Florida experiment will pay off here

Things started getting a little crazy around the third strike on three consecutive casts to the mysterious underwater phenomenon that apparently had attracted a school of giant largemouth bass.
My first pitch had produced a 3-pounder and the second was eaten by a twin. The lure drifted toward the bottom on the third cast but never touched down. My line eased off to the left, and I jerked the hook into another solid bass, a 5-pounder that churned deep and then leaped clear of the surface like a chunky fullback diving over a goal line pile-up.
It was a great morning, the best of a week of 90-minute dawn excursions a few weeks ago on the string of golf course ponds in Naples, Fla. They were perfect winter test waters as I tinkered with lures, hooks and weights in preparation for the next Ohio season.
Anglers can learn much through experimentation with lures and presentations, provided they are confident the waters they are fishing are populated with enough fish to ensure chances of one finding the lure.
My golf course testing grounds holds plenty of bass, judging from the score I tallied that week in Naples, and I learned valuable lessons thanks to the bass's willingness to cooperate.
Anglers know, for instance, that bass and other game species are not uniformly spread throughout a particular lake. They prefer specific locations, and when conditions are right, they will actually gang up -- a fact that was reinforced during my week in Florida.
Found the best spots
The Naples fish had acres and acres of water to cruise, thanks to the numerous ponds scattered along the 18-hole golf layout. As I worked my way around the lake at sun-up each morning, I soon eliminated unproductive water and identified locations that held good numbers of bass.
The best spot, the one that yielded fast action on each and every visit, was populated with aggressive bass. Each fish I caught piqued my curiosity -- "Is this too good to be true? Was that the last fish in the school?"
My observations also underscored the skittish nature of bass. One would think golf course fish would be accustomed to foot traffic around the water's edge, considering the number of errant shots that trundle toward the ponds. But time and time again, I watched bass that were prowling the shadows scoot to the depths as I approached.
I also tinkered with lure colors. Florida generally is known as a place where junebug-colored soft plastics out-produce other colors. During my first few days of working plastic worms, I alternated between watermelon, green pumpkin and junebug, finally settling in on junebug as the best choice. By comparison, I rarely use that color in Ohio.
Another discovery
Experienced bass anglers know spinnerbaits typically work best on breezy, overcast days, when the water surface is broken and the light rays are scattered. With so many fish to show my lures to, I knew most of my offerings were getting at least a fleeting look. Spinnerbaits, it turned out, drew strikes only during textbook spinnerbait conditions. When the ponds were slick, the plastic worm was clearly the best bait.
And finally, after hooking and landing dozens of bass each morning, my thumbs were in shreds and I began to grow less concerned about actually getting my hands on each fish.
So I backed off on a few of the fish toward week's end and discovered that as I eased up, they fought less. When I again turned up the horsepower, the bass returned to fighting mode.
It was a great week to experiment, as well as a terrific way to bridge the gap between our bass seasons back here in the North. I'll take a few lessons forward into my 2007 bass fishing, and pitch just a bit more confidently on my favorite Ohio bass waters.

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