Seminole Cold-Water Bass

Terry Stevens presents a prespawn bass plan.

Jay Chambless | January 15, 2005

Terry Stevens with one of the bass he caught while flipping to a bed of water hyacinth on Lake Seminole. Terry says when the hyacinth turns brown, it warms the water around it, serving as a haven for bass.

Lake Seminole is a sprawling impoundment located in the extreme southwest corner of the state, covering more than 38,000 surface acres at full pool. The lake was formed when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed Woodruff Dam just south of the confluence of the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers. In addition, it has two other main tributaries, Fish Pond Drain and Spring Creek, offering anglers a variety of fishing opportunities. The two rivers usually have a little stain, while Fish Pond Drain and Spring Creek remain crystal clear. Contributing greatly to the lake’s clarity is the widespread growth of hydrilla. In fact, visibility to 10 feet is not uncommon.

January makes for a great time to visit Lake Seminole. Bass will be schooling around submerged timber, hyacinth and hydrilla. Once you know what to look for, you can catch nice fish. Professional angler Terry Stevens has mastered the art of catching Seminole’s cold-weather bass, and in this article he’ll show you how it’s done.

When selecting an angler to feature in an article, I look for one of several characteristics, including experience and familiarity with the body of water, fishing knowledge, tournament consistency, and local recognition. It is very rare that you are able to find a single angler who exhibits all of these qualifications. However, Terry, who is from nearby Marianna, Fla., has been fishing Lake Seminole virtually his entire life. He began fishing the lake in his youth, when a small aluminum boat was his only means of navigating its waters. By his own admission, this forced him to fish relatively small areas close to where he launched. By only being able to fish small areas, Terry was forced to make the most out of each outing, and by doing so, he has learned the lake very well. When he was able to move up to a full-sized tournament rig, he applied this approach on a much larger scale, and the results have been outstanding.

Terry has countless tournament wins and in-the-money finishes on Seminole. Perhaps his most impressive win came in the Wal-Mart BFL Tour event held last February. In an extremely tough tournament where weights were abnormally low, Terry brought in a five-fish limit totaling nearly 31 pounds! Two of those fish weighed in excess of eight pounds each. Further adding to Terry’s credentials are his accomplishments on the Bulldog Division of the Wal-Mart BFL Tour for the entire season. He backed up his Seminole win with three other finishes in the money, including a second-place finish at Clarks Hill Lake. Overall, Terry cashed a check in four out of five events, and in the process he ran away with the angler of the year title. He is not only one of the best anglers on his home lake of Seminole, but on lakes throughout the South as well.

I met Terry in early December at Jack Wingate’s Lunker Lodge. As we ate breakfast, we discussed how Terry approaches Lake Seminole in January, and how he expects to catch bass during this month.

“During January, I usually like to concentrate on Spring Creek. In January, the water is usually cold, and when it is, the creek is the place to be. I expect to find fish relating to the creek channel, but toward the end of the month if things warm up a little, they could move up and get under the mats,” Terry said.

The mats that Terry is referring to are actually beds of water hyacinths that grow in clumps on certain areas of the lake, forming mats on the water.

From Wingate’s, we motored across the Flint and through Wingate’s cut into Spring Creek.

“We’ll start by fishing some places along the creek channel. When the water gets cold, the fish really start relating to the channel more than the grass,” Terry said. “They will usually bunch up on certain places. I look for specific things, like where the channel makes a turn, a point or where a slough runs into the channel. These areas concentrate schools of fish.”

Anyone who has ever been on Lake Seminole knows that Spring Creek is nothing more than a watercovered forest. Standing timber and stumps are literally everywhere, and the channel is not marked. Instead, there is a boat run, locally known as I-75, that is marked by navigational poles. This is the lane where timber was cut off to provide navigational access prior to the lake being impounded. Since the channel is not marked, one might wonder how on earth you are to find it in the midst of all of the standing timber. It is definitely not easy, but if you know what to look for and pay close attention, you can find and follow it.

“The way you find the channel is to look for the open lane in the timber. It will be deeper, and the stumps will usually form a line along the edges,” Terry explained.

Once you distinguish where the channel is, ease along, watching both your depthfinder and the outline formed by the timber along the channel’s edges. Follow the channel along until it makes a bend. This is where you want to concentrate your efforts. Fish both the inside and outside of the bends, and 100 yards or so on either side of the bend. This is not to say that all of the fish will be in the channel bends, but these are high concentration areas that will help you narrow your search.

“I will usually start by throwing a crankbait or a big spinnerbait. I will work the area pretty quickly with these baits and try to get a bite from aggressive fish. If I don’t get bit, or I catch one and can’t get any more bites, I will fish the area with a Carolina rig,” Terry explained.

Terry likes (left to right) a 1-oz. white Ledgebuster spinnerbait, a shad pattern Rapala Risto Rap, or a Carolina-rigged Zoom Finesse Worm in watermelon seed. Terry relies on a Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Craw (bottom center) for flipping around mats of hyacinth or hydrilla.

It is important to fish these high concentration areas thoroughly, as cold-water bass will often be in tight schools and hold in a relatively small area. Unlike in warmer water, cold-water fish will not typically move very far to chase down your bait.

“If I can catch a couple of fish from an area and pinpoint the school, I will usually move on top of them and fish a drop-shot rig. The drop shot lets you keep your bait right in front of the fish, and it’s a more efficient way to catch them. When the pros came down here a few years ago, they tore them up on the drop shot. I couldn’t stand it, I had to try it. That rig will really catch them,” Terry said.

For the drop shot, Terry likes the standard rig. Spinning gear, 10-lb. fluorocarbon line and a small worm, such as a Zoom Finesse worm, make up Terry’s drop-shot rig. The only modification he makes is adding a small swivel above his hook to reduce line twist.

“If I break some fish off or have trouble getting the fish out of the stumps, I will change to heavier line and baitcast gear, but I can feel the bites a lot better with the spinning outfit,” he said.

Terry noted that fluorocarbon line is a must when fishing the drop-shot rig. It has little stretch, which makes it very sensitive. It is virtually invisible to fish, and because it is dense, it sinks, making it easier to get small baits to the bottom in deep water. Terry varies the length between his drop weight and his bait until he catches a fish, but he usually starts with his worm eight to 10 inches above the weight. Terry said he expects to find the fish from 15- to 30-feet deep. The colder the water, the deeper the fish will usually be.

Once you learn how to effectively follow the creek channel and see how it snakes its way through the timber, you will be ready to seek out the other feature that will concentrate Seminole’s cold-water bass. The sloughs that Terry mentioned previously are also bass magnets in the cold water of January. These “sloughs” are nothing more than ditches that dump into the creek channel. They will be virtually the same depth as the creek channel at the point where they intersect, but they will get progressively shallower the farther away they run from the channel.

“You want to concentrate on the points of the slough where it meets the channel. Fish will relate to these points just like any other points,” Terry said.

It was one of these points where Terry connected on his first fish of the day, a solid three pounder. The fish bit Terry’s Carolina rig, and while he was reeling it in, we noticed other fish swimming up with it. This is solid proof that he has located a school of bass, not just a loner. After Terry had caught a couple more fish on the Carolina rig, he was able to pinpoint the school’s exact location. He then moved his boat over the fish and got out his drop-shot rig.

It didn’t take long for this technique to produce, as Terry quickly put yet another fish in the boat. He would either drop the rig straight down under the boat or make a very short pitch to the immediate area.

Terry said, “I have had some people tell me that you should not move the bait once it hits bottom, just dead-stick it on a tight line. I have had better success shaking the worm to give it a little action. When you get a bite it doesn’t feel like a regular bite. Your line will either get “heavy” or it will start to move off to the side. Because of the way the hook is positioned, most fish are hooked right in the top of the mouth.”

I really believe Terry could have sat on this spot and caught fish all day, but after catching a couple more on the drop shot, he wanted to try another area. Upon changing locations Terry announced, “There is a huge school of fish right here. I have been watching them with an underwater camera.”

His observation was right on the money, as on his first cast with his Carolina rig, he set the hook on a fat 4-lb. largemouth. After releasing the fish, he made another cast to the same spot, getting another strike, but missing on the hook set.

“That school of fish is right there by that stump. Both bites came from the exact same spot,” Terry explained.

Again Terry moved his boat over the school of fish and switched to the drop-shot rig. Very quickly, he added two more keepers to his total, and again he announced it was time to move.

“Let’s go flip some mats. We have caught some out on the channel, so let’s go see if we can catch one flipping,” he said.

Terry took us to a mat of water hyacinths that had collected in a small pocket off of Fish Pond Drain. “This mat has good depth leading up to it and under it,” Terry said.

He eased his boat into position and began making short pitches to tiny openings in the mat. For this application, Terry brings out the heavy-duty equipment. A stout flipping stick with heavy braided line are needed here. A 1-oz. weight pegged to a Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Craw completed the rig. After a few flips to the mat, Terry quickly set the hook. I watched as he expertly pulled a 4-lb. fish to the top of the mat and quickly “skied” it to the boat. When you get a fish on in this type of cover, you need to get it to the boat as quickly as possible to prevent it from burying in the mat and working itself free. The stout rod and braided line allow you to do this, where anything less would most definitely lead to lost fish and missed opportunities.

“It’s still a little early for flipping the mats. Most of them are still green. When they die and turn brown they give off heat and the fish will get under them to warm up. The best mats are usually close to spawning areas. The fish will get under them and hold until the water warms up, and they get ready to move in and spawn,” Terry said.

It should be noted that on Lake Seminole the bass begin to spawn much earlier in the year than any other reservoir in Georgia. I have seen them spawn as early as mid-January after several days of unseasonably warm weather. Spawning begins in earnest during February, but either way, flipping these mats is an excellent pattern during January. You can catch some of the biggest fish of the entire year by fishing this way.

As mentioned previously, Terry uses an underwater camera to locate schools of bass. In the clear waters of Lake Seminole, a camera is a valuable tool. In addition to being able to see fish, you can also find structure such as drop offs, rock piles, etc. It is a very good tool that will help you not only learn more about the lake, but it will teach you to interpret your electronics more accurately as well.

Terry and I only fished three different areas on our trip. And these, by his own admission, were not some of his best spots.

“I can’t show you too much, I’ve got to fish against you,” Terry laughed.

Even though we did not go to any of Terry’s “good” spots, he was still able to catch a number of quality fish. We had an outstanding day on the water, and the structure and techniques discussed here will help anyone become more efficient at locating and catching bass on Lake Seminole.

As far as locations go, there are really no secrets. Spring Creek is large, but to narrow your search, Terry recommends concentrating on the creek channel from Sealy’s Landing to Wingate’s cut. This section of the creek offers a lot of channel bends and spawning bays. In short, this is an area where the bass live all year, meaning that there is a good population of fish to target.

As for the hyacinth mats, they can occur anywhere on the lake. They aren’t hard to find, but try to concentrate your efforts on the ones that are close to spawning areas. These will usually be the most productive.

No matter the location, if you will take the information provided here, you should be able to go and find your own hot spots on Lake Seminole this winter. Terry has given us the basics and mapped a strategy, the rest is up to you.

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