Photo by Brett Cannon
Steering you to the largemouth of a lifetime.
While largemouth bass across much of the country remain hunkered down in a winter pattern, bass in central Florida are running full tilt in all three stages of the spawn. Right now tournament angler and guide Ricky Congero is wearing out big Florida strain largemouths on the eight Kissimmee Chain lakes around Orlando.
Whether you’re an angler in need of a road trip or if you’re sitting in an easy chair waiting on your reservoir to get right, Congero’s tactics might help steer you to the largemouth of a lifetime.
Starting in November and December, Kissimmee largemouths begin staging up in prespawn behaviors. The first big waves of fish hit the flats toward the end of January. They’ll move in and out with the passage of cold fronts, but from January into early March there will be fish in all stages of the spawn. The key to locating them among miles of thick vegetation is to find hard-bottomed shallow flats.
“You can pattern them year-round based on the spawning flats,” Congero said. “During prespawn, they’ll be staged in the first grass maybe 100 yards off those flats. Postspawn, they’ll move out into the dense hydrilla and hyacinth.”
Congero starts by covering water with moving baits like swim jigs and Chatterbaits in search of bass preparing to move up. When the smaller males arrive on the flats to fan out beds, it’s an indicator that fishing is about to get very good.
“If you start catching a bunch of young bucks on the flats, the big females won’t be far behind,” he said.
In the tannic waters of the Kissimmee lakes, it’s difficult to spot fish on the bed. Instead of sight fishing, Congero looks for the locations big females prefer.
“You always find the bigger females bedded on isolated pads, as opposed to the big clumps of pads,” he said. “They’ll spawn right at the base of the stem.”
And while heavy braid and heavy-duty tackle are mainstays for hossing big fish out of thick vegetation, fishing beds requires stealth and finesse. Sizing down to 17- or 20-pound fluorocarbon, Congero likes a short 5- or 6-inch Senko. A staple on the Kissimmee lakes is black with a blue tail. He Texas rigs it with 1-ounce tungsten bullet weight, which is pegged to the head of the worm. This allows him to feel when his bait hits the stalk, at which time he lets it sit on the bottom until the bass picks it up.
“Don’t set the hook as soon as you feel her pick it up,” he warned. “She might just have the tail in her mouth and you’ll come back with half a worm. Wait until she’s swimming off with it. Reel up all the slack and give her a second or two before you set it.”
By Nick Carter