A Professional Look At Lake Seminole’s Shallow February Bass

GON gets in the boat with bass pro Jim Murray Jr. on the same lake where he placed second in a February BASS event.

Scott Robinson | April 7, 2006

Sight fishing helped Jim Murray Jr. seal a first-place finish in the Wal-Mart BFL tourney in April 2002 at Lake Oconee.

Lake Seminole in February can be heaven or it can be tough, but you can bet that at least a few times in February it will be bass fishing heaven. Like early-spring bass fishing everywhere, the weather dictates the activity and movements of the bass at Seminole, which in turn determines what patterns and techniques will work. One favorite tactic when conditions are right is sight fishing for bedding and pre-spawn fish. Some bass will go on the beds as early as January at Seminole in most years, and the spawn peaks, especially for the big fish, in February during most years.

This year the winter has been about normal so far, and Jim Murray Jr., professional bass fisherman and Seminole regular, predicts that the spawn will really be going strong in late February. He says, “The first week of February the fish will be relating to the channels and starting to stage. The second and third weeks they will be on the move in pre-spawn mode, and the last week of the month the spawn should peak for the biggest fish. That may vary some with the weather, but length of day and moon phase also have a lot to do with it, so you can just about count on that schedule.”

Jim Murray Jr. is a good man to talk to about bass fishing at Seminole. He competes regularly at the top levels of bass tournaments, including the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League (BFL), the Everstart Tour, and the Bassmaster Tour, formerly known at the BASS Top 150s. Jim has been fishing at Seminole since he was a kid growing up near Cordele, and he still considers Seminole his home lake. You may remember him from the 2000 BASS Top 150 event, when he beat out many of the best bass fishermen in the country to finish in second place with a four-day limit of nearly 63-lbs., 14-ozs. To put it bluntly, Jim knows how to catch bass at Seminole.

One of Jim’s specialties is sight fishing, and it’s the method he used to take the Top 150 second place at Seminole as well as win first place at the 2002 BFL tournament at Lake Oconee. He compares sight fishing to hunting and stalking, and believes a sharp eye and the ability to really see the fish can make all the difference. He also knows that when conditions are right, sight fishing is one of the most efficient ways to catch the quality fish it takes to win a big tournament or just put together a nice picture full of big fish on the weekend.

I spent the day with Jim on Seminole last February while he was practicing for the 2003 Bassmaster Tournament. Although it was too cold and windy to do any sight fishing that day, he showed me some of his winning tactics and locations for sight fishing while we were there.

First of all, you can’t catch bass sight fishing if you can’t see them, so fairly clear water and polarized sunglasses are required. Jim won his Top 150 second place in the Chattahoochee River arm of Seminole, mainly around Fairchilds Landing and in Fish Pond Drain (Locations 1 and 2).
According to Jim, “Those areas are protected from the north wind, so the water tends to stay warmer all winter and warm up first in the spring. That makes those areas the first ones where bass come up to spawn each year. The water also tends to stay clearer there because it’s protected from wind and waves, which makes it ideal for sight fishing.”

A couple of other good locations he pointed out are the shoreline in front of the Coast Guard facility near the dam (Location 3) and Saunders Slough (Location 4). Seminole probably offers the right conditions for sight fishing more often and longer than any other lake in Georgia. Bass spawn from January through April at Seminole, and the extensive protected sloughs, grass flats, and sand bars all provide good spawning habitat and ideal conditions for long periods of time. The spawn should peak in February this year, especially for the biggest females that usually come up early in the spawning cycle.

Jim uses a seven-foot St. Croix medium-heavy rod for his sight fishing, and he sticks with a plastic lizard most of the time for his lure, although he will downsize to a tube jig if the fish are real spooky. He chooses his colors based on the attitude of the bass he’s targeting.

“If a fish is really locked down on the bed, holding close to the bottom and not moving off the bed easily, I use bright colors like white or pink for their high visibility,” said Jim. “If the fish is skittish, moving on and off the bed or leaving when I put a bait in there, I’ll use a more subtle, natural color like watermelon seed or green pumpkin. Pitch the bait up on the edge of the bed, and if the fish leaves quickly she may not even see the lizard. Leave the bait there and when the fish comes back, twitch it once and they’ll usually pick it up if they are actually on the bed and catchable. Watch the fish’s pectoral fins, when they start fluttering rapidly, he’s about to strike.”

Jim uses a push pole on Seminole’s flats when sight fishing, rather than stirring up the mud and making noise with an electric trolling motor, and he won’t waste time fishing for small fish. He keeps looking until he finds a good fish, because if the weather is good it normally takes a four- to five-pound average to win a spring tournament on Seminole, so catching two-pounders doesn’t help much.

Sight fishing does have its shortcomings, and some anglers don’t care for it because they believe it is unethical or might hurt the bass population to pull bass off their spawning beds. First let me say that I am a spring turkey hunter and a fall rut deer hunter, and I’ve even been known to raid a bream bed in May with an ultralight and a cage full of crickets.

Obviously, I don’t have an ethical problem with using an animal’s spawning behavior to capture it as long as it does no harm to the population in that area and is done legally.

Some of the same characteristics that make Seminole a great sight-fishing lake make it unlikely that fishing for spawning bass could have an impact on the bass population. Bass spawn in Seminole from January through April, depending on the weather, and there are so many good locations for fish to spawn that it is impossible for anglers to find them all, even in a small section of the lake. In lakes like Seminole where good quality spawning habitat and adult bass are abundant, far more baby bass are produced in a typical year than are needed to maintain the bass population.

However, if sight fishing is not for you, or the spawning activity and conditions aren’t right, Jim has a few more ways to catch bass at Seminole in February. The day I spent on the water with him was cool and windy, and a cold front had blown through a few days before. One of the first places we fished was Carl’s Pass (Location 5), an area on the northern bank of the Flint just downstream and across from Wingate’s Lodge. Carl’s Pass has several big depressions at the mouth of it just off the Flint. These big holes are as much as 15-feet deep, and according to Jim the bass stage in these depressions when getting ready to spawn or when pushed back after a cold front. Crankbaits are the lure of choice for fishing these deep depressions. Jim prefers wooden lures, such as the Bagley KillerB2, at Seminole because the wooden baits back out of the ever-present grass better than other crankbaits. Any depressions you can find near the river channel, like those in Carl’s Pass, will be good fishing early in February as the majority of the fish begin to move out of the river channel toward their spawning areas.

Another good tactic early in the month is fishing the grass lines and extensive grass flats along or near the edges of the river channels, especially near the bends. If the water and the weather is dead calm, flipping a jig along the edge of the grass lines is the best way to catch quality fish. However, you won’t get too many dead calm days on Seminole in the spring. Jim’s preferred tactic is fishing lipless crankbaits or spinnerbaits over the tops of the grass flats. The key is to find irregularities in the grass, such as ditches, depressions, humps, or openings. Again, polarized glasses and a sharp eye are a must for finding the best areas in the grass. On the south side of the Flint River near the confluence with Spring Creek there are several ditches running parallel to the bank about 100 yards offshore (Location 6). These aren’t easy to find, but if you watch the grass and watch your depthfinder closely you can pick them up.

Jim starts off the month with heavier lures, like 3/4-oz. spinnerbaits and Rat-L-Traps, because they will bury down in the grass better. His favorites are Envision spinnerbaits with silver blades on bright, sunny days and gold blades on cloudy days. He doesn’t get fancy with skirt colors, choosing the basic white in clear water and chartreuse in stained water. He recommends a 5/8-oz. Yo-Zuri Rattlin’ Vibe crankbait. This is a small lure that pulls through the grass well, but it has the extra weight needed to get down in the grass where the big ones hang out. In clear water he goes with a natural shad color and uses red or chartreuse and black in stained or muddy water.

“Ripping these baits is the key in this grass,” Jim told me. “You’ll get two or three times as many bites ripping the bait than someone who doesn’t rip it.”

If you aren’t familiar with ‘ripping,’ it’s simply letting the lure hang up in the grass, and then ripping it free throughout the retrieve. This might sound simple, and it is, but it takes persistence and some pretty good arm muscles to rip a lure through grass for any length of time. A seven-foot rod with a stiff action and heavy line will help, and so will a positive attitude and just a little bit of stubbornness.

Location 7 on the map is known as the Indian Mounds, and here you’ll see a series of posts in a circle south of the mouth of Spring Creek within sight of the dam. The area from these posts to the shore is a good grass and stump flat, and it’s a good place to try with the spinnerbaits and Rat-L-Traps and has yielded some nice bass for Jim over the years.

Jim had a few more words of advice for Seminole in February. First of all, if you’re in good grass, you’re fishing a good spot. In February some of the grass will be brown from winter die-off, so look for good, green, healthy-looking grass and that’s where the fish will be. Secondly, if you aren’t getting bit in 10 or 15 minutes, it’s time to move. He says there are just too many good bass in Seminole, and there are always some good fish biting somewhere on the lake in February — so keep moving until you find them.

Seminole will have something for about every bass angler in February, whether it’s sight fishing for pre-spawn and spawning fish or ripping a spinnerbait or crankbait across a grass bed. The bass are there and they will be hungry, so give Seminole a try this spring and get in on some great early-season bass fishing.

Editor’s Note: Scott Robinson is a Wildlife Resources Division Fisheries Biologist.

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