Find the Bluebacks, Catch Russell Bass

Troy Morrow sticks with four baits and keys on three types of structure to catch Lake Russell bass in May.

Roy Kellett | May 8, 2006

Troy Morrow said Russell doesn’t usually give up loads of big bass, but it is chock full of nice, keeper-sized fish like the largemouth and spot above. In May, you can have a ball catching bass by finding big schools of blueback herring around bridges, shoals and windblown pockets.

The older gentleman with the walking stick leaned his foot on the guard rail of the bridge over Allen Creek on Lake Russell and yelled down to Troy Morrow, who was rigging a rod on the deck of his boat. The man, who was taking his morning walk, saw Troy and asked, “You caught anything yet?”

“Nothing big,” Troy answered, lifting a keeper-sized largemouth to show the man.

The man congratulated Troy and asked if he expected to catch any big ones.

“Every cast,” Troy answered, smiling, like any bass fisherman who knows the next cast can mean a lunker fish tugging on the other end of your line.

Troy, a 34-year-old tournament angler from Toccoa, says he has been hooked on bass fishing ever since he can remember, and his positive attitude likely comes from his experience, and his knowledge of catching bass

“I started out fishing some local Friday night stuff and fished with my dad sometimes,” Troy said. “Sometimes I would put my jonboat in the back of his truck when he was going to a tournament, and I would fish the whole time in the pocket where he put his boat in.”

Troy, who has fished competitively since he was 16 years old, has been fishing Lake Russell for most of that time, and in the years he’s spent on the reservoir on the Savannah River, he has learned a few things. Troy will readily tell you that the next few weeks are one of the hottest times of the year on Russell.

Troy says bass anglers can catch both good numbers and good-sized fish by finding big pods of blueback herring, throwing a few key baits and working around particular types of structure.

“This time of year, if you’re not fishing around the herring, you aren’t fishing around the big fish,” Troy said as we started making casts along a stretch of rip-rap at the foot of a bridge.

In May, Troy will stick with big spinnerbaits, a Bladerunner, which is a leadhead with a willowleaf blade that puts off a lot of flash with an albino or pearl Zoom Super Fluke, a clear or bleeding-shad Zara Super Spook, or a Lucky Craft Flash Minnow.

Troy, who is sponsored by Bladerunner Lures and Suddeth Crankbaits, fishes the BFL’s Savannah River Division as well as the Granite Division of the Bassmaster Weekend Series. He has been successful at tournament angling, having qualified to fish in this summer’s BFL All-American by virtue of finishing in the top six of the BFL Regional last year.

When Troy hits the water at Lake Russell in May, like any tournament angler, he’s going to have a plan.

“If I’m fishing a tournament, I’ll look for a bridge bite early, and then I’ll run from shoal to shoal,” Troy said.

Troy’s key concern when he hits the water this month, no matter what kind of area he is fishing, is to find the bluebacks.

“Look for the herring. If you find the herring, you’ll find the quality fish you want.”

When Troy is making his first cast of the day, it is likely going to be on a rip-rap bank, and is almost certainly going to be with a big spinnerbait that will put off a lot of flash. Troy likes a heavy bait, going with 1/2- to 3/4-oz., white models with two big willowleaf blades.

Not only is a spinnerbait a good search bait, hopefully picking off aggressive fish early in the day, it is a tool to tell Troy whether bait is piled up around his favorite bridge. On this day, it was. As Troy’s spinnerbait got back to the boat, he kept watching it come up, intently.

“Look at all the bluebacks following the spinnerbait!” Troy exclaimed. “That’s a great sign.”

On his next cast, Troy inadvertently hooked a herring, but he said having so many of the fish in the area was a great sign. The omen paid dividends within two minutes as Troy drove the point of the spinnerbait’s hook through the jaw of a largemouth.

As Troy unhooked the bass and dropped it in the livewell for pictures, he related his early strategy on Russell.

“I like to find a bridge with bluebacks on it, and I’ll fish all the way around all the rip-rap on both ends, and every bridge piling with the spinnerbait,” Troy said. “If I’m not getting bit, I’ll go to the Bladerunner and run the whole thing again.”

Troy retrieves his spinnerbait at moderate speed early in the day just to see if herring are present. When he sees bluebacks following the blade back to the boat, he rolls the spinnerbait a little slower to get down where the big boys roam.

After fishing the bridge up Allen Creek for a little while longer with only a couple more strikes, Troy put his boat on plane and headed for another bridge.

As Troy dropped the trolling motor and started maneuvering his boat toward the rip-rap bank running to the foot of the bridge, we started off casting into a stiff wind. Troy usually likes to fish with the wind at his back, but he’ll fish into the wind and downwind until he locates some baitfish.

We fished under the bridge and out the other side, working the rip-rap all the way back into a shallow corner that was being pounded by the wind. Eventually, we were off the rip-rap by 25 or 30 yards when Troy pointed out an old roadbed that runs into the lake alongside the currently existing road.

“This thing tops out 12 to 14 feet below the surface, and there’s usually some fish holding over the old bridge,” Troy said right as he set the hook on a nice spotted bass.

As we worked our way up the opposite side of the rip-rap from where we started, a fat largemouth slammed my spinnerbait about halfway between the bank and the boat. While we continued fishing, Troy said he works bridge pilings as closely as possible.

“I like to throw at a piling from every angle, and get my lure as close as I can to the concrete. As I retrieve it past the concrete, I might let it flutter a second and start it again,” Troy allowed. “A lot of times when you stop a spinnerbait and start it again, a bass will kill it.”

If the spinnerbait bite isn’t on, Troy picks up a rod rigged with a Bladerunner. He threads a fluke on the hook to make the lure look like a baitfish. Troy says you should throw the Bladerunner up close to the bridge pilings and let it sink a little before you start your retrieve. He’ll start high in the water column, letting the Bladerunner sink only a little before starting it back to the boat, and on each cast, he lets it sink a little farther until he gets a strike.

After Troy hits a bridge, he’ll go to his backup spots for May bass, Russell’s many shoals, which are marked with warning signs. Troy says that in May, both bridges and shoals will hold herring, and as it gets hotter, the bluebacks are likely to stack up around these offshore shoals.

“I like looking for shoals with clay or gravel on them because that’s where the herring are probably going to be,” Troy said as he made a wide circle around a shoal with the boat.

Troy positions his boat on one side of a shoal, and with his trolling motor, works his way around it in a circle, fan casting with a spinnerbait and then the Bladerunner.

It was still a little bit early for the shoal bite when we fished, but Troy said a Carolina-rigged worm can catch good numbers of fish off these spots even when the spinnerbait bite isn’t producing.

It wasn’t long before Troy had the boat on plane, running back into a pocket. While Troy prefers his bridge-and-shoal pattern in May, he will check some stretches of bank with blowdowns in a normal day of fishing.

As we started down the bank, still casting the big, white spinnerbaits, Troy said, “I wanted to try this spot, I caught a limit of fish out of here pretty easy the other day.”

About halfway back in the pocket, I got a strike, but missed the fish. A couple of casts later, Troy boated a fish that wouldn’t keep, so he unhooked the bass, tossed it back in, and fired his lure back toward the bank.

Though Troy didn’t throw the Super Spook much on the day I fished with him, he said you should always keep it tied on in May. However, Troy said working the Spook on Russell is a little different than on most other lakes.

“If bass are coming up, you have to throw it right where they are, or you’re wasting time,” Troy advised. “The best thing to do is be in position to cast, and as soon as you see fish breaking, throw the Spook where they are and hang on.”

Troy said occasionally, he doesn’t even need to walk the bait back to the boat, because bass will hit it when it is floating still if the herring are in the area.

We were in the midst of a constant, strong wind, and though we had picked up a few fish, Troy went to his final May pattern to see if the action would pick up any. As we headed back toward the Hwy 72 boat ramp, we fished several short, windblown pockets. Troy said when the wind is strong, an unbelievable number of fish are likely to be caught on a jerkbait such as the Flash Minnow.

“They’ll stack up in these pockets, and you wouldn’t believe the number of fish you can sometimes catch in a day, just on this pattern,” Troy said.

We did get bit several times in about a half-hour stretch, but got no fish to show for our efforts, and as the wind whipped the surface of the lake into a wavy froth, Troy and I motored for home, having caught eight or 10 nice bass.

If you head to Lake Russell for the first time this month, be sure to exercise extreme caution when running your boat, and pay special attention to the channel markers going into the timber-filled creeks. Not doing so could mean a shorn prop or mangled lower unit.

Stick with Troy’s advice and you will probably catch plenty of bass. Rig up a heavy spinnerbait, a Bladerunner, a Spook and a jerkbait and start looking for bridges, shoals and windblown pockets, and have fun catching plenty of fat Russell bass.

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