Go Deep For Weiss Summer Bass

Don Baldwin | July 1, 2006

Phillip Dukes fights a fat Weiss largemouth that inhaled a jig near visible cover.

You read it right, “Go Deep for Weiss Summer Bass.” If you are familiar with this 30,000-acre impoundment of the Coosa River on the Georgia/Alabama border near Rome that might sound a little strange. Lake Weiss has a reputation, among those who know it, of being shallow; sometimes dangerously so. This lake has claimed many a lower unit through the years as unknowing boaters go flying across a shallow flat laden with stumps and rocks. There just isn’t a great deal of deep water on Weiss.

Phillip Dukes, of Rainsville, Ala. has been fishing Lake Weiss ever since he was old enough to hold a fishing rod. And over the last 10 years or so he has fished countless buddy tournaments on the lake with his dad. They make a formidable team and have always had an impressive record through the years. Of late, however, Phillip has struck out on his own and is a respected competitor on the BFL tour, currently sitting at No. 17 in points for the Choo-Choo Division.

Needless to say, with that record, people listen when Phillip shares information about his home lake. We had the pleasure of fishing with Phillip when we visited Weiss in mid June. He agreed to take us out to show us his favorite techniques for catching bass in the heat of summer.

I met Phillip at the ramp where Ala. Hwy 9 crosses the lake just south of Cedar Bluff. He and his father had already been out early that morning and had boated a couple of chunky bass before I got there. We left the ramp and headed down lake to get a feel for the types of areas that Phillip would fish during July and August. The temperature was already over 80 degrees at 10 a.m., so this was pretty representative of the type of weather you would expect in mid summer.

“I spend most of my time on the lower end of the lake during the summer,” said Phillip. “The water is deeper, on average, than farther upstream, and I feel the deep water gives me a better chance of locating fish under these conditions than I would have on the upper end of the lake.”

On a typical summer morning Phillip starts by working the flats with a topwater bait trying to attract aggressively feeding fish.

“There are more spotted bass than largemouth on the lower end of the lake, and they often chase shad to the surface right after daylight and feed for an hour or so,” Phillip said.

Topwater in the morning, crankbaits in the middle of the day and a jig in the evening make up Phillip Dukes’ summer Weiss arsenal.

When the fish are up busting bait on the surface, Phillip pays attention to the size of the shad that are the targets of the activity and selects a topwater bait that is as close to that size as possible. A Pop-R is one of his favorite baits, as is a Zara Spook. Natural colors, such as a shad pattern, are generally best, but if the water is extremely cloudy a little chartreuse is always a good addition. Phillip fishes the baits on medium-heavy casting tackle spooled with 15- to 17-lb. test line. He targets flats on the main lake that have stumps or brush on them where he sees surface action. It is generally better to select flats that have deep water nearby, because the fish want to be able to get to the deeper water quickly when the sun gets up and the temperatures begin to rise.

“If you see surface activity, move over to the fish slowly on the trolling motor but don’t move in too close as the school will likely spook and disperse,” said Phillip. “Make log casts past the schooling fish, and work the bait back toward the boat through the heat of the action.

“Spotted bass like a fast-moving bait, so work the plug aggressively and make plenty of noise on the retrieve,” said Phillip.

It would be a good idea to have a good grip on the rod handle as well; there are some big spots on Weiss.”
Phillip tells us that the topwater action can be great early in the morning, but it won’t last long. Within an hour or so the fish will move out, and you should, too.

From mid morning through late afternoon Phillip spends his time working roadbeds, submerged humps and points, and channel drops in eight to 20 feet of water. Good electronics are extremely important when fishing Weiss because finding the bottom contours and drops is critical to fishing the submerged structure. Not to mention the fact that a good depthfinder may save you a lot on lower-unit repairs.

“I position the boat on the deep side of the hump or drop and work the structure from shallow to deep,” said Phillip.
The first place we stopped was over a roadbed in about eight feet of water. The depth dropped off to about 12 feet on both sides and the bottom was hard gravel.

“This is a typical summertime spot,” said Phillip. “I like to fish these areas with a Carolina-rigged lizard or a deep-running crankbait. The fish hang out near the bottom of the slope of the roadbed, and you can often catch several out of one location.”

Phillip also showed me a ball of shad on the graph. The presence of  bait in the area is a primary consideration when working deep structure on Weiss.

“If you don’t mark bait on the graph, then you are not likely to find a lot of fish holding in the area,” said Phillip.
He also tells us that there is a good crawfish population in Weiss and that the spotted bass are particularly fond of them. So it may be worth a try in a location that you feel is especially good even if you don’t mark clouds of baitfish on the graph. The general rule, however, is to look for the presence of bait before spending a great deal of time in any one location.

On the Carolina rig Phillip likes to fish a lizard or a Brush Hog in a shad or green pumpkinseed color. The rig is comprised of a 3/4-oz. sinker above a bead and barrel swivel. He recommends a short leader of three feet rather than the five- or six-foot leader that is often used on Carolina rigs.

Phillip pays attention to what fish spit up in the livewell and then matches his soft-plastic presentation accordingly.

“There is so much brush in this lake that with a long leader you will spend most of your time hung up in the brush,” said Phillip.

The crappie fishermen keep lots of brush in the deeper water to attract their prey, and Weiss’s famed crappie population brings in anglers from all over the country.

The Carolina rig is fished on 20-lb. monofilament line with a 15-lb. test leader. The hook can be anything from 2/0 to 4/0, depending on the size of bait you are fishing. Make long casts over the point, ledge, or hump and let the bait sink to the bottom, then drag the rig back to the boat as quickly as possible while maintaining contact with the bottom. The Carolina rig is a great exploration bait because with it you can cover a lot of water while keeping the bait in the strike zone. Another advantage of the rig is that you can feel differences in bottom texture while making your retrieve. Phillip tells us that with a little practice you will be able to tell the difference between soft, muddy bottoms and hard, sandy or rocky bottoms as you pull the bait back to the boat.

“Spotted bass love hard gravel or pebble bottoms, so if you feel that type of bottom slow the bait down and work the area more thoroughly,” said Phillip.

While fishing soft plastics, Phillip pays attention to any fish that he has in the livewell. Often bass that have been caught will regurgitate bait they have been eating. Phillip looks to see what the “special of the day” is and modifies his soft plastic bait accordingly.

“If the fish are feeding on crawfish, I tip my lizard or worm with red or orange die to resemble the color on the crawfish’s claws and legs,” said Phillip.

If they are eating shad or bream, he uses chartreuse die to match the color of the fin edges on the bait fish.
In addition to the Carolina rig, Phillip fishes deep-diving crankbaits and sometimes a spinnerbait over the deep structure.

His favorite crankbait for this application is the 200 model Bandit. Making a long cast, Phillip cranks the bait down to the bottom quickly and then slows down the retrieve to allow the bill of the bait to dig into the bottom throwing up mud clouds as it goes. He feels that a crankbait fished in this manner most closely resembles a crawfish, and his first color choice is darker browns and oranges to emulate that natural bait.

“You have to be careful and finesse the crankbait through the brush, or you will spend a lot of time trying to get your bait out of hang ups. If you feel a brushpile, stop your retrieve and allow the bait to float up a little before starting again,” said Phillip.

Also, that slight hesitation will often draw a strike from a bass that has been watching the bait and attacks at the change of pace.

Slow-rolling a spinnerbait in the same areas can also produce good results according to Phillip. He prefers a 1/2-oz. model with a silver Colorado/willowleaf blade combination in a natural skirt color. He always uses a trailer hook and fishes the bait slowly to stay in contact with the bottom. Both the crankbaits and spinnerbaits are fished on medium- to medium-heavy casting tackle spooled with 15- to 17-lb. test line.

As stated earlier, Phillip concentrates on the middle to lower end of the lake in the heat of summer. The Yellow Creek area is a favorite as is the very lower end of the lake near the powerhouse. In both of these areas, or anywhere on the lake for that matter, current is key. When the dam is open and current is moving, fish activity almost always increases. One area where current is particularly important is the “canal.” This section on the lake is just below the Hwy 411 bridge and is a narrow stretch of about a mile that is 25-feet deep.

“The spots just line up along the sides of the canal when the current is flowing, and you can catch a lot of good fish in a short period of time,” says Phillip.

To check generating schedules call (800) lakes-11. At that number you can get generating information for all of the lakes in this chain.

In the late evening when the temperature starts to drop just before dark Phillip heads back to the shallows and flips or pitches jigs to visible structure. He especially likes to fish the docks because they provide overhead cover for the fish and plenty of structure along the pilings.

“I usually start at the deep end of the dock and move slowly toward the shoreline flipping a jig to each piling along the way,” said Phillip. “I keep track of where along the dock I get strikes and try to pattern where the fish are holding.”
That way Phillip can eliminate water and make fishing the next dock more productive. When tournament fishing he has to make his fishing time as productive as possible.

For those of you that think Lake Weiss is just a “shallow crappie lake,” there was probably a few surprises in this article. From the photographs it is obvious that there are some quality bass in Weiss, and Phillip educated us about deep-water fishing opportunities in this shallow body of water. Lake Weiss is a great lake for some excellent summer bass fishing. It is very shallow on average and not always marked well, so caution is in order. If you don’t know the lake get some advice from a local marina about places to avoid, get a good topographical map and study it, and proceed with caution.

Search out the deep holes this summer, and you will likely be rewarded.

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