Lake Weiss Cold Snap Bass
November cold fronts may give the spotted bass lock-jaw on most lakes, but not Lake Weiss.
October 10, the coldest morning Georgia had seen this fall, and here I was going bass fishing. Terrific.
In the dawn light, as I headed west through Floyd County toward Lake Weiss, I could see frost on the grass in the pastures. A great morning to be sitting in a deer stand, I thought, but what kind of fool would be found streaking across an open lake in a bass boat? That would be me. The first cold front of the fall to bring frost had gone through day before last, and I was heading out to get a story on spotted bass, a species that for me has proven to be uncooperative on the best of days.
When I met John McIntosh at the Hawg’s Den (formerly Weiss Lake Landing) in Cedar Bluff, Ala., his attitude gave me a little hope.
“It’s going to be a good day,” he said, grinning. “A cold snap gets ’em stirred up. Yesterday that front was blowing right over and I caught 20 or 25. Had one 3 1/2-lb. spot.”
It sounded suspiciously like a fishing guide’s optimism, but it was better than “Forget it, they ain’t biting.”
We headed under the Hwy 9 bridge and down the lake, following the Coosa River channel closely, past Hog Island and Driftwood Campground. John moved to northwest Georgia from Ohio a few years ago to get away from the cold winters and closer to southern bass fishing, so he knows cold weather, but even he admitted having an ice-cream headache about the time we passed the mouth of Yellow Creek and decided to cut the trip short. He was heading closer to the dam, but throttled back at channel marker No. 14 and swung in to the big point where Nose Creek joins the river channel. There is a small, wooded island just off the bank, right on the edge of the Nose Creek channel, and John steered for it.
I unburied myself from my heavy coat and broke out my spinning rod, noticing that the water temperature reading was 57 degrees, down sharply from morning temperatures in the low 70s only a week before. I had already tied on what John said we would be using, a Rapala Shad Rap in the natural shad color. I made two casts to the shallow rocks surrounding the island before John suggested I switch out my No. 7 Shad Rap for a smaller No. 5.
“Try to get as close as you can to those rocks,” he said.
My first cast with the No. 5 was right to the rocks, and a fish slammed it almost immediately. I was so certain that all I was going to catch that day was a cold, or maybe frostbitten fingers, that I hardly knew what to do. Luckily, the fish hit so aggressively that it was practically an automatic hookset. It was a spot, and a decent one, about a pound-and-a-half. All of a sudden, John’s optimism didn’t seem so suspicious.
“A cold snap, if it does anything, it makes the fishing better on Weiss,” John said. “I promise you, you go to Lanier or Russell or any of the big Georgia lakes, and I fish most of them, you’d be struggling on a day like this.”
After selling his boat dealership in Ohio and heading south to White, Ga., John started bass fishing a few tournament trails and getting to know the Georgia lakes, including Eufaula that even Ohioans have heard stories about. But he found that he liked Weiss better than most. He particularly likes fishing the lower end of Weiss.
“I like fishing this end of the lake because the river gets pounded so hard, and you really have to know how to navigate that river,” John said. “Anymore in most of the tournaments, other than in the spring when the big females are up on the bed, you’re going to have to have some spotted bass to get the job done here. You’ll catch them up in the river, but not like you do down here.”
John likes November on Weiss. The lake is quiet compared to spring and summer, and the shad tend to run in packs that concentrate feeding bass. He throws the Shad Rap or a 1/4-oz. Rat-L-Trap in chrome/black or chrome/blue, and he switches from two main types of areas during the day to take advantage of both spots and largemouths.
“I start out early fishing rocks on the main lake,” John said. “Once the sun gets up and starts warming the backs of the creeks, then I’ll run to the backs of these pockets, into water where I’m stirring up mud with the trolling motor, and I’ll start throwing the Rat-L-Trap. That’s where the big largemouths come through.”
The island where we started the day is one of John’s favorite morning stops this time of year. It’s exposed to the main lake, and when there is a breeze the wind tends to push the balls of shad onto the rocks, particularly a north wind, John said. In fact, the whole shoreline from the mouth of Big Nose Creek to the point near the river channel is a deep, rocky bank that holds good numbers of spotted bass.
“Anytime you get the north wind it packs these shad in here, and you can have a big, big day on this bank.”
We worked in close to the rocks so that we could throw the light Shad Raps on spinning gear right up to the water’s edge. All around the island shad were dimpling the surface close to the rocks. While we fished the rocks tight, John explained how he likes to fish the Shad Rap. He ties it on 8-lb. test, or sometimes as heavy as 10, but the lighter the line the more action the crankbait will have.
“I throw it out and I concentrate on what it’s doing,” John said. “If I feel anything, even a slight bump, I’ll pause it and then start it again. Most of these spots will just tick the bait, and if you pause it they’ll come back and grab it.”
John gets hung up fairly often in rocks or shallow stumps, but that’s just part of the pattern, since he likes to hold his rod tip down and keep the bait in contact with the structure. “It seems like if the crankbait is swimming free the bigger spots, in particular, won’t touch it, but if it bangs into something they’ll nail it.”
The No. 5 Shad Rap is a good bait for numbers of spots, John said, but there is a greater potential for the bigger fish, the 3-lb.-plus spots, with the bigger, noisier Rat-L-Trap. Somehow, though, going to a bigger Shad Rap, like a No. 7, doesn’t work the same way. John said the No. 5 is just a good match to the Weiss Lake shad. He once fished all day with a No. 7 Shad Rap while a friend fished from the other end of the boat with a No. 5. John’s friend had a great day, while John had one bite.
We circled the island, picking up three small spotted bass, then moved to the adjacent shoreline. If you come to Weiss in November, you could just about spend the whole day in the area around this island and the shoreline where Nose Creek sweeps in close. A couple sweeps in close. A couple hundred yards south of the island there is a steep, rocky point with a lakehouse deck built on it. The deck pilings stand in the rocks on the point, and we picked up one spot and got a couple more hits around the pilings. You can work your way back north along this rocky bank to the mouth of a large cove adjacent to the island. There are large rocks and some old pilings on the corner of the mouth of this cove, as well as some concrete steps descending into the water. Fish them thoroughly. Off this point there is a sign warning you to be cautious of the water intake in this cove, and you will see the concrete pumphouse on the hill. This cove has been good to John for big bass.
With the lake about seven feet down on the day of our trip, we could see a lot of the underwater structure in this cove. There is a sand-and-rock point jutting into the mouth of the cove on the side opposite the caution sign. If the water is back up at all when you go, you may not see the rocky ledge that runs along the inside of this point, but it’s there and you need to fish it. The shad were really getting worked over around these rocks while we were there that morning, and we picked up three spots on this point and missed some others. John had switched to his Rat-L-Trap so that he could throw further across the point, and he caught the best spot of the day, a 2-lb. fish, right here.
“Right now we’re in eight feet of water, and it’s one of the deeper parts of the lake,” John said. “A lot of people from around Atlanta are afraid to come over here because it is a really shallow lake. But the channels are marked a lot better than they used to be. The main thing is they’re used to these deep, clear lakes where you’ve got to sit out in 40 feet of water to catch spots, and on this lake it’s just not the case. You’ll catch them real shallow.”
Coming on around the point you cross over a shallow flat that extends out toward the island. There are stumps scattered on this flat, and it was shallow enough that we had to swing out around it and throw Rat-L-Traps to cover all of it. A little further and you will be directly between the island and the main shoreline, and you will see a long, plain wooden dock with no rails. John said that most anglers fish this dock, then put the trolling motor on high and head to the dock next door and then on out toward other docks and the open lake. But there is a cluster of isolated boulders and stumps between these first two docks. John has won more than a few tournament dollars by knowing about them.
By the time we had worked most of the great structure in the area around this island, it was warming up and the sun was getting high. We moved on down the lake for the second part of John’s November pattern, the backs of small creeks on the main lake. There is a row of suitable, small creeks and coves on the north bank across from the dam, running from near the town of Leesburg back to Yellow Creek. John went on past the large creek where the sailboat club is located to channel marker 9. We fished the rocky banks and points that guard the mouths of the larger creeks, then we moved back into the shallows. On the rocks, John worked the Shad Rap, but in the backs of the creeks he went to the Rat-L-Trap. The reason for this was the chance at a heavy largemouth, but also because the backs of these creeks are extremely shallow. With the water down, as it is likely to be through November, John could maneuver only in the middle of the open water, so we needed a heavier crankbait that could be chunked far out over the shallows toward the bank. This is why John fishes 15- to 20-lb. P-Line with the Rat-L-Trap: if you get hung up on a stump or rock way out on the flat, there’s no going to get it.
The best of these coves on the day we fished is known locally as Church House Cove, because Yellow Creek Church overlooks the cove on the right about halfway back. As soon as we arrived we noticed shad scattering on the surface all over the cove. Here, we ran into another reason why John uses heavy line on the Rat-L-Trap… stripers. John and I each picked up a striper of about three pounds, as well as a couple of small largemouths.
“You can catch a lot of stripers down here in the 2- to 4-lb. range, and they’re a lot of fun to catch,” said John.
Besides the crankbaits, there’s one other pattern that John uses in November, and that’s a buzzbait, believe it or not. Several factors make it work: the spotted bass are feeding aggressively on wads of shad this time of year, they’re up shallow, and the water is usually dingy. On a sunny day in the fall, John will pick up his buzzbait anytime of the day that he comes across shallow rocky structure with shade on it. He throws the buzzbait into the shade and over the rocks, keeping it as shallow as possible. He sticks with a chartreuse or chartreuse/white skirt, and a chartreuse blade.
“If it’s like this where you get the frosty mornings with the days warming up into the 60s, they’re going to hit a buzzbait. You’re not going to catch a lot of fish on it, but the fish you catch are all quality fish,” John said.
We wound up with 15 bass, mostly spots with the biggest fish around two pounds, and two stripers, and a day like this (or better) shouldn’t be hard to reproduce this month.
A few years ago, John accidently became a fishing guide. As a favor, he took a friend fishing just for fun, and they had some great days. Next thing, he was taking friends of friends, and now he does it for hire. You can get your own personal fishing trip with John McIntosh by calling him at (800) 388-5980, ext. 35.
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