Lake Russell Postspawn Bass
Chris Baxter says to hit the rocks early, then it's timber time.
Intimidating, daunting, tough… all words that have been used to describe bass fishing on Lake Russell, usually by an angler who has never fished the timber-filled, clear water of the Savannah River reservoir.
Beautiful, fishy-looking and awesome… words used by others to describe the bass fishing at Russell, especially during the postspawn period in May.
The key factor at Russell, the one that can make or break your success, is an underwater forest. When the lake was constructed, timber in the main lake was topped off or left standing at 35 feet below full pool. Plus, entire pockets and coves were not cleared of timber except for narrow boat lanes along the shoreline and main channels.
In most Georgia reservoirs, the bass relate to the bottom of the lake, especially when they move in for the spawn, and on their way back out to deep water afterwards. At Russell, the bass use the timber as their highways and rest stops. Imagine a creek covered with timber… now go find a bass in the middle of that creek over water that is 40-feet deep… and by the way, the bass will be holding five to 25 feet down with its nose up against a tree.
When the bass get in the trees at Russell, Chris Baxter of Athens can catch them, and he says you can too if you just have a little faith and confidence in some time-proven techniques for this unique reservoir.
Chris, who works for Zoom Bait Co. in Athens, has fished tournaments for years, both on the GBCF club level through the Athens Bassmasters and on the regional circuits. This year Chris is fishing Jerry Rhyne’s Fisherman’s Bass Circuit, which concentrates on the Savannah River chain of lakes, and reservoirs in the Carolinas like Keowee and Kerr. Chris is right at home on Lake Russell, and a look at how he fishes the lake in May will help the average weekend angler as well as tournament fishermen who aren’t familiar with the unique aspects of Lake Russell.
In May, before heading to his favorite stands of timber in the creeks, Chris takes advantage of an outstanding early-morning bite that is the result of blueback herring and shad spawning on the rip-rap rocks.
“At first light, I run to the closest rip-rap that is available,” Chris said. “If you put in at Hwy 72, there’s so much right there on the Hwy 72 bridge, and probably the best rip-rap on the lake is right there on the railroad bridge. It has pocket after pocket of rock that’s just great.”
The sun is your enemy for this pattern, so Chris said to start with a small section on the east side of the rip-rap, then plan on moving to the west side as the sunlight hits the water.
“I will start three-quarters of the way down on the sunny side and work my way around the corner,” Chris said. “Usually one pass is all you will have time to make, then you can spend more time on the shady side, where the shad will be closer to the rocks.”
Chris had two primary baits when the baitfish are spawning at Russell. The first is a buzzbait, but he modifies what you get off the rack.
“I take the skirt off and add a Zoom Fluke to the back of it. I think it makes it look a lot more like a blueback herring.”
Popular colors at Russell for the Fluke include white pearl, glimmer blue, and a brand new Zoom color creation named crystal clear.
The second bait Chris uses on the rip-rap during the baitfish spawn is not traditional, but that’s one thing he likes about it — not many people are throwing it on the rocks during the shad and herring spawn.
“I take a 1/4-oz. jig with a Zoom Super Chunk or Big Chunk, and I swim the jig,” Chris said. “My best colors are green pumpkin and watermelon shad.”
Chris says good equipment is a must, and for swimming the jig he prefers a shorter 6-foot Castaway HB60 rod, which makes it easier to control the jig as you swim it. For the buzzbait or other topwater plugs, Chris likes the Castaway JT66, a 6 1/2-foot medium-heavy action rod that has the right amount of give in the tip, so the fish can take the bait. On both rods he uses high-speed reels, a 6:3:1 Shimano Curado or Chronarch.
“Line also makes a difference,” Chris said. “I use 17- to 20-lb. line. The bigger line helps keep the lures up.
“My best advice is to be ready. Always have both rods accessible. When I’m using the buzzbait and a fish misses it, I throw the come-back bait, my jig. This is the only time I let it sink instead of swimming it. Nine times out of 10, if you are quick enough getting the jig back in there, you will catch that fish.”
A third lure option is a prop topwater bait. Chris likes the clear Tiny Torpedo or a Boy Howdy.
“The props being pulled through the water sound just like shad skipping or being chased,” he said.
“The shad-spawn bite will only last a short time, until the sun gets on the water, then it’s time to move on,” Chris said. “My first change of the morning would be to go into some of the creeks and pockets. Especially early in the month, a lot of fish will still be near the spawning banks, and a great way to catch them is with a floating worm like the Zoom Super Fluke or the new Super Fluke Jr.
“The best bet is to fish the Fluke down the middle of the little pockets and cuts and in front of the spawning flats. Fish the bait as slow as you can stand it. We call this dead-sticking. Throw the Fluke out, twitch it once or twice, and let it sink slowly.”
With the Super Fluke, Chris recommends a 6/0 Gamakatsu G Mag hook, which has a little more weight to help the Fluke sink down. For the smaller Super Fluke Jr., Chris uses a 4/0 or 3/0 Gamakatsu G Lock. He fishes both with a swivel to prevent line twist and to add a little extra weight.
By mid-morning, the sun is up good and the bass in the standing timber start holding closer to the trees.
“When the fish start moving out to their early-summer pattern, some of the most-productive areas on the lake are the massive stands of timber,” Chris said. “Any group of these trees could be as hot as a firecracker at any time of the month. You just have to try different sets of timber until you find a patch that the fish are using.”
Chris recommends trying the timber in Pickens Creek, which is located up the Savannah arm above Coldwater Creek. He also mentioned the timber in Latimer Creek in Rocky River, and also the first set of trees as you head into Beaverdam Creek.
“Most of Russell’s anglers fish two different baits in the trees, a worm and a spinnerbait,” he said. “I like to be a little different, so my bait of choice would be a crankbait. Most fishermen don’t like the thought of running a crankbait through those trees because they’re scared they’ll hang up every cast. I finesse it through the tops of these trees.”
Chris uses a Normal Little N, which dives down about three to four feet. On visible trees, he’ll cast along the sides of the trunks, slowly bumping the plug through the branches.
“Most fishermen will fish the visual structure that they can see, the most obvious are the cedars and big hardwoods. This lake is full of timber… everywhere. There is more timber under the water than above the surface. I like to find patches of timber that aren’t sticking up above the surface, ones that don’t get pressure.”
Chris said he keeps a Boy Howdy topwater bait at arm’s reach in case he sees a bass swirl in the timber.
“It can be incredible,” he said of the Boy Howdy. “The fish will explode on the bait. I’ve caught two at a time on it.”
Toward lunchtime as the sun gets straight up, or if the fish are less active and holding really tight to cover, Chris throws a Texas-rigged worm in the trees. He works through the timber, pitching and flipping a watermelon candy Zoom Mag II worm on a 3/16-oz. weight.
“The whole trick is watching your line,” Chris said. “I let it free-fall. You’re sitting over 40 feet of water, so if the worm stops, it’s either on a limb or a fish has it in its mouth.”
The idea of pitching a Texas-rig on a tree in 40 to even 70 feet of water, and hoping to catch a bass that is suspended five to 20 feet down, is tough. Chris said to just keep at it, and once you catch a few and get some confidence, there’s nothing to it.
The final go-to pattern for Chris when fishing Lake Russell in May, and one that will produce throughout the summer, is a Carolina-rig on the main lake. Chris fishes the flats, points and ridges, no deeper than 20 feet, that are near channel drops.
“A lot of people on this lake catch bass on Carolina-rigs,” Chris said. “Most of the time I throw a redbug Trick Worm with it, then I will try a watermelon candy Baby Brush Hog or U-Tail worm.
“The No. 1 rule with all of these techniques, especially on Russell, is to fish confident,” Chris said. “That can be hard to do if you’re trying something new, but these techniques work. If you are not confident, you will second guess yourself and you won’t catch a lot of fish.”
With the daylong plan outlined by Chris Baxter, how to catch bass on Russell in May just got clearer, even when it comes to taming that timber.
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