Think Thin Water For West Point Early Spring Bass

In February, bass want to move shallow, and Frank Chester says when lake conditions allow, the fishing can be great.

Daryl Kirby | March 1, 1998


The two keepers Frank caught during our trip to West Point on February 18 were holding on very shallow wood structure in protected pockets, like this pine tree top. The lake was five feet down and old Christmas trees and other man-made brushpiles were easily visible in the backs of coves and pockets.

Half of the old Christmas tree sat above the surface, exposed like we were to the cold air and biting wind. Resting in no more than two feet of heavily-stained, 49-degree water near the shoreline, it seemed an unlikely target for a jig ‘n pig that day.

But what the heck… we had just worked a prime point near the mouth of the pocket with crankbaits and a Carolina rig without a hit. That point, located in Whitewater Creek, once produced one of those classic 25-lb. plus West Point limits that won a tournament for my partner, Frank Chester of Palmetto.

Over the years Frank has won his share of money fishing the local tournament trails, and last year he got back into bass club fishing after a taking several years off and promptly finished first in the season standings for Southside BassMasters. Frank was on the lake that miserable day because he’s a nice guy, and I had asked him to carry me to West Point to show me how he typically fishes the lake in March.

Frank pitched a blue Georgia Jig with a blue Zoom split-tail trailer into the branches of the Christmas tree, twitched it a few times, then reared back and set the hook on a solid 3-lb. bass.

We were on West Point February 18. Everyone knows that this time of year the smart anglers will pick their days to head to the lake, which is why Frank and I had watched the weather and decided to fish that Wednesday after seeing a forecast of 60 degrees and sunny. At 12:30 p.m. as Frank boated that bass, we were still waiting for the temperature to break 50, the low clouds to show a hint that there was a sun, and the wind to lay long enough for us to thaw out just a bit.

Frank’s bass and several others the rest of the day showed that even when conditions aren’t great, in late February and March anglers should always try fishing shallow water. On a cold day when the water temperature isn’t rising, the fishing will be tough, as it was for us. But if you find a bass in very shallow water, that bass is probably there because it wants to eat, unlike the bass that are suspended over deeper water.

Pick a warm, sunny day this time of year, and the action can be fantastic in the shallow water in the backs of coves and pockets. On a warm day, the first thing an angler will notice, if he’s in the right pocket, will be baitfish. Look for shad jumping or dimpling the surface.

There is one factor that will quickly kill the shallow-water bite at West Point, and that is when the lake level falls quickly – more than a foot during a two-day period. All bass prefer to keep their fins wet, so in addition to pointing out some prime shallow-water spots for West Point bass in March, Frank also showed me some excellent points near deeper water where bass will hold when water levels drop or they just aren’t in the mood to feed in two feet of water.

On the day we fished the surface temperature ranged from 49 to 52 degrees. Until it warms into the middle 50s and stays there, Frank likes to use a jig ‘n pig, a small diving crankbait like the Norman Little N or Deep Wee R, and a small 1/4-oz. Rat-L-Trap. Once the surface temperature rises into the middle 50s, Frank’s favorite West Point lure is a chartreuse spinnerbait with gold Colorado blades, unless the water is muddy – then he will use a big chartreuse-painted willowleaf blade. Throughout March he will also continue to throw the other baits that are already producing bass on West Point, and he will add a buzzbait to his arsenal toward the middle of the month.

After launching at Yellow Jacket Access, Frank headed into Halfmoon Creek and stopped at the riprap along the Whitaker Road bridge.

“I caught two 4-pounders here last week,” Frank said as he made a cast and slowly bounced a jig down the rocks.

Riprap is an excellent location for early spring bass on all Georgia reservoirs. The large, white rocks soak up sunlight and warm the water a tad more, which attracts baitfish and bass. The riprap didn’t produce, but, on the right-hand bank after going under the bridge, Frank got our first bite of the morning.

“This little pocket has lots of good stumps, even out here toward the boat where you can’t see them,” he said.

It was a stump we could see, just a few feet off the bank in about one foot of water, that produced a strike on Frank’s jig ‘n pig. Unfortunately, the line snapped on the hookset, probably after getting damaged from fishing the riprap. It’s a good idea to re-tie often when fishing rocks or heavy brush. The bass, about 14 inches long, jumped clear out of the water several times after breaking the line as it tried to get rid of the Georgia Jig.

Next, Frank wanted to show me some good locations in Whitewater and Thompson creeks, which he said will only get better as the water, hopefully, begins to warm into the middle and upper 50s during the next couple of weeks.

Frank said a good early-morning stop is some riprap in the back of a pocket in Whitewater. Heading into Whitewater Creek you make a hard right turn just before the mouth of Thompson Creek at Whitewater Access. Continue up Whitewater several hundred yards until just before WWC6 buoy and make a hard left into the pocket where you will find riprap lining the back of the cove.

“If the water is warm enough, this is a good place to throw a buzzbait first thing in the morning,” Frank said. “It gets even better late in the month and in April when the shad spawn. You can come in here then and see fish swirling and shad jumping all along the rocks.”

Even if the bass aren’t ready to bust a buzzbait on top, the rocks in the back of this pocket are likely to produce a bite or two on a spinnerbait, crankbait or jig.

Next Frank took me farther into Whitewater to the deep pocket on the right about halfway between markers 7 and 8. There’s still some timber toward the back, and plenty of shallow stumps that will be prime targets for a slow-rolled spinnerbait.

Frank’s third and final location in Whitewater was beyond the Antioch Road bridge. Just past the bridge on the right there are two shallow pockets, then a narrow, deep pocket that is fed by a small creek. In the back of this pocket there is a slight channel and the surrounding flats contain lots of stumps that should be fished thoroughly with a spinnerbait. It would be a good idea to try a jig ‘n pig around the stumps before leaving this prime location.

Next Frank showed me a good pocket toward the back of Thompson Creek (also known as Turkey Creek). After passing marker TC4 the creek bends to the right and the pocket is on the right side. The back of the pocket has some good stumps, plus the flat often has grass that will be flooded when the lake level is near full pool. A spinnerbait, and then later in the month a floating worm, are good choices in this shallow cove.
Frank then headed back out to the Chattahoochee River channel and down the lake, under the railroad trestle bridge. The first big pocket on the left bank after going under the bridge when heading down the lake has what is locally known as “Rose Garden Point,” Frank said, because in the spring and summer wild roses will grow along the bank. Heading in the pocket, this point is at the mouth on the left-hand bank. On the opposite bank across the cove you will see a dirt woods road that comes to the shore.

On a less-than-ideal day for bass fishing, two chunky keepers like these are a pretty good showing at West Point, which is known for being a very good bass lake, but one that can be very tough when conditions aren’t right.

First try the back of this pocket with a spinnerbait, where you will find some stumps and even some flooded grass if the lake is up. Before leaving, try “Rose Garden Point” with a crankbait or a Carolina-rigged lizard. This point is a prime March location to try if you can’t find bass in the shallows in the backs of the pockets. At the end of the point near the breakline there are some good stumps. Bass that are staging before moving to the pockets, or that have slid back out because of dropping lake levels, love to hold on points like this at the mouths of creeks and pockets.

Next Frank headed farther down the lake to just past the Hwy 109 bridge. To the left after going under Hwy 109 is Pyne Road Park, a large park with softball fields and a swimming beach that is impossible to miss.
“I don’t know why, but this bank always has some fish on it this time of year,” Frank said he pulled up to the bank on the north end of the park area.

We fished the straight bank back toward Hwy 109, around the rocky point, into the pocket that contains the Pyne Road Park ramps, then back out along the riprap on the other side of the pocket. I was throwing a 1/4-oz. Rat-L-Trap while Frank tried a small crankbait.

“I always do better on this lake with the small Rat-L-Trap,” he had told me after giving me a 1/4-oz. gold-colored Trap to use. “Every other lake I use a 3/8-oz. or 1/2-oz., but here the smaller one catches more fish.”
Near the rocky point I caught a small hybrid that hit the Trap in just a couple of feet of water right on the wind-blown shore of red clay and rocks. I had several other hits on the Rat-L-Trap in this area, and all were right on the bank.

I was pumping the Trap during the retrieve by lifting the rod tip and then letting the bait fall back to the bottom. As is typical this time of year, the hits came right on the first fall of the bait as I started the retrieve in very shallow water. While protected pockets back in the creeks are prime areas where you can find warmer water, wind-blown banks can also be good for two reasons – the warmer, upper surface layer of water is pushed by the wind up against the banks, and baitfish are also pushed by the wind and wave action.

Next Frank showed me a couple of areas in Wilson Creek. At the mouth of Wilson on the opposite side from Pyne Road Park we fished the first pocket on the right heading into the creek. A brushpile in the back of the pocket produced a solid strike on a jig but no hook-up. We then headed toward the back of Wilson Creek, but the water was very muddy.

We called it a day and were headed out of Wilson, but then decided to stop and fish a couple of pockets on the back side of Pyne Road Park. A brushpile in two feet of water produced Frank’s second solid keeper of the day, another bass in the 3-lb. range that hit a jig.

Our tally for a short day of fishing was two keepers and one short bass in the boat, the small hybrid, plus a couple of hits and fish that got off before we got them to the boat.

West Point is currently about 5 feet below full pool. For now, while the lake is down, the smaller pockets closer to the mouths of the creeks are better bets. Find some wood in the back of the pocket, pitch a jig ‘n pig to it, and you’ll probably be showing your bait to a West Point bass. On your way in and out of the pockets, work the banks with small Rat-L-Traps and diving crankbaits.

Hopefully, the corps will start to let the lake fill and keep it there, which is crucial for a successful spawn, and it certainly doesn’t hurt the bass fishing either. A full lake in March means anglers can find lots of stumps, blowdowns, and button bushes in the backs of the coves and pockets – where bass are just waiting to pounce on a spinnerbait.

Frank Chester with one of the two 3-pounders he caught at West Point on February 18.


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