This time, bass outing returns game entertainment
Winter Haven, Fla. — On a morning so still, with water sleek and smooth, climbing onto the deck of a bass boat seemed sensible.
Wednesday’s sun, now sneaking past the east horizon as a full moon disappeared in the west, was about to swing high and hot above a lake 30 minutes from Marchant Stadium.
Baseball had been the special of the day for six weeks in central Florida. It was time for a break.
In years past, a guy who digs fishing hadn’t taken enough breathers from batting practice and notebooks and laptops to gorge on another delight native to Tigertown’s circle.
Five years ago, a pair of Tigers fishermen, Rick Porcello and Daniel Schlereth, had joined me on a guided afternoon of fishing in this same locale, which led to a handsome haul of 20-plus largemouths (all released), most in the three-pound range.
This time the fishing partner was son Griffin, 28, who lives in Walnut Creek, Calif., and who had fished alongside his dad everywhere from the Au Sable River to Manitoba’s wilds.
We were captained by Scott Taylor, a Dearborn native and former Lake St. Clair fishing guide who six years ago moved to Winter Haven with his wife, Paula, as a new career was forged from Florida’s inland lakes, as well as on the Gulf of Mexico, where Taylor also guides salt-water anglers.
We were tossing lines from his 21-foot Mako bass boat as he steered with his remote clicker a softly purring motor that pushed us a few yards from lily pads and overhanging shoreline trees in water that averaged about 11 feet deep.
Griffin and I were casting with our Penn spin- and bait-casting reels artificial shad/shiner baits disguised as breakfast for big bass, which in these lakes can beat 10 pounds. On the end of a third spin-fishing rig was a live, six-inch shiner that to Florida’s black bass can look as delectable at 8 a.m. as crisp bacon can appear to a Waffle House patron.
There was only one hang-up.
We were an hour into a morning cruise and little had happened. A bass had been interested in the shiner, but not seriously. A bobber four feet up-line from the bait had dunked and plunked a few times as a largemouth nosed it (“Just playing with it,” Taylor said). But the fish hadn’t gulped and run with it, which is when a hook is set and a battle is on.
“We should have gotten more than one bite out there,” Taylor said at a minute or two past 9 a.m. “That just stumps me.
“On this lake, that’s just inexcusable.”
Neither was a fish interested in our artificial baits that were being flicked and retrieved like jerk-baits designed to imitate a troubled but scrumptious minnow.
Not even 10 minutes later, the bobber danced and disappeared.
“We might have a good one here,” Taylor said, handing the rod and reel to Griffin.
A minute or so later Taylor was netting a glistening charcoal-and-silver largemouth that had given the kid from California a nice tussle.
“Every bit of five (pounds),” Taylor said as the bass was unhooked and eased into the water.
Catch-and-release is the policy with Taylor, and with any Florida bass guide who, like most anglers, sees no need to take home a fish eminently better on the end of a line than on a plate. You want fish for dinner? Head for Publix and grab some fresh tilapia, which as an entrée beats bass any day.
More to the point, when a bigmouth bass — or any game fish — is returned home, the resource is protected and everyone wins.
Florida bass show attitude
Taylor kept clicking his remote as the carrying-size bass motor hummed and led us along shorelines and over patches of deep, sunken hydrilla where big largemouths live and hide. Winter Haven features 50-plus lakes, many of them inter-connected by canals, all within easy reach when on the stern end of his Mako was a 150-horsepower Mercury outboard that can cover water in a hurry.
“These Florida black bass have some attitude to ’em,” Taylor said, returning to the topic of Griffin’s bass. “They fight a lot harder than the northern largemouths.
“It’s why so many other states try to import it (black bass strain).”
Just as another bobber disappeared, a glance at the wristwatch said 9:38.
“Whoa!” Taylor yelped as the bass — trophy version — broke water and splashed with a 3/0-hook in its gullet. “Did I just see that?”
I was on the other end and knew from the load and the way in which this fish was torpedoing that it was at least as big as the best largemouth I’d ever taken, a seven-pounder caught a few years ago in Georgia.
“It’s staying down like a lake trout,” I said to Taylor, whose days as a guide are gold when a fish this good shows up.
A handful of hard runs and it began to tucker out enough for Taylor to dip his net and get it aboard.
“Thank you, braided,” he said in a bow to the 20-pound line he had backing up the initial yards of 15-pound fluorocarbon that yanked in this brute.
Big largemouth makes trip
Taylor grabbed for his scales and tucked a hanger into the bass’ plate-shaped mouth.
“Seven, one,” he said of a thick, almost-cobalt-colored largemouth that hit 7 pounds, 1 ounce and was soon back swimming with its friends. “It’s why we’re the bass-fishing capital of the world.”
Another hefty bass, a good four pounds, was reeled in before we decided at lunch time to call it a day. It had been the opposite of that earlier trek a few years ago with Porcello and Schlereth, when we caught smaller bass continually.
The three we had pulled in on this trip averaged five-pounds-plus.
“Clear night and a full moon,” Taylor said, a reference to how the water had glowed and bait fish had been easily spotted by the wide-mouthed diners. “A little slow this morning because they ate all night.”
Still, we had caught fish, beautiful black bass that had turned an off-day for the Tigers and a break for a scribe into a ticket to another marvel and memory from Mother Nature’s showcase.
Griffin and I headed into town for lunch. A celebratory beverage might have been included.
If you’re going …
What: Fishing for Florida largemouth bass
Where: The Lakeland/Winter Haven/Polk County area is filled with hundreds of lakes, with some of the best fishing in the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes region.
Who: Among guides in the area, Capt. Scott Taylor of TMC Guide Services, which is sanctioned by the Visit Central Florida travel bureau, is noteworthy.
Cost: A four-hour trip (one to four people) is $250. Six hours is $300, eight hours $350 (plus gratuity). Live-bait shiners can cost an addition $15 to $28.
Equipment: All rods, reels, lures, etc., are provided. Taylor’s boat is a comfortable, 21-foot Mako.
Also: Salt-water fishing for a variety of species is also available through Taylor, as are eco-sightseeing tours.
Contact: TMC Guide Services can be reached at 855-354-8433. Website is at TMGGuideService.com