Bucket List Bass Fishing Trip
I have decided to start this blog as kind of a journal to document just what my bucket list trip becomes. Today is December the 8th 2018 and for some reason I was compelled to take action to finally take a bass fishing trip to Florida.
In all my years and many trips to the sunshine state, I have never gone there to fish for bass. Most trips over the years were to visit family or theme parks or just to find a place to warm up during a cold northern winter. Over the past few years I have been a follower of the goings on in the Florida forums of Ultimatebass.com. After reading their banter and viewing photos of some of their outings and catches I became convinced I needed to get some of that.
I am a senior citizen and am beginning to accept the fact more of my life is behind me than in my future. Maybe it is time to scratch another lake off of my bucket list. The last time I did this was to attend the Ultimate Bass Rally at Lake Guntersville, Alabama. I now have visited Guntersville three times and thought it might be time to decide on another venue somewhere in Florida.
Now I have to decide just where to go. There are so many great places in Florida it will be hard to select a target. All the obvious choices were considered before deciding on Lake Istokpoga as the place to go. This is a bucket list trip and I wanted a location where it would be possible to finally break the double-digit barrier. Istokpoga rated high on my list and was recommended by others who are familiar with Florida fishing locations. OK, so now Istokpoga is the target, I need to find a guide to put us on some fish. Thanks to a recommendation from Floridafishingfool, I decided to use Dave Douglass. He is well known and very experienced guide. I got into contact with Dave and we started to select a timeline to likely yield the best opportunity for big bass. After several back and forth discussions, the dates were selected as the first week in April. Dave was adamant that we pay attention to lunar cycles and probable weather conditions. The dates are now selected for fishing on April 3 & 4,2019.
Now I had to decide on lodging. At this moment the Mrs. wants to go on this trip. I decided to look for a house where we could take the dog and a place that would be comfortable for the wife while I was fishing. I located a property thru the Internet on the VBRO organization. Now owed by the Home away group. We were able to rent a home for our visit at a reasonable rate. So now we are all set. The only thing needing to happen is for the clock to keep ticking until April arrives. The bucket list trip is now an all systems go event.
It is now January and I have mentioned to my good friend Terry G that we are taking a Florida fishing trip in the spring. His response to me was he would like to go along and perhaps take his wife also. So now the trip as expanded in participants but the dates remain the same.
As February begins and many discussions over the past couple months, it was learned our wives really did not want to go on this trip because it was just too short and would not be fun for them. Terry and I were fine with this, so now the wives are not going. This trip will just be Terry and myself. Team Geezer will be invading Florida on our own. Terry is 4 or 5 years older than I and we both wonder sometimes just how many more opportunities will we have to do something like this. We certainly were not going pass up this chance to finally fish in Florida waters.
March has arrived and the excitement and anticipation for the bucket list trip grows with each and every day. Although we are trying to remain calm, it is just not in my nature to do so. I am one of those folks who get all fired up about things I really want. There are days when my head feels like it is going to explode if we donít get going soon. In my mind and dreams, I have caught so many big fish on this trip I am afraid the actual event might be a letdown. Even with the renovation underway here at the house, all I can think about is the fishing trip. Unfortunately she who shall be obeyed seems to be committed to assigning more things to my honey-do list. Is this the beginning of a payback or is she a true taskmaster.
It is now late March. All the tackle has been gathered, reservations completed, fishing licenses purchased, travel money acquired and it is about time to go. Only one more day and a wake up and Terry and I will be on the road. Two old geezers ready to take measure of all the bass we can find. Next week we will be on the water and finding out if this planning was worth all the trouble and expense. Somehow, I think it will be an adventure well worth our attention. Now we have to go through the phase of what am I forgetting part of our trip? Oh well it does not matter. If more things are needed, we will just have to buy it on the way.
Time to re-join this story. Our trip to Florida is over and now it is time for a few more details. As many of you know, we were totally skunked for our two days of fishing. The first day of fishing had a cool start with temps in the lower to mid 50s. Winds were out of the NE at over 20 MPH creating water full of white caps. While we were waiting to launch another person arrived at the ramp pulling a trailer with a kayak on board. He walked over to the ramp and just shook his head and said not today. He got back into his tow vehicle and headed home. Canít say as I blame him. If we were using our own boat I would have done the same thing.
As it turns out Lake Istokpoga took a direct hit from Hurricane Irma. We learned that every dock on the lake received damage from the storm and much of the debris was scattered throughout the lake. Apparently the eye of the storm passed directly over the lake. The debris was all cleaned up from what we saw but I hear it was quite a mess. Other environmental problems caused by heavy spraying of the invasive grasses created rotting muck in the bottom of the lake that is mostly about four foot deep. The rotting vegetation has also had a negative impact to the dissolved oxygen levels in this impoundment. The fish have yet to rebound from the effects of this condition. Istokpogaís prior reputation as a great fishery is for the time being no longer true. I was also surprised the water clarity was just a few inches. We covered the entire lake during our two days and did not see any clear water anywhere. We did not even see any gators on day one but did see a couple on day two but only in one small area of the lake near some cypress trees.
One quickly learns there are not many different presentations to be used. This is mostly pitching territory using soft plastic trailers or plastic worms. Terry G did throw some plastic swimbaits on an Owner flashy swimmer rig but not for long. Terry stuck with worm baits and I stayed mostly with a jig in heavy cover. The deepest hole in this lake is only about 10 feet and is just a very small area where double-digit depths could be found. I was also surprised we did not see any hydrilla anywhere. We did see one location that seemed to have a shell bottom but mostly the lake was muck. Areas once holding hydrilla were completely destroyed by the hurricane and then further abused by chemical spraying. Truly was a sad situation.
Our guide was very good at explaining the baits and presentations we would be using for our outings. It was clearly two days of pitching heavy baits with large trailers. Dave also explained how the Istokpoga bass feel when they strike. Basically you are trying to sense weight changes on your bait. Line movement is always a key indicator but for the most part it wonít be much. Istokpoga is forage rich environment dominated by crayfish. Other forage exists in the shad categories but is not dominant. This trip was designated to be a big fish outing. I fully understood this was going to be a test and the overall conditions made it even tougher. One good thing was that I got the rust knocked off of my pitching skills and will be doing a lot more of it here in my local fishing.
Taking a trip like this is a fairly costly deal. We had a hotel bill, some food bills, and a lot of fuel bills. Florida fishing license was not expensive at $17. For a three-day non-resident license so no complaints there. The house we rented was one of the nicest I have ever rented for a vacation trip. Although the daily rent for the house was only $85.00 per day there were other add on costs for the rental. Cleaning fees, Florida taxes etc escalated the daily cost to about $170.00 per day. So with round trip mileage of 1175 miles it was just about as far as I care to drive for fishing. When I go on these trips money is not all that important to me so although I did not mind the cost, the travel is tiring for this old man.
The overall purpose of this trip was to spend all of my time looking for trophy size bass. I fully realized looking for the big bite might be a route to a skunk condition. Bottom line, nothing was biting but we gave it our best effort. I would not say the trip was a total bust. It was exciting to get away for a few days and fish new waters. It had been about 30 years or so since I had visited the sunshine state. The changes were almost mind blowing. The cities are so much bigger and much more crowded than I experienced on my years ago visits. I do not rule out other visits to Florida but at this writing it is not likely. At my age I will probably opt for trips that are a bit closer to home and into less populated areas.
In the past I have suggested Florida anglers are spoiled by all the places they have for quality bass fishing. While this remains true, the crowds in the big cities are just not something I want to face anytime soon. Are Florida anglers spoiled? Yes, but only because they have so many good places to hunt bass. However, they pay the price for the environmental and population densities.
Bottom line--I do recommend planning and then taking a bucket trip now and then. It is good for the soul and a lot of fun at the same time. Even for old geezers like me. The guide understood we were disappointed but not deterred in our ongoing search for the big or bigger one. His final recommendation to us for re visiting Florida is that we may want to consider Toho as our next destination. I doubt we will, but I certainly will consider it in the future. We would like a place with a little more diversity for presentation styles. I also want to thank a couple of the Florida guys for placing the welcome sign at Bitters bait and tackle. It was a real hoot when we pulled into the parking lot right in front of that sign. I really appreciated the effort and encouragement from our Ultimate Bass brothers.