Cheating Summer, Up The River For West Point Bass

Cary Chester offers a couple of September patterns for West Point largemouth.

Don Baldwin | September 1, 2003

Those of you who have been pursuing bass on Georgia lakes through the hot summer months know just how tough summertime bass fishing can be. Soaring air and water temperatures seem to combine to make the fish lethargic and action scarce. While higher-than-average rainfall amounts and lower-than-normal average temperatures have made this summer better than most, July and August are still tough when it comes to boating a bunch of bass.

Well, weʼre into September and the faithful know that the action will begin to pick up. The kids are back in school, lots of folks are thinking about antlers rather than fins, and temperatures are beginning to cool. That adds up to more opportunity to land a lunker, and West Point is a great place to do so if you know how to approach it.

Cary Chester of Palmetto knows how to approach West Point, and his record speaks for itself. The 39-year-old has been fishing tournaments since he was 11. He started with his dad, Frank, in buddy tournaments and moved on to club fishing at 18. His recent successes include placing eighth in the GBCF Top Six at Eufaula, which earned Cary a spot on the State Team and the Federationʼs Southern Regional. In that tournament he and his 11 teammates won the Southern Regional team championship.

I had the opportunity to fish West Point with Cary in early August. Even though we were ahead of the time to start his preferred late-summer, early-fall pattern, the water temperature has stayed low enough this summer that Cary was confident that we could catch some bass.

We launched the boat up the Chattahoochee River at Ringer Access and idled across Fish Creek to the point just opposite the ramp.

“Weʼll work this point until we get some daylight before moving out into the main river,” said Cary. “I usually can pick up a keeper or two holding on this shoreline cover.”

Caryʼs weapon of choice was a 1/2-oz. white double-willowleaf-blade spinnerbait by Olʼ Nelle. He topped that off with a white Zoom plastic trailer.

We worked the shoreline for about 20 minutes and caught a couple of barely-short fish, then headed out to the main river and turned north.

About 1/2-mile north of Fish Creek we pulled up on a large bed of grass that was standing above the surface right out in the middle of the river.

“This grass is in water that is two to four feet deep,” Cary said. “The water is generally stained, and bass will hold along the edges of the grassbed to feed.”

First thing in the morning Cary likes to work these beds with topwater baits and buzzbaits. His favorite topwater is a Pop-R in a shad color, and a white Olʼ Nelle buzzbait is his other choice.

“Iʼll work the grass on top until the sun gets up a little and then switch to the spinnerbait pretty quickly,”
Cary said. “The topwater bite doesnʼt generally last more than about 30 minutes.”

We didnʼt have any luck on top the morning we were out, so we moved on to the spinnerbait. Cary makes long casts with the spinnerbait and allows it to sink to the shallow bottom before beginning a slow-roll retrieve. When the bait hits something in the water like a stump or grass, he stops his retrieve momentarily and allows the bait to flutter a little before continuing the retrieve.

“Often the strikes will come just after the bait hits the grass and stops,” said Cary. “You donʼt need to pause for long.”

Cary said that there are five significant factors to consider when throwing a blade in the grass.

First, if the water is clear, move on to something else. The spinnerbait is a reaction-bite lure. It does not imitate an actual meal a bass is used to eating. On West Point, the blade works best where thereʼs some color to the water.

Cary Chester, of Palmetto, fishes with Georgiaʼs state champion club, the Southside Bassmasters, and West Point is one of his best lakes. Hereʼs a 4-lb. chunk caught up the river two weeks ago (Aug. 2003).

Second, the grass pattern works best on cloudy, overcast days. Bass are light sensitive, and the grass doesnʼt provide much overhead cover. On bright, sunny days the bass are likely to abandon the grass in favor of docks or overhangs which provide more of a shield from the bright sunlight. If youʼre working the grassbeds, Cary said that it also helps if there is a little wind roughing up the surface.

Third, look for the presence of shad in the grass. There are two ways to check. In the shallow water if there are shad in the area, youʼll often see some of them flicking the surface. Another strong indicator that there is bait around is the presence of a wading bird like a great blue heron. If there is a heron in the grassbed, then there is likely bait there too. This is particularly true if the heron is reluctant to fly away as you approach it. In either case, a good rule of thumb in the grass is “no shad — no bass.”

Fourth, fishing will be best when there is current present. Shad seem to be more active in the current. When the dam is open for generation, the shad activity definitely increases. When the shad are more active, the bass seem to be more ready to feed, and the result is more strikes.

Fifth, Cary targets isolated pieces of grass. One of the problems with river fishing is that everything looks good.

“There is so much cover in the river that it can be difficult to fish,” said Cary. “An isolated piece of grass or stump within the grass is much more likely to produce a strike than just casting into the center of a grassbed.”

We worked two large grassbeds within a half mile of each other and caught several keeper largemouths, the largest of which was about four pounds. The second grassbed was upstream of the first and more toward the eastern shoreline.

Cary ties his spinnerbaits on 17-lb. line spooled on a baitcasting reel. He uses a 6 1/2-foot, heavy-action G Loomis rod. He makes long casts and brings the bait back with the current when it is flowing. If the slow-roll retrieve doesnʼt produce, heʼll change to a yo-yo method to provide a little more action for the bait. In extremely stained water he might opt for a bright color like chartreuse over the usually-productive white.

At about 10 a.m., Cary pulled up the trolling motor and suggested that we move on to his secondary pattern — fishing the shoreline floating docks.

“Unless the day is heavily overcast, the grassbed action will be pretty much over by about 10 oʼclock,” said Cary, “then I move to my next pattern, which is skipping jigs under floating docks.”

This pattern takes advantage of the fact that bass like to avoid being in the bright sunlight, so it generally gets better as the sun gets up in the late morning, and bass are more likely to be under the docks on sunny days.

We didnʼt have to move very far to find some good-looking docks to try. There are several on the eastern shoreline near both grassbeds. For this pattern Cary chooses a rubber jig on a 3/8-oz. jig head. His favorite is a Yamamoto 5-inch D/T H-Grub in a smoke/glitter color. The jig is tied to 10-lb. test line spooled on a medium-sized spinning reel on a 6 1/2-foot G Loomis medium-heavy action rod.

While the selection of the jig is important, the more critical factor is to be able to skip the jig far under the floating dock to get to the bass holding there. Most lead-head jigs or even a tube on a jig head will skip pretty well and are likely to produce strikes if they are offered to the fish properly.

Watching Cary skip the jig 10 feet or more up under a low dock in a tight opening, it was clear that he had a lot of practice at this casting method.

“The key is making a sidearm cast almost level with the water that hits the surface just in front of the opening in the dock,” Cary said.

When done properly, the jig will skip as many as eight or 10 times before it settles and begins to sink — much like skipping a flat rock across the surface. It takes a little practice to master the technique, but the payoff is well worth the effort. Many of the top tournament anglers use baitcasters to skip, but if you havenʼt practiced, you are likely to end up with a mess of wadded-up line. A baitcaster relies on the pull of the bait to keep tension on the line throughout the cast. As soon as the bait hits the water and slows, the reel will very likely overrun and cause a nasty backlash.

A spinning reel, however, has no chance to overrun since the spool is not moving and the speed of the line simply follows the speed of the bait. If that doesn’t make sense to you just take my word for it. Youʼll find that a spinning reel is a much better choice when it comes to skipping jigs.

Once Cary skips the bait under the dock, he engages the bail and lets the jig fall to the bottom.

“I donʼt move the rod tip at all, I just let the jig fall as naturally as possible and watch the line,” says Cary. “Your only indication that you have a strike might be just a slight movement in the line. You might not feel the strike at all.”

If the line twitches or even stops momentarily on its descent to the bottom, set the hook quickly. Bites are usually subtle — and hook sets are free. Cary said that detecting the strike is almost as tough as getting used to skipping the bait under the dock. Learn to be a line watcher. It is an important element in many fishing techniques, and your catch ratio will improve if you master it.

Unlike the grass pattern, the dock pattern usually works best on bright sunny days. The docks tend to concentrate the fish as they gather under their shade to escape the bright light. We pulled a couple of nice keepers from under the docks on our trip.

A bonus when fishing up the river is the natural beauty youʼll find there. Much of the river is bordered by the West Point Wildlife Management Area, and the river bank is pristine and unobstructed. We saw plenty of water birds, osprey and their nests, and a hawk or two. When the fish arenʼt biting there is plenty to see, and the scenery is worth the trip in itself.

Cary said that he begins fishing up the river when the water temperature drops below 80 degrees. On our trip the surface-temp gauge registered 76. He says that these patterns will continue to produce through the fall until the water falls below 55 degrees.

“The fish will be in the grass through September and well into October under normal conditions,” says Cary. “And if the cold weather holds off they can be there even longer.”

So you might want to take a day off from deer hunting this fall and head up the Chattahoochee for some bass. Theyʼll be around, either in the grass or under the docks depending on the weather.

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