Eufaula Bass, Hotter The Better

Dr. John Lee said it never gets too hot for him to catch big bass on Eufaula, as he uses specialized ways to target them.

Greg McCain | August 1, 2023

Unlike many fishermen, Dr. John Lee loves the heat of the summer. That’s when he targets offshore Lake Eufaula largemouth bass.

For some fishermen, locating and catching quality largemouth in extreme heat is a psychological game. They develop a mental block about the state of bass fishing in the doldrums of summer and frequently struggle once the air and water temperatures reach their peak.

For Columbus angler Dr. John Lee, the psychology works just the opposite. He anticipates good fishing and frequently experiences it, even on the hottest days. Through over 30 years of fishing Lake Eufaula, the Chattahoochee River impoundment on the Georgia-Alabama line, John has encountered his best fishing in the hottest months of the year.

“I’ve weighed in more strings over 25 pounds on Eufaula in July, August September and October than at any other time of the year,” John said in a phone interview on his way home after a day’s fishing on Eufaula. “There are other things going on. The lake doesn’t have nearly the boats on it. The fishing is strictly offshore, and you have to be tuned in to that type of fishing. Today, we had the run of the lake.

“On Lake Eufaula after the Fourth of July, it’s like I own it. There’s nobody there. The pressure has been intense the last three or four years, but once you get past the middle of July, the fish get a really big break until you start the championship tournaments in the fall.”

I first encountered John earlier this year during an Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation tournament on Eufaula. A friend had suggested that I approach John, an ENT doctor in Columbus, about the possibilities of a magazine article. When I warned him that the article would likely run in the summer months, at a time when bass fishing can be difficult for many anglers, he said, “That works well for me. That’s right in my wheelhouse.”

His day on Lake Eufaula shortly before the Fourth of July holiday perfectly illustrated the summer potential of the lake. John weathered extreme heat—a dome capped the South with air temperatures hotter than 100 degrees for several days in late June—and John found the bass already in their summer homes.

When asked if the temperature reached 100 degrees on Eufaula during the trip, John said, “If it didn’t, it sure felt like it.”

Instead of using the intense heat as a negative, John turned the occasion into a trip to remember. He said he and a friend experienced their best day of the year, boating “61 fish with several big ones” in the mix.

John located fish in a couple of ways on the trip, first scanning areas with his electronics around deeper shellcracker beds and finding bass on the periphery.

“The weather was absolutely perfect, very hot,” he said. “We caught them shallower than we normally catch them this time of year. I think it’s because of the cold rain that we’ve had. The water down deeper, 8 or 9 feet down, is still pretty cold for this time of year.

“Today, we focused from about 8 to about 18 feet, and we were fishing nothing but shellcracker beds in that depth range with a jig ’n pig, a crankbait and a small Hopkins spoon.”

Later in the day, John found more bass in a typical summer pattern, in deeper water around schools of hybrids. The bass feed under the schools of the hybrids and provide a consistent summer target for John.

“We started off mid-lake around Barbour Creek,” he said. “We were fishing in areas with turns in creek and river channels where the current was mixing up on it. About 1 o’clock, they started pulling current, and it was game on. It was really the best day today that I’ve had all year. It was the first day that I’ve been able to catch more than one or two really big fish.”

John said he caught two largemouth over 6 pounds on a jig and another on a crankbait.

“I caught all three big fish on different spots, two on a jig ’n pig and one on a crankbait (a Strike King 6XD) in 12 to 15 feet of water,” he said. “The fish were not exactly in the bream beds; they might be 30 or 40 yards away, but you can still find them on side scan. Throw the jig in there and get them fired up, and then catch them on the plug.”

Fishing an approaching full moon, John said the timing has worked well for him in the past. Shellcracker and other varieties of bream continue to spawn around full moon periods throughout the summer. A key for locating spawning shellcrackers, however, is slightly deeper water than normally expected.

“I’ve spent the last 30 years trying to find the rhythm of them,” John said. “I thought I had them figured out around four or five days around the full moon, but they just weren’t there last month on the full moon. The bream beds are up in 5 to 8 feet of water— now this is just my assumption—but the shellcracker beds are out there a little deeper, maybe up to 12 or 15 feet of water.”

John said on just about every stop during the trip, they caught “one or two bass, up to 10 or 12 per bed.”

Among the best lure combinations was a green jig with an orange throat “with silvery scales on top to match the bream.” For a trailer, John uses various types of Big Bite Baits plastics.

“I always throw the dark green,” he said. “I don’t know if it makes a difference, but it does in my head.”

John throws the jig on a G. Loomis NRX or GLX rod, usually around 7 feet, paired with Lew’s baitcasters spooled with 20-lb. Seaguar AbrazX fluorocarbon. He uses a similar setup for spoons.

For the crankbaits, John favors G. Loomis rods with Shimano Calcuttas filled with 12- or 14-lb. Stren fluorescent mono. He uses the heavier line when throwing a bigger plug, like a Strike King 10XD.

Bass fishing on Eufaula later in the summer requires similar approaches and similar gear setups. John continues his offshore regimen, following the hybrids and pinpointing smaller schools of bass. He said the larger schools have been pounded by tournament anglers and are less likely to yield bigger fish.

“Basically from August through the end of September, I fish the same way, trying to find schools of hybrids with a few bigger bass up underneath them, doing a lot of scanning and finding schools that might have just four or five fish. Generally I can catch some bigger fish that way.

“I’m looking in 18 to 20 feet of water for hybrids, and if I find the hybrids, I will fish underneath them with a jig, sometimes with a really deep crankbait underneath the hybrids.

“I try to avoid those larger schools when I am tournament fishing. I’ll hit them when I am fishing for fun, like today. In August, September and October, you’re not going to catch them like we did today. If you catch 25 fish, you’ve had a good day, but usually you’re going to catch five big ones.”

Another slightly different approach for John is targeting heavy cover, again focusing on areas with smaller schools of fish.

“I’m looking for those solitary, smaller schools of bass in pretty thick structure,” he said. “I focus on some key areas that I have with clusters of stumps and old timber.”

John mentioned that most of his fishing takes place in the mid-lake area and south toward Walter F. George Dam. He specifically referred to the areas from Cheneyhatchee Creek on the Alabama side down to Pataula Creek on the Georgia side.

For fishing later in the summer, he uses the same lure lineup—jig, crankbait and spoon—on the same tackle.

“I pretty much fish three baits,” John said. “I might modify the size and the depth to what’s going on on the lake. About the spoons, I use every one of them, anything from an inch and a half to 12 inches. If I’ve got a good limit, I’m going to a bigger spoon. I’m not trying to catch more fish, just bigger ones.”

John said his approach to Eufaula works if a fisherman is willing to put in the time and endure the heat.

“It’s just work,” he said. “There’s nothing I can tell anyone that’s going to allow them to go out there and win a tournament. It’s just hours on the water.

“People will come to town, and I will give them a bunch of waypoints. They’ll say, ‘We won’t use them.’ It doesn’t matter to me if you use them or not. It’s time on the water. I have 1,500 waypoints and at any given time, the bass are only on 40 or 50 of them at best. That’s dynamic, constantly changing. There’s nothing better than working hard and constantly covering ground.”

Columbus fisherman Dr. John Lee shows off some of the Lake Eufaula largemouth that he caught in a spring tournament on the lake this year. The heat of summer, however, is John’s favorite time to target Eufaula largemouth.

While Eufaula has an abundance of shallow grass to fish in the summer months, John said the deeper approach produces more quality fish for him.

“I don’t catch much in shallow water at all,” he said. “If they are shallow, I usually don’t do very well.

Timing is also a key ingredient, although the bite window might not be considered normal on a hot day. Fishermen do not have to be on the water at the crack of dawn. The best bite often occurs later in the day.

“It’s a funny thing about fishing that time of year,” John said. “Every now and then, you’ll get out there and get on a good morning bite and catch a good fish or two, but it usually doesn’t get juked up until about 10 or 11 o’clock.

“The longer the day of the tournament, the better I like it. I rarely have a limit of fish that time of year before 11. I try not to go to my best stuff until at least 10. It seems to me that the midday to early afternoon period is when I catch my best fish on Eufaula in the summer.”

A good bite is not necessarily triggered by current, however. John said too much current is not a good thing on Eufaula.

“Today, I caught a lot of fish with no current or no wind,” he said. “About 4 o’clock, they really started ripping it. It seemed like the fishing got worse and not better.

“I don’t like a lot of current on Eufaula. It’s not like Pickwick or Guntersville (in Alabama) where they are pulling (140,000 cfs). If they start pulling a lot of water, these fish are not used to it. If they pull a slow, steady steam, then the fish do bite better. If your buoy starts rolling (due to extreme current), then I don’t do very well on Eufaula.”

John said water temperature is another key for summer success. The hotter the temps, the more the bass transition to specific areas and depths.

“I start flirting with them when the water temperatures are in the 80s, but when it hits the 90s, those big ones are going to have to get out there,” he said.

“That’s all I’ve ever done. It’s all I know. It doesn’t get too hot for me.”

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