[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he water level in Lake Okeechobee is very high, the present 15.67 ft level is 12 to 13 inches higher than last year. The high water period seems to have affected the timing of the late fall bass bite that normally occurs in mid to late October and continues throughout the fall and winter seasons. The large trophy size bass did not show up in daily catches of local guides and other anglers until late November. As we approached the full moon in December the large bass made their presence known, when anglers caught bass to 9.8-pounds along with numerous other fish in the 7 to 8 pound class. Catch rates rose dramatically as the full moon approached, with 40 to 60 bass per day being caught in addition to the trophy size bass. Shiners are the bait of choice for the bass that have just moved into the shallow grass lines as they feed heavily on shad and shiner during this pre-spawn period. Several of the bass caught this past week were very fat and their bellies were swollen with roe, whether they went ahead and completed spawning is anyone’s guess. In addition to largemouth there were a number of 4 to 5 pound sunshine bass caught on shiners too. These fish are great table fare, although somewhat difficult to hook due to the size of their mouth, which is very small in relation to a largemouth, making the large wild shiners we use to catch largemouth difficult for them to inhale quickly. Patience is key if you suspect that a sunshine is attempting to eat your bait. They have a tricky way of grasping and then swimming toward the open water as they attempt to turn and swallow a shiner.
Speckled perch are being caught lake wide. Anglers who traditionally use minnow are primarily targeting specks in open water areas like the Kissimmee River or canals such as Indian Prairie, Government Cut or J&S canal. Several anglers can be seen well out into the lake in open water, on a line between Taylor Creek and the mouth of the Kissimmee River. Anglers who prefer to jig with tiny artificial jigs are finding specks scattered in the grassy semi-heavy cover areas of the lake. Tin House Cove, Buckhead Ridge and Kings Bar are good areas that are relatively near the ramp at Okeetantie park and easily accessible. Jig color selections vary greatly, peanut butter is a popular color, as are the more frequently heard of, chartreuse, white, pink and other combinations of the aforementioned colors. As with all fishing, confidence in your bait selection is essential; it enables one to be more efficient and exhibit patience if the fish are not responding. There are anglers who will change colors every five minutes if they are not getting responses from the fish while other fishermen stick to the tried and true colors and methods knowing that eventually they will locate fish.
The Big “O” has always had a reputation as a great waterfowl lake. The past several years we have seen increases in the numbers of new hunters venturing deep into the marsh areas to shoot ducks. The north and west side of the lake, with its wide swath of marsh grasses, is a very popular area. Hunters are scattered all around the lake, from Grassy Island where they can launch very near at Lock 7, all the way west to the Monkey Box and the Moore Haven marsh areas. Success stories vary, with experience and timing being a factor. Many of the ducks after being shot at several times can be found in the open lake areas mixed in with the thousands of coots that are feeding heavily on hydrilla that has topped out.
~Capt. Mike Shellen