Warming Trend February Bass On Lake Oconee

Keep on the sunny side —follow warming trends for shallow February bass at Oconee.

Ronnie Garrison | February 1, 2007

Al caught this 7-lb., 1-oz. bass on a jighead worm at hole No. 1 in December. He caught it fish- ing the same rip-rap where he caught four keepers while working on Map of the Month.

February is a feast-or-famine month for bass fishermen in middle Georgia. The fishing runs hot and cold just like the weather. During a warm spell you can catch bass anywhere, but to be consistent all month you need to head to Lake Oconee.

Since it is located in the middle of the state, Oconee is accessible to most Georgia bass fishermen. Its 18,791 acres of water offer a wide variety of types of structure and cover to fish. It stains up badly in some areas after a heavy rain, but you can usually find decent water to fish. And there are a lot of rip-rap banks and natural rocks that help warm the water by holding the heat from the February sun.

Most important at Oconee is the pump-back system at the dam, which makes water flow both ways most days. That means the water mixes daily and warms more uniformly from top to bottom. It helps the bass fishing be more consistent, and the fishing will improve steadily as the month progresses.

Al Bassett lives on Sugar Creek, guides on Oconee for crappie and bass, and is a founding member of the Lake Oconee Bassmasters club. He has worked at Bass Pro Shops selling boats in the past, and currently works for Mercury Marine in its Land and Sea division, selling accessories and parts. When he is not on the road for Mercury, he is usually on Oconee fishing.

Al loves February, and over the years he has developed some patterns that are consistent on the lake. He likes to fish shallow, especially if there is a warming trend and the sun is shining. If it is cloudy and cold, he will go deep to find the bass.

“On sunny days rocks are the key,” Al said. Rip-rap and natural rocks hold the heat from the sun and draw bass in. They will feed around the rocks and any wood cover nearby, often holding in brushpiles and moving onto the rocks to eat.

Since he lives on Sugar Creek he likes to fish that area of the lake, but heavy rains can muddy the river and creek. Sugar Creek usually doesn’t muddy up as badly as the river, and it clears quicker. But if it is really muddy in his area he will head down the lake and into Richland Creek to find clearer water. Some stain is not bad, but Al does not like red mud water this time of year.

For deep fish Al rides flats and humps out in open water near the river and creek channels looking for schools of shad. When he locates an area with baitfish, he then concentrates on the bottom, trying to spot fish holding under the bait. The bass will usually be holding in 20 to 25 feet of water.

If there have been several warm days and the sun is shining, expect the bass to be shallow. When a front comes through and the temperature drops, the bass will be easier to find and catch in deeper water. Toward the end of the month Al will be fishing in shallow water almost all the time.

“Big Al” caught this bass on the rip-rap at Sugar Creek. It took a jerkbait fished along the rocks of hole No. 1.

Al keeps records of fish and fishing on his computer, and his recorded water temperatures show why the fish will be shallow at the end of the month. Over the years the water temperatures, when charted for February, really take off upward around the end of the second week and the start of the third week of the month. That is when the shallow fishing really becomes consistent.

For deep fish Al jigs a spoon. After throwing out a marker he will get right on top of the fish, staying on them by watching his depthfinder. Al likes a Flex-it spoon and often uses one with a feather on the back treble hook. He tries different actions, from a short hop from the bottom to a sweep a few feet off the bottom to find what the fish want.

Several baits work for Al in shallow water. He likes a jerkbait like the Rat-L-Trap Slap Stix or the Spro Minnow 45 in chrome with a blue or black back, and he will usually have a red hook up front. He says pro fisherman Michael Murphy, who has a degree in fisheries biology, told him the red triggers bites because crawfish coming out of hibernation in February are usually very red. Putting the red hook up front lowers the numbers of short strikes.

The jerkbait is worked slowly in cold water and faster as the water warms. Al usually uses a jerk-jerk- pause cadence, but he will vary it if the fish don’t seem to want the bait with that motion. Sometimes, especially in colder water, Al will let the bait pause a very long time between jerks. He casts the bait near the bank, reels it down and then starts the erratic action that attracts the bass.

For a slower presentation, Al keeps a Senko tied on one rod. Any time he is near wood he works it slowly through the wood. He will use water- melon red if the water is clear, but will try a blue with blue flake if the water is more stained.

Year-round Al’s go-to bait is an Owner darter jig head with a green pumpkin Zoom Finesse worm on it. Al ties a 1/16-oz. jig head on 6-lb. PLine fluorocarbon line and fishes it on a spinning rod he made specially for fishing them. This bait is excellent in February.

Those three baits cover the shallow water well and give the fish a variety of actions to choose from. Use them on the following holes and you will find bass in February at Oconee.

No. 1: N 33° 28.304 – W 83° 18.501 — “Never pass up rip-rap, especially the rip-rap on the Sugar Creek Bridge,” Al told me. The day we fished he landed four keepers off this rip-rap, and in late December he caught a 7-lb., 1-oz. hawg there. All the bass hit the darter jig on 6-lb. line.

Al says the bass hold around the rip-rap and run in to feed. You might have to stay on it for several hours to be there during the short time they are feeding, but it is usually worth it. Al likes the corners of the rip-rap best, and says current moving either direction really helps. Fish sometimes also hold around the pilings, so make some casts to them.

In the morning fish the down- stream side, and move to the upstream side in the afternoon to take advantage of the sun position. The sun shining on the rocks warms the water enough to make a difference, so you want to be on the sunny side.

Try a jerkbait first, throwing near the rocks and working different speeds back to the boat. Stay in fairly close, and make long casts that keep the lure near the rocks on most of the retrieve. Then swim the darter-head jig along the rocks, keeping it just above them. Al likes the darter style rather than a round jig head because he says it swims better.

No.2: N 33° 28.033-W 83° 18.437 — Run over to the downstream point of Jack’s Fork, the first creek downstream of the bridge on the right going downstream. There are a hazard- area buoy and a couple of white poles on this point marking big rocks. This is a good example of the kind of natural- rock point Al looks for this month.

Stay out and make casts across the point with your jerkbait. The point drops off fast, so keep your boat way out and cast in toward the shallows and rocks, but try to cast across the point rather than just casting toward the bank and fishing your lure back out.

If nothing hits the jerkbait, try a Senko or darter jig head. Let them sink and hit the rocks, then slowly work the Senko back, letting it fall down to the bottom by each rock. With the jig, try to swim it along just ticking the rocks.

No. 3: N 33° 28.052 – W 83° 18.264 — Look downstream on the same side of the lake and there is a small pocket on your right with a long bank running out toward the channel. The seawall and docks along this bank hold fish, and there are lots of stumps and rocks under the water.

Al likes to go into the pocket and to the dock with two benches on it in front of a rock seawall. There are lights on the ends of both benches. Fish around it with the jerkbait and Senko, then fish the jerkbait between the docks. Fish the next three docks, working each dock and the water between them.

Fish out to the dock with four benches and no top out on the point. The seawall will change from rock to concrete, then to wood. The water drops off fast as you go out. At the first dock, your boat will be in about nine feet of water in the middle of the pocket even with the boat ramp on the right. At the outside dock you will be sitting in 20 feet of water.

No. 4: N 33° 28.336 – W 83° 17.926 — Across Sugar Creek is an island. Run behind it to the upstream point of the creek there. Start fishing on the point on your left going in where the wood seawall starts. There is a lot of brush down this bank and around the docks. Try the jerkbait over the brush, then work a Senko around the brush.

Fish to and past the second dock on this bank. Try to pitch your Senko under the docks and let it fall. Here, and on other docks, don’t pass up the walkways. Make sure you hit them here and at other spots. Bass often hold really shallow around the posts of the walkways this time of year.

No. 5: N 33° 27.836 – W 83°17.076 — This is the kind of place Al likes to jig a spoon. He calls it the hay field because there is a big field on the bank here. You will see an osprey nest on a pole sitting off the bank on the shallow, flat point in front of the field. Across from this flat is where the standing timber starts.

Idle around and use your electronics. Stay in 20 to 25 feet of water, and watch for balls of baitfish and fish near the bottom under them. When you find the fish on the bottom, throw out a marker near, but not right on top of them. They may be scattered over a big area, so remember which direction the fish are located from your marker.

Get on your trolling motor and ease over the fish. You should be able to see them on your front depthfinder. Stay right on top of them, and jig a spoon up and down. Try to keep your line at a 90-degree angle to the water, with the spoon straight down. Start with short jigs and move your spoon progressively higher before letting it fall back. The fish will let you know what they want.

This is the kind of place you want to find in other areas of the lake to fish. Look at the map here and notice the contour lines. The hump tops out at about 10 or 11 feet, and there is a big flat around it. Find similar places and look for clear water. Al likes to jig in fairly clear water.

No. 6: N 33° 25.912 – W 83° 15.454 — If the river is really muddy up around Sugar Creek, Al heads downstream looking for clearer water in the pockets off the river. Go past the Hwy 44 bridge on down to the creek at Thunder Valley subdivision. In the back you can see rip-rap and Hwy 44. It’s the only creek that goes back that far below the bridge.

As you go into the creek, the second point on your left has a gray house with five solar panels on the building to its left. The dock to the right of it has a green cover, and there is a swift bird house near a wooden bridge back from the dock.

Most of the rocks here are on the left side of the point and a little ways into the cove. Start on the point fishing with a jerkbait and work into the pocket. If nothing hits, fish back out with either the Senko or darter-head jig to offer them something moving more slowly.

No. 7: N 33° 24.221 – W 83° 16.456 — Run up Lick Creek under the first bridge. You should fish the rip-rap here, too. Upstream of the bridge on the left side there is a creek, and the point between it and Lick Creek has a bunch of rocks and brush on it. This area is usually clearer than the river, so it is a good place to try if the river is muddy.

Start at the green-topped dock on the right toward Lick Creek and fish toward the feeder creek. The next dock has a blue top, then there is another dock with a torn green top. There is a swift house on the bank between the houses. Fish all along this bank, working the rocks and docks, probing for brush and rock. There is rock and brush all along this bank.

Fish up to the dock with two flower pots with artificial blooming flowers on it and visible brush around it. Make long casts to cover a lot of water with a jerkbait, working it over the brush and rocks. Then fish the slower-moving baits around the cover before moving on.

No. 8: N 33° 24.446 – W 83° 12.911 — Run down the river to the first cove past the Reynolds Marina. As you go into this cove, the right bank straight ahead will run out, and there are some huge rocks off it. There is a golf course on the bank behind this point with a sand trap to the left. There are a series of small wood docks in the pocket to your right facing the point, and rock rip-rap is on the point.

This point gets sun all day, so it is good all day long, but even better in the afternoon. Stay at least 50 yards off the bank and you will still be sitting in only about 10 feet of water. Make long casts toward the bank and across the point with a jerkbait. Then fish the slower- moving baits, probing for the big rocks. When you find one, fish around it with the Senko, letting it fall to the bottom beside each rock.

No. 9: N 33° 24.034 – W 83° 12.666 — Farther downstream, right in the outside bend of the big “S” turn in the river, is a small creek. As you go into the creek, there are some huge houses on the right, but the outside point on the downstream side does not have a house on it. Al goes to the first point inside the cove and starts at the rip-rap in front of a white and gray house with a swallow house.

Fish the rip-rap and out from it around the rocks underwater. Hit the docks with your Senko. Al fishes everything on the right of this cove when working it. There are lots of rocks and some brush in here. If it has been warm for several days, fish way back into this pocket.

No. 10: N 33° 21.380 – W 83° 10.710 — To find clear water you may have to go all the way to the dam. The big creek upstream of Lawrence Shoals swimming area on the west bank has a huge rock-slab bank on the left bank. Go in past the big rock on the first point marked with a danger buoy. You can see the top of the rock, too. Start fishing where the big slab of rock starts.

Stay way out and make long casts up near the shoreline. There are cracks in the rock with some brush and loose rock that holds bass. Fish all along this rock slab, past the section where small trees grow down to the water, and the rock slab starts again. Work way back into the small pocket here.

No. 11: N 33° 23.249 – W 83° 09.778 — Run into the mouths of Richland Creek and Double Branches. As you go into Double Branches there is a shallow hump marked by white poles on your left. Behind it is a point on the downstream side of a small creek, and there are huge boulders on the point. Start fishing on the point near the danger buoy marking a big rock that is barely under the water.

Some of the boulders on this point are as big as a garage. Fish all around them and down the bank, working a jerkbait fast and the darter head and Senko more slowly. Fish the docks with the Senko. Al fishes to the dock inside the first small pocket in this creek.

These 10 shallow spots, and one example of a jigging hole, show you the kinds of places Al fishes this time of year. Learn from them and you can find similar places all over the lake. February is a great month for catching bass at Lake Oconee. Contact Al at (706) 473-7758 or [email protected].

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