Fall Hybrids At West Point Lake

A guide shows the rigs and specific locations to find October hybrid bass at West Point.

Ron Brooks | September 28, 1998

“October will be a dynamite month for hybrids,” said Tony, “and they are just about to turn on here in West Point.”

As he said that, guide Tony Daigrepont was just finishing his boat preparation for a live-bait hybrid trip on West Point. It had been a slow, hot summer for hybrids, and Tony was ready for cooler weather and turned-on fish.

West Point is a 25,000-acre impoundment on Georgia’s western border and it is loaded with hybrids. Tony was born near Georgia Access, and he was around to watch the lake fill at its inception in 1975. He’s a contender in any bass tournaments at West Point, but for the past 12 years or so Tony has concentrated his fishing efforts as a guide for hybrids. His experience and tips here can help you find and catch hybrids on West Point this fall.

In the early fall, striped and hy- brid bass begin to school in deeper water. As the water cools, they will turn on and provide some non-stop action for the angler savvy enough to find them. The lake begins turning over (the process of temperature inver- sion) during September, and by Octo- ber has begun to cool significantly.

Every angler has one or more favorite spots to fish. The reason they become favorite spots is because the fish are usually there. As it turns out, the fish have favorite spots, too, places they like to suspend over or feed on, and finding their favorite spots be- comes the name of the game.

Hybrids are pelagic fish, which means they like open water, or at least water that is away from the shore. They are voracious feeders, often surfacing in an area of an acre or more as they chase shad. The Georgia Fisheries Section of the Wildlife Resources Division stocks from 300,000 to 850,000 hybrids in West Point every year, according to Tony. He said an old striper stocking program which was dropped several years ago has left some resident stripers that are actually making successful spawning runs up the Chattahoochee. Tony catches stripers over 20 pounds each year, and has found smaller stripers mixed in with the schooling hybrids and whites, a fact indicative of their successful spawns.

“Smaller hybrids tend to act like white bass and move in large surface schools,” Tony noted, “while the larger ones tend to behave like larger striped bass, staying deep and not schooling as much.” For this reason, Tony spends most of his hybrid-fishing time fishing deep with live bait.

Tony prefers live bait for hybrids, specifically shad from 4 to 6 inches in length. While clients are just crawling out of bed or enjoying a hot breakfast, Tony is out in the pre-dawn darkness cast-netting for a good supply of bait. Then he must take extremely good care of them in the bait tank. Good live bait produces quality fish in any arena, and hybrids are no exception.

Hybrid tackle is, of necessity, fairly heavy equipment. A seven-foot Ugly Stick casting rod and Ambassador 6000 reel spooled with 20-lb. test line is the usual set- up for live bait. The terminal tackle consists of a 1/2-oz. egg slip sinker and bead above a swivel, and a three-foot leader below the swivel tied to a 3/0 Kahle live-bait hook.

Our search for hybrids took us from one end of the lake up river to the other end close to the dam. At each location, Tony carefully read his Eagle chart recorder for signs of fish. Not every location held fish, but those that did held not only large fish, but usually a school of baitfish as well.

Power generation that creates cur- rent on West Point is heavier during the week, and sometimes non-existent on the weekends. Tony catches more fish when the water is moving. When they are pulling water and generating electricity, the resulting current flow puts the fish in motion. Fish that were lethargically suspended over a hump become active and will actually move to the lee side of the hump and wait for baitfish to appear. Tony indicates that current and water temperature both play a role. The ideal water temperature for hybrid activity is 65 degrees, according to Tony.

Tony’s live-bait method is relatively simple. Once the boat is over a location where he has marked fish, baits are dropped to the bottom. Two cranks of the reel off the bottom puts the bait where Tony wants it. Tony hooks the live bait in the eye socket right under the eye and passes the hook through the same spot on the other eye. This doesn’t kill the bait, lets it swim freely, and works better than a lip hook.

Rod holders are not only convenient for this type of fishing, but according to Tony, they are “better fishermen than I am.” Actually, the rod holders help keep the bait at a constant

depth and prevent the sinker from making any erratic movement that may spook the fish. Once the bait is two cranks off the bottom, the rod goes in the holder and Tony slowly trolls over and across the area. Baits need to be within two feet of the bottom to be effective. Tony marks the area he finds fish on, then tosses a buoy marker as a reference point. Slow trolling around the marker ensures that the bait is mov- ing in the strike zone where fish were marked.

On some locations, deep standing timber prevents baits from being dropped to the bottom. In these areas, the hybrids usually suspend in the timber. Here, baits need to be just above the timber, not in the timber, to be effective. Tony’s method to do this is easy. If the timber tops are in 16 feet of water, he will hand strip his line two feet at a time to get the desired depth for the bait. The measure from his reel to the first guide on his rod is exactly 2 feet, which makes this an easy task. He wants to maintain the bait about a foot above the tree tops.

Although Tony specializes in live-bait fishing for hybrids, he does use artificials if the time is right. October and November are the months in which he likes to do some vertical jigging. Fish school tight over humps and drops and are more aggressive in the cooler water. Tony prefers a No. 2 Hopkins spoon or a Little George for this method. Many fishermen remove the treble hook from the spoon and replace it with a single hook, but Tony prefers the treble. He feels he misses too many fish on the single hook.

The method with artificials is even simpler than live bait. Drop the bait to the bottom where fish are being marked and begin the vertical jigging motion. Quick sharp jerks upward of 3 to 4 feet are followed by a drop back. Fish will usually hit the lure on the fall.

Tony’s hybrid fishing methods can be duplicated by the angler willing to put in a little preparation time. Map study becomes a key ingredient in this effort, in order to identify ledges, drops and humps that could hold fish. Perhaps even more time-consuming is catching the live bait. It takes an early start and a strong back to throw a cast net for shad. Shad can be found at night and pre-dawn off almost any dock with a light. You could be lucky or expert enough to get a good supply of bait in a couple of casts off the dock at the boat ramp. Most boat ramp docks have lights that will attract a school of shad, but be there early before the crowd arrives.

As of 1998, stripers hadn’t been stocked in West Point since the early 1990s, but those fish still remain, and they are big. Tony (left) and a client show off a 21 1/4-lb. striper caught in March, 1998.

The bait has to be kept fresh and lively, so a good recirculating live well or large aerated bait holder is a must. Tony suggests keeping a little ice to put with the bait to keep it cool. Heat and lack of oxygen will quickly kill these fragile baitfish.

West Point has more accessible boat ramps than any lake in Georgia, so your choice of ramp will depend on your travel route. There are fishable hybrid areas that are productive in the fall relatively close to all of the ramps. Here are the areas that normally hold good numbers of hybrids in the fall. 

Beginning at the dam, move north and east to the cove between the day use area and Heard Park. This cove contains a submerged pond with a 3,000-foot dam that runs southwest to northeast and comes up from 40 feet to 20 feet on the dam itself. Hybrids will congregate on the hump of the old dam and wait for baitfish.

Another submerged pond with a smaller dam sits just east of West Over- look on the west shore. When you find the dam with your depthfinder, keep your baits just off the bottom over the dam portion.

There are two areas east of West Point Landing marina; one is a pond; the other is a hump. Both of these hold schooling fish in the fall.

Just 500 feet northwest of Pine Cove Shoals is a nice hump rising from 40 feet to 20 feet. Again, keep your baits on the hump. Remember to identify the strength and direction of any current. Fish will move down and off the lee side of the hump in a current situation.

Two productive ledges can be found southeast and northeast of Amity Park. Look for the fish to school right off the lip of these ledges.

Farther up river, off the northeast point of Rocky Point Access is another productive hump. The bottom comes from the deep river channel to the hump in a short distance. This is an ideal travel route from deep cool water to a feeding area. Jigging spoons work well here in the fall.

The old road bed between Holiday Park on the west bank and Glass Bridge Access on the east bank pro- vides some excellent elevated ridges and fish-holding terrain. For the angler without live bait and sophisticated electronics, this is an ideal trolling area. Rat-L-Traps or spoons can be slowly trolled across this entire area in the fall with remarkable success. The popular silver with blue back Rat- L-Trap does well, as do any of the variations on shad colors. Watch for diving birds in this area, as they will give away the location of a surfacing school of fish. And don’t be surprised to catch some enormous white bass with this method.

As we move north under the Highway 109 bridge, there is another submerged pond about 2,000 yards north and slightly west of the bridge. The dam on this pond runs from southwest to northeast and is about 500 feet long. The dam itself rises from 35 feet to 18 feet, and the fish will be working the top of the dam.

Again moving north, we go under the railroad bridge and head northeast. Just off the riprap on the east shore of the railroad bridge is a hump that comes up from 35 feet to 20 feet. This hump also holds fish, and because of the venturi effect of the narrow rail-road bridge, it will have a stronger current flow than areas in a wider portion of the lake. Keep this in mind. This spot may hold fish when other lo-cations don’t.

North of this location is the McGee Bridge Access. The old McGee roadbed and bridge run east and west across the lake and provide some really good fish-holding structure. This is another good trolling area for the smaller boats. It is easy to identify without electronics and in the fall fish can be taken here trolling.

Turning into Yellow Jacket Creek, the first large cove on the right past Highland Marina contains another submerged pond and dam. The dam runs right across the mouth of the cove in a north-south direction. A lot of hybrids are caught off this dam, and trolling back into the cove over the old pond also produces well.

It is important to remember that these areas are generally in open water, away from the visible structure to which most fishermen relate. It takes some discipline to spend the time to find and fish open water deep struture. But taking that time can result in some fine hybrid bass

The areas identified will hold fish. Maybe not all of them all of the time, but by developing a plan and working the right areas, hybrids can be caught in large numbers in the fall. And don’t be surprised at the largemouth and spotted bass you will catch on these locations. West Point has a really good spotted bass fishery, and the deep, open-water humps and ledges are ideal for them as well as the hybrids.

If you’ve never tried using live- bait methods for West Point’s hard-fighting hybrids, you should consider a guided trip. You just show up, go for a boat ride, and start fishing.

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