As summer begins to draw to a close, bass fishing enters a new chapter in south-central Florida and specifically at Lake Istokpoga. Water temperatures in the high 80’s and even the low 90’s in some areas will begin to cool and the baitfish, which seemed to disappear during the summer months will become much more evident in the shallower water as bass begin their seasonal migration, eating everything in sight in preparation for the cooler months ahead and eventually the spawn.
Many bass fishermen look forward to the fall season for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is what many consider the best time of the year to catch bass at their greatest weight. Although large spawning females, preparing to spawn in late winter and early spring will often gain additional weight, often the heaviest fish of the year are caught in September, October and November when bass put on the feedbag and bulk up.
Lake Istokpoga, rated as one of the best bass fishing lakes in Florida with over 27,000 acres, has provided some of the toughest fishing of the year this past summer. Many anglers that I spoken to have even questioned whether the lake still holds the large number of bass it’s always been known for in the past. Some believe, due to the absence of hydrilla which once covered 70% of the lake’s surface, that the bass have all but disappeared. Others are convinced that large numbers of bass have disappeared through the spillway during the heavy rains in July and August.
But summer fishing on Lake Istokpoga has always been tough due to the extreme shallow water and lack of deep water sanctuaries where the fish might normally reside during the hot summer months, and every year, fall fishing is outstanding.
With acres and acres of vegetation, including pencil reeds, bulrushes and lily pads, largemouth bass in Lake Istokpoga simply replace the deep water sanctuaries with shaded, cooler water deep inside the shallow water vegetation. The baitfish, which they’re dependent on for their food source typically have led the way.
For the most part, fishermen believe the water has to cool off before the bass will once again strike their lures, and although there is some truth in that, it’s not the only factor to consider. More important to the bass, who, by the way are cold-blooded and therefore comfortable in virtually any water temperature, is the angle of the sun.
As fall approaches, the angle of the sun changes every day. Days grow shorter, if only by minutes and bass are aware of this seasonal change. Direct sunlight becomes less and less intense as winter approaches and bass are much more likely to be moving greater distances as baitfish begin to move as well.
Preparing for a trip to Lake Istokpoga over the Labor Day weekend, I considered the time of the year as I prepared my rods for what I hoped would be a good day on the water.
Two 7’ 10” flippin’ stiks, one with a Medlock jig and blue/black Sweet Beaver trailer, and another with a Gary Yamamoto blue/black Senko worm. Rigging my 8’, custom built spinning rod rigged with a Bass Assassin Silver Phenom was followed by a 7’ G Loomis GLX spinning rod rigged with a Zoom watermelon trick worm. And finally, two 7 1⁄2’ Denali rods, one specifically designed for a Strike King white buzzbait and the other with one of my favorite topwater baits, a Rebel Pop R.
Fully prepared for a day’s fishing, I launched the boat on the north end at the state ramp and couldn’t resist flipping the pads right out in front of the boat ramp area. Not surprisingly, this area holds some of the biggest bass in the lake.
No takers on the jig or worm, but a huge bass exploded on my buzz bait as I retrieved it across an area of pads with large open areas. As frustrating as it can be, explosive strikes from a large bass; even though he misses the bait can be exhilarating and really get the blood pumping. A couple of follow up casts with a worm and my Bass Assassin proved ineffective in getting a second chance at the bass.
The wind was light as I moved to my second spot, a line of bulrushes on the northwest side of the lake which had always produced in the past. Normally I fish the outside edge, flipping a jig 5-6’ inside and working the bait back slowly, but during the hot, summer months, the bass tend to be further back, sometimes 20- 25’, completely hidden in the heaviest concentration of reeds.
My partner Sam, set the hook on a good fish only to lose it as we fought our way deep inside the reeds. Two hours and two more missed opportunities and we moved to the west side of the lake.
With an assortment of vegetation, I worked my Bass Assassin across the pads, allowing it to drop into the openings when a good sized bass struck the lure. A healthy bass over 6 pounds and a terrific fight suddenly changed our perspective on the day.
Two more bass were caught and released as we worked our way south to the weather station, where the water dropped off quickly at the edge of the reeds to 6-7’. Changing up to a white Medlock jig with a white craw trailer, a huge bass struck the jig as I attempted to lift it out of the water. Attempting to work it back into the reeds, I worked the fish out into open water and after a couple incredible leaps for freedom; I brought the bass boat side for a quick picture and release.
As we approached the noon hour, temperatures had quickly moved into the high 80’s and we both agreed it was getting too hot to stay much longer.
We’d had a good day on the water, catching and releasing a couple of pretty nice fish and knowing that over the next couple of months, bass fishing in Lake Istokpoga was only going to get better.