Lake Varner For Bass And Hybrid Combo
Proctor's September largemouth, hybrid plan for Lake Varner fishing.
The sun was still below the eastern treeline as we chunked topwater lures in Newton County’s Lake Varner. We were hoping one of the lake’s notorious big largemouths, or an aggressive hybrid, would strike.
The reservoir was slicked out — bad conditions for topwater strikes — but it sure made for a peaceful beginning to what would feel like a day in a sauna.
My partner was Chad Proctor, one of Lake Varner’s top anglers. Chad and his partner, Britt Daniel, won the Southern Jon Boat Anglers Championship in 2001. For that win, they took home a 15-foot G3 jonboat, the same one I was standing in chunking a shad-colored Zara Spook.
Along with winning the boat in 2001, Chad and Britt won the 2002 Johnboat Bass Association Championship, the 2003 Southern Jon Boat Anglers Championship and were 2004 Anglers of Year in Southern Jon Boat Anglers. They’ve been on a roll this year, too, especially at Varner.
“We’ve won six tournaments this year at Varner, with four of those having sacks over 20 pounds,” said Chad.
Chad has numerous stories of 6- to 9-lb. largemouths that he’s caught at Varner, and he said September is a good month to catch one of these hawgs. He’ll start his day with topwater baits.
“We’ll start with buzzbaits, one of us will throw white and the other chartreuse,” said Chad.
If he doesn’t get bit pretty quick, he’ll start chunking something else, like a Zara Spook. In fact, about any topwater bait could produce a strike on an early September morning at Varner.
Chad and I were fishing up the right creek arm above the island near the left bank. We were looking for our first strike two casts off the bank on a five-foot grass flat.
“About four years ago when the lake was down it produced all the grass,” said Chad.
A cast or two behind us the grass stopped, and the flat gradually deep end until it hit the 20-foot creek channel.
It had been 15 minutes without even a swirl at our baits, so with my Spook halfway back to the boat, I tried a very simple technique — I paused the bait. One second, two seconds, three… BAM! A feisty 3-lb. hybrid had the plug and was stripping line from my reel. Several minutes later the lineside was in the boat.
According to Bubba Mauldin with WRD Fisheries, hybrids were stocked in Varner in 1998 and 2000 at a rate of 10 per acre each time. He said the average hybrid is now about six pounds.
“They’ve been schooling here for several weeks,” said Chad.
Schooling? You mean like Clarks Hill schooling with Spooks and Flukes in May? Yes, it’s apparently true. If you go to Varner this month and it’s brain-frying hot, you can expect to find hybrids and largemouths schooling any time of the day. Trust me, I witnessed it. I’ve got the red neck and empty water jug to prove it.
“If you can catch a cloudy day it would be even better,” said Chad. “When you see schooling it could be hybrids, a mixture of hybrids and bass or even a school of just 5-lb. largemouths. My number one bait if I see schooling fish would be a (weightless) Fluke. I also like using a Fluke on a Fish Head Spinner.”
Chad will also catch schooling fish on a white jigging spoon. He’ll throw it past the school and then yo-yo it back through them.
By 11 o’clock the August heat was in full force, making it miserable on the body but fantastic on the fishing. We’d boated three or four 3- to 5-lb. hybrids and several bass, including a chunky 4-pounder.
I was throwing a Rapala DT-10 crankbait across the creek channel. With a 5:3:1 Abu Garcia reel I had cranked the plug all the way back to the boat, but it was still a few feet below the surface. I made a sweep upward to lift the bait from the water, but a hybrid crushed it, stopping the rod. With a set of treble hooks in its mouth it headed for deep water.
“LOOK, they’re schooling,” Chad announced. Seconds later he hooked up. I turned to look at a nice flurry of activity on top, even though I had all I could handle with five pounds of white fish at the end of my line. When I got the fish up to the boat, the entire DD10 was in the hybrid’s mouth.
“They’re still schooling,” he said.
Chad had just released his fish and was getting back in the game while I was lifting my fish in the boat.
“There’s another one,” he said.
Dang-it! I wanted another one.
I grabbed the pliers off the seat and tried to unhook the fish, but the back treble hook was buried so far down in the fish’s mouth that I could barely reach it with my pliers. He ate it! By the time I released the fish the school was down and Chad was turning loose of his second hybrid.
“When they go down you can still catch them cranking or with that jigging spoon,” said Chad.
Several casts later with a Norman’s DD-22, Chad said his plug was caught in a brushpile. Stepping on the trolling motor, Chad was able to get the boat in position where he was able to snatch the bait free. When he did, WHAM! A fish nailed the loosened plug and headed for the surface.
“Gooood fish,” said Chad.
I’d been hearing “gooood fish” all day, and that’s because we had been catching those hard-fighting hybrids. However, this fish was catching our attention as we watched the line peel out of the water like a tarpon fixing to make a grand jump.
“That’s a bass,” Chad hollered.
When the 7-pounder decided to partake in an August tailwalk, I fell in the bottom of the boat amongst all the criss-crossed rods and open tackle boxes. I was digging for the net, but I couldn’t retrieve it from under all the gear before Chad knelt down and grabbed the fish.
All this happened in about five minutes. I spent so much time telling you about it to try and convince you that despite a sweltering day on the water, the fishing can be fast, fun and fantastic! It’s worth dealing with the heat — just tie on a crankbait and go.
“We started throwing crankbaits a few years ago,” said Chad. “We mainly threw worms, but we just happened to get on some fish one day with them.”
Chad cranks with several big plugs that range from a D-10 to a DD22. Lavender shad, white or shad colors can all produce. To throw his plugs, Chad uses a seven-foot Falcon rod with a Shimano Curado reel spooled with 14-lb. Bass Pro Shops line.
“A DD22 with 14-lb. line will usually get down about 10 or 11 feet,” said Chad. “If I want to fish a little deeper I’ll go to 12-lb. line.”
When fishing deep-diving plugs, Chad works the edges of the five-foot grass flats out toward the channel until it gets about 10 o’clock. Then, he’s fishing creek channels.
“I usually crank across the channel rather than down it,” said Chad. “It’s lined with stumps on both sides, so you can hit the brush twice and work the channel, too. It’s important that you hit the brush.”
Chad treats his cranking retrieve once his plug hits the brush one of two ways — burning it or stopping it.
“You just have to let the fish tell you what they’re wanting,” said Chad. “Sometimes they want it real slow and other times they want you to rip it.”
Chad and I picked up a few more fish as we neared the upper end of the right fork, working across the channel the entire way. The bite had slowed by 11 a.m., so we broke out the plastics. Worm fishing may be a little slow for Chad’s fishing style, but he says they produce good fish in the summer. Chad prefers a Texas rig so that he can shake a big worm through deep brush. He likes a 10-inch Culprit or Ol Monster worm and uses red shad and watermelon seed colors.
Give Varner a try this month. Go early, and look for fish on five-foot grass flats. Throw topwater. As the day progresses work your way out to the channel and look for brush and either crank it or worm it.
Chad said if you go up the left-hand side of the lake, start fishing above the bridge. The same patterns will work there, too.
Wherever you fish on Varner you can anticipate fish breaking on top. Have a Fluke, Fish Head Spinner and your favorite topwater bait tied on.
A few weeks ago I called Mike Henderson, Varner’s reservoir manager, for a fishing report.
“I saw a good bass out here yesterday (August 15) that somebody caught, it was probably 10 pounds,” said Mike. “If it would have been spring it would have been 12 pounds. She had a huge head on her. The guy said they caught two earlier, one 5 1/2 the other 7 1/2.”
If you’re interested in going for a trophy bass or just bringing home some hybrids for the fryer, visit Varner this month. Chad said the fishing should just get better and better as we approach cooler months. Look for schooling activity to intensify!
Varner’s hours April through October are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. November through March the hours are 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. You need to be off the water and out of the park by closing time.
If you live in Newton or Walton counties, it’s free to fish and launch your boat. For non-county residents it’s $5 per boat and $5 per vehicle. If you have a gas motor on your boat, you have to take it off if you’re going to Varner. This lake allows electric-motors only.
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