Fishing For The Big Bass Bite At Lake Horton
Philip Duncan throws big baits and expects to catch big bass.
When we arrived at the east ramp parking lot at Lake Horton in Fayette County, I was surprised to see that the lake was about four feet below full pool. Having been there just three weeks earlier, it was apparent the rain deficit was taking its toll on the 780-acre water-supply reservoir.
However, the low-water conditions that greeted us in late July were no surprise for my partner for the day, Philip Duncan. Philip has kept a constant vigilance on Lake Horton and the bass that reside there since it opened in July of 1997. He lives in Senoia and is just minutes away from the lake. This convenience allows him to fish Horton at least once a week. In fact, Philip has spent so much time on Horton that he only targets the big bass. He’s content with throwing deep-diving crankbaits, jigs, or big soft plastics in hopes of getting the “big bite.” Disciplining himself to fish only big-fish baits has led to some outstanding catches with several bass in double digits including his personal best, a 13-lb. lunker.
After navigating the skinny water in front of the ramp, Philip stopped on the first point on the left as you leave the ramp. We kept the boat about 50 yards off the bank.
“Those clay ridges extend way offshore,” he explained while pointing to several clay high spots that were sitting high and dry. “Out in 12 to 14 feet of water, there is some wood cover on them.”
Picking up a rod with a 3/8-oz. Texas-rigged green-pumpkin Zoom Ol Monster, Philip said, “To catch a monster, you have to throw a monster at them. I’ve caught most of my big fish on a jig ’n pig, but from now until about mid October I do better with big worms.”
With the early morning cloud cover, I opted for a Spook Jr. to see if any Horton bass were willing to rise to the occasion. Not having fished the Woolsey Creek arm this year, I asked Philip if he had found any grass.
“No,” he replied, “The grass carp they stocked have really done a number on the grass.”
Suddenly he rared back but missed.
“I set the hook as soon as I feel a strike,” he said. “It’s amazing how fast a big bass can spit out a big worm.”
I picked up a rod rigged with a Zoom green-pumpkin Trick Worm on a 1/8-oz. lead-head jig. On my third cast, while pulling through some trash, I felt a thump. After a brief battle, our first keeper was in the boat. After 10 minutes more without a bite, Philip was ready to move on.
After a short run up the lake, we stopped in the mouth of the pocket just before the powerlines.
“This area is a deep hole that butts up to shallow water,” Philip explained. “The bottom falls quickly from about four feet to 17 feet. With the wind blowing in there, it’s a great place for the bass to ambush shad.”
The Lake Horton expert went on to tell me that soon after the grass carp were introduced, the lake was stocked with threadfin shad. With a healthy, well-established shad population, anglers can now enjoy some schooling action. This activity will continue until late fall. He says to keep a rod rigged with a Zara Spook or a Pop-R ready to throw at any fish that may surface nearby.
With no takers from the deep hole, we continued up the lake. As we eased toward our next stop, Philip explained that with the absence of grass the fish have moved deeper.
“When the lake first opened it was full of shallow brush, and you could catch fish shallow. About the time most of the shallow brush rotted away the grass took over and kept the fish shallow. Now, with most of the shallow cover gone, the bass relate to offshore structure. Thankfully, Horton is a structure-fisherman’s dream. There are long tapering points, roadbeds, pond dams and both creek arms have well-defined channels. If you find trash on any of these places, you’ve found a potential honey hole.”
He also commented that without grass, the lake now has some color allowing him to use 20-lb. test line on baitcasting equipment. Our third stop was the next point on the left at the mouth of a large cove. Keeping the boat well off the bank, Philip carefully lined us up with some trees on shore, and we began casting to the bank.
“There is a big brushpile on this point,” he said. “It may take a few casts to find it because the low water level makes it harder to line up with my reference points.”
After about five casts, Philip found the brush and also found a fat, scrappy 2-lb. Horton largemouth. After a brief debate on whether or not to keep the fish for pictures, Philip insisted we would do better and the fish was released.
On his next cast, Philip saw his line jump as the big worm settled in the brushpile. Reeling in the slack and setting the hook all in the same motion, Philip’s rod doubled as the fish surged into the brush. After a brief game of tug of war, he was able to horse the fish from the entanglement. The fish made several more strong runs, and it was obvious it was a much better fish. With anticipation of a respectable Horton largemouth, we were disappointed to see a 20-inch bowfin emerge from the depths. Both of us were apprehensive about touching the prehistoric-looking critter, and there was no net on board this trip. Philip was able to grab his 5/0 hook with needle-nosed pliers during a lull in a series of violent surface rolls. As the unwanted visitor began another roll, the hook pulled free. Philip checked his line for frays and replaced his bent hook. He recommended anglers use this technique for unhooking bowfin.
“They’ll remain motionless while dangling in a landing net or as you swing them in the boat. But as soon as they touch the deck, they’ll thrash about, sending your rods and tackle flying everywhere.”
We resumed fishing the brushpile, and in the next 20 minutes Philip landed three more largemouth that were in the 1- to 1-1/2 lb. range. Without a bite during the next 15 minutes, he began fumbling through his tackle bag and pulled out a bottle of Spike-It dye.
“Most anglers use chartreuse when dying their soft plastics,” he said. “I prefer to use blue dye. I believe it offers the fish a different two-toned look. But the main reason I use it is for the garlic scent. It not only masks any human scent on the bait, it makes the fish hold the worm longer. When fishing heavy cover, it’s hard to detect strikes as your bait falls into nooks and crannies. The use of scents will give anglers an edge.”
After dying about 1 1/2 inches of the tail of his big worm, Philip fired his bait back into the entanglement. As he lifted his rod to begin his retrieve, he set the hook on our best fish of the day. As I lipped the nice Horton 2 1/2-pounder, I knew he was on to something with the Spike-It dye.
Philip slowly began circling the brushpile stressing that anglers need to fish cover from different angles, using different baits. To prove his point, on our second revolution, using a Texas-rigged junebug Zoom magnum lizard, he landed another bass worthy of the title “picture fish.”
“Fish holding in cover will often reposition themselves according to the angle of the sun or current throughout the day,” he explained.
Scanning the lake surface as we moved farther up the lake, I began to see the tips of several trees standing in water about 14 feet deep.
“For each tree top you see, there are three you don’t see,” Philip said. “If the water level continues to fall, you’ll start to see more and more trees. Several of these you see now were submerged a week ago.”
When fishing the trees, Philip casts over the tree and lets his worm settle before beginning his retrieve. Then he pops the bait up with his rod tip and lets it fall again. He works the worm through the tree in this manner, slithering it patiently over individual limbs. Most strikes occur as the worm is falling off a limb.
“These trees are perfect cover for bass,” Philip explained. “They have limbs that stick out horizontally from a vertical base, and bass love to get under this overhead cover. The horizontal shadows provide good camouflage and create a great ambush point. The limbs also allow the bass to move vertically and hold at different depths. Overall, it’s just part of a bass’ basic nature to position itself in or around cover.”
Our next stop was the next point up on the left. Here, Philip pointed to several trees in a row extending into the mouth of a pocket.
“Those trees are growing on an old pond dam,” he said.
Looking in that direction we noticed a shad skipping across the surface with a large wake just behind it. I quickly sent a Zara Spook in that direction but to no avail.
We began fishing the pond dam throwing our baits on the top of the dam and working them down the incline. After coming in contact with some trash, I saw my line jump and then it went limp. Reeling quickly to take up slack as the fish swam toward the boat, I set the hook as soon as I felt pressure on the line. Suddenly, a chunky 1 1/2-lb. bass vaulted from the water and put on quite the aerial display before throwing my lead-head.
Setting his worm rod down, Philip decided to try his luck using a Bandit 200 series crankbait and began chunking it along the dam. As we fished, he admitted that the Antioch Creek arm is the place to be if the bass are holding on pond dams. In fact, the original stocking that took place on Horton came when a series of eight to 10 fish-farming ponds located on the Antioch Creek arm were flooded when the lake was filled.
Hearing a grunt from the front of the boat, I turned to see Philip’s rod arching toward the lake surface.
“Man, these fish are strong!” he exclaimed as he fought another Horton largemouth.
Carefully avoiding the hooks on his crankbait, Philip lipped a nice 2-1/2-pounder. Placing the fish in the livewell, he expressed discontent for having to use “such a small fish” for photographs.
Before leaving the pond dam, he suggested we sit on top of the dam and fish deep to shallow. With his crankbait going ignored, Philip went back to the big worm. Three casts later, he landed another 2 1/2-lb. bass. He went on to catch three keepers on consecutive casts.
“Those fish were holding right where the pond dam starts to rise,” he said.
Still focused on catching a Horton toad, Philip moved us a short distance toward the opposite shore. With a keen eye on his electronics, he quickly swung the front of the boat and turned his motor off.
“The old creek channel runs through here,” Philip said. “It’s one of the most dependable, most productive type of structure Horton has to offer. Creek channels are highways for bass and baitfish. If you find rocks or stumps on the channel, you’ll find fish. The drop-offs that form the channel walls allow the fish to move up and down in the water column depending on conditions.”
As we fished the channel, he also stated that with the water level falling, bass on the channel are more stable in their patterns than shallow-water fish. Plus, bass on the channel aren’t as susceptible to fishing pressure.
Moving up the channel, Philip cast parallel to the old creek bed.
“If the fish are active, they’ll be on flats along the channel. If they’re inactive, they’ll hold on the breaklines.”
With no takers fishing parallel to the channel, Philip cast his big worm across the channel. As his bait fell off the ledge, Philip set the hook with lightning speed. With his rod almost doubled and line peeling off the reel, he calmly said, “Here he is.” Unfortunately, the fish buried up in what Philip said was probably a root system from a stump along the channel and broke off.
As we meandered our way up the channel, Philip pointed to an overgrown roadbed that entered the lake. Although barely recognizable on land because of the briars and brush, the roadbed was quite obvious with the lake being low. Philip positioned the boat so we could cast to the roadbed and pull our baits into the channel. Over the next 30 minutes Philip caught three more bass that weighed between one and 1 1/2 pounds, and I got to do battle with a mudfish.
With the skies growing dark and the sound of thunder in the distance, we decided to call it a day. Although our numbers may not have stacked up to the numbers like when the lake was full of grass, our catch was still impressive considering the water temperature was pushing 90 degrees.
To get to Lake Horton, take Hwy 92 south out of Fayetteville for about three miles to Antioch Road. Turn right onto Antioch Road, and this will take you straight to the lake.
Lake Horton is restricted to trolling-motor only, and a $10 daily fee is charged to out-of-county anglers. Click here for information from Fayette County.
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