Thanks to the terrific fishing that has taken place on the lake for the last several years, Lake Okeechobee has vaulted back into the national limelight. When a bass tournament like the FLW Tour catches so many large bass that the winning weight is over 100 pounds for 20 bass, it’s big news, but when it happens two years running, that particular lake jumps to the number one spot on every bass fisherman’s bucket list.
The water level is at 12.90 feet, a great level for all types of fishing. The water is high enough for the fish to access the marsh areas, but just low enough that many of the bass are holding around the outside vegetation bands. Many anglers visit Okeechobee each year around this time to target the hard fighting and very tasty panfish she produces. Shellcrackers are primarily caught near or on the bottom, although the water they are in may only be 2 feet deep. The canal edges and the shallow water marsh areas are key spots to find large areas of spawning beds, which appear as light spots on the normally dark bottom. We have found beds over the years which were very small, and other years we have found beds that were 30 to 40 feet wide. The primary bait for shellcrackers is either a red worm or a grass shrimp fished very near the bottom. Bluegills can be coaxed to rise up and strike a popping bug or small floating fly, but most are caught on grass shrimp, crickets or red worms under a small bobber.
Bass can be found in many different stages at this time of year; while most have spawned, there are still a few bass that are carrying (eggs) roe. Large numbers of the bass population have already spawned and are feeding voraciously on baitfish, attempting to regain the weight that they lost during the spawning ritual. A smorgasbord of baits will draw strikes from hungry bass at these times; topwater baits, flukes, spinner baits, worms, Senkos, or flipping or pitching style baits all have merit. When one certain bait is not producing for you, lay it down and try something else; on many days one particular bait will outperform all others. The outside grass lines are producing in most areas, The eastern shore all the way down to J&S Fish Camp is holding large numbers of fish. Grassy Island and the Kissimmee grass lines, with scattered hydrilla, are full of fish. As is usually the case, the shiner bite is not only producing large numbers of bass, but also most of the big ones that are being caught.