By Danny Patrick / Northeast Florida Edition
I get the springtime bass itch when the azaleas bloom. It’s the time of year when largemouth bass spawn on Lake Santa Fe.
Bass spawn around the full moons of February and March on this 5,000-acre Alachua County reservoir. This year, I planned my annual Santa Fe trip for March 2-3, ahead of the March 7 full moon.
It was like entering another world that morning as my wife Kim and I motored onto the main lake. Mist rose through the lake’s ancient cypress trees. Wood ducks whistled and banked overhead. Ospreys squealed at us from nests high in the cypress, and loons serenaded us from open water.
Just being there made me feel so fortunate. I thought back to when I was 12 years old on my first Santa Fe trip with my dad and brother. We stayed at Griffins Lodge, which was a famous destination for speckled perch, bream and bass fishermen in the 1960s and 70s. They had small cottages for rent and a fish camp run by an old man named Roy Griffin.
Ol’ Roy taught me to fish Santa Fe. Over the years, he kept telling me to get away from the shoreline and to slow troll. I never really understood why until sonar showed me the grass-covered humps and ledges holding congregations of bait and gamefish.
On the lake, Kim and I slowed to trolling speed to get lines out. I fish 7-foot medium-action rods with Ambassadeur 5500s loaded with 15-pound mono. The rig is simple, just a #2 wide-bend hook tied directly to the line. I hook wild-caught shiners through both lips from the bottom up.
We pull baits very slowly with a three-rod spread. Using level-wind reels, I let baits out 50 or 60 yards behind the boat. I leave the spool in cast mode and tighten the anti-backlash knob to provide enough tension to keep the baits from pulling line. You know you’ve got a bite when the line starts running out.
We only got two lines out before our first strike. When the middle rig started paying out line fast, I picked up the rod and pointed it at the fish. After 20 seconds, I engaged the reel, took up the slack and set the hook hard with a sweeping motion. I reeled fast to keep pressure on the fish and kept the rod tip low to discourage the bass from jumping.
The first fish was a fat 4-pound female that was full of eggs. Kim landed the second fish, a gorgeous 5-pounder. We caught several more in the 4-pound range before I landed a fat 8-pounder to finish an action-packed three-hour morning with eight total fish. We released them all safely after admiring the beautiful dark coloration characteristic of Santa Fe bass. I believe this is caused by the clear but tannin-stained water.
We experienced a great nature show, and I told Kim the bass we caught were like a bonus.
Oh, how I love Ol’ Santa Fe!
Danny Patrick is co-publisher of the Northeast Florida edition of Coastal Angler Magazine.