Lake Horton’s Offshore Grassbeds For Split-Shot Bass

Despite the August heat, Mike Meason expects Lake Horton bass to be holding on the edge of shallow grassbeds - and a split-shot rig is just the right bait to entice them out.

Brad Bailey | August 1, 2003

The bass hit the junebug split-shot Trick Worm in about 6 feet of water, and when Mike Meason set the hook the fish came straight up out of the water like a Polaris missile. The 4-pounder cleared the surface by at least a foot, then splashed back into the water broadside, nearly on its back.

Mike, meanwhile, was doing all he could to keep the bass on the line.

“Pleeeese don’t come off,” he begged. “Pleeeese don’t come off…”

The bass plowed back for the bottom of the lake, stretching the fishing line and putting a nice arch in Mike’s rod. We had already taken pictures of a 2 1/2-lb. bass, but this bigger Lake Horton largemouth would make a better “picture fish.”

Mike looked to me in the back of the boat for a hand landing the bass, but got no help. I had dropped my rod and picked up the camera. He was on his own, and besides, we didn’t have a net.

Mike Meason, of McDonough, and I were fishing July 10, 2002 at Lake Horton, a 780-acre water-supply lake in Fayette County, to try out Mike’s summer fishing pattern.

For many fishermen who fish Horton in August, summer fishing patterns mean dragging Carolina-rigs across deep-water points, or maybe slow-rolling a big spinnerbait on a deep, submerged roadbed.

Not Mike.

Generally, Mike will fish in water less than eight feet deep, and his bread-and-butter bait is a split-shot rig.

Mike’s specialty is bass fishing on small lakes. He works as a respiratory therapist at Piedmont Hospital and also has his own home-building and remodeling business. Despite the work schedule, he finds the time for he and his fishing partner Derrick Snyder, of McDonough, to compete in three jon-boat bass tournament trails: the Jonboat Bass Association, the Southern Jonboat Association, and High Voltage Bass Anglers, and he has made some remarkable catches.

You may recall seeing Mike’s picture in an ad in GON last spring for Ray electric motors. The ad notes that at two Lake Varner tournaments, he boated five-fish catches of 29-lbs., 3-ozs. and 30-lbs., 12-ozs.
Mike’s B-60 River Hawk is equipped with a 6-hp electric outboard that makes his rig the fastest boat on the water on trolling-motor-only lakes. Mike uses another trolling motor as his fishing motor, so the 6-hp lasts all day.

Our first stop was the west end of the Lake Horton dam in front of a brick house on the bank. For the next couple of hours we fished between the house and the water-control structure on the dam. This area is a wide shallow flat, covered with grass, that extends 100 yards or more off the bank, and the water is mostly less than six feet deep. Far offshore, the depth breaks off to 10 or 12 feet and the grass ends. It was this edge that Mike was targeting.

At 6 a.m. we started fishing topwater over the grass, Mike casting a Pop R, and I tied on a Chug Bug. There was a little surface activity, but we got no hits.

Next Mike tied on a Pointer Minnow, making long casts then ripping the suspending jerkbait in two- or three-foot jerks. “I like to check for aggressive bass first,” he said, as he worked the bait just over the grass. The bass weren’t biting it though.

For only a few minutes, Mike cast a pearl Super Fluke, ripping it through the water in three- or four-foot bursts like the Pointer Minnow. A bass would have to hustle to eat the erratically-darting bait. “I like to fish it fast,” he said. “You can fish it slower, like a dying shad, but I’m trying to get a reaction bite.”

But the bass apparently weren’t in the mood for a Fluke that morning either.

With the sun just barely clearing the horizon, Mike switched to a split-shot rig. “With all the grass in the lake, topwater and soft-plastics are about all you can use,” he said.

Mike uses spinning gear with 8- or 10- lb. line. He ties a 2/0 hook on the end of the line, then 12 or 16 inches up the line he pinches on a split-shot weight. The small weight helps get the worm down where it will dart and flutter just above the grass.

“You could use a light Texas rig, but then you have to deal with the grass,” he said. “Most of the time the split-shot will come through the grass without hanging up.”

Junebug and green pumpkin are good colors here, according to Mike. He started with a junebug Zoom U-tail, but he switched to another favorite color later in the day
At 6:30, Mike boated our first bass, a short largemouth that hit the junebug U-tail in the grass. During the next 45 minutes we landed two more small bass and missed three others.

Jon boat bass-fishing specialist Mike Meason with a Horton largemouth that nailed a junebug Zoom Trick Worm on a split-shot rig. The bass hit in grass six feet deep on top of a point that extended 150 yards off the bank.

Mike doesn’t get in a hurry fishing. He was content to work back and forth over the edge of the grassbed looking for a fish willing to hit.

By 8 a.m., with the sun well up, Mike switched to a smokin’ blue Zoom U-tail.

“A lot of times you can switch to smokin’ blue and the fish will bite,” he said. “I’m not going to say that it’s the blue, it may just be the change in color that causes them to bite. It is also a good color in clear water, and the water here is usually pretty clear.”

Ten minutes later he landed our fifth bass of the morning on the smokin’ blue worm. Two minutes later a 2-lb. fish hit the worm and rocketed out of the water like a tarpon — and threw the worm. There must be something in the water at Horton — we saw a surprising amount of aerial acrobatics from the bass we hooked.

Something else that is in the water is jackfish. Lake Horton has a reputation for being full of the toothy fish. Mike avoids them by not throwing the baits they seem to prefer to wreck.

“If you throw a chrome Rat-L-Trap or a spinnerbait, you are going to have a jackfish day,” he said.

At about 8:30, we moved to a hump just to the right of the brick house on the bank. Mike located the hump on his graph and marked it with a buoy.

“I would just about predict a bass here,” he said. “The hump tops out at two or three feet and drops off into seven or eight feet.”

On his next seven casts, Mike had five hits and landed two bass.

“There have been a lot of tournaments won right here,” he said.
As the morning progressed, we gradually worked out a little deeper, into 10 or 12 feet of water and cast across the drop into six or so feet of water.

“The grass is the key,” said Mike. “The grass goes away at about 11 feet and that’s where we are trying to fish. There are roadbeds up the lake that have wood on them, and you could probably catch fish there, too. But I think the grass is the best structure in the lake. The bass just snuggle up in the grass and stay there. I don’t think they ever move much more than out to that 12-foot drop.”

At 9:05, I caught our 13th bass of the morning, a fat, deep-green 1 1⁄2-lb. bass that blasted completely out of the water.

All our fish were coming on split-shot worms.

“Over the past three years, this is what wins tournaments on this lake,” said Mike. “And the trend has been that the winning weights have come from the grassbeds near the dam.”

However, Mike said that the winning weights have dropped significantly at Horton.

“Three or four years ago, it took 18 to 20 pounds to win a spring tournament on this lake,” he said. “This year, in a March tournament it took 13 pounds to win. But I can’t imagine that the lake isn’t going to rebound. There are a lot of small, healthy bass in the lake.”

“Pleeeese don’t come off!” Mike carefully plays a 4-lb. Horton largemouth up to the side of his boat. The bass — caught on a barbless hook — did not come off and posed for the photograph on page 24 before it was released.

By 10 a.m. we had moved into the first cove up from the dam on the west side and were fishing in front of a brick home with a white rail porch.

“We are fishing a long grassy point that extends well off the bank and tops out at about six feet,” said Mike. We fished the end of the point, more than 100 yards off the bank, and added bass No. 19 and 20 to our catch. No. 20 weighed about two pounds and came out of the grass.

“Grass is the main form of structure on this lake,” said Mike. “I am sure that there are some big fish out on deep structure, but the most consistent pattern is to target the grass with soft plastics.”

Next we moved up the lake, around the first point on the west side and headed toward “powerline point” a rocky point extending into the lake where powerlines cross the lake. Halfway across an open cove heading toward powerline point, we stopped to fish.

“Most people go right over this point and fish the points they can see,” said Mike. “But this is a good one.”

Amazingly, the point topped out at about three feet — even though we were 150 yards off the bank. The water drops to 12 feet on the down-lake side and to about 16 feet on the powerline point side. Off the end of the point, the water drops into the creek channel into 30 feet of water.

“There are places like this all over the lake,” said Mike. “Another grassbed that we haven’t fished is straight across the lake from the Woolsey Creek ramp. There is an old pond dam right on the bank that has a hole through it. There is a big grass flat out in front of that dam that is a good place to split shot.”

We caught two more fish from the offshore point. No. 22 was a nice keeper, but we were still hoping for a better fish to photograph. We were nearly down to the last cast when Mike hooked the fish noted at the beginning of the article. Mike’s line held, the barbless hook — tied on by mistake — held and even without a net, he was able to lip the fish into the boat — a nice 4-pounder.

Our catch was typical of what you can expect at Horton. We caught 23 bass and missed lots more. Sixteen or 18 of the bass were in the 3⁄4- to 1-lb. range. Our best five fish would have weighed between 10 and 11 pounds. Not bad for Horton, said Mike, and in the money during most summertime tournaments. Whether you are a tournament angler or not, 23 bass in a half day is good fishing, and the bass are ready and willing to hit a split-shot rig at Lake Horton right now.

To get to Lake Horton, take Hwy 92 south from Fayetteville approximately four miles to the intersection with Antioch Road. Turn right, and the road will take you directly to the lake.

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