Shallow Winter Bass At Lake Eufaula

Try shallow crankbaits and worms in the sloughs for thin-water February bass.

Don Baldwin | February 21, 2005

Allen Burkhalter said that in February many anglers will still fish deep. This month, he’ll be looking in shallow, grassy areas for big, pre-spawn females cruising the flats.

As the big bass boat glided silently through the dead stems of the lily pads that poked sporadically through the surface of the water, we could see the thick beds of hydrilla covering the bottom of the shallow lagoon. The water was only a couple of feet deep, and once in a while we’d see a nice bass as it flashed out of a shallow pocket into the cover of the grass. There were blue and white herons everywhere, and they were stabbing fat shad and having a feast. It was a warm, sunny afternoon, with the high expected to be around 70 degrees. Sounds like a nice bit of winter fishing on a Florida lake or maybe even Lake Seminole in south Georgia, right?

In fact we were on Lake Eufaula (or Walter F. George if you prefer) on the Chattahoochee River chain about 40 miles south of Columbus. I was fishing with Allen Burkhalter, a 54-year-old Columbus resident, who is a Eufaula regular and a successful tournament angler. Allen has been fishing Eufaula for most of his life, and he has seen the lake change a great deal in the last few years.

“Eufaula is a lake in transition,” says Allen. “Over the last couple of years the hydrilla has begun to take over, and the bass are changing their normal patterns and are beginning to relate to the grass.”

Anyone who has fished Eufaula to any extent will tell you that the best place to catch bass on the lake has always been on the ledges. Eufaula is relatively shallow on average, and the river and creek channels form fairly sharp ledges in the middle of large flats. Bass have always related to those ledges, particularly in the winter, and the best way to catch them has been to crank the edges of the channels with deep-diving crankbaits or by vertical jigging with a spoon.

Allen tells us that, with the introduction of the grass, the pattern is changing, and the bass have begun to move into the shallows to feed on the shad that are using the grass for cover. This pattern is particularly effective when there is a string of warm days in the depth of winter. We were fishing during the middle of January and a bit early for the really big fish to be moving in, but there were some chunky 2- and 3-lb. largemouths in the shallow weeds. Allen thinks that there are some “resident” bass in the grass that stay there pretty much year round. But in February, the big females will begin to move up in preparation for the spawn.

“If the weather warms up for three or four days in a row in February, the big fish will move in,” says Allen. “I watch for it every year like a kid waiting for Christmas. It can be some of the best fishing you’ll have on Eufaula any time of the year.”

Allen says that for the conditions to be right, the nighttime temperatures need to stay at least in the high 40s for a few nights in a row. That helps the shallow water, that warms during the day, to stay warmer overnight, resulting in higher temperatures overall. The day we were out in January, the surface temperatures in the shallow coves were a full five or six degrees higher than on the main lake. That variance in water temperature can make quite a difference in fish activity.

Allen uses a pushpole to get to extra skinny water where a lot of anglers won’t go.

We launched the boat at the Lake Point Resort Ramp and were at our first stop in five minutes. Allen motored slowly under the Hwy 431 bridge and pulled into a cove on the left side just upstream. I’ll label that Spot No. 1 for reference in the table of GPS coordinates on the next page.

As we moved the boat back into a pocket, Allen handed me a rod with a small crankbait attached to the end of the line. “These baits are designed to run only a foot or two deep, so we will be able to fish them just above the tops of the grass,” said Allen. His crankbaits of choice are the Thunder Shad baits which are made locally. Allen uses models 103 and 306 primarily because they run shallow and have great action when moved slowly. His favorite colors include Citrus Shad #07 and Blue Silver #02. The baits are offered on casting outfits with medium-action rods and reels spooled with 17- to 20-lb. test line.

“I use the heavy line because it can help get a good fish out of the weeds, and it doesn’t make much difference in the presentation of the lure under these conditions,” said Allen.

And presentation is the key in this type of fishing. “If you crank the bait as you normally would you’ll stay hung up most of the time,” say Allen. “The bottom is thick with grass, and if a bait gets down in it, you’ll pull gobs of the stuff back to the boat.”

Allen made a long cast and brought the bait back to the boat with a pump-and-crank motion. “It is about the same motion you would use if fishing a Carolina-rigged worm,” says Allen. “Drag the bait to you with a slow pull of the rod and then take up the slack with the reel. Continue the pull-and-crank motion all the way back to the boat.”

It is important not to pull the bait too fast for two reasons — the inevitable hang-ups we mentioned earlier, and the fact that the fish are still pretty lethargic in the cold water. The action of the bait is sufficient to cause the fish to strike even when moved very slowly through the water. Allen says that strikes are generally fairly subtle when fishing in this fashion. Since you are moving the bait so slowly, the fish can suck the bait down and not have to hit it on the fly.

“You’ll usually just feel the bait get heavy,” says Allen. “And you don’t have to set the hook, just lift the rod tip and start cranking. The treble hooks will usually do the job.”

One trick that Allen uses which he feels increases his strike rate is that he replaces the front hook on the crankbait with a red treble. He feels that that little extra flash of red can make a good bit of difference, especially when fish are slow to feed.

Fishing with crankbaits and worms, he’ll begin to throw a few fish into the boat.

If you prefer, a small spinnerbait can also produce in the shallow coves, but Allen feels that they are a little harder to fish.

“Since the spinnerbait sinks when it hit the water it is hard to move it slowly enough to cause the fish to strike and still keep it out of the grass,” says Allen. “I feel that the buoyancy of the crankbait keeps it up better and makes it a lot easier to fish under these conditions.”

Winding the boat through the stems, we continued to fan cast the “stem bed” and make the slow pump-and-wind retrieve. Within a few minutes, both of us connected with chunky largemouth in the 2-lb. class.

As we moved deeper into the cove and the water became even more shallow, Allen shifted to a Texas-rigged worm. The worm was also offered on heavy line and had a 1/16-oz. bullet weight in front of it.

“When the water gets down to between a foot and 18-inches deep, it is pretty difficult to fish the crankbait,” said Allen. “When it is that shallow I swim a six-inch, curly-tail worm just under the surface. This draws just about as many strikes as the crankbait and is a lot easier to fish in the extremely shallow water.”

Again, be sure to move the bait slowly. The bass aren’t going to do much chasing in the cold water. A spring lizard rigged and fished in the same manner can also be a great choice, Allen tells us.

One of the most important pieces of equipment on board for this type of fishing is a good pushpole. Allen keeps two aboard so his partner can help push the boat through extremely shallow spots.

“Lots of times, once you get over the shallow entrance to a cove the water gets deeper and forms a little lake,” say Allen. “If you can get the boat over the hump, you can find some very fishable water.”

Of course if the dam is opened and the water level drops while you are in the cove, you could find yourself in for a long night, so pay attention to generating schedules.

We tried several locations on our trip, which are listed with their GPS coordinates in the table attached. While these are some of Allen’s favorites, the specific location is not as important as the type of cover. There are literally hundreds of spots on the lake that will produce using these tactics. And Allen tells us that up until this point there aren’t many people working the shallows in search of bass on Eufaula.

“Even when the ramp is full of tow vehicles and there are lots of boats on the water, I usually find myself all alone in the shallow coves,” says Allen. “It’s almost like fishing for untouched bass.”

So if you hear that the weather is going to warm up for a couple of days in a row this month, particularly if warm nights are forecasted, you might want to grab a few crankbaits and head down to Eufaula. The big bass are likely to be cruising the shallows and ready to provide you an excellent day of fishing. Allen tells us that this shallow-water pattern will continue to be productive right up to the spawn and can produce some extremely heavy limits of fish when the big females move in.

After some time, Allen begins to build a good limit.

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