Lake Oconee March Bass
Rocks and wood between deep water and spawning flats will be holding Oconee bass in March.
This month you can bury those jigging spoons back down into your tackle box and start throwing something a little more horizontal. In mid February, Lake Oconee’s water temperature was still in the upper 40s, but it was slowly warming. Some fish had already begun to move shallow around wood cover and rock. As we head into March and temperatures begin to consistently stay in the 50s, more and more fish will move shallow and begin to eat.
Andy Yates from Tennille has been fishing tournaments on Lake Oconee for years, mainly the R&R and Dixie Bass circuits. I met Andy last year on March 16 at Sugar Creek Marina while he and his partner, Chuck Eubanks, weighed in a sack of five largemouths that went 15.49 pounds in an R&R tournament. Overall, Andy and Chuck finished in sixth place last year in the R&R trail. This team consistently shows up in GON’s Tournament Reports for Oconee and Sinclair tourneys, something that’s not easy to do. I asked Andy to take me fishing on February 13 to show me what he’ll be doing in March, and he agreed.
I met him on a cold morning in mid February at Sugar Creek Marina. We idled over to the southern bank of Sugar Creek in Andy’s Stratos bass boat to pitch jig ’n pigs around deep docks. Pitching jigs to deep docks won’t be how Andy will start his March mornings.
“The ideal depth in March is three- to six-feet deep, once the water temperature is staying in the 50s,” said Andy. “Usually on Oconee in March, these fish are going to do one of two things, key on wood like blowdowns, stumps and dock posts, or they’re going to be on seawalls with rock. Most of the time in March I’m looking for a longer pocket that’s going to have some secondary points and flats leading back into bedding areas.”
Andy told me that he really likes to see a ditch that leads back into the pocket that the bass can use as a highway to get back to the shallows. Also, once bass are in the pockets and on the banks, the fish can just fall back into these ditches in the case of a cold front. Andy said bass tend to be lazy, which seems to be why they prefer these pockets with a ditch or channel.
“I always pay attention to where ditches come in,” said Andy. “It doesn’t take much of a bottom difference to attract fish. Six or eight inches of bottom change will concentrate fish. Sometimes when sand is washed into a ditch, causing a difference in the bottom, that will hold fish too.”
Andy said the ideal ditch is one that runs about 10-feet deep and comes up onto a flat or bank in the three- to six-foot range.
“These fish will start staging on these banks with a little bit deeper water nearby, especially earlier in the month,” said Andy. “Later in the month, they’ll be more toward the very back getting ready for the spawn.”
Andy will mainly concentrate his fishing in the mid-lake area, between Hwy 44 and Long Shoals. One of the very first things Andy targets for an early-morning bite is seawalls with rock, and he says that most seawalls in the mid-lake area have this rock on them. Most of the time the water is up high enough that you don’t see the rock, so many fishermen may not even know it’s there. Look at the picture above. You can actually see some of the rock on this particular seawall in Sugar Creek.
“Those seawalls with all that rock in front of them are just as good as any rip-rap,” said Andy. “It’s going to warm the water in those areas. First thing in the morning, I’ll be throwing the spinnerbait around these seawalls and around any blowdown, stump or overhanging trees in these areas.”
Andy prefers a 3/8-oz. bait, and he’ll throw double Colorados in stained water during the first part of the month. With a chartreuse/white skirt, Andy’s leading blade is a No. 2 Colorado painted chartreuse, and his bigger, trailing blade is a white painted No. 4. Having painted blades will often trigger the fish to hit, especially after the much larger number of gold and silver blades that they’ve been seeing.
Later in the month, after the shad begin to get more active around the banks, Andy is going to switch to a tandem Colorado/willow combination, and he has two different late-month combinations that he likes.
“I throw one spinnerbait with a No. 2 Colorado and a No. 4 willowleaf and usually both of those will be gold blades. The skirt will be either white or chartreuse/white, depending on water clarity.
“I’ll also throw a No. 3 Colorado blade and a No. 4 1/2 willowleaf in the same skirt colors. If the water is real muddy, the whole bait will be chartreuse. I throw all my spinnerbaits on 20-lb. Big Game Trilene, because I throw it in some nasty places.”
Andy said in the beginning of the month, you really need to slow-roll that spinnerbait. You don’t want to pick up the pace until that temperature gets on up in the mid 50s. Then, you can speed it up a little bit, but you don’t want to burn it. Just cast and reel it with a steady retrieve. Toward the end of the month, Andy said you can start “dancing” your spinnerbait.
“You’ve got to dance it,” said Andy. “What I like to do is once I get the blades turning, I’ll actually twitch my rod like you do a jerkbait and let the blade fall. Get your slack up, reel it a few feet and twitch it again. You’re trying to make it act like it’s injured.
“I pretty much throw the blade all day. You’re not going to get as many bites with it as you will with a Shad Rap or something, but they generally are going to be a better-quality fish. I’m fishing for five quality bites.”
If you’re not a tournament fisherman but just want to go put large numbers in your boat, Andy said he’d throw a No. 5 or 7 Shad Rap in a shad pattern if the water is fairly clear or a chartreuse/white in stained or muddy conditions.
“If you fish that mid-lake area with the Shad Rap, you’ll catch numbers of fish,” said Andy. “I’d also throw the Little Earl. Just throw up to the seawalls.”
Later on in the day, Andy will pitch docks with a jig and flip to blowdowns, stumps and overhanging trees with a lizard.
“Once the sun is up, fish start really getting around the wood cover,” said Andy. “They want something over their head when the sun is high. Anytime I fish a blowdown with a spinnerbait and don’t get a bite, I’m going to follow it up with a lizard. When I throw the spinnerbait around a dock and don’t get hit, I usually take the jig and work the dock real slowly.”
In March, Andy looks for docks with six or eight feet of water along the front. He’ll take a 7 1/2-foot All Star flipping stick with a medium-heavy to heavy action and go to work with a 3/8-oz. Denny Brauer black/blue jig with a blue chunk. A green pumpkin jig is also a good one to keep handy. Andy uses 20- to 25-lb. Big Game Trilene when he pitches.
When Andy and I fished, we covered a lot of water, pitching to deeper docks from Sugar Creek to Lick Creek. We pitched the front of the docks, quickly moving to the next one. Andy said the February bite is usually on the deepest part of the dock. However, during March Andy will take an entirely different approach to how he fishes a dock.
“I’ll pitch all the way around a dock, at all the posts and even under the walkways,” said Andy. “Thorough fishing is the key, especially if I get in an area where I’ve caught fish with a spinnerbait and you figure there are fish in that area, you really want to slow down and work these docks good. Once that water gets in the 60s, fish will really get on those posts on the walkways, moving more shallow. Most people just run down the front of the dock and don’t really go around behind.”
An 8-inch Zoom lizard is the third bait Andy says he’ll need to catch fish this month, and he’ll pitch that on the same rod and line size he uses for the jig. He’ll use a 1/4- to 3/8-oz. lead head with a screw-in weight.
You can fish this bait anywhere, including around boat docks. However, Andy prefers throwing this soft plastic bait to stumps and blowdowns after a spinnerbait has been thrown. He said if you have moccasin blue, green pumpkin and black emerald for your color selection, you’re set to go fishing.
“An ideal pocket to show somebody what they’re looking for in March would be the first big cove on the left if you’re coming from Long Shoals,” said Andy. “When you go in, you’ll see a lot of smaller pockets off the big pocket. Once you get about halfway back, on both sides, you have a big flat where the boat would be sitting in eight- to 10-feet of water and you could cast up to a seawall in a foot of water. In the back, there’s a creek and ditch running in, and you’ll find stumps, blowdowns, overhanging bushes, a little bit of everything.”
Andy said this is a great pocket to fish the entire month of March on into April as fish bed, which should get cranked up on the first full moon in April. Look for that 68-degree water.
The north-facing pockets across from Long Shoals and those in the Reynolds area are good pockets to try.
Andy did manage to hook a cold-water February bass with the help from a Shad Rap on our fishing trip. The chunk weighed four pounds, and we were glad to see it. Although air temperatures were nice for our trip, the water was still too cold to trigger the bigger bite that will soon be here. Andy called me several days after we fished and said, “I think we went fishing just a few days too early.”
Andy fishes with the Baldwin Backlashers bass club, and on the weekend of February 15-16 he won a two-day club tournament at Oconee. On Saturday he weighed in 14-lbs., 7-ozs., and he weighed in four bass on Sunday that went eight pounds. His biggest fish was 4-lbs., 15-ozs., and from the 18 boats in the tournament, five fish weighed in over five pounds.
Fish are starting to bite, and according to Andy those tournament fish came from brush, blowdowns and trees, not under docks just yet.
Turn the page to this month’s Fishing Reports and check Lake Oconee’s water temperature. If it is finally holding in the 50s, then tie on a blade, jig and lizard and go fishing.
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