F ew if any anglers have benefitted as much from Florida strain bass as much as California pro Ish Monroe. As the only angler who’s won tour-level events in California, Texas and Florida, the proof is in his bank account, but as much as he likes these faster-growing, oversized versions of their northern counterparts, he’s also been burned by them on occasion.
“They’re more temperamental,” he said. “It’s kind of like people who live in Florida. To them, 75 degrees is cold. The Florida strains are most affected in Florida, but it doesn’t matter if you’re in Alabama, California or Texas. It still changes their entire mood. It’s just the way they are.”
Whether you’re fishing a multiple-day event or just have one weekend day off to fish a lake loaded with Florida strains, it’s rare that the weather will line up perfectly for a beginning-to-end slugfest. In fact, you’re more likely to have adverse conditions, so Ish has developed a strategy for dealing with these finicky giants.
“You’ve got to go to the heaviest cover,” he said. “Put a blanket on them. It keeps them sane.” While he’s a swimbait guru and also loves to throw the big Whopper Plopper for prespawn toads, he puts the moving baits away when confronted by these conditions. “It’s all about punching. They’re not going to come out for it.”
If you’re fishing a grass lake, that means finding the seemingly impenetrable cover and finding a way to penetrate it.
“You’re still keying on the ambush points,” he said. “Look for the thickest part where it gets topped out, where there’s an algae bloom happening on top of the grass.”
If you’re fishing a grassless trophy factory like Falcon, key on bushes instead, once again looking for the thickest specimens. He believes that isolated bushes usually produce the largest fish, while stretches of bushes are more likely to give up numbers. Once again, it he can find areas where algae has gotten thick around the brush, he’ll key on the additional canopy provided in that zone.
Ish’s punching set-up consists of an 8-foot Daiwa Tatula Elite Ish Monroe Signature Series rod paired with a 7.3:1 gear ratio Zillion HD reel. While some of his colleagues have moved to faster 8:1 and 9:1 reels to gain speed on their quarry, Monroe believes that those reels typically lack the torque to winch big bass out of heavy cover so his 7.3:1 is the optimal mix of speed and power. He spools it with 65 lb. Maxima six-strand braid and uses a River2Sea tungsten “Trash Bomb” to penetrate the cover. His hook of choice if River2Sea’s New Jack Flippin’ Hook, a straight shank model that allows him to tie a snell knot, but also allows anglers who are not comfortable with the snell to tie their preferred knot to a welded line tie on the hook shank to achieve the same impact.
In order to penetrate the thick cover without hanging up, yet still provide a meaningful meal, his lure of choice is almost exclusively the Missile Baits D Bomb, a 4-inch beaver style bait with a ribbed body. In Florida, where “cold fronts affect the fish a whole lot more than they do in Texas or Alabama,” he generally relies on mixtures of black and blue, like Bruiser or Bruiser Flash. Outside of the Sunshine State, he still likes those hues under the darkness of the mats, but he’ll also rotate in some more natural colors, including various shades of green pumpkin.
In more favorable conditions, when bass are more actively feeding or defending their territory, these punching fish are often patternable. Monroe said that he’s found scenarios where they’ll eat his lure exclusively on the fall, or on the first twitch, or on the second hop. That enables him to maximize the effectiveness of each flip. In cold front situations, though, he said that Florida strains often provide him with “no pattern at all.” Then he added that “Slowing down is the only pattern.” When you know that bass are scattered over a half mile of grass, it can be tough to really soak a lure in place, but he believes that it’s the only solution if you want to get the right kind of bites. That doesn’t mean, however, that they won’t alter their behavior of their locations slightly as conditions change throughout the day. “Most of the time you’ll find them on the bottom, but when the sun pops out they might come to the top of the mat.”
Because Florida strain bass are so moody, Monroe cautions anglers to be ready to downshift and make this switch any time there’s a meaningful pre-spawn cold front.
“It can happen in 80 degrees temperatures or 50 degree temperatures,” he said. “Going from 80 to 72 is the same as going from 50 to 42. It just happens, so you have to be prepared for it.”
If you want to learn more of Ish Monroe’s winning secrets, be sure to check out his full seminar video by subscribing to www.bassu.tv.
Email Pete Robbins at [email protected]