Back In Black Shoals For April Bass
Where 5-lb. bass are common, and a souped-up boat means there's an extra trolling motor.
Have you heard that new song? It starts out kind of slow… the beat like water gently lapping the front of a jon boat, the melody set to the gentle hum of a trolling motor. But the chorus? Definitely more upbeat with the swish of rods cutting through the air on hook-sets, the grunts of anglers and splashes of bug-eyed, big ’ol bass.
More and more fishermen are singing the praises of bass fishing on mini-reservoirs, where only electric-motor-powered boats are allowed, but the fishing is almost always better than your average big lake, and at times it is remarkable.
Take, for example, Lake Varner in Newton County, the undisputed current champion of the water-supply reservoirs. A jonboat tournament trail fished Varner on March 9, and the winning five-bass limit weighed 30.8 pounds — a 6-lb., 2-oz. per bass AVERAGE! Oh, and second place — 30.2 pounds.
Those jonboat boys will tell you that Black Shoals Reservoir in Rockdale County could someday be a contender for Varner’s crown. Black Shoals is already good, with the potential for greatness.
“This lake has so much deep cover, there’s no telling how many bass in here have never seen a lure,” said Tony Garcia soon after putting a 2-lb. bass in the boat.
I fished Black Shoals with Tony on a sunny, warm Sunday afternoon on March 9. Tony is the club secretary for High Voltage Bass Anglers, which runs one of three jonboat tournament trails currently operating in north Georgia. Tony has been fishing Black Shoals regularly since soon after it opened in May of 2000.
When I climbed into Tony’s specially-rigged jonboat, the first thing he commented on was the water color. Usually gin clear, Black Shoals was sporting a heavy red-mud stain. Sitting in the front seat, he kicked a switch on each side and two 52-lb. thrust trolling motors mounted in the back of the boat hummed to life. A front-mounted 52-lb. thrust motor with a long handle made for easy steering from Tony’s front position.
“Let’s go all the way to the dam. The creek on the right up there might have some clearer water,” Tony said.
The leisurely ride took about 10 minutes, giving me ample time to tie on a chartreuse/white spinnerbait and change the front of the two willowleaf blades to a big, thumping Colorado blade. On Tony’s advice, a jig ’n pig went on the other rod.
“The water’s a little clearer, but not much,” Tony said as he started working the left-hand bank just inside the mouth of the creek. Tony was casting a 5/16-oz. hand-tied black jig with a curly-tail trailer that was black with blue flakes. I started with the spinnerbait, casting as close to the shoreline as possible and slow-rolling it along the bottom.
It only took about 10 casts before Tony set the hook and boated a fat, 2 1/2-lb. Black Shoals largemouth. As we fished, I asked Tony about how he would go about targeting the bass on this small reservoir in April.
“Oh, a drop-shot rig, for sure,” Tony said.
“No, in April,” I said.
Tony laughed. He assured me he had heard me correctly and that a drop-shot rig was deadly on Black Shoals bass in April.
“I’ll throw topwater early and late, but those big bass move off the banks farther than people think,” he said. “Once the sun hits the water the big balls of shad will be out over 20 or 25 feet of water, and that’s what I look for, baitfish.”
For the topwater bite, Tony recommends a Spittin’ Image or a buzzbait. The very backs of creeks and spawning pockets are good bets for the early bite. Make parallel casts a few feet off the bank and cover water quickly to find the shallow-feeding bass before the sun hits the water. Another lure Tony recommends for bass that are feeding near the banks is a hard jerkbait. Mostly he throws an Excaliber model that isn’t made any more — he buys them on Ebay.
“A Rattlin’ Rogue, the signature series put out by Mark Menendez, is a good one. It’s a suspending bait, and I’d use a shad pattern unless the water is really clear, then I’d throw chrome.”
If you prefer shallow-water fishing for aggressive bass, you can keep the jerkbait tied on and beat the banks and probably have a good day of fishing in April at Black Shoals. Another popular option is floating worms. There is plenty of shallow structure on Black Shoals, and that’s where you want to throw a Zoom Trick Worm. Get the worm right in the bushes and twitch it through the mess. As you work down the bank between specific structure, a Super Fluke is a good bet for covering open water more quickly than you can with a Trick Worm. The lake is loaded with shad, and the Fluke is a great shad imitation.
But while you and most of the other bass fishermen will be beating the banks, Tony Garcia will be behind you, easing along with the trolling motor over 15 to 25 feet of water, watching his graph.
“This lake is absolutely loaded with shad,” Tony said. “The bait will be up on the banks in the mornings, but when the sun gets up the shad move out. I ease along, looking for big balls of shad.”
When he sees baitfish, Tony will open the bail on his spinning reel and let his drop-shot rig go straight to the bottom.
A drop-shot rig is a finesse technique that has dominated the pro fishing circuits the past couple of years (see GON June 2002 for a feature article on drop-shotting). The rig is basically an upside-down Carolina rig, with the weight at the end of the line and the hook tied directly to the line anywhere from three inches to five feet or more above the weight. The hook is tied to the line using a palomar knot, and you leave a very long tag end on the line — the length depending on how far you want your bait to suspend above the bottom. There are special drop-shot weights in various shapes, but most have a swivel that reduces line twist and has a line-holding clip, so you don’t have to tie a knot to attach the weight.
There are also drop-shot hooks on the market, and many fishermen use these live-bait style hooks in sizes as small as No. 1 or No. 2 hooks.
“I like a Gamakatzu wide-gap 1/0 worm hook,” Tony said. “The 1/0 size and the wide gap lets you Texas-rig it, and when you do that, by nature it stands out straight, and the tail wiggles a little bit more.
“I use 8-lb. diameter line that has 15-lb. strength. It’s called 8/15 Stren Extra-Strength Clear. I use a six-foot medium-action rod, with rear-action drag on a spinning real. When a bass bites, you’re just lifting straight up, not swinging to set the hook.”
Many of the places Tony will be searching for baitfish and using the drop-shot rig are not far from the spawning banks, just out in deeper water. He showed me one such place about 40 feet off the bank in the big creek arm down to the right at the dam.
“It’s just a stretch off the shoreline where we’ve found lots of bait that time of year. The creek coming in there is really good, the channel is 30 feet deep.
“Main-lake points are probably the best structure to look for the bait on, especially if the wind is blowing.
“The key with that drop-shot rig is you have to have the water clarity. The second is baitfish — and that could be anywhere in that lake.
“If the lake is still muddy in April, I would go to the a jig ’n pig. Go deep with that jig. I have fished it 20 to 25 feet deep on Black Shoals. The best colors by far are the darker colors, the blacks and blues, even when the water isn’t stained. Stanley makes a good jig, and use one with a rattle, no doubt.”
The ramp at Black Shoals is located on the upper end of the lake, and because the lake is 650 acres and rather long, it takes some battery power to get from the ramp to the lower end near the dam. Anyone fishing Black Shoals should have an extra battery or two.
The lake is open to fishing daily, except closed on Wednesdays, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and boats must be out of the water by 5:30 p.m. On April 6, the hours will change to 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. (boats out of the water by 8:30 p.m.). For more information on regulations and hours at Black Shoals Park and reservoir, call (770) 761-1611.
A good source of information on fishing the smaller lakes is the High Voltage Bass Anglers website (highvoltagebassanglers.com), which has fishing reports for the small reservoirs, plus tournament results and schedules.
To get to Black Shoals, take I-20 to exit 82 (Hwy 138), go north to Sigman Road and turn left, then turn right and take Hwy 20 north. Travel 5.3 miles and turn right on Bethel Road, then make a left on Black Shoals Road.
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