This time of year is traditionally when Lake Okeechobee starts to get very low. The lake level is already under 12 feet and going down quickly slowly pushing the fish toward the outside vegetation lines where they are more easily accessed and catchable. In addition, the bird life moves from deep in the marsh toward the shallow open water areas feeding heavily on grass shrimp and tiny minnows.
May is a great month on the lake. The potential for catching several species of fish in one day is always a possibility. Bass fishing is still terrific, whether you are fishing with artificial baits or targeting big bass with a live wild shiner. Top water plugs, lipless crankbaits, flukes, jigs, spinner baits and plastics of all sorts are drawing strikes. A good number of our guided trips during this time start the day with bass fishing, and morph into a pan fishing experience where blue gill/shellcracker are targeted. The areas where the bass and pan fish are holding are usually compatible, many times our better finds of pan fish are made when visually scouring the marsh while bass fishing.
A good deal of the conversation lately has been about the huge wave of shellcracker that showed up a few days before the full moon. Last week they were nowhere to be found and then on the full moon they blanketed the sandy floor of the lake, sweeping spawning beds.
Recently, I had the pleasure of fishing with the Bostic family from Virginia. We started our morning with bass fishing and had a great time catching bass to 7 pounds. Later in the morning we decided to hunt for the shellcracker beds. They weren’t hard to find since there was at least 10 to 12 boats working in one area catching fish one after another. We found a spot among the flotilla and proceeded to catch big shellcracker at a pace that can only be described as frantic. We caught as many as we wanted to clean in a short time and called it a day.
The bait of choice for most anglers targeting shellcracker is a red worm dangled just off the bottom. Some anglers were using grass shrimp with great success and one of the more adept anglers I know was catching them on an Andy’s Jig. While cleaning the fish I could not help but notice that very few of them had any roe (eggs) in them. After consulting with other anglers about this, they too confirmed that only a couple of their fish had roe in them. I am assuming that a wave of egg laden females shell cracker will be arriving soon on either the new moon or the full moon next.
It is not uncommon while fishing in one of Lake Okeechobee’s many canals with grass shrimp, to catch, bass, blue gill, shell cracker, specks and catfish.