Cranking The Coosa For Weiss Bass
Bass fishing up the river can be excellent during the summer-to-fall transition on Lake Weiss.
The tournament scoreboard listed 103 boats vying for the top spot in a late-August tournament on Lake Weiss. Has to be a crappie tournament, right? This shallow reservoir on the Coosa River near the Alabama and Georgia border is one of the finest crappie lakes in the Southeast, if not the country. Anglers from as far away as Ohio come to Weiss regularly in search of the huge slabs that have provided the lake with its well-deserved reputation.
Well, in this case the 103 two-angler teams were working hard to fill the livewell with bass. And by the looks of the leaderboard, they were doing pretty well at it.
Though the crappie fishery on Weiss might overshadow it at times, the bass fishing in the lake is excellent. Weiss is also rather unique, with vast, shallow stumps flats, plus grassbeds and miles of channel ledges to fish. Largemouths are plentiful and will average one to two pounds, and 5-lb. chunks are common. Spotted bass are equally plentiful, and spots in the 4-lb. range show up at times.
While much of the lake is in Alabama, some of the best late-summer and early-fall bass fishing occurs up the Coosa River in Georgia.
One of the names on the bass-tournament board was Clyde Hunt. The 58-year-old from Rome is retired and spends much of his new-found time fishing Weiss. Clyde is on Weiss three times or more a week in search of largemouths and spots.
Clyde and his partner, Buddy Touchstone, also of Rome, are well known among the locals, and they organize and run several tournaments on Weiss throughout the spring and summer. We had the good fortune of spending some time on Weiss with Clyde on that August afternoon.
“I do almost all of my fishing on the upper end of the lake,” says Clyde. “We run a lot of our tournaments out of Brushy Branch, and I am just more comfortable fishing up the river.”
Both Clyde and Buddy are known as crankbait fishermen. While they start out most mornings with a buzzbait, at some point during the morning they will switch to the crankbaits and crank them for the rest of the day.
“Just after daybreak we throw buzzbaits around blowdowns and around the corners at the mouths of creeks,” says Clyde.
Corner is a term Clyde uses to describe a point or flat where a creek channel and river channel meet. When the water is being released from the dam for generation a strong current can set up around these corners and sweep baitfish along, providing excellent feeding opportunities for bass. Clyde said that he uses an erratic retrieve when fishing the buzzbait. He feels that this produces more strikes for him than the conventional steady retrieve used by most anglers. He ties on a 1/2-oz. white buzzbait and will fish it until the sun gets up in the sky about an hour or so after sunrise. Fishing the bait with the current is the preferred approach. It allows an angler to mimic the baitfish in the area more effectively. Baitfish will generally swim with the current rather than against it. If the day is cloudy, the buzzbait can be an effective weapon throughout the day. If the buzzbait won’t produce, a propeller topwater plug or jerkbait can provide the subtle difference that the bass are seeking. Clyde will typically have all three tied on when he leaves the ramp in the morning.
Once the topwater action is over both Clyde and Buddy switch to crankbaits. While each have their favorites, the arsenal is fairly focused and limited. They vary the bait selection based on the depth they will be fishing, and with trial-and-error regarding fish preference on size on that particular day. Some consistent favorites include the Bagley DB3, No. 5 or No. 7 Shad Rap, and the Cordell Spot. Color favorites include white, crawfish, shad, and chrome and will vary depending on water clarity.
One thing is for certain. If you are fishing Weiss, you are very likely to be fishing shallow water. The lake is essentially the Coosa River valley and in many places is not much wider than the river channel. Where the lake basin does widen out a bit, it does so over shallow, stump-laden flats, particularly on the upper end. Clyde and Buddy are very aware of that natural structure and use it to their advantage.
“We work the ledges of the creek and river channels,” says Clyde. “The shallow flats along the channels are covered with stumps and brush, and the fish will stay close to that cover particularly in the areas near the deeper water of the creek channels.”
Clyde and Buddy position their boat in the channel in about 10 feet of water and make long casts parallel to the channel in the shallow water. Often they are dragging their baits through water from two- to five-feet deep on the way back to the boat.
Clyde fishes his crankbaits on spinning reels spooled with 12-lb. test line. While most crankbait fishermen favor heavier duty casting reels, Clyde is more comfortable with the spinners and in the shallow water it doesn’t make much difference. Fishing crankbaits on Weiss is not nearly as strenuous as dragging a deep-diving bait through 20 feet of water.
A couple of pointers are important here. When fishing a crankbait around cover it is important to pause the retrieve whenever the bait strikes an object like a stump. With a pause in the retrieve, the bait will suspend momentarily and begin a slow rise toward the surface. That pause will often trigger a strike when a steady retrieve will be passed up. In the shallow, stump-laden waters of Lake Weiss you will have plenty of opportunity to try this bump-and-pause method. Clyde recommends that you make plenty of casts and keep the plug in the water.
“We really work a point or flat good before moving on,” says Clyde. “There is so much cover in the lake, so many places for bass to be hiding in an area.”
Clyde and Buddy spend much of their angling time in what would appear on the surface to be open water. That is because the river and creek channels wind through the wide flats and deep water can be quite a distance from the shore. One of your best weapons on Weiss is a good topographical map. Study the map carefully before you leave the ramp or even at home the night before your trip. If you can find an area where the channel, and therefore the ledges along it, is not obvious, you will improve your chances measurably. Many anglers will pass up these “open-water” channels simply because they haven’t done their homework.
“Use your electronics to locate the channels, and fish right along the edges,” says Clyde.
The map will put you in the general vicinity, but the electronics are necessary for the fine tuning.
In the evening, as the sun starts to sink over the horizon, Clyde and Buddy will usually switch back to the topwater offerings as they head back to the ramp. “The buzzbaits and jerkbaits will often pick up a fish or two on the way in,” says Clyde.
Check the generating schedules as you plan your trip. In the shallow water of Weiss the current set up by power generation can make a big difference. If there is no current, there is a good chance that the bite will be slow as well.
Clyde keeps the drag on his spinning reels relatively loose when offering crankbaits to Weiss bass.
“I think that most fishermen keep their drag too tight when fishing crankbaits,” says Clyde. “With a tight drag the fish can get a pretty good bit of leverage and pull the hooks out on a run or jump.”
Clyde recommends a loose drag giving the fish plenty of opportunity to run against relatively soft tension. He feels that he lands a lot more fish with a loose drag than he would otherwise.
Variation of the bait offered to the fish as well as variation in the retrieve speed and motion is also important.
“I change my retrieve motion until I find something that the fish are looking for,” say Clyde. “It may only take a small adjustment in the retrieve to entice a strike.”
When fishing Weiss, it is important to keep in mind that the average depth of the water is shallow. And if you stray out of the river channel you can find yourself high and dry before you know it. In many places the water is one- to two-feet deep over wide expanses on what appears to be much deeper water. Couple that with the fact that there are thousands of stumps, rocks and piles of brush dotted across the bottom, and you have a formula that can spell huge repair bills. Many a lower unit has met its demise on the calm waters of Lake Weiss, so caution is the rule when leaving the ramp.
At the end of the bass tournament on that late August afternoon, the winning string was just under 20 pounds with a big fish approaching the 7-lb. mark. That is an impressive five-fish limit on any lake. While Clyde and Buddy didn’t fare all that well on this day, their limit weighed just under 10 pounds, they were undaunted and already planning the next event. The pair was sure to be on the water looking for bass at least three times the following week.
If you are looking for some great bass action this fall, don’t overlook Lake Weiss. While it gets a lot of press as an excellent crappie fishery and can produce some monster slabs, Weiss is also an excellent bass lake. Its shallow water, numerous creek channels and abundant cover provides excellent bass habitat, and a well-placed crankbait can produce some great bassing action this month.
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