Late Winter Jackson Bass With Mike Cleveland

Mike has been fishing Lake Jackson since the early 70s. Last month he took the author to some of his favorite late-winter fishing spots where big rocks warm the water and draw in the largemouths.

Brad Gill | February 1, 2007

Mike swings a 2 1/2-pounder in the boat that hit a jig fished under an isolated dock that had rocks and brush present.

Mike Cleveland of Monticello has two dreams — one, he wants to be a full-timer on the FLW Tour bass-tournament trail, and two, he wants to compete in the Bassmaster Classic. I believe he’ll meet both these goals, and he’ll probably do it sooner than later.
Competitive bass anglers from Georgia know the name Mike Cleveland; he fishes all over the Southeast. In 2007 he’ll be competing in FLW’s Stren Series (Southeast Division), the Bassmaster Opens (Southern Division), BFL’s Bulldog Division, HD Marine, Berry’s and R&R. In his spare time he fishes with the Baldwin Backlashers bass club.

“I fish a tournament somewhere every weekend,” said Mike.

Mike’s latest accomplishment was finishing No. 23 out of 200 at the Stren event in January on Florida’s Lake Okeechobee.

With such a hectic tournament schedule, I felt pretty lucky Mike was able to find some time during the week to take me fishing on Lake Jackson. Not many anglers know Jackson better than Mike. He grew up 1 1/2 miles from Berry’s Boat Dock, and he’s been fishing this small Georgia Power lake since the early 1970s. Often after school he’d walk down to the lake and fish from the bank, and in the summers he’d frequently stay in his aunt’s cabin, which was near Martin’s Marina on the lower end of the lake.

Mike has been fishing Lake Jackson since the early 70s. Last month he took the author to some of his favorite late-winter fishing spots where big rocks warm the water and draw in the largemouths.

Mike didn’t mind sharing some great fishing information with our readers. He rarely fishes tournaments on Jackson anymore, so he had no problem sharing where and how we fished on January 12.

At 8:30 a.m. we blasted off from Berry’s and headed south, down the Alcovy River and to the eastern shore. We stopped at the first boat dock below the Turtle Cove boat ramp. The water temperature was in the low 50s, the lake looked a little over full pool and there was a pretty heavy stain in the water.

“I’m just fishing old memories today,” said Mike.

My trip would be a ride down memory lane in the back of Mike’s Ranger bass boat. Mike handed me a homemade crankbait in gable green, and Mike started with a Gulp crankbait. The Gulp is a well-known bait that works well on Jackson. It’s a balsa bait made in South Carolina, and it run about four to five feet deep; Mike opted for a school-bus color.

“The Gulps are not as good as they used to be because the wood is softer,” said Mike. “This time of year you’re beating them against the rocks, and they don’t last as long.”

Fishing big chunk rock with crankbaits in February is a staple for a good largemouth bite on Jackson.

“There’s a lot of chunk rock in this area,” said Mike. “Rocks mean heat, which is great for largemouths. I like the water 47 to 48 degrees because that colder water really pulls fish onto those rocks. You need sun to heat the rocks.”

We headed south across a short pocket to a rocky point. You’ll see a boat dock on the point with a diving board on it. The rocky point is two feet on top and drops into 23 feet.

“December through February are the best months to fish Jackson,” said Mike. “Raymond Witcher and I had four that weighed 30 1/2 pounds in February of 1999. One was a 12 1/2-pounder that I caught on a black/blue jig with a Zoom Super Chunk green-pumpkin trailer. We had three 6-pounders, too.”

A few minutes later we were back up the Alcovy River, under the Hwy 212 bridge and headed toward the mouth of Rocky Creek, which is just east of the bridge. You’ll see a rocky point with a satellite dish in the yard. This point drops from two to 13 feet deep. Fish here.

Just south of the point you’ll find a relatively new boat house with a double concrete ramp and a 100-yard-long seawall. We spent 10 minutes fishing this area without a bite.

“I think I’ll switch to a Rebel Deep Wee-R,” said Mike. “It’ll run eight to 10 feet.”

Great crankbaits for February (from left to right): A gable green homemade plug, a Gulp crankbait in a schoolbus color and a gold/black Rebel Deep Wee-R.

On the first cast Mike had a fish hit and come off, and five minutes later he put a 1 1/2-pounder in the boat. Fifteen minutes later I lost a 2-pounder at the boat.

Our next stop was up the Alcovy River. As you travel northwest from the bridge you’ll see a big yellow boat house before the Alcovy makes a hard bend to the right. Instead of turning right and going up river, just head straight into the bank, on the west side. At this boat house there is a 30- to 40-foot-long rock that sits on the south side of the boat house.

“I like to get my boat parallel to the bank and fish up the rock, from the deep side,” said Mike. “Throw to the front corner of the house and then out to the right about 10 feet. It’s about one foot on top of the rock and drops into 20 feet on the channel side.”

Mike said he likes to pause his bait when he hits the rock; this will often result in a bite.

Our next stop was several hundred yards up the Alcovy. You’ll see a boat dock on the left with a blue sliding board in the yard, just below the dock. On the other side of the dock a point comes out and parralels a seawall for at least 100 yards before it ends at a rockpile and drops into 16 feet of water. We fished up the point, keeping the boat right on the seawall.

“Usually when the water is high, fish will get right on the seawall. Stained or muddy water this time of year can also pull them shallow. I like about two to three inches of visibility,” Mike said as we approached the end of the point.

“Get the GPS coordinates if you want to.”

Whoops. I should have thought of that earlier, but I’ll at least have the coordinates for the remaining places we fished. The coordinates at the rock pile are N 33º 24.371, W 83º 49.846.

Before we left the rocky point, Mike picked up a 3/8-oz. homemade black/blue jig ’n pig. He dressed it with a green-pumpkin Zoom Super Chunk.

“The way the jig is designed makes it wobble when it falls,” said Mike. “The wobble creates more reaction bites.”

As we headed up the Alcovy, Mike commented on the cloudy weather.

“We need a sunny day to really catch them on the rocks,” said Mike. “I like the weather stable for four days. A lake on the drop is better, too. That’ll really concentrate fish on the rocks.”

Continuing up the Alcovy, Mike stopped at a boat dock on the left just below the S-bends.

“We call this W.J. Lane,” said Mike. “W.J. Lane owns Lane Body Shop & Marine in Covington, and he lives here. It’s got scattered rock on the seawall, but I really like to fish his concrete boat ramp.”

It’s a brown house with several light poles near the water. Fish thoroughly around the ramp. The coordinates are N 33º 24.567, W 83º 49.735.

As we progressed up the Alcovy, we entered a no-wake zone. We idled to the upper end and started fishing a dock on the right that Mike calls “The Bank Hole.”

“I probably have $400-$500 invested in fish tackle here,” said Mike. “It’s a rocky ledge that’s about 13 feet deep that quickly drops into 18 and 20 feet.”

The ledge is directly in front of a house that sits on top of a hill and has the letter “N” on the side. Coordinates are N 33º 25.298, W 83º 49.792.

Mike missed a fish on a jig before we left and headed back down the lake, stopping on the bottom end of the no-wake zone. You’ll see an area that Mike calls “The Railroad Tracks.” These tracks come out of a boat house and provide great fish-attracting heat when the sun is out. The coordinates are N 33º 25.236, W 83º 49.824.

Just south, you’ll find a red dock with a rock the size of a car hood under it. With 8 1/2 feet of water on the front, it’s a great dock to pitch a jig.

“Jig fish bite as soon as you put it in there,” said Mike. “You don’t have to play with them. I work it real fast, too fast sometimes. I’m going after the aggressive fish, which is why I hardly ever fish a Carolina rig.”

The coordinates are N 33º 25.003, W 83º 49.716.

Below this dock is a rock wall that comes out into the lake and forms a semi-circle. Even with the lake full we could see portions of these rocks sticking out of the water. A satellite dish and several big pine trees in the yard will also help you mark it. Coordinates are N 33º 24.963, W 83º 49.705.

Mike cranked the area with a custom-made St. Croix rod. The stick is labeled as having medium power ex-fast action, which Mike said is more forgiving. His cranking reel is a Daiwa 103 HSD.

At 11:30 a.m. we headed across the Alcovy River to a dock on the west bank. The dock was still far enough up the Alcovy River (N 33º 24.972, W 83º 49.769) that Mike’s temperature gauge read 47 degrees, a temperature Mike said will really hold bass as they search for heat. Under this particular dock was some big chunk rock and scattered brush. Water depth was three feet by the shore and 11 feet on the end. Mike’s first pitch was in three feet of water.

“There he is,” said Mike. “He’s a good one, too.”
Mike broke the net out for this largemouth; a 4.6-pounder that turned Mike into this month’s cover boy.

“If that’s an indicator, I have another dock that should have one on it,” said Mike.

Back across the lake, you’ll find a small rocky hump with a pipe on top that sticks out of the water. While fishing the side of the hump, Mike’s Gulp got smacked. The fish rolled one good time before spitting the bait.

“That one was just as big as the other,” said Mike.

Coordinates on the pipe are N 33º 24.915, W 83º 49.663.

On the next spot, which was back across the lake to a very small, isolated dock that has a concrete sidewalk leading from a nice brick home, Mike put a 2 1/2-pounder in the boat with a jig.

“I’m going to have to fish docks with rocks and brush; both fish were on those. If you notice both fish were also caught on isolated docks.”

Coordinates are N 33º 24.778, W 83º 49.663.

By 2 p.m. we were fishing “The 12 1/2-lb. dock,” the famous dock where Mike caught his biggest largemouth ever. This dock is just east of the Hwy 212 bridge, in the big pocket before you go into Rocky Creek. The dock is covered with green carpet and has a narrow wooden walkway around it.

“I’ve probably caught seven or eight largemouths over 10 pounds from Jackson, but the 12 1/2, my biggest, came right here,” said Mike.

A lunker didn’t bite us, but you never know what’ll hit your jig; coordinates are N 33º 23.495, W 83º 49.632.

Our last stop of the day was on a big white dock full of rocks; you’ll find 13 feet of water on the front. If you’re coming under the Hwy 212 bridge from Berry’s, it’ll be the first dock on your right.

The coordinates are N 33º 24.375, W 83º 49.617.

“We could have gone south and jigged a spoon today, but that’s not my cup of tea,” said Mike. “I was just fishing old memories.”

By the end of the month a spinnerbait will really turn on, Mike said.

“They’ll eat it all day when the water gets 57 degrees,” said Mike. “I like a 3/8-oz. bait made by Ol-Nelle or a homemade spinnerbait made by Bob Williams.”

Mike throws a white/chartreuse skirt most February days on Jackson. If the water is clear, he’ll switch to a white-colored skirt.

“I like double Colorado blades when it’s cold and muddy — the bass are slow to feed and that thump will make them home in on it better,” said Mike. “If it’s clear, I’ll run a silver willowleaf and a gold Colorado.”

Mike’s old fishing memories can benefit Jackson anglers today. While he’s off at far-away places chasing his dreams, hook up the boat and head to Jackson in February. It’s a great time to hook into a giant largemouth; it’s a great time to start your own fishing memories.

Here’s a great example of the giant chunk rock you’ll find submerged under many of Jackson’s boat docks. This month bass will seek warmer water, which they’ll find near big boulders like these.

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