Floating Worms In The Grass At Bartletts Ferry
Forget dock fishing. Derrick Millirons is looking for grass and brush.
Ask nine out of 10 anglers what the most effective cover for bass on Bartletts Ferry is, and you will hear a resounding, “Boat docks!” I asked tournament angler Derrick Millirons, of Seale, Ala., the same question as he slipped the trolling motor in a few yards from the boat ramp, and he gave the same answer. But then came a surprise.
“They are probably the safest bet for catching fish, but I only fish them as a last resort,” said Derrick.
So, I quickly zipped up my tackle bag full of dock baits and got ready to learn from one of the state’s best bass anglers. I fished with Derrick on April 30 at Bartletts so GON readers could get some ideas for how to catch early summer bass. It was the day of his third-annual Glenwood Gators benefit tournament, which he has organized to help raise support for the school’s athletics programs.
Derrick has BFL Super Tournament and Everstart Series wins on Lake Eufaula and a Triton Gold win on Kentucky Lake. He has career earnings with FLW of more than $115,000. He has also won dozens of other tournaments in his career and won the 2004 points championship with Fishers of Men.
“I just don’t have the patience to fish docks,” said Derrick. “I like to fish fast, cover lots of water and wear myself completely out by the end of a tournament. I’ve fished with some partners who were very patient in their approach and can force myself if I have to, but it is not my natural style.”
Derrick said to be an effective tournament fisherman, an angler needs to know his strengths and then find the characteristics of any given lake that allow him to utilize his style most effectively.
It didn’t take Derrick long to get settled into fishing mode, and he pulled a nice keeper in on his topwater popper. Seeing my chance, I quickly asked him what his favorite tactic would be when June rolled in, and he said, “grassbeds.”
He went on to explain that Bartletts doesn’t have the huge grassbeds you see farther down the Hooch, but the small patches are still great bass magnets.
“By June, the grass should be a little thicker, and you will begin to see more of it.”
His top bait for fishing the grass is a floating worm.
“Zoom makes a very good Trick Worm, but for me, Creme is my first choice. The (8-inch) Creme (Scoundrel) worm is designed with a little longer and thicker tail, which helps it stay in the water better for me.”
This month Derrick and his son Blane are competing in the Fishers of Men Legacy tournament trail on Bartletts and will be defending their 2010 points championship title. You can bet they’ll be targeting grass.
“This is a unique lake because the water is constantly being adjusted up and down,” said Derrick.
With power generation occurring both up river and down river, and the fact that so much of the lake is part of the main Chattahoochee River flow, water conditions can change several times a day. You can have high water with little current, low water with a lot of current, totally the opposite, and anything in between.
“The bass are current-oriented, and every grassbed is going to fish different based on the current conditions,” said Derrick. “Look for the fish to start schooling up on grassbeds that you find on points. Find points that tend to drop off sharply into deeper water. The bass use their air bladders to regulate how deep they want to go when they are resting. The shorter distance they have to travel to reach deeper water, the more attractive the grassbed will be to them as a feeding area.”
Derrick said he likes to study an area and imagine what it would look like without any water to get a better idea of how different current flows and/or water levels will come into play as the conditions change from day to day and even hour to hour.
Regardless of conditions, he will work the entire grassbed. He likes to cast all the way to the back of the bed and work the floating worm all the way out. He’ll work the bait like a jerkbait, using downward jerks on his rod, creating the popular side-to-side erratic darting just under the surface of the water.
“Cast, pause for a few seconds, jerk, jerk, jerk, jerk, all the way out to the edge,” he said. “And then pause again as it falls off the edge.”
He will adjust his rhythm depending on how the bass are reacting. If the bass aren’t active farther back, he slows down his twitches and gives the floating worm a little more soak time on the outer edges.
‘If the bass are real active, I will see them cruising around the grass and will cast to them,” said Derrick. “It’s one of the few times you can sight fish for bass when they’re not bedding.
“Pay attention to where each strike occurs, and see if you can determine a pattern. If you get several strikes, for instance, very close to the bank, start targeting that area more.
“Remember to pay attention to the water level. If the water is dropping, the bass will tend to pull out. If it’s rising, watch for more action near the back, as new food comes into reach. Even a few inches can completely change the way bass will relate to it.”
Derrick has experimented with a number of hook brands, hook sizes and worm brands and has created a rig that he has a lot of confidence in.
“I don’t want my worm to porpoise when I twitch it,” said Derrick. “I want it to stay down beneath the surface and kick hard from side to side. I rig it Texas style on the Owner hook and put a little arch in the worm’s back, curving it in toward the inside of the hook. This gives the head of the worm a little downward angle, almost creating a small lip like a crankbait. If the worm bends in the opposite direction, it will cause it to surface, or porpoise, when it darts.”
Derrick’s favorite color choices are white and yellow, which left me wondering what a bass could possibly think they were hitting?
“The bass could be feeding on shad in the grass, and the worm just comes along and triggers a strike,” said Derrick. “They might mistake it for a lizard or small snake, but it’s mostly just the perceived vulnerability that makes them want to eat it.”
For grass that is too thick to effectively jerk his worm through, he will flip those areas with a Texas-rigged Zoom Ultravibe Speed Craw using a screw-on weight to make sure the weight and the craw stay together.
Knowing that man can’t live by grass alone, Derrick has a Bartletts back-up plan.
“I start working the grass first thing in the morning. If an hour passes, and I don’t have any fish, I know I am on the wrong pattern,” he said.
Although docks are a last resort, Derrick will key on brushpiles around docks.
“Look around the dock for fish signs,” said Derrick. “If you see lights that are positioned over the water, there is a very good chance the dock owner has dropped some brush off the end of dock to attract fish. Other good signs are built-in fish-cleaning tables or permanent rod holders on the railing.
“A swim ladder on the side of the dock, or swim gear scattered around is normally going to mean no brush. Not many river swimmers like mixing their brushpiles with their float tubes,” said Derrick.
Derrick uses square-billed crankbaits for most of his brushpile fishing. If he’s not hitting wood, he doesn’t feel like he is in the strike zone.
“When I sense the bait about to make contact, I back off of the retrieve a little and try and let the bait feel its way through the brush,” said Derrick. “If you still get hung up, make sure you’ve got a got lure knocker to get it loose.”
He keeps his on a retractable dog leash to quickly rewind it once he rescues the lure.
“Putting the crankbait in the brushpile increases the likelihood of getting hung up, but the bait hitting the wood creates a lot of strikes,” said Derrick. “I’d rather lose a tournament because I got hung up while having a lure in the zone, than fishing out of the zone and lose.”
When fishing a brushpile in more open water, true to his fast-paced fishing style, Derrick will drop a marker near the pile and make one complete circle around it, casting as many times as possible. If he comes up empty, he’s back in the seat racing to his next brushpile.
Finally, I asked Derrick to give me a couple of spots to GON readers so you can know what to look for as you start looking for your very own spots in June. He suggested starting in either of the sloughs on the southern end of the lake.
“Look for the grass early in the morning, and then, when the worm bite slows down, switch over to small- to medium-sized crankbaits and go searching for woodpiles. If you feel like you really need to… hit a few boat docks just to say you did.”
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