Sand, Gravel And Grass For Eufaula’s April Bedders
Both the new and full moons in April are great times to find a Eufaula bass locked in on the bed.
In the July 2003 issue of GON, I reported on a new grass pattern that was taking place on Lake Eufaula. Fishermen seemed tickled to be able to find a daylight pattern during the summer in the back of a pocket that was nowhere near the main lake. During the hottest part of the day, anglers would back out with jigs and Carolina-rigs and catch fish along the grass lines in five and six feet of water. There were folks doing this all through the summer and into the fall.
These bass were relating to the lake’s newly-formed grass that grew on dry banks while the lake was down when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was working on the dam. That construction went on for about a year, and when they brought the lake back up, the bass got in that shallow grass with all the bait and just stayed.
About a month ago those fish began pulling back into the grassy cuts and coves, and from an angler’s standpoint it’s making for one of the most exciting spawning seasons the lake’s ever had. By the full moon, which will take place April 5, big sows should be locked on the bed about anywhere you look on the south end of the lake.
“A lot of willow trees sprouted up and those are still going strong, and we have different kinds of grasses in the lake, and they’re still doing well,” said Jay Chambless.
Jay is from Albany and is a fishing guide on the lake. He’s been fishing Eufaula for 30 years, and he’s a regular on the Bulldog Division of the very competitive Wal-Mart BFL trail. Last season he finished 18th in that division and went on to fish in the regionals.
“These shallow areas give these fish cover that they didn’t have before,” said Jay. “They get up there before the spawn, and they’re tempted to stay there longer after the spawn.”
Jay compared the old bedding days on Eufaula much like what we see at West Point where bass are more deep-water oriented. Being limited in the amount of shallow-water cover available, West Point bass won’t stage as long as they do on lakes where shallow-water cover is so abundant — Oconee, Clarks Hill and now Eufaula.
“We’re seeing a big change all over the lake as far as where the fish position after the spawn and even during the hotter months,” said Jay. “I was catching fish in the back of Sandy Branch in July and August. There is no ditch or channel going in — it’s just a shallow, grassy flat. The grass holds oxygen in the summer, and there’s bait in there and bass don’t have any reason to leave.”
I fished with Jay last month to see how he was preparing to fish in April. He quickly sold me on this Eufaula grass pattern after we started our adventure in the back of Sandy Branch, a cove near the dam on the Georgia side.
There are bass targets all over the place. The banks are lined with grass, and there are patches here and there dispersed across the middle of the flat.
We were chunking buzzbaits. For the Everstart tournament during the first week of March, the guy who won it was putting some quality fish in the boat thanks to a buzzbait. So, we thought we’d get started at daylight. Jay had one fish swirl at the twirling blades, but a topwater bite wasn’t in the cards on this particular day. Jay said it’ll pick up pretty quick. In fact, Jay will start most of his April mornings on the water with either a Blademaster buzzbait, Zoom Speedworm or a Bang-O Lure. If it stays cloudy he’ll stick with this pattern longer, and his buzzbait color will change from a white to a black.
“Some of the fish you get to react may actually be on the bed — some may just be holding on that grass or stump waiting to bed,” said Jay. “Now that we have all the grass, fish will stage just adjacent to where they’re going to spawn, so you’ll get fish in all three stages to bite.”
Jay’s forte in April on Eufaula is finding a fish on the bed and making her bite. The first noticeable wave of bedders locked on the beds on the new moon in March, which was March 20. Jay said to expect the biggest wave of bedding females to be locked in around the full moon, April 5. The new moon, April 19, will see another, probably smaller, group of females hit the beds. Key water temperatures are in the 65- to 68-degree range, but they’ll begin to bed in 60-degree water. On our trip, the water hit 61 degrees by 1 p.m.
“Usually the best time to find fish on the beds is three to four days before and after the full and new moons,” said Jay. “If you have an increasing moon and warm water, the fish are going to pull on to the flats and staging areas. Consequently, if you have a decreasing moon and warm water it tends to pull those fish away from those areas. But, there will be stragglers coming onto and off the beds all month long. Your biggest waves just occur around those moons.”
Jay and I fished on the south end of the lake from Sandy Branch to the dam, fishing the cuts and pockets mostly on the Georgia side. On the Alabama side, Jay said there’s some good, early April fishing in all the unnamed creeks and cuts between Thomasmill and White Oak creeks.
“During the early part of the bedding season, I’ll concentrate on the south end of the lake because that’s where the water warms up quicker and the fish will move up first,” said Jay. “And, the Georgia side has more protected, shallow water that’ll warm up a lot quicker.”
For spawning fish, Jay is going to look for water protected from the north wind, so look for north banks in protected coves. If you can, head to the clearest water you can find, and Jay said fish prefer a hard bottom with either sand, peagravel or a mixture of the two.
As the spawning season progresses, Jay will head north and fish the flats along the north banks in Barbour Creek from the mouth to the bridge. By the end of April or first of May you’ll find him looking for bedded females up north in the cuts and pockets from Florence Marina to Hannahatchee Creek.
“Add some grass to the equation and it just makes it better, because the bass like to bed next to something to feel more protected,” said Jay. “As long as a fish can get their eye behind something they feel more protected.”
If the water is really clear, you’ll quickly see that finding a bedding fish isn’t that difficult. However, when fish bed in three and four feet of water or the water has a little stain to it, finding a fish can become tough. Jay added that on lakes where the lake level often fluctuates, fish will naturally bed deeper, worried they’ll be left high and dry.
“Look for pieces of that fish — the black spot at the base of tail or the lateral lines, the tip of a fin.”
Jay said that when you locate a bedded fish, position the boat so that the sun hits you in the back of the head. This will cut down on the glare, and it prevents the fish from seeing you. Also, don’t position yourself where your shadow is on that fish.
Jay rarely drops an anchor when fishing for bedded bass. He says he doesn’t like anything in the water that a fish could wrap you around. Also, Jay believes having something in the water may give the fish an uneasy feeling. Sometimes, he says, he’ll even pull his trolling motor up if the boat is stationary. With the all-important polarized glasses he’ll watch the fish before ever making a pitch.
“Before I make a pitch at the fish, I’m going to sit there and watch the fish and find out what area of the bed that fish is protecting,” said Jay. “There’s always a key little area inside that bed that she’s going to be more aggressive toward. If you watch that fish, she’ll always go back to that same spot — she’ll have her nose on it. After I determine where that is, then I’ll make my first pitch in there with a white Zoom tube. The color of your bait is more important to the fishermen than the fish. You want to be able to see that bait at all times.
“Hopefully she’ll bite quick, but if she won’t, I’ll switch up and throw a white Zoom lizard in there.”
Jay and I found a bedded bass last month, and we actually spooked her off the bed. After settling down she came back and began making tight circles and eventually landed back in her bed. Jay figured out where he needed to pitch and started trying to aggravate the fish. After every pitch she’d swim off, but each time she’d come back a little bit quicker. Finally, when Jay thought she was ready, he quickly took off his white tube and switched to white lizard. After the second pitch, I saw the gills flare and the white bait disappeared. The 3-pounder was in the boat. The amazing part of all this was that we actually pulled right on top of this fish’s bed before we saw her. For me the lesson was that she came back and bit.
“If that fish wants to be there she’s going to come back,” said Jay. “A lot of people get caught up with fishing real light line and spinning tackle and real small lures. I’m going to have a seven-foot baitcaster with 17- to 20-lb. test, and I’m going to yank her in the boat. If you can see that fish and you’re that close to her, especially if you’ve already spooked that fish off the bed, that fish knows you’re there. She knows that anything you put in that bed is not real. You’re just playing on that fish’s aggressive, defensive, protective mode. It’s a matter of aggravating that fish enough that she’s going to strike that bait.”
When Jay makes a pitch at a bedded fish, he’ll pitch past her and drag the bait back toward the bed. Then, he’ll bring it up to the edge of the bed until it gets the fish’s attention and then hop it directly in its face.
“A lot of times that’s a lot more than the fish can stand, and she’ll suck it in,” said Jay. “All she sees is this intruder in her bed, and it’s about to hit her in the face.”
Jay said to have patience and a spooked fish should calm down enough and be caught. She’ll get more used to your presence, and she’ll get tired of seeing that bait in her bed.
For you tournament boys, this would be a good month to put together a pretty good stringer of fish. But, you can often expect to have your heart broken when you return the next day looking for the same fish you saw bedded the day before during practice.
“The day before you should just be marking beds, hoping that the fish is going to be there and a lot of times they will be,” said Jay. “Late in afternoon if you see a buck bass and no fry, there’s a great chance the female will be up there the next morning. A fish doesn’t like to do their business at night. They want the sun in there. I’ll mark bedding fish with a small, brown cork over a 1-oz. weight and put it out to the side of the bed.
The next morning I’ll stay well off the bed and make the presentation so that fish doesn’t know I’m there. A good majority of the time that fish will bite on the first cast. This is the best-case scenario.”
I asked Jay to tell me what percentage of the time he will return to a scouted bed and find a female laying there, waiting for a tube jig. Roughly, 30 to 40 percent of the time he’ll return to a female.
Jay goes into great detail when you start talking about bedded fish, but in reality he’s only going to apply that fishing knowledge about two weeks out of this month while he fishes around the new and full moons.
The rest of the times he’ll be fishing in these same areas, and although he’ll keep an eye out for a bedded fish, he’ll stay on the trolling motor and cover some water. After a few early-morning hours with the buzzbaits and reaction baits, he’ll target shallow cover next to the bedding areas. He’ll throw a chartreuse/white Blademaster spinnerbait if there’s at least a light wind blowing. For both calm- and clear-water situations, Jay said a junebug Speedworm is hard to beat. Crank the Speedworm just like you would a Rat-L-Trap. The vibration that the worm gives off produces high numbers of strikes.
Check Jay out online at www.dixiebass.com/eufaula. He is also available for guide trips at (229) 347-4541.
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