Floating Worm Time on Bartletts Ferry

For red-hot postspawn bass fishing in May, Jim Pass recommends seawall, boat docks and wacky-style floating worms.

Brad Bailey | April 25, 2006

Jim likes a watermelon-red Spike-It worm for Bartletts Ferry Bass. He either rigs it in the traditional style (top) or “wacky style” (bottom). The wacky style, with an exposed hook, flexes like a nightcrawler that’s been dropped in the water.

We started fishing at 7:10 a.m. By 7:15, Jim was reeling in our first bass of the day — a 1-lb. spotted bass that hit a spinnerbait churning past a dock.
At 3:15 p.m. Jim boated our 30th bass of the day, another 1-lb. spot that gulped up a Carolina-rigged worm.

Throw in three striped bass, plus a couple of other bass that came off on the way to the boat, and it adds up to an outstanding day of bass fishing.
According to Jim Pass, our trip on April 10 was just an ordinary day of bass fishing on Bartlett’s Ferry this time of year. In May, when the floating-worm pattern turns on, it should be even better.

“By May, the spawn will pretty much be over,” said Jim. “There will be lots of bass cruising the shallows and the floating-worm pattern will be fantastic.”

Jim lives in Columbus and has fished Eufaula, Bartlett’s Ferry and West Point since 1965. He works as an insurance agent representing Cotton States, but his clients know he won’t be in the office on most Wednesdays. That’s his bass-fishing day. He’s a member of the Dolphin Bass Club, and he fishes the Fishers of Men trail as well as local pot tournaments. At 58 years old, he’s experienced, knowledgeable and has a great time catching bass.

May is floating-worm time on Bartlett’s Ferry, and it’s an outstanding lake for the technique. The lake is ringed by boat docks, sea walls, concrete ramps and other likely fish-holding targets.

“The first thing I would do on a May morning is tie on a floating worm and start throwing it right up on the seawalls,” said Jim. “That’s a deadly pattern on this lake.”

Once the sun hits the water, you have a choice to make. You can either pull back and throw crankbaits or Carolina rigs, or you can keep throwing the floating worm, but moving to the shade under docks.

Jim likes fishing a floating worm and he prefers a split-tail Spike worm made by Spike-It. The worm reportedly has ground-up crawfish in it, which makes if float better than plastic alone. He rigs it either traditional style or “wacky” style depending on where he is throwing it. A traditional hookup buries the hook in the worm (see photo) and the worm is virtually weedless for brushy areas.

The wacky-style hookup hooks the worm through the side, and the hook point is exposed. It’s an excellent hookup when fishing boat docks. When you twitch the line, the worm flexes and twitches like a struggling nightcrawler treading water.

Jim rigs the worm on a 3/0 or 4/0 thin-wire hook.

“Just make sure you aren’t using a thick, heavy hook,” said Jim. “When I twitch the worm, I want it to look natural, like a worm that’s just fallen out of a tree. I don’t want the bass to think there is anything else there.”

Jim fishes the Spike worm on spinning gear with 8-lb. P-line. The worm color he prefers is watermelon red.

“I hate to have to tell you that, but it is a deadly color,” said Jim. “Most people are throwing merthiolate-colored worms.”

Watermelon black and watermelon green are also good color choices, according to Jim.

The trick to fishing a Spike worm during the middle of the day is to get it back up under the docks. Jim uses a sidearm cast to skip the worm to the back corners of the dock where the bass are more likely to be lurking. Then it’s simply a twitching retrieve and hang on for the strike.

Some floating worm anglers tie in a swivel about a foot up the line from the hook to reduce line twist. Jim occasionally uses a swivel, but his motivation is primarily to get the bait to sink a little deeper if the fish aren’t hitting near the surface. Some docks are better than others. Jim prefers docks near deep water with a lot of shade, and brushed-up docks are better than clean ones.

“If you see a dock with a slide on it, that’s usually not a good one because the owners will keep the area cleaned up,” he said. “An old, algae-covered dock with a lot of pilings, crossmembers and a brushpile or two is better.”
Early in May, Jim expects the majority of the bass to be in the backs of the creeks staging on secondary points before they make their move back to the summertime haunts on mainlake points and river-channel ledges.

If whipping floating worms up under docks during the middle of the day isn’t your style, another highly-effective technique for May bass on Bartlett’s Ferry is a Carolina-rig.

“If the fish get inactive and aren’t hitting a floating worm, back off, slow down and put a worm right on their nose, they will take it,” he said.

At about 1:00 p.m. we pulled up on a point in the back of Halawakee Creek.

“Let’s try a Carolina rig here,” said Jim. “This is the kind of place where the fish will stage after the spawn.”

The hard-bottom point, studded with rocks, is the second from the last point on the right before the railroad bridge. A brown house sits on the point and a there is a bent aluminum flag pole on one of two docks. The day we fished, a Mon Ark pontoon boat was tied to the dock on the right.
Jim uses a 1-oz. bullet weight to anchor his Carolina rig to the bottom. The heavy weight gives him a better feel for the bait, he says. He uses a 3/0 hook and the same Spike-It worm on a 3-foot leader.

We immediately began catching fish — and missing more than we caught. Spotted bass are notorious for quick hits — and disappearing when you attempt to set the hook.

“The No. 1 problem with most people when they fish a Carolina rig is that they fish it too fast,” said Jim. “You want to move it slowly. When your weight hangs on a rock, before you pull it loose just shake the rod tip to make the worm wiggle. The bass can’t stand that.”

There are a tremendous number of spotted bass in this lake,” said Jim as he unhooked a bass. “The predominant size is the 1-lb. to 1 1/2-lb. size, but there are some big ones, too.”

In two hours we boated 18 bass, and then the bite slowed. “I’m not saying we have completely worn out our welcome here,” said Jim. “But we aren’t as popular as we used to be.”

We moved one point to the right to a point with a spectacular gray house, a covered boat dock and a lawn covered with azaleas and dogwoods.

“This is the same situation as the other point, a hard-bottom, secondary point with rocks that has deeper water on three sides,” said Jim. “If you just visualize the bass coming off the spawning areas and staging on this kind of secondary point, you will find fish. All the points in this area will hold fish in early May. By the end of the month I would be moving out a little closer to the river, following the fish out.”

“Bartlett’s Ferry is a unique lake,” said Jim. “It is smaller than West Point or Eufaula and is more influenced by fluctuations in the water level. There can be several patterns that work in different parts of the lake at the same time. They may be hitting Carolina rigs on the south end, floating worms in Halawakee Creek and spinnerbaits up the river.”

Jim likes catching bass on a variety of lures, but when it’s May on Bartlett’s Ferry, you can bet he will be on the lake slinging Spike worms — first on the seawalls, then moving “inside” the floating docks.

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