March Bass at Pickwick
with Roger Stegall
Many national tournament trails are drawn to Pickwick Lake because of the amazing smallmouth fishing. The lake is known nation-wide for producing stringers of quality smallmouth. Four and five pound fish are common and in many tournaments five-fish limits between 20 and 25 pounds are weighed in. It has an excellent population of largemouth and some spotted bass as well.
Pickwick is a 43,100 acre lake with 490 miles of shoreline. The dam on the Tennessee River was completed in 1930 so it is a very old lake. Although its dam is in Tennessee and some waters back up into Mississippi, most of the lake is in Alabama. Two locks at the dam provide barge traffic access as does the Tennessee-Tombigbee waterway that connects with the upper end of Yellow Creek.
Roger Stegall has been fishing Pickwick for 31 years and guides there about 200 days a year. He has been bass fishing all his life and got his tournament start in college. Roger and some of his friends started a bass club and he liked the competition. He fished clubs for several years and has fished tournaments with prizes ranging from a trophy to $200,000.
Roger is well known on the tournament trails and has done well in the BFL, Stren Series, FLW and Bassmasters trails, especially in the Pickwick area. He has won six BFL tournaments and at least that many second place finishes where he was within ounces of the winner. He has many top ten finishes in all the trails he has fished.
In 1998 Roger won the BFL point championship for the Mississippi Division. In the Division Championship that year on Pickwick he set a record catch of smallmouth that still stands in the BFL. He brought in an incredible five-fish limit of smallmouth weighing 27.5 pounds. His biggest smallmouth that day weighed 6 pounds, 5 ounces and he culled a 4.5 pounder.
Roger shared his knowledge of Pickwick with me on a very cold day in late January and showed me the spots where he will be fishing from late February through March. His record catch came on March 18 so this is an excellent time to be on the lake.
As soon as the water starts warming in late February both smallmouth and largemouth start moving toward spawning areas, according to Roger. They will hold and feed in predictable area and will hit a variety of baits. Roger firmly believes lake bass spawn on the lake and creek bass stay in the creeks to bed, but there are plenty of quality fish in both kinds of areas.
Bass will be on rocky points in creeks and on the main lake and you can catch them there during this time. They will also move up on grass flats to feed and spawn so that is another kind of spot to find them. When the water temperature is between 49 and 59 he expects them to be feeding well in both kinds of areas. Smallmouth will spawn when the water gets to 59 and the largemouth will follow when it hits 64 to 65 degrees.
Most of the bass on Pickwick will be pre-spawn from now to the end of March. Roger will fish rocky points with a Strike King Wild Shiner jerk bait, a Strike King spinnerbait a Series 5 crankbait and a football head jig. On the flats he will be throwing either a Red Eye Shad or Diamond Shad lipless bait and the spinnerbait.
The following ten spots will all hold both largemouth and smallmouth this month and they will give you a variety of kinds of spots to hit on the lower lake and in Yellow Creek. Fish them like Roger suggests and you will catch fish.
1. N 34 59.515 – W 88 14.324 – If you put in at the ramp at Sportsman Boat Storage and One Stop on Sandy Creek you don’t have to go far. Look down the creek to your left and you will see a small island sitting just off the bank. Roger says he has caught the lunker in a bunch of tournaments off this island. You will be sitting in 12 feet of water not far off the bank and there are rocks all around the island.
Roger fishes this spot like a rocky point. He stays out from the bank and makes casts in close to the bank. He will work his jerk bait back in short pulls at a right angle to the bank rather than getting in close and making parallel casts. He says he wants to cover the water at a variety of depths.
If the jerk bait doesn’t draw a strike he will follow up with a spinnerbait, slow rolling it down the slope of the bottom, again working it straight out from the bank to deeper water. Fish all the way around this island, covering all of it on both sides.
Before leaving Roger will work a football head jig in the same area to find fish that are very inactive. Sometimes fish will not move up to chase either the jerk bait or spinnerbait so he wants to tempt them with something on the bottom.
2. N 34 59.584 – W 88 14.249 – The point behind this island is also rocky and an excellent place to catch bass this time of year. There is a sign on a tree that says “Cheerio” and Roger calls it Cheerio Point. There is a dock on the point with two white poles holding it in place and it has blue floats under it.
You will see there are two pockets, one on either side of this point. Both are good spawning pockets so bass hold on this point before moving in to them to spawn. Fish all the way around the point with jerk bait, spinnerbait and jig.
Roger likes the Denny Brauer Pro Model football jig with the Rage Craw or Rage Chunk on it. Natural colors like green pumpkin are best. The football head does not hang up as bad as other shapes and it gives the bait a wobble the fish like. Roger fishes the heavy football jig rather than a Carolina rig to cover water and keep in contact with the bottom.
3. N 34 58.996 – W 88 14.170 – Start up Yellow Creek and you will see Yellow Creek Port on your right. There are usually some barges tied up along the left bank. Upstream of them are some rocky points and Roger starts at the one with a small pine leaning over the water and two small old logs running from the bank out into the water. There are stumps and chunk rock on this point and it holds bass.
Fish all the way around this point with all three of your baits. Roger fishes Pflueger reels and All Star rods with all his baits and says the Pflueger best reel for the money on the market. They are two of his sponsors and he likes and uses their products.
The channel swings in close to the bank here and you will be sitting in 35 feet of water a cast off the bank. Roger says some wind blowing in on the rocks helps as does some current. When water is being pulled at the dam there is often a noticeable current here. Sometimes there is a slight upstream current when the lock is operated on the Tennessee-Tombigbee canal upstream but it is inconsistent and you can not depend on it.
4. N 34 57.764 – W 88 13.692 – Run upstream and watch for red channel marker 447.2 on a point on your left. This point has stumps all over it and is rocky. There is a small gravel pocket upstream of the point. Fish all your baits all the way around this point, from the pocket below it to the rocky beach upstream of it. The other points around this one also hold bass.
The colder the water the slower you should fish. Roger works his Wild Shiner jerk bait in short pulls rather than jerks. He says that more imitates the action of an injured baitfish. They don’t dart around, they move slowly then suspend or slowly move up. He wants his jerk bait to look like they do.
5. N 34 57.123 – W 88 13.299 – Upstream Goat Island runs way out from the right bank. This was really a long point where the creek made a sharp bend before the channel was cut through near the bank. There were some goats on the island the day we fished and that is how it got its name.
On the upstream side there is an underwater point running out near the outside edge of the island. The channel swings in right beside it and it looks like a bluff bank but the point is the key. Watch you depthfinder as you fish along this bank and you will see it. Keep your boat out in at least 20 feet of water and cast all three of your baits all around and across the point.
6. N 34 59.261 – W 88 13.448 – Head down Yellow Creek past the first spots following the channel and you will go through the narrow cut on the right. Downstream of it watch for red channel marker 449 on a rocky point on your right. The point with the channel marker and the one upstream of it are both good March spots since they run out to the old channel and have rocks and brush on them and there are spawning pockets behind them.
Fish all around both points probing for rocks and brush. When you hit heavy cover make several casts over it with a jerk bait and run your spinnerbait just above it. Then work your jig through it. Roger says you will get bit on a jig here is you can fish it without hanging up, but you will lose a lot of baits in the rocks.
7. N 34 59.800 – W 88 12.355 – When you get to the mouth of the creek you will see a Spanish style house on the main lake point on your left. There was a US flag on a pole in front of it the day we fished. Roger calls this “YMCA Point” since there used to be a YMCA camp on it. On the creek side of the point you will see a steep rocky bank change to chunk rock and gravel then to flat rocks.
Roger fishes the creek side of this point from the steep bank to the flat rocks. He will use the same three baits as in the creek but will add in the Series 5 crankbait here. He likes the sexy shad color if the water is clear but will throw the bright chartreuse with green or black back if it is stained. He stays way off the bank with the crankbait and makes long casts to the bank, fishing it back from shallow to deep.
8. N 35 01.267 – W 88 11.289 – Run across the river and go behind the big island. Head downstream but be careful until you find the deep water here. You will see a duck blind on your right near where there is a gap in the island on your left. Just downstream of the duck blind it gets very shallow and there are some big stumps and rocks so be very careful.
This is a good example of the kind of grass flat Roger likes this time of year. The water is fairly shallow way off the bank and grass grows on it. Right now the grass is just starting to grow so you won’t see a lot of it, but both largemouth and smallmouth will hold in the grass and feed.
This is where the lipless crankbaits work best. The Diamond Shad has a good wobble and will flutter down when paused, but the new Red Eye Shad will swim down like a hurt baitfish when it is paused. Try both for different actions. Roger likes shad and bream colors in both baits.
Roger will also throw a spinnerbait here. He likes the Strike King with either a single or double willowleaf and goes with the double willowleaf if there are shad present. White is his choice if the water is clear and he uses a white and chartreuse combination if the water is stained.
Bass move in to feed up on these flats before the spawn and they will also spawn on them, so this spot is good the whole month of March and into April. They will also feed here after the spawn. Stay about two casts off the bank and make long casts, covering lots of water as you work this flat.
9. N 35 02.749 – W 88 10.756 – Go downstream, being very careful until you learn where to run since there are shallow flats on this side. Go to the rocky point on the upstream side of Dry Creek and fish it with jerk bait, spinnerbait, crankbait and jig. The point is rocky and there are cedar trees on it.
Start on the upstream side and work to the creek side. Roger does not fish up the creek side. It gets very deep on the creek side but runs out shallow on the river side so stay way out and make long casts. Two boat lengths from the bank the water will be only six feet deep and you want to cast to that depth, not sit over it.
Roger likes Sufix Elite line since it does not have much stretch and he can feel his baits better with it. He fishes the green line so he can see it and watches his line on every cast. Sometimes you will see a bite you don’t feel. Also the low stretch means he feels the lipless baits and crankbait vibrating better and knows to set the hook if the vibrations stop.
On the lipless baits Roger uses 14 to 17 pound Sufix to feel it better and get the fish out of grass. He throws his jerk bait on 10 pound clear Sufix Seige and fishes both jig and spinnerbait on 12 pound Sufix line.
10. N 35 03.079 – W 88 10.927 – On the downstream side of Pompeys Branch, just below Dry Creek, you will see a big shallow point running out to a flat on a good map. This flat comes up to a hump on the end about 300 yards off the bank. The hump is a ridge about 200 yards long and grass grows on it. Bass feed and spawn here and hold here before moving back into the branch and creek to spawn, too.
Stay on the outside of the ridge and make long casts across it with lipless baits. Keep your boat in deeper water and cast to the top of the ridge, covering the slope back to you. Fish it from one end to the other then go back along it with your spinnerbait.
Roger likes the middle of the day on this spot and others. He says that seems to be the best time to catch fish on the flats. On the points you can catch fish any time of day but the first three weeks of March are going to be best because a lot of the fish will move back into pockets to spawn after that.
Check out these spots and see the kinds of patterns and places Roger fishes. There are many others all over the lake that are similar. You can catch fish on these spots then find others after learning the pattern.
To get Roger to show you how he catches bass on Pickwick call him at 662-423-3869 or E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org for a guided trip. You can see more information and pictures at his web site at http://www.fishpickwick.com