July Bass at Neely Henry
with Waine Pittman
Its hot and muggy but that is no reason to stay home in front of the air conditioner. Catching a big spot or largemouth will make you forget the heat, and there are few better places to do that right now than the Coosa River on the upper end of Neely Henry Lake.
Neely Henry is just downstream of Lake Weiss at Gadsden. From the Tillison Brend Park Ramp upstream the river is narrow but there are feeder creeks with grassbeds and other cover. Docks are scattered on the river and in the creeks. Current runs in the river most days from power generation at the Weiss dam and the Neely Henry dam.
Current seems to make the spots and largemouth grow big fat and strong. Hook a three pound spot in the current and you will swear you have one twice that big or a striper. The current also makes them hold in predictable places and you can catch both species without dredging the depths in July.
Waine Pittman lived the dream, as the BASS Federation Nation motto goes. In 2008 he qualified for the Georgia Top Six in his club, the West Georgia Bass Hunters. At the state tournament he placed 4th at Lake Seminole, making the State Team. At the Federation Nation Southern Divisional at Santee Cooper he was the top man on the Georgia team, qualifying him for the Nationals.
In a dream trip that almost turned disastrous due to the weather Waine was the top man on the Southern Division team which made him the Southern Division representative at the BASS Masters Classic, arguably the most important tournament there is each year.
Waine is sponsored by Nitro Boats, Mercury Motors, Minkota Trolling Motors, JJ’s Magic, Cull Buddy, Triple Fish line, Net Bait lures, Cold Steel Lures, TC Cranks, Costa Eyewear and Tillman Eye Center. He uses Revo reels exclusively and says they are the best reels available.
I asked Waine what his favorite lake was and he didn’t hesitate to say “Neely Henry.” His club fishes the lake every year, usually in July, and he also fishes pot and local tournaments on Neely. He loves to fish the river for big spots and largemouth and knows how to catch them.
Waine started tournament fishing while in college and likes tournament fishing. Next year he plans on fishing the Southern Division BASS Opens tournaments all his kids are now out of high school.
Waine has a 5.5 pound spot and a 7 pound largemouth from the river, and his best tournament catch there was a five-fish limit weighing 23 pounds. The river is the perfect place for Waine to skip, pitch and flip a jig and pig, his favorite way of fishing. And it catches fish there.
“By late June bass are set up on their summer pattern,” Waine said. That means they are holding in the river and bigger creeks on ledges and deeper cover and running in to shallow water to feed. Creek mouths are a key area this time of year, giving bass a short route to grass beds in the creeks and to cover that breaks the current on the river banks.
Waine will start at daylight on shallow grassbeds near creek mouths, then move to the river banks after the sun gets up. He fishes the grass fast with spinnerbaits, frogs and buzzbaits on one pass then come back and flip them with a Net Bait Paca Punch. After an hour he moves out to the river channel and flips them with a jig he makes.
Flipping, skipping and pitching a jig and pig with a Paca Chunk SR. behind a five-sixteenths ounce jig works well. That combo has a lot of action and works catches fish in the current on the river. Flipping is his bread and butter method of catching bass.
Waine showed me the following ten spots where he catches bass in the river in early June. We were a little early for the pattern but caught some good spots and largemouth, but not the quality fish Waine hoped we would catch. By now the bigger fish will be more active on these spots.
1. N 34 00.779 – W 85 55.412 – If you put in at Tillison Bend Park Ramp run up to the mouth of Cove Creek, the first creek upstream of the ramp on the same side of the river. Go into the creek to the 4th dock on the right, in front of a brick house, and fish upstream. There is a good grass bed by this ramp and it is a good place to start.
Fish the small patch of grass quickly then work on upstream, fishing the seawall and small point at the next dock. Past it is a big point. Fish it then go around the point. A huge grassbed lining the bank starts there and runs into a cove, out of it on the other side and on up the bank.
Throw your buzzbait to the bank and work it back across the gap. Try a spinnerbait, too. A frog works well over this water willow grass in the thicker parts of it and that is where the biggest bass will hold. Waine likes the Cold Steel frog since it is thin and tough.
Waine usually fishes around the first pocket with those baits then turns and fishes the same grass with the Paca Punch. That bait is a solid body bait that stays up on the hook well and has lots of action. He will drop the bait into holes in the grass and also punch through the thicker mats. A half ounce sinker is heavy enough to get through most of this grass and works well.
We hooked a couple of good largemouth here the day we fished. Both hit spinnerbaits the first few minutes before the sun came up. Sometimes you can punch the thicker grass can catch fish in the bright sun, and if the fish are actively feeding a spinnerbait run through the grass will catch them even in the bright sun.
2. N 34 00.870 – W 85 55.309 – Go back to the mouth of the creek and start on the upstream point, fishing upstream. Pitch a jig and pig to all the cover along this bank. Trees and brush create eddies in the current that the bass use as ambush points
Always fish upstream. That gives you better boat control and also helps work your bait with the current in a natural action. Fish at an angle ahead of the boat, pitching or flipping your bait so it hits on top of the cover and falls in behind it with the current.
Work on up to the first few docks along this bank, hitting them where the posts breaks the current. Current is critical when fishing the river. When it moves, the bass bite, but you need a strong trolling motor to fish it. Waine uses a 36 volt Minkota for this reason.
3. N 34 00.744 – W 85 54.500 – A little further up the river on the opposite side, just where the river starts a gentle bend to the right, a small double mouth creek enters the river. There are grass beds in the mouth that hold good bass. Waine said he pulled up here one day and on back to back casts caught a 4.63 and a 4.75 pound spot. There was a big bass chasing shad here when we got to the spot but we could not get it to hit.
Keep your boat out in the river and cast into the creek, working your fast moving baits over the grass. Fish both sides of the small island splitting the creek at the river edge. Waine says he does not work back into the smaller creeks like this one since the bass will be set up right on the river this time of year.
4. N 33 59.479 – W 85 54.044 – Further up the river Tidmore Bend makes a big horseshoe bend. Going upstream, watch for an old dead snag tree leaning out over the water. Start well downstream of this snag and work up to it. You should stop across the river from the blue roof house on the far bank if you can’t see the snag.
This inside bend is typical of a good type place to fish. There is a little less current here so bass like to feed here when it is running strong, but still enough to make them active.
Waine says he usually catches bass in less than five feet of water, so he concentrates his casts to the base of trees in the water and brush or little cuts on the bank. It is worth fishing on out to the ends of the bigger trees some to see if bass are holding deeper, but unless you get some bites keep your bait in the more shallow feeding zone.
5. N 34 05.552 – W 85 51.845 – Waine usually runs way on up the river from here, going past the Appalachian Highway Bridge. Upstream of the bridge Coats Bend makes a sweeping turn to the left. Go all the way past it to where the next bend starts turning to the right. A small island sits just off the bank and a small creek enters behind it. This is an excellent place to fish.
Start just downstream of the cut behind the island and fish upstream, pitching your bait into the ditch and working it out. Cover both points. The downstream point will have current hitting it and turning into the ditch, creating a good feeding eddy. The upstream point has current swirling around it to make the bass feed. There is grass on both points that you should hit hard, but also fish out in front of it.
Fish upstream a short distance, hitting the cover on the river bank. Fish will feed along it as they move to the mouth of the creek to feed so it is worth checking out.
6. N 34 07.637 – W 85 48.102 – Run all the way to the bend where the Weiss Re-Regulation pool empties into the river and stop on the right bank going upstream. Fish the right bank along the inside bend of the river, starting well downstream of the turn. Fish up to the turn past the dead snags in the water.
Along here the current is very strong out in the river but you will actually find water moving upstream from the eddy behind the point. There are cuts in the bank that create additional eddies and the wood in the water breaks the current, too.
Waine got a good keeper spot here on his home made jig and says it is a very good bank. It is worth hitting every little hole and piece of wood along this bank. Fish it slowly. With the current eddying around you can fish here fairly easily in both directions.
7. N 34 07.217 – W 85 49.057 – Headed back down the river go to the mouth of Ballplay Creek, on your left going downstream. It is on the straight section of the river about half way before you get to the turn back to the right going downstream. There is a lot of wood in the mouth of this creek, especially under the overhanging tree on the downstream point.
Waine says it is nasty under that tree and you will probably get hung up, but it is worth it since it holds good bass. Start fishing just downstream of the creek mouth and work into it, hitting the cove under the tree as you go into the creek. This one is deep enough to fish into the creek about fifty feet then fish back out on the opposite bank.
Time of day is not real important but sun seems to help position the bass a little. We caught more fish while the sun was bright than when it was cloudy. But current is more important than anything else, and Waine will fish this pattern from an hour after first light the rest of the day.
8. N 34 06.632 – W 85 51.505 – Going back down the river on the outside slight bend to the right watch for a small building on the left bank. Just downstream of it is a ditch with wooden retaining walls on it. This is the location of an old cotton mill. You want to fish the right side of the river, across from the ditch.
Idle in slowly here, especially if the water is down some. Old walls and humps come up to a couple of feet deep about 50 feet off the bank and make eddies in the main river current. Waine will fish a Bandit 200 shad colored crankbait here as well as a spinnerbait. You can reel the crankbait down to bump the tops of the cover and run a spinnerbait over it.
This is a good place to pull in and make a couple of dozen casts to see if the bass are on the structure. Waine says he will not stay long if he doesn’t get bit quick. Stay out a long cast from the bank and work your baits at an angle, casting toward the bank then coming back downstream. Also fan cast upstream to hit the cover further out. You can see it on your depthfinder.
9. N 34 04.074 – W 85 49.733 – Go back down past the big bend and the island in hole 5. Just before you get to Coats Bend you will see some houses and docks on the right side. If you are headed upstream they are the first docks on the left above the bridge, but a long way from it.
Stop in front of the dock with a Rebel Flag with the words “In God We Trust” on it. It is in front of a big unusually shaped house. The house is long and thin running at a 90 degree angle to the river then wide at the end away from the river. There is also a high car unloading area with columns supporting the high roof. It looks like the front of a hotel.
The three docks from the flag upstream are good ones to fish. Wood washes in and hangs on them, and small diversion walls just upstream of some of them make good eddies at the docks. Fish the posts of the docks and all the wood around and under them, and also make some casts behind the docks between them and the bank, with your jig and pig.
10. N 34 01.954 – W 85 50.274 – Running down the river there is a small creek on the left on the outside of Coats Bend. The creek forks a little way back. It is upstream of the bigger Dry Creek. This smaller creek has a dock on the upstream point that has steel I Beams supporting the deck and a paving stone or wall stone wall on both sides of the walkway coming down to it.
Fish both points at the mouth of this creek. Then work on back into the creek, fishing the overhanging brush and wood in the water. Waine says the water is deep enough here to work all the way back to where the creek widens out on the left fork going in. He got a keeper spot off the point where the creek splits.
All these places hold good bass and there are many more creek mouths, inside bends and other kinds of cover to fish in the river. Head to it this summer and get in on the incredible fishing when the current is running.