More often warm than cold, this has been the perfect February to invite bass and speckled perch into the spawning shallows.
On schedule, the near-ideal conditions have produced some of the finest catches weâ€™re likely to see all year. So far, the bass catches have been most impressive.
Nathan Kicklighter took a couple of memorable bass fishing trips last week to a small lake east of Gainesville. Pitching a Gambler BB Cricket on Wednesday, Kicklighter hooked, landed and released a giant bass of 12.05 pounds. He returnedÂ Thursday with fishing buddy Brian Shoaf. An epic bite produced for Kicklighter another huge largemouth. On his hand-held digital scale, this one weighed 11.33. Then, amazingly in the same spot, Shoaf hooked yet another behemoth. Once boated, this fish weighed in at 12.22 pounds. During their two-day big bass blitz,Â Kicklighter andÂ Shoaf also released bass of 9.56 and 8 pounds. On top of all that, Kicklighter said, â€śI had another bass on that broke a stout superline worm in twoÂ â€” and that fish was bigger than any of the ones we caught.â€ť
At the same time, the Bassmaster Elite pros were starting their first tournament of 2019 a short distance away on the St. Johns River. With many new names in their ranks, the pros showed the world that, given such near-perfect circumstances, the St. Johns River system can offer world-class bass fishing.
The 75 Elite Series anglers took off from Palatka and scattered throughout the river and its connected waters. It was the large area from Little George to Lake George that produced best. Following two field-reducing cuts following Days Two and Three, the top-notch field combined to boat an astonishing number of large fish. The biggest was an 11-pound, 2-ounce whopper taken by John Crews â€”Â the best ever for the Virginia pro.
Following an intriguing debut for the new Major League Fishing series held on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes a few days earlier, Florida again wowed a massive audience following the action live. With todayâ€™s see-it-live technology, a worldwide audience was able to bear witness to the spectacle. We have since joked at the store that a caravan of cabin-fevered bass anglers from the north is en route to the north end of Lake George. Itâ€™s probably not a joke.
The Elite Series opener, by the way, was won by a bass angler named Rick Clunn. The Ava, Missouri pro finished with a four-day, 20-bass catch totaling 98-pounds, 14-ounces. When the elites last came to the St. Johnâ€™s in 2016, Rick Clunn won that one, too. Of course, Clunn has been winning bass tournaments for a long, long time. In what other sport can a 72-year-old rise to the pinnacle, besting highly talented peers in â€” or closer to â€” the prime of life? Well, I suppose it helps if you are the greatest bass angler of all time, as the amazing Mr. Clunn is widely regarded.
Itâ€™s hard to say which is presently the brightest-shining star â€” Rick Clunn or the North Florida largemouth bass fishery. After the tournament, Clunn pointed out that he won this event three years ago with an 81-pound total. That same catch this year would have placed you 9th.
As fabulous as catches in the St. Johns River Elite event were, our part of Florida is capable of producing even better bassing. Just ask Nathan Kicklighter.
If the tide would cooperate, February might be as dear in the minds of North Florida saltwater anglers as it is loved by freshwater fans. On the coasts, though, this is the season of negative low tides, bent props and stuck vessels.
Fortunately, four friends that fished togetherÂ Sunday had the answer to the no-water problem. Dalton Alligood (High Springs), Tommy Lado (Waldo), Will Rembert (Gainesville) and Jerett Tschorn (Melrose) went out of Steinhatchee aboard Jerettâ€™s airboat. In a creek around low tide, they caught more than 20 good-sized redfish. Most were between 20 and 25 inches long, but included a pair of 26.5-inchers. The young anglers also hauled in their combined 20-fish limit of trout including four over 20 inches long. All of their fish were fooled with undisclosed artificial lures.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recently scheduled a series of public meetings around Florida to gather input regarding their aquatic plant management. Itâ€™s Gainesvilleâ€™s turnÂ Tuesday. Through recent months, there has been deep public concern over spraying practices throughout the state, and a large contingent of lake lovers is expected to convene from 5:30- 8:30 at the Alachua County Public Library headquarters on University Avenue.
Gary Simpson, a veteran tournament angler, operates Gary’s Tackle Box at L & S Auto Trim.