Courtesy photo The reeds on Lake Walk-in-Water hold lots of bass
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published: Friday, June 15, 2012
Five days, four lakes and lots of bass
I've had the opportunity over the last week to fish three of our local lakes in Highlands County and one in Polk County.
Although it's been extremely hot for an Ohio Buckeye, I managed to survive the heat and put a few in the boat on these great fishing lakes.
Located off Rt. 27, in front of the college, it's interesting how this lake has changed over the past 6-7 years.
It was always one of my favorite lakes for big bass and specks.
Ringed by reeds and bulrushes, it was the ideal structure for anyone who liked to flip, and the deep water held thousands of slab-sized specks.
As always, I didn't even start my big motor and started fishing just north of the boat ramp.
Within the first dozen flips I had two small bass in the boat and I'd already missed a couple of taps.
But I was surprised by the amount of hydrilla surrounding the reeds. It never used to be like that.
The further I moved north, the heavier the hydrilla became until it was so thick, I couldn't get my bait to drop through.
So I changed tactics, moved off-shore about 50 feet and began casting a silver phenom Bass Assassin fluke over the matted mess.
The bass were still in there, smashing my topwater bait as it scurried across the hydrilla.
Circling the lake, I caught another half dozen bass, the biggest around 3 lbs.
As you might expect, I had a number of near misses - strikes that blew up under my bait but never touched the lure.
That's what keeps the adrenaline flowing.
As the day got hotter I tried a Carolina rig in a couple of deeper holes but never got a hit.
All told, a good fishing day using my favorite blue/black Yum Dinger for flipping and a silver phenom Bass Assassin on the topwater.
My fishing buddy, Burt Watkins of Avon Park suggested a trip to Lake Damon, on the north side of Avon Park, across from the old hospital.
He had been out and did well with his nephew so we decided to give it a try.
I had fished Damon in the past, but had always had trouble putting my boat in due to a shallow boat ramp.
But the ramp had plenty of water and I nailed a small bass on my first flip into the reeds.
The lake is almost completely surrounded by reeds and bulrushes with plenty of depth, but we flipped and we flipped and although we had a few more hits, the only other bass we caught was a hefty two pounder Burt brought in on a topwater fluke.
The lake looks great and I suspect had we started a little earlier in the day we might have done better.
A trip to Lake Istokpoga isn't complete unless you stop by John Woods Lorida General Store on Rt. 98, just past the State Park ramp.
My brother Bill came down from Jacksonville and we dropped by to talk to John and pick up some domestic shiners and a few of the hot Medlock jigs.
My brother loves to fish with shiners so we got a few suggestions on where to fish from John and within 30 minutes we were settled in and waiting for our first bite.
It never came.
Three hours and two different spots and all we had to show for our efforts was a toothy gar. So we decided to flip.
Bill wasn't crazy about flipping for bass, but I assured him we'd catch some bass if he'd just give it a try.
Twenty minutes into it, we'd both boated a bass and I'd missed a couple of good fish.
The water is definitely down and finding good flipping area's was a bit of a challenge on the north and east end of the lake.
I like 4 to 5 feet of reed-filled water, but most of the water we fished was 18-inches to 3-feet.
We caught and released another five bass before we decided to try another spot with the shiners.
Moving to the mouth of Arbuckle Creek, we settled in around patches of lily pads and almost immediately saw our floats disappear.
One hit after another, and yet we couldn't seem to hook anything.
After feeding whatever was hitting our shiners a dozen shiners, I realized it had to be gar.
Finally, letting the fish take the bait longer than normal, I hooked one of those pre-historic, toothy fish and proved my theory correct.
Eventually we gave up on the shiners and went back to flipping.
My favorite flipping bait on Istokpoga is a Zoom Baby Brush Hog in black/blue tail.
I've used this plastic bait for years and on lakes like Istokpoga and Walk-in-Water, it's always produced great results.
But I was anxious to use Joe Medlock's three-quarter-ounce jig, having read about it a number of times in national fishing publications.
The weight of the jig is perfect for getting back into the really tough spots and dropping it into holes in the reeds and hydrilla.
It was later in the day, around 2 p.m., so I knew if there were any bass to be found they'd be deep in the reeds looking for shade.
After about 30 minutes I was rewarded with a solid tap and as I swung the rod tip up, I could tell this was a big fish.
The water exploded twenty feet into the reeds and within seconds the fish had conveniently wrapped herself around something and the only way I was going to see this fish was to go in after her.
I put the electric motor on high and as I held my rod tip high and maintained pressure on the fish, she exploded again in less than two feet of water so I knew she was still on my hook.
Getting through the maze of reeds, as many of you know, is not only hard, but once inside, the bugs are everywhere!
As I neared the area where the bass had last exposed herself, all was quiet.
Net in hand, I didn't need it.
I could see my jig wrapped numerous times around a dozen stalks with nothing on the hook but my brush hog.
As is often the case, the big bass was gone.
Located in Polk County, this lake is one of my favorites.
Every day I walk past the 11-pounder hanging on my office wall and it reminds me of all the big bass I've caught on this incredible lake.
Unlike years ago - before the hurricanes - hydrilla is hard to find, but there are plenty of reeds and a few lily pads providing excellent cover for bass.
There are reeds surrounding most of the lake but they're in pretty shallow water.
But there are four or five little reed islands on the north and east side of the lake in 3-5 feet of water that are perfect for flipping.
I was on the lake Sunday and again on Tuesday of this past week and with the exception of a few pleasure boaters, saw only one fisherman on the lake.
Both trips proved to be action-packed with plenty of small 1-2 pound fish savagely striking our plastic baits in the reeds.
Later in the day we found some matted grass in 8-9 feet of water and picked up some larger fish on Carolina rigs and Johnson spoons.
On both trips, the lake was like glass.
Not a whisper of wind and with the 90-plus temperatures, it was tough to stay out much past noon.
The biggest fish in two days was just under three pounds, but we caught dozens of 1-2 pound fish as we circled the lake.
Many of you may have read the recent articles on Adrian Echols, the 10-year old fishing phenom and his grandfather Dan.
Young Adrian, or "Louie" as he likes to be called, has caught over 20 bass in the 10-pound plus category, with a 14-pounder currently holding the number one spot.
He was also recently featured on the cover of the Highlands County Fishing Guide unveiled last week to the public.
Dan Nichols sent me an email and after exchanging emails Monday morning, I stopped over to meet him and his grandson.
After 30 minutes of exchanging stories about big bass, I invited Dan and Louie to join me Friday on a trip to Lake Walk-in-Water.
Look for my column next week, as I learn from a 10-year old how to catch the really big ones.
Don Norton is a professional tournament bass fisherman, bass fishing guide, and custom rod builder. He has also taught a few fishing classes at the South Florida Community College. He lives in the Golf Hammock area of Sebring with his wife Lexie and is the owner of a custom rod building company appropriately named " The American Fisherman". He can be reached at 330-635-6682 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website address is theamericanfisherman.com
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