Bartletts Ferry March Bass
Jim Stutts begins a March morning fishing slow and deep, but as the water warms he switches to faster fishing.
The third fish was our best bass of the day. Jim Stutts, a 15-year veteran on Bartletts Ferry, and I were dragging jig ’n pigs off rocks on a main-lake point on the south side of the mouth of Halawakee Creek. A white house with black trim sat on the point, behind a 2-level dock. As Jim’s jig fell off a rock in about 15 feet of water, he felt the tick of a bass picking up the bait and he set the hook. His rod bowed over and stayed bent.
“That’s a better fish,” said Jim, as he played the fish out of the deep water. Soon he lipped a deep-green largemouth that weighed about three pounds.
The fish came from exactly the kind of place Jim expected: a rocky shelf on a fast-dropping main-lake point. In February, when I fished with Jim, and during the first part of March, he would start most fishing trips on the same kind of structure. But March means transition time for Bartletts Ferry bass, and by the end of the month the fish will begin to move up and start to chase down faster-moving baits.
Jim, from Phenix City, Ala., is a member of the Fort Benning Bass Club and a perennial member of the club’s Top Six team. He has fished Bartletts Ferry off and on since the mid 1980s between various assignments with the military as a nurse anesthetist.
Jim’s approach to Bartletts Ferry in March divides the month in two — the colder first half and the second, warmer half. During the first half of the month when the water temperature is in the upper 40s or lower 50s, most of the bass are still deep — 15 to 18 feet — staging on the points waiting for the water temperature to rise.
By the end of the month, as the water temperature moves into the mid and upper 50s, the bass will begin to move back into the cuts and coves and will begin to feed more aggressively in preparation for the spawn.
Jim’s primary baits also switch during the month.
Early in March when the water is still cold and the fish are lethargic, Jim fishes a jig ’n pig.
As March progresses, and the water begins to warm up, Jim gradually switches over to a spinnerbait — but there are a couple of other wrinkles in his March strategy.
The prime weapon in his cold-water arsenal is a jig ’n pig.
“For quality fish, I like a jig ’n pig,” he said. “Especially when I am out looking for just a few cold-water bites. You won’t catch a whole lot of fish with the jig, but what you catch are usually good fish. (Well, almost. Jim pulled in an overly-ambitious 6-inch spotted bass off a deep point that hit the big jig.)
Jim finished second in the Fort Benning Bass Club’s January tournament on Bartletts Ferry with two fish he caught on a deep rocky point with a jig.
He throws a black/blue Strike King jig and dresses it with a black/blue Zoom chunk. He prefers a jig with a rattle in it to help attract a bass’ attention much like the beads on a Carolina rig do. When fishing the deep points, he uses a 3/4- to 1-oz. jig, switching to a lighter jig around boat docks.
He has recently switched to 20-lb. P-line for fishing a jig, and so far he likes the line.
Jim fishes the jig ’n pig as slowly as he can. “When the water is cold, you just barely want to creep it along,” he said. “The fish aren’t going to move far to pick up a bait.”
Jim retrieved his jig about six inches between stops, and he was continuously shaking his rod tip to make the jig vibrate.
Most of the points Jim and I fished had a boat dock on them, and when we pulled up to fish, Jim stayed a long cast away.
“A lot of these docks will have Christmas trees or brush on them in eight or 10 feet of water. There are also a lot of them that have stumps in deeper water a little farther out, and early in the year, the fish will hold in the deeper structure before they move up under the dock.”
March Means Transition Bassing
Early in March, Jim concentrates on main-lake and secondary points like those at the mouth of Halawakee Creek, the north end of Chimney Island on the Georgia side, and as far back as the Hwy 87 bridge. His primary bait will be a slowly-fished, black/blue jig ’n pig in water 15 to 18 feet deep. By mid March, he will follow the bass into the coves and cuts and will work the banks casting to brush, seawalls and boat docks. His primary bait will be a 1/4-oz. white spinnerbait to work shoreline structure quickly, but he will have a Texas-rigged junebug worm ready to cast to boat docks. His favorite areas are the first cove up from the dam on the Alabama side, and the coves on the south side of Halawakee Creek.
During the last half of March, or whenever the water temperature reaches the mid 50s, Jim will pretty much put the jig ’n pig away in favor of a faster approach. He will move into the coves and work the banks, targeting any wood structure, seawalls and docks. As he moves down the bank, he will usually have a spinnerbait rod in his hand, but he will have a Texas-rigged worm on deck to work the boat docks more thoroughly.
“By the end of March, I will be fishing shoreline cover with the spinnerbait,” said Jim. “I am looking for aggressive fish, and the spinnerbait works faster.”
The spinnerbait he prefers is a blade built by Skip Ray, the Georgia Bass Chapter Federation secretary, who happens to live on Bartletts Ferry. If he can’t talk Skip out of custom-built blades, he fishes a white Strike King spinnerbait with willow-leaf blades, and he dresses the spinnerbait with a pearl white split-tail.
If you prefer crankbaits, Jim said a Mann’s Baby 1-Minus in blue with a chrome back is a good alternative to the spinnerbait at Bartletts Ferry.
The primary bass pattern at Bartletts Ferry by late March and throughout the spring is to beat the banks, punctuated by working docks more thoroughly. Bartletts Ferry is an old lake, impounded in 1926, and it is lined with boat docks of every description. These docks make excellent bass cover and are an obvious fishing target.
As Jim comes up on a boat dock, he will often pick up the Texas rig to fish deep under the dock. Junebug is his favorite worm color, and he sends a U-tail worm on a 1/4- or 3/8-oz. weight to check the interior corners of a dock.
“If you watch people fish a dock, a lot of them will cast to the front of the dock, and parallel to the sides and move on,” he said. “I like to fish the back of the dock, or way up inside.”
While Jim and I were on the lake, we motored back to the point directly in front of Chamblee’s Marina, to Carolina-rig brush 20 feet out in front of a boat dock on the side of the point. A Carolina-rig can be a good fish-finder rig in March, worked quickly until you find fish-holding structure. Jim fishes the same Junebug U-tail on a 3/0 wide-gap Gamakatsu hook and usually has a 1-oz. weight to hold the rig down.
“I figure the idea is to get the worm to the bottom and make some commotion with the big weight,” said Jim.
February was apparently a little early for the Carolina rig on nearby pea-gravel points, but we picked up a 2-lb. largemouth in 12 feet of water on a rocky point across from Chamblee’s.
March marks the beginning of the spring-bassin’ season on Bartletts Ferry. Jim expects the fishing to improve almost by the day throughout the month as the water temperature climbs. He recommends starting out deep and slow on the points early in the month and switching over to the spinnerbait bite as the water warms.
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