Targeting bass hanging in canals in the State of Florida is commonplace due to the abundance of canals, typically on recreational lakes that have development on them such as the Harris Chain of Lakes, Lake Talquin, Lake Henderson, Lake Hernando, Lake Seminole, Lake Kerr and many of the lakes in Lakeland, Florida. Alternatively, rivers such as the Ocklawaha, St. Johns, and Withlacoochee have canals. Canals are artificial and some are more natural-like being retrofitted from old creeks (some technically tiny creeks with houses), it is arguable which type is better for bass fishing, but each canal is truthfully different for many factors. Canals are a textbook area to start fishing or simply continue fishing into, however, before you are in the canal take some time to fish the lake or river waters directly in front of the canal. The area, about a half-acre in size, in front of the canal may be deeper from boats taking off from the canal and/or the beginning of bottom weeds that are often dredged/removed/sprayed from usually high-income residential canals. These areas often have bass cruising or sitting in that cover and/or structure, fish according to the bite (or lack of) and conditions, a Texas-rigged worm is a good place to start. Navigational and residential canals are the most common i.e. connecting two water bodies and housing. Respecting the two types of canals and deeper waters outside, one may find the majority of bites at the beginning or mouth of the canal. This area is where many bass hold because they have the cover of docks and/or weeds in the canal, but the deeper lake or river water is nearby (remember that even a foot of water depth may make a big difference). With that, this area is where waves from the main water will often break which may encourage feeding and flushing of prey into or out of the canal; the previous statement is especially true in tidal bass fishing waters such as on Florida’s coasts like Crystal River or reservoirs going through a drawdown such as Rodman Reservoir and Lake Rousseau. When there is a lot of current moving in the canal pick a bait that you may fish fast and cover water with. Moving into the canal, you will notice there is often several structures and species of weeds such as eel grass, hydrilla, lily pads, maiden Caine, peppergrass, and reeds with that docks, boats and so on. Many people often pitch and make very specific casts around these artificial and natural obstructions, however, bass are often holding or roaming in the middle of the canal a good cast’s lengths down i.e. don’t think a generic long cast down the canal is a waste of time. Typically the dead center will be the deepest part of a canal due to boat traffic and erosion (remember to drive slowly; canals are usually a NO WAKE ZONE). Another area in the canal that is inches to feet deeper is directly under boatlifts if not boats themselves, canal home owners sometimes have the area where their boat is stored dug out or it occurs over time from traffic. Pitch or cast into these areas as well. Back to cover and structure, the bites from earlier in your day or lack of may tell you how to fish, as on the main water, the bass will be in and around the weeds and docks in canals. Canal fishing baits are often pitching and top water baits since Florida’s canals are often tannic or stained waters, shallow, and high vegetation with docks. However, canals such as those in Astor, Florida. on the St. Johns River are very deep and sometimes quite clear depending on time of year and turbidity. A crankbait around dock pilings mixed with a jig or worm is common since some canals there can be eight to fifteen feet deep with little weeds. Like fishing a tree, dock, or isolated weeds on the main water, start from the outside (the middle of canal) and work back to the seawall or lawn in some cases while fishing under a dock, then you may gauge where the bass are. Another point is to only fish one side of a canal if you are alone and then fish the other side on the way out or if you have a partner, neither of you should fish the same side until consistent bites begin. However, do not over think it; you likely have bass in a more condensed area with minimal traffic and little-to-no current or wind….fish as slow or fast on whatever side you desire. Moving on, another key environmental factor is light. If you are fishing during the day, you ought to fish the side with the most shade available unless the spawn is on (canals may be great spawning areas as well, you may see old, reused beds during any time of year). On the other hand, later in the day or at night you may want to toss a bait into lighted areas, a great ambush point for bass hiding in the darker waters. Baitfish and insects drawn to light often make the mistake of moving out of darkness to become a bass meal. Moreover, other items to look for in Florida canals are feeders, pumps, and minnow buckets, cages and run-off pipes. These things may attract or offer the bass something a little different be it a bluegill eating fish feed or a home’s water pump return mixing the surface water, again cast in these often very small areas. Lastly, another area to look for are turns, be smooth or sharp, and intersections in the canals. These areas may be very much like structure on the lake meaning they have extreme depth change like a rise or drop-off/ledge. Those are things just a little different that the bass hold on and maybe not many people would slow down to fish. Although basic, yet tried and true way to fish a canal is to flip and pitch with plastics. Like many bass anglers, keep several rods to cover different structures at varying depths while canal fishing in Florida. The canals that look the most difficult to navigate and cast in are usually worth it and remember to ALWAYS fish to the back of the canal.
Baits, Gear, and Manners
While seemingly unimpressive, a great setup for Florida canals is a Texas-rigged plastic. With that Texas-rig, use a ¼ to ½ ounce weight so you can cast far without making a large splash while still being able to penetrate weeds and swing way under docks. Other notable plastics setup are a light shaky-head, wacky rig, and weightless. The three previously mentioned setups may be fitted to the canal you are currently fishing, these are great to use on a 6’0” to 6’ 6” medium-light to medium-heavy spinning reel outfit to skip under docks and junk, keep the drag tight since a bite can come with only a few feet of line out in close quarters. As for colors, match the water clarity and time of day as usual, however, canal waters may be darker due to an abundance of shade from docks and trees and different turbidity being that land is so close as opposed to the main water body e.g. soils, rock, exposed lime rock, clay run-off etc. Thus, your darker plastic colors may get a better response from the bass. Other baits to have on hand are top water frogs and soft swimbaits. The frog is a great bait to throw parallel to the weed line even near docks, bass may be caught on top water even in the middle of a hot, sunny day if the bait is casted in a heavily shaded area. If throwing a frog be sure to immediately begin your retrieve at the sea wall or literally cast on land to imitate what the actual prey would do if it chose to cross the canal, or mistakenly fell in for the bass. For swimbaits, pick colors that are more natural. Such as, bluegill and sunfish you may see carrolling in the canals. Regarding lure selection: spinnerbaits, small diving crankbaits, rattletraps, and jerk baits may be ideal if the bass are in a feeding mood or the wind and current calls for a moving lure. However, many of the canals in the mentioned water bodies are 15-50 feet wide often covered by a tree canopy, feature a lot of vegetation, and receive little to no current or wind i.e. not ideal for lure fishing. On the other hand, the hassle with treble hooks while throwing a lure under a dock or log may pay off since most anglers may use weedless plastics. 10 to 17 pound monofilament or fluorocarbon line even substituted with braid works well on a shorter, stouter rod to pull bass out then away from cover with sometimes only a few feet of line out. As for movement, try to not rock your vessel be it a boat, canoe, kayak, or even on foot since the bass are in a small, quieter area. You may also want to turn off electronics for added stealthy confidence. In regards to canal fishing from the bank, those anglers may treat it like pond fishing being that they could try to ask permission to fish from someone’s dock or a marina dock, which are usually on deeper, wider canals. However, some residential canals are in gated or retirement communities, but if you do not have a vessel or access, it cannot hurt to ask. Whenever fishing in a canal, be sure to be polite since you can be within a few feet of someone’s home. Even if nobody is visible, someone has a window open or is sitting on the porch and could be looking at you fish. If someone is on his or her dock, talk to him or her. He or she may give you valuable fishing insight for the canal. Further, it is likely you will hang up on someone’s property e.g. dock or seawall, so treat it with respect when untangling, you may have to exit your boat so ask permission if you are able, granted most people on the canals are accustomed to anglers. Lastly, try not to scratch or hit anything valuable such as boats, canal art, new docks etc. Maybe elect to not fish around them at all. Use your best judgment. A final note, heavy rains in Florida can put a few feet of water in a dry or super-shallow canal, the bass may move in. In short, fish the mouth of the canal, pitch to subtle differences, and make long casts with plastics all while being courteous and quiet to the end then a quiet exit.