The Florida Freshwater Angler Issue 10

Issue 10

July - September 2017

Florida Freshwater Angler

Our Purpose: To identify excellent Florida freshwater fishing opportunities and to provide anglers with relevant information that will enhance the quality of their outdoor experience.

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In this issue:

TrophyCatch Tracker

TrophyCatch logo

TrophyCatch Season 5 has been rolling along smoothly. Florida's spawning season, January - March, produced some outstanding catches, including the current season leader (below). Catches have slowed as we enter the summer months, but even the "dog days" can be good days for catching a trophy in Florida, the “Bass Fishing Capital of the World”!

Dominic Montalto Season 5 leader

Angler Dominic Montalto has taken the Season 5 lead with his 16-pound 12-ounce largemouth bass caught in a private pond in Estero, Florida! This approaches the current certified state record of a 17-pound 4-ounce largemouth bass caught in Polk County in 1986. A team of FWC biologists verified the accuracy of Dominic’s scale, as well as his catch videos and photos. Dominic was fishing from shore around dusk with a Johnny Morris Titanium 8 Heavy-action rod with a Bass Pro Shops Pro Qualifier 7.1-1 reel, using a XPS Z9R Perch Swimbait lure in bluegill color. This is also the largest bass submitted to TrophyCatch since the program's inception in 2012.


TrophyCatch has announced a new partnership with Shimano and new monthly "Lunker Leader" prizing for the angler with the heaviest Lunker Club total each month. Each month offers a different prize from Shimano’s vast array of fishing products.

Shimano Lunker Leader


Shimano is also providing the following Seasonal Big Bag prizing to the top 3 qualifying anglers with the heaviest season bag weights:

  • 1st Prize: 3 GLoomis & Metanium combos
  • 2nd Prize: 3 EXPRIDE & Chronarch MGL combos
  • 3rd Prize: 3 Exage & Casitas combos
Trophy bass tagging

The FWC “stocked” tagged trophy bass into the Bass Pro Shops Orlando Super Aquarium this past quarter to kick off Gone Fishing, a national Bass Pro Shops program to promote fishing. The bass stocking also highlighted FWC’s Trophy Bass Tagging Study, which works hand-in-hand with TrophyCatch to promote Florida bass fishing and collect important bass data from anglers. Boy Scouts of America Ocoee Pack 217 received a donation of rods and reels from Bass Pro Shops as part of the event.

TrophyCatch Facebook page

Keep up to date on TrophyCatch promotions, special events and our top producing anglers by liking our TrophyCatch Facebook page and subscribing to the TrophyCatch YouTube Channel. Plus you can find out more about Florida's freshwater fishing and conservation efforts through a variety of print and online media such as newspapers, magazines, online news outlets and video channels like Sportsman’s Adventures with Captain Rick Murphy.

Featured Fish: Yellow bullhead

Yellow bullhead

Size: The state record is 5.05 pounds, but most catches will average closer to half a pound. The Big Catch minimum qualifying sizes are 1.5 pounds or 14 inches for adults, and 1.0 lbs or 10 inches for youth (

Identification and similar species: This species is brownish above, and white to yellow below. The dorsal and pectoral fin spines and barbells make this fish easy to diagnose as a catfish. The tail is usually squared, but may be slightly forked. This fish is often called a “buttercat” due its coloration—though the name can be a cooking suggestion as well! The related but darker brown bullhead also occurs in Florida and is usually much darker, sometimes with distinct black-and-white mottling. The surest way to tell these two apart is to examine the chin (not mouth) barbells: those of the yellow bullhead will be entirely white or yellow, while those of the brown bullhead will range from darkly spotted to entirely black.

Angling qualities: Summer is a great time to sit back, soak a line, and do some catfishing! The yellow bullhead is a small catfish, but an important component of the catfish angler’s catch in some parts of Florida. Due to its diminutive size, light tackle is recommended. All popular catfish baits will attract this species, with favorites including various commercial catfish preparations, chicken livers, and red wigglers. The yellow bullhead’s preference for the latter often causes it to end up on the lines of bottom-fishing bream anglers. Handle bullheads with care to avoid a painful puncture from the dorsal or pectoral fin spines! This fish, like most other catfishes, can provide excellent table fare..

Where to catch them: While there aren't any locales particularly noted for yellow bullhead fishing, these small catfish occur in most Florida waters, from rivers and canals to lakes and ponds. Fishing bait on the bottom almost anywhere in the state might put a "buttercat" on the end of your line!

Illustration by Duane Raver, Jr.

Featured Locales: Hurricane Lake and Bear Lake

Bear Lake

Size: 318 acres (Hurricane Lake) and 106 acres (Bear Lake).

Location: Okaloosa County (Hurricane Lake) and Santa Rosa County (Bear Lake). Both lakes are located in the Blackwater State Forest.

Description: Hurricane Lake and Bear Lake (in photo to left) are two of six Commission Managed Impoundments in the Florida Panhandle, created by the FWC starting in the 1950s. Located about 10 miles apart in the Blackwater State Forest, these impoundments were constructed to provide unique freshwater fishing opportunities to the area. Both lakes provide largemouth bass, bluegill sunfish, redear sunfish, and channel catfish while Bear Lake also contains black crappie and sunshine bass.

During the summer months largemouth bass can be targeted in deeper water around structure. Fish the edges of brush piles or flooded timber with crankbaits or spinnerbaits. A slow retrieve can often make the difference when fish are sluggish from warm water temperatures. Bluegill and redear sunfish will congregate on gravel beds in both lakes and can be caught by fishing on the bottom with live crickets or wigglers. Use small hooks, light line, and fasten a split-shot sinker several feet above the hook. These beds are easily identified as large light colored areas on the bottom and can be accessed from the bank around any of the campgrounds. For channel catfish, fish on the bottom in deeper water with chicken livers or night crawlers. The best time to target these fish is during the evening around sunset or at night.

Transplanting eelgrass

Good shoreline access with fishing fingers and fishing piers are available on both lakes along with concrete boat ramps and ample parking. Both lakes are trolling motor only and follow the regulations detailed for other Fish Management Areas (FMA). In addition to the unique fishing opportunities, the Florida Forest Service maintains campgrounds at both lakes which provide a variety of outdoor activities including hiking, wildlife viewing, and kayaking.  

Over the years, natural succession of these aging reservoirs has progressively degraded the in-lake habitat, ultimately affecting sport fish populations. In response, the FWC is taking action to improve this habitat and establish a healthy forage base for these popular sport fish. Last fall, Hurricane Lake received 4 large brush pile fish attractors composed of bald cypress. This year the FWC plans to add to these fish attractors with more hardwood species. Three experimental plots of eelgrass were transplanted this spring in an effort to establish a beneficial, native plant (eelgrass transplanting shown in photo above). Future projects on Hurricane Lake include the installation of gravel beds alongside artificial Mossback fish attractors to provide spawning habitat and aid in the propagation of sport fish species. Bear Lake is scheduled to receive hardwood brush pile attractors, while both lakes will receive the stocking of forage species such as threadfin shad.

These in-lake enhancements should improve sport fish populations for freshwater anglers while the beautiful panhandle scenery provides an aesthetic unmatched throughout the state.

Going small: Light tackle fishing

Light tackle fishing

WHAT is “light tackle”? Simply put, it’s the smallest practical gear—line, rod, and reel—for the angling situation at hand. But light tackle is a relative term. What might be called light for a bluegill is a different thing than light tackle for a six-pound largemouth bass. And light tackle for landing that bass in open water is a different thing than light tackle for extracting that same bass from a hydrilla-laden canal or flooded timber. However, most anglers would probably agree (within a pound or two) with the following light-line recommendations for the following species.

  • Largemouth bass: 4 to 8 pound test line in open waters; up to 10-12 pound test in heavily obstructed waters.
  • Butterfly peacock: 4 to 6 pound test.
  • Bluegill and other sunfish, Mayan cichlid, and spotted tilapia: 2 to 4 pound test.
  • Black crappie, Oscar, and blue tilapia: 4 to 6 pound test.

WHY use light tackle? First and foremost, many anglers relish the added challenge. Skillfully landing a one-pound bluegill on wispy 2-pound monofilament and a limber ultralight spinning outfit elevates the encounter to an epic one-on-one battle. Another reason to try light tackle is the fact that many waters receive heavy pressure. Fish in such locales become wary and more reluctant to strike, and a finer, less visible line may be the difference between an empty livewell and a full one. Additionally, smaller-diameter lines create less guide friction and wind resistance, allowing longer and more accurate casts. Finally, becoming proficient with light tackle can pay big dividends in increased skills. Light-tackle techniques apply to any category of fishing, and when a truly large fish strikes, the experienced light tackle angler is all the more ready for the situation.

WHEN is light tackle too light? This will be a decision based on an angler’s individual skill and experience, but the focus rests primarily on the quarry—the fish itself. If a fish that will be released is played to exhaustion and reaches the point where it will not recover, the tackle is too light. If the angler repeatedly breaks off fish that will spend the next week or two sporting unwanted hardware in their dental gear, the tackle is too light.

Light tackle SpiderWire line

HOW do I get started in light tackle fishing?

Line: The fishing line is the very heart of a light-tackle system. In fact, when many anglers talk about light tackle, they are referring specifically to the pound-test of the line being used. Always purchase premium lines. Top quality lines will usually be a smaller diameter for a given pound test, thus maximizing the light-tackle advantages of reduced visibility to fish and better casting distance and accuracy. Knots become much more critical when using light line—a poor tie can cut a line’s strength in half! Note that modern braided lines with their high strength and small line diameter have added a new dimension to light tackle. For those just getting started in light tackle fishing, a fine but strong braided line can give you that “light tackle” feel but still provide a wide safety margin until you build up some skills.

Light tackle reel

Reel: After a premium line, a high-quality reel is probably next in importance. Light tackle fishing means that the line will be pushed to the breaking point much more often, and quality reel components and a silky-smooth drag are essential. And when it comes to ball bearings, more is better! This is also one place where I recommend slightly bending the “smallest practical gear” part of the light-tackle definition. While many of the palm-sized fishing reels available today are technological masterpieces that can be a delight to use, some of these ultra-small reels have such tiny diameter spools that they sacrifice line capacity and inhibit casting distance. When choosing a reel, select one that lists the line you are planning to use most often as the smallest recommended line. For example, if you plan to drop to 4 pound test line for some of your open-water bass fishing, buy a reel that is designed for use with 4, 6, and 8-pound lines, not one that is designed for 1, 2, and 4-pound lines. Why? The larger diameter spool on the first reel will not only allow the line to leave the real more easily via larger coils, but will also hold more line if an unexpectedly large fish makes a sustained run.

Light tackle rod

Rod: Don’t confuse light tackle with the Ultralight, Light, and Medium designations that rod manufactures use to label the action of their rods. Instead, make your purchase based on the recommended lines listed on the rod blank. As with the reel, choose a rod that lists your most-used line near the low end of the range—for example, select a rod that will handle 4-10 pound line if you are planning to fish with 4-pound line most often. Not only will the resultingly stiffer rod aid in hook-setting, but it will also be easier to find a longer rod. Lengthier rods result in longer casts, and also provide more control over a fish being finessed toward the landing net. High quality rod guides are also particularly important in light-tackle angling.

Light tackle lures

Lures: Thankfully, the high popularity of light-tackle angling has resulted in the availability of a wide selection of light and ultralight lures. Most will be tinier versions of already-popular offerings, and can be a great deal of fun to use. While bass anglers should have no trouble finding lures suitably “light” for their quarry, the panfish angler may have to hunt a little to locate the tiniest jigs, spoons, spinners, and crankbaits. Since finer lines and more limber rods make hooksetting more difficult, anglers should take special care to sharpen hooks before using them. Rapala provides some excellent ultralight minnows and crankbaits. The Rebel Teeny Wee Crawfish, Mepps and Rooster Tail spinners, and Dardevle spoons are other longtime favorites.

Playing and landing fish: Light-gear aficionados should set the reel drag between one-third and one-half the weight of the line they are using (at about 2-3 pounds pull when using 6-pound line, for example), and learn to apply additional pressure when needed by palming the spool rim. Don’t try to arrest the strong run of a large fish; rather, wait until it stops, and then reel in while “pumping” the fish using the rod. When a fish jumps, drop the rod tip to create slack and avoid breaking the line. If a fish makes it into heavy structure, sometimes slackening the line for a moment will coax it back out. In the end, however, experience and practice are the best teachers, and they will make the light tackle angler a better angler in any situation!

Fisheries Biology: Minnow identifier

You may be pretty familiar with anything that might bite on the end of your line, but do you know your minnows? Shown below are some of the species you’re most likely to come across in Florida, either via cast net or dip net. How many have you seen? (Note:  Drawings are not to scale; check text for actual sizes.)


Mosquitofish (2 ½”) — Probably the most common freshwater fish in Florida, this rather plain fish can be identified by the one or two broken, vertical stripes on its tail. Female is easily told by the distinct black spot on the belly. Melanistic (dark-pigmented) forms may have black spots sprinkled over the body or even appear entirely black. Derives its name from its preferred food of mosquito larvae. A fair bait for bluegill and small bass.

Bluefin killifish

Bluefin killifish (2”) — This common minnow is easily told by the brown back and the bold, black stripe down the side which ends in a black spot. The blue fins referred to in the name are visible only on the male during the breeding season. A fair bait for bluegill and the occasional small bass. Do not confuse with largemouth bass fry which also possess a dark line along the body but have a divided dorsal fin; bass fry must be released immediately if netted.

Sailfin molly

Sailfin molly (5”) — The male of this aptly-named species is easily recognized by the very large, elongated dorsal fin which may be edged in orange; the male’s tail may also be bright orange and blue. However, both sexes can be identified by the five to eight finely dotted lines along the body. Mollies are noticeably larger and less slender than most of our other common minnows. They provide a good bait for bluegill and crappie, with larger individuals useful for tempting bass.

Seminole killifish

Seminole killifish (6 ½”) — A large minnow compared with most of the others shown here, this one is occasionally caught on hook-and-line on such baits as small doughballs, live worms, small jigs or flies. It is very nondescript, but can be told by its bigger size, light greenish color, and rows of fine spots (and faint vertical bars in the case of the female) along the side. It is often seen over open, sandy bottoms near vegetation. Reportedly a fair bait for bass.

Brook silverside

Brook silverside (5”) — This elongate and streamlined fish has a beak-like snout and a very distinct silver stripe along its side. Differs from most of these other minnows (except for shad) in that it roams in open water rather than associating with shoreline vegetation. A schooling minnow that can be abundant.

Brook silverside skipping

Has the habit of swimming just under the surface and occasionally skipping along the top of the water, especially when chased. Not very hardy and therefore a poor bait.

Golden shiner

Golden shiner (12”) — The golden shiner is a deep-bodied and extremely compressed (flat) fish; also note the strongly down-curved lateral line. A scaleless keel (ridge) is present on the bottom of the belly. The golden color for which the fish is named can be helpful in identification, but is not always present. This species is well-known to most anglers and is the best all-around bait for largemouth bass and peacock bass. Shiners can be cast-netted or caught on hook-and-line using tiny (size 10-12) hooks and doughballs.

Threadfin shad

Threadfin shad (To 9” though rarely exceeds 6”) — An extremely compressed (flat) fish with a distinct dark shoulder spot, long dorsal fin ray, and pointed snout. The body is bright silver, with a dark back. The scales are large in relation to the size of the fish and easily rub off. The threadfin can be told from the gizzard shad because it possesses black specks on the chin and floor of the mouth and yellow fins. A less scientific but nevertheless helpful test is to “scratch” the nose of the shad with a fingernail; if the nail catches and pulls open the bottom jaw it is likely a threadfin. (The threadfin’s lower jaw extends out farther then the gizzard shad’s.) Although the threadfin shad is an excellent forage and bait for largemouth and sunshine bass, the gizzard shad (below) can quickly grow too large to be preyed upon and can rapidly overpopulate a lake. Anglers should therefore not transplant any shad to other waters.

Gizzard shad

Gizzard shad (To 20” though rarely exceeds 12”) — Note the lower jaw which does not extend past the snout (as well as the other features mentioned above) to distinguish this from the threadfin shad. It is also fairly safe to assume that any shad bigger than 6” is a gizzard shad. Small gizzard shad can provide good bass bait, but this species quickly grows too large for even the biggest bass and if it overpopulates can become a serious lake management problem. Again, never transplant any species of shad to other waters.

To contact the Florida Freshwater Angler, email John Cimbaro.