Lake Russell Timber Edges For Stacked January Bass

Find shad at the 35-foot depths along timber edges, and drop jigging spoons and drop-shot rigs for great numbers of fish this month.

Ronnie Garrison | January 1, 2010

Guide Wendell Wilson said Russell’s bass, particularly the spots, hold on the edges of underwater timber this month as they follow the balls of shad.

In January, most bass fishermen are at home where it is nice and warm, cleaning reels and sharpening hooks while dreaming of bass fishing. They’re missing out on good bass fishing at Lake Russell, particularly for numbers of spotted bass that stack up on the edges of the underwater timber.

Russell was built in 1984, and its 26,650 acres of water cover many acres of standing trees left when the lake filled. Located between Clarks Hill and Hartwell, it stays near full pool because of its pumpback facilities. That helps the lake stay clear, even after the heavy rains of the past couple of months.

Since 1990 Wendell Wilson has lived a few minutes from the ramp at Lake Russell State Park and has guided full-time on Russell. Although he also guides for stripers on Clarks Hill and Hartwell, Wendell spends most of his days on Russell, catching spots, largemouths, white perch, crappie, yellow perch, the occasional striper and even catfish. Guiding 100 days each year has helped him learn the lake well, and he has figured out how to catch bass in January.

“Shad are the key,” Wendell said. “If you find the bait, you will find the bass.”

The shad in Russell this time of year are fairly small. All gamefish gorge on them, so you may catch several species when ­you find bait.

Something Wendell has learned over the years is the shad and the bass, especially spotted bass, stay right on the edge of the timber in 30 to 35 feet of water this time of year. They seem to like a clean bottom near the timber, not in it. You can find schools of bass under the shad on the edges of the timber by riding the 30- to 35-foot contour and watching your depthfinder.

Several baits will catch those bass, but you need to get your baits down deep and work them near the bottom. And they need to be small to match the 1-inch shad. Wendell sticks with a small jigging spoon like a Buckshot spoon, an oval lead spoon painted to look like a shad. He fishes it under a swivel on a spinning outfit and works it right on the bottom, jigging it up and down with 1-foot hops.

When your spoon hits the bottom, let it sit for a few seconds before popping it up a foot. Wendell says he often gets the bass to hit while the spoon is still on the bottom. If you are getting hits like that, let it sit longer before moving it.

A drop-shot rig also works well on these fish. Wendell rigs a small worm on an Eagle Claw No. 2 gold crappie hook. He ties it about 18 inches above his sinker, and he threads the worm on the hook but leaves the hook exposed. It looks like an exposed jig-head rig, with the worm straight on the shank of the hook. Wendell says he hooks more bass rigged like this than with the typical nose-hooked drop-shot worm.

Pumpkinseed or green-pumpkin worms are good choices, and a small, short, thin worm works best since the bass are feeding on little bait. Wendell uses a fairly heavy sinker to get the bait down and keep it near the bottom.

Wendell also uses live medium shiners this time of year, rigging them on a Carolina-style rig that he can drop down near the bottom. Then he’ll put the rod in a Driftmaster rod holder. This is a good way for inexperienced clients to catch fish.

Another tactic is to watch for gulls and cast a Fishhead Spin with a small fluke on it where the gulls are diving. Wendell says the bass, especially largemouths, will roam the tops of the timber and hit shad on top this time of year. There is no way to predict where they will be since there is so much standing timber in the lake, so you have to depend on the birds. If you see birds diving, get as close as you can, and cast a Fishhead Spin. Let it go down to the 15-foot level where the tops of most trees start, and then fish it back with a steady motion. The bass will be holding there even after the birds leave, and you can catch some quality largemouths using this pattern.

Wendell gets his live bait and most of his artificials at Lamar’s Fishing Cabin at the Hartwell dam. It is close by, and you can also get some good info on what the bass are doing while at the store.

The following 10 spots will give you a good idea of the kinds of places Wendell catches bass this time of year. Don’t be surprised at the variety of fish you catch, since they all feed on the shad. Wendell said you can catch spotted bass, largemouth, crappie, white and yellow perch, catfish and stripers in the same areas.

No. 1: N 34º 09.445 – W 82º 44.423 — Lake Russell State Park is a good central place to put in to fish these spots in the mid-lake area, and Wendell said the middle to lower lake is usually best because of the clearer water. Use the ramp in Vans Creek, and head toward the back. The golf course will be on your right. Where the course ends, you will see a small creek on your right with a steel bridge across it.

Stop downstream of the bridge, and start riding the channel in 30 to 35 feet of water. The creek channel swings over toward the bridge and runs down that side before swinging out and making a good bend at a flat, shallow point where the golf course starts.

Look for balls of shad. They should be thick and near the bottom. A good depthfinder will also show arches indicating fish under or right beside the schools of shad. You may also see smaller bunches of fish, shown by smaller arches close together and in a ball near the bottom, indicating yellow perch.

If you see the bigger arches, it is worth fishing if bass are your target. Sometimes they are hard to spot under the shad because the shad schools are so thick, but if you see anything under them, drop a spoon or drop-shot rig down and find out what they are by catching them.

No. 2: N 34º 08.595 – W 82º 43.836 — Head downstream, and watch for the last big cove on your right before getting out of Vans Creek. It is downstream of the ramp on the opposite bank and about even with the end of the point at the state park. The next opening downstream is Dry Fork Creek. Idle around in the middle of this cove looking for the shad. Your depthfinder will show a clean bottom and then timber starting at about 35 feet. Remember, the fish usually stay on the outside edges of the trees, so turn when you enter them, and stay over a clean bottom.

You will see big schools of shad, and you should see fish around and under them. Fish the schools of bait, but be aware the bass don’t stay in one spot. They will roam around under the shad, following the baitfish as they move. For this reason, Wendell says he seldom uses a marker buoy since he has to keep up with the moving bass with his depthfinder. With some practice and knowledge of the spot, you will get a feel for the way they move. It may seem impossible to figure out, but knowing they like to stay at the same depth and along the edge of the timber means they are likely to go in one of only two directions. Stay on the edge of the timber and follow them.

No. 3: N 34º 07.553 – W 82º 41.805 — Head down the river, and you will see a big island on the right side just downstream of channel marker 43. Channel marker 41 is on the island. Go into the creek behind the island, and stop where it narrows down from a big bay into more of a creek. The timber ends, and there is clean bottom upstream of it. You can see a bridge back in the creek, but you will not be near it.

Idle around looking for shad and fish, staying just upstream of the timber in the 30- to 35-foot range. This is a good example of the kind of place in a creek where there is clean bottom above the timber — the kind of place where shad and bass stack up. Although you may catch largemouths in these deep places, spots are more likely. If you are targeting spotted bass to keep and eat, this is the kind of place you want to fish.

No. 4: N 34º 07.912 – W 82º 40.156 — Across the lake and downstream there is a big bay between channel markers 44 and 42. Locally it is called McCalla Flats since this big, flat-bottom bay is off the area proposed for McCalla State Park. It is unusual because there is a lot of water 40 feet deep without timber in it. This means the bass are often even a little deeper, so idle this area in 30 to 40 feet of water looking for baitfish.

Start with your boat in a line from channel marker 44 upstream and marker 42 way downstream. There is an old roadbed crossing the lake here, and the bottom will rise and fall some. The fish can be anywhere in this big area.

You should spot gulls here, either sitting on the water waiting for a school of fish to drive shad toward the top or diving on feeding fish. Wendell says this is a good area to fish under the birds, so keep an eye out for them feeding, and get to the area quickly and throw your Fishhead Spin. Wendell said there were also big schools of white perch in the area when we were there in mid December, so you might get into them.

No. 5: N 34º 09.218 – W 82º 41.916 — Head back up the river, and go into English Creek on your right. There are some big coves on your left, and you want to stop in the middle of the second one and start your search for bait and bass. There will be a steep bank on your left with some cedar trees mixed in with the hardwoods, and there will be a flatter bank on your right with similar woods.

Fish the edges of the timber. The better side is the steep bank side to your left going into the cove since the channel swings to that side. The fish may not relate to the channel, but they like the deeper water near the timber on that side. There were good schools of spots and perch here in December, and Wendell had been catching them here for several days. He started catching them farther in the creek, around the next hole, but the schools had moved out toward more open water. This often happens in late December and early January, but they can be anywhere in English Creek as long as there is 30 to 35 feet of water. The prespawn movement toward the back of the creeks does not start until late February, but the gamefish will follow the bait in the deeper water now.

No. 6: N 34º 09.282 – W 82º 41.383 — Go back into English Creek to where it makes a split, and keep to the right fork. A point on your left will be flat, and it has some cedar trees near the water and a big, tall dead pine on the upstream side. Start your hunt in the mouth of the little cove at the point, and ride the entire area around the coves here, staying in 30 to 35 feet of water. There were good schools of bait here when we fished, but the bass had moved. They will be back. Remember that bait is more important than structure or cover, and the more bait in an area the better. Wendell says if you are patient you will find and catch bass.

It is important for this kind of fishing that the bait is down deep. If you happen to hit the lake on a day the schools of shad are suspended higher in the water column, you will have a harder time catching the bass under them. If the shad are way off the bottom, it might be better to search for gulls to fish under.

No. 7: N 34º 10.867 – W 82º 42.131 — Go into Allen Creek, but be careful to follow the channel markers through the standing timber. When you pass channel marker 14, there is more open water, and the timber is on the right. You will be just downstream of the boat ramp. Follow the channel here, staying on the clean-bottom side, and look for bait and bass. Fish for them like in the other spots. Lower your drop shot until the sinker hits the bottom, tighten up your line, and twitch the rod tip to make the worm dance in one spot. The schools of baitfish will be all over the area, and you may find schools of bass here from marker 14 up past the ramp. There is even some clean bottom with no timber that is 40 feet deep here. This is a good place to put in and fish one spot if the weather is bad. You don’t have to make a long run, and the area is big enough to spend several hours fishing it.

No. 8: N 34º 12.356 – W 82º 43.212 — Bond Creek farther up the river on your right is very similar to Allen Creek. You have to follow the marked channel in through the standing timber. When you hit the area with a clean bottom, start your search. Wendell said this is an excellent place to catch large numbers of bass. He seldom catches really big ones, but the numbers make up for it. There are good drops and rises in this area, so there are a variety of depths for the fish.

When we fished here, there were huge schools of shad right against the timber. They were so thick they sometimes blocked the bottom on the depthfinder. When you can’t see the fish under the schools of bait because they are so thick, assume they are there and fish for them. Big schools of bait are more likely to attract bass.

No. 9: N 34º 13.181 – W 82º 45.314 — Follow the channel markers through the timber in Pickens Creek past marker 14 back in the creek. The timber ends, and you will be just downstream of a split with a small creek entering on the left where the main creek makes a sharp bend to the right.

Fish can hold anywhere in this area where the timber ends and the channel bends, but there is a key spot. As you idle in, the bank ahead of you is very steep, and there is a small point on the outside of the bend. As soon as you get to the point, you will see a house up on the bluff past it, one of the few houses you can see from the water.

Wendell says he had his best 30 minutes of fishing ever on that point. He caught 17 bass on 17 consecutive drops of his spoon! The bass were all between 2 and 2 1/2 pounds. Fish this point carefully. This is an excellent place to fish if the winds are strong. The high banks protect it and allow you to get your baits down like you need to do. And there is a fairly big area to fish, so you can spend a good bit of time here.

No. 10: N 34º 11.470 – W 82º 45.556 — Wendell added a bonus location that’s different from the other nine holes. Run into Coldwater Creek to the first bridge, or put in at it. This is the bridge on Ruckersville Road. Go under the bridge on the right side, and watch your depthfinder. Just above the bridge is the old bridge and roadbed, and it holds bass, sometimes big bass and sometimes lots of fish, too.

There is 50-foot deep water around the old roadbed and bridge, but the roadbed tops out about 15 feet deep. You can get on top of it and jig or back off and cast a jig ’n pig or other bait to it. Wendell says he usually catches fish on top of the roadbed rather than down its sides. The fish hold deeper but move on top of the roadbed to feed.

Check out these 10 spots, and you can find others like them farther down the lake. Or watch for the birds, and try that pattern. For a guided trip so Wendell can show you first-hand how he catches January bass on Russell, you can call him at (706) 283-3336. Or you can check out his website at <> for more information.

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