Three-Bait Plan For Cold-Water Bass On Bartletts Ferry

Whether it’s warm or cold, jigs, spinnerbaits and small crankbaits are all you need to tackle Bartletts in February.

Don Baldwin | February 5, 2006

Wes will throw a spinnerbait right into the thickest part of the blowdown. “I almost try to get hung up in the cover, and often a snag is the result,” says Wes.

It is the dead of winter. Water temperatures are below 50 degrees, and the weather fronts are coming through back to back driving the barometer up and down on an almost daily basis. This is tough fishing at its best. Where would you go to find bass? In most Georgia reservoirs the faithful will go deep for bass under these conditions. “Find a road bed in 30 feet of water, and drop down a jigging spoon” is the most frequently heard recipe for success when pursuing bass in cold weather. And true enough, you can catch bass on a deep spoon under these conditions.

Wes Stevenson, of Columbus, prefers a different tactic to catch cold-weather bass, however, particularly when he is fishing his home lake; Bartletts Ferry. Also known as Lake Harding, Bartletts Ferry is one of the string of lakes that are formed by dams on the Chattahoochee River as it meanders southward near the Georgia/Alabama border. Wes is a Bartletts Ferry regular. In addition to fishing the BFL and Valley Sportsman tournament trails, he fishes most of the weekly pot tournaments on the lake. Fishing Bartletts for virtually all of his life, he knows the lake like the back of his hand.

Wes Stevenson, of Columbus, grew up fishing Bartletts Ferry. Here, he holds two fish that he caught while fishing with the author last month.

“I spend most of my time on the upper end of the lake,” says Wes. “I much prefer the stained water that the upper end offers; it suits my style of fishing.”

I had the opportunity to fish with Wes on Bartletts Ferry in early January, and he showed me some of his deep-winter techniques. One thing was evident right away; there is a fair amount of siltation on the upper end of Bartletts Ferry. When we left the ramp at Idle Hour Park, Wes made a wide swing up the lake before crossing over and heading downstream.

“There is a big sand bar right in the middle of the lake straight out from the ramp,” said Wes. “It runs through the middle of the lake for about a quarter of a mile in the area around the park.”

On closer inspection I noticed a few marker buoys placed around the edges of the bar. If you didn’t look closely though, you’d miss them and could run your boat aground in the shallow water. If you launch at Idle Hour, be careful and look for the channel markers before blasting out of the ramp area, or you could have a short and expensive trip.

Once we got around the bar we headed down lake toward Halawakee Creek. We fished several of the creeks along the Halawakee side and boated a few nice keepers in a relatively short period of time but nothing very large.

Wes has a pretty straightforward arsenal for winter fishing. It consists of three basic baits; a jig with a plastic pork trailer, a single Colorado blade spinnerbait, and a small, shallow-running crankbait. He selects from these depending on the weather conditions, water temperature, and aggressiveness of the fish, but he fishes them all in the same types of locations.

As we pulled in to one of the creeks, Wes pointed out big rocks along the shoreline and an old dock next to them.
“This is an ideal location for my type of fishing,” said Wes. “The fish relate to structure, and the rocks and that old dock are great candidates to hold fish.”

What wasn’t so obvious was the bottom contour. As we glided across the area slowly on the trolling motor, Wes pointed out the shape of the bottom on the graph. The water next to the bank was between 8 and 10 feet deep. As we moved away from the bank, the bottom came up until it was just about 2 feet deep under the boat.

“That is due to the siltation of the creeks,” said Wes. “The current deposits silt on the bottom on the insides of bends and along points.”

This results in flats that drop off into deep holes near the shore where the current hits the bank. That all adds up to some great winter bass territory. With the passing of fronts bass like to move up and down in response to the changes in barometric pressure. These quick drop-offs give the bass the opportunity to change depths quickly without having to move very far laterally to do so. Bass are generally lethargic in the cold water, so they don’t like to expend much energy while they feed. These bottom contours allow them to come up and feed on the flats under good conditions and move down quickly when the weather goes bad.

Wes matches his technique to the conditions prevailing at the time.

“If it is extremely cold or a front has just gone through, I’ll start with the jig,” says Wes. “Under these conditions bass will likely be held tight to cover, so pitching a jig into the holes next to rocks and blowdowns is usually productive.”

Wes likes a 5/16- or 7/16-oz. Stan Sloan jig with a Zoom super chunk trailer. He uses both a black jig with blue trailer and a brown jig with a black trailer. Wes fishes the jigs on casting reels spooled with 20-lb. test Berkley Big Game line.

There are a couple of different methods Wes employs to present a jig to the fish. When he spots isolated structure, such as a stump or brushpile, he casts the jig past the structure, swims it back to the structure, then lets the jig drop to the bottom. Then he begins a slow-shaking retrieve. Strikes will often come when the jig is falling, so watch the line carefully for any unnatural movement.

Wes likes to throw a jig if it’s cold or a front has just passed through. Bass will hold tight to cover, like rocks. Wes prefers a 5/16- or 7/16-oz. Stan Sloan jig with a Zoom super chunk trailer.

When fishing heavy cover Wes drops the jig into the cover and lets it sink to the bottom. He retrieves the jig with a slow-shaking motion keeping it in the cover for as long as he can. If conditions are extremely bad he may wait as much as 10 seconds after the jig hits the bottom before moving it. Then he moves it very slightly, with long pauses from one move to the next.

“It takes a lot of patience to fish a jig this way, but it can really pay off when fishing is tough,” says Wes.

On warmer days the fish tend to be a little more active, so Wes will switch to a spinnerbait to cover more water and tempt aggressive fish. He chooses a 1/4- or 1/2-oz. size depending on the size of the baitfish in the area. Wes makes the spinnerbaits himself and equips them with a single Colorado blade and most often a chartreuse-and-white skirt color combination. He completes the bait with a trailer hook because short strikes are common this time of year. The spinnerbait is fished on a casting reel spooled with 15-lb. Berkley Big Game line.

If the water temperature is close to 60 degrees, Wes will throw the bait into shallow water (two feet or less) over the silt flats. He makes long casts over the flats and uses several different retrieves. When fish are aggressively pursuing bait, he runs the spinnerbait near the surface creating a wake. In colder conditions when the fish are not likely to chase a meal, he will slow-roll the bait at almost a crawl along the bottom. When throwing the spinnerbait to cover, such as blowdowns, Wes goes right into the thick of it.

“I almost try to get hung up in the cover, and often a snag is the result,” says Wes. “But a spinnerbait will go through thick cover pretty well, and you can pull some nice fish out of deep cover if you get your bait to them.”

Wes rounds out the lure selection with crankbaits on extremely warm days or when there is a front approaching.

“With an approaching front, the fish activity generally increases,” says Wes. “Bass will often be up on the flats feeding on bait.”

Wind-blown points are usually a very good target at which to make long casts of a shallow-running crankbait. Baitfish will stack up against the point on the windy side, and the bass won’t be far behind.

Wes recommends the Bomber Model “A”, Norman Little N, or the Fat Free Shad as good candidates in natural shad color combinations. If the water is deeply stained, he switches to a bright color combination like chartreuse or firetiger. He fishes the bait with a steady retrieve or sometimes cranks the bait down and pauses the retrieve periodically, letting the lure suspend a few moments before resuming forward motion. As usual, if the bait hits a stump or rock, stop the retrieve momentarily and let it suspend. This brief pause will often draw a reaction strike from a nearby bass.

Whether he is fishing the jig, spinnerbait or crankbait, Wes always begins his pursuit about midway into a creek and works his way toward the back. He almost never fishes the main lake but works the creeks thoroughly.

“These fish tend to move around and feed at different times during the day so don’t be shy about returning to a spot more than once,” says Wes. “A spot that doesn’t produce in the morning may be hot in the afternoon and produce a limit of good fish in a few minutes.”

Wes says that the holes along the areas of silt tend to congregate the fish, so if you catch one in an area, you are likely to catch others there.

Any of the creeks from Halawakee Creek upstream have the characteristics we described. Try them all, and watch your electronics for drop-offs near the bank.

Bartletts Ferry has a great bass population, and it isn’t unusual to see 15-lb. plus limits in the local pot tournaments. Wes tells us that this shallow creek pattern will last through the winter into the prespawn, so you have plenty of time to get out and give his techniques a try.

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