Bed Time For Burton Bass

While the biggest wave of bass will lock on the beds this month, there will be some transition fish, too.

Don Baldwin | May 5, 2013

Lake Burton, north of Atlanta near Helen, is a 2,200-acre jewel nestled between the foothills of north Georgia. Deep and clear, it shares the characteristics of most mountain lakes, but Burton has an added attraction. This beautiful body of water is surrounded by some magnificent homes. In fact this lake is more likely known as a playground for the wealthy than its angling opportunities. For goodness sake, Nick Saban has a house there.

All the same, Burton is a pretty good bass lake if you know how to fish it. The population boasts both spotted and largemouth bass, and every year some giants are boated from the deep, clear water.

Eric Welch, of McCaysville, is a full-time guide who has been fishing Burton for more than 20 years. He guides on other area lakes as well but spends a great deal of angling time on Burton each year. Eric said May is an excellent time to fish Burton.

“The bass are moving up and getting active in preparation for the spawn,” said Eric. “Depending on weather conditions, spawning activity can start in late April, but the first full moon in May is a more likely target, and the surface temp should be around 60 degrees.”

Paul Perkins, of Atlanta, and I had an opportunity to fish Burton with Eric in mid April. We were a bit early for the prespawn pattern, and we suspected that recent temperature fluctuations due to cold fronts could have the fish a little disoriented.

“Warming temperatures cause the fish to move up,” said Eric. “But a cold snap will send them right back down again. Consistent prespawn activities won’t begin until temperatures stabilize.”


Prior to the spawn, spotted bass will start to stage near bedding areas on flats and points in 15 to 20 feet of water. Largemouth head to the backs of pockets in 3 to 5 feet of water on shallow flats and around dock pilings.

Eric feels that the prespawn is toughest time to fish. The fish are moving around a lot with changes in weather conditions that generally occur in late April and early May.

For largemouth, Eric starts sight fishing in the shallows. The smaller bucks will generally move in first, and you can see them moving around in the shallows trying to select a good location for the bed.

“Before the bass move in on the bed they will still continue to feed,” said Eric. “When I see bass roaming an area, I fan cast with a shallow-diving crankbait like the Strike King KVD 2.5 or 1.5, something that wont dive any more that 2 to 3 feet. A bream-color pattern is usually very effective.”

An albino fluke is also a good choice, according to Eric.

Eric will also flip a jig into the area and work it around slowly. He recommends a 5/16-oz. jig because a smaller jig will be less likely to spook the fish on entering the water. Also, the craw-style trailer adds weight to the bait making casting easier. Crawfish are natural predators around spawning bass, so a brown/orange craw color combination is a great choice.

Early in the month, Eric targets docks with deep water in front of them for prespawn largemouth.

“Docks with 8 to 9 feet of water under them with much deeper water out in front are great staging areas,” said Eric. “They like the security of the cover and can move up and down in response to changes in weather conditions and water temperature changes with minimum effort.”

Eric said largemouth will often spawn at the back of docks near pilings and will spend the entire cycle from prespawn through postspawn in a small area around the dock. When working the docks, he’ll skip jigs, shaky-head worms and flukes under the docks with a lot of success.

Spotted bass spawn deeper than largemouth, so their prespawn staging areas are deeper as well. Eric likes to fish deeper flats and points in the 15- to 20-foot depth range and make casts over a wide area since it is not possible to sight fish for the spots. One of his favorite baits for prespawn spots is a jerkbait.

“I like to fish a jerkbait on the deeper flats for spots,” said Eric. “The fish will often pull on the flats to feed on sunny days.”

Eric said a slight chop on the water is a good thing, and it is important to offer the bait on small diameter clear line. Fluorocarbon in the 5- to 10-lb. test range is great.

With the jerkbait, Eric makes long casts over the flats and works the bait back to the boat using a jerk-jerk-pause retrieve, keeping the movement erratic and the bait just under the surface. He said the strikes will most often come on the pause, and you feel the fish on the next jerk of the line.

Shaky-head worms and drop-shot rigs are also effective on the flats fished in the same areas as the jerkbait.

“On a given day, any or all of those baits may be effective,” said Eric. “Just try different things to see what the fish want.”


As largemouth begin to spawn, you’ll see them cruising around in the clear water. The smaller buck bass are the first you’ll see, followed by the bigger females. If you cruise into an area and see a bass move off of a spot, but it moves back pretty quickly, it has most likely selected that spot for the bed.

“Once the beds are fanned out, you’ll see light green or white areas on the bottom about 1 or 2 foot in diameter, often near a button bush growing in the shallows,” said Eric. “Once the females settle on the bed, they aren’t really interested in feeding. They will pick up a bait and remove it from the bed but drop it very quickly.”

So Eric said he uses baits that imitate natural predators that feed on eggs and fry. The crawfish imitation jig is a good choice as is a shaky-head worm or tube jig in a crawfish-color combination. His favorite tube is a 2 3/4-inch Strike King Bitsy jig fished on a tube hook or stand-up shaky head, making the tube suspend off the bottom and wave the tentacles in the current or slight movement of the rod tip.

Eric positions his boat just close enough to be able to see the fish pick up the bait but not so close as to spook the bass. He uses a casting outfit with the jig/craw combination so he can flip or pitch to the bed without causing a big splash. The worm and tube he fishes on spinning tackle spooled with light line.

“I place the bait either in the bed or as close to the bed as I can,” said Eric.

It is often best to cast just beyond the bed and drag the bait slowly into it. Again this will minimize spooking the bass. When the bass picks up the bait, set the hook quickly because they will drop it just as quickly. Remember they aren’t planning to eat the bait, just get it out of the bed to protect the eggs. You may have to make several casts before getting the hook into a fish, so patience is important. Bass that move away on missed strikes but come back to the bed quickly are the most aggressive. Sticking with them will most likely pay off.

Spotted bass spawn in 12 to 16 feet of water on rocky points with stones from pebbles up to chunk-rock size. Since it is generally impossible to see the bass holding close to the bottom, the sight-fishing technique used with largemouth isn’t effective.

“Spots are more aggressive than largemouth, and they will tend to hold onto a bait longer while moving it away from the bed,” said Eric. “I really like a drop-shot rig and a shaky-head worm for bedding spots.”

The beauty of these baits is that you maintain contact with them as you move them slowly across the bottom. When the bass picks the bait up, you may not feel the strike, but the line will get “heavy,” and you may see lateral movement in the line as the spot swims away from the bed. Set the hook quickly before the bass releases the bait and heads back to the bed.

“One of the most common mistakes anglers make with a drop-shot rig is they fish it too quickly,” said Eric. “The weight must stay in contact with the bottom as you gently shake the rod tip making the suspended worm swim just above the bottom.”

Eric said he continually shakes the rod tip and moves the reel handle with his index finger about a half turn only occasionally. The result is he’ll make one cast while an inexperienced drop-shot angler will make 10. Slow down, and take your time; it will pay off.


Later in the month, bedding activity will pretty much be over, and the bass will have moved their fry to safer locations under cover. Both spots and largemouth like brushpiles and docks as location to protect the fry.

“The mature bass tend to stay with the fry about 10 days to two weeks, and then they’ll leave the fry to fend for themselves,” said Eric. “During that two-week period, predator imitations like a jig/craw combination or a fluke will entice bass to strike to protect the fry.”

Skipping these baits well back under docks is a great approach. Eric said the best docks are those on the south and west sides of the bank because they get the most sun during the day. Brushpiles in 10 to 15 feet of water are also good locations to try. Fish them the same way you would fish the docks.

Moving into June, Eric fishes the drop-shot and shaky-head worm against rip-rap, docks and brush. He throws the baits right up against the bank and works them slowly back to the boat. Eric recommends you position the boat in 35 to 40 feet of water and work from the bank out, down the drop.

“The bigger fish will usually be at the deeper drops farther off the bank. Many fishermen will position their boat too close to the boat and be sitting over the best zone with biggest fish,” said Eric.

And remember, most people fish the drop shot too quickly. Gradually move the bait along using the wrist, not the arm.


Eric uses both casting and spinning outfits depending on the size of the bait and the conditions he is fishing. In either case, he is fishing the lightest, thinnest line he can get by with, and he almost exclusively spools up small diameter Gamma Touch fluorocarbon as a main line on both spinning and casting reels.

The drop-shot rig consists of a 3/16-oz. finesse weight with a small quick connect clasp at the top (he pours these himself). The weight is attached at the bottom of the rig and a No. 1 drop-shot hook is attached to the main line about 18 inches above the weight. About 12 inches farther up a barrel swivel connects the rig to the main line to eliminate twists that occur when the rig is directly to the main line.

The drop-shot rig is fished on medium-light St. Croix spinning rods with an extra-fast-tip action because this rod works the drop shot well with minimum rod movement. The rig is completed with 5-lb. test Gamma Touch Fluorocarbon spooled on the reel. Eric likes the 4 1/2-inch straight-tail Robo worm in red, purple, green or brown.

“The drop shot is more versatile than people think,” says Eric. “Most folks think it is limited to vertical applications. While I fish it that way at times, I like to think of it as a finesse version of the Carolina rig,”


Eric said most of the flats and coves with the characteristics described above will hold bedding fish. But areas he particularly likes include Dicks Creek, Timpson Cove and Wildcat Creek.

There should be about two to three weeks of spawning activity. If you follow Eric’s advice, you’ll have plenty of fishing activity throughout the month and well into the summer. During the summer, that small lake can get pretty crowded with pleasure boaters, so early and late in the day will be your best bet.

If you would like to get a little more hands-on experience with a guide that knows the lake well, visit Eric’s website at

The site supports several guides for both trout and bass fishing. Eric is the bass expert of the group on several north Georgia lakes.

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