Ran into a dude who owns a local bait store on Speedway Boulevard. His tale of falling in love with this area is rather familiar to those of so many others.
“I grew up in the Ozarks, and I remember my introduction to bass fishing down here,” he said. “It was, oh, gosh, 50 years ago. The St. Johns was having the first national bass tournament. Ray Scott held it.
“So I drive down from Missouri, pulling my bass boat with another buddy pulling his. We had our CB radios, talking back and forth. We get to 60, 80 miles out from Palatka, and we start seeing these billboards — ‘Welcome to the bass capital of the world.’ I was shaking. I’ll never forget it.”
So says none other than Johnny Morris, whose Bass Pro Shop anchors the One Daytona shopping/entertainment complex across the street from Daytona International Speedway.
FISHBITESThe idespan for Fishbites begspann with young Billy Cspanrr in New Smyrnspan Bespanch
HE’S NO LOOKERSheepshespand good to espant, hspanrd to eyebspanll (ugly!); here spanre some pointers
START YOUR ENGINESNASCAR gives you L.A. spannd Chicspango, but spanlso North Wilkesboro, so cheer up! | KEN WILLIS
Morris, founder and CEO of the Missouri-based outdoor retailer (and Cabela’s, which Bass bought in 2017), was in town this week for the annual reception honoring new members of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, which is housed just outside of the Speedway’s Turn 4. He recalled how his connection to NASCAR, through team and race sponsorships, began with a sit-down including himself, team owner Richard Childress and Richard’s meal ticket, Dale Earnhardt.
The entrance area to the local Bass store, and some others, includes a huge portrait shot of a grinning Earnhardt holding a trophy bass. All around, other large photos show famous racers showing off a catch. Walk in a bit further, and if you decide to gawk instead of darting to the lure aisle or ammo shelves, you’ll notice the obvious.
Those Bass stores are works of art. Local art, too. It’s no accident, Morris says.
“If there are special places in nature … we try to tie into the heritage of each area and the fishing and hunting traditions,” he said. “We have our own team of craftsmen and artists in the company. We have our own fab shop, our own chandeliers.
“We have a metalwork shop, a woodwork shop, we have artists come down and before this store is built, they go to local historical societies and just try to gain an appreciation for the area.”
Johnny Morris’ initial appreciation was drawn from the middlin’ depths of the St. Johns and its bass-rich lakes. That feeling he got long ago upon seeing those billboards hasn’t tempered much — not yet, anyway, but then again it’s only been 50 years.
“I still get that same way today,” he said. “It’s so exciting, it’s my favorite place to come in the spring, here for the Daytona 500 and for the fishing. I love it all. Florida is a treasure for fishing, from coast to coast, from north to the south — but I love the old St. Johns River.”
He has a place he goes to fish and unwind in the Welaka area, near Crescent City and just upriver from Lake George. His recent fishing visit to the area included “a little huddle-up with the guides,” he said. The subject: The river’s habitat and what types of conservation efforts are most needed and most effective.
“After the last couple of weeks, after spending some time down here, there’s a renewed enthusiasm and passion,” Morris said. “I mean, the name of our whole company is
“This is the day-dream place for big bass and bass habitat, and we need to keep it that way.”
The flounder are starting to beg for attention around the bridge and dock pilings. Warmer water temps have accelerated the usual springtime routine. Live bait bounced on and near the river bottom is a popular method to make Flat Stanley raise his head.
“Mud minnows are the best bait,” suggests Craig Patterson (Donald’s Bait, Port Orange). “Mud minnows on a half-ounce jig head, with the hook through the lips, and slowly drag it around structures.”
Some of Craig’s folks are also talking about large shrimp and halved blue crabs working for big black drum in the Ponce Inlet area.
To the north in Ormond Beach, Ike Leary says black drum are also making camp around the pier behind his Granada Pier Bait & Tackle.
“Sheepshead, too,” says Ike, who’s also running strong with his famous fish dip and crockpot collard greens.
Capt. Jeff Patterson (Pole Dancer) has been catching sheepshead up to four pounds. Also finding some good-sized ladyfish and lots of bluefish for the smoker and, subsequently, your favorite dip recipe (saltines and Texas Pete, please).
“The river has started flooding with bait, and already we’ve seen water temperatures above 80 in parts of Ormond,” Capt. Jeff says. “Redfish, seatrout, snook, and flounder have all been chewing.”
Warmer surface water will send fish deeper, which is bad for fly-fishing — which is why Geno Giza has been in sightseeing mode. And man, the sights he’s seen. Snook and trout have been replaced by birds and bees.
“No fish, but we did see a large herd of manatees, at least seven, who seemed to be in the process of determining which male, based on strength and endurance, would later promote the gene pool,” Geno says.
“My understanding is that the strength and endurance and selection process usually occurs in the summer. There could be another explanation for what we saw but I’m not sure. Maybe some marine biologist in the area could enlighten us?”
Art Mowery fishes the Edgewater and Oak Hill areas of the Indian River. He says the trout bite is improving — “lots of small, but some keepers.”
Don’t think you can’t catch a sheepshead in the surf on a fiddler crab, Craig Patterson says. And with precious few sand fleas around, he recommends knuckled blue crab or salted clam for turning the heads of pompano.
Speaking of which, Marco Pompano says his favorite fish might be inching to the north with the warming water temps — “73 degrees and getting warmer,” he said midweek.
Also, he says, “some of the cleanest water we’ve seen in a while.”
Still enough pompano around to make it worth the effort, as well as a lot of whiting, Marco adds.
Down around Bethune Beach, lemon sharks remain the flavor of the month, says Dustin Smith (NSB Shark Hunters).
Before the big blow came on Hump Day, the Sea Spirit was doing its usual thing with the snapper menu: Mutton, lane, mangrove and vermillion.
A Thursday outing had to be called off, and Capt. Mike Mulholland was dialed into the marine forecast in order to determine the weekend schedule.
The limit, Capt. Mike says, is 5-foot seas, unless the intervals are 12 seconds are greater.
“Anything with a short chop at 5 feet, we stay tied to the dock,” he says.
Snook and reds are bringing some action to the High Bridge area, while creeks and flats between Bings Landing and Matanzas Inlet have been producing a wide variety of quality fish, according to Capt. Mike Vickers (Hammock Beach Bait).
Still seeing pompano and whiting, along with big blues and better-quality catches around the inlet and nearby bridge.
While surf anglers are still targeting pompano and other goodies, there’s some fun to be had with sharks and big jacks.
With speck fishing slowing, big bass are chomping and fighting. Quite a few trophies coming back to Highland Park Fish Camp in DeLand, says Capt. Bryn Adams, whose family has run the place since its 1962 opening.
“Not only that, but we’ll start to see a lot of striped bass and hybrids being caught,” she says. “This is a perfect time for top-water artificial baits.”
Halifax Sport Fishing Club
A reminder that next Thursday’s (March 16) monthly meeting/seminar will feature George Poveromo, producer and host of the Saltwater Sportsman’s national seminar series. He’ll smarten you up on plenty of fishing techniques.
Doors open at 6:30 p.m., seminar begins around 7:30. And it’s free and open to all.
● Two days later — Saturday, March 18 — the HSFC will host its third annual swap meet, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the clubhouse. Various venders and privateers will be there to sell a wide variety of new and used gear for fishing, boating, diving and anything else you might want to do in the water.
Want to unload some of that gear gathering dust in the garage? Vendor tables are $25, “and going quick,” as they say.
For more info on this or anything else with the club: HSFC.com.
Hook, line and clicker: Send us your fish pics
We want to see your most recent catch. Email your fish photos to [email protected].
Please include first and last name of angler(s), as well as type of fish (we’re occasionally stumped). All are included with our online fishing report, and some occasionally make the print edition.
Do I need a fishing license?
You can find all the license info, including exemptions, on Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Commission website: MyFWC.com. But the basics are: No: If you’re 65 or older, 15 or younger, you don’t need a license. No: If you’re fishing with a licensed guide or charter boat, both of which purchase commercial licenses that cover their customers. Yes: Most everyone else, including visitors from other states. Yes: Even if you’re a shore-based angler (shoreline, dock, pier, bridge, etc.). However: The shore-based license is free . . . But: You still need to register for that free license.
Where do I get a license and what does it cost?
Many bait shops sell licenses, as do the bigger retailers (Bass, Dick’s, Walmart, etc.). Florida’s FWC uses a third-party site for buying or renewing fishing licenses: GoOutdoorsFlorida.com. The cost: $17 for an annual license. Don’t forget: Whether you’re fishing fresh or saltwater, you need the specific license. Freshwater and saltwater licenses are both $17 annually.
I’m here on vacation, do I need a license?
Yes you do, and they’re also available at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com or certain bait shops and big retailers. Cost: $17 for three days, $30 for seven days, $47 for a year.Also: Non-residents need to purchase that license even if they’re just fishing from shoreline or shore-based structures. (Florida residents need that license, too, but they’re free.)