Submitted by Damion Fryer 17/1/2016
Each year approximately 1.4 million British people visit Florida for their annual holiday. The temperature in the Sunshine State regularly exceeds 30 degrees in the summer months and has over 10 hours of sunshine daily. Even during the winter months temperatures can exceed 25 degrees, making this one of the most popular winter destinations for the British holidaymaker.
One of the most popular areas of Florida is Orlando which attracts people from all over the world, drawn by theme parks, high speed roller coasters and a certain Disney mouse called Mickey. But for me the main draw of Orlando is fishing for Largemouth Bass and the dream of catching that one elusive trophy fish.
Nestled amongst the theme parks, hotels and roadsides of Orlando are numerous ponds, lakes and canals totalling 8.3 sq miles of water in which to fish in. Inhabitants of these waters include Alligator Garfish, Crappie, Redfins, Pike, Catfish and dare I say it, Alligators. One species, however, that will not be found in Florida is the Smallmouth Bass as temperatures in this state climb too high for this species.
Undoubtedly though, the Largemouth Bass is the most targeted species of fish in the U.S.A. and can be found in almost every waterway in the country. There are many fishing tournaments held with thousands of dollars in prize money as well as professional Bass fishing leagues and speciality Bass shops selling everything for the dedicated Bass angler.
How many of you have wandered around Orlando looking at these lakes, wishing you could have a go at fishing these waters? Well, it’s within everyone’s reach, from popping down to a little lake on the roadside or to hiring a professional guide on one of the larger lakes to look for Largemouth Bass. Most Disney lakes are no-go fishing areas unless you hire one of their on-site guides, so make sure fishing is allowed before you commence. There are certain areas of Disney that are free to fish, and I will talk about these later.
By far the best way to target Largemouth Bass is to hire a professional guide. These will put you onto the fish, supply all tackle and bait, give you expert advice and will even pick you up from your resort. This is exactly what I did. I hired the help of local Bass tournament angler and professional guide Chuck Pippin Jr. Chuck’s been a guide since 1998, fishing all around Orlando and Kissimmee, so I was confident I was in good hands. A guide will also know which lake to target and which methods to use on a particular day as each day is different, depending on weather conditions. The main lakes to target in the Orlando area are the Kissimmee Chain, the Butler Chain and the Conway Chain of Lakes, as well as West Lake Toho.
Chuck advised me that the best time to start fishing is at first light and he would make the decision on where to fish that morning. So the alarm was set for 5.30 a.m. in anticipation of a 6.15 a.m. pick up from outside our resort. Sure enough at 6.15 a.m. we saw a large truck and boat drive down Epcot Boulevard and turn into our hotel. As we climbed into Chuck’s 5.7 ltr pick-up with boat in tow, my first question was “where are we heading Chuck?” “The Butler Chain” came the reply. “It’s fishing well at the moment.” This pleased me as this chain has some very large and expensive properties surrounding it. Golfer Bubba Watson, basketball player Shaquille O’Neill and baseball player Ken Griffin Jr all have properties that back onto this series of lakes, so it’s a very interesting place to fish.
The Butler chain is a group of twelve lakes which are connected by a series of canals, with a total area of 4720 acres. Depths here can reach 50 feet, although expect to fish in depths of around the 8-15 feet mark.
Once Chuck had dropped his boat off on the slipway and parked his truck up, we climbed aboard his Talon Skeeter FX20 powerboat. This is powered by a Yamaha 250 outboard engine, which can reach speeds of up to 70mph, although I will add we only went up to 35mph, which is a thrill in itself.
As we slowly cruised through the interconnecting canals admiring multi-million dollar houses, Chuck explained that we’d be using live shiners as bait as these had taken the most fish in recent weeks. However, we wouldn’t dismiss using lures either.
As we left the first canal, I saw a sign that said ‘no wake’. I knew once we’d passed this sign speed restrictions would be lifted, and I would need to hold onto my hat, literally! Sure enough, there was an almighty roar from the engine and for a second I thought I was back on the Hulk roller coaster at Universal Studios as the front of the boat lifted and we took off. Within a minute or so, we had reached the second canal. With the boat now coasting at about 10 mph, I asked Chuck what constitutes a trophy Bass. “5lb is a good Bass, 8lb is a trophy and 12lb is a fish of a lifetime” replied Chuck. “I’ve had Bass up to 11lb here, so there are big Bass in these lakes” he said. As we were about to leave the second canal, I heard an unusual sound from above and saw a magnificent bird circling just above us. “An Osprey” Chuck informed us. “They’ll drop in front of us when we’re fishing and take any dead shiners from the surface.” The next second, another ‘no wake’ sign appeared at the side of the boat – time to end the conversation and hold onto my hat once more.
Within a minute or so, Chuck slowed the boat down in the middle of the second lake and started watching points marked on his auto chart software. “We’re very nearly at the fishing spot” he said. “I’ve spent hours upon hours taking depth readings on this lake, and marked all the points on here” he said as he pointed to his screen.
“We’re going to be fishing in a relatively large hole which is covered in aquatic grass growing up off the bottom and holds a large number of Bass”. I could clearly see on his echo finder that the hole was right below us and dropped to 20 feet in places, indicating good fish holding areas. Once the anchor had dropped I decided to give the lure a go first, so Chuck handed me a medium to heavy 10 foot lure rod loaded with 15lb braid, rigged with a weedless, weightless 5″ fluke. “Cast out, let the lure sink naturally until it settles on the bottom, then give it a couple of quick flicks. Watch your line, give it a couple of turns and let it sink again. Repeat this until a fish hits. Watch your line all the time”, Chuck advised. “If your line starts shooting out, count to 5, tighten down to the fish and hit it hard.” So in anticipation, I cast out my lure. “I’m going to cast this rod out behind you with a free lined live shiner on it so we will see what the fish are hitting”. The shiners were between 5 and 6 inches long and resembled Roach, so we were using relatively large bait.
I retrieved my lure, checked it was still weedless and cast out again. As I watched my lure sinking through the water column I heard, “here you go, a Bass has just picked up this shiner.” I quickly swapped rods with Chuck as line was being taken from the reel, slowly tightening down and pulling back hard to ensure the 4/0 hook would drive home through the Bass’s hard, gristly mouth.
There was a solid thump and the rod bent round, indicating a fish was hooked. “Fish on!” I declared with excitement as I commenced battle with my first ever Largemouth Bass. “Hold on to him, don’t let him run you down into that grass” came the reply. After a brief battle the Bass was brought to the boat – not a massive fish by any standards, but at around the 3lb mark, very satisfying indeed.
After another two Bass of similar size fell to the shiners, it was time for the lure to spring into action. After I had cast out, the lure was on its first descent when the line started to shoot out. Believe me, when a fish hits a soft plastic, the hardest thing to do is count to 5 before striking but I put all my faith in Chuck, counted to five and set the hook. Another Bass was brought to the boat – slightly smaller this time at around the 2.5lb mark, but equally satisfying as it fell to a lure.
As the morning progressed, the sun rose high in the sky and the temperature reached 85 degrees, which is unusually hot for Boxing day in Orlando. Neither the sun or heat put the fish off, however, as another nine Bass were caught in total weighing up to 4.5lb. Only one more was caught on the lure, showing that shiners won the day hands down. With a total of thirteen Bass to my name, I was more then pleased with my first encounter with this species. These fish had certainly lived up to my expectations.
Unfortunately time was up and as we headed back to dock, Chuck swung by Shaquille O’Neill’s house, reportedly worth $8 million. It comes with 13 bathrooms, 8 bedrooms and an indoor basketball court. How the other half live! His next door but one neighbour is golfer Bubba Watson, who bought his house from Tiger Woods.
We soon arrived back at dock, loaded the boat onto the trailer and headed back to our hotel. All I can say is that my first taste of fishing for Largemouth Bass is one I’ll never forget, and I’ll be booking with Chuck on our next trip to Orlando.
If you don’t want to hire a guide or if you want to go it alone, there are two lakes amongst the Disney resorts that are free to fish to anyone. The first one is Fort Wilderness and Campground. Upon arrival at this resort, due to its size, catch the free bus that says Meadow on it. This will take you straight to the free fishing pool that holds Bass, Catfish, Alligator Garfish, Redfin and other small Panfish. Tackle can be hired and bait bought from the onsite shop next to the lake. I always bring my own tackle, so can’t comment on quality of tackle available.
Although I only caught Garfish from here, I chatted to a local fisherman who showed me photos of himself with Bass of around 6lb taken on lures from this lake, so there’s certainly some good Bass to be caught in there.
The other free lake, which I personally found to be the best, is situated on a resort called Saratoga Springs, next to Disney Springs. A pleasant ten minute walk from the Disney Springs bus drop off will take you to this lake. Head directly to the Paddock area of this resort where you will find a bridge that spans the lake. Fishing is permitted to the left hand side of the bridge only and no fishing is allowed off the bridge at all.
I used a small 2″ floating plug and walked all the way round the lake, having a few casts in each spot. I took nine Bass in total, and lost as many again due to leaping head shakes which Bass are famous for. Although I only caught fish up to 1.5lb, they are great fun on a light lure rod with a 3000 spinning reel. Remember to work your lure all the way to the bank, as Bass will follow a lure in and could strike at the last second.
Regarding fishing licences, you can purchase a 3 day, one week or annual licence. A licence is needed to fish anywhere apart from the Disney lakes, which are classed as private. A licence is easily purchased online prior to travelling but, remember, a Bass guide will not take you out without one.
So next time you plan a holiday to the Sunshine State, pack a light lure rod, small spinning reel loaded with 15lb braid and a selection of small plugs and soft plastics. When you’re totally all parked and roller coasted out, take a down day and head to a lake and try your hand at Bass fishing – you won’t be disappointed.
Chuck Pippin Jr can be contacted at chucksguideservice.com. He offers 4, 6 or 8 hour trips and supplies all tackle and bait. He will even pick you up from your hotel and drop you off again. A thoroughly enjoyable few hours. Highly recommended!