Oconee Bass In June Is For The Byrds

Joey and Chris Byrd fish shallow early and then fish steep frops with crankbaits and worms.

Brad Gill | June 1, 2007

Joey and Chris Byrd fish shallow early and then fish steep drops with crankbaits and worms.

I made my first cast of the morning right against the rocks at the Sugar Creek rip-rap. I was fishing between a husband-and wife tournament duo from Fairburn, Joey and Chris Byrd.

Joey wore a smile, a silly grin that would have forced me to ask, ‘What’s so funny?’ but I didn’t have to. Chris had surgery less than a year ago, and it had been months since this tournament team had been able to climb back in their Triton and go fishing. They also have four kids, including a 20-year-old, Jason (, who is seriously pursuing a career as a country-music singer. He’s currently singing at Six Flags and has been performing at Cowboy’s in Kennesaw, which means his supporting parents have been very busy.

Joey and Chris used to fish the Guys and Dolls and Cartersville Couples trails and have done well in both. They look to start back into tournament fishing this summer, especially since their best fishing starts now. Their area of expertise is deep cranking and worming in June and July, and they say Lake Oconee is their favorite place to fish.

“We’re not big winners in the spring; we need it to heat up,” said Chris.

I jumped in the boat with them on Tuesday, May 15 to see a few of the places they go when the weather and fishing heats up for them. Our second stop of the morning was by the osprey nest at the mouth of Sugar Creek, an area they call The Indian Mound. This is a place they fish in June, but with a water temperature of 72 degrees we all felt like a fish could be there in mid May. This hump sits right near the channel and quickly drops from 3 to 20 feet on the east side.

Joey and I threw chartreuse/blue Norman Deep Little N crankbaits.

“The purple plug you lost on the rip-rap this morning is my favorite color,” Joey laughed at me.

Joey likes his “purple plug,” actually called pearl-violet by Normans, because it catches more fish than any other-colored Deep Little N he throws. However, the blue/chartreuse is a very close second.

Chris fished from the back of the boat with a 3/8-oz. Hank Parker Classic spinnerbait. The bait consisted of a white/chartreuse skirt and gold Indiana blades.

Joey’s rod loaded up with a 2-lb. hybrid that couldn’t resist the Deep Little N fished across the hump. When Joey cranks these smaller plugs, he likes a 6-foot, 6-inch All Star glass cranking rod in medium action.

Chris will Carolina rig while her husband, Joey, cranks. Chris likes either a watermelon candy finesse worm or a Trick Worm.

Our next stop was 100 yards south of the Hwy 44 bridge on the first main-lake seawall on the right. The wall was full of rocks, and I was being pretty careful, not wanting to lose another one of Joey’s plugs.

“A lot of people don’t crank rocks because they lose baits,” said Joey. “You have to about bump the rocks to get bit sometimes. When it hits the rocks, stop it and let it float up.”

Joey and Chris often spend the first two hours of a June morning running main-lake seawalls between Sugar Creek and Hwy 44. These rocky walls near deep water are the most effective areas to get bit as they look for fish that have pulled up to feed.

“Buzzbaits and Sammys are my two favorite topwater baits, but we also throw the same crankbaits and spinnerbaits that we’re throwing this morning,” said Joey.

When throwing a spinnerbait, he likes to use a 5 1/2-foot Larry Nixon spinnerbait/jig rod with medium-heavy action. The pistol-grip rod is important to him because he’s making such tight casts down the bank.

Joey likes a short, pistol-grip rod when fishing tight to a seawall, like he does on a June morning.

We were just about to leave when my rod loaded up with a small white bass that was taking advantage of a few remaining shad spawning on the rocks. I released it, and we headed toward the mouth of Lick Creek and fished a seawall just east of South Bay (used to be Brantley’s), on the south bank of the lake.

“In June they’ll normally be up on these walls feeding,” said Joey. “They’ll pull up here before the sun gets up, and they’ll pull right out there and be in 20 feet of water.”

To find this drop, there’s a dock along the seawall with a green/white roof that’s 18 feet deep on the front. Also, it sits just west of the big rocky point just below the mouth of Lick Creek.

By 9:20 we headed down the Oconee River from the mouth of Lick Creek. When we got to the first 90-degree turn to the right, Joey set the boat down. This area is known as the pipeline and is one of the more popular places to get bit.

“Some people don’t fish community holes, but it didn’t get to be a community hole for no reason at all,” said Joey.

Joey was lining his boat up to fish a 100-yard-long, 6-foot-deep stump flat that drops into 17 feet of water. Located on the southern bank, or the right side going down the lake, you can line up on this using a rocky point several hundreds away on the bank. There’s also a golf tee box just east of where you want to be fishing.

It was time to bring out the Byrds’ June fishing arsenal for when the sun gets up. Joey pulled out a rod as thick as a pool cue. I’m sure the look on my face forced Joey to say something.

“Bubba Messer turned me on to this, and you won’t believe how easy it is to crank with,” said Joey.

When the sun gets up, Joey cranks deep ledges with a DD22.

The 7-foot, 11-inch stick is made by American Rodsmiths and is designed for line weights of 10 to 25 pounds and is capable of handling 1/2- to 1 1/2-oz. baits. To make cranking even easier, Joey uses a Bass Pro Shops 4.7:1 reel. Attached to the rod was a Norman’s DD22 chartreuse/blue crankbait. He likes pearl-violet, or purple.

I had never thrown one of these rods, but I took advantage of the opportunity. I couldn’t believe just how easy it was to reel in a DD22. Until the plug made it back to the boat, it felt just like winding in a spinnerbait. If you’re going to get serious about cranking this summer, I recommend this rod to anyone.

“I like to Carolina rig a lot,” said Chris. “I like a Zoom Finesse worm or a Trick Worm in watermelon candy, watermelon seed or green pumpkin. If we already have a limit and we need a big fish, I’ll use a Trick Worm. If the fish are short-striking, I’ll sometimes dye the tail chartreuse.”

Chris fishes a Carolina rig. Chris likes watermelon candy and uses a Trick Worm for big fish or a finesse worm to fill a tournament limit.

Chris’ Carolina-rig set-up is to use a 2 1/2- to 3-foot leader with two or three beads; glass beads work best for noise, she says. She rigs her worm with a No. 2 Gamakatsu wide-gap hook.

“In June and July this is exactly where we’ll be and what we’ll be fishing with,” said Joey. “This is as good a hole as we fish. It’s good for a solid 2-lb. average, and you’ll catch them up to 4 and 5 pounds here. You can consistently have a good limit that’ll go 10 to 12 pounds.”

Chris had a few bites on her Carolina rig, but it was still a little early for there to be good concentrations of bass there. However, the water temperature was 75 degrees, so expect the bite to be on this month.

We headed back up the lake to fish an area at the mouth of Lick Creek that they call The Golf Course Hole. Heading west, we ran past the big rocky point on the left and over to an area of submerged timber on the south bank. It’s easy to find, because a golf course putting green is right in front of it. Keep your boat in 17 to 18 feet of water, and work crankbaits and a Carolina rig through it. We had no action here, but try it this month. Our next stop was one that everyone should check out.

“This is the Big Fish Hole,” said Joey. “Our biggest has been about 8 pounds, but Noris (Guide Noris Edge) has pulled some 9- to 10-pounders from here. We catch big hybrids here, too.”

The Big Fish Hole is the river-channel edge about 200 yards west of the island downstream of the mouth of Lick Creek. Joey says the area consistently produces big fish every summer, and he believes it’s so productive because the water is so much deeper than the average drop-off. The flat starts in 17 feet of water, and the channel drops in to 40-plus feet. It’s full of stumps, too.

“I always crank with 8- to 10-lb. P-Line, and I like the P-Line Original best,” said Joey. “I’ll crank with 8-lb. line if I need to get the plug deeper. Fishing with light line, I don’t think they can see the line.”

Chris works her Carolina rig on 17-lb. Stren, but she uses 12-lb. P-Line for her leader. Often Chris will get a strike way out from the boat and the 17-lb. monofilament, which has no stretch, will help bury the hook.

Here’s all you need for a fun day of June fishing at Oconee, according to the tournament team of Joey and Chris Byrd. (from left) A Hank Parker Classic spinnerbait, a Deep Little N and a Sammy fished on rock walls adjacent to deep water is a good way to target fish that have pulled up to feed.

Probably 300 to 400 hundred yards north of the Big Fish Hole is another community hole called “The Bull Hole.”

“It’s real similar to the Pipeline,” said Joey. “It’s not known for real big fish, but it’s a good place for numbers.”

By the time we got to the Bull Hole, it was getting pretty warm. By noon in June, many anglers are putting it back on the trailer, but Joey and Chris say hot weather often means hot fishing.

“We were fishing a tournament at Sinclair and didn’t catch our first fish until 1:30,” said Chris. “We ended up in about fifth place. A lot of people give up by lunch. We used to give up; if we didn’t have the fish in the boat by noon, we’d be gone. Now we fish right up until 3 o’clock. In June and July we often have a good bite in the afternoon.”

Our last deep spot for the day was up the lake from the Bull Hole at a place the Byrds call The Picnic Table. This area is just west from the southern-most pavilion at Old Salem Park. The stump-filled drop is within casting distance of the bank and goes from 8 to 17 feet of water.

“There used to be an old peach orchard here,” said Joey. We don’t catch a whole lot of fish here, but we have caught some good ones. Not a whole lot of people know about this one.”

Our last stop of the day was where we started, on the Sugar Creek rip-rap, where we put our only two keeper largemouths in the boat. The fishing was pretty tough when we were there, but the Byrds were kind enough to spend some time with me fishing their deep stuff, on a day when most of the fish were probably shallow.

Oconee is fun in June. You can expect a good bite early on topwater, spinnerbaits and little crankbaits, and then go deep-cranking and worming for a while. If there is one thing that separates the Byrds from the majority of the tournament anglers out there, it’s that they’re very patient with this summer bite in deep water.

“We have anchored in those places all day long,” said Chris. “If I’m getting bit every 30 minutes, I’ll stay.”

Battle at the Sugar Creek rip-rap: Chris caught this 15-inch keeper last month on a Deep Little N.

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