JW Smith Reservoir Bass In The Grass

This Clayton County water supply reservoir offers good late summer bass fishing.

Scott Robinson | August 1, 2005

Mid-summer bass fishing in reservoirs usually means looking for the deepest structure you can find and throwing the deepest-running lure in the tacklebox to get down to the bass. However, if you know how to fish aquatic vegetation, you can stay away from the deep-water fishing and still put bass in the boat all day.

J.W. Smith Reservoir is a Clayton County water-supply lake that has plenty of grass and plenty of bass that stay shallow all summer long. Clayton County does a great job of managing these lakes as recreational fishing lakes, and they provide facilities for launching boats as well as bank fishing, picnics, and just having fun.

The vegetation at J.W. Smith is elodea and egeria, two exotic types of aquatic vegetation that look and grow similarly to hydrilla. This grass is well-established in J.W. Smith lake, and you need to be prepared to fish the grass to be successful there in the summertime. The big grassbeds definitely hold the bass.

Ron Elrod and Pete Cook have figured out how to catch these bass, and their recent tournament results reflect their grass and bass-fishing expertise. Ron and Pete have fished 10 tournaments as a team in several different jonboat trails on J.W. Smith in the past year or so, and they have five first-place and two second-place finishes to show for their efforts. Yes, you read that right — they have won half the tournaments they entered on J.W. Smith, and just missed winning two more! Howʼs that for an impressive record?

When a fishing team gets on a tournament-winning roll like that, GON takes notice, and we asked Ron to share some of his knowledge and techniques with GON readers this month.

Early in the morning, Ron Elrod looks for a Senko bite in shallow grassbeds. During the day the fish seem to like to congregate better in deeper grassbeds. Look for good thick grassbeds, and any irregularities in the beds like points, holes or ditches.

Ron is a die-hard grass fisherman in the summer, and he says, “I like to fish shallow all summer long. Most guys go deep for summer bass, but there will be bass in these grassbeds year-round, and I donʼt give up on them.”

Ronʼs favorite grass-fishing lure is a Senko, and his methods are fairly simple but effective. When I met Ron at the J.W. Smith ramp a couple of weeks ago, we headed straight under the bridge and toward the upper end of the lake. Standing on the boat ramp, the bridge can be seen just to the right and up the lake a couple hundred yards. After passing under this bridge, we continued following the shoreline on our left until we rounded a point to the left, and we started fishing in that area. From that point all the way up to the upper end of the lake, practically the entire lake bottom is covered in grassbeds. The grass is thicker in some places than others, but it is always there, and in the normally clear water of J.W. Smith the grass can grow as deep as 6 or 8 feet.

Ron likes to start off early mornings with a white Senko, and he fishes it shallow and close to the top. He fishes the Senko on 14-lb. test FireLine braid because of the added sensitivity and the way the braided line cuts through the grass and brings the fish out. The braid allows him to feel the light bites that often come on a Senko and get a good hook set on long casts, which is helpful in clear-water lakes like J.W. Smith.

He added, “Donʼt expect to always feel the hit with a Senko — sometimes it just gets mushy or heavy, and itʼs hard to tell if there is a fish on or just grass. If you feel even the slightest movement on the line, set the hook.”

He also likes to throw a Pop-R, a Zara Spook, or a buzzbait early in the day or on cloudy days, especially if the fish are active near the surface. Work these hard baits over the tops of the grassbeds and around any wood or brush near the shore, and it usually helps to keep them moving quickly. On cloudy days, the fish tend to be more scattered than they are on sunny days, and these hard baits will allow you to cover more water than you can with a Senko.

If the topwater action isnʼt happening, a Rat-L-Trap or a Rattlinʼ Rogue jerkbait burned across the top of the grass can provoke some reaction strikes from bass even if they are sluggish. Ron caught one of the smallest bass I have ever seen hooked on a jerkbait the morning we fished, and we had a good laugh over that optimistic little bass. The bass was actually shorter than the jerkbait, but he had the rear hook in his mouth.

The Senko is Ronʼs favorite August bait to fish in J.W. Smithʼs grassbeds. He also likes a Rattlinʼ Rogue (top) and a Pop-R.

Ronʼs favorite time to fish Senkos in the grassbeds is on bright sunny days, and he will go to a more natural color like watermelon seed or green pumpkin when the sun gets up on the water. Regardless of what color Senko he uses, he rigs it on a red 4/0 wide-gap hook, and he says the red hook definitely results in more strikes.

“I love fishing grassbeds in the sun, because the sun positions the fish where you can find them — buried up in the grass. After the early-morning topwater bite, the fish seem to like it better out in the open water away from the bank. I think there is more water movement out there, and the fish like that on these hot, sunny days. Look for good thick grassbeds, and any irregularities in the beds like points, holes, or ditches. Just throw the Senko out, and let it sit. Itʼs not fast fishing, but I will bore the fish into biting if I have to. Throw it out there and donʼt move it, and a lot of times you can feel them just suck it up,” he said.

If the grassbeds in the upper end of J.W. Smith arenʼt producing on a particular day, youʼll have to make a decision on whether to stay there or explore other areas of the lake. Ron is the kind of fisherman who has the patience to stick it out, and he will usually stay in the upper end of the lake in the hopes that the fish will turn on, because he knows the fish are there. However, if you want to try a different location for a while, there is a broad point across lake from the boat ramp, just downstream of the bridge, that Ron has had success on from time to time. There is grass here as well, but not the extensive beds like those in the upper end of the lake. Donʼt just pound the bank through here, because there is a nice drop off about a cast off the shore that can hold fish. The end of the point where the boat ramp is located is another good area to test. Both of these locations are close to the boat ramp, and will hold fish that have been released after weekend tournaments as well as fish that call the area their home range.

Another good area to try is the old submerged pond dam on the far side of the lake from the boat ramp. Leaving the ramp, turn to the right and look across the lake. A large dead tree sits on the shoreline and is a good landmark because of the brown color that stands out against the typical greenery of summer. A cove just downstream from this dead tree is actually where the pond basin was located before J.W. Smith was built. The submerged dam of the pond comes out from the upstream side of the cove and makes a big half circle out toward the center of the lake before curving back in to the point on the downstream side of the cove. The top of the dam is about four feet under the water when the lake is full, and it also has grass growing on top of it. Ron says this is a fairly well-known piece of structure, but there arenʼt many secrets in a 250-acre lake that hosts a dozen or so jonboat tournaments a year.

After fishing the pond dam on both sides and the top, itʼs worthwhile to fish down toward the dam along the same side of the lake. There is a nice flat with stumps and grass that extends out 30 or 40 yards from shore along this bank, and it will produce bass during the summer, although we didn’t catch any the day Ron and I fished there.

The fishing was somewhat slow that day, but we still managed to put five bass in the boat before lunch time, which was more than anyone else we talked to. We were fishing on the day before Hurricane Dennis moved through Georgia, so the weather was a little crazy, and it apparently had slowed the bass bite down.

Ron was nice enough to fish around these other areas with me just to show me around the lake, but he really prefers to be in the upper end on the big grassbeds. He is willing to stay up there and throw a Senko all day if thatʼs what it takes. His kind of fishing in the grass requires confidence and patience, but after winning five out of 10 tournaments at J.W. Smith, Ron has plenty of confidence in his tactics, and you should, too. Every one of those five tournaments was won fishing in the thick grassbeds with a Senko, so you can bet Ron and Pete will be there if they are on the lake.

J.W. Smith is one of three Clayton County Water Authority lakes that are open to fishing. The other two are Blalock (260 acres) and Shamrock (68 acres), located on the east side of Hwy 19/41. J.W. Smith is located on the west side of Hwy 19/41, about 10 miles south of Jonesboro on Panhandle Road. To get there from Hwy 19/41, turn west on McDonough Road and then hang a left on Panhandle. Follow Panhandle for about four miles and watch for the signs on Panhandle Road that make it easy to find the boat ramp and recreation area. For updated information on hours, fees and other rules, CLICK HERE.

Clayton County has made all of these lakes and facilities fisherman friendly, so be sure to respect their property and say a kind word to the guys that work hard out there to keep the place up. Some counties are not as willing to accommodate fishing, and some water-supply lakes arenʼt even open to fishing. Clayton County has set a great standard for public access and public fishing with their lakes.

Ron said, “I really love fishing these small lakes and the jonboat tournament trails. I have fished plenty of the big-lake tournaments over the years and done well, but I get a little burned out from the fast pace and all the traveling. These small lakes and the jonboat trails are a nice change of pace. Fishing is what I love to do, and on these small lakes I can really focus on the fishing without all the jet skis and crowds and the long boat rides.”

Fishing for summertime bass in shallow-water grass can be a nice change of pace, too, not to mention a boat load of fun. Tie on a Senko and few topwater lures and head out to J.W. Smith for some late-summer bassing this month.

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