Anglers should think drum roll as the launch their freshwater vessels in the St Johns in March. This is the time of year when you can find trophy bass, heavyweight sunshine bass, stringers of black crappie and plenty of bedding bluegill and shellcrackers. For those looking for a personal best largemouth, remember these female fish are the breeders for the future – lift them out of the water supporting their belly and hold them out of the water only as long as you can hold your breath. Today’s digital scales are remarkably accurate. Take measurements of length and girth, weigh them, take pictures to save and share the memory. Practicing catch and release is honorable in today’s day and age!
Look for schools of live bait getting crushed by striped bass, sunshine bass, and largemouth bass at the mouths of the lakes and the deep river bends at first light or in the late evening. Topwater is the name of the game! Nothing beats that explosive topwater strike – these hungry fish will destroy a Heddon Spook Jr., or you can also try your favorite saltwater topwater bait. Second best are rattling crank baits – Rattle Traps and their look-alikes. If the bass are finicky, tie on a white 4-5” jerkbait – first try unweighted and use a walk the dog style retrieve just beneath the surface to get you some fish. Carolina rigged lizzards work well if teasing a bass on the bed – lizzards eat eggs and bass will not stand one in their breeding area.
Panfish will readily eat minnows. They love red worms, night crawlers, and crickets. Look for bedding areas in shallow waters. Bluegill and Shellcrackers will take over beds used earlier by bass and crappie, look in those same areas and concentrate efforts where there is a shell bottom near drop-offs, and nearby cover (lily pads). Crappie will be found in the pads during full and new moons, other times try longline trolling or spider rigging the drop-offs along the river where there is nearby fall downs or other structure.