Seminole Hybrid Bass Schooling In The Fall

When the hybrids in Seminole school in early winter, troll a crankbait on the river ledges, and have a Trap ready to throw when the fish come up to feed on the surface.

Ron Brooks | November 2, 2006

Hybrids are something of an overlooked fish on Seminole, but the silvery fish fight with an attitude bigger than their size. In November and December the fish will school on the flats and river ledges and can be caught trolling crankbaits or by vertical jigging with spoons.

While it is not an unknown fishery on Seminole, hybrid bass are not a particularly sought-after species there. Known for huge stripers, bass and crappie, the sprawling Florida-Georgia border lake at the confluence of the Flint River, Spring Creek and the Chattahoochee River actually has a large population of hybrids just waiting to be caught.

Rob Weller, region supervisor of WRD Fisheries in the Albany office, says Georgia no longer stocks hybrids in the lake, and has not done so for some time now. Fred Cross from Florida’s Northwest Regional Fisheries office, says that while Florida has not stocked hybrids since 2003, from 200,000 to 500,000 striped bass are released each year.

“Even though Georgia does not stock them, the hybrid population on Seminole is quite large,” Weller says. “They manage to come through the Lake Blackshear dam upstream on the Flint River and the Lake Eufaula dam upstream on the Chattahoochee in significant numbers. Combine that with the residuals from the Florida stocking program, and trust me, the fishery is alive and well.”

My fishing buddy Jim Pierce, of Middleburg, Fla., and I made a two-day trip to Lake Seminole in the middle of October to find some of these hybrids. November and December are outstanding months to look for hybrids, and I have had some outstanding trips for hybrids in the past. The cooler weather has the fish schooled and the fisherman cooled.

Putting in at Wingate’s Lodge and Marina on the Flint River arm where we stayed, we sought some information from some local anglers. We also talked with fishing legend, Jack Wingate about the hybrid fishery.

One angler told us to stay on the river channels and look for fish on a fishfinder. The other told us to look for the birds. Diving birds will almost always mean a school of hybrids in a feeding frenzy on the surface.

Jack told us we were about three weeks early to really see the hybrids turn on. His advice was to use jigging spoons in the deep springs on the lake.

We idled out the channel from Wingate’s and headed across the Flint River arm to the river channel on the other side. Seminole had visible standing timber when the lake was formed. Over the years that timber has broken off, usually right at or under the surface. It is best to stay in the marked channels if you plan to run.

Heading down the channel toward the dam on the Flint arm, our first stop was around buoy Marker 8.8 (all the markers are numbered in “miles from the dam” scheme). We idled over the edge of the channel and found the drop from about 12 feet of water to almost 30 feet. The red and green buoy channel markers give you a rough gauge of where the channel edge is, but between the buoys, that edge moves in and out. This is not a bad thing, because the fish will run the edge of the channel, so it is good to know when it turns.

Idling along we marked several schools of shad on our fishfinder. Shad are the reason the hybrids will be found in and around the channel edge.

Shad are thermometers of a sort. They prefer cooler temperatures, and as a school they will ride a thermocline up or down in the water column to stay comfortable. As the lake water cools in early fall, schools of shad will migrate out of the channels and onto the flats or shallower water in the lake. Hybrids will always be following this food source, and in late fall they will drive the shad to the surface in massive feeding frenzies.

The first pattern we tried was trolling the channel edges with deep- running lures. Deep-running crank- baits will get your lure down to the level of the shad, and consequently the hybrids. These lures put a tremendous strain on your arm as you troll, but in a multitude of color patterns, they will work well. Chartreuse, firetiger, silver and blue — all of these can catch hybrids.

Rat-L-Traps in a silver/blue back or silver/black back color scheme work equally well, but because they do not dive as deep as the big-lipped lures, they must be trolled farther back behind the boat. There is good news and bad news in this arrangement. The good news is that the ‘Traps will catch more fish than the diving baits. The bad news is that a 5-lb. hybrid will wear you out because the lure is so far behind the boat.

The basic baits for catching schooling hybrids at Seminole in November and December include silver jigging spoons (left, top and bottom), Rat-L-Traps, (top center) and deep-diving crankbaits.

We were trolling with bass flip- ping sticks, but with 15-lb. test line. The rods had the backbone we needed, and with the smaller line, allowed us to cast a Rat-L-Trap country mile

Alternately we trolled spoons. No. 3 or 4 jigging spoons, rigged with a short leader and a ball bearing swivel can also be trolled, and they do work, catching as many fish as the Rat-L-Trap. They must be trolled far behind the boat, just like the Rat-L-Trap, in order to get down to the fish.

If you try this technique, do your- self a favor and spend the extra money for ball-bearing swivels. At two or three dollars each, they work well to keep your line from twisting. Spoons can twist a line beyond belief in a very short time without a swivel. Cheaper swivels only delay the twisting. W e used Sampo ball-bearing swivels on this trip, and they allowed us to troll for several hours with only minimal line twist.

As we trolled along the river channel, we would vary the speed of the boat. The faster we trolled, the shallower the lures and spoons run, because the pressure of the water on the line pushes the lures toward the surface. Speed has an almost opposite effect on big-lipped crankbaits and diving baits. To a degree, the faster you troll, the deeper these baits want to run. The speed we trolled was just above idle on our boat. Different boats and engines idle at different speeds, so you will need to vary your speed to find the right depth.

When trolling like this, multiple hook-ups are the rule rather than the exception. Hybrids travel in schools, and if you troll past or through them, every line in the water will often be hit. And, we do mean “hit.” A good rodholder or a firm grip on a hand-held rod is needed to prevent rods from leaving the boat. It almost seems like these fish purposely hit a lure while going the opposite direction.

Another boat was trolling the river channel in the same area, and as he passed the stretch where we had just trolled, he hooked up. That meant that if there was a school of fish, it was not necessarily moving fast, so we turned and fell in behind him to troll the same stretch again.

We worked this area over, trolling back and forth several times, but the one fish we watched being caught was it. The school had moved, so we began trolling downstream again.

Fifteen minutes later we had trolled to the area of Marker 6.6. It seemed that we could have trolled like this all day, as we marked shad schools and bigger fish.

W e were looking for some action as we scanned the horizon. We could see a small group of birds — seagulls — hovering, dipping and diving over one area on the flat north of the channel back around Marker 7.3. Remembering the advice we received, we quickly pulled in our two lines and  headed to the birds. Locals call this “jump fishing,” because we jumped to get to the fish.

The surface was alive with action, as fish were striking and boiling in an area about the size of a football field. But as quickly as it started, the action stopped, and the birds were left hovering over a calm area of water. We never even got a bait in the water.

Thinking we had spooked the fish with the engine, we planned our next jump more carefully.

A few minutes later, the water about 100 yards from us erupted again as hybrids, some of them coming out of the water, attacked a school of shad.

This time we did a fast idle to them, shutting the engine off before we reach the school. The boat continued toward the school, and we came into Rat-L-Trap range of the frenzy.

Both of us chunked our baits as far as we could and retrieved them back through the school. But once again, as quickly as the action began, it stopped, and we did not get a hook-up.

Whenever we brought a lure through the school, we could get multiple hits, almost like the fish were swiping at the bait. But the fish would get off, leaving the lure to be hit by yet another feeding fish.

It may be my imagination, but it seems that the schooling fish you catch in their feeding frenzy will fight harder than the ones you catch trolling. Perhaps the feeding fish are just hyper in all the action, and that makes them fight even harder. Whatever the reason, hybrids are hard-fighting fish.

The water here was 10 to 12 feet deep, and some old tree stumps were scattered in the area, visible just under the surface.

We decided to try yet another tactic on the hybrids, one that works well for us on Allatoona. We headed on downstream in the river channel to the area where Spring Creek merges with the Flint River arm and the Chattahoochee arm.

The river channel here is very deep, and the edge is steep in places. Some deep standing timber is visible on a good depthfinder in the bend close to Marker 2.8. Both baitfish and larger fish were marking in and on the timber edge.

We each put on a 1-oz., silver Hopkins jigging spoon as the boat moved over the timber edge. Using the trolling motor we were able to keep the boat over the marked fish.

I dropped a spoon straight down to the bottom and cranked up two turns to start vertical jigging. Jim sent a spoon about half-way down and began vertical jigging.

The timber limbs here claimed a couple of our spoons before we could locate a fish. The first few fish to come into the boat were crappie, one of them weighing almost two pounds. It turned out that these tree tops were holding crappie, not hybrids.

But, that is not always the case. Hybrids can be caught with this pattern, it is simply a matter of finding the bait, finding the hybrids, and getting that jigging spoon down to them.

From the channel ledges we went to the two springs located in the Flint River arm around Marker 11.1. Jack Wingate had told us how to find the springs. When you come out the channel from Wingate’s, turn to the right in the marked river channel. Stay along the shoreline, and when the river channel turns right at about Marker 10.8 and heads toward the middle of the lake, you can see two distinct patches of waterline timber on the left. The first patch on the left has a spring that locals call Mud Spring. The spring is located just east of the center of the stand of timber.

The second spring is located at the far east end of the second patch of timber and is situated between the two largest waterline stumps on the east side. Both springs are in 30 to 35 feet of water, surrounded by depths of 15 to 18 feet, and they are easy to locate with a depthfinder. Editor’s Note: All springs in Seminole are open to fishing after October 31. Between May 1 and October 31, five springs in the lake serve as fish refuges and may not be fished. The refuge springs are marked as off limits. Check the fishing regulations for details.

Here we used jigging spoons again, dropping them to the bottom and vertically jigging them in the deepest part of the spring. Once again the fish simply were not interested in eating, although we marked both schools of shad and larger fish under- neath them.

Be aware that stripers also love to hang in and around these springs, and catching one is not just possible, but probable in November and December.

We turned to our trolling pattern again and kept the boat moving down- stream along the edge of the river channel. The water is much deeper here making us put the Rat-L-Traps even farther behind the boat.

We tried a 1-oz. trolling weight tied about three feet ahead of one of the ‘Traps. This allowed the bait to get deeper with less line out. While it will catch fish, it does not produce like a naked bait. Perhaps the weight spooks them, or even limits the action of the lure.

Hybrid fishing on these patterns will be hot on Lake Seminole right on through December. The fish will be schooling on the flats or on the edges of the river channels, wherever baitfish are found. Begin by trolling the river channel, while looking for signs of diving birds. The river channel fishing is mostly slow but steady. Jumping the birds can be a heart-stopping affair.

And while we tried a number of lures, a good silver, blue-back Rat-L- Trap will work as well as anything else. It allows you to troll and then run to the birds without having to re-tie lures or change rods.

Jack Wingate’s initial advice to us on this October trip was to come back in November and December. He actu- ally told us we would be hard pressed to catch any hybrids until the first cold front came through. With a strong cold front blowing through in late October, the fishing for hybrids will be hot in November!

Wingate’s Lodge is a great a place to stay and to get the latest information on hybrids. This place just seems to get better with time, and has added some very nice, new accommodations. Give the hybrids a try out of Wingate’s on Lake Seminole in November — when the fish are schooling, you can literally wear out your arm catching them.

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