Blackshear Bass February’s Three Stages

To catch bass, you have to keep up with the transition.

Jay Chambless | February 20, 2005

Lake Blackshear can be a very fickle reservoir. Just ask anyone who fishes it, and they are certain to agree. Many an angler has left this lake shaking his head. Part of the problem is what you see once you get there. Boat docks, cypress trees, stumps and grassbeds are virtually everywhere you look. It is very easy to get caught up in the “it looks good over there… and over there” mindset on this body of water. Many fishermen start fishing areas that just “look good,” but the most successful Blackshear anglers are able to look beyond what they see and apply seasonal patterns to determine which good-looking areas are actually good at a given time.

Jamison Noland does exactly that, and he has the track record to prove his approach works. He taught us how he approaches February on Lake Blackshear.

Jamison, who lives in Albany, fishes Blackshear frequently, and he has a history of doing very well in tournaments held on the lake. He is at his best during the late winter/early spring period. Some of Jamison’s best catches have come during this time, and by his own admission it is his favorite time to fish the lake.

The month of February on Blackshear can be broken down into three different phases — late winter, prespawn, and sometimes, spawn.

“During the first part of the month, the fish will usually still be on a winter pattern. They will relate to deeper water and main-lake structure,” Jamison said. “In the middle of the month, the fish will begin to migrate toward spawning areas where they will hold until conditions get right for them to spawn. By the end of the month you might see some spawning activity, but you will need some warm, stable weather and the right moon.”

In February, Blackshear bass fishing changes dramatically. Learn the right techniques to stay on transitional fish.

During the first part of February, when the fish are still in their winter pattern, the bite can be surprisingly good. Blackshear’s bass bite well in colder water, provided it doesn’t get below about 48 degrees. Any type of rock cover, whether it is man-made or natural, is a bass magnet during this time. Man-made rock structure, such as rip-rap, is easily found and plentiful. The lake features several bridges with rip-rap, as well as the dam.

“I really like to fish rocks. A crankbait is my favorite lure, and it is the best bait for fishing rocks,” Jamison said.

During cold-water periods, the sun shining on the rocks warms them, and in return they give off heat. This heats the water, making it a few degrees warmer than surrounding areas. The warmer water attracts baitfish, which in turn attracts bass. It’s not at all uncommon to see bass schooling on shad in these areas, even in winter.

Any rip-rap can be good, but that which is located near deep water is usually better. To fish the rip-rap, Jamison parallels the bank with both his boat and his casts, The fish will usually be holding very close to the rocks, so by paralleling the structure, you are able to keep your bait in the strike zone the entire cast.

“Fish will also get on docks when it’s cold. The deeper docks with brush are usually the best,” Jamison commented.

When fishing around Blackshear docks, be sure to cover private boat ramps, as the heated concrete often attracts baitfish and bass.

Docks are something that Blackshear has no shortage of. They are nearly everywhere you look. To help narrow your search for the best docks, concentrate on those located near creeks or coves that have eight to 12 feet of water on the front end of them. A Carolina rig fished quickly around the docks will help you find brush planted by the dock owners. Once you have located a brushpile, slow down and fish it very thoroughly.

“I like to fish a jig in any brush I find around docks. It’s important to fish it slowly and shake it,” Jamison explained.

During the cooler periods of early February, the bass are often sluggish. A slow-moving bait that stays in front of them will often tempt them into biting. An easy meal that doesn’t require a lot of energy to catch is usually more than a bass can pass up, especially a big fish.

“If you are fishing a row of docks and see a private boat ramp, be sure to fish it. I have caught a ton of fish off of private ramps, and some big fish, too. Make several casts to it from different angles, and cover it thoroughly,” Jamison said.

Jamison’s first choice for fishing these structures is a crankbait. The concrete on these boat ramps attracts both baitfish and bass much the same way as rip-rap. There is also usually cover at the end of the ramp, as sticks and other debris roll down the structure and collect at the end of it. Not many people fish this pattern, so you can mostly have all of these fish to yourself.

Usually by the middle of the month, the water begins to warm a little. When the water temperature nears 55 degrees, the bass will be on the move from their winter homes to pre-spawn staging areas. These staging areas will be close to where the bass will spawn.

“When the fish get on a prespawn pattern, the fishing gets really good. That’s when you can really bust a big bag,” Jamison said.

Knowing what structure to look for, and where to find it, is extremely important during the prespawn. Blackshear bass, like bass on other lakes, do not all move shallow to spawn at once. Instead, they will move up in waves, utilizing cover and structure adjacent to spawning sites. These are called prespawn staging areas. Docks, cypress trees, grassbeds, stumps and sea walls are all good examples of cover used during the prespawn stage.

“The location of this cover will determine whether or not it will hold fish. The cover needs to be close to where the bass are going to spawn. On Blackshear the bass will spawn in coves and pockets that have a hard bottom,” Jamison said.

“When the water temperature stabilizes at or near 55 degrees, you should begin to look for staging fish. Cypress trees and docks at the mouths of spawning coves usually have fish on them first,” Jamison said.

To target these fish, Jamison almost always reaches for a spinnerbait first. A spinnerbait allows you to work this cover very effectively. You can cover more water with a spinnerbait than you can with a worm or jig, and because it is relatively weedless, it does a better job than a crankbait. It is very important to fish each piece of cover thoroughly and make multiple casts from different angles.

Retrieve speed is also an issue. Remember that the water is still fairly cool, so a slow to medium retrieve will most often work better than a faster one.

Blade selection is also important. Jamison explained that he likes a blade that creates a lot of vibration on a slow retrieve. His first choice is either a double Indiana or Colorado blade. If the water is clear to lightly stained he prefers gold blades, but if the water is stained to muddy, he often opts for colored blades. Chartreuse, white and even red blades will adorn his lures under muddy water conditions. Colored blades, unlike plated blades, do not require reflected sunlight in order to give off flash. Colored blades strobe rather than flash, making them a better choice on cloudy days or when water clarity prevents light penetration.

“Wind is always a big key with the spinnerbait bite. I will always fish the windy side of the lake if I can. You will always catch more fish on a blade if you have some wind,” Jamison noted.

Some days, however, the fish just won’t bite a spinnerbait. Contributing factors are usually clear skies, calm winds and clear water. When Jamison encounters these conditions he will reach for a Texas-rigged Zoom lizard or a jig ’n pig. Either one of these baits fished slowly in the same areas will sometimes produce strikes that the spinnerbait would not. It should be mentioned that Jamison reverts to this strategy as a last resort. Not because these baits won’t produce, but because he “hates to fish that slow.”

While docks and trees will attract bass first, there are other forms of cover that will attract and hold fish as well. Sea walls and grassbeds are also bass hot spots on Blackshear.

“When the fish get on the sea walls, it can be awesome. A lot of people don’t fish the sea walls, so the fish might not get as much pressure,” Jamison said.

While a spinnerbait or crankbait is a good choice here, Jamison almost always reaches for another bait first. “A lipless crankbait is my favorite for fishing sea walls. I usually throw a 1-oz. bait instead of the smaller ones. The bigger bait seems to catch bigger fish.”

Small crankbaits (top), lipless, 1-oz. crankbaits (right) and spinnerbaits (bottom) all catch Blackshear’s finicky February bass.

Seawalls located at the mouths of spawning coves are the ones you need to concentrate on during the prespawn phase, and those that form points or have some type of irregular feature are the best. Deeper water adjacent to the structure is a plus as well.

Grassbeds can also be very good. These beds get better as the water warms and the grass turns green, but don’t overlook it while it is dormant.

“Some days the fish just seem to want to be in the grass. When they are in it, you can run that pattern all over the lake. When they are in the grass they are up there to feed and will usually bite pretty good,” Jamison explained.

The grass he is referring to is emergent, meaning that it is rooted to the lake’s bottom. While no one seems to know the scientific name, most refer to it as “watermelon grass” because of its similar appearance to watermelon vines. Whatever you want to call it, the bass on Blackshear like it. This grass only grows in hard, sandy bottom areas, so many of the places you find it will also be areas where the bass will be moving to spawn.

A variety of lures will work, including spinnerbaits, Texas-rigged soft plastics and lipless crankbaits. If the water is at or above 60 degrees, a buzzbait or floating worm can produce some explosive strikes.

It is important to also mention that Lake Blackshear has an ever-growing amount of water hyacinth in it. This vegetation is not rooted to the lake’s bottom, but rather floats on top of the water. It collects in certain areas to form mats, and at times bass will flock to its protective canopy. This pattern is usually good when the weather is harsh, however it is worth checking at any time.

The day I fished with Jamison, he caught one of his keepers from just such a mat. An accurately flipped jig or soft plastic can result in a big bite.

Toward the end of the month, it is possible to find some of Lake Blackshear’s bass actually on their spawning beds. This occurrence would be the exception, however, and not the rule.

“A lot of things would have to fall into place in order for fish to spawn here in February. But if you have several days of warm, stable weather it could happen. The water temperature would need to stabilize at or above 62 degrees, and this would need to coincide with a new or full moon,” Jamison explained.

There is no special secret to catching Blackshear’s spawners. Tactics that work on other lakes will also work here. Sight fishing with any of a variety of soft plastics will produce, as will blind casting topwater lures.

I asked Jamison to point out a few specific keys that might go unnoticed by the average fisherman who isn’t familiar with Lake Blackshear.

“The bigger fish on Blackshear will almost always come from cover that is a little different. A single, isolated tree, or a tree that is noticeably bigger than surrounding trees. A tree that forms a point within a cluster of trees — things like that will hold the bigger fish. A sea wall that runs out and forms a point or a dock that sits by itself, away from other docks, are also things to key on.”

Jamison’s patterns will hold up lake-wide in February. “What you are looking for are specific ingredients, like spawning coves with cover at the mouths of them,” he said. “When you find an area like this, the fish will be close by. Find several of these areas and just go fishing. You’ll catch some fish.”

As stated at the beginning of the article, Lake Blackshear can be a fickle old reservoir. But, if you know what to look for, unlocking this lake’s potential becomes a lot easier. Jamison Noland has outlined some keys on which to concentrate during the month of February.

These tactics no doubt work for him, as evidenced by his success. With a little work and time spent on the water, they will work for you as well. So when you get the itch to go bass fishing this February, give Blackshear a try. Just remember the key to finding bass might be to look beyond what you see.

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