Beat the Heat For Bartletts Ferry Bass

During the dog days, look for bass on weeds and wood.

Don Baldwin | September 1, 2008

Summer fishing can be a real challenge. Soaring daytime temperatures and warm nights escalate water surface temps and can shut bass down, making it difficult to catch a fish, let alone a winning tournament sack.

Dennis Hudson of Fortson is a frequent Bartletts angler who has been fishing the lake for more than 30 years, and he works hard at staying in touch with the fish and how they are responding, even in the heat of summer. Dennis is on the reservoir several times every week, and he runs one of the largest pot tournaments in the area.

“This lake can be really tough during the summer,” said Dennis. “There is plenty of boat traffic, particularly on the weekends, and bass tend to be less active in the warm water.”

Dennis says that night fishing is a great option, but if you are going to fish during the day, there are some tactics that have worked well in his experience.

I met Dennis at the Idle Hour Park ramp on an early July morning, and we set out to try our luck at boating some hot weather bass. The temperature was forecasted to be above 90 during the afternoon, so we needed an early start to take advantage of the cooler morning temperatures.

To get to our first spot, Dennis didn’t even crank the big outboard. He just dropped the trolling motor over the side and slid us over to a grassbed on the shoreline next to the ramp.

“First thing in the morning bass move up into these grass flats to feed,” said Dennis. “You can often get them to chase topwater baits in the shallow water or hit finesse worms along the edges.”

Dennis had a frog imitation tied on, a soft plastic Rage Tail frog by Strike King. His color choice that morning was chartreuse, but he said that black and white work as well. The frog floated high in the water and made a commotion like a buzzbait as it was cranked back to the boat.

Dennis began by working the frog around the outside edges of the grass in water a foot or two deep. He fished the frog on casting gear spooled with 17-lb. test line to ensure that he could get a hooked fish out of the grass quickly.

I tried a small Texas-rigged finesse worm. Dennis gave me a Zoom Ultra-vibe worm in a junebug color, threaded on a Gamakatsu 3/0 extra-wide-gap hook and a pegged 1/4-oz. sinker. Junebug, green pumpkin or Bama Bug (a combination of the two) are Dennis’ favorite color combinations. Dennis says he uses bullet weights from 1/8 oz. to 5/16 oz. depending on the thickness of the grass and the current in the lake. It is important to snug the weight up to the head of the worm and peg it securely to the line with a toothpick or other device. Otherwise, the weight will sink in and leave the worm on the surface in the thick grass. Within a few casts we had our first fish, a fat 2-pounder that hit the frog. Farther along the bank a bigger fish slammed the frog, and after a brief fight Dennis boated a largemouth of about 4 pounds.

We continued hitting grass beds throughout the morning and had success on many of them, boating a half-dozen bass, both on the frog and the worm.

By about 9 a.m. the morning grass action was over, and Dennis moved upstream to fish boat docks along the main river channel.

“These boat docks will continue to produce throughout the late summer and early fall,” said Dennis. “The bass love to get deep under the docks and take advantage of the shade they create.”

Dennis approaches the docks by skipping jigs, worms or flukes up under the docks as far as possible and watching carefully for a strike on the fall.

“Ninety percent of the strikes come on the fall with soft plastic,” said Dennis. “If you don’t watch your line as the bait is falling, you’ll miss most of the strikes.”

Dennis said that the strikes can be subtle, and it takes practice to recognize them. The line may move slightly to the left or right, jump, or just hesitate in its fall to the bottom to indicate a strike. If you don’t set the hook quickly, the fish will spit the bait before you react. This type of fishing requires extreme concentration and quick reaction, or it can be quite frustrating.

Dennis fishes the soft-plastic offerings on 12-lb. test line spooled on medium to light spinning outfits.

“It is much easier to skip a bait across the surface with a spinning reel than with a casting reel,” said Dennis. “A casting reel will overrun (backlash) every time if you don’t have the timing just right.”

Dennis recommends that you select a rod with sufficient backbone to wrestle the fish out from under the dock once you have it hooked. If you don’t take control of the fish early, it will generally wrap you around the pilings and break you off.

In addition to skipping the soft plastics under the docks, Dennis will fish the outer edges of the docks with jigs and crankbaits looking for more aggressive fish. These baits are fished on casting tackle spooled with 17-lb. test line.

After fishing several docks and picking up a few more bass, we headed farther upstream into the relatively narrow “river” section of the lake.

“From about midday till it starts to cool off in the afternoon, I like to fish the upper section of the lake starting at about Flat Shoals Creek,” said Dennis. “This portion of the lake has lots of blowdowns and submerged stumps that hold fish.”

In fact, there is so much cover in this area that it can be very difficult to fish. “Every place you look seems like it should hold at least one bass,” said Dennis. When there is so much good-looking cover present, it is important to look for something just a little different in the area. It might be an isolated piece of cover on an otherwise barren bank, a mouth of an incoming creek with blowdowns on either side, or anything else that looks a little different than the surrounding area. One pointer that Dennis gave was to work the bends of the river or creek. They tend to produce well in his experience.

Dennis’ baits of choice on the upper river include a 3/8- to 1/2-oz. jig in brown/black or blue/black color combinations, in the deeper sections a crankbait like the Norman Deep Little N or a Texas-rigged worm with a 1/8- to 1/2-oz. bullet weight. All of these baits are fished on casting tackle with 17-lb. test line to manage the fish and get it out of the cover once it is hooked.

Current flow is very important when fishing upriver.

“If there isn’t any current, then fishing will generally be tough,” said Dennis. “The action can turn on and off like a light with the presence or absence of current flow.”

The day we were out, there was no current, and the fishing activity reflected that. We didn’t even get a strike in the time we fished the Flat Shoals Creek area even though we had done well earlier in the day down the lake.

While we ended our day at about 2 p.m., Dennis said the fish would likely be back in the grass later in the day and into the early evening. Again, the frog or Texas-rigged worm are likely to produce around the grass.

From late August through September, the fish are more likely to be on the edges of the grass rather than buried up in it. Dennis recommends that you set up the boat close to the edge of the grass and make long parallel casts, working the surface bait back to the boat right along the outer edge of the grass bed. The worm can still be fished deeper into the grass picking up the less-aggressive fish.

Dennis said that this pattern will produce through September and October.

A note of caution when fishing Bartletts Ferry: pay close attention to your electronics, and watch the depth. There are plenty of bars and shallow spots in the middle section of the lake and rocks up the river. Speeding through an area you don’t know well could shorten your day and generate a costly repair bill with a damaged lower unit.

But I can tell you from first-hand experience that Dennis’ “weeds and wood” summer pattern works well on the lake.

So get out early and start with the grassbeds. There are plenty of hungry bass ready to attack a well-placed bait.

Dennis’ pot tournaments are some of the most popular in the area and often include more than 50 boats. If you would like to participate, give Dennis a call at (706) 325-5073. He’ll be glad to give you the details.

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