Oconee November Bass On Secondary Points
Matt Henry put together an impressive sack of fish while doing this GON article. He caught them the same way he will in November.
Lake Oconee is renowned for having large quantities of big bass. With its abundance of timber, chunk rock and offshore structure, Oconee is a prime destination for many Georgia anglers. Unfortunately, this year’s strange weather patterns have made catching Oconee bass downright tough. As the chill of early fall begins to bring us a much-welcomed relief from the brutal summertime heat and the early morning frost finds its way onto your boat carpet, you can expect to have some great days catching big Oconee bass.
I recently had the opportunity to hop in the boat with Angler’s Warehouse pro and former Georgia College Bass Fishing Team president Matt Henry, who has had great success catching big bass on Oconee throughout his young career. With multiple tournament wins on Oconee, including a 2010 BFL Super Tournament victory, Matt knows his stuff when it comes to coaxing finicky Oconee bass.
When we arrived at the Oconee Outdoors boat ramp in Lick Creek, I had mixed expectations to be quite honest. Lake Oconee has always gotten the best of me, and to make matters worse, a brutal cold front had just come through the area which never helps a fisherman’s cause. I was fairly confident, however, that with Matt’s expertise we would be around plenty of big bass.
With the boat in the water and my 100-lb. co-angler bag in tow, we idled away from the ramp as the glow of the early morning Georgia sun burned off the morning’s remaining fog. To my surprise, we didn’t even get the boat on plane. Instead, Matt idled straight to the bridge and got right to fishing.
“This is a really great spot this time of the year,” Matt said. “As the shad make their annual fall migration toward the backs of creeks, they often get bottlenecked on the corners of these bridges.”
When fishing the corners of bridges, Matt primarily uses lures that emulate Oconee’s plentiful population of threadfin shad. Because fall bass tend to feed most aggressively in lowlight conditions, he will often start the day targeting the top of the water column with walking topwater plugs while working farther down the water column as the day progresses.
“It’s really tough to beat a Lucky Craft Sammy in the fall,” Matt said. “I prefer using a larger, saltwater chrome Sammy on sunny days like today to give the bass a better bead on it. In cloudy conditions, I like using a Sammy with a little bit of chartreuse so the fish can see it from long distances, which dramatically reduces the number of short strikes.”
Following a long first cast, Matt began experimenting with different retrieval cadences. After a few short strikes while using a wide-walking retrieve, he instinctively knew it was time to switch things up.
“The preferences of Oconee topwater bass can change daily, even hourly,” Matt said. “For this reason, it’s always important to try different things. Since I couldn’t get them to commit to a slow, wide retrieve, I’m going to burn it across these bridge corners and probably catch a good one. There are fish all over my Lowrance.”
Apparently Matt Henry is some sort of psychic, because on his next cast he hooked up with a sure enough good one. Right as his Sammy crossed the corner of the bridge, it looked like someone did a cannonball on top of his plug. After a slight, one-second delay in order to ensure the fish had the plug in its mouth, Matt went to town with a monstrous hookset. With his line hissing through the water and drag peeling from his stout Abu Garcia MGX reel, we both knew it was a good one. Following a few crafty maneuvers to avoid losing the fish in the rip-rap, I reached down to help pluck the 4-pounder from its home. You know it’s a tank when its teeth cut up the palms of your hand. I handed Matt his fish, and the look on his face was priceless.
“Did you see that blowup, dude?” Matt said. “That was crazy! I was expecting to catch a good one, but not that good!”
Still laughing and shaking his head in disbelief, Matt went back to work, and in three casts, he caught three fish. Me? I didn’t catch squat, but that’s what happens when you’re fishing behind a vacuum cleaner.
Matt then made a quick decision to run to a few nearby secondary points. Bass know when it’s time for the shad to start moving shallow and often use secondary points as strategic ambush spots to attack unsuspecting shad. Oconee’s numerous secondary points are a huge key to success throughout November.
“Come November, both the shad and bass will have pretty much deserted the primary points,” Matt said. “The next stop on their journey will be these secondary points. Bass are purely opportunistic predators and will sit on these points simply waiting for the right moment. Crankbaits and white spinnerbaits work really well, but when the water is clearer, I love catching them with a jerkbait and topwater plug.”
In order to guarantee a proper presentation, Matt is very specific when it comes to boat positioning—no matter how many fish may be stacked up on a point, you may never get a bite unless you utilize the correct angles. A big proponent of casting into the wind, Matt positions his boat parallel to the point, throwing across it while targeting specific depths with each cast. Bass face into the wind in order to take advantage of wind-blown bait balls, so Matt always makes a concerted effort to imitate nature’s process.
“If you’re casting with the wind, the bass don’t get a good enough look at your bait,” Matt said. “When casting into the wind, the fish will see your bait coming from a mile away, which will result in a lot more bites.”
Continuing his destruction with the Sammy, Matt tossed over the point and what do you know—he caught another fish. I was getting smoked! After casually releasing another 3-pounder back into the water (no big deal, right?), Matt just looked back and smiled.
“This is fun, but in all reality this bite is probably going to die in a few minutes,” Matt said. “Most days, the topwater bite disappears once the sun peeks over the trees.”
As an hour passed without another bite, Matt changed course. Because the topwater bite was now nonexistent, he picked up his trusted jerkbait. Once again, experimenting with various retrieve cadences proved to play an important role in his success. In just 10 minutes, Matt was catching fish.
“The jerkbait bite on Oconee is great throughout the fall, but cadence is especially key,” Matt said. “Throughout the years, I’m convinced that a ‘jerk, jerk, pause’ rhythm is what Oconee bass really home in on.”
Don’t be afraid to fish these jerkbaits quickly, either. Throughout the colder, winter months, fishing a jerkbait slowly is a killer technique. During the fall, however, you can’t fish a jerkbait fast enough. It is important to pace yourself, though, because rapidly fishing jerkbaits all day can really wear on your forearms. In order to reduce fatigue and ensure the proper slashing action that jerkbaits are known for, Matt stresses the sheer importance of proper rod selection.
“I will only use a 7-foot, medium-fast action rod when I throw a jerkbait,” said Matt. “A soft tip is essential to give slack to the bait in between twitches to achieve a really enticing action. I exclusively use Big Bear Fishing Rods, and they have never let me down. I’ve won a lot of tournaments on these rods.”
As we fished around for a few more hours, Matt jumped between numerous secondary points within the Lick Creek area. Although we didn’t catch any giants doing this, there were plenty of 2-pounders to be had. In order to find large quantities of schooled bass, it seemed as if a hard-bottom composition was essential. Both chunk rock and pea-gravel points will continue to be big producers throughout the month of November, according to Matt.
The fishing became really tough at lunch time. With the brunt of the cold front pushing through the area during the late-morning hours, a whole bunch of nasty high pressure was left behind. These brutal conditions proved to be no problem whatsoever for Matt, as he seemed to have a specific plan for everything nature threw our way.
“Now that the clouds have rolled out and the skies turned bluebird on us, these fish are going to position very tightly to cover and get pretty tough to catch,” Matt said. “The best way to go about catching them now is by flipping isolated pieces of cover in the back-half of creeks.”
With Matt being well renowned for his shallow-water flipping skills, I was pumped up to see him in action. As he put all of his reaction baits into his rod locker, he pulled out a 7-foot, 6-inch heavy-action Big Bear flipping rod.
“This is the deal right here,” Matt said. “This Big Bear flipping stick paired with a 3/8-oz. Buckeye Lures Mop Jig is a deadly combination for fall Oconee bass.”
Just because Matt was flipping a jig, don’t think he was fishing slowly. With very precise pitches to specific wood structure, he would be in and out of a creek within minutes. Throughout the fall, the bass will let you know whether or not they are present. If you don’t get any bites within a few minutes, it’s best to keep moving and covering water. During the afternoon hours, we often idled toward the backs of creeks, and if no bait was in the vicinity, Matt wouldn’t even bother casting.
“In November, Oconee bass are totally shad-oriented,” Matt said. “If you don’t see bait flicking on the surface of the water or balled up on your graph, it’s going to be really tough to get quality bites. Always be on the lookout for activity, because it really is all about the bait.”
As he ran around the Lick Creek area flipping isolated wood, Matt wasn’t getting many bites. Fishing two hours without any bites can be pretty painstaking, but as it turns out, there was definitely a method behind Matt’s madness. With a last-minute run to the back-half of a small creek, our luck changed—in a big way.
“There’s plenty of bait in this pocket with some good, deeper blowdowns near a secondary point,” Matt said. “Big fish almost always position themselves near deep water. Even though the bases of these blowdowns are only in 3 feet of water, the ends of them stick out into the creek channel, which is the perfect combination for a big bite.”
Just as it were planned, Matt flipped his black-and-blue Buckeye Lures Mop Jig into the middle of the fallen tree. As the jig fell to the bottom, a foot of slack was suddenly knocked into his line. Without hesitation, Matt lowered his rod tip and put everything he had into an outrageous hookset. With the fish digging itself into the thickest part of the cover, Matt kept constant pressure on the big fish as his line sawed back and forth over the limbs. Following one last upward heave of his rod, the fish catapulted itself out of the vegetation, allowing Matt to swing the 5 1/2-pounder into the boat.
“That’s what I’m talking about!” said Matt as he reached back to give me a high-five. “She tried to take the rod from me! Patience always pays off. If you keep a cool head and a good attitude, you can really make the most out of a tough fishing day.”
Plainly stated, Matt wore them out on our trip to Oconee. Although he didn’t get a whole lot of bites, the quality of the fish heavily outweighed the lack of quantity. As both the shad and bass continue to migrate toward the backs of creeks this November, Matt is confident that Oconee will produce some awesome fish for Georgia anglers.
“November will be all about finding the bait,” Matt said. “When you locate big schools of shad, the bass won’t be far behind. Lipless crankbaits, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, crankbaits and topwaters will all be great ways to catch a ton of fish. This is one of the few times of the year where anglers of all skill levels can get on the water and create some really great memories.”
While many outdoorsmen head to the woods this November in pursuit of rutting bucks and flocks of ducks, it is the perfect time to get on Oconee and lay the smack-down on some chunky bass. As the boat traffic and the fishing pressure begins to fade, Lake Oconee is sure to come alive and provide both amateur and hardcore anglers with the opportunity to catch some of the biggest bass of the year.
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