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.
The last day of our Levy County winter bass-fishing trek found us launching Capt. Jim Keith's boat at Clay Landing on the Suwannee River. This flow that was made famous in Stephen Foster's 1851 minstrel tune, Old Folks at Home (or more familiarly Suwannee River) rises in South Georgia's Okefenokee Swamp. From there it crosses the Florida peninsula to empty into the Gulf of Mexico on the northern edge of Levy County.
By the time the stream reaches Levy, it is a large, wide expanse of water. And, it also offers quite good bass fishing. Largemouth bass of 12 to 14 inches are abundant, with some running up to the 2- to 3-pound mark. This is a fishery for numbers, rather than trophy bass.
Also adding to the angling interest is the presence of Suwannee bass in the river. This cousin of the largemouth is native only to the Sunshine State and southern Georgia. These fish are noted for hanging out in rocky areas of the river.
The easiest way to differentiate one from a largemouth is by looking at the mouth. On a Suwannee bass the jaw extends only back to the mid-point of the fish's eye. A largemouth's jaw goes all the way to the back of the eye.
Capt. Keith's favored tactic for bass on the Suwannee is to drift downstream, tossing lures to the log jams and cypress trees along the shore. He usually ties on a Game Changer lure for this action. It is an in-line spinner with a weed guard that he manufactures.
Another good option is tossing a 6- to 8-inch blue plastic worm on a Texas rig into the log jams. Also, don't pass up the opportunity to cast to any bonnet pads that are along the shore. The largemouths often hold under the pads. Running a crankbait along the edge can draw out those fish.
And, as noted earlier, Suwannee bass prefer rocky areas. Anywhere rocks are along the shore or on the bottom is a likely spot to encounter one.