Shad Lead The Way To Eufaula Bass & Hybrids
Ken Greene says birds and fishermen will be focusing on big balls of bait.
Ken Greene of Lumpkin knows a lot about cooking chicken, being the owner of three Zaxby’s restaurants, but he also knows just as much about bass fishing. Since GON is a hunting and fishing publication, we’re going to stick to the bass-fishing topics today.
Living just minutes away from Florence Marina on the north end of Lake Eufaula gives Ken an advantage most people don’t have. When you live that close to the lake, it’s easy to hit the water for a couple hours before or after work, depending on the time of year. That is probably why Ken has not only been successful recreational fishing, but he also has his share of tournament wins on Lake Eufaula. Ken and his tournament partner won both the East Alabama Team Trail and the Fishermen for the Hungry trail in August of 2007.
Ken said the key to winter fishing on Eufaula is to go when the weather is right.
“When a cold front comes through and will hold the water temperature in the mid 50s for a week or so, it will really concentrate the shad,” said Ken. “When the temperature is consistent for a few days, the fishing will be better.”
The only problem with waiting on the weather is that most people can’t just leave work to go fishing. So the good news is, even with less-than-perfect conditions, the fish on Lake Eufaula aren’t so hard to catch. On the day of our trip on the lake, the weather was warm with highs in the 70s and lows in the high 50s. I caught myself wondering why I didn’t wear shorts on the trip.
The plan was to meet at a local diner for breakfast before we hit the lake, but with the weather being unfavorable and a chance of rain in the afternoon, we were on our way to the boat ramp as soon as I’d grabbed my camera and notepad out of the truck.
“I figure we’ll skip breakfast and go straight to the lake,” Ken said as he tossed me a couple of biscuits before we loaded in the truck.
“The fishing was slow yesterday, and we might need the extra time to find the fish. There’s a cold front moving in late this afternoon, and that should help us out a lot as it gets later. If we can get some clouds and a little bit of wind on the water, it will make things easier today.”
The plan of action for the day was to target largemouth and spotted bass during the day and then try to catch some hybrid bass later in the evening as the sun went down.
Our first stop was at the mouth of Rood Creek where Ken handed me a Spotsticker jig head with a clear-smoke Zoom Finesse worm attached.
“We’ll be casting up onto the top ledge of the creek channel, and you just want to slowly bounce it down the ledge,” said Ken. “Don’t move the line with the reel, make sure you bounce it along the bottom until you get some slack. Then just reel up your slack. It gives it a better look.”
Ken picked up a Carolina rig with a Baby Brush Hog on it and started casting to the same ledge I was fishing. We were right at the mouth of the creek along the seawalls adjacent to the no-wake zone in the S-curve. Ken said there had been too many accidents in the curve, so it was marked a no-wake zone.
After about 20 minutes of fishing the ledge we put down our rods and idled into the creek through the S-turn as Ken pointed out all the channel ledges on his Lowrance.
“The bass move back into the creeks during the winter because they are following the bait,” said Ken. “We seem to get more spots in the winter because they are more aggressive than largemouths, especially during the colder weather.”
Ken said the key to finding bass in the winter is to fish the creek channels. The bass will hold on the ledges near the shallower water to ambush baitfish.
“Elbows and corners in the creek channels are the best places to look,” said Ken. “It’s pretty consistent in the winter. They like to group up in the bends or corners in the channel.”
It was obvious that Ken’s strategy worked when almost every fish we caught on our trip was in a bend or turn in the channel. When we caught one there was usually another one right behind it. One corner not far from the Hwy 431 bridge on Cowikee Creek produced two fish for Ken and another couple of bites that didn’t put fish in the boat.
As we worked the creek channels, we noticed the birds had begun to move in search of the shad. Ken said he hadn’t seen any the day before, and he thought it was still too hot for the shad to be bunched up enough for the birds.
“When it really gets cold and the water temperature stops all this fluctuating is when the shad will really group up,” said Ken. “Right now they are just in little pods, and they are kind of hard to find. But when the temperature gets right (between 55-60 degrees), the birds will be diving on huge schools of shad and make it easy to target bass and hybrids.”
We watched the birds scan the water as we made our way to another bend that had produced good fish for Ken before. Ken had many waypoints saved on his Lowrance which made it easy to find spots that produced fish previously. We idled close to the spot as Ken tried to pinpoint the exact location to drop his marker buoy. Ken explained that marker buoys make it easy to cast to the ledges. In big creek channels it can be hard to stay where you need to be, and buoys just make things easier.
“I bet the company that invented these things really loves me,” Ken joked. “It seems like I forget these things all the time.”
As we eased away from the buoy to start casting our baits to the ledges, we saw the birds weren’t just scanning anymore, but they were diving on the water for shad.
“That’s exactly what you look for right there,” said Ken. “The bass and hybrids push the shad toward the surface, and the birds see the fish flash and start diving on them.”
We dropped our slow, bottom-dragging rigs and quickly picked up our Rat-L-Traps. Ken said he always keeps a 1/2-oz. Rat-L-Trap ready to cast to schooling fish and sometimes uses a 3/4-oz. bait for longer casting. I hurriedly tied one on another rod as I watched the birds dive around us. We both made several casts before I hooked up on what pulled like a 4-lb. largemouth. As I got the fish to the boat I realized it was a spotted bass, and it was under 2 pounds. After a quick picture it was released back to the water for another day.
Ken said it didn’t really matter which color Rat-L-Trap you throw as long as it’s chrome and another color. I hooked up with a chrome body, chartreuse back, but Ken said his personal favorite is chrome and blue.
“As long as you get something in the school that looks pretty similar to a shad, most of the time you’ll get a bite,” he said.
The fun was short-lived as the shad schools disappeared, and we went back to dragging baits slowly along the bottom. Ken was still throwing the Carolina rig, and I was throwing the Spotsticker but had switched to a green-pumpkin Zoom Trick Worm.
Ken’s Carolina rig consists of a 1-oz. lead weight, which he makes at home from old muzzleloader balls, and a 3/0 hook at the end of a 24-inch leader. Ken uses Stren almost exclusively and likes 17-lb. monofilament for the main line and 14-lb. fluorocarbon for the leader. He switches his baits on the Carolina rig, saying he likes both a Baby Brush Hog and a Zoom Trick Worm.
“Sometimes they just want a smaller-profile bait,” said Ken. “You’ve got to switch it up to find what they want. Sometimes I’ll even throw a Baby Brush Hog on a Spotsticker.”
The day went on. We fished several more creek bends before seeing if rip-rap would produce any keepers. We were already close to Lakepoint Marina on Cowikee Creek, so we decided to try out the rip-rap outside of the marina before venturing on to another creek.
“A lot of tournaments have been won on this lake around this rip-rap,” said Ken. “Usually even if you can’t catch fish anywhere else, you can still catch them here.”
Ken said to cast Rat-L-Traps to the rip-rap and just reel them straight in toward the channel. If you make a pass and the Rat-L-Traps aren’t working then pull out the slow, bottom-dragging rigs. This technique worked well for Ken as he hooked up on a nice 2 1/2-lb. largemouth when he switched back to the Carolina rig.
After Ken caught the largemouth, we finished fishing the rip-rap and went back to the main lake to fish a couple of corners on the river channel before we went back in the creeks to try for some schooling hybrids. This particular river bend had some good hydrilla where we hoped a few good fish would be holding. We fished the hydrilla with the Spotsticker and Carolina rig and then went back down the same grassline to try the Rat-L-Traps.
Ken said sometimes a different bait will produce a strike on the same fish that turned down another. We ended up with one dink from the grass before we headed up to Grass Creek to try the late-evening hybrid action.
We entered the mouth of the creek and idled through a few turns until we were just below the Hwy 39 bridge. There is an old roadbed that runs through the creek a few hundred yards from the bridge, and that was our destination. Ken said it is no secret that hybrids like the area when the water temperature is right.
“When the hybrids start schooling good, this cove will be covered with boats trying to catch them,” he said.
There were already a couple of boats trying out the area, and the conditions hadn’t peaked yet. We started out throwing our Carolina rigs and Spotstickers because Ken said it didn’t get really good for hybrids until right when the sun gets down below the tree line.
We were only in the area for about 20 minutes and Ken had caught two keeper spots, and we even doubled up once. I missed one fish and threw back with the Rat-L-Trap and managed to bring in a small hybrid making the third species of fish for the day.
As the sun eased below the trees, Ken explained to me why the hybrid fishing is so popular in the winter.
“In February when they really start to run, they’ll be stacked in these creeks,” said Ken. “They’re really easy to catch with Rat-L-Traps, and you can fill a livewell in a couple hours. Last year me and a buddy came up here one evening, and you couldn’t fit another hybrid in that livewell; there were so many big hybrids. We were just two shy of our limit.”
The combined limit for hybrids, stripers and white bass is 15 per person per day and only two fish can measure more than 22 inches long.
We idled back to the mouth of Grass Creek to finish the day as the last few minutes of daylight passed. We kept casting our Rat-L-Traps hoping for a few more hybrids even though the weather wasn’t quite right yet. Ken said the hybrids will push the big schools of shad up onto the flats, and it’s just like catching them other times of the day when they are schooling. They are just more predictable late in the evening back in the creeks. The flats will vary in depth depending on how deep the channels are in the creeks. The particular flat we ended the day on varied from 2 feet up close to the bank to 8 feet before the sharp drop-off into the channel.
Ken said sometimes the fish are keyed in on the shad so much in the evening, they won’t even look at a Rat-L-Trap. Though this seldom happens, a friend of Ken’s told him a nice trick that works every time.
“He told me to just throw a 6-inch Zoom lizard weightless along the edge of the grass on the bank,” said Ken. “I don’t know what it is that makes them want it over the shad, but they will absolutely annihilate that thing!”
We didn’t have to try the lizard on the flats that afternoon, but I did hook up with a 14-inch black crappie before the sun got down. The fish ended our day with more than a dozen fish — on a slow day.
It’s easy to see how moderate weather conditions can easily win a winter tournament, or just fill a livewell if you’re looking for a good fish-fry.
There aren’t many days when you can catch four species of fish using the same methods, but right now the time is right while so many species are targeting the schools of shad in the creeks.
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