They may not win any beauty contests and, truth be told, they often live in the shadow of offshore darlings such as black grouper and mangrove snapper; but pound-for-pound, the greater amberjack is one of the toughest fish in saltwater. An often overlooked food fish, AJs offer a high yield of firm, mild filets that turn out well on the grill, the smoker or in the skillet. Common to wrecks, springs and reefs of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, amberjack are not picky fish, but a handful of established techniques will bring these brutes to the boat.
Live Bait Drop: AJs have no teeth, but they have large, powerful jaws with pronounced rubbery lips — basically, they’re designed for grabbing meals with devastating force and gobbling them whole. Suffice it to say, any forage species that suddenly appears on their radar won’t be long for this world.
Common offerings include pinfish, grunts, sand perch and scaled sardines (“pilchards”). Gear up with stout 7- to 7 1/2-foot rods with 4/0 reels, 200-pound braided main line and 4-6 feet of monofilament leader and drop your live bait on a 10/0-12/0 Mustad Offset Circle Hook with a slip sinker sized to the target depth.
Trolling: The good thing about live bait is that many species love it. The bad thing about live bait — same.
Often, anglers find it difficult, if not impossible to thread a livie through the layer of barracuda often holding above the AJs. In such instances, deploy your live baits on downriggers about 50- to 100-yards from the target site and troll them into the strike zone.
This obviously limits the number of baits you can fish at one time, as opposed to straight dropping. However, your success rate will be much higher.
Jigging: There’s truly nothing like the real thing for AJs, but these gluttons will often fall for a heavy bucktail jig, diamond jig, blade jig or a slow pitch jig. While the first three rely on active, often erratic motion, the slow pitch jig is made for mimicking the gliding, fluttering movements of a wounded or dying baitfish. Designed specifically for this technique, Mustad’s G-Series Slow Fall Jigging Rod comes in 6-foot, 6-3 and 6-4 models.
With any jig option, keep it moving until you feel a bite. If the fish misses or shakes your jig loose, immediately resume the action. Amberjack are rarely alone and what one fish drops, another is likely to grab.
Topwaters: Despite their preferred proximity to bottom structure, amberjack won’t hesitate to rise topside to blast a big walking or popping bait. Strikes are simply astounding, but make sure you’re properly equipped to handle a big fish by fitting your bait with the new Mustad JAW LOK treble hooks.
However you hook your amberjack, expect nothing less than brutality. Trust your tackle to keep you connected and use the gunwale for extra leverage. This is truly a test of wills, so the longer you can hold out, the better your chances of defeating this reef bully.
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Pickwick largemouth, smallmouth and spots are mostly done spawning and are stacking up on shallow river ledges right now. They are feeding heavily, fattening back up from the stress of bedding. And they are shallow enough to be easy to catch.
Pickwick is a big TVA lake in the corner of Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi on the Tennessee River. Like other lakes in the chain, its big flats and creeks are bass spawning factories and the river and creek ledges offer perfect feeding places year-round in the fertile waters.
Cody Harrison says he started fishing “as soon as I could cast.” Living in Tuscumbia, just 15 minutes from Pickwick, he fell in love with bass fishing very young and learning the ways of the fish in the lake. He went to the University of North Alabama where he was on the college team with many other good fishermen and honed his skills for two years. After graduation four years ago, he started guiding on Pickwick, Wilson and Guntersville full time.
“A few bass will still be spawning in May, but most are done and moving to summer holes on the main river,” Cody said. You can always catch some good fish shallow, but you can find the right ledge and catch fish after fish from big schools. And you will catch smallmouth and a few big spots, as well as quality largemouth, in the river.
A wide variety of baits will catch Pickwick bass in May, and you can fish your favorites. Cody has his, including a swim bait, crankbait, jig and pig, Carolina Rig and even a shaky head if fishing is tough. All baits are adjusted in weigh based on current and depth he is fishing.
We fished the following ten spots on April Fools Day, a cold, windy day with a strong river current that made fishing difficult. And many bass were already in spawning areas, but some were still out in the pre-spawn stage. They will be strong on this pattern now.
Cody still caught two smallmouth in the 3.5 to 4 pound range, a largemouth that size and a slightly smaller, very pretty meanmouth. Meanmouth are a smallmouth/spot hybrid that has the markings of a smallmouth but the tooth patch of a spot. They are fairly common in the lake and may be a bad sign for the future of smallmouth fishing here.
1. N 34 45.591 – W 87 51.269 – We put in at Cane Creek Ramp, a good location for fishing this area of the lake. Right at the cove the ramp is in, signs mark a pipeline crossing on that side, with matching signs across the river. Near the middle of the river a little more toward the North West bank, there is a “blow out” hole at the river edge where the pipeline goes across.
This hole is 18 to 20 feet deep on the edges, dropping into deeper water fast. It is covered in rocks and spots and smallmouth love rocks, and largemouth will use them for feeding ambush points too.
Sit on the upstream side of the pipeline off the lip of the drop. Cast your bait up current and work it back with is. Current here and on other places really help the bite if it is not too strong to fish.
Cody likes a True Bass 4.5 to 5.5 shad colored swimbait rigged on a one half to three quarters ounce jig head, depending on current. Let it go to the bottom then swim it along steadily with the current, just ticking the rocks. You will get hung doing this until you get the feel for the depth and speed to move you bait.
You can fish a Carolina rig or shaky head here, depending on current, but those get hung more often. If the current is slack bouncing a shaky head on the rocks may get bit but it is slow fishing.
2. N 34 44.940 – W 87 45.811 – Going up the river where it bends to the left, a series of long islands on your left separate the river from old oxbows. The main one is named Coffee Slough and is full of cypress trees, grass beds and stumps. It is a big bedding area and some fish live back in here year-round.
Idle in to the first big clump of cypress trees in the middle and start fishing. Be careful, there are many stumps to hit. Cody says you could stay in here and catch bass all day. Some will be feeding post spawn, some will be bedding and some may still be pre spawn depending on the weather.
Cody will bump stumps and cypress knees with a Strike King 1.5 or 2.5 squarebill, making them hit and dart off to the side. A black or white buzzbait with a clacker will also catch fish for Cody, as will a frog fished in the grass. If the fishing is tough, he will go with a weightless Trick worm worked slowly around all cover.
3. N 34 50.143 – W 87 56.189 – Back down the river at the Natchez Trace Parkway bridge, a long river ledge runs parallel to the bank upstream of the bridge near the left side going downstream. The ledge runs at a slight angle toward the bank going upstream. It is seven to eight feet deep on top but drops fast into 15 feet of water.
Keep your boat 15 feet deep and cast a crankbait, swim bait or jig up on the top of the ledge. Bump bottom to the lip and let your swimbait or jig fall down the drop. They will hold on the drop but move on top to feed, especially when current is washing along it.
Fish along the ledge, probing for any cover on it that provides a current break for the bass. When you catch a fish make repeated cast in that area since they will school up in specific spots along the ledge.
4. N 34 52.441 – W 87 56.571 – Going down the river, Jenkins Branch is the opening on your right before you get to Bluff Creek. It is narrow with steep rocky points on both sides, with pea gravel points downstream of it.
Cody says bass spawn in the branch then move to the points to feed. They will school on top here so have a Fluke or topwater plug ready to cast to them. Also drag a shaky head and jig on the pea gravel points going downstream, as well as the main downstream point of the creek. Bump the bottom with a crankbait, too, keeping your boat over about 12 feet deep and casting to the bank with all baits.
“Smallmouth spawn first, then largemouth,” Cody said. This is one of the first places they move out to, and you will catch both here as well as an occasional spot. Spots don’t grow as big or as fast here or on other lakes with them. A four pounder is a really big one.
5. N 34 52.632 – W 87 57.238 – The Bluff Creek channel runs way out across a flat to the river channel. If you look at your GPS or a good paper contour map, you will see two old channels that form a wishbone before coming together near the river. The lip of the creek channel where they hit the river is an excellent post spawn feeding spot.
Keep your boat in 23 feet of water and cast a crankbait, Carolina Rig and jig up on the lip of the channel in about 14 feet of water. Work them with the current, bumping bottom to the edge then dropping down the edge of it.
Cody says a good rate of flow for fishing it 20,000 to 70,000 cubic feet per second of water released at the dam. Lower and the fish don’t feed well. Higher and it is hard to fish. (it was about 90000 on April 1!) You can download an app at https://www.tva.com/Environment/Lake-Levels/TVA-Lake-Info-App to get this information.
6. N 34 53.601 – W 87 58.469 – Going down the river a hump rises to about 12 feet deep in the middle of the river out from the mouth of Long Branch. The old branch channel runs along the downstream side of it. You can line up on it by getting straight out from the small islands just upstream of the creek mouth.
The hump is a shell bed and Pickwick bass love feeding around shell beds. Sit in 18 feet of water and cast across the hump with swim bait, jig and shaky head and Carolina rig.
Wind can be a problem in big water like this. If blowing with the current it moves you too fast. If blowing against the current it makes bigger waves. In either direction, it can make casting and line control difficult. If possible, always sit downstream of these places and cast your bait upstream so it moves with the current in a natural action.
7. N 34 53.594 – W 87 59.340 – The Brush Creek channel runs over half way across the big flat on the right side to the river channel. The lip of it has stumps on it and bass hold and feed around them. It is a good place to fish but you will get hung.
Cody sits shallow here, in about 15 feet of water on top of the ledge and cast upstream to 20 feet deep. Work a swimbait, jig or shaky head here, trying to keep them moving just off the bottom to lessen hang-ups. A Carolina rig will catch fish but it gets hung a lot.
For the big smallmouth and largemouth in Pickwick, Cody rigs a green pumpkin or plumb Magnum Trick worm on a one half to three quarters ounce locally made Mean Mouth jig head. He dips the tails of his plastics in JJs Magic. Orange entices bites if he sees crawfish with orange on them, but chartreuse imitates bluegill that are always have fins fringed in that color.
8. N 34 54.225 – W 88 02.294 – Going downstream the river channel swings in near the left bank then out from it where the bank makes a turn to the left. A red channel marker sits on the upstream point of a sunken island named “Bee Tree Island” on my paper map. The point of the island cause a current break and it is about 15 feet deep on top.
Cody sits on top of the island point in 15 feet of water and fan casts upstream, covering all sides of the point. A swim jig, shaky head, Carolina rig and jig all work well here.
Cody rigs his Carolina rig with a one-ounce sinker to get to the bottom fast in current and keep it there, allowing him to cover more water with it. He ties a big hook about three feet above the sinker and uses a green pumpkin magic or green pumpkin blue full-size Zoom Brush Hog on it.
9. N 34 53.553 – W 88 04.762 – The second red marker past the one in hole 8 sits on the side of a long bar running parallel to the channel. It is the edge of another sunken island named “Waterloo Island” on my map. The outside edge of it drops straight off and is what you want to fish here.
Start at the marker with your boat in 30 feet of water and cast to the top of the old island in 10 to 12 feet of water. Drag a jig, Carolina Rig or Shaky Head to the lip and let if fall. Cody does not give any of those bait extra action, he just slides them along.
Cody likes a three quarters ounce green pumpkin blue Mean Mouth jig tipped with a matching Rage Craw with the tips dipped in JJs Magic. Slide it along the bottom then let if fall several feet when it comes off the lip before reeling in for another cast.
10. N 34 54.083 – W 88 06.117 – Across the river and downstream, the channel makes a turn to the right. Beach Creek enters on the right in the turn and the channel runs out to the river channel. Cody said this is called the “Catfish Hole” but it holds bass.
The flat on the sides of the channel has grass here, and Cody says this is a great numbers hole. He says you can sit in 20 feet of water, cast your Carolina rig up to six feet of water on the channel edges and work it back down to 20 feet deep.
You can catch 100 fish here when it is right, but not necessarily the big ones you need on Pickwick in a tournament. You may also see fish schooling on top here so be ready to cast to them.
These places are good right now and will hold fish all summer. Give them a try.
There are many lures and tactics that will fool a redfish and that’s part of what makes them such a popular target. They’re aggressive, have incredible strength, and hold the hearts of anglers throughout their range − the marshes and coastal environments from North Carolina to Texas. Some of the most popular baits and lures have been catching redfish for years, with spoons, swimbaits, jigs, and live bait being popular choices.
Another exciting and relatively new option is fishing a wake bait, according to a well-known guide and accomplished redfish tournament angler, Capt. Mike Frenette of Venice, Louisiana’s Redfish Lodge of Louisiana.
An Emerging Trend – Wake Baits for Redfish
It’s not a complete secret, but fishing wake baits for redfish is slowly gaining steam. Frenette has seen their power and knows they are ideally suited for redfish when the conditions align.
“Guys are starting to figure it out and it’s becoming a trend in the inshore world,” says Frenette. “The cool thing is that it’s excellent for redfish, but trout and snook will hit them, too. It’s just now becoming known as a good way to catch them, and there are times when it’s the best way to get them to bite.”
He utilizes a Strike King HC KVD 2.5 Wake Bait, a bait with the same square bill crankbait profile that’s extremely popular in the freshwater bass fishing world. The difference is a bill angled to keep the lure bulging the surface and “waking” to entice redfish.
Fishing the Wake Bait
Most of the time, Frenette is sight casting a wake bait. It’s a highly visual technique and the bait’s action is well-suited for cruising redfish.
“It works so well because it has the perfect ‘wiggle, wiggle’ action on the surface and looks like a wounded fish,” he says. “It’s not the best bait for covering water because you fish it slowly, but it’s perfect for casting to fish you can see. They cast exceptionally well and accurately, and I’ll cast them past the fish and work it right towards them. You don’t have to move it very fast to get their attention, and a slow and steady retrieve is all you need.”
The wake bait is the best tool for these fish because it can stay in the proper position longer than other baits, according to Frenette.
“If you cast a jig to these fish, it will fall into the grass,” he says. “A gold spoon is great, but it’s harder to keep it in front of them to get their attention because it will sink if you move it too slowly. It’s much easier to cast a wake bait to the fish and work it right towards the fish. The wake creates a ‘V’ several yards behind the bait as it pushes water. A redfish sees it as food and has to kill it.”
Wake Bait Gear
Many redfish anglers prefer spinning tackle for inshore saltwater species, but Frenette opts for baitcasting gear for his wake bait needs. His rod and reel choice is his signature series 7-foot medium Duckett Fishing Salt Series rod with a Lew’s Custom Inshore SLP reel.
“I feel like I’m much more accurate casting with a baitcast reel and that’s very important when sight casting to redfish,” he says. “The rod I designed has a soft tip, like a topwater rod. Another key when fishing these baits is the hookset; you don’t want to set the hook with these baits. Slowly lean away from the fish and let your line tighten and get the rod load to up.”
For line, Frenette opts for 30 to 50 lb. Seaguar TactX braided line, a strong and excellent casting braid with a “pebble” texture that helps cut through vegetation better. He varies his size based on how much grass is present and bumps up to 50 lb. for the thickest vegetation.
“It’s very strong, casts great and slices through vegetation very well,” he says. “Once you hook the fish, they immediately dive into the grass, which can get very heavy with a big fish. A braid like TactX that cuts through grass better helps you land more of those fish.”
Timing and Finding the Bite
Fishing a wake bait can be done any time of the year, but Frenette says it shines from late summer to January. But, it’s highly dependent on water clarity.
“It can work at all times, but water color is critical,” he says. “The fish are more responsive to it in clear water and for us in Louisiana, it starts to clear up in August and stays that way until January. That’s true no matter where you fish for redfish, and if the water is relatively clear, a wake bait will do well.”
Frenette looks for key areas where redfish congregate to feed when fishing wake baits. High-percentage areas are always his first place to look, but he also focuses on grassy ponds in the marshes as the water cools.
“Some of the best places to start are 100 yards to the left or right of any drain that comes into the marsh where the water is moving,” says Frenette. “They’ll generally be 10 yards from the shoreline, and if they are up there, they’re there to feed.”
He also looks for how the fish act, especially when the tide moves. As redfish search to feed, they get into hunting mode and are prime targets for a wake bait.
“We call it ‘floating,’ and the fish start to swim along the shallow grass,” says Frenette. “They are moving very slowly near the surface and looking to feed. The falling tide usually gets them going, but it can also be slack tide right when it starts to fall. Incoming is generally not as productive and doesn’t get them to move as much as an outgoing tide.”
Fishing a wake bait for redfish is an exciting way to entice surface bites from these aggressive fish. The baits are straightforward to fish and make for an excellent option for sight casting to cruising fish. More and more anglers are learning the power of the slow and bulging action near the surface.
About Seaguar Fishing Lines
As the inventor of fluorocarbon fishing lines in 1971, Seaguar has played a prominent role in the advancement of technologies to improve the performance of lines and leader material for both fresh and saltwater anglers. Seaguar is the only manufacturer of fluorocarbon fishing lines that produces its own resins and controls the manufacturing process from start to finished product. Today, Seaguar is the #1 brand of fluorocarbon lines and offers a full spectrum of premium products including fluorocarbon mainlines and leader material, 8-strand and 16-strand braid fishing lines.
Big spots on top early, then numbers on worms and jigs during the day. To get around the tough fishing in July, plan a trip to Smith Lake to have fun catching spotted bass. And you can fish the same places and baits at night to avoid the heat and boat traffic.
Smith is a big, clear Alabama Power Company lake near Jasper and Cullman. The spots in it have responded to the introduction of blueback herring by growing fast and fat. Tournament limits weighing 15 pounds are common and 20-pound limits are weighed in often.
Jordan Wiggins grew up in Cullman fishing with his father, uncles, cousins and brother Jesse. They fished for anything that would bite but soon became addicted to bass fishing. His dad started taking him tournament fishing when he was about 12 years old.
When his older brother Jesse was 15 and old enough to drive Jordan was 14, and he and Jordan fished every weekend and many weekday nights, entering local tournaments when they could. They learned to catch bass under all conditions.
Jesse now fishes the Major League Fishing pro circuit and Jordan hopes to fish the BASS pro trail when his kids get older. Admirably, right now he fishes locally, preferring to spend time with his young kids and helping them grow up right.
Jordan does well locally, winning two Alabama Bass Trail tournaments on Smith with his partner Wesley Sams and one on Guntersville. He also does well in his local club, the “SLABS,” fishing Smith.
“In July, bass on Smith are holding on brush piles, clay, rocks and stumps in 20 to 30 feet of water on points and humps,” Jordan said. Under low light conditions they will come up and hit topwater baits, but when the sun is up you need to get a jig or shaky head down to them to catch them.
Jordan keeps his July fishing simple, with three rods really all he needs. He will have a topwater walking bait like the Strike King Sexy Dawg on one rod, a custom-made shaky head jig and a jig and pig on the other two. He may have the same baits on other rods ready when the fishing is fast.
Jordan showed me the following ten spots in early June on a cloudy, breezy morning. He landed about 20 spots, including a pretty four pounder and had five weighing 15 – 16 pounds, all on topwater baits. The fish were just moving to them and will be even more concentrated on them now.
1. N 33 59.750 – W 87 08.894 – In the mouth of Rock Creek, on your left as you turn into it, a long narrow flat point runs off the bank. There is a green “Rock Creek“ sign on it and there are rocks around the bank. This point runs way out and drops off fast on the upstream creek side but is flatter on the downstream side, offering a perfect place for bass to hold and feed in July.
Jordan starts with his boat on the upstream side in 90 feet of water and cast across the point, bringing his bait across the flat top over the drop. He starts with topwater when the sun is not bright but works a shaky head or jig and pig on the bottom when it is bright.
There are rocks on the point forming a ledge and there is a little brush on it. He works his baits from ten feet deep out to 30 feet deep. At all times when fishing here and other places, even when fishing a worm or jig, keep your topwater bait ready. Fish come up schooling here at any time.
While we fished, we saw individual fish chasing bait on top. Jordan hooked a big striper that got him hung up on the bottom but landed a four-pound spot that hit his Sexy Dawg. Watch for any top action and make long cast to them as fast as you can.
2. N 34 00.288 – W 87 11.296 – Going up the river, Dismal Creek enters on your right downstream of Duncan Bridge. In the mouth of it a danger marker is on a hump that comes up to about ten feet deep. The bottom is rock and clay with some scattered brush. Bass hold and feed here all summer.
Stop out from the marker in 50 feet of water and fish the hump from ten feet deep out to 30 feet deep. If the wind is blowing, a critical need for a good topwater bite, start with topwater. If the wind is blowing Jordan concentrates on the windy side.
If there is no wind, work around the hump with shaky head or jig. Fish all the way around it, probing for rocks and brush where the spots hold. Jordan fishes his shaky head on a slack line, hopping and twitching his rod tip to make the worm jump and wiggle.
3. N 34 00.320 – W 87 11.579 – Going into Dismal Creek the first point on your right is a flat clay point that runs way out. It is deep on both sides and has some brush on it. Keep your boat out in 25 feet of water and fish from ten to 20 feet deep.
This place and others are good at night, too. Boat traffic will make weekends rough on Smith so night fishing is a good choice. Jordan likes a dark night with no moon and concentrates on the deeper areas of this point and other places with is shaky head and jig and pig.
Jordan fishes his three sixteenths ounce custom made shaky head on a St. Croix Legend Extreme medium action 7-0-foot spinning rod and spools with ten-pound braid with a 12-foot fluorocarbon leader. He puts a green pumpkin Zoom Trick worm on it. This allows him to make long cast, get the bait down fast and feel the bait better.
4. N 34 00.291 – W 87 11.809 – Across the creek a bluff bank ends in a small cove. A house sits up on the upstream bluff and has a high walkway going to the dock. The downstream point of the cove has a point that runs out toward the creek channel.
Stay out on the end of the point, straight out from it, in 50 feet of water and cast toward the bank. It is a hard clay bottom, almost as good as rocks, and has some brush on it.
This is another good night place, too. During the day early in the morning work topwater over it, then fish the bottom with jig and shaky head. Watch for schooling fish here, too. Jordan caught a couple of keepers, over the 13 to 15-inch slot size limit that must be released.
Several times spots hit Jordan’s Sexy Dawg three or four times before he hooked it. When that happens, he keeps the bait moving at a steady pace, not stopping or speeding up, and does not set the hook until he feels the fish. He likes a white or chrome walking bait.
More that once a big spot missed his bait and a smaller one took it. You can see the fish in the clear water. And often, there were several others following a hooked fish. If you see them doing that get your partner to cast to them as fast as possible.
5. N 33 59.283 – W 87 08.782 – Going toward the dam past Rock Creek, on your right is a double cove in the turn toward the dam. The downstream point of it drops off fast on the upstream side but is long and flat, coming way off the bank. There is a single small sweet gum tree on the edge of the water on the point.
Stop out in 50 feet of water on the upstream side and cast across it downstream, working out to 20 feet deep on top of it. The bottom is clay and there are some stumps on it. Probe for them with your shaky head and jig and pig.
6. N 33 58.952 – W 87 08.424 – Across the river and a little downstream, the upstream point of a big bay that goes back and splits into two small arms is a good place. It is a flat clay point with some small gravel around it and there is a blue “For Sale” sign in front of a small wood building.
Stop out in 40 feet of water and fish the point out to 20 feet deep. Work from the river side out to the end of it, covering the bottom with jig and pig and shaky head. Jordan fishes a three eights ounce peanut and butter jig with a green pumpkin Zoom chunk on it.
7. N 33 57.431 – W 87 06.766 – Going toward the dam, as soon as you round the point on your right and see the dam, stop on the point. It is clay that turns into riprap on the downstream side. The yard comes right down to the riprap.
This is a big flat point where bass school first thing in the morning. Stay way out from the bank, it runs out a long way, and cover it with topwater when the light is low. Watch for swirls and cast to them as fast as possible.
When the sun is bright, work your jig and pig and shaky head on the bottom. Hop and move the jig quickly, don’t just slowly drag it along the bottom. Spots like action so work it with a lot of movement, just like the shaky head.
8. N 33 57.388 – W 87 06.299 – Go into the mouth of Ryan Creek and on your right a long narrow cove separates two main creek points. The upstream point forms a ledge on the creek side, runs downstream and has some stumps on it. There are green “For Sale” signs on the bank and a new house is being built across the narrow cove.
Stay on the creek side and cast to the bank, the water drops fast. Work from the edge of the bank out over the ledge. Work topwater over it then work the bottom with shaky head and jig. Work them quickly but keep in contact with the bottom. Keep forward movement slow enough to stay on the bottom as it drops off, but give both baits lots of action with your rod tip.
9. N 33 57.480 – W 87 05.842 – Just upstream a big triple arm cove goes back to your right where the Ryqan Creek creek channel swings left. The main creek channel runs in near the downstream point and forms a rock ledge. The bank here forms two round rock points that go out to the ledge. There are “For Sale” signs here, too.
Jordan says a shaky head is best here, but keep your topwater ready. Cast your worm right to the bank and work it out and down the ledge. Move it forward slowly enough to stay in bottom contact, but keep the worm hopping and shaking on your slack line.
10. N 33 56.982 – W 87 06.773 – Going down the river toward the dam, the last big cove on your right before the Smith Lake Dam boat ramp splits into three small arms. The downstream point is clay and runs upstream, across the mouth of the cove. There is a small dead tree standing near the water just inside the point. Spots hold and eat here.
Stop out in 70 feet of water on the river side of the point and cast across it, fishing it out from 10 to 20 feet deep on top. Fish your topwater over it and work the bottom with shaky head and jig and pig. There is some brush on it to hit with those baits.
These places were holding good fish in June and will be better now, and fish will feed on them all summer. Give them a try day or night to catch some good Smith Lake spots.
You can feel it in the air, and you can see it in the sun. Nights are getting cooler, and the days are getting shorter. Fall is closing in on us. While some folks mourn the passing of summer, many anglers are looking forward to autumn. And many of those anglers are looking forward to catching crappies. Crappies are often thought of as a fish that is most easily caught in the spring, and while springtime is a good time to catch crappies, so are the autumn months. Following are some ideas for getting in on crappie action the next time you go fishing.
In many lakes, crappies will be near docks. The best docks will be in deeper water. In a conversation with Mr. Crappie Wally Marshall, he said that docks are one of his favorite places to consistently catch crappies. The dock provides shade and cover that attracts baitfish, the baitfish attract crappies, and the crappies attract Wally. He employs a technique called “shooting.” A sixteenth-ounce jig and spinning tackle is best for shooting. Take the jig between your thumb and index finger, open the bail on the reel and pull the jig back to load the rod. Aim the jig where you want it to go and let go. With some practice, you’ll be able to get that jig into the shaded area of the dock where the crappies live. Six-pound test hi-vis line and a jig tipped with a Shadpole is a favorite set-up for Mr. Crappie.
Several years ago, I was sharing a boat with crappie ace Scott Soderquist in north central Minnesota. We were fishing docks but had slip-bobbers on our line and sixteenth-ounce jigs underneath. We were fishing the deep end of docks and the number of nice north-country crappies that lived at the very edge of these docks was hard to believe. North, south, east, and west, crappies can be found underneath docks.
I have another fall crappie memory. My dad and I were fishing for largemouth bass on a Midwest lake that was like many Midwest lakes. The lake was fifty feet deep at the deepest and a variety of gamefish, including crappies, called the lake home. It was a calm early evening in September. We were casting the weedline in search of largemouth bass, and we were catching a few. Dad noticed something dimpling the surface fifty feet out from the deep edge of the weedline. He had seen this before. I was in the bow running the electric motor, he was in the back. I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to what he was doing. He liked it that way. Without my knowing it, dad tied on a small jig with a plastic body and started casting to the dimples. He knew that the dimples were created by crappies slurping bugs off the surface. He caught several slabs before I caught on to what he was doing. I put the bass rod down, picked up a light spinning rod, tied on a small jig, and was soon catching slabs. This pattern is effective in many, many lakes across crappie country. Just watch for the dimples.
In some lakes, the basin of the lake will hold numbers of crappies. You’ll need to do some sonar work to find them. Cruise the deep basin areas with a close eye on your depth finder. Watch for fish close to the bottom. When you find’em, drop a jig on’em. An eighth-ounce Mr. Crappie Scizzor Shad or Sausage Head have been good to me. If you see a concentration of suspected crappies suspended, back off and cast to them. Crappies near the surface can be spooky fish. In deep water, catch a few for the table, then move on. Deep water fish of most species can be hard to successfully release.
In many areas of North America crappies are abundant, they’re fun, and they’re great on the table. Wherever you fish for crappies, one of the techniques just mentioned will help you catch a few or a bunch in the autumn.
Catch big largemouth and Coosa spots in grass or go a little deeper for them on ledges, points and bluffs. Both patterns will produce good limits of fish this month on Lay Lake on just about any bait you like to throw, so you have a lot of options right now.
Lay Lake is an Alabama Power lake on the Coosa River south of I-20, just downstream of Logan Martin. The upper end is riverine but downstream there are big grass flats, shallow creeks and pockets and river ledges and bluffs to fish. It is a fertile lake and produces fat largemouth and spots with 20-pound tournament limits common.
Chandler Holt is a senior at Briarwood Christian High School and has been on the fishing team for all four years there. His parents didn’t fish but have fully supported him after he got into tournament fishing. He started fishing farm ponds around his home but got hooked on bass fishing and tournaments, and his parents got him a boat when he was 16. His fishing team coach is Curtis Gossett and the team has done well.
Over the past ten years as a high school bass team coach, Curtis’s teams have won four state championships, one southeast championship and one national championship. His fishermen have placed third once and fourth three times in the national championship tournament.
During his time coaching, Curtis has had two BASS High School All Americans, including his son Zeke, a Jacksonville State senior fishing team member. At this year’s Bassmasters Classic, Zeke won the college championship on Lay on Sunday and got to weigh in on the Classic stage.
On Saturday, Chandler fished the high school championship on Lay and got to weigh in on the Classic stage, placing second just nine oucnes out of first place. Chandler has done well fishing at the high school level and just signed a scholarship with University of Montevallo to fish on that college team next year.
Although he is just starting his fishing career, he has had great support from his parents and coaching from Curtis, as well as studying everything he can find on-line about bass fishing, to make him and excellent young fisherman. He considers Lay Lake his home lake.
“Some big bass spawn in March, but most Lay largemouth spawn in April. Most spots spawn from mid- March through April,” Chandler said. So right now you have some of both species post spawn and spawning, and many still on a pre spawn pattern. That gives you lots of options.
A wide variety of baits will work on all three patterns, but Chandler has his favorites. He loves to throw a swim jig, bladed jig and spinnerbait in grass, and flip a punch bait into it. For fishing bluffs and and open water areas, he will have a spinnerbait, a big worm Texas rigged, a big crankbait and a drop shot worm ready.
Chandler and Curtis took me fishing on Lay the first week of March, and it rained like it did every day then. The river current was fast and the lake was full and stained to muddy except back in some creeks. He was trying to find a good pattern for the highs school championship the following Saturday.
The following places were already good, producing two four-pound largemouth and a 3.5-pound spot as well as several more solid keeper bass in the five hours we fished. And while we fished Curtis’s son Zeke practiced for his College tournament on Sunday. He mostly fished the following bluff bank pattern and caught five spots weighing 20.17 pounds on his scales!
1. N 33 10.657 – W 86 31.141 – Put in at Beeswax Park and there is not need to crank your big motor. There is a good grass bed running along the bank downstream of the ramp and many released fish go to it and hold and feed there. We started here and Chandler quickly caught a 3.5-pound spot on a Z-Man Jackhammer, his favorite chatterbait. He was using a white bait with a silver blade in the muddy water. He will also throw black and blue in stained water but goes to a green pumpkin bait in clear water.
Fish from the ramp downstream, working all the grass. It looked dead, and Chandler said it might have been sprayed this year, but hopefully it will come back. Both largemouth and spots will hold and feed in this grass both pre and post spawn, and will spawn in the grass, too.
Hit any variation or transition in the grass like points, holes and cuts here and in all other grassbeds you fish. Try a swim jig and spinnerbait in the more open grass, and punch the thick places with a punch bait, especially on sunny days.
2. N 33 10.779 – W 86 30.771 – Across Beeswax
Creek a small island sits off the upstream point of a big cove. There is a huge house on the point with a rock seawall then a steep wall further back. Go back into the creek to about half-way between the house and garage behind it. Grass runs out from the seawall here that holds good fish.
Fish the grass on this side then work further back into the creek, hitting all the cuts, points and holes with swim jig, bladed jig and spinnerbait. We caught a long skinny largemouth here on a Z-Man Chatterbait that weighed about four pounds.
Chandler says he reels the Jackhammer along steadily then gives it little pauses and speeds it up, making it dart with an action the fish love. He also fishes a Dirty Jigs swim jig with a matching Baby Paca Craw on a Temple Fork Outfitters seven-foot three inch heavy action Pacemaker rod. You need the heavy rod to get the fish out of the grass. In stained to muddy water like we fished in most areas he likes a dark jig, but the water was much clearer back here and he used a white or bluegill color bait for it.
3. Go out to the long point running out from the left bank near the mouth of the creek and stop out from the Greek style gazebo on the bank. It looks like a big mushroom on pillars. The seawall running along this bank out to and around the point is an excellent feeding and staging area for bass moving in and out of the creek.
Keep your boat out a long cast from the bank and cast your baits right against it. Where the grass is thin, a spinnerbait or bladed jig is good. Chandler likes a white War Eagle bait with white blades in the muddy water but goes with something chartreuse and blue with silver blades in clear water.
Work around the point to the pocket on the downstream side. Hit the thick grass near it with your punch bait and swim jig. Fish the dock in the pocket, the downstream point of it and the grass on that side, too.
4. N 33 10.712 – W 86 30.242 – Go out to the river and look downstream. Green channel marker 39 sits way off the downstream point of Beeswax Creek and a good ledge with brush on it is upstream of it. Idle over the river ledge from even with the mouth of Beeswax going downstream toward the marker to find the brush in 5 to 15 feet deep. Both pre and post spawn largemouth and spots hold in it this month.
Early in the day Chandler fishes the shallower brush but goes deeper as the sun gets bright. He stays off the brush and cast a 6XD crankbait in shad colors if he sees fish holding over the brush. If the fish are showing up down in the brush he uses a watermelon candy Ol’ Monster worm behind a three sixteenths to one half ounce sinker, a three sixteenths ounce shaky head or a drop shot worm to fish the brush.
Current moving through the brush helps the bite, as it does on all river places. Some breeze ruffling the surface of the water will help fishing everywhere. Try to cast up current and work your bait with the current in a natural movement way.
5. N 33 10.179 – W 86 29.705 – going down the river, Sally Branch enters on your right where the river channel swings to the left. Just downstream of the branch the bank is a steep rock bluff running downstream a couple hundred yards. At the end of the bluff it flattens out a little and has some grass on the edge just upstream of a small pocket.
Stop at the pocket and fish the wood cover and grass back in it, some fish will spawn in these small pockets. Then fish the rocky point on the upstream side, working a shaky head on it as well as a crankbait and spinnerbait. When the current is strong like it was the day we fished, largemouth will often pull inside the point out of the current while spots will stay on it in the current and feed.
If the current allows, come out of the pocket and work upstream, fishing the grass with swim jig, bladed jig and spinnebait. When you get to the bluff wall watch for little rock points, outcroppings that break the current. Cast a half ounce spinnerbait or jig and pig into these eddies.
This is a good pattern for big spots. Zeke caught most of his big limit doing this and had a five-pound spot. The current was so strong when we were here we went up almost up to the branch and let the current carry the boat downstream backwards, with Chandler pitching a black and blue jig into the eddy then Curtis, on the trolling motor, would hit it with his spinnerbait.
6. N 33 12.005 – W 86 29.303 – Going up the river past Bulley Branch on the left, red channel marker 48 sits off the right bank. Behind it is a flat running to the bank where a riprap point with grass on it is on the upstream point of a small cove.
Stop out from the marker and idle close enough to the point to fish it with your grass baits. Then work into the cove and fish there. Bass feed on the point pre and post spawn and move into to the cove to spawn. Largemouth will also pull back into the coved to get out of strong current, but spots will stay out in it and feed.
Chandler says the Jackhammer is worth its high cost because it has an action better than other similar baits. He says when he gives it a little jerk while working it through the grass it darts in an action that is irresistible to bass.
7. N 33 11.408 – W 86 29.892 – Across the river and downstream, the mouth of Bulley Creek has a ledge across it where bass hole both pre and post spawn. Green channel marker 43 is on the upstream end of this ledge but it runs across the mouth of the creek downstream.
Stop out in 20 feet of water and cast a big crankbait up into the mouth of the creek, bumping bottom with it from 12 feet deep out to the drop. Also fish it with your Ol’ Monster worm and shaky head. Chandler puts a black Trick worm on his three sixteenths ounce shaky head.
8. N 33 11.054 – W 86 29.891 – Going down the river past the mouth of Pope Branch, watch for a yellow and brown house on the upstream point of a small cove. Stop out from the point and you will see a private ramp in the cove behind the boat house. That ramp is actually the old road and you can see the bridge piling on the right bank. The roadbed is on a ridge that runs across the mouth of the cove and holds bass.
Stay a long cast out from the ramp and work across the cove, casting a shaky head, spinnerbait and jig and pig across the roadbed and point. Work it up the inside drop, across the top then down the outside drop.
9. 33 09.219 – W 86 29.175 – Run down the river to the mouth of Flat Branch on the right. Paradise Point Marina is back in it. The upstream point of the branch is a steep rocky point and there are two signs on it, one for the marina and one for land for sale. Both spots and largemouth hold on the point pre and post spawn.
Chandler says this is a “twofer” point. First you can fish the grass along the edge with your grass baits. Then you can work around the point with shaky head and jig and pig, targeting fish holding in seven or eight feet of water. There are big chunk rock on the bottom at that depth the spots love.
10. N 33 09.927 – W 86 29.060 – Going back up the river the right bank is steep and there is no development on it. Where it opens back to the right you will see some low brown buildings marking part of the Alabama 4-H Youth Development Center. Downstream of it a bluff bank runs out to a couple of small points on the river.
Depending on current, stop on the downstream point and fish it with crankbait, shaky head, jig and worm. Then work up the bluff, casting spinnerbait and jig and pig into eddies behind any protrusion on the bank. Rocks and blowdowns will break the current and offer a feeding spot for bass to hold.
If the current is strong, go up to the end of the bluff and fish it drifting backwards with the current, using your trolling motor to control speed and boat position.
Fish were hitting on these spots a few weeks ago, our best five from them weighed about 14 pounds. Zeke, fishing similar places, had 20 pounds. You can catch Lay Lake spots and largemouth like that for the next six weeks.
The slip-bobber method for presenting bait to fish has been around for several decades. Over time, however, this simple yet often effective method got pushed to the side by much of the diehard angling crowd (me included) in favor of what are viewed as more complex, higher order fishing presentations that often garner terms like “cutting edge” and “game changer” as descriptors.
All the while, the simple slip-bobber toiled on in relative obscurity, always amongst the best rigging set-ups for use with kids and beginners but too simple for use amongst at least some of fishing’s diehards. Well, that has changed in recent times as many high-dollar walleye derbies have been won by anglers employing slip-bobbers in at least part of their winning ways. Tournament wins and the fishing methods used to win them do turn heads and recent results seem to have the simple slip-bobber experiencing somewhat of a renaissance amongst today’s hardcore walleye anglers!
Tournament successes aside, this blog is a look at the basics of the slip-bobber rig for use by kids and others just getting started. In fact, the basics to be presented below form the backbone of the rod rigging curriculum presented at ZEBCO School of Fish classes taught to thousands of kids across the upper Midwest by myself and other angling educators the past ten-plus years. However, these basics may also serve as useful reminders to others with much more fishing experience who may need a refresher in slip-bobbers 101 to rejuvenate their fishing successes!
A slip bobber rig begins with the bobber stop (often made of string or rubber), which threads on the line to start the rigging. The stop is designed to be able to be slid up and down the line with this adjustability at the heart of the entire rig. More on that later.
Following the bobber stop, a small sliding bead is added, followed by a slip-bobber. The bead acts as a cushion between the stop and bobber to prevent the bobber from sliding over the stop. The bobber itself may be made of various design, with some allowing the line to slide the entire length of the bobber while others have “slotted” ends that allow the bobber to slide.
The line below the bobber eventually has a hook or jig tied on, usually baited with a leech, minnow, or portion of a nightcrawler. Often a split-shot weight or two are pinched on the line a foot or so above the hook or jig. The split-shots add weight to aid in casting and keep the bobber riding low in the water column to prevent it from being easily blown around by wind. A low riding bobber also increases fish hook-ups as a barely buoyant bobber easily slides under the water without spooking even the wariest of light-biting fish!
Now that we’re rigged, let’s look at some slip-bobber advantages.
First and foremost, the fishing depth the hook/jig fishes at can be adjusted by sliding the bobber stop. Moving the stop up the line/away from the jig or hook makes the rig fish deeper, while moving the stop closer to the hook/jig makes for shallower fishing. These adjustments can be made by the angler using his or her fingers to move the stop, so no line-cutting or retying is necessary.
Second, because the small bobber stop can be reeled right up the rod into the reel and the bobber itself slides down to either the split-shot weights or the jig, a short amount of line can be out from the rod tip when casting. A short line when casting makes for safer casting when kids are involved and is also very advantageous when deep waters are being fished.
Lastly, the slip-bobber rig excels at fish landing. Again, because the bobber stop can easily be retrieved right up through the rod’s guides onto the reel, the fish can be reeled close to the rod tip to allow for easier, more successful fish landing. More than one trophy fish has gotten away at the landing net when a traditional “pinch on” bobber kept the trophy of a lifetime just out of reach during the landing process. With a slip-bobber the fish can be reeled close to the rod tip and landed.
If landing more fish is your goal, regardless your fishing experience, a slip-bobber rig may need to be introduced or reintroduced into your angling arsenal. Following the tips just presented might, in fact, lead to you landing the fish of a lifetime this season, and on a slip-bobber!
As always, remember to include a youngster in your next outdoors adventure.
Mike Frisch hosts the popular Fishing the Midwest TV series. Visit www.fishingthemidwest.com to see all things Fishing the Midwest.
Heavy rains and runoff from last winter’s near-record snows in California have done more than end the state’s devastating drought, they have also helped rejuvenate salmon streams. Swollen rivers in recent months have deposited a renewed supply of what biologists call “woody debris,” an essential ingredient of healthy salmon habitat.
For most people woody debris means fallen trees, logs, or broken limbs deposited in a stream and along its banks during a flood. For salmon it means hiding places, deep pools to grow, food, and perhaps even a jump-start for other vegetation beside rivers.
“Of all the actions to improve salmon habitat, increasing woody debris is a priority action in all of our Endangered Species Act recovery plans for salmon,” said Dan Free, a fisheries biologist with NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region. “Stream restoration projects that increase woody debris import wood from elsewhere and are expensive, but the great thing about this resource is that it’s free and naturally introduced into the system.”
Woody debris provides extensive benefits. Water rushing past logs scours river bottoms, creating deep holes that provide habitat for juvenile salmon to hide and grow. The wood also fosters growth of algae and insects for the fish to eat, helping them gain strength and size before migrating to the ocean.
Sediment deposited by heavy river flows can also bury wood alongside streams, giving other vegetation a foothold. Buried logs retain water that other trees can access through their roots, enabling them to survive long dry spells. Groves of willows and cottonwoods and other riparian vegetation along the river bank often have logs buried beneath them that helped support their initial growth.
Flood waters pick up woody debris by uprooting trees, snagging dead logs and stumps, and transporting old stores of wood from riparian areas. Eventually the wood settles in the streambed, on a gravel bar, or washes out to sea.
The recent drought in California and the common practice of removing wood from streams has left many watersheds without much woody debris, especially in northern and central California. Fortunately, this year’s storms have reversed the trend by bringing a significant amount of woody debris to most streams.
“With all the rain we’ve had, a lot of wood like old-growth timber, smaller limbs, and trees have come down the streams – which is a good thing,” said Free. “Unfortunately, some people may believe the wood deposited in our rivers and on gravel bars is available to supplement their next winter’s woodpile or may even remove larger wood for sale.”
Both NOAA Fisheries and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife highly discourage people from removing wood from streambeds, since it diminishes fish habitat quality and quantity.
“Wood is inextricably linked to providing a healthy habitat for salmon” said Free. “Leaving this naturally occurring resource in the streams and on the gravel bars for fish so they can gain strength is one of the best things we can do for their habitat.”
Spinning gear or Casting gear? Live bait or artificial? Walk a stream bank or launch a boat in a lake? These are common considerations before venturing out fishing for the day.
With so many landing net options it’s important to choose the ideal combination of hoop size, net depth and handle length for a given fishing scenario. Frabill offers a variety of styles to fit any situation including the immensely popular Conservation Series Nets which have become standard equipment for many professional guides.
One decision many fishermen tend to take for granted is net selection. This lack of forethought often leads to frustration as cheapo landing nets regularly fail when hoops break, net bags tear and handles bend. Murphy’s Law states the big letdown will more than likely occur when that once-in-a-lifetime fish is hooked. The best way to avoid such misfortune is to get serious about what net you bring along.
Yes, selecting the perfect net requires some research, but the study is stress-free.
The chosen one
It’s easy to talk yourself out of a high-quality net when the price tag shows triple digits before the dot. While not breaking the bank is important for most of us, it’s the long run you need to be looking at. Generally, you’ll likely be spending more money by replacing lesser models regularly that have failed miserably.
Take a look at the best nets that fit your needs and then budget for them. Hoop size, net material, handle length and the quality of the components that hold it all together are of the utmost importance.
Generally speaking, hoop size and net depth are dictated by what species are targeted. While many anglers prefer smaller nets because they are less cumbersome, a good rule of thumb is to go bigger than you think you will need. It’s also important to take into account other species you may encounter while fishing. If you mostly pursue bass and walleye, for example, but occasionally run into large northern pike, a net with a deeper bag and larger hoop that can accommodate longer fish is a great choice.
When selecting the proper net, going bigger is always better than going small. Big fish require big nets, don’t skimp on size. Photo by Dawn Kazokas
While many fishermen prefer smaller nets because they are less cumbersome – a good rule of thumb is to go bigger rather than smaller. It’s no surprise that big fish fit into larger nets much easier, but an added benefit of a larger net bag is smaller fish tend to be calm when they are comfortable in a roomy net. This is especially true when the net bag is lowered into the water which permits fish to revive without being handled. Many catch and release anglers and guides use a net with a tangle-free bag deep enough to allow fish to remain in the water. Fish can easily be unhooked and then released by allowing them to swim freely from the open net. Or, if you’re taking a few photos, the fish can be quickly lifted from the net, refreshed and ready for a quick release.
The character of the fish you catch is another consideration as some species can be troublesome. If you’ve ever dealt with a huge king salmon sporting a mouth full of treble hooks while it flops wildly on the deck of a crowded boat, you know how much of a problem this can be. This holds true for pike and muskie anglers, as well as saltwater anglers who regularly deal with ornery species that are notorious for twisting and spinning after being netted. Not only can this potentially injure a fish that was intended to be released, there is usually significant tangling of hooks into the netting and possible impalement to the person performing the removal.
Like many guides, a high-performance net is a must for Wisconsin captain and guide Pat Kalmerton. The Lake Michigan and inland lake veteran’s favorite nets by far are Frabill’s line of Conservation Series Nets.
“The Conservation Series features a flat, linear bottom, which supports the weight of the fish and prevents them from rolling,” he states. “The rubber-coated netting is easy on the fish and it’s much easier to remove hooks from. These nets definitely make my job easier. Frankly, I can’t imagine using anything else.
When big fish are on the line anglers need a pro-grade net to finish the job. Net failure should be the least of your worries. Photo by Author/Jay Anglin
“Also, the Pow’R Lok yoke on the Frabill Conservation Series is lightweight, yet, heavy duty – they are incredibly reliable,” Kalmerton added. “The handle design is nifty too. Round net handles can be difficult to hang on to with cold or wet hands. Frabill solved that problem by using an ergonomic heavy-duty aluminum handle that has grooves along the length of it that keep water off your hands so you can maintain a better grip. And trust me, if you’re lifting big fish out of the water non-stop during a hot bite, you need all the help you can get.”
If small spaces are a consideration, nets that have ability to collapse are much easier to fit in the busy confines of a fishing boat. The handles of the Frabill Power Stow Net line not only contract, but the hoop can be folded up. This is especially advantageous and certainly worth every penny when fishing from smaller boats.
On the other hand, some net models, such as the Frabill Conservation Series mentioned earlier, also offer telescoping handles, which provides increased range while netting fish. This is particularly important for anglers fishing from larger boats or an elevated position such as a break-wall or jetty. The longer handle is a huge asset when attempting to land large-bodied, speedy species such as salmon and steelhead, or any fish of trophy proportions that represent a greater challenge during the netting process.
Shore and wading anglers who regularly fish solo, conversely, may want to stick with nets that have shorter handles, which makes it easier to land fish by yourself.
Got the scoop?
The bottom-line is, choose your net wisely. Look for ones that feature the best design and reliable materials, as well the perfect combination of size and features that will most-assuredly improve landing success rates. A net that’s properly matched to the size of fish is especially valuable.
They may cost a bit more, but they are definitely worth the investment.
Pre-spawn bass in the grass and feeding on points leading to bedding areas, eating just about any bait you cast. Neely Henry can’t be beat for March fishing, where those hard fighting Coosa spots are fighting with quality largemouth for your lure.
Neely Henry is an 11,235-acre lake on the Coosa River at Gadsden running 77 miles from its dam to the Weiss dam upstream. The upper lake is mostly river, with some oxbows and sloughs. The lower lake has big flats and creeks to fish. The whole lake has extensive shallow grassbeds, docks, rocks and sandy bottoms that are important in the spring.
Peyton Nance grew up right on the lake in Attalla. His father and grandfather took him fishing as far back as he can remember. His father entered them into a tournament on Neely Henry when Peyton was ten years old, and he fell in love with bass tournament fishing.
Peyton’s uncle, Brian Colegrove, was a well-known tournament fisherman in the area for years. He also taught Peyton a lot about bass fishing.
He fished some high school tournaments but concentrated on playing football and made the Auburn football team. He has been on the football team and the fishing team at Auburn the past three years.
Peyton also fishes local pot and buddy tournaments on Neely Henry as often as his college schedule allows and does well in them. As we fished, he constantly pointed to places and said things like “we got a limit there weighing 18 pounds,” or “thats where we won the tournament in the last hour, catching five weighing 19.5 pounds.”
Two days after Peyton and I fished Neely Henry, he and his dad won the big ninth annual Rat-L-Trap tournament at Guntersville with five bass weighing 22.79 with a 7.03 kicker!
“By the end of February, water is warming enough, and days have gotten long enough that both spots and largemouth are concentrating on spawning,” Peyton said. They are positioning themselves near spawning flats and feeding heavily to get ready. They may move some with changing conditions day to day, but they will be near the spawning flats all this month.
“I usually keep it simple in March with just five baits out, and three of them are crankbaits,” Peyton said. He always has a DT 4 and DT 6 as well as a Little John squarebill in shad colors rigged. Those baits cover the water depth he fishes this month.
To back them up, he has a white swim jig and a white and chartruese bladed jig ready to fish in the grass. Although those five baits will cover almost all situations, he will also be ready to pull out a rattlebait, bladed jig, shaky head and jig and pig if the situation calls for them.
Peyton and I fished the first Friday in February, the day after the flooding rain. The river current was ripping as the Alabama Power Company released water trying to get ready for all the new water coming in, and it was muddy everywhere. The lake dropped four feet from Thursday afternoon to Friday morning, making it tough for us.
The following places are good all month long. You may have to adjust some based on daily conditions, but you can have great catches of both spots and largemouth right now.
1. N 33 56.624 – W 86 01.221 – Going up the river just upstream of the Highway 77 bridges, a slough enters the river on your right. AS you enter it splits to the left and right. To your left two small pockets are full of grass where March feed heavily. The point coming off the left bank at a blue pumphouse runs way out across the slough and holds staging bass.
Peyton eases into the slough and stops in the middle of the left side, out from the point between the two arms. But that is not the point he fishes; the point to fish comes off the left side across the mouth of the left pocket. It has big stumps on it the bass use for cover, ambushing shad moving into the coves.
Sit in about eight feet of water at full pool and make long casts across the point. Depending on water level, you want to bump the bottom two to five feet deep, and Peyton chooses the DT right for that depth, a four for hitting up to four feet deep and the six for up to six feet deep.
After fishing the point, go into the grass and fish around both pockets with swim jig and bladed jig. Watch for birds in the grass, indicating baitfish is present. When we fished white cranes were feasting on shad that had gotten trapped in the grass by the rapidly dropping water.
This short pocket right on the river gives early bass fast access to the shallows. There were a few bass chasing shad here, and a couple bumped Peyton’s bladed jig out in front of the grass, but the muddy water made it tough to hook up.
2. N 33 57.048 – W 86 00.885 – Going up the river from the bridges, a roadbed runs right along the edge of the water on the left. Go to where the bank swings back to the right and leaves the roadbed. There is a brown fishing dock with blue chairs on it, in front of two camping trailers. Start at that dock.
The river channel swings in right on this corner and largemouth, with a few spots mixed in, feed on the riprap alone the bank. Cast your squarebill right on the rocks and bump them as you reel out. Peyton likes a shad colored bait most days, but if the water is stained up bad, he will go with a red color.
Fish up to the first small point past the dock and fish it hard. It is rocky and worth a few casts with a shaky head or jig and pig after using your crankbait. Sometimes fish on the point just want a slow-moving bait.
3. N 33 56.846 – W 86 00.379 – Going upstream past the big pocket with the marina but before you get to the small island, a white wood fence is on a point on your left. The point out from it is pea gravel and holds pre-spawn bass going into the cut behind it to spawn, but spots will spawn out on the point.
Peyton will fan cast it with his crankbaits, bumping the bottom with them. He will also try a rattle bait and likes a chrome with blue back Rat-L-Trap, buzzing it across the point. Some days the bass just seem to want that noisy vibrating action more than a wiggling crankbait.
4. N 33 57.096 – W 86 00.453 – Go back into the big pocket with the marina in it. The water in the mouth of it is very shallow but a channel is marked with poles to get into it. Big grass beds all around the back hold feeding fish all month, and some will spawn in here in March since the shallow water warms fast.
Peyton says he starts at the marina on the right side of it and fishes all the way around the back. He says if you hit every blade of grass in here with a swim jig like a three-eights white 6th Sense jig with a white Rage Craw trailer on it, you will catch a limit most days. He normally uses a half ounce swim jig, but this shallow water calls for the lighter one.
You will be fishing shallow water, most less than two feet deep, and you will have to trim up your motor to keep it from dragging. But the fish are hear even in the very thin water. Toward the end of the month in warmer water, a frog like a Ribbet, reeled over and through the grass, will also catch fish here.
5. N 33 56.101 – W 86 02.090 – Going back down the river under the bridges, a development with rainbow colored houses is on your left. At the end of them is the opening to the slough that runs back up parallel to the river. The upstream point of the opening is a major staging area for bass moving into the slough to spawn.
Peyton says there are big logs and stumps on this point that the fish use. Stop out on the end of it on the river side and fan cast it with crankbait, bumping bottom at different depths, then buzz a rattle bait on it. Work upstream covering the end five or six feet deep all the way up to a foot deep at the bank.
Since this slough runs upstream, muddy water does not push into it fast and it will be clearer than the river when it first muddies up. There was a definite mud line across its mouth the day we fished. When this happens, shad and bass will often move back into the clearer water.
Under those conditions, go back into the slough and fish the grass with swim jig and bladed jig. We tried that, but the fast dropping water must have pulled the fish out with it. Under stable conditions, this pattern will work on tough days.
6. N 33 54.707 – W 86 04.031 – Going down the river channel marker 12 sits on the downstream point of one of the islands in the string of them out from the bank. Behind it is an old sand quarry and big spawning flats, and Peyton says the point is a place many bass hold on moving in during the month. Late in March there may even be some post spawn fish moving back out during a warm month.
Stop out on the river side. With the water down we could see the point of the island behind the marker drops down into a saddle that comes back up onto a hump with a big log on it. Peyton says that saddle is the key spot for holding fish.
Get your boat in close to the marker and cast toward the bank, across the tip end of the island in close to it in a foot of water. Use both crankbaits, bladed jig and rattle baits. Work them all the way across the saddle, bumping bottom until you get to the log. Unless the water is real high you should be able to see them. Work a jig or shaky head through them.
Peyton chooses his jig based on water color, using black and blue in stained water and green in clear. But with both he uses a green pumpkin chunk trailer. Work the log carefully with it.
7. N 33 51.527 – W 86 05.733 – Canoe Creek is a big creek on the right downstream where the river makes a sharp turn to the left. It is wide and shallow, so be careful back in it. Go in to where is swings to the right. Straight ahead is Permeter Creek and a bridge crosses near the mouth of it.
Peyton says bass hold on the riprap and move to the bank on the downstream right end of it to spawn back in the flat there. Start at the bridge and cast your crankbaits along the rocks, bumping them from right on the bank down to six feet deep. Sun on the rocks will warm them and make the bite better, especially early in the month. And Peyton likes a little breeze in all the places he fishes, enough to ruffle the water and break up his baits silhouette. That improves the bite.
Fish to the end of the rocks and the area at the end of them. Bass bed back in here so later in the month, drag your shaky head and jig on the bottom in likely bedding spots.
8. N 33 51.686 – W 86 05.678 – Just upstream of the mouth of Permeter Creek a long shallow point runs out. If you have a good GPS map on your electronics, or a paper map, you can see how the Canoe Creek channel hits the bank upstream of it then turns and runs a long way along it. Fish hold all along the channel drop and move up it to spawning areas.
Leaving the riprap you have to swing way out, it is only a couple feet deep going across the point. Get way out on the end of the point with your boat in the channel in 10 – 15 feet of water. You will be a short cast from the top of the point that is three to five feet deep. Cast your DT 6 up on top then bump it along the bottom until it clears the drop. Your bites will usually be right on the lip of the channel.
Also work your shaky head the same way. Peyton rigs a green pumpkin Big Bite Baits finesse worm on a three sixteenths ounce Spot Sticker head and crawls it along the bottom. When it gets to the drop, feed it line so it falls down the slope on the bottom.
This drop is long enough you can spend a lot of time fishing it, and going back over places you catch fish is worth it.
9. N 33 51.768 – W 86 06.077 – Going up Canoe Creek a big ramp, Canoe Creek Park, is on your left. There are a few houses downstream of it with a riprap bank in front of them. Stop downstream of the last house from the ramp and fish upstream to the pocket above the ramp.
This bank is an outside bend of the creek. The riprap and docks along it hold bass as does the wood cover along the bank. Just downstream of them there are a lot of blowdowns that are good to fish and there are stumps all along the bank, too.
Fish your squarebill crankbait, bumping rocks and wood, then follow up with your jig and pig, fishing it close to all the cover. Released fish refresh this bank every weekend.
10. N 33 52.343 – W 86 06.223 – Muscadine Creek enters Canoe Creek on the left a little further upstream. A big house with some big tall trees in front of it sits on the point between the two creeks. It is a big, flat, shallow point where spots and largemouth stack up pre-spawn moving into both creeks.
Peyton says you can have your best day ever for spots right here in March. To prove his point, he hooked a spot that looked like it weighed about five pounds but came off right at the boat.
You should sit on the Muscadine Creek side in about seven feet of water just off the end of the point. Fan cast it with your crankbaits, that is what the big spot hit. Also try crawling your bladed jig on the bottom. We got a good three pound largemouth here on one.
There are some big stumps and gravel on the point. A shaky head will catch fish here, too. Fan cast all over the point, hitting water three to five feet deep.
These places are producing spots and largemouth right now. Check them out and catch some!