Quality Sinclair Bass In March
Jim Windham often brings home a check when he fishes a Sinclair tournament, partly because his patterns target quality fish.
Sometimes a graph adds more frustration to a bass-fishing situation than it does to help the cause. Such was the case for Jim Windham and I on Lake Sinclair last week.
“There’s a pile of fish down there,” Jim said as his boat drifted over the point we’d just pulled crankbaits across. The graph was lit up, but we didn’t get a bite as our plugs dug and bounced across the bottom and off the side of the point.
I eyed the long rod with the big weight I’d brought along just in case… “You ever think about throwing a Carolina-rig on ’em,” I asked Jim.
He scowled, and not just a little.
“If I have to throw a Carolina-rig this time of year to catch fish, I’d just as soon stay home. A Carolina-rig won’t win you any money on this lake — not this time of year,” he said.
Two things Jim Windham knows about — there may be more, but two things I know he knows about — are catching bass on Lake Sinclair, and making money while doing it.
Jim lives in Bonaire, but he grew up on Cedar Creek on the Little River arm of Sinclair.
“I consider Sinclair my home lake. My dad bought me an aluminum boat when I was about 9 and told me to stay out of his,” he said.
Jim fished his first bass tournament in 1983 on Lake Juliette. He won it, and he had big fish. A year later he moved to bigger trails like SBA and Angler’s Choice, and by the late 80s he was fishing Redman (now called BFL). Over the years he’s won several trail classics, and he won a boat with a first-place finish in a 1999 HD Marine tourney on Oconee. Jim made the BFL All-American last year after a sixth-place finish in the regional at Lake Wattery in South Carolina.
On Sinclair alone, Jim and his wife Nancy have won four couples tournaments. The week before Jim and I fished, he placed second in a Sinclair Angler’s Choice tournament with 17 pounds.
Jim’s is a good brain to pick about the ins and outs of bass fishing on Lake Sinclair.
We put in at Little River Park on a cold and sunny morning and headed down the lake, but only after fishing the rip-rap at the Hwy 441 bridge.
“No secret about this spot, but I guarantee there’s been more bass caught off the corner of these rocks than any spot on the lake,” Jim said. “A few weeks ago my son and I were fun-fishing with some other guys, and we all put in $20 for a big-fish pot. I pulled over here behind another boat already fishing it and caught a 6-pounder right off the bat.”
Jim said any rip-rap can be good this time of year, but the Hwy 441 rocks are sweetened by all the tournament fish released at Little River Park. The big, chunk rocks offer good cover, and they hold a bit more heat on sunny days, warming the water just enough to make them attractive to baitfish and bass. Jim pitched a jig ’n pig and tried a crankbait on the rip-rap.
“There are three patterns for Sinclair this time of year,” Jim said. “A crankbait, a spinnerbait and a jig ’n pig.”
Jim said he usually starts out with the crankbait first thing in the morning.
“I like a No. 7 Shad Rap or a 1/2-oz. Rat-L-Trap. A lot of times I’ll throw the Rat-L-Trap and Nancy throws the Shad Rap behind me. We both catch fish. The Rat-L-Trap gets more hits sometimes, but it’ll frustrate you because bass are bad about pulling off on them.”
With the Shad Rap, Jim recommends a clown or firetiger color in stained water and a natural-shad color in clear water. He throws the standard chrome/blue back Trap, but almost always uses the bigger 1/2-oz. lure.
Where to cast the crankbait is important, and there is one ingredient Jim always prefers when deciding where to fish this time of year.
“In March, sand is the key,” Jim said. “The bigger female bass seem to pull into little pockets with sand and hang out there waiting to pull up to spawn. Not necessarily deep pockets, more like little indentions. Sand in the back is the key though.”
Sometimes you can see sand along the bank, and when the water is clear it is easy to distinguish a sandy bottom.
Jim starts at the mouths of those little indentions, and he throws the crankbait to the bank. For best results, a lipped crankbait should be digging the bottom, and a Rat-L-Trap should be ticking the bottom. He also runs the plugs alongside, around, behind, and between the slips of any docks within those small, sandy pockets. Any other structure should be fished as well, like the small, private boat ramps located on some of the Sinclair back yards.
“If you catch a bass or maybe miss one, you better make some more casts to that spot. This time of year I’ve caught 20 or 30 bass from one little spot. There might be a little rockpile or brush or something, and they’re holding right there. If you catch one, don’t move on down the bank. Sometimes they’ll really stack up on one little spot.”
There are two other patterns that Jim likes to try when fishing Sinclair in March.
Jim’s bread-and-butter bait is a jig ’n pig.
“There’s not a bad place to throw a jig,” Jim said, “but you can put a hurt on ’em with a jig up under the docks on Sinclair.”
Almost every bank, pocket and creek on Sinclair is lined with docks, and because the water level on Sinclair doesn’t fluctuate much, these docks have wooden posts instead of floating on styrofoam. It’s like having stumps everywhere, only these “stumps” are better because there’s tons of shade provided by the decks and boats sitting over the dock posts. Many of the docks are also sweetened with brushpiles. Some brush is up under the docks and many piles are placed out in front of the docks by crappie fishermen.
One reason Jim does well in tournaments is because he can pitch a jig ’n pig far up under the docks. He’s better at it than anyone I’ve ever seen.
“The one thing a guy can do to catch more bass is to learn to flip or pitch,” Jim said. “I practiced for hours in my living room — pitchin’ across the room to a spot or hitting Nancy in the rear end whenever she walked out of the room.”
To pitch, Jim holds the lure in his left hand just above the reel without putting tension on the rod tip. With a smooth motion he extends his right arm up and out toward the target while flicking his right wrist, sending the jig low to the water with good velocity. He’ll send a jig between a boat and the slip, between crossbeams, and through tiny holes where most anglers would never think about trying a cast.
Flipping is when you hold the line in your left hand, and it’s more like dropping the bait on a spot. Pitching, when done like Jim can do it, gives you much more distance, which is critical to getting the bait back in the deep, shady holes where the bass see few lures.
On Sinclair, Jim likes to use a black/blue jig ’n pig tipped with a black/blue Zoom Super Chunk. He uses a 3/8-oz. jig when fishing shallow docks, and a 1/2-oz. jig on deeper structure. He prefers a jig with a big 5/0 hook.
When pitching jigs to docks, Jim uses 20-lb. monofilament, and he uses a flipping stick and good baitcasting reel that has good anti-reverse control — the little knob that controls the tension on a baitcasting spool. To pitch, Jim sets the anti-reverse loose enough so that when he pushes the button, the jig pulls line off the spool. He says to expect to backlash some when pitching, but you want the spool loose enough so the weight of the jig does the work.
“You have to fish the docks all the way around,” Jim said. “You can figure out what parts of the docks the bass seem to be on that day — figure out if they’re up shallow on the walkways, or maybe they’re out on the ends. A lot of times the only place you can catch them is up on the walkway posts. Sometimes they might be out in brushpiles in front of the docks. I see a lot of guys make a few casts to the front of a dock and move on to the next one. No telling how many bass they go on by.”
Jim prefers to concentrate on pitching jigs to docks that are in the same types of places where he likes to throw the crankbaits — small pockets that have sand in the back.
The third pattern that Jim likes on Sinclair, and one he said gets better later in the month or when you’re fishing closer to the warmer water coming from Beaverdam Creek, is a spinnerbait slow-rolled through the grassbeds.
The grass on Sinclair won’t green up until next month, but the dead grass beds still provide great cover.
Again, Jim is concentrating on the small, sandy pockets. If there’s a grassbed in it, he’ll pick up the spinnerbait and slow-roll the blade through and out in front of the grass.
“I like a River Rat or Pro Lure spinnerbait, a 3/8-oz.,” Jim said. “The water on Sinclair usually has some color, so I like chartreuse, and I’ll use a single Colorado blade, which has more thump. A willowleaf has more flash than thump, and it’s good when the water is clear.”
When Jim and I fished Sinclair a couple of weeks ago, it started out tough. We only had one keeper the first couple of hours, a 14-inch bass that hit a crankbait. The lake’s surface temperature away from Beaverdam Creek started out at 54 degrees and warmed to 58 by noon.
Later we tried Beaverdam Creek, and Jim put four keepers in the boat in about 10 minutes on a Rat-L-Trap. In Beaverdam the water temperature was in the lows 60s, and Jim caught a 3-pounder right off the bank in very shallow water.
Jim wasn’t happy with our day, but Sinclair has been hit-or-miss lately. As we start to string together a few warm days this spring, the bass fishing at Sinclair will get more consistent.
So will Jim’s techniques for catching quality bass. Sinclair is a great bass lake, and March is a great month for catching them.
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