If you have ever traveled across the country you know that each region has unique traditions, accents and ways of doing things. Some places in America seem worlds apart from others, yet we are all one big group. Bass fishing is exactly the same; the bass and bass fisherman may be a little different but the same common themes crisscross the country. This became very evident to me as I moved across the country from Florida to Washington state. Being that they are about as far apart as geographically possible in the states, it makes sense that the fishing itself is just as different.
A Bass is a Bass
Throughout my lifetime of bass fishing, I’ve always tried to keep things simple and to remember that a bass is a bass no matter where it lives or what the climate. This basic approach makes sense and holds true most of the time, but just like food preferences and accents change across each state line, so does the bass fishing. It’s true that bass in every state will eagerly bite a plastic worm, spinnerbait, jig or topwater during the right conditions; yet the subtle changes of why and when are what keep us all guessing.
If you ever listen to professional bass anglers talking about Florida, you can sense a love/hate relationship for many. The temperamental bass and fact that all of the cover looks so good is enough to make any bass angler go crazy. Before I moved to Florida, I had my doubts as to the effects of cold fronts on Florida strain bass. There was no way they could be that sensitive, but I was wrong. Unlike in most other places in the country, a cold snap does in fact shut Florida fish down. I witnessed this first hand and now I understand the fickle bass and cold front dilemma everyone had mentioned in articles and television shows my entire life. My best example was a tournament I competed in on Lake Okeechobee. This is considered one of the top bass lakes in the country, but the results were the worst tournament I have ever witnessed with my own eyes. My one fish that weighed 1 lb 8 oz was good enough for 2nd place in an event that only had four bass weighed in during the entire event. In the Northwest, a “cold front” will make the bass get active and ready to eat in preparation for winter. Not in Florida, you have to get out the big weights and flipping stick if you want to catch anything.
When I told my bass fishing buddies that I was moving to Washington state, everyone had visions of salmon, trout and steelhead. While that is definitely what the region is known for, the bass fishing is world class. It makes sense that top pros like Luke Clausen and Brandon Palaniuk are from the Northwest. The bass fishing is excellent and very diverse. It is possible to catch a five pound smallmouth and a five pound largemouth on back to back casts on just about any body of water up here.
Another misconception is the common thinking that it is all smallmouth or all finesse fishing. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Flipping, punching and throwing a frog with braided line can be just as productive as using a spinning rod. The diversity of the fishing in this region is enough to satisfy any bass angler.
Florida and Washington are very different and I have learned to adapt in order to be successful. What works in one area might not do well in the other. A prime example is the dropshot rig. While it does work in Florida, you will have to have the ideal situation present itself. I recall a tournament in Florida where, when I pulled out the dropshot, my partner for the day was shocked, amazed and then after a few fish he asked me how to tie the rig. On the other hand, Washington (and the entire West) is dropshot central. Most anglers will have at least one tied a rod every day on the water. One thing that’s the same though, a hard fighting bass on the dropshot rig is equally as exciting in both ends of the country!
Seasons (or lack thereof)
Another thing I had to adjust to was the notion of seasonal bass fishing. Florida, with its unique climate really doesn’t have set seasons and not as much change from one season to another. I always tell people that Florida has two seasons: spawn and summer. This is true since the bass there spawn, prepare for, or recover from it for half the year. The rest of the time is brutally hot and rainy in the afternoons. Washington state, like most of the country, has four distinct seasons with temperamental weather that defines each season. In my opinion it makes the bass easier to pattern when there are four seasons since the bass are always preparing en masse for the next change in weather, making their movements semi-predictable.
Species and Subspecies Differences
Florida is one of the few states that does not have smallmouth bass within its waters. Moving to Washington, the thing that got me most excited was the fact that I would soon be chasing after brown bass as well as hefty green ones. If you have never caught a five pound smallmouth on light spinning tackle, you are missing out. The Northwest is home to some of the best smallmouth fishing in the country. Indeed the chance to catch a new record smallmouth is there, just like there is the chance to catch a ten pound plus largemouth in any Florida water, any day of the year.
The Florida strain of bass is truly a unique species and as I mentioned, they are very weather focused. Their northern strain cousins are much more active in the cold and catching them through the ice is not even that big a deal.
Bass fishing in America can be excellent on the east and west coast and both north and south. I have been fortunate to have caught bass in sixteen states so far. My “bucket list” includes catching a bass in all states that have them swimming in their waters – and I believe that’s every state except Alaska. Whether Florida, Washington or the fourteen other states so far, I could not choose a favorite place, they are all unique, challenging and satisfying to me at the same time.