Hannon's Summertime Panhandle Bassin'

by Bill Vanderford, Georgia Fishing Editor

Doug Hannon concentrated intently on the path his lure traveled over and around a thick sea of lily pads. Suddenly and without warning, the pads and water exploded like a Navy depth charge as the lure disappeared in a shower of spray! The bend in Hannon's baitcasting rod, however, revealed that he was fast into a huge bass, and after several exciting leaps over and through the dense vegetation, Hannon carefully landed and released an over 10 pound largemouth bass.

Fishing the Pads.

PHOTO CREDIT: BILL VANDERFORD

For Hannon, this was no major feat, since his name is synonymous with giant bass. What is phenomenal is the where and when of this dramatic action. It happened at Lake Iamonia in the panhandle of Northern Florida, and the time was mid-day during the hottest part of the summer!

Though Doug Hannon is still a relatively young man, his reputation for understanding bass habits and the accompanying title, "The Bass Professor", appropriately identify him as one of the most knowledgeable black bass authorities in the world. Hannon's expertise is in such demand that it is difficult these days to pick up an outdoor publication or watch any outdoor related TV without seeing his face or hearing one of his quotes.

Sorting through the "salad."

PHOTO CREDIT: BILL VANDERFORD

According to Hannon, these waters contain plenty of surface vegetation during the warmer months of the year. Types include hydrilla and milfoil, which are considered nuisance weeds, and both lily pads and dollar pads.

This surfacing vegetation in the shallows of these lakes is generally thickest in the north and northwest part because of sun and solar exposure.

In this hemisphere, the sun is always in the south and the cold winds are normally out of the north, so the north shore is protected, yet exposed to the warm south winds and is generally 2 to 4 degrees warmer than the rest of the lake.

Hannon also reminds anglers that weeds produce oxygen during the day, stop producing and in some cases even consume oxygen at night. Weeds like hydrilla or milfoil are high consumers of oxygen at night, so bass will generally stay closer to the edge of these kinds of beds than they will with lily pads that offer open cover and don't consume much oxygen at night.

"Despite lower oxygen levels, you can still catch bass inside the edge of the weeds," said Hannon. "They will go in as far as the bait goes. I generally use the presence of bait in the weeds as a positive sign."

To locate baitfish in the thick weeds, Hannon employs a bright, silvery lure with a lot of flash so that it can easily be seen by the baitfish.

Buzzbaits, spoons or other highly visible lures work well. "I throw one of those lures back in the thick weeds," revealed Hannon. "If the baitfish scatter like welding sparks, then I know that predator fish like bass are present."

Hannon believes that bass in the weed beds are easy to catch and hard to spook. He thinks that they feel secure because of the thick cover. These areas, however, require some specialized topwater techniques. In fact, weeds offer some of the best top water fishing in the world.

"If a bass is going to take a topwater lure in open water, he can suck it off the surface," said Hannon. "But, when a bass takes something off the top of a weed bed, they have to explode much more violently and often they miss it 3 or 4 times. It's a lot more fun to fish this way."

Besides looking for baitfish in the thicker weeds, Hannon tries to find signs of bluegill eating worms or grubs off the bottom of the dollar or lily pads. Holes appear in the pads when this action occurs, and one can actually hear the popping sound of the sunfish feeding. "When I find these situations, it's time to choose the right lure to attract the bass up through the vegetation," said Hannon. "The important thing is to pick something that moves properly and can be easily seen. That means lures than have a lot of contrast."

"Trial and error is still the best way to determine what a bass will hit," said Hannon. "You'll usually find that in weed beds, there will be a preferred color and a preferred action, but the shape and size of the lure aren't that important."

Hannon believes that this is the only type of fishing where the average bass size is as good or better than those caught on wild shiners. One seldom catches a bass less than 3 pounds using this technique in lakes Iamonia or Jackson.

Lake Iamonia is located about 20 miles north of Tallahassee on Highway 319, and contains about 4,000 acres. Lake Jackson is about 10 miles north of Tallahassee on Highway 27. Though it is larger than Lake Iamonia, it is much better known. Fishing it, however, is very similar.