With virtually the entire nation tightly in the grip of a polar express, the only escape for a bass fisherman in metro Atlanta was to pack up and head south. And, Levy County, Florida seemed the perfect destination.
Roughly 90 miles north of Tampa on the west coast of the Sunshine State peninsula, it offered three great angling destinations. But, it is far enough off the beaten path to avoid running into hoards of other anglers.
With that in mind we loaded up the boat, hitched it to the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado (which had just been named the North American Truck of the Year at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit) and drove south on Interstate 75.
After spending a day on the Waccasassa River in the central portion of Levy County, we now headed the Chevy Silverado down to the south. The 20 knot winds had subsided and the open waters of Lake Rousseau were calling. This manmade reservoir is located on the Withlacoochee River that forms the border between Levy and Citrus counties.
This is an old reservoir created in the early 20th century. In the 1960s the impoundment was to become part of the ill-fated Cross Florida Barge Canal. In fact, a few miles of that project still connect the lake to the Gulf of Mexico to the west.
Today Rousseau is 12 miles long, a mile across at its widest point and covers 3,700 acres. The main navigation channel zig-zags through it, often dropping to depths of 20 feet. That deeper water is surrounded by shallow flats averaging 4 feet and filled with standing and fallen timber. There are also abundant mats of floating vegetation in these shallows.
The channel and flats are home to some outstanding largemouth bass fishing. Tournament anglers on the lake need to bring in a five-fish limit of bass weighing around 20 pounds if they expect to place in the money. Fish in the 5- to 8-pound range are frequently caught and the reservoir offers as good a shot at a 10-pound largemouth as any water in the Sunshine State.
Capt. Jim Keith of Saltwater Assassin Fishing Charters was again our guide, and he knew the lake well, having fished it for more than three decades.
The Bass spawn on the lake in April and May. They created their beds on sandy areas or actually on top of the downed timber in the shallows. But, there rest of the year when temperatures are extremely hot or cold, they move under the mats of floating vegetation.
Knowing which mats to target is the secret here. Capt. Keith looks for rafts composed of bonnet pads and what he calls wonder weeds. The key is finding the mats that have smaller dollar bonnet pads, rather than their larger cousins.
Once on a good raft, he targets the edge with a wild shiner for bait fished under a float.
If the weather is very cold like we’ve had recently, a good tactic is to move to the drop off from the shallows into the navigation channel. Trolling a shiner behind the boat and along the edge of this drop can produce some good bass. Our best of the day was a 7 ½-pounder, along with a couple in the 4- to 5-pound range.
If you want to use artificial baits these same locations are the places to be fishing. Spinnerbaits, Trick worms or crankbaits are all options.