I was hooked, so to speak the first time my Father put a rod in my hand and I reeled in a tiny trout. I went on to catch things like a 17 pound silver salmon in Alaska; more reds and whiting than I ever imagined in Tampa, and even a 20” flounder in Daytona Beach. But my most elusive catch was the Large Mouth Bass.
I’ve fished all over Florida from the Withlacoochee River to Lake Okeechobee, the Bass Capital of the World and still, no bass. You know you are ready to throw in the towel when you seriously considering pan frying the Shiners and lying back on the boat to watch the scenery. I clearly needed help.
After 40 years of not catching I turned to the experts: a professional guide at the Highland Park Fish Camp in DeLand, Florida. Captain Tom Hodges, a 30 year employee of the Camp and veteran navigator of the St. Johns River, was going to teach me to fish for bass.
It was only minutes into our four hour journey that I discovered why I never caught a bass – I was doing it all wrong. Really. All of it. And while I’m sure this will come as no surprise, it turns out; I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to handling a rod and reel. I was bad and hubby Marshall was worse.
Captain Tom taught us to properly cast, and showed us what we would do when we got a strike. Then he laid our rods in front of us.
“Don’t touch it,” he warned.
“What if something large grabs the bait? Will it pull the rod in? What if I’m not fast enough?”
Captain Tom assured me that I had enough slack in my line to allow the bass to run with the bait. We were using wild shiners. Now a good shiner will move around a lot because that’s what they do to attract a bass. As is my custom, every time I saw movement, my hand went for the rod. Pavlov’s dog was easier trained than this.
Marshall, on the other hand, left his rod alone and watched it carefully. But every time he
got a bite, and there were lots of times, he panicked and jerked the rod high over his head thereby knocking the bass off the bait. Between me scaring them off and Marshall shaking them off, we must have had 20 or more hits.
Then Marshall stopped fishing and started catching. He caught three that were too small to keep before snagging the big one….two pounds, 13 ounces!
Then, a miracle. I saw the bass tapping my shiner ever so lightly. As I went to grab the rod, Captain Tom told me to wait. Part of the excitement of bass fishing, he said, is watching the bass come out of the water to grab the bait. When it happened, my “Wow” was followed with step by step guidance by Captain Tom. I reeled in my first ever bass, all three pounds 14 ounces of it. It was a keeper.
I will never look at bass fishing the same way again. If you think you know how to fish and have yet to land the big one, give Captain Tom a call. You’ll be an expert before you know it.
The Highland Park Fish Camp borders the breathtaking 23 thousand acre Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge where, in addition to fishing and boating, you can hike or bike the surrounding trails. The Camp rents boats, cabins, campsites, rods and reels and has a wide selection of everything you need for camping and fishing.
The Camp is open 24/7, 365 days a year
Highland Park Fish Camp, 2640 Highland Park Road, DeLand, FL 32720