Bass Bash in Palm Beach County
By Captain Butch Moser
The Lake Ida freshwater system in Delray Beach, Florida has long been a source of superb angling for native species like largemouth bass as well as “added” species such as peacock bass and sunshine bass and “accidentals”, which includes Mayan cichlids and clown knife fish. The severe winter of a few years ago unfortunately hurt the populations of exotics, but left the largemouth and sunshine bass largely intact. While the “peacocks” are staging a post-freeze comeback, the largemouth bass and sunshine bass fishing has been excellent, giving my customers plenty of rod bending action.
Though the habits of the largemouth and sunshine bass are somewhat beyond the scope of this article, it bears repeating the cold water tolerance levels of these two species formed the basis of their survival. Though they are in the lake system and adjacent canals year-round, they really turn on during the cooler, low light, shadier times. In bright sunlight and in warmer days, the burgeoning numbers of peacock bass do justify focally pursuing them for my customers. And on some wonderful days, it’s possible to catch largemouths, peacocks, and sunshines.
The early February weather had been cool-not cold-, windy, and overcast- in effect, not bad bass weather for my home waters. This tended to produce a stronger day-long bass bite than warm, slick, sunny days. And not surprisingly, my customers began catching not just good numbers of largemouth bass on ultralight tackle- they also began catching and releasing specimens as big as seven to eight pounds. The slightly warmer winter was coinciding with what appeared to be the start of an epic spawning season.
I’d received a standing request from Jan Maizler to give him a call if and when the big largemouth bass starting striking on my live bait charters- if any time was it, it would be now and I phoned him up. He picked a time to fish with me within a few days, which would insure the same weather conditions. Indeed, the weather called for increased winds to the northeast at 20 M.P.H. and a few showers, conditions that often send marine anglers packing to my tranquil sheltered home waters in western Palm Beach County.
The Fishing Day Arrives
Like any inshore guide who uses live finfish baits, my day begins well before meeting my clients at the dock- and this day was no different. I gave myself at least an hour to sufficiently mark the baitfish on the recorder and cast-net them. A liberal span of time is essential for adjusting for the sometimes daily movements of the bait. I was there at the magic moment of dawn when the baitfish schools typically rise. I marked “clouds” of forage coming up, yet it took me about a dozen throws of the net to fill my super-sized live bait tank positioned forward of my center console.
After I squared away and cleaned the deck, I ran my skiff to the Lake Ida boat ramp to meet Jan at the agreed upon 7 a.m. As I pulled close, I recognized that he was with his friend and my regular customer, Don Eichin. They both stepped aboard and we were underway in no time. I steered my skiff southward out of the lake and into the canal system and spreads out west of I-95. From recent trips I knew exactly where some piggy-sized largemouth bass were feeding and laying up. As I gazed aloft during my run to the honeyhole, the low scudding clouds would make this morning real “shady”- fine conditions indeed for these fine gamesters. I slowed down at the intersection of two canals and idled over to one side where a grass bed sloped into the channel. I eased the anchor overboard. The breeze pushed more anchor rode out of my hands and our vessel quickly came tight over the drop-off.
We’d be using two kinds of ultralight spinning rigs. One type was rigged “free” with a fine wire, bronzed, long shank, size 2 Aberdeen hook. The thin gauge of the wire was essential for two reasons. The first was to create a hook light enough to not hamper the swimming motions of the live shad. The second basis for the light gauge wire was to have metal thin enough to be “driven home” by the ultralight line, which was no stronger than six-pound test. With the first outfit, the presentation depth of the live shad was created by the hook placement as well as line control.
The second outfit had the same hook, but was rigged with a small adjustable float initially placed three feet above the business end. A tiny split shot was pinched right above the hook to ensure straight down bait suspension under the float.
I gave a float rod to Don and had him cast a live bait from the stern into the deepest part of the intersection. I grabbed a “free” rod and also gave one to Jan. I told him to fire a cast upwind at the bank drop-off. Jan quickly belly-hooked his bait and made a nice forty foot cast in the twelve o’ clock position. I made my cast slightly shorter in the ten o’ clock sector. Both Jan and I instantly hooked up on young bass weighing about 2 pounds each. They made some nice jumps as we reeled them in. Back in the stern, Don groaned as he missed a nice fish that pulled his float down with force.
We began to re-bait up. Don cast to the same spot and was instantly hooked up. His rod heeled over and the drag sang out. Ten seconds later, the fish came up and wallowed at the surface of the intersection. We could see it was big. After around a five minute fight around the skiff, I lifted Don’s beautiful seven or eight pound bass aboard for posing and photographs. I told Jan to cast his bait more to the center of the channel. After a minute of “soaking time”, his rod went down under a fierce strike. This time the fish stayed deep, and I was sure it was another trophy-sized largemouth. In this same ‘round the skiff fashion, Jan’s battle with the gamester lasted longer than Don’s prior skirmish. Finally, Jan had the fish at the surface and we all gasped at what seemed to be a bass of nine to ten pounds. After the same photo and release routine, we all set back to fishing. During the next hour, we released another dozen bass, with an eight pounder amongst them.
As the action tapered off, I fired up the engine and I made a long run to a dam, which often provides me with excellent fishing. Unfortunately, the increased wind during the night had piled up too much Hyacinth, floating vegetation, and debris against the concrete structure for us to effectively fish it. I electric motored us one hundred yards east of the spot in order to get better water. From there, I chummed the banks with live shad and we all took turns casting to the blowups. Using this method of motoring and chumming, we released another two dozen bass as well as a few peacocks to three pounds.
Our final spot was spent working the pilings of a large bridge that was halfway back to Lake Ida. Jan immediately caught a nice peacock of four pounds which we posed for photos. Both Don and I were using the float and split shot rigs since the sun was coming out of the clouds and blasting more light into the water. It was these rigs that scored higher than the “free bait” and we added another dozen or so releases.
On our way back to the boat ramp, I pointed out all the beautiful bird species that graced the shoreline. All of us got a kick out of the iguanas sunning themselves. Jan remarked that our trip provided us with an experience no marine setting could duplicate…and he was right!
Recap About Myself
I run a 20 foot-Carolina Skiff powered by a 90 H.P. Yamaha. My vessel is extremely spacious, stable and suited to fun fishing in freshwater with ultralight tackle and lots of frisky live bait.
Captain Butch Moser