electronics. Hell watch for gulls and terns flying around a defined area and cormorants frequently popping up for a breather.

Once you see some birds, you just sit and watch; maybe youll see a shad flipping or a fish show itself, he said. In Florida, rarely is there just one fish by itself. Generally, when you see a fish show itself, theres a lot more around.

When hes targeting Floridas offshore fish, Surman trusts a Yozuri Rattlin Vibe lipless crankbait, which allows him to cover water with a shad-mimicking profile. Hell fish on high trolling-motor speed and fan-cast until he gets a few bites and then hell Power-Pole down to pick apart the area with a shallow-running crankbait or a big topwater, which often brings up the bigger fish. Ill even throw a Texas-rigged 10-inch worm to get the ones that are hugging the bottom and waiting for any leftover shad falling to the bottom, Surman said. When the fish are schooling, theyll wound a few shad that fall to the bottom as easy prey.

One of Kenneys favorite offshore offerings is a Gambler Big EZ swimbait on a 5/0 weighted wide-gap hook. The extra weight increases casting distance while also allowing him to fish the bait deeper for fish that arent venturing topside. For schoolers, a higher rod posture and peppier retrieve keeps the bait in the active zone.

The Color of Money

Now, heres an interesting note about Florida bass theres a color code. Indeed, fish that have spent a lot of time in the grassy shallows take on a dark, almost black hue, while those lake fish that have just arrived from their offshore season have a pale, nearly white look.

Bass that have moved up for pre-spawn will take on a mid-tone coloration with darkening backs and more pronounced greens on their flanks. Anytime from about December through February, anglers delight in finding these newly established bass, as they likely represent the leading edge of a massive shoreward movement.

Those first waves of fish are very easy to catch, Surman said. These fish havent seen a lot of baits, so when they see something moving in the shallow water, they eat it.

This is why guys practice so much. Finding mid-color fish is exciting for a tournament angler because this typically indicates a big offshore school getting ready to flood the shallows. When this happens, you can have one of the days you dream about.