Florida Bass Fishing – Day 6 – February 26, 2024 – Fishing Lake Yale…Again

February 26, 2024. Captain Jim Pruitt gave us the option of fishing at Lake Yale, another lake, or returning to the St. John’s River again. Since we’d started getting into bass yesterday at Lake Yale–and St. John’s hadn’t produced many fish–we opted for a third day at Lake Yale.

It was quite chilly again this morning and I wore seven layers of clothes. We were on the water by 6:45 and I took these two photos of the channel from the boat launch to the lake. It was a beautiful morning again.

The fog wasn’t nearly as intense as previous mornings but still provided great ambiance for the rising sun. I took this image as a snapshot from this video.

We returned to the same spot we’d started fishing on the last two times at the lake. Shortly after the sun came up, a flock of swallows appeared in the sky, hunted insects for a bit by circling around the shoreline, then disappeared. It was the third time we’d seen this happen. Then it was quiet…and I became hyper focused on my bobber.

The photo to the left shows a chilly Mark. To his left are the fishing poles and the two floats we stared at for five days.

The one thing that we’d noticed all three days at Yale Lake was the giant raft of coots that came and went throughout the day, and how the giant rafts seems to be in constant motion. These masses are called a codger, commotion, fleet, shoal or swarm. It definitely seemed like an ongoing commotion to us as the birds flew about and changed the shape of the commotion.

This video shows waves of coots coming in from another location to land on Lake Yale. This video gives some sense of what it’s like to ride a boat through a raft of coots. This video shows the expanse of raft of coots shown from left to right to show the immensity of the raft.

To the right is a single coot.

At 7:48 I got my first bass, and by at 8:46 I had a second fish. We didn’t weigh either fish, but they were solid fish. I was cautiously stoked.

Most mornings we’d been in Florida this time had been chilly, but by around 11:00 today Mark had peeled off several layers of clothes and was enjoying the awesome sunshine and blue skies. He looked a bit like a pirate, which was a cool look. Shortly afterwards, he landed this beaut.

We abandoned the particular weeded that had offered several nice catches, let it “rest” for a while, and went out into open water near a bunch of other fishing boats. We caught nothing.

We returned to the weed bed we’d started fishing each of three mornings. At 11:37 my bobber disappeared, my rod bent, the line went out. I set the hook and wrestled with what I thought was going to be a giant bass. When we netted this chunky channel cat, though, I smiled. Catfish are some of my favorite fish–their look, their whiskers, their lack of scales like most fish.

The little football-sized fish didn’t wiggle much on the floor of the boat, so I picked him up behind its marbles and Mark snapped a couple of photos before I lowered him back into the water.

I had been watching a commotion of coots all morning, because along with the coots were a few white pelicans, which I still don’t have a good photo of. The flotilla was moving closer and closer to us, including the white pelicans, and, no more than 10 minutes after my catfish–and just as I was about to pick up my camera for a photo–my bobber went under. I set the hook with everything I had, kept the rod tip up, reeled and reeled without lowering the rod, and brought this fish to the boat. It weighted 9 pounds 5 ounces and became my new personal best. And that is why I don’t have photos of white pelicans.

To qualify for Florida’s Trophy Catch Program you have to catch a fish over 8 pounds and you have to submit a photo of the fish and a photo of the scale proving the fish was 8 pounds or over. More on the Trophy Catch Program in my next blog posting.

At 12:12 I caught this fish. Another solid fish for sure.

At that point I started feeling bad for Mark, though, because there was far less action at the back of the boat where he sat. We’d both missed fish and had our bait taken by gar, but sometime right around noon Mark lost a big fish right at the boat. Captain Jim had thrown out shiners without bobbers into deeper water, and when Mark’s big fish hit out deep, it came right to the boat. When it got off right at the boat, both Mark and Captain Jim were bummed…for like a half hour. But I reminded Mark that most of the bass had come partially out of the water, and this one had not. So it’s possible it was a giant long nose gar. We’d seen many gar coming and going out of the weed bed. And we’d lost many a shiner to a long nose gar while fishing this lake. Still, he was bummed.

The importance of a good net man/woman while fishing cannot be understated. This video shows Captain Jim netting a fish for Mark. He comments that it is a sickly fish–it’s a fish we ended up catching three times.

The next net job ended up in the fish, below.

At 1:01 Mark caught this fish. Another solid Lake Yale largemouth bass.

After that the fishing slowed down and I was able to pay attention to things going on around me, including this bird, which made numerous attempts to nab a dying minnow off the water before finally getting it in its beak. This video shows the whole 8-second flight and nab.

This was the magic spot on Lake Yale where all but a couple of fish came during our three different days at the lake. By going to the same place for three days, we got to know the rhythm and pattern of this one spot: the way the swallows tool to the air for perhaps 30 minutes right after the sun came up and weren’t seen the rest of the day; the way the coots form large rafts that reshape constantly; the way a pair of coots took ownership of this particular weed bed and chased all other coots away; the way long nose gar moved in and out of the weed bed; the way the fish bite more when there’s a little wind blowing, and when the wind doesn’t blow, the bites slow down, if not stops.

We did not catch the number of fish we’d caught with Captain Jim’s Uncle Bob Stonewater back in 2018, but we saw places on the St. John’s River we’d never seen before, caught our first stripers, and caught lots of other species of fish many people refer to as “trash fish.” To me, all fish have their place in the water, and they’re all fun to catch, see, and release. For the variety of fish, for catching my biggest largemouth bass to date, and for being willing to retrieve a couple of broken bobbers, we thank Captain Jim Pruitt.

Thanks also to Captain Jim for taking so many great photos. Jim has an eye for photographs and will make sure you leave with some great captured memories.

This little blue heron would be the last bird I’d shoot while in Florida on this trip. It was hunting at the boat launch and didn’t seem too concerned with us as we walked by, or, in my case, as I ran by to use the bathroom.

It was Monday, and the last restaurant we wanted to visit while in town was Cook’s Buffet Cafe Bakery, which is casual dining offering a huge buffet of fish, veggies, and lots of meats, plus huge pieces of enough sweets to make diabetics out of everyone in town. It turned out Cook’s is closed on Mondays, so we returned to Brian’s Bar-B-Que, where Mark once again enjoyed some good meats and I had a fish sandwich and salad. Only on this second visit did I notice the funny t-shirts worn by the workers–“Horrifying Vegetarians since 1985.” Fact is, their salad bar is pretty amazing, so vegetarians will find plenty to eat here.

With full stomachs, we returned to Hontoon Resort to watch one more Florida sunset.

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