The middle of summer is not the normal time you would find MOST people making Florida their fishing destination. At best the summer destination of choice in Florida is the local Disney Franchise, not lake Okeechobee for Trophy Bass. The shame is that folks are missing great fishing opportunities not far away. Summer mornings and evenings produce really large stringers of Largemouth Bass. Some local tournaments produce 6 fish limits of 40 or MORE pounds. Guided trips produce 6 fish stringers Over 30 pounds. Even more amazing is the fact that the parking area at the ramp we launched from was almost empty of cars. When was the last time you fished a major impoundment in summer and could pick your parking spot??
Our Ramp mid day, Looked the same in the dark, no competition
for getting the boat launched.
My July trip produced 23 bass on our first half day of fishing. We started out the morning with 3 dozen wild shiners, and used every one by 9:30. My partner Lee Fox, was amazed by the action that Butch Butler and Eddie Perry our guides the two days we were there regarded as S-L-O-W. Even more amazing to Lee was the fact that the fish were still so shallow this late in the year with the water currently in the 85 to 88 degree range. Fish chased shiners to the surface several times swirling water near the bobbers which disappeared in a large splash, making for dramatic lake theater.
Day one started with small fish in the one pound range and each fish got bigger as the morning seemed to progress. Our pinnacle was a 6 pound 8 ounce fish that was a superb specimen which fought much like its smaller brothers convincing me it might be my first double digit bass...
All of these fish fought amazingly hard. Small fish fooled us on several occasions making us believe that they were larger fish. Late morning fishing was another surprise to 2 Kentucky boys used to fishing, deep structure when the water gets into the mid 80 degree range. Surface poppers, and Tiny Torpedoes produced fish as well as a Zoom paddle tail shad that was fixed with a slit in it to make the tail slap the water like a surface bait as it was reeled across the surface.
There is no big secret to our success. The guides do their homework on a daily basis, and they fish live shiners. Rigging is pretty simple. A simple slip bobber, with a 2/0 hook, fished about a foot and a half deep. The fish we were catching were holding on a sand bar in about 2 to 3 feet of water. The surprise of the morning was a Needle Fish attacking one of the baits. The Needle fish is very thin, shaped somewhat like a gar. However the one that attacked my 5 inch shiner was about 7 inches long and most likely weighed much less than the live shiner. It was a hilarious acrobatic battle with the needle fish finally losing when I pulled the bait back to the boat to place it elsewhere..
Day 2 of the trip was spent again early in the morning fishing shiners. However Day 2 absolutely beat day 1. We took a dozen more shiners with us, and used them all by 9:30 Am . The fish were absolutely on fire.
We doubled, 2 fish on 3 different times, and had a triple when we put a third pole out for a short period of time. Fish were of a slightly better quality too. 2 to 3 pounds was the average with only few dinks taking our shiners. The big fish though was a 5.5 pound largemouth, which took a shiner just as Butch Butler our day 2 guide said lets real them in and try another spot. Add in the 3 gar, one which weighed over 10 pounds and we boated 33 fish in just over 2 hours.
Wind on the second day started out a bit lighter but built as the day went on. Storms and rain stayed north of us, though with all the action we had I doubt we would have noticed any rain. The best part of day 2 was the lighter spinning tackle that we used. The lighter tackle was regular spinning tackle. Shakespeare Spinning reels rigged with Power Pro fishing line. Our hookup percentage was a bit better as well. 30 fish out of 48 versus 20 out of 36 the day before on regular casting tackle. Of course our hooking skills had improved to be fair about it.
We had to put up with several gawkers who ran in extremely close on this 500,000 acre lake. One boat sat and watched us just after we got to our spot, for over an hour, finally deciding to watch from about 30 yards away. My partner wanted to know if he should cast a shiner into their boat so they could see how it was rigged, we decided instead to just continue to catch fish and make them even more green with envy.
Our guides told me and it was echoed by other guides at Garrard's Bait and tackle that the summer fishing on Big Lake O' is actually much more consistent than the winter fishing on the lake. Fronts that blow through in the winter can blow a week of hard fishing to find a customer good fish. In summer the fronts do not bring much change in the water. Constant wind any place from 3 to 10 miles an hour most days keeps the fishing comfortable. Early mornings temps are in the 70's to low 80's until noon, so a four hour day starting at 6 or 7 AM is extremely comfortable.
Even more fun can be the monthly Shellcracker runs. The full moon each month in May, June and July bring spawing shellcrackers. These fish build beds as large as a quarter of an acre, and can average over a pound with many fish in the 1.5 to 2 pound range. The largest caught by one of our guides has been a monster shellcracker just over 3 pounds.
Crappie are almost non-existent in the summer, but crappie on Lake Okeechobee during the October to March period can be into the 3 pound range. Good catches will fill a cooler in not time and for crappie fanciers this is a great fillet.
Bonus fish do also appear in the lake on occasion. Tarpon, Snook, Tilapia, and the occasional exotic show up. Tarpon come up stream from the Gulf into the lake and the largest known to date was in the 50 pound range. Snook can live full time in the lake and do get into the 20 pound range. One friend of our guide who was fishing a tournament caught one that weighed over 15 pounds on a spinnerbait on his first cast of the evening. Hmmm do you get disappointed when you catch a 15 pound snook in a Bass Fishing Tournament?? Dont go to the lake EXPECTING to catch these fish. However know that they are around and can turn an extremely good day into a really thrilling day.
Our live shiners were purchased from Garrard's Bait and Tackle which was only 2 doors down from the Flamingo Motel Lee and I stayed in, and the store also had guides available on short notice this summer day. Crickets for the Shellcrackers, worms and nightcrawlers are also available. Our guide's for the 2 days I was there were Bucth Butler & Eddie Perry, who work out of Garrard's Bait and Tackle.
WHAT to Bring... Sun Screen, Lee and I used a spray on Sun Screen called Bull Frog. It did not sweat into our eyes on the hot mornings, and was very easy to apply. Sun Glasses, definitely a plus much of your fishing is done with a west wind facing east into the morning sun. Light colored shirts are very good, both long and short sleeved ones for folks like me with severely light complexion. Bug repellent for around the pool or for light wind days. We did not need any due to winds, but experienced some discomfort when loading and unloading the car in the evenings.
If you are going to Okeechobee, I personally recommend the Flamingo Motel. The Motel is set up nicely for fishermen, who are on a budget, or like a really nice place to stay. The only motel I have ever been to with a Fish Cleaning Station. This motel caters to fishermen and their families. The rooms have both a refrigerator and microwave, are large, and if you have a family there is a very nice well maintained swimming pool. It is just down 2 doors down from Garrard's Bait and Tackle which makes getting a license, bait and tackle very easy when you get up in the morning. Breakfast is also a snap, since the local Mc D's is right next door.
Butch Butler's website is http://www.okeechobeeguide.com
Eddie Perry's website is http://www.okeechobeeadventures.com
Phone: (866) 758-2935
Garrard's Bait and Tackle website is http://www.okeechobeebassguides.com
4259 Hwy 441 S.
Okeechobee, Florida. 34974
Cell Phone: 863-635-1502
Toll Free Phone: 1-800-600-3474
Email: [email protected]
Flamingo Motel website is http://www.motelflamingo.com
Email Us: [email protected]
4101 Hwy 441 South Okeechobee Florida