Eufaula Hybrid Bass In July
When the Eufaula hybrids aren’t sticking to their typical summer pattern, persistence and a little ingenuity can reap rewards.
Every angler knows that the success of a fishing trip can turn on a dime. Sometimes it’s a shift in the wind, a drop in temperature, a sudden rain or nothing that you can quite put your finger on. But when expert fisherman and Lake Eufaula guide Billy Darby called me the day before our planned fishing trip, he laid the facts on the table.
“The hybrids have moved away from the sandbar the last couple of days, and we may or may not be able to find them there. But I think we can find some fish,” said Billy.
That sounded good to me. I knew that if anybody could find the hybrid bass on Lake Eufaula it would be Billy.
No one knows the lake and lake bed better than Billy. As a lineman for Georgia Power Co., he planted poles and strung powerlines in the lake area before the lake was impounded in 1964. After the lake was filled, he fished the lake at every off-work opportunity and started doing a little guiding in the 1970s. When he retired in 1994, the guide trips became more numerous, and there is nothing that Billy enjoys doing more than sharing the lake with visitors to the area.
I met Billy at his house at 5:30 a.m., and in five minutes we were cruising in his truck to launch the boat at Sandy Branch Park. He said a reliable summertime pattern is to position your boat around shallow sandbar areas at the crack of dawn or as the sun sets to wait for the hybrids to show up. Basically it is buffet time for the hybrids, and sometimes bass, as they push the shad into very shallow sandbar areas for an effective ambush.
We were only 50 to 100 yards from the boat ramp casting around the sandbar just to the south of the ramp. Billy and his customers have been scoring big time with the hybrids here in recent weeks, but as he had foretold, that particular pattern had recently cooled in this location. Surprisingly, the hybrids have been swallowing a 1/2-oz. spinnerbait in white/yellow combo dressed with small split-tail worm. Billy says the key to the spinnerbait is that it is weedless and doesn’t get hung up on the abundant hydrilla that has infected the lake. It’s not that the spinnerbait is that good a bait for hybrids, it’s just that when they are in the feeding frenzy they will attack anything that faintly resembles a shad, so it works, says Billy.
As we cast around the sandbar it was obvious that the fish were not there because hybrids can be vicious and noisy when they feed. But just when we were getting ready to pull up and try another location, the water began to percolate with feeding hybrids. But they were slightly away from the sandbar and didn’t seem to want the spinnerbait. So we tied on a Mann’s Baby 1-Minus and got swiped numerous times before we hooked into a hybrid, but it was only a 1- to 2-pounder.
By then the sun was starting to come up which would drive the fish to deeper water. This can still be a good reliable summer pattern, but it happens so quickly you have to pick one location and stick with it because the action only lasts 15 to 20 minutes, then it’s over and there’s not time to move, says Billy. With the prolonged drought, anglers will find the lake slightly lower than normal which has resulted in numerous locations for this type of hybrid action.
Billy recommends two reliable areas for early- or late-day hybrid action. One is the large, shallow flat area that runs below Gopher Island. It is the main-lake island just a short distance south of George T. Bagby State Park and is clearly identified by name on most lake maps. This large area was swampy with a shallow pond in it before the lake was constructed, and now it normally runs less than 10 feet deep over a few hundred acres. It will show up on lake maps as a large blue-colored area, south of Gopher Island.
The other prime location for shallow early and late-day hybrids is located near the unnamed island just north of George T. Bagby State Park. The map shows two islands just north of Pataula Creek, but the southernmost island has pretty much washed away in recent years, says Billy. For the best hybrid action he recommends that anglers fish the shallow water between the island and the east bank of the lake. Other good locations are around Cool Branch Landing and just above the Highway 82 causeway.
Although you can just cast into these areas, it is much more efficient to troll. If the hybrids are moving up to feed early or late in the day, then trolling can really pay off, says Billy. The hybrids roam around the deep, old river-channel bed during most of the day, then move up on the old submerged sand ridges and nearby flats to feed. These ridges were formed by the flooding river as it pushed sand out of he river bed onto adjacent land before the lake was impounded. Many of these old ridges run from just a little north of Pataula Creek to Gopher Island.
Billy is at home on this section of the lake and suggests that anglers study their topo maps and watch their depthfinder as they move out of the 30- plus foot deep water in the old channel to the 10 to 12 foot deep water at the top of the ridge. His favorite lure to use for trolling is a Mann’s 10+ in grey ghost or silver with blue back. He normally puts out about 30 to 40 yards of line behind the boat. He uses a medium-action spinning reel loaded with 8- to 10-lb. line to get the lure down to the fish and runs the gas motor about 2 to 3 mph. Run any faster and the lure will run too shallow as the friction on the line will force the lure up, says Billy.
Trolling can be relaxing fun as you watch the rod’s tip for the deep arch indicating a fish on, and just enjoy reeling them in. While trolling, Billy is always looking for surface splashes or diving gulls to indicate surface feeding hybrids. But he is liable to stop short of the activity and cast into the action as the hybrids are easily spooked, especially in shallow water.
Two other methods can also be productive for hybrids. The first is to fish late in the evening and into the night with raw shrimp or chicken livers on the bottom. Billy recommends that the bait be fished in the same areas as mentioned above, but he suggests that the boat be anchored in the shallower water and the bait cast toward the deeper water so that the fish that travel along that elevation breakline can more easily find it. He uses medium-action spinning gear for this fishing but is careful not to force in a big fish too early. As can be expected, do not be surprised if a big catfish runs off with the bait occasionally.
He fishes a Carolina rig with a 1/2- to 1-oz. egg sinker ahead of an 18-inch leader ending with a medium-sized treble hook. To avoid getting hung up on the bottom, he anchors the boat, casts out the bait, lets it settle to bottom without moving it and waits for a strike. The action can be slow at first says Billy, but when the drag starts screaming it can be pretty exciting, especially when you get more than one fish on the lines. Another method to try is casting around the lighted boat docks at night with shad-type shallow-running crankbaits, spinnerbaits, Rooster Tails or a Rattlin’ Rogue. Trial and error will dictate the best docks over time.
According to John Kilpatrick, DNR fisheries biologist, the 2006 gill-netting results for hybrid numbers was slightly lower than in 2004, but good numbers of fish more than 15 inches were recorded. The average size of sampled fish was 14.6 inches in length and weighed 2 pounds, down from 16.5 inches and 2.2 pounds in 2004. Since 1997, more than 5 million hybrids have been stocked in the lake, and in 2007 there will be 450,000 more added, thus the future of hybrid fishing in Lake Eufaula looks very bright.
Later in the morning, we decided to try the crappie which were in the reliable Eufaula summer pattern, which is dropping a jig or live minnow down among the submerged treetops. We found some crappie and caught several in the 1- to 1 1/2-lb. range, but using Billy’s Aqua-Vu underwater camera we found the fish we had originally come for. On a hump near the fabled Pataula Creek bridge, Billy dropped the Aqua-Vu down, and we were amazed to see hundreds of hybrid bass slowly swimming around. It was like we had dropped the camera into a large hybrid bait bucket!
By then it was 11:45 a.m., sunny and hot. The fish were down 21 feet, and as any angler knows, it can be tough to get fish to bite during the middle of a bright, sunny day, but we had to try.
Billy tied on a shiny 1/2-oz. jigging spoon and dropped it down into the fish. Wham! He hooked up a good 3-pounder on the first try, and we proceeded to catch about seven more good hybrids before the action slowed. We dropped the spoon to the bottom and used a series of short, 6-inch jerks to draw the hybrids’ attention. Of course the big fish got away. I hung into a very large fish, no doubt a lake record since I never got it to the surface, before it broke off after a spirited fight.
Like Billy had predicted, we started slow in the morning but found the fish and ended with a bang. Billy can put you or your small group on Eufaula’s renowned bass, hybrid or crappie fishing on a year-round basis. He specializes in artificial lures for bass and hybrids and minnow fishing for crappie.
Take a look at his Web site at dixiebass.com/billydarby or call him at (229) 768-2369. Billy and I had a great time fishing together, and you will too if you line up a trip with him on GON wonderful Lake Eufaula.
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