Lake Russell Summertime Bass
Most of the bass in Lake Russell are spending the days out over the timber and are tough to catch. But in the evenings they move up to feed, and Bobby Stanfill has learned how to catch them.
Standing timber everywhere! Sounds like a fisherman’s dream, but on Lake Russell a combination of factors that center around abundant standing timber have created a tough bass-fishing situation.
Luckily, GON readers have folks like Bobby Stanfill of Greenwood, S.C. to help put together the puzzle that is summertime bass fishing on Russell.
Bobby is a thinking-man’s fisherman, whose primary question is, “why?” That approach helped him understand the best way to put bass in the boat in June and July on Lake Russell — an evening and nighttime pattern with reaction-bite lures. But before getting to the how and where, let’s try to understand the why.
When Lake Russell first began filling with water in 1983, instead of covering bare, bulldozer-cleaned clay, the lake began to flood endless acres of standing timber. Providing fish habitat was a high priority by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during planning and construction of the lake. In some coves the trees were left standing, while in much of the lake the trees were topped off 13 feet below normal full pool.
According to Bobby, those trees that were topped off about 13 feet below the surface give bass excellent cover in their summer comfort zone — but too much of it, especially when combined with blueback herring.
“The blueback herring, which I’m going to say are the preferred food for all the predatory fish in that reservoir, are just an open-water, free-roaming type of baitfish. After they spawn they get out over the top of that timber, and they just swim and eat plankton. It’s very rare to see bass schooling or breaking over a point or a hump. But you can be on that lake in July fishing a hump — out in the middle of the lake — it’ll be 95 degrees, dead calm, and you’ll hear fish crashing bait. You look out in the middle of the river channel and out over 60 or 70 or 80 feet of water you’ll see 4- and 5-pounders blowing bait out of the water. You can run out there fast as you can, and if you’re real lucky you get one cast in them.”
The bass have an endless supply of treetops that they relate to out in the middle of the lake. A school of bass might be suspended 16 feet down in one treetop that is in water 50 feet deep. There’s no way to pattern that type of tree — it’s just one of tens of thousands just like it.
“Once the fish leave the post-spawn bite, which is occurring right now, they just move out in the tops of this timber. Ninety percent of the fish just go right over the deep timber that you physically can’t see. It covers the entire bottom of the lake. They’re suspended out there.
“People can’t understand why they catch fish on a point in the evening, then when they go back there during the day they can’t catch them. The bass pull out over the adjacent timberline and suspend for the majority of the day.
“In the evenings, or very early in the morning hours, the fish will move out of the timber. They’ll move over onto an adjacent point or hump, and they use that structure to push bait and ambush bait. After they’ve fed, they’ll swim over and sit on top of the timber again.”
You might be thinking, if the bass are right out there in the timber, why not just go catch them during the day?
“I know guys who in the summer troll crankbaits right up the main river channel and catch a lot of good fish during the day. Using that technique they can cover a tremendous amount of ground. But if you and me go out there in the boat and start casting, we’d spend hour upon hour trying to find a school of fish. When you try cranking the top of the timber, you have to commit yourself to fish until you find them. You could fish for five miles, and a lot of times fish right past them. It’s so time-consuming, and such a very, very difficult process. For the average guy, the best thing going in June is a night-fishing deal. It gets really strong.”
Bobby said the bass will begin to move out of the timber and on the points and humps in the evenings when the sun starts to get low, and when he fishes until about 10 p.m. it’s not unusual to catch 10 or 12 bass.
“Two to three pounders are pretty common,” he said. “The bigger bass aren’t as common on this summer bite.”
So there’s the why, now for the where.
“In June, I’m looking for a point or hump that has a main channel close to it,” Bobby said. “I want a point that is out in open water in the main body of the lake. I want extension. Most important is cover. I don’t care what it is — rocks, brushpiles that somebody put out, trees that were piled up when they built the lake — you want your lure around some type of cover.
“I’m looking for something in 12 to 18 feet of water. That’s where the bass will be catchable in the late evening and at night. I want it to be a flat point. Bass in the summer on this lake don’t move vertically on structures. They move horizontally. The structure has to be near deep water and the start of the timber where the bass move out to during the day.”
The most common pattern you hear about for summer bass on Russell is dragging a Carolina-rigged worm or lizard around the main-lake channel markers.
“If you see the fishing reports or ask someone, a lot of the guys will tell you to go fish the channel markers. There are more fish caught on Carolina rigs around those poles than anywhere in June. They’re catching them because those poles are right where the points end, they’re at the right depth, they’re in the main body of water. In other words, they have most of the things I’m talking about.
“I don’t fish them. I just don’t like to fish anything that’s marked. I try to stay away from other people. That’s just my thing.”
Instead, Bobby uses time on the water as his guide to good summertime holes where the bass will move up to feed in the evenings. A lake contour map is critical for newcomers who want to find their own holes.
Bobby also doesn’t rely on Carolina rigs, even though they probably produce the vast majority of bass from Russell in the summer months.
“In the evenings we throw big spinnerbaits, and we deep-crank points and humps in the 12- to 15-foot range.
“If you are fishing a hump or a point, how many worms do you think those bass have seen? Millions. Crankbaits? Probably a fair number. But they haven’t seen many spinnerbaits.”
Bobby uses a 3/4-oz. Nichols Mag 44 spinnerbait, and he adds a 1/4-oz. dog-eared sinker to the hook shank.
“The problem is that nobody builds a spinnerbait correctly for fishing it on the bottom in deep water. This Nichols, it has two No. 4 willowleaf blades made for fishing grass. The spinnerbaits made for deep-structure fishing are useless because as the weight of the spinnerbait increases, all of the makers increase the blade size, and they increase the wire diameter size. What happens when the blade size increases? It increases the lift, so you have to fish the thing so slowly to keep it on the bottom you can barely turn the reel handle. The bigger wire diameter makes it harder to feel the blade. It just kills the blade feel. The bass don’t jam this bait, they normally just suck it in. It just feels different, so you need to feel the spinnerbait.”
Bobby uses a “rip-it” technique for drawing reaction strikes.
“It is a very easy technique. Let it go to the bottom, and when it makes contact with structure — whether it’s brush or rocks or whatever — jerk it hard, as hard as you can. With all that monofilament out, it won’t move the lure more than about a foot, but it will move it in a hurry. Really swing on it but never lose contact with the lure so you can feel it if one sucks it in. With a spinnerbait, it needs to be a reaction bite. A spinnerbait is a reaction lure, and you can catch better fish with a reaction lure.
“With a worm you can convince a fish to bite. I’m not good at convincing them. I want to make them react. I put a bait down there, where the fish are, and get a reaction bite.”
After trying the spinnerbait, Bobby will deep-crank the point or hump. “The main one I throw is a Rapala DT16 and in two main colors, shad or chartreuse. If I catch a fish under the chin or on top of the head, I’ll change colors. Keep changing until you catch one that has swallowed the crankbait. Move it fast, bang it into structure, and make the fish make a decision. Make him decide to eat.
“In the summer you are rarely fishing for singles. The bass are schooled up together. You might only catch one or two, but they’re there. That’s where reaction baits work. You catch more fish out of a school on a reaction bait. When I pull up on a point, I never start throwing worms. I fish the reaction baits first — saturate the area with the spinnerbait and crankbait. Then I try to drag up another one or two bass with a lizard.”
In addition to the spinnerbait, crankbait, and soft plastic, another rod on Bobby’s casting deck will have a topwater plug tied on, just in case the bass start busting bluebacks or shad on top. He recommended a Zara Spook, but other topwaters would work — just make sure you can make a long cast to breaking fish.
Bobby also mentioned a couple of other patterns that can produce on Russell in June.
“For some reason the bridge columns always seem to be holding some bass on them. You can use worms, Bladerunners, crank the stuff… there’s a lot of different things you can do to catch them off the columns,” Bobby said.
Another pattern is up the river when they are generating power and releasing water at Hartwell Dam.
“The thing up the river is above Sanders Ferry. They usually generate Monday through Friday, and there’s a number you can call to get the daily schedule. Up there you throw topwater in the timber out along the river channel — Spooks and Flukes mainly.”
A negative to this topwater bite up the river is that the generation schedule is inconsistent.
“You might call and they tell you they’ll start at 5 in the afternoon, and you go all the way up there and there’s no water moving. If the water’s not moving, go south. That bite is current-dependent.”
To get the daily generation schedule for Hartwell Dam, call 1-888-893-0678, then press 1 to go the recording.
Don’t let the timber of Lake Russell turn you off to this good bass fishery. The lake can be intimidating, but Bobby Stanfill’s June reaction-bite pattern will produce. Just take his advice, skip the mid-day sun and spend a nice evening catching bass.
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