Learn how target bass and crappie this fall from Captain Angie Douthit, one of the top guides on the historical Lake Okeechobee.
Covering over 700 square miles, Lake Okeechobee is the largest lake in the Southeast U.S. and one of the premiere freshwater fishing destinations in the country. Bass fanatic anglers from all over the country flock to the massive lake at most times of year, but ask any guide and they will tell you the action really begins in late fall.
Cooler water temps and overcast skies have fish moving and feeding longer into the day come November. Other species, other than largemouths, also follow this trend, providing a variety of opportunities not readily available throughout summer.
Angie Douthit of South Florida Bass Fishing has guided on Okeechobee since 2004 and knows that the end of October is a signal for active, big fish.
Why Late Fall?
“Winter (and late fall) months are prime bass and crappie times of the year to fish Lake Okeechobee,” Douthit said.
She goes on to say that typically in mid November, and again in mid-late April, the bass change their feeding behavior depending on what they are feeding for that time of year. They feed on bream, small crappie (specks), shad (gizzard and threadfin both), grass shrimp, crawdad, frogs, snakes, needlefish, freshwater mullet fry, tilapia fry and other small fish.
The decreased water temperatures and daylight hours will have bass feeding more regularly and aggressively throughout the day, minimizing the midday lull that can happen in summer.
Okeechobee is known as a bass fishing holy land, but anglers should not overlook the chance at catching a massive crappie this time of year, either.
“ The average crappie size, or speckled perch, is around 1.25 to 1.5 pounds in Okeechobee,” Douthit said. “Last season, I had clients land six that were 3 pounds and over.”
Considering that the average crappie in other waters tends to be around a half pound to a pound, Okeechobee crappie are in a class of their own.
Captain Douthit says the reason for the sizable crappie is all due to Okeechobbee’s habitat.
“Typically the bigger the lake, the bigger the fish can get, but certain lake conditions are still needed,” she said. “Healthy vegetation, hard-shelled lake bottom, deeper water areas/shallow water areas are all needed.”
She goes on to say Okeechobee was once the bottom of the ocean as well so the lake has natural minerals in it which help crappie health and growth.
Not just a crappie day
If you’re heading to Okeechobee for their world renowned bass, you should be focusing on shallows and staging areas as the weather cools.
“I concentrate on the areas where the bass will be moving first to spawn,” she said. “Typically it will be the North-end of the lake, where I look for a hard, sandy bottom, and a variety of vegetation in and around the area. Spots close to nearby, deeper drop offs are a plus.”
Douthit says with each moon phase another wave of bass will stage and be ready to move in as those that just spawned will be moving back out to deeper water. This creates an almost constant flow of bass to and from these transition areas.
“It's a continuous pre/post spawn for the months of November through April, sometimes into May,” she said.
Techniques and lures
When targeting the cruising bass populations, Douthit starts with a search bait where bass they should be moving in and up to feed and stage. She also looks around her surroundings, paying close attention to the certain types of vegetation the fish are favoring at that time. Eelgrass, flat reeds, pencil reeds, deer tongue and clumps all provide preferable habitat at this time for fish moving to and from the depths to the shallows. Then once the bass are located she will often switch to a swim bait, or even a topwater based on weather conditions.
For Crappie she will switch up her rod and tackle to focus more on jigging with a 10-11ft jig pole tipped with a 1/16 oz round jig head and a small tube.
Pressure and cold fronts
Since Lake Okeechobee is not affected by tides, Douthit notices a strong correlation with pressure change and fish activity. One reason for the strong correlation is because the lake is so shallow during late fall and winter. Cold fronts begin rolling in these times of year and the ensuing pressure change can wreak havoc on bass activity and movement, she said. Luckily the warm Florida weather always wins out as most fronts only last a couple days, but a strong wind will keep the shallow water cooler for longer periods.
Primetime is just getting going in Florida and Okeechobee is the perfect destination to beat the winter fishing blues.
“It's a unique experience. Florida is associated with large bass for a reason. If you’re any kind of bass angler, you want to experience Okeechobee,” Captain Douthit said. “We’ve got about everything you could want here.”
Learn more about Captain Angie Douthit and her world class guide services here! Now let's go fishing. Captain Angie will bing the crappie rig.
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