August Bass at Smith with Don Hubbard
It’s hot, lakes are covered up with skiers and jet skis and the fish just don’t bite very well during the day. So what should the smart bass fisherman do? Go at night! It is cooler, the fish feed and pleasure boaters are at a minimum. Smith Lake is a great choice for night fishing right now since its big spots are feeding in the dark.
Lewis Smith Lake, usually just called Smith Lake, is a few minutes west of Cullman and about an hour north of Birmingham. It is a beautiful mountain lake with steep rocky banks covered with trees and nice houses. But it gets very crowded in the summer and most bass tournaments are held at night. There are several pot tournaments held there each week starting in the late afternoon.
Smith was filled in 1961 and has 21,200 acres of clear water and 500 miles of shoreline. There has been a problem in the past with overcrowding of small bass so the size limit now a little unusual. You must release all bass from 13 to 15 inches long. Not only can you keep any size bass shorter than 13 inches long, the fisheries biologists recommend keeping all bass under 13 inches long. So if you want a few bass for a fish fry, you can keep the smaller bass. Smith is a very clean lake so they fish taste great, too.
The slot limit seems to be helping. The most recent electro fishing survey in 2007 showed 16 percent of the bass are over the 15 inch size limit. That is an improvement over the 2003 survey. Spots have done better under the slot restriction, with a greater increase of spots over 15 inches than of largemouth over that size. Local fishermen have taken to the slot limit and it is common to hear them refer to the days catch with something like “five over and ten under.”
Smith can be a tough lake to fish. It ranks last in the 2007 BAIT survey for percent success of anglers. But it ranks much higher, at 7th, for average weight of bass and tenth for the average time it takes to catch a bass over five pounds. Smith bass may be hard to catch but when you do find them you are more likely to catch a good one.
Don Hubbard lives in Cullman and has fished Smith since 1975. He fished with the Cullman Bass Club for a time then started concentrating on bigger tournaments. For many years he fished three night pot tournament every week on Smith during the summer. He loves bass fishing and enjoys the competition of tournaments.
In 1990 Don and his partner won the Anderson Boat Works tournament on Smith with five spotted bass weighing 23 pounds. For years the Anderson Boat Works tournament was the biggest in the state, drawing over 500 boats each year. Not only did Don and his partner win it in 1990, he has finished in second place four different times over the years.
Don weighed in a 7 pound, 2 ounce spot in a tournament but it is not his biggest from Smith. One winter day while fishing alone he landed a 27 inch fish he estimates at over nine pounds. He did not have a scale to weigh it and wanted to get it back in the water so it would survive and did not take it somewhere to be weighed. He has no doubt there is a record spot in Smith.
“Bass are deep in Smith in August,” Don told me. He looks for schools of fish down 15 to 30 feet deep this time of year and expects most of his catch to come from water 18 to 20 feet deep. That is where they feed. And he expects the bite to be much better after the sun sets. Even on days the boat traffic doesn’t make fishing uncomfortable, the bass just don’t bite very well with the sun up.
A variety of kinds of structure and cover pay off for Don this time of year. He likes humps, points, steep banks and deep brush piles around docks. Cover like brush, stumps and rocks help on all kinds of structure and a hump or point will often have a small sweet spot where there is good cover. Finding the structure that holds a school of bass and the sweet spot where the biggest ones can be caught takes time on the water.
Don keeps a variety of baits rigged on his Shamino rods and reels. A big spinnerbait is his favorite bait when fishing after dark for tournament fish. He does not mind fishing for five bites during tournament hours if they are the right bites. He has fun catching all size fish but concentrates on the big ones to win a tournament, and a spinnerbait is the way to go.
A heavy home-made spinnerbait with a #5 Colorado blade is his choice for fishing deep cover. Don likes a black blade, black and red skirt and big trailer on dark nights and a white skirt and silver blade bait on moonlight nights. One trick he has learned about blade color may help you. If you are feeling bites but not hooking the bass, they may be hitting at the blade. Switch from silver to copper to get them to hit the skirt and hook.
The trailer doesn’t make a lot of difference. It can be the same color as the skirt or a contrasting color. And Don will use a variety of trailers like Zoom Brush Hogs, Toads and even lizards to slow the bait down. He wants the bait to crawl along the bottom, ticking the cover, and a bulky trailer helps slow it down and keep it there.
A three-quarters ounce jig and trailer is another good bait. Don rigs the jig with a trailer that will slow it down and provide action, like a Zoom Chunk or twin curly tail grub. He lets the jig hit the bottom, just like the spinnerbait, then slow rolls it along, ticking the cover, just like he fishes the spinnerbait.
Don said his finesse jig was a half ounce jig with a smaller trailer. He may swim it or just hop it along. He also uses a jig head worm, fishing it on spinning gear. Green pumpkin colors for both baits are good if there is some light and Junebug or redbug are good at night. A Carolina rigged Zoom Fluke, Trick worm or Brush Hog and a Texas rigged worm completes his plastic arsenal. The Texas rig works better when fishing brush, especially around docks.
Crankbaits will also catch bass on deep cover if you can get them to run deep enough. Bass feeding at 15 feet can be caught on crankbaits when they are worked over the cover. They are harder to fish deep than spinnerbaits or plastics, though.
Don showed me the following ten spots he fishes at night and fish were on several of them a few weeks a ago, and will stay on them all summer. Look for baitfish and bass holding deep and you can catch bass on these spots right now.
1. N 34 04.620 – W 86 58.134 – Leave the Smith Lake Park ramp and head downstream. Look to your right just before the lake opens up to go around Goat Island and you will see some docks. Look for the double decked dock with two picnic tables on the upper deck and lights on it. This is a good example of the kinds of deep brush around docks that Don likes to fish.
If you look at a contour map you can see how the channel swings in near these docks then turns and goes across the lake. Don says you need at least 15 feet of water under the docks with the brush and deeper water just off them. Lights at night will help.
This dock and the two downstream of it are all good and have about 23 feet of water under them. Don will keep his boat out in front of the docks and cast past them and the brush, letting his spinnebait or a Texas rigged worm hit bottom. He then works the baits back across the brush. Jiggle and shake your worm in the brush. Fish it and the spinnerbait as slowly as you can.
There are many similar docks on Smith to fish. Look for them where the water is at least 15 feet deep with deeper water just off them. Brush is needed and lights help. Some docks that look good may not hold fish. The only way to find good docks is to fish them.
2. N 34 03.903 – W 86 57.973 – Run down to the point on Goat Island that sticks out the most on the upstream end. Across and downstream of it a little you will see a small house trailer on the bank then a two story house with brown shingles. Out in the middle of the lake, about 200 yards off the trailer, is a hump that comes up to 20 feet on top. If you idle in a line from the upstream point on Goat Island toward the trailer you will cross it.
This is a good example of the deep structure Don likes to fish. The channel runs right by it and there is 45 feet of water a cast off the top of the most shallow part. On this one Don likes to stay on the side toward the bank since it drops faster and he casts up to the top of the hump. He then brings his baits down the drop, fishing so slowly they stay in contact with the bottom.
You can fish all the way around a hump like this but pay attention where you get the bites. Often the fish will orient a certain way on the humps and hold on a small spot of cover and you need to find what they like and repeat it.
3. N 34 03.443 – W 86 58.750 – Run downstream and watch for a blue top dock on your left where the river narrows back down after joining together below Goat Island. A good ways past it you will see two small sycamore trees leaning out over the water and big rocks right at the water line under them. That is where you want to start fishing.
Don’t fish the bank here, although it sometimes holds fish. Back off a long cast and you will find a hump or ridge that runs parallel to the bank. It swings out from near the small sycamore trees and then swings back in near the biggest tree you see up on the bank.
Don will sit on the outside of this ridge and cast his baits across it, working them up the bank side then down the river side. It may look like he is fishing the bank with very long casts. This is a good example of the kind of structure it takes a lot of time on the water to find and learn to fish.
The day we fished there was a lot of baitfish and other fish stacked up in the trough between the bank and the ridge. Although we didn’t catch anything there, the presence of fish tells you they will feed at some point. A place like this, where you find bait and bass on your depthfinder, is well worth repeated checks to try to hit it when they move onto the ridge to feed. That applies to all the spots Don likes to fish.
4. N 34 03.036 – W 86 59.124 – Run downstream to the right bank across from the mouth of Simpson Creek. This steep bank has no houses on it on the upstream side and drops off very fast. There are rock piles all along this bank as well as some brush out in 20 feet of water. It is the kind of bank Don likes, with dips and small points, not just a straight bluff wall. He says some of his biggest bass from Smith have come off this bank.
Start on the upstream end of this steep bank, near where there is a small point downstream of a cove. Fish on down the bank to the spot in number 5.
To fish steep banks like this one Don keeps his boat in about 35 feet of water and makes angled casts to about 12 feet. Working his baits back at an angle keeps it in the productive 15 to 20 foot range longer than if you cast straight in toward the bank. He probes for hidden rocks and brush in the 15 to 20 foot range while watching his deptfinder for fish holding even deeper. If you are seeing bass holding out in 30 to 35 feet of water, back out and work your bait at that depth to see if they will hit.
5. N 34 02.875 – W 86 59.58 – As you fish downstream on the bank above you will round a point and see a dock landing way up on the bank. The wind got the dock but the small deck where the walkway was anchored is still there. Just downstream of it is a big willow tree sitting in a small pocket. A shelf runs out from this willow tree and is another of the kinds of hidden sweet spots Don tries to find.
You can idle across this spot, staying parallel to the bank, and you will see the shelf come up then drop back off. Fish get on top of this shelf to feed. Don likes to sit in front of the willow tree and cast downstream, landing his bait on top of the shelf. He then works the spinnerbait, or plastic down the upstream drop.
Don says current does not play much of a role in fishing on Smith so he usually keeps his boat in deep water and casts to shallow water, working his bait down the drop. You are less likely to get hung up fishing in that direction, too. You can fish all around this shelf and work your bait across it at different angles, but Don’s best luck has been casting downstream.
6. N 34 03.423 – W 87 00.720 – Start into the mouth of Millers Creek and you will see a shallow flat point running out on your right. Just upstream of the point there is a bunch of small willows or button bushes in the water. There is a red roof dock up on the bank on the upstream side of the point.
This point runs way out and comes up into a hump. It tops out at about 15 feet deep then drops again into very deep water. There are stumps, rocks and man-made brush piles on this hump and point.
Don likes to get out on the creek side of the hump and fish across it from this direction, but he will work all around it, casting at different angles. Fish can be feeding anywhere on the point and hump but the bigger fish seem to concentrate nearer the deeper end. Fish it with spinnerbait and crankbait, then try different plastics and jigs on it, too.
7. N 34 03.177 – W 87 01.055 – Across the lake going downsream you will see three danger markers in a line way off a point on your left, across from the mouth of Miller Creek. The river channel runs right along this point and it drops off fast on both sides. The ridge is very sharp and narrow and tops out at about nine feet at full pool There is also a dip or saddle between the bank and the first marker out from it.
Keep your boat out on the upstream side of the ridge and cast parallel, keeping your bait in the 15 to 18 foot range. Work the whole ridge, from the third marker out all the way into the bank. Don says bass often stack up in the saddle, too, so make some casts across it when you pass the marker closest to the bank.
Bass will hold on the downstream side of the ridge, so it can pay off to circle it, fishing both sides. Wind blowing across this ridge will move water and position bass on it so work the wind. Don says wind generated water movement is much more important than any current here from power generation at the dam.
Jigs and worms are Don’s best baits here and he will sometimes go to a Zoom Finesse worm on his jighead. It is better for numbers of bass but it will get bites when other baits fail. Work it on eight pound line, fishing parallel to the drop in the 15 to 18 foot range.
8. N 34 03.193 – W 87 01.743 – Running downstream look to your right and you will see a series of coves and a small creek entering the lake as the river swings to your left. There are finger points between each of these coves that run way out and drop off into the channel. The ends of the points may be 17 to 18 feet deep then suddenly drop to 110 feet. All of them can be good and all hold bass.
Don usually starts out from a cabin that is all windows on the lake side. There are several docks along here and there is usually an American flag flying on a pole. If you start here and idle toward the big point downstream, on the downstream side of the deepest cove, you will cross the points.
Since bass often school up on one of the points and several near it may not have many fish on them, Don will watch for bass and bait on his depthfinder. Or you can fish them all, trying to find the schooling fish. There are sometimes single fish scattered here, too. Keep your boat in deep water and cast across the points in 15 to 18 feet and work out to 30 feet deep here.
9. N 34 03.134 – W 87 02.998 – Go into Lick Branch and you will see a long bank with a series of “For Sale” signs on it. There is one dock along this bank. Across from it, on your left, watch for a cove a little over half way back from the mouth to the split. There are no houses on the bank from the cove upstream that you can see. The upstream point of this cove runs out and drops off and holds good fish.
Ride over the point and you will see the bottom come up from 40 feet to about 16 feet on top. Stay out on the end of the point in deep water and cover the whole point with your baits. Don says he has caught a lot of good bass here.
10. N 34 02.061 – W 87 02.909 – On the far bank, the one with the for sale signs, a ledge runs along the bank out then drops off into very deep water. Bass feed all along this ledge. If you get in close you can see small red lot marker signs on trees near the edge of the water. Start near the #15 sign and fish downstream, past the dock and the small cove.
Keep your boat out in 35 feet of water and cast parallel to the bank. The ledge runs out to 15 feet deep and you want to cover the 15 to 20 foot deep edge where it drops off. Cast up into about ten feet of water and let your bait hit bottom, then fish it back so it stays on the bottom out to at least 20 feet deep. When you get to the dip in the bank fish the edges of the dip where the ledge drops there, too.
These spots are holding bass right now. Get on the lake before dark and find them and others like them, and fish them hard from sundown on. Bass will bite all night long if you can stick with them.