Sinclair Bass On Mayfly And Shad Spawn

Mark Denney shows how to catch Sinclair bass in May.

Roy Kellett | October 1, 2007

Ahhh, springtime in Georgia… is there a more glorious (or fickle) thing on earth? Temperatures had been in the upper 70s and early 80s for two weeks, but when I had arranged to meet Mark Denney, of Bonaire, at Lake Sinclair, it had been cold and windy for three straight days. It had been just enough to knock the bass in the head and send them scurrying for deep water.

However, I figured if anyone knew how to catch fish on Sinclair under these conditions, it was Mark, who currently ranks at the top of GON’s Individual Power Rankings. Mark fishes several divisions with the American Bass Anglers. He’ll fish a few tournaments on the Bassmasters Weekend Series and the Southern Opens, too. Mark has also qualified to fish the Triton Gold tournament, an event at Tennessee’s Old Hickory Lake, not far from Mark’s hometown of Germantown, Tenn.

Mark’s move to Georgia was circuitous. He has served active duty in the U.S. Air Force for close to two decades, with stints in Massachusetts and Montana before he was transferred to Robins Air Force Base 14 years ago.

As I stood on the dock at Little River Marina watching traffic go up and down Highway 441, I saw Mark come under the bridge, idling toward me in his Thermacell-wrapped Triton boat, the chocolate-milk-colored water roiling and splashing from beneath the boat.

“You made it,” he smiled as I stepped on the deck, and we headed back toward one of Mark’s favorite spots for May: the chunk-rock point on the opposite side of the bridge to the right, behind Georgia Power Co.’s Plant Branch.

With the sudden cold surge and the water conditions, I had no idea what to start the day with as Mark flung a firetiger-colored No. 7 Shad Rap toward the rocks. I thought momentarily about a spinnerbait, but I wasn’t sure when Mark reassured my line of thinking.

“I was hoping they would bite a spinnerbait today if we get a little wind,” he said.

I figured he knew way better than I did, and we did have some cloud cover and a little breeze, so I reached in my tackle box and dug out a 1/2-oz. chartreuse Strike King spinnerbait with double willowleaf blades, tied it on and started making casts from the back of the boat. As we rounded the corner and started down the rip-rap bank paralleling the 441 bridge, my spinnerbait hit a stone wall, I leaned back on the rod and felt a fish whip to the left and rocket toward the boat. I kept the pressure on and reeled as fast as I could, and when the bass jumped, Mark exclaimed, “whoa, you got him!”

And I did have him, a beautiful 4- lb. bass, perfect for a photo, jumped two or three times on the way back to the boat, and before I could reach down and lip the fish it closed its mouth so I reached over the side of the boat, grabbed the line just above the knot and lifted the bass toward me. But I did it too quick and at the wrong angle and as the tail of the bass hit the side of the boat, the hook popped free from its mouth, the fish bounced off the carpet- ed deck and I watched helplessly as the bass flipped over the gunwale of the boat and disappeared in the murky water.

“Well, the good news is he hammered it,” I laughed as Mark looked at me and grinned while I straightened the mangled wire on my spinnerbait.


After the author lost a 4-pounder at the boat, the fishing went down hill. Three straight days of cold weather didn’t help. Mark Denney (above) did catch a few small bass, but he says May is a more stable month to fish. Mark currently leads GON’s Individual Power Rankings list.

I then started taking notes, and Mark and I spent a day on Lake Sinclair as he outlined his multifaceted plan for loading the livewell with largemouths.

“The best thing about fishing Sinclair in May is you can do so many things to catch bass,” he said.

While Mark and I fished under less-than-ideal conditions, the weather will be more stable in May and something wonderful will happen on Georgia’s lakes that will put postspawn bass in a feeding mood: the shad spawn.

“Most of May, you’re looking for a shad spawn,” Mark told me as we fished. “It only lasts for a little while in the morning. When the sun gets on the water it’s pretty much over, but for that first part of the day it can be unreal.”

Most guys look for rip-rap banks or long stretches of seawall to fish during the shad spawn, but Mark looks for slightly different features.

“The rip-rap banks are good, but I like to fish chunk rock or grassbeds,” Mark said. “I feel like I catch better quality fish around these areas.”

When Mark starts the day during May, he will be fishing around the plentiful spawning baitfish, which can sound like rain splattering the water’s surface as they flip and race away from the ravages of the gaping maw of a largemouth bass.

On those mornings, Mark relies heavily on two key baits. He will throw a spinnerbait or a buzzbait. He likes blades with titanium wire because they vibrate more readily and put off more action to attract a strike.

“My favorite is a bait by Zap, a company in Ohio that makes custom spinnerbaits,” Mark instructed. “White, chartreuse, or some combination of the two are the best.”

Mark orders his spinnerbaits in large numbers from Zap, and he has consulted with the owner of the company to find the right combination of wire and blade size to increase his chances of catching bass. He says the thin, titanium wires on his spinnerbaits help create a lot of thump to attract strikes, but he says after catching a few aggressive fish, the lures can get pretty beat up.

“You catch a few big fish on a spinnerbait and they can tear it up, but it’s worth it,” Mark says.

A Pop-R is a great bait during the mayfly hatch. Mark likes a black buzzbait, saying it’s just a confidence bait for him during May. Mark orders spinnerbaits from Zap. He likes titanium wires because they put off lots of vibration. On sunny days, he’ll lean toward silver blades and on cloudy days he likes gold. But his secret on those muddy-water days is to throw painted blades.

Mark’s choice of blades on his spinnerbaits will be like a lot of anglers in May. On sunny days, he’ll lean toward silver blades and on cloudy days he likes gold. But his secret on those muddy-water days is to throw painted blades.

“Most guys don’t like fishing muddy water, but I would almost rather fish a heavy stain,” Mark said. “And under those conditions those painted blades are deadly.”

As we motored down the lake, past the front of Plant Branch, settling down and fishing a stretch of seawall across from the famous warm-water inducing hulk of a building, Mark picked up his buzzbait rod and started teaching again.

“Black is my favorite color buzzbait,” Mark explained as his lure sputtered and churned along the surface. “Most people like white, but I’m confident in black. And that’s how I think guys should fish; with colors they have confidence in.”

Mark says with either a spinnerbait or a buzzbait a little wind is key because it helps break up the profile of the lure. He made casts toward the seawall and reeled the buzzbait back to the boat for a few minutes before the water opened up beneath the lure as a “Sinclair Special,” a bass about 12 or 13 inches long inhaled it.

“You’ll catch loads of those type fish on Sinclair, but if you can find a pattern within the pattern you can get on some real quality fish in this lake,” Mark said.

When Mark begins fishing in May, he likes areas where several types of structure occur in close proximity. Seawalls, docks, grass, stumps and blowdowns may all hold fish, but where two or more of them come together, there are likely to be some big bass lurking.

“I’ll give you an example,” Mark told me. “I fished here a few days ago, and I worked a long stretch of seawall and was catching bass until I got to a spot where there was a little grassbed, and I caught a good fish. I went on down the bank, caught a couple more small fish and went back to where that grassbed was. When I got back to that grass, I ended up catching a limit of fish that weighed better than 14 pounds.”

We worked our way all the way back in the pocket, Mark boating another short fish and me watching a bass swirl right over the top of my spinnerbait but missing it. We got a few more strikes, but the bites were soft.

“When they start nipping at it like that, you can catch them on a trailer hook,” Mark explained. “I always fish a trailer hook except for on my Zap lures because the hooks on those are so long that they sit about where a trailer hook would be.”

Late in May, when the mayfly hatch begins, is one of Mark’s favorite times to fish all year. That’s when he’ll stick to shady areas all day and fling a topwater plug. Mark will try different baits, but his favorite on Sinclair is a frog-pattern Pop-R.

“During the mayfly hatch, I’ll find shaded banks with grass on them and fish them all day long,” Mark told me. “What I’m looking for is a place where I can twitch the Pop-R and let it sit.”

Mark said the erratic twitch-and-stop action will drive bass crazy, often drawing huge strikes after several seconds of stillness.

Mark will also throw a weightless Trick Worm around the same areas, jerking the worm so it appears right under the surface, letting it sink out of sight and jerking it again. He will also Texas rig the Trick Worm with a light weight and fish it that way.

“If I get the right kind of day in May, where it stays cloudy all day, I’ll stick with nothing but topwater to catch fish,” Mark said. “If the sun gets high, which it usually does, I’ll start fishing the docks.”

Mark admitted he doesn’t really like to dock fish the way most guys do on Sinclair or Oconee during the summer.

“I can flip, but I’m not the best at it, and it seems like that bite is either on or off,” Mark said. “And it can change so fast, it’s hard for me to stay on fish.”

Still, if Mark thinks fish are heading to the deep shade under boat docks, he’ll break out a long rod and start pitching a jig or a Zoom Ol Monster worm around the posts.

If the weather gets unseasonably hot, Mark will start a June pattern, digging around deep points and humps with deep-diving crankbaits or Carolina-rigged worms. He says either technique is great for warm-weather bass on Sinclair. Most of all, Mark’s advice to anglers is to fish how they are comfortable.

“You can tell me a certain crankbait in a particular color is working for you and I tie it on and nothing happens,” Mark said. “If I’m confident in what I’m doing, I’ll catch fish.”

Aside from fishing his strengths, Mark says anglers should be willing to cover water when fishing Lake Sinclair this month.

“You have to cover lots of water with the trolling motor and keep moving to locate feeding fish,” Mark said. “If the fish ain’t biting, move the boat.”

If you are fishing by yourself, it’s easy to cover long stretches of rock and seawall this month because you can nose the boat closer to the seawall and make long parallel casts. You are likely to find somewhere on Sinclair, one of his favorite springtime bass destinations.

“You can do so many things here in May,” Mark said. “It’s almost like you can reach in your tacklebox and pick something and do pretty well.”

In May on Lake Sinclair, prepare different rods with a spinnerbait, a buzzbait, a Pop-R, and maybe a jig or large worm. Find some likely looking water, and you could be in for an arm-tiring day of jerking bass to the boat.


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