Angler Hot Spots Information

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Angler Hot Spot Xtra Info - Istokpoga Hot Spot 4 - February 21, 2024

(2300 word read)

This edition of Angler Hot Spots Info again focuses on Lake Istokpoga’s west shoreline. This fishing hole is one of several locations which are close to one of two areas of the lake which have ten-foot depths during the hurricane season and twelve-foot depths during the remainder of the year when water is being stored for the winter season.

The annual two-foot variation in depth is part of the state’s management plan which compensates for the rainy season’s extreme weather systems heavy rainfall. Istokpoga is where most of Highlands County’s rainfall flows to. Therefore, when extreme weather events occur, the lake fills six times faster than the S68 Spillway gates are able to release the water it receives. Thus, the reason for the two-foot level buffer schedule.

South Florida Water Management and the US Army Corp both say that timing the release of water is crucial for this plan to be a success. And since they too rely on weather forecast predictions upon which to base their strategy for each major storm event, there are real possibilities of getting the planning wrong. Since I have lived here there’s only been two times where they’ve gotten it wrong. Once it resulted in too much water which caused homes in the lake area to have problems with septic systems and once the lake level ended up very low making lake usage more difficult. But nevertheless, two out of eighteen is a very good record.  

Let’s talk about why fish use the lake the way they do. Angler’s have all sorts of theories as to why fish use certain areas and not other areas. I’ll let you determine if any of them are true or not. I will instead focus on facts which are not theories, but are observable physical events which can be recorded and studied.

Istokpoga is a major attraction in the Florida Bass Fishing Community. Regardless of the mismanagement of the state and county weed management programs and the subsequent negative affects it’s had on the fish and wildlife populations of the lake, many anglers still frequently fish the lake, albeit not at the same numbers of a decade ago and nowhere close to the numbers of two decades ago.

So, the point is Bass Fishing Pressure and other unnatural factors have a decisive impact on how fish use this lake. This occurs in several ways; I’ll focus on the three most influential ways.

One, angler tournaments artificially impact where fish locate. On any given weekend from October through June mainly, there are several bass fishing tournaments occurring on the lake. And fish are weighed and released in the boat launch areas where the tournaments are conducted. Fish then do what fish do, and move to the nearest protective cover, which is vegetation, and will within a few hours seek the deepest water they can find. Their ideal habitat is deeper water which has thriving vegetation.

It is this artificial action which causes fish in Istokpoga to use areas of the lake they would not normally use and would never naturally find just being fish---contrary to what many say, fish do not travel through the lake to see what the lake has to offer. Instead, they follow wind-driven and water-driven food movements and they use the lake bottom characteristics to achieve this adjustment.

Fish never move in straight lines unless the structure is in a straight line.

Now it should be noted that state and county environmental engineers don’t just put boat ramps and docks where it’s convenient for human travel just as businessmen don’t just put a fish camp on the shoreline of a lake because a road is nearby. Instead, both study the characteristics of the lake environment, learn where fish naturally feed and put the necessary access points in those locations.

Nevertheless, human interaction with fish, and specifically bass, put fish in areas in numbers which are not natural.  The route 98 Istokpoga County Park ramp in the north and the Windy Point County ramp in the south, are where most anglers access the lake and where most tournaments launch out of. And this results in bass being within a few hundred yards of these two locations due to artificially being relocated by competitors.  Oh and, since tournament anglers cull smaller bass and keep the large ones, larger bass will eventually over several weekends or even months of competitive bass fishing events, inhabit these areas resulting in an unnaturally higher percentage of large bass.

Two, anglers create the unnatural factor of high-fishing pressure. Anglers believe they have secret fishing holes but in reality, there is no such thing as a secret fishing hole. So, what actually occurs is many anglers on a regular basis, which I would say occurs weekly and consistently, all fish the same holes. And when I say weekly and consistently, I’m saying (on this type of lake) we’re mainly talking about Friday through Sunday, which is when most anglers fish. Monday through Thursday are the least days fished as a general rule throughout the Bass Fishing Capital of the World community.  

It is a fact on all heavily fished lakes in central Florida, I have caught 82% of my best bass on Wednesday and Thursday. And it is also a fact that Monday and Tuesday on these same lakes produce far fewer quality bass---these days consistently produce bass under two pounds, that is……...when I have found a hole with active fish. And seldom have I found bass over five pounds active on these days.

Point of interest: On lakes without heavy pressure and tournaments, none of these things occur. Fish don’t have an artificial influence on where they use the lake. Having a bathymetric map and knowledge of influents and effluents and grass and shell beds, is all that is required.  

So, the main point is, bass fishing pressure results in a high number of ‘catch and release’ bass, which don’t bite naturally. After being hooked and worked hard in battle, fish require time to heal and therefore these ‘secret fishing holes’ actually become infirmaries for bass in various stages of healing. And anglers eventually believe the fish are no longer in these ‘secret holes’ anymore when in fact they are still there, but can’t feed normally anymore. However, this process slows down fishing pressure resulting in a resting period. Fish begin to use the area naturally again. But eventually, anglers will return to where they remember doing well resulting in the fishing pressure beginning to escalate again and the cycle continues.

Three, lake management polices cause an artificial flow of water currents through the lake from the influents to the man-made effluent gateways. From April through the end of the rainy season, Istokpoga (and all managed lakes in central Florida) have a moving flow which occurs along the historical ‘river ways’ which naturally occurs in the deepest areas of the lake, north to south. If an angler discovers the routes by which water flows from Arbuckle Creek to the S68 Spillway, they’ll find actively feeding fish along lake bottom structure changes which are close to the flow.  And the heavier the rainfall during this five-to-six-month period the more flow there will be, and the more fish will move within this flow.

With these three artificial fish moving factors in mind, today’s Hot Spots Location has all three of these points-characteristics, happening at least six months out of the year. Three hundred yards or so north of the Windy Point boat ramp there is a shoreline feeding area where the Highlands Park Estates Clubhouse Park dock is located. The approximate coordinates are 27° 19’ 03” N by 81° 18’ 54 W.

Bass end up here as they follow the lake bottom contours northward after they are released at the outside areas of the boat ramp. Wind blows into this area on a majority of the days of the week which is why it’s appropriately named “Windy Point”.  And therefore, water is pushed naturally into this area which causes an undertow current both north and south.  Many anglers after weighing their bass release their bass to the north of the ramp, and those bass travel northward as a result, following the under flow and eventually the lake bottom break lines which lead to this Hot Spot. And it should also be noted that natural rainfall runoff occurs in this area of the lake which provides ideal conditions for insects and frogs to inhabit the shallows.

The vegetation in this hole is comprised of cattails, bulrush, and eel, pepper and milfoil grasses and some sparse spatterdock lily pads. Bass move fifty yards north and south of this location, but I have found the dock area, meaning fifty feet north and south of this structure, to be the most consistent and successful.  

This is one of the areas I will use a topwater frog and devil’s horse and my trusty 7” black and blue Yum Dingers, ¾ to 1 oz. Medlock double brush guard black and blue jigs with black and blue type chunk trailers. And a majority of the time I long-pitch the jig and senko, presenting them with no splash and allowing them to fall with a yellow 65 lb. braided line on the water’s surface in order to see the inhale of the bait---a straightening of the line. And I also cast sidearm the top water baits, so that they travel to the target destination about one to two feet off the surface of the water in order to accomplish as little splash as possible. Remember the more natural the bait presentation the more the giant bass will investigate the action and vibration.

When you set the hook on a bass here, they will charge to the open deeper water to the east. You should count on them going under the boat the majority of the time. I still recommend playing the bass by free spooling the reel, using your thumb to regulate the taking of line. Always imagine that you have the bass barely hooked so that finesse is required to keep her hooked all the way to the boat. Just imagine you’re using six-pound test line instead of the heavier pound line.

Once upon a time, several years ago, I fished at this location, again during a new moon phase in the month of May. There was a perfect wind from the southeast which created just enough wave action to mask the fakeness of the bait and my presence in the area. Pressure was rising enough to cause ‘fish adjustment activity’ towards the shallows as the moon was arriving overhead during the late morning hours. Water temperature on the surface was seventy-three degrees.

I knew there had been no fishing activity on this area over the past eighteen hours. I knew this because the afternoon and evening the day before I was guiding customers at another fishing area where I could keep an eye on this area. And when I began fishing earlier in the morning, I also was able to keep watch, hoping no one would get there ahead of me. And no one fished it as it turned out.  

Knowing no one has beaten up the bass in the area you’re about to fish provides an added incentive to relax and execute perfect bait placements, and experimental retrieval techniques with greater patience and determination. You know they are always there, and you know they are not healing from being hooked. That leaves me only with the responsibility to present in a natural manner the food sources the bass has been consuming over the past few weeks.   

The results of my effort produced seven bass. The biggest was just under 25” and had an 18” girth. Four were in the 23-23.5” size but were fat with all having about a 17” girth. And two measured 22” with 16” girths.  The smaller sized bass were caught first, and the largest one came forty-five minutes after the sixth catch.  The total time between the first and seventh bass was just over two hours.

A lot of anglers release their bass immediately after they catch them, right in the area of the battle. Unless the bass is spawning, I don’t do that. Instead, I move the boat out into deeper water (I’m always fishing on deep water break line areas so deep water is always very close by) and release them there, so they won’t go back to the battle area. This provides some time for the area to return to a natural setting. But is also allows me to long-pitch parts of the area which are twenty or so feet away from the exact place where I boated the fish. I always imagine there are more than one fish present when I’m fighting a bass. And I believe those bass do the natural thing of moving away from the unnatural activity. And I have discovered by testing this theory for many years, that they don’t go too far. And that day was a case in point.

I have fished in this same area over one hundred times in the past nineteen years. I have brought many customers and clients to this location. The success rate for this location is 73%. Many days only produces fish of four pounds or under. And on many days this spot was only good for one or perhaps two bass, which usually were in the four-to-six-pound range. But there have been thirty-two times that bass over six pounds were caught. My largest bass was the 25” bass already mentioned. So, while I’ve never caught a double-digit bass here, I believe it’s just because the timing was wrong for the big girls. I’ve caught double digit bass close to this location many times, so I know they are here from time to time.

Note Istokpoga Section Map with red markers and Windy Point locations.

Angler Xtra Info – Istokpoga Hot Spots 3 - February 11, 2024

The type of shoreline areas which have produced consistently for me and many other Istokpoga anglers over the years is an area with mixed vegetation with an outside average depth between five to seven feet and fifty yards or more of vegetation deep going back to the shoreline. These types of areas on any lake hold an abundance of the lake’s food-chain and are primes big bass feeding areas.

But the question remains, which areas hold fish and which areas don’t?

What I’ve always done when I don’t know the answer to this question is to cruise the shorelines, keeping about fifty feet from the vegetation’s outside edge, with one eye on the sonar screen, pay attention to lake bottom level changes and watching for sharp elevation changes and submerged vegetation.

Break-lines are where the migration routes of fish and especially bass, are in lakes like Istokpoga. Most shallow lakes don’t have ‘laydowns, rock lines, or other structures’ for fish to use when they change depth during atmospheric pressure changes, which forces them to adjust until their bodies can regain normal comfort again.

So, when you see an area on Istokpoga you should investigate the open water area out in front of this area to learn if there are break-lines leading to it or running parallel with it, and looking to see what submerged grasses are present and whether it’s thriving or decomposing from weed management programs.

There was once a day on Istokpoga where all you had to do to know where experienced anglers fished was to cruise the shoreline areas, watching the sonar screen, and mark every spot where you saw a patch of hydrilla. For those of you who didn’t already know, hydrilla is carried by boat motor props from place to place where anglers catch fish. This is not the case anymore since the turbidity levels in the lake became high enough to prohibit adequate sunlight for the rapidly growing weed to survive. But that’s a subject for another article, which I have worn out many years ago to no avail.   

So back to the subject of determining which shoreline areas have fish and which don’t.  It’s a good idea to cruising back and forth a few times, at different distances from the outside shoreline vegetation, for instance, 20, 35, 50, 65, foot intervals, noting the lake bottom characteristics which will reveal clues as to how fish come from deeper areas into this area and perhaps even show you where fish hold when they’re not in the shoreline area.

It’s always good to know which ‘really good-looking shoreline areas’ don’t have any break-lines, submerged grass beds, or decomposing vegetation occurring between the shoreline and open water areas. Such characteristics are a sign that you shouldn’t fish the areas at all and if you do, do so quickly as to not waste valuable time in an area the fish have been pushed out of or simply don’t use much if at all.

Eliminating areas is vital in experiencing a better catch rate. You can’t catch fish that aren’t there to begin with. Istokpoga has many areas which fish don’t feed nor spawn in. But they sure look like they should. In fact, by looking at what’s above water throughout the lake, you’d believe there are an abundance of fish everywhere. Nothing could be further from the truth.  

I have used many techniques to determine why fish use a particular area. And have determined how the fish moved into and away from the area, and also how fish feed throughout the area when they’re actively feeding and when they’re done feeding. It took many years of consistent trial and error experimentation and accurately journalling the results and findings in a structured format which best serves to provide necessary data for verifying or disqualifying, old wise sayings, fishing adages, bass fishing publication’s claims and instructions, solunar publication predictions and suggestions, and also my own postulations and premises.

A true scientist always seeks to tear apart his finding in every way possible to discover what he might have overlooked, assumed, or concluded as fact, while fishing across the wide and broad spectrum of the Florida Bass Angling World. One thing is certain, successfully catching the largest largemouth bass in the lake in Florida requires unique techniques and strategies which won’t work anywhere else in the world and from lake type to lake type which are just a few miles apart.

Big bass do not leave an area when they’re full of food. They remain in the area but not where the feeding activity occurred.

Hint: the most critical period for fish to experience physical comfort is during digestion, when gasses and pressure within the body are naturally active and changing. And since fish feed when atmospheric pressure is changing, and often when pressure changes are significant, a fish will keep adjusting to maintain that physical comfort level required for proper internal physical functions to enable digestion.

When a ten-pound female and a three-pound female feed successfully and have full stomachs, they will not move to an area within the shoreline feeding area where the feeding activity was or still is active. Instead, they will move to the thickest cover available and hide there. It is in these places that they can hear a large predator coming from enough distance to flee if required.

Both the gator and the giant bass are ambush feeders, i.e. they lay and wait for the unsuspecting smaller feeder to make a mistake and move to within striking distance. Neither are able to sneak up on anything without creating unnatural vibrations and noise. Therefore, putting the correct bait ‘down’ into the resting place of the giant bass requires a specific skillset and knowledge of what a fully satisfied monster bass, in a state of digestion, will strike defensively instead of opportunistically as they do when in feeding mode.   

The following Hot Spot is an area which always produces during all four seasons, and has all the characteristics described above. And no matter how much fishing pressure it gets there is always a high percentage chance that the anglers who fished in the area before you did not catch and release all the quality bass in the area.

This Hot Spot bass fishing hole extends seventy yards north and south of the central coordinates of 27° 20’ 29” N by 81° 18’ 50” W – Southern West Wall 100 yds. North of Rutledge Canal.

This particular hot spot location is within 50 yards of the deepest water in the lake and has a significant 1.5-2’ breakline running parallel with the outside shoreline vegetation about half a casting distance from visible vegetation and there is submerged vegetation which is mainly peppergrass on the breakline itself. The visible vegetation consists of cattails, bulrush, spatterdock lily pads, eel grass, peppergrass, and milfoil---haven’t seen hydrilla at this location in years because it has some of the lowest visibility water in the lake.  

My best day fishing in this area came in April during the new moon phase several years ago but the location has remained consistently productive. The sun-to-cloud ratio was 50-50, the water temperature was 76 degrees, the wind came from the southeast at 8-10 mph and the new moon was directly overhead and the pressure was dropping slowly, not enough to make fish adjust downward.

There were no anglers fishing there when I arrived and there had been no anglers fishing before I arrived---I know this because I was at another fishing location for several hours which allowed for me to keep an eye on it from a distance.  

I arrived at 10 a.m. and began to do what I call, ‘testing the waters’ which means I use long casts with a medium-to-fast retrieve type bait, which could be top-water or submerged, to see if any activity or vegetation movement occurs signaling active feeders. I used a ¾ oz. spinnerbait with black skirt and gold blades, retrieved at one reel-handle turn every two second for six seconds—three rotations--followed by a one second pause, then repeated the sequence.

After six such ‘testing the waters’ attempts, a 1.5 lb. bass took the bait as I retrieved the bait between cattails, sparse bulrush, and pads. The small bass looked as if it came from the cattails side. After its release, I tested the open water breakline which was where the boat was sitting. First cast yielded a 1 lb. bass.  I decided to use a Medlock double brush guard black-n-blue 1 oz. jig w/ black chunk trailer on the cattails instead of continuing to fish the breakline where smaller fish were.

I have perfected the silent-bait-entry technique when pitching or sidearm casting at any distance, even from 100 feet. The bait enters the water without a splash as if it is placed into the water from one to two inches above the surface, and therefore appears natural and triggers investigation instead of rejection.

I checked cattail bases for twenty minutes and when I placed my jig in between three large cattail clusters from fifty to sixty feet away I saw my yellow line display an unnatural jump as the bait was falling in the four-foot depth. I responded by setting the hook---note that my line was on the water’s surface which means my rod tip was also on the surface as my thumb stopped the bait where I wanted it to drop into the water. This technique places the line and bait onto the water’s surface at the same time. Thus, the rod is positioned perfectly to execute a proper fast hookset.

The bass gave me one very strong charge toward open water, which I allowed and controlled because after the hookset I free-spooled the reel and used my thumb to feel the fight ability and judge how to play the bass. I knew it was over ten as soon as I saw it pull line while mowing down smaller sparse bulrush and cattails as it made a run for deeper water. I continued to allow it to pull line with just enough pressure to tire her out. She passed by the front of the boat slowing down as she made open water. I set the reel and began to retrieve her. She pulled one more time for about five second, which caused me to free-spool the reel again.

After the second pull, she was all done---which means she’s definitely over ten pounds. After retrieving her to the side of the boat I grabbed my extremely large all-black net, put it vertically into the water as far away from the boat and her as I could reach and picked up my rod and guided her toward the area of the net. When she saw the black hole the net created, she swam directly into it, and I turned the net 90 degrees and put her on the deck.

Her measurements were length 26.5” by girth 22”.  She was unmarked; no bedding nor hook marks. Overall color was picture perfect. I had her back into six to seven feet of water within thirty second and she headed toward the twelve-foot depth 100 yards away—I always have all the tools ready on the front deck to measure (I never hang-weigh my girls due to risk of jaw damage which occurs in huge bass if you hang them on a scale) and take pictures quickly.

As standard procedure I always move the boat at least fifty feet from the battle zone and begin to fish again. However, I switched to my 7” Yum Dinger black and blue set-up which has a 1/4oz. Gambler rattling Texas rigged bullet weight pegged with a 7/0 heavy gauge offset worm hook, sharpened the night before. My reasoning was the sun was higher in the sky and the new moon was just west of the sun which usually causes big bass to move toward darker thicker areas of vegetative cover and away from their usual nighttime cattail crawdad feeding pattern.

At this time during the late morning hours, crawdads burrow their way into the cattail root base to rest until nightfall. Hungry bass will begin to select active needlefish, smaller bait fish, usually consisting of bluegill, bass, crappie, and other small creatures.

The 7” heavy senko worm, I have always presented as a needlefish, so I swim it sort of like you would a traditional swimbait but retrieve it in such a way as to keep it along the lake bottom, moving from plant root base to root base, pausing with any ‘feel of resistance’ which occurs when the bullet weight comes into contact with the plant base.

Again, I have my yellow line on the water’s surface relaxed in an “S” shape; after advancing the bait by moving the rod across the water’s surface toward the boat, reeling in the slack line after the initial movement, followed by moving the rod toward the bai just enough to allow the line can achieve the relaxed “S” pattern on the water. When and if the line straightens, set the hook.

The bigger the bass the more she won’t cause any indication that she took the bait. However, a yellow line laying on top of the water, when fishing vegetation, will reveal even the slightest movement of the bait when the fish inhales it.  

I used this rig and strategy for twenty minutes as I moved away from the battle zone of the first bass. Nothing happened so I switched to the jig again and traveled further north for another ten minutes and came up empty. So, I turned the boat and headed back towards the location of the big bass catch and went back to the Yum Dinger.

When I got to exactly where I fought the 10-pounder, I decided to sidearm cast about 100 feet back into an opening in the bulrush and behind where I had hooked the last big girl. When the bait entered the water, the line came down through the bulrush patch so that when the bait was retrieved it would go through the thicker section of the bulrush patch.

As the worm weaved through the patch using a retrieval speed of one reel-handle crank every three seconds, I felt a slight tap on the reel thumb, which signaled to me to set the hook. When I did, she came through the patch with authority and as always, I free-spooled the reel and controlled her taking of line with my thumb. Once she progressed to within twenty feet of the boat she slowed down. So, I engaged the reel and took in the line and checked to see if she had another fight in her. She did, twice more, each time lasting less time than the previous fight.

Finally, I had her next to the boat and netted her using the same method as the previous bass---when they see the dark hole created by the appearance of the net in the low visibility water, they swim directly into it, I believe they think it’s a dark safe place to escape. This technique always works when in low visibility water only.

She measured length 24.75” by 20.25” girth, which translates to about an 8.75 lb. bass. She had no marks of any kind. Colors were again picture perfect, and she was full of fight, very aggressive and hard to keep still for measurements and a picture. Upon release she took off like she was shot out of a gun—typical for bass between 6-8 lbs.   

I progressed a little further toward where I first began to fish and pitched the Yum Dinger into a lily pad-bulrush area about thirty feet from the boat, and as the worm sank, I saw the line jump as it went across the water’s surface, so I set the hook.

She acted almost exactly the same as the last fish, so I used the same tactic of control, which amounts to allowing the bass to take line just enough to she doesn’t tear a larger hole in her mouth area or rip the hook free if the hook is not in a bone or happens to be barely hooked. I only approach close to the big girls when they’re unable to produce a full-strength battle.

It worked fine and I had another bass which measured a length of 24.125” by 19.90” girth, which translates to about 8 lbs. I released her with no problems. However, she did have two hookset marks in different stages of healing. And she had an old injury mark on the beginning of her tail area, which looked to be fairly old.

I caught three more bass that day on the Yum Dinger, all in the 2–3-pound range and lost a bass which was slightly larger than 3 lbs. because she wasn’t hooked very well. It came out of the water a little and shook the hook free.

I have fished this hole too many times to count and many times there were anglers fishing it when I arrived. This hole is no secret and has fish moving in and out of it all the time from deeper water. It has a rich food-chain, and the bass have the deepest water in the lake close by. And when the spillway is opened consistently from April through June, in preparation for the hurricane season there are even more fish feeding there as the old creek current flows directly by this location.

The more there’s wind in this location the better it produces. I credit this to the increase turbidity and lower visibility and the noise of the wave action helping to mask the angler’s presence and the fakeness of the baits used. The only time this location doesn’t have wind is when it comes from the west.

I’ve attached a map of this location which is north of Rutledge Canal on the west shoreline of Istokpoga. As with all the hot spots on this lake or any lake for that matter, if you fish at this lake’s hot spots when fish have not been beat up and when they are hungry, you’ll have a great day. Timing is everything.  

Lake Istokpoga Hot Spot Number One for February 2024

This Hot Spot fishing hole has consistently produced quality bass since I began fishing it in 2005. It’s a well-known Hot Spot for most Istokpoga bass anglers so the first angler who works this hole reaps the benefits. However, this is a location where bass come up from deeper water, all the time, several times per feeding period and or day.

There is a deep-water break-line which leads directly to this location, and bass will move into the shallows to the west of the arrow about 50 yards, and into the rich vegetation to the east, about 100 yards.

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