Deep Secrets For Eufaula December Bass
You can find fish on Lake Eufaula this winter... if you know where to look. Larry McDonald is a fisherman who can tell you how.
Not unlike most Saturday mornings, I was startled from a deep sleep at 4 a.m. by the blaring of my alarm clock. This morning, however, I did not hit the snooze button, procrastinating for a little extra sleep as I usually do. This morning, my feet hit the floor with excited anticipation because I was going to spend a day on Lake Eufaula. Mostly, I was excited that I would be sharing a boat with Larry McDonald, one of the very best deep-water structure fishermen on the lake.
Larry lives in the sleepy little town of Cuthbert, which is a short 25 miles east of Lake Eufaula, on Hwy 82. He is the owner of a successful timber business, but his first love is probing the deep-water ledges of famed Lake Eufaula in search of largemouth bass. He has fished the lake since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers first dammed the Chattahoochee River. He actually used to fish the river even before there was a lake. Larry has spent a lifetime fishing Eufaula, and to say he knows the lake well would be a huge understatement.
I guess my excitement was due in large part to the fact that Eufaula is my home lake; a lake where I guide and fish countless tournaments. The majority of what I know about Eufaula has come from personal experiences garnered from my own time spent on the water. I may not be the most intelligent person to ever back his boat into the lake, but I am smart enough to know that I donʼt know all there is to know about this awesome fishery. To be able to share the boat with someone with the knowledge and experience of Larry McDonald is like going to graduate school. I would definitely learn a lot about Eufaula this day, and best of all, I am able to share this newly obtained knowledge and information with you. Sit back, relax, and learn how a veteran Eufaula angler approaches this massive impoundment during the month of December.
I met Larry in Georgetown for an early-morning breakfast, well before sunrise. As we ate our breakfast, we began to discuss how we would go about our day on the lake. This conversation, however, was difficult to maintain, as angler after angler stopped by our table to talk a little fishing with Larry.
Almost everyone who fishes Eufaula knows Larry, and they know he is one of the best anglers on the lake. People he knew well and those he barely knew at all asked Larry, “What are you catchinʼ the bass on?” and “What are they bitinʼ?” He modestly answered each question by providing just enough information to almost satisfy each personʼs curiosity. Finally, we were able to make our exit from the restaurant and head to the boat ramp.
Larry fishes out of a Triton TR 21 powered by a 250 HP Mercury. Believe me, I was thinking hard about this rig and itʼs potential for high speed as I walked through the fog from the parking lot down to the dock. Surely he wasnʼt going to try and run on plane under these conditions… was he? Not only was the fog as thick as pea soup, it wasnʼt even daylight yet! Much to my relief, he announced that we would be idling to our first spot. No arguments here.
It took us several minutes to idle over to the area where we would begin fishing, giving us time to finish the conversation we had started earlier at breakfast.
“During the first part of December, if we havenʼt had any real cold weather, you can still catch some fish up shallow. It usually doesnʼt last long, and deep water has to be close by. Weʼll start by throwing some topwater on some grassy points,” Larry said.
He stopped his boat at the mouth of Tobannee Creek, which is just south of the Hwy 82 causeway. Here, there are two points on either side of the creek mouth, with a mix of grass, lily pads and water willow.
A hungry bass exploded on Larryʼs buzzbait on his very first cast. After a brief battle, the fish came unbuttoned. “First cast,” Larry said as he turned to me and grinned. “Tobannee is a good creek because it has a lot grassy cover very close to deep water,” he remarked.
We were sitting in 15 feet of water, only a short cast off of the bank. An area such as this gives bass an opportunity to move only a short distance into the shallow cover to feed, while still being close to the sanctuary of deep water. We continued to work our way back into the creek, casting to any likely looking spot along the grassy bank. “There has to be one on that point,” Larry said, as he made a cast to a very “fishy” looking point in the grass. As he brought his buzzbait across the point, a fish swirled at his lure but missed. A quick and accurately placed follow-up cast produced a second strike, this time resulting in a solid hook up with a fat 3-pounder.
“Looks like there are a few fish in this creek,” he said as he continued farther back. I agreed, but much to my surprise, we were only able to coax one more small fish into biting.
“During the early part of December the fish are still real scattered. If we havenʼt had any cold weather to push them out onto deep structure, they are harder to locate. They get easier to catch when it gets cold and they bunch up tight on the ledges,” said Larry.
Since we had already had some action in the shallow water, Larry decided to try another location. The area that we went to next is located along the Alabama bank between Twin Creeks (Old Creek Town Park) and the mouth of Cowikee Creek. Along this bank, just south of the confluence with Cowikee Creek, you will find a long stretch of hydrilla. The best spot is just south of Duck Blind Slough, where an eight-foot deep ditch runs in close to the bank. The ditch turns and runs east across a huge flat, getting deeper the farther east you go, and eventually dumping into the river channel. It provides bass both a deep-water escape and a textbook migration route.
These features work together to make the area much more attractive to bass than the surrounding flat. Near the bank, the hydrilla grows in a solid mat, but as the water gets deeper the hydrilla begins to grow in isolated clumps. “Most of the time the fish will hold on these clumps out here in a little deeper water,” Larry said, as he began working the cover. Here, he threw the buzzbait as well as a propeller-type topwater plug. It was this topwater plug that produced our next fish, another fat 3-pounder. “I like the prop bait when the fish arenʼt very aggressive. When you jerk it, the bait makes a lot of splash. Sometimes you can leave it next to those clumps and aggravate the fish into biting.”
Given the fact that we were fishing hydrilla, I thought this was as good a time as any to question Larry about his thoughts on this vegetation, which is relatively new to the lake.
“Hydrilla is here to stay. We started seeing it in the lake a few years ago, and every year you see more and more of it. The fish are definitely using it, but there still isnʼt enough of it in the lake to rely on exclusively. I havenʼt figured out the best way to fish it yet, but you can bet I will be working on it,” he replied.
I asked Larry if he thought that the presence of hydrilla had hurt the ledge fishing, which was as bad this past summer as it has been in recent memory.
“Thereʼs no doubt about it,” he said. “It used to be that once the spawn was over, all of the fish left the shallow water and went straight out to the ledges. Now with all of the grass thatʼs in the lake, a lot of the fish donʼt leave, they stay up shallow. If half of the fish stay shallow, there are fewer fish out on the ledges. This lake is changing, and the older guys like me who are used to catching them stacked up out on the ledges are going to have to change the way we fish. It wonʼt affect the winter fishing because of the cold water, but it will affect the summer and fall. Itʼs hard to teach an old dog new tricks.”
I brought up the fact that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has begun to spray the hydrilla, and asked Larry what he thought about that. “Yeah, the corps is spraying it! The problem is that when they spray the hydrilla they are also killing other types of vegetation like native grasses and lily pads! I have gone into areas after they have sprayed and seen the lily pads and other stuff brown and dead! When you see this you might as well find somewhere else to fish. There is no way they can keep the hydrilla from spreading, so they might as well figure out a way to manage it.”
Now, after having shown me a couple of shallow areas and techniques that should produce until the water gets cold, it was time to move out to the primary fish holding structure for the month of December – deep-water ledges.
Deep-water structure fishing is not an easy craft to learn. To be successful at it you really have to put in your time on the water, Larry explained. “First of all, you have to know and understand bass and their patterns. This will help you to understand what you are looking for, and when and where to look. The winter migration of bass is just the opposite of an early fall or spring migration. Instead of moving up shallow, they are moving out to deep water. Water temperature is the key to this. As long as the water is above 60 degrees fish will stay shallow. The colder it gets below that, the more fish will move deep. During the first part of December, I usually find fish 12- to 15-feet deep. By the end of the month I expect to find them 20- to 30-feet deep.”
One of the biggest keys to locating deep-water winter bass is to find the right kind of structure.
“The outside bends in a creek or river channel are usually the best areas,” said Larry. “I look for any irregular features on the ledges. A cut or wash out, a point or anything thatʼs different. These irregular features collect logs and trash that is washed in by current. My favorite cover on a ledge is standing timber. A lot of folks think that this lake doesnʼt have any standing timber left, but it does. You just have to know where to look.”
When looking for the right ingredients on a ledge, Larry will idle down the ledge and carefully study his electronics. Once he sees what he is looking for, he will mark it, and only then will he stop and fish. He not only looks for the right kind of ledge at the correct depth, he also is looking for baitfish and bass.
“You really have to know how to read your depthfinder if you are going to catch fish out here. You have to know what you are looking at on that screen. Just because you see fish doesnʼt mean they will bite. The way they are positioned will tell you if you can catch them. I like to see them positioned tight to the bottom and cover. Fish that are suspended off of the bottom arenʼt aggressive and are usually hard to catch. I usually wonʼt stop and fish an area if I see suspended fish. Most of the time I will leave and come back later, and if they have moved tight to the bottom I can usually catch them.”
When Larry decides to fish a particular spot, he does so with three different baits. A crankbait, a Carolina rig and a jigging spoon are his go-to baits in December.
“The first bait I will throw will always be a crankbait, like a Mannʼs 20 Plus. The crankbait will catch the aggressive fish. If I see that the fish are up on top of the ledge and wonʼt bite the crankbait, I will throw a Carolina rig. I use a 1-oz. weight and a small worm, like a Zoom Finesse worm. I like a small worm in cold water, and green pumpkin is the primary color I use. For the crankbait I like a shad color with a dark back. A dark back seems to be important in cold water.”
While Larry likes to throw a crankbait and Carolina rig when the water is above 50 degrees, anything below that calls for perhaps his favorite winter bait, a jigging spoon.
“I really like to fish a spoon. When the water gets below 50 degrees, the fish are usually too deep for a crankbait or Carolina rig. When the water gets cold, they will get down there 25- to 30-feet deep and bunch up in tight schools. They wonʼt move far to eat a bait, but you can put a spoon right in their face. I let the fish tell me how they want the spoon. Some days they may want it worked in short hops and other days they may want big hops. You just have to experiment until you find what they want.”
For the jigging spoons, Larry keeps it simple. He fishes only a 3/4-oz. Hopkins spoon in either chrome or gold. He chooses chrome on sunny, bright days and gold under low light conditions or when itʼs cloudy. He ties a split ring and swivel to his spoons to reduce line twist.
For those of you who donʼt think spoons will catch big fish, think again. Larry caught his biggest Lake Eufaula bass last December on a jigging spoon. That fish weighed 10-lbs., 13-oz.!
The day Larry and I were on the lake, the deep bite had not begun. The fish were in between their fall and winter patterns. One thing Larry stressed is that the bass will get out on the deep ledges in winter, no matter what the lake level is or how much grass is in the lake. Cold water temperatures will always move fish out deep. I asked Larry to share with me some areas of the lake that he concentrates on for this deep-water bite.
“The area of the lake that I fish 90 percent of the time in winter is from White Oak Creek to Cowikee Creek,” Larry said. “The river ledges in this area offer the best deep-water structure on the lake. The Cowikee Creek channel from Lakepoint Marina out to the river may be the best place to fish on the whole lake. The channel has a lot of bends, and you can find it easy because it is marked with poles. You should never have to leave the creek if you donʼt want to.”
Larry McDonald has been kind enough to share some of his best December tactics for Lake Eufaula. When it comes to deep-water structure fishing there may not be anyone better, so what he has shared here is definitely valuable information. Take this newly acquired knowledge and put it to use this December. You might just find a 10-lb. Christmas present on the other end of your line!
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