With a break in the humidity and the first signs of fall, my mind immediately shifted to trophy bass fishing. Sure, big fish show up year-round here in Florida. But in the colder months, things start to come together for an above-average shot at a fish of a lifetime.
That old saying won’t be an exaggeration if my plans work out. Early 2024 will bring with it a unique opportunity that I may never again see in my lifetime. Thanks to a natural cycle of low and high water, augmented by a five-year period of above-average rainfall and storms, select waters in Florida have the potential to produce a bass unlike any seen in the last 50 years.
I plan to be there in the mx. No longer burdened by a tournament schedule or trade show route, I’ll be embarking on number of trips through the big bass Holyland; the place that started it all, before Californians spoke of Florida-strain or Texans dammed up the Sabine.
Preparing for a quest like this is half the fun. There are logistics to consider, of course, including lodging that provides boat parking and water capable of flushing live bait tanks. Tackle choices must be pondered carefully. Very few artificial lures have the potential to fool a bass as big as I’ll be hunting, but those that do must be in ample supply, hooks sharp.
Rods and reels fit in the musky category. Each must be evaluated, lines changed and stocked. And apparel is a big player in Florida. February’s weather could range from 40 degrees to 90, and it’s often windy and wet. My boat will have a new motor; my trolling motor must be rock solid, with a spare in the truck. I’ll be incredibly fortunate to get one crack at the fish I’m looking for. All systems must be go, beforehand.
Not surprisingly, I’ve consulted the sources I learned from early on. While today’s bass fishing industry is overwhelmed with tournament angling and little information on big bass fishing is cycled, a few sources from long ago were again pulled from the bookshelf. Doug Hannon, the Florida Big Bass Professor of the '70s and '80s, joins Californian Bill Murphy as the two most knowledgable authors on giant bass.
A few living sources share their insight, too. One, a good friend and occasional fishing partner, has chased big bass in Florida longer and harder than possibly any angler alive. He’s one of very few bass fishermen – maybe the only – to put a 15-pound-plus fish on the board in three different states. His knowledge on giant bass behavior is invaluable.
That group makes up the braintrust. Two deceased authors and an old-time friend. In an instant, I can find a hundred sources on fishing a Neko Rig, or a thousand on a Ned. But, in the world of trophy bass fishing in the South, very little information exists. I find that astounding.
Where has the interest in big bass gone? With the popularity of tournament angling came an interest in catching mid-sized bass fast. That approach has dominated our sport so long, it’s essentially replaced anything else. And that’s okay.
Organized, competitive fishing is where it’s at for most anglers. But for a sub-culture of others, the chance at one gigantic fish always overrides the appeal of regularly getting bit.
The more I pursue big fish, the more I see how drastically different that approach is from 99 percent of modern bass fishing. You see, back in the day, the goal of any bass angler was to catch big fish. Today, that gameplan has been totally replaced.
The modern form of bass fishing allows participants the best chance to catch high numbers of fish. Variables like boat speed, massive electronic packages and self-anchoring trolling motors make a big difference. None of those matter in big-bass fishing. If anything, they’re a hindrance.
Somewhere, I read an opinion that perfectly matches fishing for giant bass today. It’s much like trophy deer hunting. About 2 percent of deer hunters routinely kill gigantic whitetail deer. The rest of the hunters settle for meat in the freezer. Often, even the trophy hunters must do the same and resort to taking a doe on the final day of the season, so advanced and elusive are their quarry.
Giant bass are the same way. Attention to detail and fitting in with the environment are keys to catching them. It’s amazing to think that many sportsmen will sneak through the woods in rubber boots and remain absolutely silent in a tree stand for 10 hours, in hopes of just seeing a big buck. Yet they’ll burn through their fishing area with a 100-pound thrust trolling motor and expect to catch a big bass.
We drastically underestimate trophy bass, believe me.
I can take you to a group of clear-water lakes near where I live that are home to some real brutes. Most of the season, you’ll never know they existed. Catches are almost uniformly made of little 1-pound schoolers. Yet, in the spring, when the big fish come to spawn, it’s not uncommon to spot numerous double-digit fish in each pond. You’ll never even see them if you run your trolling motor.
This spring, I’ll again chase the fish of my dreams. Most of my tackle, and previous knowledge, will have to stay at home. Until then, I’ll continue to ponder how to chase a bass many anglers can’t believe exists.
I hope you’ll join me on the quest.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)