Lake Minneola, where finding 5 fish over 14 inches can be a lot harder than it sounds.
I mentioned last time that Rick and I started fishing open tournaments before joining the Bay Area Bassmasters. Well we had recently fished the Clermont Chain on April 24. Still we didn’t have much prior knowledge as that had been our first time fishing the chain and we figured things had probably changed since then anyway. I didn’t exactly kill it with my 5 fish limit going a whopping 5 lbs even but Rick had weighed in around 9 lbs so I was expecting to expand on the fish he had found. But that wasn’t what Rick had in mind. We had talked to some people that got us excited about a special strip of shoreline in Lake Minneola that we were eager to fish. Our schedules were conflicting so we fished on separate days. Rick started in Minneola and was catching some little ones when he noticed a guy fishing way off the bank about 300 yards. We have never done much offshore bass fishing and Rick had really been looking for a place to try it out. This threw his day off course as he spent the rest of the day idling the lake putting over 100 new waypoints on the Lowrance. Digging through the tacklebox he found the deepest diving crankbait we had (StrikeKing 5xd in a bluegill color) and tied it on. We didn’t have any buoys so he was fishing blind in about 16 ft of water, but on his third cast he stuck a fish over 3 lbs. Plans had changed. He came back two weeks later and honed in on 5 or 6 spots out of the 100 waypoints. He hadn’t caught many but every fish was a good one and in Clermont, good fish are few and far between.
I spent most of my time exploring the smaller lakes north of Minneola. Every time I fished the bridge between Lake Wilson and Cook Lake I caught a bass but nothing over 12 inches. I caught a limit on a toad between the lakes but only had about 7 lbs. It wasn’t what we were looking for. Before leaving on my second day I decided to throw a spinnerbait through the grass in Minneola and caught a nice fish that was almost 3lbs. So we set our game plan. We bought 3 buoys and a bunch of 5xd and 6xd cranks. The lighter colors like sexy shad seemed to be working best. Our plan was to hit our best brush pile first thing for a bit then hit the shoreline we thought was the best in Minneola. Our goal was 10lbs but we knew 15lbs was possible.
Bay Area Bassmasters – Clermont Chain Tournament – July 9, 2016
The morning of the tournament we were boat 9 and went straight to our best brush pile. As we started to fish 4 boats pulled up to the shoreline we wanted to fish next and started fishing. Apparently this wasn’t our little honey hole after all. We fished for about 30 minutes without a bite and finally went to the bank.
It wasn’t the part of the shoreline we wanted to fish the most but we were still confident. I saw a fish bust about 5 feet back in the thick grass so with my first cast I threw right behind him. He pushed grass out of the way and tailed my bait out into the open. He finally hit about 10 ft off the grass and was a nice 2 lber. From there I caught 10 fish in 20 casts and Rick caught a couple too. They were really hitting my toad. The closest boat to us pulled in about a 3-4 lber so we were ready for our big bite. It never came and the bite eventually died off. In our excitement of catching close to 20 bass so fast we were sure we’d wind up with a decent sack but even after culling 5 or 6 times we came off our high as we realized 7 lbs wasn’t going to cut it. We figured everyone was catching fish so everyone would have at least 6lbs. It was time to go back offshore and see what we could do.
We went back to our favorite brush pile because it was the closest. It didn’t take more than a minute or 2 and Rick had one. “Oh she’s big!” he said as the rod doubled over and the big fish took off for its big run. Then it took off for another big run, then another, and ran some more. We knew at this point we weren’t dealing with a bass but what the heck was it? We didn’t think catfish. Then we finally glimpsed what looked like a 6 foot long yellow log in the water. A GIANT gar. Tom told me after the tournament it was a longnose gar( I believe that’s what he called it) and might be close to the record. We didn’t weigh it or even measure the length but we did get it in the boat for pictures. This was a bad idea considering its scales scraped my forearm up pretty bad. I wouldn’t recommend it!
After that nonsense we hit a couple more piles without any luck and with the heat it was getting tough just standing there casting and reeling. We made a move to the spot I found between Wilson and Cook to see if we could get one decent cull but no luck. One fish looked nice when it hit Rick’s toad but he didn’t hook up.
It was time to live or die on the deep stuff so back to Minneola we went. The first 2 spots didn’t yield anything and we moved to our closest spot to the ramp. It was about 12:40 and we were maybe 500 yards from takeoff. Rick finally said what I had been waiting for all day, “There’s one.” He brought in a fish close to 2 lbs, it was a decent cull and we were excited. We wanted another and a couple of casts later I finally hooked into one. It was fighting pretty hard. Without seeing the fish I looked at Rick saying, “It’s a good one, get the net.” It came to the surface without much fight left in him and I eased him into the net. We went crazy. A big 4lb fish, exactly what we needed, we had to have a kicker in order to have a chance to be in the top 10. But this was the first time we had tried to keep a fish from that depth alive in the livewell and most of our ice for drinks was melted. We did what we could and I basically sat at the livewell keeping the fish upright for twenty minutes while Rick fished. At that point I knew it was a lost cause. It stunk to have that big fish die and we’ve been reading a lot on how to do better with deep fish. We had time for 2 more spots without any luck and headed to the weigh in.
Rick loaded the fish in the weigh in bag and said he didn’t think we had as much weight as we originally thought. We were thinking close to 11 but he said probably just under 10 after seeing our 2 smallest ones again. We weighed 9.54 with a dead fish and after 6 lb sack after 6lb sack came in we were starting to think another top 5 was possible. At the end we held 5th place and were very happy. We are super siked to have 2 top 5s in as many tournaments and are hoping to continue fishing well. Lake June is next and we have never been there before but we are excited to go try to figure them out.