Fishing the Suwannee

Published: Friday, January 20, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 20, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
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Bernie Schultz used a Storm Wigglewart crankbait to catch this Suwannee River largemouth during a falling tide.

TIM TUCKER/Special to The Sun
Bernie Schultz has a secret when it comes to cranking in tidal water on the Suwannee River.
"Swift banks with tiny little current breaks," said the Gainesville pro, who learned the basics of tidewater fishing on the lower end of the 235-mile river. "I've made it work on just about every tidal river I've ever been on.
"I try to find the banks with the swiftest current and then I look for subtle little breaks in the current where fish can get some relief, but they're right there where the food is streaming by. It can be docks or indentations in eelgrass edges, the edges of lily pads fields or cypress roots. I look for the biggest tree on the bank or trees that protrude a little farther. They're subtle places.
"The fish position themselves right up behind those things and dart out and grab a crankbait."
Bass holding adjacent to such high-current spots will be especially shallow, he noted. So his choice of baits is usually a Storm Wigglewart or Rapala DT6 (red, firetiger or parrot color). Other prime river cranks include Shad Raps, Bandit and Bass Magnets.
This is the time of year when those types of crankbaits will mop up on bass swimming in the Suwannee.
"It's better in the winter, especially on the Suwannee," Schultz said. "When cold fronts hammer the lakes and the fish shut down, somehow it positions the bass on the wood shallow in the Suwannee River. Those are the days I like best. There is a hard north wind. It's cold. And there's a lot of current.
"You can catch them cranking in the current year-round. In the summertime when the current is slower a lot of times they'll go deeper and you need to go with a deeper diving crankbait. But River bass generally are shallow, especially in high-current situations. They'll be in a foot of water next to 12 to 15 feet of water. Right next to it."
For this kind of fast-water fishing, Schultz uses a 6-foot-6 medium-action Shimano rod, Calais reel and 10-pound test Mossy Oak line.
"I like a low-profile, oval-shaped reel because it's easy to handle," he explained. "There's a lot of accuracy involved, a lot of quick casting - you only get one shot at these targets and it's really important that you make the right cast. And to do that you need the comfort of the right reel and rod."
The best tide for cranking the Suwannee is a falling or incoming tide on a north wind.
"Anytime you have the current and the wind in the same direction you've got a higher velocity," Schultz said. "A stiff northeast wind on the Suwannee will really drain that place, especially at peak tide periods. When you've got an ebb tide it's really going to dump along with a north wind to help push it out. That's awesome. The fish are there and it's almost like the dinner bell."
The current is rarely too strong for cranking, Schultz insists.
"I remember days when I caught tremendous fish in current where you couldn't stay with it," he said. "We basically do a controlled drift downstream with the current. You're basically backing down the river.
"When there's a northeast wind blowing on the Suwannee River on an outgoing tide, you're moving. There's no trolling motor that's going to keep up with it for any length of time.
"If I'm just looking for fish, I'll go with the current downstream. If it's a really good bank or I'm repeating the bank and expecting to get a bite there, I'm going to back down that bank. I'm going to fight the current with my trolling motor while I angle my casts toward the stern of the boat as I'm backing downstream. That slows your velocity so you can make more presentations."
The most productive spots are the places that most anglers overlook.
"They're subtle," Schultz continued. "If you're just driving down the bank it's not like there's a laydown or something really obvious to key on. What I would look for is the biggest tree on the bank or trees that protrude a little farther.
"In the deep bends in the tidal section of the river, there's not a lot of laydowns. I assume that's because the banks are so steep the trees just fall on off and either get ripped off the bank or they fall off into deep water. They're just not a factor on swift current.
"Even with (the shorelines) that may be curved - like you find in a bend - the edges of the banks are pretty straight line. There's not a protrusion or indentation. It's subtle. It's just tree after tree after tree. One tree will stick out a little farther than the rest, the root system or whatever, and that's what you look for."
Schultz pointed out that the productivity of wintertime cranking isn't limited to largemouth bass. "The biggest Suwannee bass, I ever caught I could see the Gulf," he said.
Tim Tucker is an award-winning outdoors writer who lives in Cross Creek. E-mail him at

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