|Time for Lunker Panfish|
By Frank Sargeant, Editor
from The Fishing Wire
While most anglers are still focused on spawning largemouth bass in late April across the South, a few savvy panfish anglers know that this is the time to home in on catching the largest bluegills, warmouth and crappie of the year as the “jumbos” cruise into the shallows to feed on bass fry around the beds.
Crappies spawn earlier than bass, bluegills and warmouth later, but both species love 1 to 2 inch long baby fish, and with the bass spawn beginning in late March and continuing into early May, there are millions of these fry in the shallows of many lakes at present.
While small bluegills and warmouth mostly eat grass shrimp and insect life, the hand-sized “jumbos” seem to prefer fish. Crappies, of course, feed heavily on minnows of all types throughout their adult lives.
Bream beds are not hard to find—or at least that’s usually the case. This year, high, muddy water in many lakes around the Southeast has made it more of a challenge to pick out the beds. They’re shallow bowls scooped out on firm sand or shell, typically in 1 to 4 feet of water on the edge of grass, or around boat docks, stumps or other cover.
They’re easiest to see on a calm day with high sun. This year, the challenge is just finding water that’s clear enough to see down any depth, but barring further downpours, the water should clear quickly.
Beds that hold panfish may or may not have adult bass still in them. While the male bass guards the nest for the first week to 10 days after the eggs hatch, they leave them on their own after that. Big panfish prowl around both guarded and unguarded nests.
Matching the hatch is the sensible way to catch these panfish, which often are far bigger than typical schooling bluegills or crappies found offshore. Tiny 2” floater-diver minnow imitations from Rapala and Rebel are particularly effective.
These fly-weight lures are best fished on ultra-light spinning gear and 6-pound-test mono—heavier line ruins the action. It’s also essential to tie them on with a loop knot like the turtle rather than a uniknot or improved clinch, because if the knot draws tight on the eye, the action of the little lure will be ruined by the resistance of the line.
A little reel like the Shimano Syncopate 1000 is all that’s needed to handle the lightweight minnow imitations from Rapala and Rebel that attract these jumbo panfish.
Fly rod poppers also work well when the panfish are around the beds—choose light-colored bugs with minimal dressing, because in this case you’re imitating a minnow rather than a bug or a frog.
Sometimes all it takes is casting the lure over the bed, letting it set for a 10-count and then twitching it once—bluegills in particular like this presentation. I’ve caught some close to a pound with this tactic this spring.
Crappies and warmouth, on the other hand, seem to like a moving target. Slow cranking the bait so that it comes wobbling across the bed and nearby shallows draws the strikes.
When you catch a panfish off a bed, the disturbance flushes most nearby panfish for a time, but sit quietly for 5 to 10 minutes and they’ll come cruising back to the free feast. You can probably catch another and then another with well-timed casts.
It’s also possible to catch these fish with tiny jigs of 1/32 ounce or there-abouts, again fished on UL tackle. The smallest Beetle Spins also work well, cranked just fast enough to make the spinner blade turn.
For fly-rodders, a silver/green streamer fly about 2 inches long on a size 8 long-shank hook does the job. Very short, jerky strips of an inch or so at a time draw the bites.
While panfish are the primary target, fishing the beds with this gear also occasionally turns up a surprise. This spring I’ve caught black drum, catfish and perch in these areas and also landed bass to a couple pounds, a real handful on the ultra-light gear.
It’s a change of gears for those of us who are confirmed bass-heads, but a pleasant diversion for a few weeks in spring—and when it comes to eating, you can’t beat fresh-fried fillets off these oversized panfish.
June Blue Ridge Bass
with Barron Adams
Lots of spots, some quality largemouth and your best chance to catch a Georgia smallmouth. Fish rocks and brush in deeper water while watching for schooling fish on Blue Ridge Lake this month to catch all three types of bass.
Blue Ridge is a pretty 3300-acre TVA lake on the Toccoa River in the north Georgia mountains near the state line where Tennessee and North Carolina meet. Its deep clear waters for years harbored the best smallmouth population in the state, but the invasion of spots has decimated their population. There are still some, mostly bigger fish it seems, in the lake.
Barron Adams grew up in Mineral Bluff fishing the lake with his grandfather. He loved catching smallmouth and largemouth there and in other lakes. He fished some club and local tournaments but got serious about tournament fishing about eight years ago. He fishes the Chattanooga Bass Association tournaments and this is his second year on the FLW Costa Series. He finished 18th in the Southeast Division and hopes that will qualify him for the FLW Tour next year since several fishermen ahead of him in the points double qualified for it.
Barron still fishes almost all Wednesday night tournaments on Blue Ridge and guides there and on Chatuge and Nottely. He knows Blue Ridge well and what the bass are doing there.
“By June most bass have
finished spawning and are on deeper cover like rocks and brush piles on
Barron said. This has been a cold spring and bass spawned late. On the full moon in early May there were a few bedding and a lot cruising the shallows. And we saw balls of shad in the shallows getting ready to spawn.
Although bass are holding deep now, they come up on shad and blueback herring, feeding on top especially early in the morning and late in the day. Barron will always have a walking bait ready to cast to them. For deeper fish he relies on a shaky head, jig and pig and drop shot.
“A few years ago, I could count on catching several smallmouth each trip,” Barron said. But they are rare now, and he seldom catches small ones, a bad sign that they are not reproducing well. Spots have crowed them out, as fisheries biologists predicted. But you can still catch a few mixed in with the more common spots. And there are some good largemouth with them, too.
We fished the first week of May during the full moon and saw a few bedding bass, but most were cruising, waiting on the water to warm. They were late, and as soon as the water warmed enough a lot went on the bed at one time. Now you should concentrate on deeper cover like the following ten places to catch all three species.
1. N 34 52.163 – W 84 16.381 – The main lake point on the upstream side of the creek with Lake Blue Ridge Marina in it has red Toccoa River Marker 1 on it. It runs way out and has god brush on it. Stop way off the point in 60 to 70 feet of water and ease in with your trolling motor.
Keep an eye on your electronics, watching for brush piles around 25 feet deep. Fan cast with a shaky head or jig and pig as you move in. When you see brush, cast both to it but have a drop shot worm ready to fish straight down in it. Barron rigs a Morning Dawn Robo worm about 16 inches above a three eights ounce lead and drops it straight down into the brush.
Here and at all other times keep a topwater walking bait like a Spook ready to cast to bass chasing shad and herring on top. Barron uses a bone colored Spook and works it through any surface activity.
2. N 34 52.314 – W 84 15.579 – Across the lake and a little upstream red marker 2 is on another main lake point that is good. It, too, runs way out so stop at least 100 yards off the point in deep water. As you move in, make long casts with shaky head and jig and pig to the point, bumping the bottom. Watch for brush piles to fish with your drop shot.
The fish can be spooky even in 25-foot-deep brush piles. If you get right over one and see fish, but can’t get them to bite, mark the brush and back off a long cast away. Then fish the brush with shaky head or jig and pig. Long cast are often critical with the clear water on Blue Ridge.
3. N 34 51.204 – W 84 15.349 – Going up Star Creek, just as it starts its turn to the left there is a big cove on your right. On the downstream point just inside it is a covered dock and further into it a small wooden dock, with a private ramp between the two. The downstream point and the middle point inside the cove where it splits both come way out so stop about in the middle of the cove outside the downstream point.
Sit in about 35 feet of water and make long casts toward the middle back point. A long cast will get your bait up into 10 to 11 feet of water. There is brush and tires on the bottom and the top of the points offer good schooling areas.
Rake the shallow points with shaky head and jig and pig. Since the cover here is shallow, work all of it from a distance. You can locate the exact position of the cover with good electronics like the Lowrance HDS Carbon units Barron uses. Finding it with side scan will let you make accurate casts to it without getting too close to it.
4. 34 51.059 – W 84 14.993 – On up Star Creek Red Marker Star Creek 9 is on your right. Just upstream of it is a small pocket. The downstream point of it is a long shallow flat that comes out and drops in to the creek channel.
This is an excellent place to throw a topwater plug early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Make long cast up on the flat and work it back to the boat. Bass on the flat and in brush on it will come up and hit it.
The brush on this point is also good for fishing shaky head and jig and pig. Barron uses a three eights ounce head made at Tri State Tackle Shop beside Dunkin Donuts on Appalachian Highway near the Blue Ridge dam. He likes their heads since they have a sturdy 5/0 Gamakatsu hook. He puts a Zoom avocado or green pumpkin Trick worm on it and drags it along the bottom with little shakes of his rod tip.
5. N 34 51.709 – W 84 15.726 – Back out at the mouth of Star Creek the point between it and the river has Red Toccoa River marker 3 on it. It is a flat point that comes out and drops into both river and creek channel and has a very steep drop on the river side that bass like.
Fish topwater over it then work the bottom and brush with shaky head and jig and pig, probing for rocks and brush. All three species of bass like both kinds of cover and hold on it during the day. Keep your dropshot ready here as on other places.
6. N 34 51.278 – W 84 16.567 – Going up the river a narrow point on the right is between the river and a big creel on the right. There is a green roof dock on the creek side of the point and a kid’s playhouse on the point. Barron called it Rocking Chair Point due to the red rocking chair by the playhouse.
Herring spawn on this point and others, and with the cold spring we had, some herring and shad may still be spawning early this month. It is a good place to throw a topwater at first light. Even after the spawn baitfish move over the point and bass feed on them, so have your topwater ready at all times.
There is brush on this point out to 35 feet deep and bass in the deeper brush are less likely to be spooked by the boat, so it is good for a drop shot. Also fish your shaky head and jig and pig in it. Stop on the downstream side of the point, keep your boat in 40 plus feet of water, and fish around it to the dock.
7. N 34 50.584 – W 84 16.850 – In the mouth of Charlie Creek a small island sits way off the bank. There are rocks on the right side of it when you are on the creek side. Fish school around it and the rocks are a good place to fish both shaky head and jig and pig. Barron fishes a one-half ounce Dirty Jig football head jig in the watermelon color with a green pumpkin Zoom Creepy Crawler trailer. He dips the tails of his trailer as well as his shaky head worms in JJs Magic and says the spots especially like the flash of color it gives them.
Barron fishes his jig and pig on a G Loomis seven foot two inch 855 NRX medium heavy rod and spools his Daiwa Type R reel with 17 pound Segar Invix fluorocarbon line. He says this combination allows him to feel bites and get the fish out of the brush he is fishing.
Drag the jig along the bottom, letting the tails of the trailer swim and flash. Hop it when you hit rocks, and in brush yoyo it up and down on limbs. When you get hit in brush set the hook fast and reel fast to get the fish out of the cover.
8. N 34 50.393 – W 84 16.973 – Where Charlie Creek bends to the right near the back a state brush pile marker sits off the right point. State brush piles are all over the lake and, other than rocks and fishermen brush piles, are much of the limited cover on Blue Ridge. All of them 25 to 35 feet deep hold bass in June.
The brush is not all under the marker but scattered around them. Here, the best brush is between the marker and bank. All of the brush is good for fishing jig and pig and shaky head, but a drop shot will often get bites when the other baits won’t.
Barron drops is sinker to the bottom and starts by holding his rod tip still, letting the Robo worm suspend off the bottom with little motion. If that doesn’t draw a bite he will twitch his rod tip gently to make it shake in place a little. Fish like that all around the brush first then let your sinker hit the top of the brush and fish the worm on top of it, especially if you see fish suspended over it on your electronics.
9. N 34 50.160 – W 84 16.447 – Going up the river Red Marker 9 is on a point on your right. The bank downstream of it is a bluff bank with blowdowns on it and there is a state brush pile on the point and more in the mouth of the pocket past it.
Barron says bluff banks with blowdowns almost always hold bass in June, but they are scattered in the tips of them, especially when there are a lot of blowdowns. A good tactic is to fish the ends of the trees with your drop shot worm. Work slowly up the bluff bank, hitting the ends of every blowdown along it.
When you get to the point, try dropshot, shaky head and jig and pig in the state brush piles. There is a lot of brush here and the fish may be scattered in them or concentrated in one, so fish them all or use electronics to find the fish.
10. N 34 50.855 – W 84 16.556 – At the mouth of Charlie Creek, between it and the river, a small island sits off the bank. There is a ridge of white rock running off the creek side that you can see. Those rocks run out deep and hold bass since they are right on the drop on the creek side.
Stop way off the rocks and cast shaky head and jig and pig to them. Fish the rocks out to the deep end. Bass also school on top here so be ready to cast a topwater to them. Barron says they tend to school on the flatter river side of the island in the mornings but over the deeper creek side during the day.
Check out these places and there are many more all over the lake like them. A good lake map has the state brush piles marked to help find them, and good electronics will help you find the unmarked brush to fish.
Call Barron at 706-455-0863 for a guided trip to see exactly how he catches Blue Ridge bass.
Do you find these Map of the Month articles helpful? If so visit http://fishing-about.com/keys-to-catching-georgia-bass-ebook-series/ – you can get an eBook or CD with an article for each month of the year on Clarks Hill and Lanier.
May Bass at Clarks Hill
with Tony Green
May fishing is good anywhere you go in Georgia but blueback herring have made Clark’s Hill one of the best bets in the state to catch big largemouth this month. And they are hitting on top, the most exciting way to catch bass. You can’t go wrong with a trip to Clark’s Hill in May.
Clark’s Hill is a big 72,000 acre lake on the Georgia/South Carolina border. Built in the early 1950s it has 1200 miles of shoreline and is full of islands and humps. There is good access all over this Corps of Engineers Lake even with the water level down six to eight feet this year.
Tony Green was born in South Carolina but moved to the Macon area when he was three years old and has lived and fished there all his life. While growing up he went to Clark’s Hill a lot, camping and fishing with his family. They caught crappie and bass on those trips.
About eight years ago Tony joined the Procasters Bass Club in the Macon area and got into tournament fishing. He has made that club’s state team most years and enjoys the competition and chances to learn more about bass fishing by being in that club.
Tony has fished the HD Marine Trail for several years but took this year off. You can find him entered in a good many Berry’s and R and R Tournaments. He also fishes some pot tournaments and a few BFL tournaments in the area.
This year in March Tony beat out 417 other club fishermen in the Georgia Bass Chapter Federation Top Six tournament at Clark’s Hill to win first place. His eight bass weighing 30.4 pounds beat out second place by over three pounds.
Tony loves Clark’s Hill in May and tries to make several trips to the lake every year this time of year. His club also tries to schedule tournaments on Clark’s Hill or Hartwell in May to get in on the great fishing both lakes offer. The herring bite is similar on both lakes and can be some of the fastest action of the year.
The pattern is fairly simple in May on Clark’s Hill. Bass have mostly finished spawning by the first of May and they have moved out and are feeding heavily. Find the herring spawning on main lake structure and you will find big bass nearby. The herring spawn on hard bottoms near deep water and like long points, humps and blow throughs.
A blow through is a saddle or dip between the main bank and an island or between humps or islands on big water. Wind blows through these shallow areas and the waves wash away the soft soil, leaving gravel, rocks and hard clay the herring like. The same action clears soft bottoms away leaving the hard stuff on long points and humps, too.
Tony will have three rods rigged and ready to take advantage of the herring bite. His first choice is a big Spook or Sammy on an outfit he can use to cast it a long way. The topwater plug is worked as fast as he can move it early in the morning, fishing water from a foot or less deep to about ten feet deep. Topwater baits are better first thing in the morning.
As the sun gets on the water Tony will usually switch to a Fluke and fish it over water three to six feet deep. The sun moves the bass a little deeper but they will usually still come up to eat something near the surface. Herring like the sun and will usually be near the top on sunny days.
After the sun gets bright Tony thinks the bass move a little deep and are less likely to come up, so he will drag a big Carolina rigged lizard along the points and break lines in six to ten feet of water. He likes to use the bigger lizards to attract bites from bigger fish.
Before a tournament Tony will try to be on the water at daybreak and ride, looking for places the herring are moving and he sees surface activity. During the day he will throw a spinnerbait or crankbait around spawning areas and watch for herring following the bait back to the boat, or will sometimes hook one. If he finds the herring near a spawning area he knows the bass will be nearby.
Tony is always looking for “nervous” water while fishing. Any small movement on top indicates the herring and bass will usually be following them. He will move toward any activity he sees and cast to it. That is why it is helpful to use a rig you can cast a long way.
Although the water is down this year the herring will still spawn near the same spots they have used in the past when the lake was full and will use in the future. Tony thinks the low water may actually make the herring bite better this year because low water may push the bass out of the creeks to the main lake even faster.
The following ten spots have all produced fish over the years during the herring spawn. You can check them out to see what Tony looks for then find others. With the lake low you can see exactly what the structure looks like and get a good picture of it when the water covers it.
1. N 33 41.329 – W 82 17.915 – Mims Branch just downstream of the Highway 47 Bridge has Ft. Gordon Recreation Area in it. The downstream point of this creek is an excellent place to find herring spawning and bass eating them. The point is rocky with some sand and clay so the hard bottom attracts the herring. Two smaller side points add to its attraction to the herring and it is near deep water but runs way out, making it even better.
The point you want to fish runs out toward green channel marker L 15. There is a hard drop on the upstream side of the point. You will see a tall light pole and light on the point to know you are in the right place.
Start on the downstream side out from the light pole and work all the way around the point. Start at first light keeping your boat out as far as you can and still make casts with your top water baits right on the bank. Some times the bass will be extremely shallow and will be looking for herring in a few inches of water so start real shallow.
Work around the point to the upstream side, working your topwater baits back to water about eight feet deep then reel in and make another cast. Work your bait fast. You can not take a top water bait away from a bass that wants it and they seem to like a fast moving bait. Fishing fast also allows you to make more casts in the short time before the sun gets on the water.
As the sun comes up fish back around the point, staying out a little deeper and working water three to six feet deep with a Fluke. Then fish back around the point even further out dragging a big lizard along the breaklines in six to ten feet of water.
2. N 33 42.251 – W 82 17.560 – Across the lake a long arm of land runs out on the north side of Bussey Point and there is an island off the upstream end of it. A shallow point runs out upstream on the upstream side of the island and there are also several humps around the point. This is an excellent place to find a lot of bass and herring.
One of the small humps had a danger marker lying on its side on the hump right at the water line when we fished. The water was right at eight feet low. Start fishing out from that danger marker and work the whole area. You will see some of the high spots just above the water and there are others all around. Work from the end of the point around all these high spots.
Always watch for any surface disturbance and cast to it. Tony’s description of “nervous water” gives you a good idea of the little ripples the herring will often make on the surface. If the herring are there the bass will be nearby. Cast to any swirls you see, too.
3. N 33 41.733 – W 82 18.848 – Back across the lake on the upstream side of the long point on the upstream side of Mims Branch you will find a long shallow point running out toward green channel marker L 21. There is a big round cedar tree on the point that stood out a few weeks ago but might blend in more now that the trees have more leaves on them.
Start on the downstream side of the point and fish upstream, keeping you boat close on the first pass so you can almost hit the bank then fishing further out on your next pass. This flat runs way out and there are a lot of rocks on it that are normally about eight feet deep at full pool There are some stumps and brush piles on this point and they help, but the hard bottom is more important for the herring spawn.
4. N 33 41.568 – W 82 19.397 – A little further toward the bridge on this peninsular on the upstream side of Mims Branch is the swimming area. There is a small island just downstream of the swimming area and a point runs out there. You will see the bathhouse on the bank and some lights and benches on the point.
Start fishing near the downstream side of the little island and point and work around it. If you fish fast you can hit this point and two more before you get to the swimming area, throwing topwater before the sun gets on the water. Then work back around them. All three parallel points hold bass and herring spawn on them so watch all for activity as you fish.
This area and the others are even better when some wind blows in on them. You won’t be able to see the surface activity as well but wave action will help the bite. Waves seem to disorient the herring and make them easier prey, and waves also break up the light making it a little more difficult for the bass to tell your bait from a live herring.
5. N 33 42.159 – W 82 20.318 – Across the lake on the upstream side of the cove where Cherokee Ramp is located is a marked hump. It is way out of the water now and you can see how it has a big pile or rocks on the downstream side and tapers off toward the bridge. It drops fast at first down to about six feet deep at full pool but then flattens out. On the downstream side are three small high spots.
All these high spots hold bass and herring. The downstream side of the marked hump seems to hold more bass. Start out in front of the hump about even with the rock pile and work around it toward the ramp. Cover all this area with all your baits. Watch your depthfinder to note the contours since it changes a lot around this hump. You don’t want to get in too close, especially after the sun gets on the water.
All the tournaments held out of Cherokee Ramp make this an even better spot. The bass population is constantly supplemented by released bass so the concentration in this area is high.
6. N 33 41.910 – W 82 20.829 – Go under the bridge and head toward the right bank. Not far out from the riprap you will see an island that is usually not much more than a hump before you get to the bank. It has a danger marker on a pole on it but has a lot of rock out of the water right now. Some cypress trees have been planted on top of it.
Fish the outside of this hump, starting on the end toward the bridge and working to the upstream end. That side gets most of the waves, has a harder bottom, and drops off faster. Work it will all your baits before leaving the area.
7. N 33 40.428 – W 82 21.766 – Cliatt Creek is the one with Mistletoe State Park in it. There is an island on the downstream point of this creek. Go in on the downstream side of this island and you will see some humps and points running way out toward the lake. All are good for the herring spawn. The river makes a big bend right here and they are on the outside of the bend and that makes them even better.
You can see the rocky humps and point with the water down and there are stumps and brush on them as well as the rocks. All help make it a good spot. Note the brush piles while fishing in close and hit them later with the sun on the water. Bass will often hold in brush and around stumps in six to eight feet of water after the sun gets bright so dragging your Carolina rigged lizard through them is a good bet.
8. N 33 40.555 – W 82 22.194 – Out off the end of the island there are some good humps to fish. One was barely above the water when we were there, with less than six inches of it showing, so be very careful in this area if the water has come up above eight feet low.
You will see a marked hump out from and a little downstream of the island and the smaller hump is out from it. Again, this is a big area where lots of herring spawn so watch for activity to tell you exactly where to fish. Also keep an eye on your depthfinder to keep your boat in a good depth.
Fish all around the marked hump and the others that are out from it. Make long casts. The water is usually clear in these areas and longer casts help by not spooking the bass and herring with your boat. Long casts with all three baits are best.
9. N 33 40.278 – W 82 22.582 – The island on the upstream side of Cliatt Creek, just off the campground, has a rocky point running out on its downstream end. The rocks run out toward the middle of the mouth of the creek. About in the middle of the island on the outside a long clay point runs out toward the middle of the lake.
Start fishing on the inside of the rocky point and fish around it. Continue upstream and fish the clay point, too. Fish all your baits on both points and the hard bottom between them. Keep and eye out for surface activity in the area as you fish.
10. N 33 40.363 – W 82 23.734 – Straight across from Mistletoe is a long ridge with a small island on the upstream side. This ridge runs parallel to the river. Go upstream past it and there is a big island on your right. Upstream of this island is a marked hump. The danger marker was bent over at an angle when Tony and I were there in mid-April. We got a bass here that pushed three pounds even that early.
Start on the downstream side of the marker and fish around the hump. This area has a lot of high spots that all attract herring and the marked hump is good year round. It is best for the herring spawn since it is the outside hump of the group but all will hold fish. Work this area carefully and watch for changes in the bottom to tell you which areas are best.
These ten spots are all close to Mistletoe Park and Cherokee Ramp but there are other similar places on Little River and the Savannah River. Check these out but don’t limit yourself to this small area of the huge lake. You can find many similar herring spawning spots that hold largemouth for you to catch all over the lake.
April Bass at West Point
with Charlie Williams
April may well be the best month for bass fishing in Georgia/Alabama and West Point may be the best lake in the state to catch bass on this month. The lake has great spawning coves that attract bass to predictable places and some simple patterns will catch them from late March through the end of April.
West Point is a fairly new 25,900 acre Corps of Engineers lake that was filled in 1974. It runs for 35 miles on the Chattahoochee River and has plenty of access points on both sides of the lake. A 14 inch size limit on largemouth helps maintain quality size for them and the increase in spotted bass over the past ten years offers anglers plenty of keeper size fish to eat. There is no size limit on spots (in either state) but there is a ten bass creel limit on them.
Charlie Williams grew up on Maple Creek just upstream of the lake and caught his first bass ever on the riprap while fishing on that creek under the bridge for crappie. He fished for bass with his grandfather and also his best friend and father, Randy “Rock Man” Williams who was a member of the LaGrange Bass Club and helped found the West Georgia Bass Club with Rickey Childs.
Living so close to the lake gave Charlie a chance to spend a lot of time on it. He started fishing tournaments on the lake with his dad when he was 12 years old. Charlie now works for Toyota dealership in Columbus and at State Line Marine on some of his days off. At State Line he gets to talk with lots of bass fishermen and that, along with all his fishing friends and contacts, helps him keep up with what is going on at West Point every day.
Charlie fished the BFL and other trails until two children blessed his marriage and he has slowed down fishing tournaments the past few years. He still fishes with West Georgia Bass Club and in some BFLs and pot tournaments on West Point. And many afternoons he hits the lake for a few hours after work.
“Don’t even fool with the first half of creeks this time of year,” Charlie said. By late March most West Point bass have moved back into the creeks and are looking for bedding areas. Charlie will run and gun, hitting a lot of places back in creeks and covering water. He says too many bass will hit to fool around in one area trying to make them bite.
When the bass go on the bed Charlie will do some sight fishing but water is often stained and it is hard to spot them. Many times a better plan is to run a Rat-L-Trap across gravel where the fish spawn then follow it up with a Carolina rigged lizard. This will get bites from fish that are spawning too deep to see.
The one exception to fishing back in creeks is the shad spawn. Charlie says it will start when the water hits 68 degrees, usually around the second weekend in April. A full moon around that time helps. When the shad spawn is on there will be 15 to 20 minutes of fast and furious action right at daylight if you are in the right spot.
For fishing this month Charlie will have several baits rigged. For pre-spawn fish he likes a pearl with red eye Bandit 200 crankbait. If the water is stained he will go with the same crankbait in spring craw. A chrome and blue half-ounce Trap will be on one rod and he will have a white spinnerbait with two small willowleaf blades ready for the shad spawn.
A Carolina rigged six inch lizard in green pumpkin or black will be rigged on a 30 inch leader and quarter ounce sinker unless the wind is strong, then he will go with a heavier lead. And he keeps a three eights ounce All Terrain Tackle jig and pig ready to flip into any heavy cover. He likes a black and blue jig and trailer in stained water and a Texas craw color in clearer water.
Charlie keys on several kinds of structure and cover this time of year. He especially likes rocks and likes to hit “hidden” riprap and boat ramps. Many creeks and coves have patches of riprap back in them that hold bass now and during the shad spawn, and unused boat ramps built by the Corps but never opened are very good spots to find bass since they have concrete and rocks.
For pre-spawn fish, banks that drop fairly fast are best. Clay banks with some rock on them are good and Charlie will often put his trolling motor on high and hit every little bit of cover back in creeks and coves. He says he doesn’t mess with wood that doesn’t stick above the water, but will run his crankbait by every stick of wood, even small pencil-sized stickups. Thick cover will draw a flip of his jig.
When some fish start spawning Charlie looks for flatter banks in coves and creeks and wants a bottom with gravel on it. If he knows where the gravel is he will run a Trap across it then drag a Carolina rig on it. A Carolina rig is a good way to find gravel and see how far it runs out.
February 27th Charlie and I fished West Point on a bitterly cold, windy day. We even had snow flurries that morning. Yet under almost impossible conditions Charlie caught bass. His best five keepers weighed 15 pounds. The fish were already beginning to move to the outer points on these spots and will they will be much better now. The following ten spots give you a variety of kinds of places to fish right now.
1. N 32 55.705 – W 85 10.327 – R. Sheafer Heard Park sits between the mouth of Maple Creek and the dam. The middle point of the park has riprap around it and is an excellent place to find shad spawning in mid-April. Some bass also hold on it in late March and early April as they move into the pockets on either side to spawn, then feed on it again as they move back to deep water post spawn.
The middle point is the big point upstream going toward Maple Creek past the Corps work area. It has a picnic shelter on it and a boat ramp on the upstream side back in the pocket. Start fishing at one end of the riprap and fish all the way to the other end.
Before the shad spawn and after it fish a crankbait from the rocks out. There is good deep water just off this point so bass feed here, Keep your boat out in 10 to 15 feet of water so you crankbait covers the water down several feet off the rocks.
During the shad spawn get right on the rocks and run your spinnerbait parallel to them as close to the rocks as you can get. Charlie says a few inches make a big difference. If you are more than a few inches from the rocks you are less likely to get bit. Charlie likes a spinnerbait since it has a single hook. He says the action it too fast and short to mess with removing treble hooks.
2. N 32 57.118 – W 85 11.957 – Another good rocky point that holds bass all month but is especially good during the shad spawn is the entrance to Southern Harbor Marina. The riprap on the lighthouse side is especially good and shad spawn here because it is close to deep water. Tournaments constantly restock bass into the area, too. Charlie caught a solid three pound bass here the day we fished.
Start where the riprap starts on the outside of the point and fish around it to about even with the lighthouse on the back side. Charlie says he hardly ever catches bass further down the back side of the rocks. Before and after the shad spawn work the blowdowns near the point on the outside carefully. During the shad spawn the bass will be right on the rocks and you are wasting precious seconds trying to fish the trees when the bass are concentrating on easy meals in inches of water.
Corners of riprap are especially good during the spawn. It seems bass hold right where the rocks make a turn and ambush shad as they come down the rocks to where they change directions. Charlie often sets up right on the corners and makes constant casts to them even if there is not a school of shad passing the corner. If they are coming down the rocks they will be there soon.
3. N 32 58.032 – W 85 11.417 – Run up and across the lake to the cove just downstream of channel marker 16. The woods around this cove were burned not too long ago and it is open under the big pines. This is an excellent example of the type of place Charlie looks for bass during April. Bass will bed in every little pocket in this cove. It is near deep water but is protected and has the flatter gravel banks he likes. He seldom fishes the right bank since it drops off faster.
Run in to the white pea gravel point on the left about two –thirds of the way back. Start throwing a Rat-L-Trap and work around the left side of cove, covering it fairly fast. Run the Trap over all the gravel banks you see. If the water is up or you don’t know where the rocks are, drag a Carolina rigged six inch lizard until you feel the rocks.
When the bass start bedding they will often be on these rocks and will hit the lizard when they won’t chase the Trap. Charlie likes greens like watermelon and green pumpkin in clearer water and black in stained water. Drag it slowly along the rocks and bass will hit it.
If you are catching fish in an area, any time you see brush or thicker cover flip a jig into it. Charlie likes the All Terrain jig in black and blue and will also pitch it to bass he sees that are on the bed. Work it slowly in the cover even if you don’t see a bass holding there. Some big fish have to be tempted to bite this time of year.
4. N 32 58.519– W 85 11.350 – Go in Bird Creek and you will see a big rocky point in the middle where the creek splits. Start on the big rocks on the left side of the point and work to your right. Fish to the right and the bottom will change to gravel. Work out to the next small point.
This is the kind of place where the bass first pull up on in late March and early April. Fish your crankbait here and try to hit ever bit of cover. Bass will hold and feed around rocks and wood so don’t miss anything. Charlie calls this “beating the bank” and it works for bass before the spawn. Shad will spawn on these rocks, too, so watch for them in mid April.
5. N 32 59.019 – W 85 11.355 – Go into the cove just downstream of channel marker 24 and fish all around it. You will see an old unused bathhouse in the woods on the upstream point. This is another good spawning cove and it has lots of little secondary points that are good places to throw Carolina rigs and Traps. The flatter bottom means it is good for spawning fish.
This cove has the flat bottom and sits right off deep water. Bass moving in to spawn don’t have to go too far. It is protected and always has bait in it, too. There are two ditches in the back that show the kind of channel running through it and Charlie says they are good places to see spawning bass. He says bass love this cove.
For spawning fish Charlie does not look for beds on West Point. He says you hardly ever see the saucer shaped bed like you do on some other lakes. He looks for the bass themselves. You can spot them holding by a stick or on dark patches. They may be hard on the bed without you ever seeing the bed and you can catch them.
Watch the fish. If it runs off and does not come right back, move on. If the bass stays close and seems to concentrate on one spot, pitch a bait to that spot and work it in one place. Try a Paca Craw or All Terrain Jig worked right under the fish.
6. N 32 59.223 – W 85 11.160 – Go around the point and into the cove between channel markers 22 and 24 just downstream of Earl Cook. There is an old unused boat ramp back in this cove and it is a good one to fish. You will see the unused bathhouse on your right that was on your left going into hole #5 and there is a white danger pole marker on the upstream point.
Bass hold around the ramp and rocks and feed and the shad will spawn on them, too. Charlie says all ramps like this one that are “off the beaten path” are good places to fish.
Charlie says the Bandit crankbait is his number one weapon this time of year. Work it and a jig on the rocks and ramp itself. If the shad are spawning cast a spinnerbait right up on the rocks. Fish the ramp and rocks at different angles and work it to different depths.
7. N 33 00.097 – W 85 11.320 – Head upstream you will pass black channel marker 27 and a hump on your left at Holiday Campground. The cove just upstream of this maker is a good spawning spot. The point on the upstream side has some picnic tables and you will see a cedar tree right on the edge of the trees about half-way down this bank.
Start fishing on the upstream point near the picnic tables and fish into the cove, working downstream. This is a good spawning pocket and has a flat gravel bottom. Work it with your Trap and Carolina rig to the back. Charlie does not fish the downstream bank of this pocket this time of year.
8. N 33 01.833 – W 85 09.928 – The Highway 109 Bridge is an excellent shad spawning place with lots of riprap to draw them. Shad work both sides of the bridge and the pilings but Charlie usually has his best luck on the upstream side on the left going up.
Watch for the shad on the rocks. You will see a ripple right on the rocks and shad flipping out of the water. Get in close ahead of them as they move along the rocks and work your spinnerbait right on the rocks.
9. N 33 02.245 – W 85 10.064 – Above the Highway 109 Bridge you will see two islands to your left sitting in the mouth of a creek. Channel marker 41 sits downstream of these islands and you want to fish the pocket downstream of the big point at Indian Springs Group Campground straight in from the channel marker. There is a fish attractor buoy off the upstream point.
Start out on the main lake at the point with the picnic tables and buoy and fish downstream into the pocket. Work this pea gravel bank for spawning fish like the others. If the wind is blowing in on this bank and others like it the Trap will often be better than the Carolina rig. Wind does help and makes the fish bite better.
10. N 33 02.571 – W 85 10.252 – Go around the upstream point and between island the island into the small creek. The right bank going in past the island has rock on it and the whole area in the back of the creek is good from late March on. The banks are steeper out past the old roadbed and better in late March and early April. The bottom past the roadbed flattens out and has gravel and is a good spawning area, making it better later in the month. This kind of transition makes a place even better.
Charlie likes all these places and will fish them in tournaments as well as when trying to locate fish. Check them out then use the pattern to find other similar spots and you can catch bass at West Point now.
March Bass at Jackson Lake
with Barry Stokes
For many years Jackson Lake was known for its big bass. Then spots got into the lake and it seemed the big lunker largemouth got very rare, but you could catch a pile of keeper size spots. Stringers with several six to eight pound bass are not seen like they were years ago, but 20 pound tournament catches still happen.
Filled in 1911, Jackson is the oldest big reservoir in the state. This Georgia Power lake on the headwaters of the Ocmulgee River covers 4750 acres and its shoreline is lined with cabins, docks, rocks and wood cover. Most of its channels are silted in but there are plenty of sandy spawning coves on the lake.
Barry Stokes grew up near Jackson and fished farm ponds but did not get to fish Jackson much. He watched bass boats go by his house headed to the lake and was determined someday to be in a bass boat on Jackson like those guys. He made those wishes come true in the early 1990s and joined the Conyers Bass Pros bass club. Later he joined Bear Creek Bass Club.
In the past 15 years Barry has learned the lake well and, starting in 2001, fished as many pot tournaments on it as he could. He fished the old R&R, Dixie Bass and Charlie’s Bait and Tackle trail as well as the night and weekend pot tournaments on Jackson. Now he fishes the Berry’s trail, ABA, and any other tournaments on the Jackson. He also fishes the BFL, HD Marine and other tournaments on Sinclair and Oconee. He is usually waiting around on a check after weigh-in in them.
Barry has learned the lake so well he now guides on Jackson as well as Sinclair and Oconee. He knows how to pattern the bass on the lake and has learned how to catch them. His best day ever on Jackson he landed a 12 pound lunker and had five fish weighing 30 pounds. In one string of tournaments he won 11 of 13 tournaments and had big fish in all 13.
Over the years Barry has figured out good patterns for March bass. In late February they start staging on rock, clay and sand points near spawning coves and feed up on crawfish and baitfish. He can usually catch them four to eight feet deep on those points.
As the water warms during March Barry follows the bass from the points back into the spawning pockets. Some bass will bed in early March if the water temperatures go up and stay stable for a week and bass move into the bedding areas in waves all spring. There will often be a lot of pre-spawn fish on the points, some moving back and even some on the beds this month.
“Details are the key,” Barry told me. He keeps a variety of baits tied on and also has others ready to try. He will vary the details like lure color, depth and speed he retrieves them all during the day until he finds the key. If the fish quit hitting he will start varying the details again until he unlocks the new pattern. Barry will have several kinds of crankbaits in different colors, a Ol Nelle spinnerbait, a Net Boy Jackson Jig and pig, a Net Boy Shaky Head, a Terry Bowden’s Cold Steel lizard worm and a Cold Steel Walking Stick all rigged and ready when he heads out this month. The colors will vary with water color, with brighter colors for stained water and more natural colors for clearer water. But he will vary all the details during the day.
One of the details Barry pays attention to that many bass fishermen get lax on is speed he works the baits. He will vary his speed until he hits what is working. Too many bass fishermen have a speed of retrieve they are comfortable with when using certain baits and don’t very it. Barry constantly changes.
As the water warms the fish will get more active this month and chase a bait better, but some cold days they want a fast moving bait, too. As a general rule you should fish slower in cold water and faster in warmer water, but Barry says pay attention to details and vary your speed constantly.
Barry and I fished the following ten spots in mid-February and bass were already on them. We caught 20 to 25 bass that day and Barry caught almost all of them on crankbaits, but I managed a few of the bigger fish on a jig and pig. These spots will pay off all month long as fish move up on them then move back to spawn.
1. N 33 25.195 – W 83 49.875 – Run up the Alcovy to the cove on the left called “Parker Neck” and look at the upstream point. There is a small concrete piling/pier on the up stream side right on the edge of the water and a blowdown runs out off the end of the point. The house on the point is brick half way up with green wood above it.
This point is an excellent staging area. The bottom is rocky and the pocket on the downstream side, Parker Neck, is a good spawning place. Fish hold out on the point on the rocks and in the blowdown feeding then move into the cove to spawn as the water warms.
Barry starts out on the end of the point at the blowdown and fishes the tree and the rocks with a crankbait, spinnerbait and jig. He will then work the bank going downstream all the way past the cut to the next point with a gazebo on it. Fish the above baits but also try a shaky head worm, and a Texas or Carolina rigged Lizard Worm along this bank. Work the sand where the bass will be bedding.
2. N 33 24.301 – W 83 49.746 – Headed downstream Price Neck is on your right and a good rocky point is on your left. The point you want to fish has a small cabin on it with lattice work around the crawl space. There is a white painted tire laying in the yard. Back in the pocket on the downstream side there is a house that runs right to the water’s edge.
This point runs out shallow toward the downstream side and there is some brush on the downstream side. The bass spawn in the cut on the downstream side. Stay way out and fish a crankbait, spinnerbait and jig around the rocks and brush, then work into the pocket with the other baits. Try to vary your colors and speed until you find what the bass want.
One trick Barry uses is to Texas rig a Cold Steel Walking Stick, a Senko like bait, and fishes it around all the cover in the pockets. It skips under docks well and has a little different action and look than the jig and pig that most anglers will be throwing. This is another example of the types of details Barry uses to catch bass behind other fishermen.
3. N 33 23.035 – W 83 50.279 – Downstream of the bridge and Berry’s there is a point on your left heading downstream that has a beige house with a brown roof on it. There is a three globe light pole in the yard and a dock on the point with a deck on the bank. The deck has lattice panels around it. There are big rocks on the point and the bass spawn in the pocket on the upstream side.
Barry says this is a numbers game point. Spots stage and spawn here and you can often pick up several fish. Crank the point then try a spinnerbait. Start on the downstream side and parallel the point fishing from near the bank casting out toward the lake. Then work out around the point fan casting both baits. It gets real shallow on top so don’t get in too close.
After working the point work into the spawning area dragging a worm on the bottom. Barry likes a green pumpkin Lizard Worm this time of year and dips the tail in JJs Magic chartreuse dye to give it some color. Spots seem to especially like the wiggling chartreuse tails.
4. N 33 22.225 – W 83 51.113 – Go under the power lines and you will see a swimming beach and picnic area for Turtle Cove on your left. There are three buoys in front of the beach and the point that runs out downstream of it is a good staging area. The point is red clay and rock, an excellent combination for holding bass this time of year. They are often feeding on crayfish on this kind of point.
The point runs at an angle downstream across the mouth of a cove. Start near the swimming area where the sand transitions to clay and rock. That kind of change often holds bass. Work it then keep your boat way our and go downstream, fan casting around the point.
There is a real good drop on the inside of this point where the small creek coming out of the pocket runs by it. Fish that drop and the blowdown on the inside of the point. Flip a jig in it and work a spinnerbait through it. Then work on into the creek for spawning bass. This is an excellent spawning area and holds a lot of bass.
5. N 33 22.044 – W 83 51.376 – Go past the next cove downstream and you will head straight in to a high bluff bank. The old river channel swings in right by it and it drops off fast. There are three small points along this bluff bank you should fish in March. Start on the outside one at the dock on the rock sea wall in front of the series of decks running up the hill to the house.
It is rocky and holds the first transitioning fish coming up out of the river channel. Stay out and fan cast it then work toward the next dock. There is a rock ledge that runs out under the dock. You will see the dock with a walkway that runs behind a tree leaning out. The dock has the numbers “3108” on the walkway.
Stay out from the dock on the downstream side and cast toward the walkway and tree. You can see how the rocks run parallel to the bank coming out. Run a crankbait, spinnerbait and jig along these rocks, then work around the dock and fish the other side. Also drag a plastic bait along the bottom here.
The next point going into the creek is a round clay point and you should fish all around it, then fish into the creek, concentrating on any sand you come to. The Lizard Worm is a good choice on sandy spots since spawning fish will hit it. You may not see the bed but can catch fish off the beds with this bait.
6. N 33 22.202 – W 83 51.771 – Round the point headed into the South River and you will see a sharp narrow point on your right. It comes out and drops off fast on both sides but is shallow on top. There is no house on the point but you will see four benches on it and there is a concrete boat ramp on it. There are two pines on the point with black protectors around their bases.
The point is rock and clay and bass spawn in pockets on both side of it. It is steep and gives bass quick access to shallow water. They can hold deep and quickly move shallow without moving far.
Start on the downstream side and work around the point, staying way out. Fish along the upstream bank leading into the next pocket up. Rocks, clay and sand along this bank hold bass and they will move along it feeding and working into the spawning pocket. Barry will usually stop fishing about where the seawall starts unless he is going back into the pocket for spawning bass.
7. N 33 22.294 – W 83 61.856 – The next point up also has good deep water access. This point has a brown cabin and there was a US flag flying on the dock in front of it when we were there. There are two floodlights on a tree right at the dock. There is a big blowdown on the upstream side and a rockpile out on the point.
The wind can be important here and on other spots this time of year. Some wind blowing across the point or into it helps and Barry will fish wind-blown points as long as he can hold his boat on them. Wind creates current that moves the food baitfish eat and they will follow it. Bass wait on the baitfish.
Start at the blowdown and fish it. Then get out about even with the flag pole and cast across the point, aiming your casts parallel to the bank toward the cove. You will hit some rocks on this point and that is where a school of bass will often hold.
The downstream pocket is full of wood and a good spawning area. Especially near the end of the month Barry will fish into it, running his Ol Nelle spinnerbait along the wood. He likes a double Colorado blade bait with white skirt, especially in clearer water, but will go with double willow leaf and chartreuse and white skirt in stained water. He will also flip a jig around the wood before leaving.
8. N 33 21.446 – W 83 51.763 – Head back down the river and it will narrow down. Straight ahead you to the right you will see a pink house with tin roof on a flat point that runs out upstream of a bluff point. There is a green picnic table in the front yard.
Get on the downstream side of the point and cast in toward the seawall. The bottom is very rough here and often holds a lot of bass. Fish this bank into the pocket, working the dock and fishing to the boat ramp. Be sure to his this boat ramp and any others you come to before leaving.
9. N 33 21.393 – W 83 51.391 – The lake opens up just at this point and the far left bank going downstream has a creek coming out. In the mouth of this creek is a hump that is marked with three danger buoys. It is deep on both sides and bass stage on this hump before going in to spawn.
Barry likes to stay out on the lake side and cast up onto the hump, bringing his baits back shallow to deep. Wind often blows in here and makes it better. There are rocks and clay on this hump and you should fish all the way around it before leaving. Try all your baits in different colors and speeds. Assume the bass are here and you just have to figure out the details to get them to hit.
10. N 33 22.047 – W 83 53.882 – For something a little different run up Tussahaw Creek under the bride on up to the last pocket on the right before the weekend “no wake” section. You will see a green metal roof dock in front of a brown house. There is a little narrow point here downstream of two small pockets. The point has a cross tie seawall and a big Pampas Grass clump on it. Downstream of the point you will see a white cabin with a red roof just past a blue cabin.
There are some stumps on this clay point and the bass will stage on it. Fan cast all around this point and try all your baits here. The water is often clearer in the Tussahaw so you may need to change colors to draw strikes.
These are some of the places Barry will be fishing this month. They will pay off for you, too. Barry has caught a lot of bass off all of them and gives credit to Jesus Christ, his lord and savior, for his successes.
Call Barry at 770-715-2665 for a guided trip on Jackson, Sinclair and Oconee or visit his web site at www.barrystokesfishn.com. You can see Cold Steel products at www.teamcoldsteel.com/, JJ’s Magic at www.jjsmagic.com/ and Net Boy Jackson Jigs at www.netboybaits.com/.
Note – this was written before Georgia Power closed nd tore down the power plant
February Bass at Sinclair
with Todd Goade
Cold winter weather always puts a damper on bass fishing in February on most of our lakes. Bass go deep and school up tight and don’t eat much. But Lake Sinclair is an exception to that rule. The warmer waters from the steam plant make it the most popular lake for club and other tournaments this month.
There is a good reason so many tournaments are held on Sinclair in the winter. Bass are more active because the water is warmer and also because of the currents created by the steam plant intake and outflow as well as those generated by power generation and pump back at the Oconee dam.
Sinclair is a 15,330 acre Georgia Power lake on the Oconee River. It was dammed in 1953 and the lake is ringed with cabins and docks. Almost all docks are on posts and many have brush piles around them. There is a lot of grass in the lake and it still attracts baitfish this time of year although it is brown now. There are sandy pockets and banks, rocks and wood cover to fish.
When Plant Harlee Branch, the coal fired steam plant, is taking in water to cool its boilers, current near the mouth of Little River around the bridge and intake moves upstream. In Beaverdam Creek release of warmer water from the boilers not only heats the lake, it creates a strong current around the discharge, under the bridge and downstream.
When the power plant at the Oconee Dam is generating current a strong flow comes down the river. When the turbines are reversed and water is being pumped back into Oconee there is a strong current going up the river. This current also affects the creeks and will reverse the flow in Little River, too. The strongest effects are from the mouth of Little River upstream.
Most of Lake Sinclair stays stained in February with Little River often the muddiest area. Near the dam, Island and Rock Creek almost always remain clear. Those creeks down the lake are also less affected by the warm water so are usually the coldest water on the lake. So you can fish shallow relatively warm stained water or colder clearer water within a few miles.
Sinclair is usually one of the top three lakes in Georgia for numbers of tournaments reported in the Georgia Bass Chapter Federation Creek Census Report, with over 80 tournaments reported each year. In recent years Sinclair has been one of the best lakes for numbers of bass with over 20 percent of anglers catching a five fish limit. But the bass are small, with an average weight of about 1.5 pounds and an average tournament winning weight of about 10 pounds.
Todd Goade remembers the first bass he ever caught and it turned him on to bass fishing. He was eight years old and caught a six pound bass on a topwater plug in Missouri. That would turn on any fisherman, especially a young fisherman.
Most of his life Todd lived in Tennessee where he fished with local clubs and the pot trails. When he moved to Georgia in 2002 he quit fishing for a few years but got back into it in 2005 and started fishing the BFL trail, the HD Marine Trail, Boating Atlanta and others.
Over the past few years Todd has been very consistent in tournaments, placing in the money in many of them. Last year he finished 3rd overall in the Bulldog BFL point standings and in 2006 was 7th in the HD Marine point standings. Last February he finished in the top 20 at Sinclair in the BFL and needed just one kicker fish to finish much higher.
“There are always some shallow fish at Sinclair,” Todd told me. He prefers to fish Sinclair shallow this time of year and likes to go after them with lighter tackle and smaller baits than most anglers use. Finesse fishing will catch lots of bass on Sinclair most winter days and will often get you in the money in tournaments.
For fishing Sinclair this month Todd has a variety of baits rigged and ready. He will have a small jerkbait like a Pointer on a spinning rod with eight pound test line, a Texas rigged Zoom Finesse worm and another Finesse worm on a 3/16 Spot Remover jig head, both on eight pound line, a crankbait like a Bomber 7A or a Bandit Flat Maxx and a small spinnerbait on 10 to 12 pound line and a Carolina rigged Zoom Baby Brush Hog or six inch lizard. He will also keep a Flexit Spoon ready for deep jigging if he spots bass holding on deep structure.
Todd prefers to fish in eight feet of water or less and will often be sitting in 12 to 15 feet of water fan casting a point or working a bank. Although the bass are shallow they will usually be on cover and structure with deep water nearby. He likes main lake banks and points or banks near creek channels that drop off fast now.
Current will position bass on structure and sun will position them on cover, according to Todd. He likes banks and points where the current is moving and will concentrate on brush, docks and rocks when the sun is bright. This time of year Todd says he does better on sunny days.
Todd and I fished Sinclair the second Sunday in January, a tough day for us and others, based on the weigh-in of three clubs at Little River that day. He showed me the following places he likes to catch fish on Sinclair in February and they will hold fish you can catch, too.
1. N 33 11.211 – W 83 17.476 – The bank above the steam plant intake drops off fast has overhanging brush and rocks along parts of it and the pockets have grass in them. Todd likes to fish along this bank and often catches a limit of keeper size bass here.
Start on the point above the mouth of the intake on the right and work upstream to the next main lake point. The channel swings in near the big upstream point and the deep water is good. You will be sitting in 12 to 14 feet of water along most of this bank. The water is usually stained in this area and is warmed by current coming up the river. When water is being pulled into the steam plant current will run downstream.
Cast a Texas rigged Zoom Finesse worm under the overhanging brush to the rocks and also work it around any grass you see. Todd likes a green pumpkin worm and will dye its tail chartreuse. Work it with short hops and jiggles, trying to hit any cover along this bank.
If water is moving and the bass are more active, cast your jerkbait close to the bank and work it back in short jerks. Try several cadences until the bass show you what they like. The colder the water the slower you should fish the bait with longer pauses between jerks.
2. N 33 11.351 – W 83 16.242 – Run down the lake past the mouth of the river and watch for the first cove on your left. There is a big mesh satellite dish on the point. Go into the pocket downstream of this dish and start fishing before you get to the first dock that has a green metal roof and several PVC rod holders on it.
Fish down this bank with your Texas rigged and jig head worms, casting to the bank between docks and working under the docks and around the posts. When you get to the third dock you will know you are in the right spot if you see a big UGA emblem on the dock and house and the walk going up from the dock has little UGA helmet lights and a sign that says “Dog Walk.”
Fish that dock and the grass just past it. You can run a spinner bait through the grass and work your worm rigs around it, too. Todd likes a small white spinner bait with silver blades. He fishes this cove to the dock with the US flag on it and stops since the water gets real shallow past it.
3. N 33 11.330 – W 83 15.679 – Across the river is an island and just downstream of it a marked hump. There are three danger buoys on the hump and three PVC poles, two side by side. Stop straight out from the PVC poles in about 25 feet of water and fan cast your crankbait as you ease in toward the poles. You can cast to the top of the hump and it is very rough here. Try a worm along the bottom, too.
If you have a GPS on your boat you will see a point running out from this hump and that is where you want to stop and start fishing. You can see the point on a good map, too. The contour lines will be close together and that is a key Todd looks for this time of year. That shows a fast dropping bottom and the fish hold on those kinds of places.
4. N 33 09.806 – W 83 13.802 – Head down the lake to the big island just upstream of the mouth of Reedy Creek and the airport. There is an old quarry under the water on the upstream side of the island and the bottom is hard clay. Stop on the outside point of the island in about 20 feet of water and work around the point, casting a crankbait up shallow. Try to hit the bottom with it.
After working the crankbait back off a little and cast a Carolina rig or other worm rig here. There is a good brush pile in 12 to 14 feet of water that often holds bass. They will hold in the brush and run in to feed. Probe the brush carefully with all your worm rigs.
5. N 33 09.752 – W 83 13.973 – Idle over to the center of the upstream side of the island. You will see three points, the one you just left and two more. Stop out from the center point and you will be in the quarry in very deep water. Fish the center point here with your crankbait, then probe for brush in 16 feet of water.
Todd likes a half-ounce lead on his Carolina rig and usually has a 24 inch leader. He will drag the green pumpkin lizard or Brush Hog with dyed tails around and through the brush, working it slowly and feeling for any resistance. The bass will be sluggish most days in the cold water.
6. N 33 11.106 – W 83 12.509 – Run toward the back of Island Creek and watch for a bright red barn on the left side before you get to the power lines. Start on the point just upstream of the pocket with the red barn and work around the shallow pocket to the dock with a green slide on it. The bottom drops off fast and it is rocky, with docks and brush along it.
Fish your Texas rigged worm or jig head worm here, hitting rocks and wood cover on the bottom and also fishing around and under all the docks. Todd says this is a good place to find bass pulled up to feed this time of year. He will hit this place and others several times during a fishing day since fish may move in to feed anytime during the day. You just have to be there when they are feeding.
7. N 33 10.775 – W 83 12.444 – Running down the middle of Island Creek back toward the river, watch on your left for a flat point with a seawall around it. There is a house sitting way back from the water but nothing out on the point. Across the creek you will see a big brown brick house and just upstream of it a green roof dock.
On a line between the point and green roof dock, out in the middle of the creek, is a hump that comes up to about 18 feet on top. There is brush on it. Todd will stop here and jig a spoon on this hump, especially if he sees baitfish or fish near the bottom with his depth finder. It is close to the creek channel and often holds a school of fish. He says he will not spend a lot of time here but does check it out.
8. N 33 09.568 – W 83 12.765 – Near the mouth of the creek on your left is a small island sitting close to the bank. A long shallow point runs off it toward the middle of the creek. Todd stops his boat just upstream of the island, lining up the trees on the upstream side of it with the red top dock on the bank behind the island.
Sitting in 15 feet of water he will cast a crankbait all over this point, covering it with fan casts. He will also try his jerkbait here as well as worm rigs. This long underwater point is typical of the kinds of places winter bass hold on Sinclair and the water is clear enough here they will come up for a jerkbait.
9. N 33 09.448 – W 83 12.700 – Downstream of the island a big cove runs from the island to the main lake point between Island Creek and the river. About in the middle of this cove is a long shallow point running out to deep water. It has a sharp drop off on the downstream side.
Look for and old high boat house roof with no sides and a gazebo on the bank near it. There are swift gourds on a pole near it. Just downstream is a gray roof dock with a boat ramp just upstream of it. The point runs out with the downstream sharp edge right at the ramp. You can see this point on your GPS or map, too.
Todd starts way out on this point and make long fan cast across it with crankbaits and jerkbaits. Try to hit the drop from several angles. Then work your worm rigs across the point and down the drop for fish that are not very active.
10. N 33 08.296 – W 83 11.535 – Run down to the dam and start into Rocky Creek. On your right is a point between the river and the creek. There is a Georgia Power park and pavilion on the bank here. This point runs way out shallow and Todd starts way off the bank with his boat in 15 to 16 feet of water and casts his crankbaits up toward the point. You will be casting to water about eight feet deep.
Try to bump the bottom with your crankbaits. Todd likes a fire tiger coach dog pattern for his Bomber and will usually throw a pearl and chartreuse or blue back Flat Maxx. Those baits will dive deep enough to bump bottom in eight feet of water so you will cover the depth many bass will feed this time of year.
Check out Todd’s spots and try his methods on Sinclair this month. There are many other similar spots you can then find and fish. You should catch a lot of keeper size bass.
| Locating Stream Smallmouths in Spring|
By Alex McCrickard, DGIF Aquatic Education Coordinator
from The Fishing Wire
Anglers across Virginia and other mountain states often associate spring with trout fishing season. Mountain streams are typically in prime flow conditions during this time of the year, and spring hatches have the fish feeding regularly. However, trout shouldn’t be the only fish on anglers’ minds during this time of the year.
Spring also coincides with great opportunities to target smallmouth bass as rivers across the Allegheny and Blue Ridge chains warm up from the winter months. Water temperatures warming is a thermal cue that triggers increased metabolism and activity of smallmouth bass, creating excellent fishing conditions across the state for bronzeback enthusiasts.
River Conditions and Smallmouth Biology
On average years during late winter, water temperatures climb out of the 30s and into the 40s on rivers and streams across the state. As winter transitions to spring, water temperatures will continue to increase into the upper 40s and 50s. Smallmouth bass will react favorably to the warming trends and these fish will move out of the winter holes and into transitionary water in mid to late March.
By late March, smallmouth can consistently be found holding in the middle of the water column behind mid-river boulders and along the edges of current seams where fast water meets slow water. These fish can also be found holding along ledges, drops offs, in riffles, and even along the banks.Mid to late March signals the beginning of pre-spawn activity for smallmouth bass.
Spawning typically begins in late April and continues all through the month of May on our Virginia rivers and streams. During pre-spawn, smallmouth can be very aggressive as they get territorial and put on weight for the spawning season. These fish actively ambush smaller forage fish and crayfish during this time of the year. Late March and April can provide for exciting fishing during the pre-spawn feeding frenzy.
Smallmouth bass are benthic spawners; males build nests in clean substrate including gravel, pebble, and cobble bottom. Males are cued to start this process when water temperatures climb into the 60s. These fish often seek out softer currents in 2 to 6 feet of water behind boulders, logs, or other obstructions when choosing spawning sites. Male smallmouth will dig a depression into the river bottom before spawning with a female.
After the spawn, males will stick around and guard their nests from aquatic and terrestrial predators. Spawning success is highly dependent on spring flows. High, muddy water from heavy spring rain events can impact smallmouth bass recruitment and spawning success.
Because smallmouth are benthic spawners, high water in the spring time can wash beds out or cover them up with sediment, impacting recruitment and leading to variations in abundance of certain age classes within the population.
Spring can often coincide with high flows on rivers and streams across Virginia. Late winter snow melt and early spring rains can sometimes put rivers at flood level stages. Make sure to exercise caution during this time of the year and check the flows before you head to the river. In these high flows, smallmouth will orient to cover where they don’t have to fight super strong currents to find food. Even in high, muddy water, smallmouth are looking for meals and can be caught with a little persistence and determination as long as the river isn’t in flood stage.
Tactics and Techniques
It can be best to cover water when fishing for pre-spawn smallmouth bass. Floating the larger rivers during this time of the year is a great way to accomplish this, just remember to wear your personal flotation device. If you are wade-fishing smaller to medium-size rivers, don’t be afraid to do some hiking to cover ground on foot.
The pre-spawn bite is best approached by fishing subsurface minnow imitations in late March through April. Make sure to have some crankbaits on hand in a variety of colors during this time of the year. Rattling lipless crankbaits or noisy lipped crankbaits can be productive when the water is high and stained. The Rat-L-Trap causes commotion that attracts spring bass in these conditions. Soft plastic swimbaits like the Keitech Swing Impact Swimbait or Sassy Shads work well and sink deep quickly when fished on a jig head. Flashy spinnerbaits also entice strikes from spring smallmouth in stained water conditions.
The author pauses during a float trip to fish from a mid-river boulder on the James River. Waffles, his trusty fishing dog, loves catching Virginia smallmouth. Photo by Walker DalesWhen fly fishing our larger rivers, consider stripping streamers on a 250-grain full sinking line when the water is high and off color. The full sinking line gets your streamer down quickly when in heavy current. In average flows, you will be able to get away with a sink tip on our larger rivers and simply a floating line on our smaller to medium-sized rivers. The Half & Half is my favorite pattern to fish this time of the year. Chartreuse and white, tan and white, or olive and white are good color combinations. This bulky pattern pushes a lot of water and draws in strikes from big pre-spawn bass.
Clouser minnows and Chuck Kraft’s Kreelex are good “go-to patterns” during this time of the year. The flashy profile of the Kreelex does a great job of attracting smallmouth in high, stained flows. Doug Lane, local guide and owner of Angler’s Lane fly shop in Lynchburg, mentioned that “one can expect to catch some of the most aggressive fighting smallmouth during the pre-spawn weeks of March and early April. Chuck Kraft once told me the key is to work one’s fly more slowly than one is accustomed to in the summer. This nugget from a wise fishing guide, the first full-time river smallmouth guide in Virginia, makes tremendous sense when you consider that the water is somewhat cooler, and the fish are often removing your presentation away from the area they are looking to spawn in.”
Also consider carrying large articulated streamers in your fly box during this time of the year. Remember, it pays to cover water during this time of the year, especially if you are floating. It’s important to target the right habitat, like mid-river boulders, ledges, drop-offs, or the tail-outs of mid-river islands, as you float downstream.
Topwater flies and lures will become more productive as summer approaches and April turns to May. Sometimes the bite can be tricky during the prime spawning month of May. During the spawn, smallmouth can sometimes refrain from eating actively. However, there are certainly fish to be caught in May as some smallmouth will spawn earlier than others. All in all, spring offers a welcome change from the slower fishing that occurs during the winter months. Strongly consider adding smallmouth to your list of favorite species to target as the trees bloom and the grass grows.
I went to Pickwick in northwest Alabama for my May Alabama Outdoor News article and fished with Cody Harrison. April Fools Day fooled us with high winds, strong current and cold weather but Cory showed how well he knows the lake and the habits of the bass there.
He landed two smallmouth in the 3.5 to four pound range, a largemouth that size and a pretty “meanmouth” bass a little smaller
Pickwich has largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass and they sometimes mate, especially smallmouth and spotted bass. That hybrid is common enough it is named a “meanmouth,” it has the colors of a smallmouth but they are brighter, and they have a tooth patch on the tongue like a spot. And they fight like crazy.
Cody likes some current in the river and said when the dam is releasing somewhere between 20,000 and 70,000 cubic feet per second of water it is good. Lower and the fish don’t bite very good, higher and it is hard to fish. The day we fished the release was around 90,000 CFS!
All his fish hit a bladed jig fished in current eddies along main river gravel banks. The fish were getting ready to span in those places. It was a fun but long trip, the longest I make doing these articles. We were in the corner of Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi, a long way from Griffin!
Spring weather means fast-changing conditions for bass fishing. Two weeks ago, it was a ten-degree drop in water temperature in two days at Sinclair. At Eufaula the next week it was a drop in water level. Those are my excuses!
I got to Lakepoint Campground a week ago last Tuesday and set up my camper. A couple of folks camping near me stopped by to talk and told me they were catching a lot of catfish, but few crappie. One of them pointed to a five-foot-high pole by the boat ramp and said it and half the campground had been underwater the Friday before. The pole showed just over one foot of water on Tuesday.
A four-foot drop in water level in four days had to hurt, and my fishing seemed to prove it. I fished about five hours Wednesday and caught only two bass. Both looked like males that had moved in to find a bedding area in the 59-degree water. And the water continued to drop, going down .4 of a foot Wednesday.
Thursday morning I got up and drove south to put in closer to the main lake, hoping to find clearer water. It was even muddier! I did catch a keeper spotted bass and an eight-pound blue cat hit my shaky head worm.
I did get a thrill. While fishing grass beds between docks, I eased around one and looked at the post with my Garmin Panoptix. What looked like a fish was at the base of it about a foot off the bottom. When I pitched my jig to it and watch it sink, I saw the bass come up to it and the jig disappeared. I was so shocked I just watched; I had not seen that before. Then the fish almost jerked the rod out of my hand as it took off, and I did not hook it!
Friday, I rode around checking some creeks and found some clearing water that was 67 degrees back in one. I decided to start there Saturday morning in the Potato Creek Bassmasters tournament the next day. It was a good decision, but a lot of other folks decided the same place looked good.
Saturday morning, I put my boat in at the campground ramp and ran up to the bridge where we were to meet. Due to the Alabama Nation tournament with more than 60 boats and several other clubs taking off from the park, the ramp was a madhouse. It didn’t help that one set of ramps was closed due to construction.
Folks were backed up from the ramp all the way back to the highway, at least a mile and a half, waiting to put in before daylight. It was so bad Niles called me, got the campground gate code and drove around to put in there. He was at the bridge while most folks were still waiting.
In the tournament the first day, 27 members landed 79 bass weighing about 153 pounds. There were seven limits and four zeros. Lee Hancock did it right with five weighing 16.02 pounds and had a 4.88 pounder for first. My five at 12.70 pounds was second and I had a 4.62 pounder. Third was Caleb Delay with fiver weighing 12.26 and Edward Folker was fourth with five weighing 11.59 pounds.
On day two, Sunday, the fish bit better – for some. There were 10 limits and three zeros. We landed 58 bass weighing about 173 pounds. Stan Wick had five at 13.80 pounds for first with a 4.59 pounder. Raymond English had five weighing 13.68 pounds with a 5.11 pounder for second, Trent Grainger was third with five weighing 13.02 pounds and Edward Folker had five weighing 12.73 pounds.
Overall, Lee Hancock won with 10 weighing 26.80 pounds and Edward Folker was second with 10 at 24.32 pounds. Raymond English came in third with ten at 23.14 pounds and his 5.11 pound largemouth was big fish. Fourth was Trent Grainger with ten weighing 22.91 pounds. I caught only three keepers the second day and dropped to a tie with Drew Naramore. My eight and his ten weighed an identical 19.12 pounds.
On Saturday I quickly caught a keeper on a spinnerbait, then two more on a bladed jig. At 9:30 I laned my four-pounder on a jig. Then it got slow, I did not have another bite until 2:30 when I caught my fifth keeper on a jig then immediately caught another keeper on it. A few minutes later I set the hook and felt a good fish fight for a few seconds before pulling off.
Sunday did not start well. I did not get a bite until 9:00 and that fish pulled off the jig. I guess I set the pattern the last fish the day before. At 9:30 what looked like a four-pounder just came off my bladed jig. Then, at 10:00, in about ten minutes, I caught three keepers and a grinnel on the jig.
It got slow. Just after lunch I set the hook, my rod bowed up and the fish fought then came off. With 30 minutes left to fish I set the hook on a good fish, fought it to the boat, and reached for it with the net. It jumped, missed the net by THAT much, about two inches, and came off.
I had my chances, as did many others. There was a lot of talk at both weigh-ins of big fish lost. Part of the problem was the number of fishermen, especially on Saturday. All-day there were at least ten bass boats within sight in the small creek I was fishing.
Sunday at least four other club members were fishing the same area, it was get in line, go down the bank and hope you got a bite all day both days.
Right now is a great time to get on the lake to avoid the virus and catch good bass. That is my plan!
I am always amazed at fishing in Alabama. Tuesday morning, I met Curtis Gossett, a high school bass fishing team coach, and Chandler Holt, a senior on his team, to get information for my April article.
Curtis’s son, Zeke, is a senior on a college team. I did an article with Zeke six years ago when he was just a sophomore in high school with his dad as coach and was very impressed with him.
Chandler was impressive, too, with great fishing skills and knowledge of Lay Lake. He quickly caught a 3.5-pound spot then I caught a largemouth just over four pounds. A little later Curtis got a largemouth right at four pounds. So we had three nice fish in the five hours we fished, plus some smaller fish.
Chandler fished the High School Championship on Lay the following weekend and weighed-in on the Bassmasters Classic stage just before the pros weigh-in on Saturday. He placed Second.
On Sunday Zeke fished the college championship and weighed-in on the Classic stage that day, and he won. Zeke was practicing while I fished, and he caught five spotted bass weighing a total of 20.17 pounds in five hours!
Watch for both these young men next weekend and in the future!