April On Lake Burton, Cast A Sammy
When Burton's spotted bass move up, there's no more fun way to catch them than on topwater plugs.
Lake Burton, with its deep, gin-clear water, has earned the reputation of being a tough bass-fishing lake most of the year. There are two months that are an exception, however, and those months are April and May, according to Wayne Holcomb of Lakemont.
“April and May are the two best months on Burton,” he said. “The fish are up, and they are easier to catch. And they are big and fat in April. When you catch one, it is liable to be a good one.”
Wayne, who works as part of the Critical Emergency Response Team (CERT) at Lee Arrendale State Prison in Alto, grew up in the area and started fishing Burton for bream, crappie, perch and bass when he was a kid.
“There are some good bass in this lake,” he said during a March 15 fishing trip. “And April is a good time to catch them.”
Wayne’s best Burton largemouth weighed seven pounds; he has caught spots up to five pounds. His son Brandon caught a monster spot on a Fluke that weighed 6-lbs., 4-ozs. on hand-held scales. That fish was released back in the lake. Had Brandon’s fish been weighed on certified scales, it would have been a new lake record.
According to GON’s Lake & River Record Fish, Burton’s lake-record spot was caught by Blondine Lovell in 1995 and weighed six pounds. The lake’s top largemouth was caught by Carl Lovell Jr. in 1993 and weighed 14 pounds. (Editor’s Note: Since this article was written the new state record spotted bass was caught at Lake Burton. The fish weighed 8-lbs., 2-ozs., and was caught February 23 by Wayne Holland.
In April the fish are moving up, chasing blueback herring and trying to gain weight ahead of the spawn.
“For the first half of the month, the fish will be up cruising and you can catch them along the rip-rap or rock walls,” said Wayne. “They will start back into the pockets waiting for the water temperature to rise. Around the first full moon in April (April 5) you can expect things to really pick up.
“By the middle of the month, you will be able to catch them around the deeper boat docks, but they will still be staging. By late April, barring any major weather fronts, the fish should be bedding.”
April is also the beginning of topwater time, and for many Burton anglers, that means tying on a Sammy.
“When the spots are up on top, a Sammy will usually tear them up,” said Wayne.
Ghost minnow, which has a chartreuse stripe down either side, is a favorite Sammy color on Burton, especially on an overcast day.
No matter how he might be fishing, there is usually a rod with a Sammy tied on laying on the deck of Wayne’s boat ready to cast to any nearby breaking fish.
“If you can get it to a fish that is chasing herring on the surface, they will usually hit it,” he said.
Most of the time when he makes a cast to a breaking fish, he will let the lure sit motionless on the surface for a few seconds.
“A lot of people will start to retrieve as soon as the lure hits the water, but I like to let it sit until the rings all but disappear, and then I make it move. A lot of times a fish that is watching the bait will think it is getting away, and they will hit it as soon as it moves.
“But I will throw a Sammy just about any time — I don’t have to see a fish come up before I pick up a Sammy.”
When the fish are pushing bait to the surface, but not hitting the Sammy on top, a good fall-back bait is a jerkbait like a Staysee or a Bevyshad, both Lucky Craft lures.
“Anything that imitates a blueback is good,” said Wayne. “The fish will be feeding on herring trying to get fat ahead of the spawn.
“I like to have a slight breeze that will put a ripple on the water,” he said. “The ripple breaks up the fish’s look at the lure.”
Wayne also fishes a Super Fluke as a jerkbait.
“I fish a Super Fluke on a 12-inch leader with a barrel swivel,” he said. “Then I pinch on a BB sinker just ahead of the swivel to keep the bait down and to help make it dart.”
Wayne recommends the Fluke as a follow-up bait when you fish a Sammy or other topwater bait.
“If you miss a strike on topwater, throw a Fluke back in and just let it sink. Sometimes the bass will think that it has injured a baitfish and it is falling.”
The topwater bite hadn’t kicked in when Wayne and I were on the lake. The water temperature was still cool, 52 to 53 degrees.
“When the water temperature hits 58, the bass will get a lot more active,” said Wayne.
When the water temperature hits the low 60s, Wayne will be throwing a Sammy on the long, main-lake points. And if the point has structure, rocks, a ledge or brush, so much the better.
Hog Island at the mouth of Dicks Creek is a prime community hole that produces good catches of bass.
“During a tournament, that’s one of the places you want to get to first,” said Wayne.
Flagpole Point, which, guess what, has a flagpole on it, is on the left as you head into Timson Creek, and just beyond it, Ivy Point, a long, narrow point with a house nearly as wide as the point, are both good places to try with structure, a feeding flat, and nearby deep water. The north point of the island in the mouth of Timson Creek is covered with rocks and drops steeply in the creek and the nearby river channel. These points and places like them are good starting spots at Burton.
If Wayne’s first two rods in line for an April trip at Burton have a Sammy and a Bevy, the third rod is likely to have a spinnerbait tied on. The blade is Wayne’s old reliable bait for Burton bass. He likes a 3⁄4-oz. Stanley Wedge, and he fishes it right out of the package without a trailer or trailer hook.
“I usually stay with a white skirt because the water is always so clear, but sometimes the spots like a little color, and I will go with chartreuse-and-white.”
When he fishes a spinnerbait on main-lake points, he lets it fall, then slow-rolls it back to the boat trying to follow the contour of the bottom.
Part of why a spinnerbait is so popular is that it is versatile. Wayne says that there are days when the spots will blow up on a spinnerbait fished as a topwater bait. As soon as the bait hits the water, you engage the reel and crank rapidly to bring the bait back just under the surface so that the water bulges up, creating a “V” wake. The flash and thump of a spinnerbait ripping just under the surface must look to a spotted bass like an escaping dinner and sometimes triggers a strike.
The final fall-back bait at Lake Burton for the day when all else fails is a worm rod, light 8- or 10-lb. line, and a Zoom Finesse worm to drop into deep brushpiles.
“There will always be some bass in the brushpiles,” he said.
The day I fished with Wayne was one of those windless, dead-calm days, when even the birds weren’t active, and neither were the fish. By lunchtime we were hitting brush with worms still trying to pick up a fish.
Wayne fishes a worm slowly. Watch grass grow, watch paint dry, watch Wayne fish a worm. He’s slooooow.
“I learned that from Johnny Brooks (another of the hardcore Lake Burton bass anglers),” said Wayne. “I used to fish a lot faster until I started to fish with Johnny. When I was fishing with him, I was making two casts to his one, but he was the one catching the fish, so I slowed down.”
Wayne uses 6-inch worms on a 2/0 Gamakatsu wide-gap, offset hook. The weight is usually 3/16 ounce.
Wayne says his two favorite worm colors at Burton are watermelon red and watermelon cotton candy. The worm gets doused with a spray of garlic or anise to encourage bass to hang on long enough for Wayne to set the hook.
For the rest of the afternoon, Wayne and I mostly ran brushpiles, often motoring up behind one of Burton’s mansions on the bank. Finding the brush was often a matter of lining up with some oddity on the rock walls that ring much of the developed portion of the lake.
When Wayne fishes a worm, you have to watch him closely to see any measurable movement. Then when his worm bumps into a brushpile, he downshifts to glacial speed, shaking just the rod tip to make the worm shake and scarcely retrieving any line. On a speed scale, doodling would look like ripping a buzzbait compared to Wayne’s worming technique. He says, “If you fish it slow, it gives them a chance to change their mind — or time to get hungry.”
Burton’s spotted bass weren’t biting the day we were there, but Wayne was patient with the lake.
“We are about two weeks from it breaking loose. By the time this article comes out, the fishing should have turned on.”
And when it does, you can depend on Wayne being on the lake over a long point, working a Sammy, waiting for the explosive strike of a magnum Burton spot.
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