Lake Russell December Bass With David Freeman

Until the water temperature drops into the low 50s, David will be looking for Lake Russell bass in the shallow coves and pockets.

Ronnie Garrison | December 1, 2003

December is a great month for bass fishing. The fish are still active, and there are few other boats on the water. And if you choose Lake Russell, you will find a pristine lake with no shoreline development, low fishing pressure and lots of largemouth and spotted bass ready to hit.

Russell is a 26,650-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake sandwiched between Hartwell and Clark Hill. Other than a few ramps, two state parks and a couple of marinas, you wonʼt see anything on the shore other than natural habitat.

There are lots of things to fish, but you wonʼt be casting to docks.

The water at Russell is generally clear, and this year is fairly typical. The main lake is very clear, but the backs of coves and up the creeks and rivers you can find some water with a green color to it. In mid November the water had a cloudy look, an indication it was going through turn-over in those areas.

When Russell was built the shoreline timber was cleared out to where the water would be 33-feet deep in most areas. Then the lake was filled to the 33-foot level and many of the other trees were topped out. You have vast areas of deep timber all over the lake, with some coming to the surface in coves and creeks where the corps did not clear or top it. These areas are marked with signs.

The channel at Russell is marked with telephone poles set on points and humps. These red and green signs can keep you out of dangerous areas, and often mark good fishing spots. When you get off the main channel and head into the creeks, more poles with signs mark the edge of the timber, and you can often see it breaking the surface.

David Freeman is a fire fighter in Athens/Clarke County and has lived in the area all his life. He watched them build Russell in the early 1990s and has fished it since it was filled. As well as selling boats at Boating Atlanta in his spare time, for several years David worked part time with Zoom Baits and he still fishes with the folks there. He has learned a lot about Russell over the years.

For several years David fished with local bass clubs and placed third in two Top Six tournaments. He has also fished several other trails like the BFL and Jerry Rhine tournaments, and placed 8th in a Rhine tournament at Russell several years ago.

In mid November David showed me around Russell, sharing patterns and some spots where you can catch bass this month.

He explained that Russell is a typical cold, clear-water lake, and the bass follow the shad this time of year. They were moving into the creeks and pockets when we were there, but the water was unusually warm for November. The surface temperature gauge on the Triton we were in showed 69 to 72 degrees in the areas we fished.

David says bass will move into the creeks and coves as the water continues to cool and will stay there until it gets real cold, down near 50 degrees. If we have a warm December the fish may stay in the pockets all month, but they are usually moving back out by the end of December, following the shad migration. You can follow them and catch them by paying attention to water temperatures.

As long as the water is warmer than about 55 degrees, you should find fish in the backs of creeks and pockets. By the time it is down to 52 or 53 David is looking for them to start moving and switches to a jigging spoon. Some fish will still be in the pockets, but you can locate schools out on the main lake, too. After the water drops below 50 most of the fish will move to deeper water.

David and I started fishing two weeks ago at noon by running back into a pocket at hole No. 1 and casting Texas-rigged worms to the visible timber. He caught a keeper spot on his first cast with a Zoom Red Bug Finesse worm behind a 3/16-oz. lead. The day was partly cloudy with some high thin cloud cover. There was a little wind blowing.

On days with some sun David chooses a worm with sparkle in it. If the day is cloudy, David says a green pumpkin worm is hard to beat. He will throw the Texas-rigged worm to every bit of timber he sees and tries to follow the channel in the cove, since bass tend to follow it, too. Wind blowing into the area you are fishing helps.

As you move up the channel watch for shad, and if you see them stop and fish there carefully. Cast your worm to the visible timber and let it fall, keeping a tight line.

When it hits a limb jiggle it and bounce it, working it down slowly. When it gets to the bottom fish it slowly across the wood that is there, too.

Never hesitate to throw to open areas since there will be trees under the water you can not see in most spots. You want your bait in 12- to 15-feet of water, and you need to be hitting limbs. Fish as slowly as you can stand, giving the fish time to see the bait and hit it.

Switch to a Carolina-rig loaded with the same worm when you get to ditches or points running out into the timber, and fish around them. The bottom may not have timber on it near the bank so work the Carolina rig in these areas. If you do bump wood slow it down, and fish it carefully around the cover.

By late December you can fish the edges of the timber with a jigging spoon. Look for openings that mark old fields or fish the outside edges of it. If you are seeing shad back in the pockets the bass should still be there. Keep working out toward the main lake until you find the shad and bass.

Most of the month you can also run the banks throwing a Shad Rap and catch fish. You can fish it around the shoreline cover, through the standing timber or around riprap. Bass will be feeding on shad in these areas and will hit a crankbait if they are up shallow enough to see it. Try to match the size of your crankbait to the size of the shad. A No. 7 Shad Rap is a good size to start throwing.

If the water is still real warm, donʼt hesitate to throw a topwater plug or a buzzbait. If you see bass busting on top, land a topwater bait near them and they will often hit it. You can also work topwater around riprap with some success this time of year.

David took me to 10 spots where he has caught bass in December. They are varied because the fish move as the water temperature changes this month. If you check them out you can see the pattern he fishes and know what to look for.

Location No. 1 on the map: N 34° 04.596 – W 82° 41.237: Head up Beaverdam Creek, and go into the cove behind channel markers five and seven. Channel marker seven sits just off a hump near the upstream point of the cove, you can run on either side of it. Go all the way back to the left, to the very back of the cove. Stop and start fishing at the danger markers warning of underwater timber.

Cast to the warning poles themselves — fishermen often put brush around them. Then work on in, keeping your boat near the middle of the cove, following the channel. Cast a Texas-rigged worm to every piece of wood you see, letting it fall slowly all the way to the bottom. Work it through any limbs you hit on the way down, and keep a close watch on your line. This is where David caught a keeper spot on his first cast two weeks ago.

As you get back into the cove it will be narrow enough to cast to the points and ditches on the sides of the timber. Fish this structure with a Carolina rig, and try to find cover on it. Watch for shad and drop a spoon down below the ball of shad if it is clear enough, or jiggle your worm under them if they are in the trees.

There are lots of similar coves on either side of this one, and you can stay in the area all day if the bass are in them. If you catch fish in one there are probably bass in the others, too.

  1. N 34° 11.743 – W 82° 45.588: Make the long run to the bridge in Coldwater Creek. You can fish the riprap and pilings on the bridge with topwater, crankbaits and worms, but the best spot here is the old bridge above the current one. Idle under the bridge, and watch your depthfinder. You can see the old roadbed on either side of the creek and there is an old bridge on the old channel, just upstream of the new bridge.

Watch for brush and shad on the roadbed as well as on the bridge itself. Fish a Carolina rig around the brush on the road and on the bridge. David says it must have been an old steel bridge, and he likes to cast a Texas-rigged worm here, too. He lets it fall then works it up the bridge structure, jigging in near the top and then letting it fall back.

  1. N 34° 08.382 – W 82° 43.120: Head back down the river and past the point with the golf course on it at Coldwater Park. Straight downstream of this point, across the mouth of Van Creek, is a small creek with three orange floating buoys across it. Timber warning signs start right at the mouth of this creek, and the one on the left going in has an osprey nest on it. There is a boat ramp on the left in the mouth of this creek.

Start fishing past the poles, and cast to the visible trees. There are a good many cedar trees in this creek, and they provide more limbs for the bass to hide in than other types of trees. Fish all of them you can see.

If you are catching fish, keep working back until the fish stop biting. Then head back out. The bass will usually be concentrated in one area of the timber, and you should be able to catch a good many when you find them. This creek is big enough to give you plenty of targets for a dayʼs fishing.

  1. N 34° 08.565 – W 82° 37.527: Take another long ride up Rocky Creek to channel marker 22. This red marker sits on a point just outside a little creek with the water-pumping station for Calhoun Falls. You can see a water tower behind it. The marker sits right on the edge of the main channel where it makes a big bend.

The bottom is rocky here, and this is a good transition spot. Bass moving out of the little creek will hold here. Cast a worm to the rocks, and work around the pole with a crankbait if the water is warm. If it is below 52 degrees, ease in and watch for shad, and jig a spoon under any schools of them you spot.

  1. N 34° 08.700 – W 82° 37.711: The next red channel marker upstream is also good. Channel marker 24 also sits right on the drop of the creek channel, and it has some brush around it. Fish hold here moving up and down the creek, and you can catch them on worms and crankbaits early in the month. Sit out in the channel and cast up toward the marker, working all around it. Also watch for shad and jig a spoon here is you spot them.
  2. N 34° 11.140 – W 82° 37.610: If you run on up Rocky Creek to channel marker 46 you will see there is timber all across the creek. Just past green marker 46 on your left start fishing the timber on the right side of the channel. You will be a long way from the bank on this side, and there is lots of timber all the way back into two coves on that side.

David says there is an old hedgerow of trees here, and you can follow that line along the old creek channel. Fish it with worms, and even run a crankbait through the tops of the trees. Drop a spoon down to the bottom, too. The timber is scattered and open enough to allow you to work a spoon. This is another big area where you can spend a lot of time if the fish are feeding here.

  1. N 34° 06.170 – W 82° 37.268: Back down at the mouth of Rocky Creek, turn into the creek with the marina in it. You will go around the point with the campground on it, between the point and the big island. As you round the point there is a big cove with a fishing pier in it, and a danger marker off the bank to your left. David said this used to be one of his favorite places before the hump was marked. The old creek channel swings in near the marker, and there is a good drop on the upstream side of the hump. This drop has wood cover on it. Keep your boat well out from the marker and cast toward it, working down the drop.
  2. N 34° 05.888 – W 62° 37.071: Across the mouth of this creek is a point with channel marker number four on it. There is a cove with timber behind and to the right of this point when facing it, and across the cove to the right is another point. Go to the point on the right and cast to the timber marker there. It is marked SC6 and there is brush around this pole. Fish around the pole and the point it sits on, as well as around the timber in the pocket on either side of it.
  3. N 34° 05.122 – W 82° 38.693: The last two holes are so obvious many people overlook them. Riprap on Russell almost always holds bass, and the left side of the railroad trestle going downstream is a good spot. David said he won a tournament here a few Decembers ago throwing a buzzbait on the rocks.

Fish the rocks on both sides of the trestle with buzzbaits and crankbaits. You can also jig a spoon on the rocks and out by the pilings. Fish school up here and will feed sometime during the day. You just have to be there when they are feeding. A current makes it much better.

  1. N 34° 04.334 – W 82° 38.673: The riprap on the Hwy 72 bridge is a popular place to fish because it holds a lot of bass. Fish it like the riprap at the trestle, trying crankbaits, topwater and a jigging spoon. Also, try jigging beside the pilings. If you can spot shad near the pilings, drop your spoon down a little deeper than the shad school and jig it at that depth all around the piling.

These spots are scattered all over the lake, and there are many similar ones near them. Check them out, try the patterns and baits David uses, and then fish other similar spots. This is a great month to catch a bunch of bass at Russell.

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