April Tobesofkee Bass With Clayton Batts

Don Baldwin | April 1, 2008

Anglers in Georgia are blessed with an abundance of excellent bass water. Many of our local reservoirs are listed among the famous when it comes to bass fishing. Lanier, West Point, Eufaula, Seminole and others are well known among bass anglers around the country, and many professional tournaments have been hosted on these great reservoirs over the years. But while these may be the most-known and written-about bass waters in the state, there are others that are virtually unknown but can provide an equally rewarding bass-angling experience. One such reservoir is Lake Tobesofkee, in Bibb County, near Macon.

Tobesofkee is managed by Bibb County. It is on the smallish side at just larger than 1,700 acres with about 35 miles of shoreline. That size has its advantages and disadvantages. Since the lake is close to the city, it has a well-populated shoreline and a lot of traffic from anglers and pleasure boaters, especially in the warm summer months. During April, however, the water is usually still a little cold for the pleasure boaters, and the fish are feeding up and headed for the bed.

April is one of the best months of the year to fish Tobesofkee in search of bass.

A few weeks ago we had the pleasure of fishing Tobesofkee with Clayton Batts, a Macon native who has been fishing the lake for about 15 years. At 25, Clayton is a pro angler on the Stren and BFL tours, but he considers Tobesofkee his home lake. He knows the habits of bass on this body of water better than most.

The bass fishing is good at Lake Tobesofkee, especially in April when aggressive bass move into the pockets. The lake is in Macon, and itʼs a small reservoir, so later in the spring and in the summer it can be hard to fish because of boaters. Nowʼs the time.

As we left the ramp at Claystone Park around 8 a.m. on a cool morning, Clayton said the bass were still well back from the spawning areas, but they were beginning to stage in brush and other structure near where they would eventually spawn in April.

“This early in the year, while the water temp is still relatively cold, the best place to start is around brush in 8 to 10 feet of water,” said Clayton. “And a great place to find brush is near the ends of docks.”

Clayton said a dead giveaway is a dock with lights over the water and rodholders attached. Crappie fishermen plant brush around the ends of their docks to attract and hold fish. Largemouths like to hang out in the brush as well, and good brushpiles will almost always hold a bass or two.

We worked the ends of several docks with small crankbaits and Texas-rigged worms and soon had a couple of respectable largemouths in the boat.

“While you can generally find bass in the brush year-round, things will change as we move into April,” said Clayton.

For prespawn bass, the best place to start is around brush in 8 to 10 feet of water, and Clayton said a great place to find brush is near the end of docks. A dead give- away to finding brush is a dock with lights over the water and rodholders attached.

Early in April, with rising water temperatures, the bass will begin moving into short pockets to look for bed- ding areas, Clayton said. At first the bass will move right up next to the banks and aggressively feed on baitfish in the shallow pockets.

“In early April you can catch bass in as little as a foot of water, right up next to the bank,” said Clayton. “I like to work the banks quickly and cover a lot of water.”

Clayton said that, while he works baits with a fast retrieve, the action of the retrieve isn’t all that important in early April. The fish are so aggressive that if you get the bait near them, they are likely to hit it. If the pocket is holding fish, you can work the bank and sometimes catch several bass on successive casts.

Clayton’s go-to bait in early April is a Picasso 3/8-oz. spinnerbait with tandem Colorado blades, especially if the water is dingy. White or white with chartreuse are favorite color combinations, and he fishes the bait on 7-foot casting rods spooled with 15-lb. test line. Clayton dresses the bait with a white trailer and always uses a trailer hook.

Usually with the spinnerbait tied on, Clayton enters a pocket and moves down the bank on the trolling motor. He keeps the boat in motion and covers a lot of water in a hurry. The spinner- bait is cast right up next to the bank, and the retrieve is started as soon as the bait hits the water.

“If a bass is in the area, he’ll hit the bait pretty quickly,” says Clayton. The key is to keep the boat and bait moving and work a lot of water. The fish will be in the shallows eager to spawn, and they are usually feeding aggressively in early April. Strikes on the fast-moving baits can be explosive. In addition to the spinnerbait, Clayton likes to throw small crankbaits along the banks as well. A small lipless bait like a Rat-L- Trap can be very productive, as well as small shallow-running crankbaits. Clayton likes the Cedar Shad and Smokin’ Shad made by Stanford Lures.

Clayton works the Rat-L-Trap with a yo-yo action; ripping the bait off the bottom and then allowing it to flutter down. This action resembles a fleeing baitfish and is great with aggressive bass. The small-lipped crankbaits are fished in the same areas but a little more slowly, allowing them to dig along the bottom. Clayton usually works the crankbaits early in the day and then goes to the spinnerbait once the sun gets high.

Early in the month the bass will be feeding aggressively in preparation for the spawn. Clayton works fast-moving baits like spinnerbaits and small crankbaits like the Stanford Lures Cedar Shad or Smokinʼ Shad along the banks in as little as a foot of water to tempt hungry fish. Jigs and Texas-rigged Big Bite Bio-Bait worms are also effective in brush.

If the bass aren’t cooperating in the shallows, Clayton moves out a bit and fishes the first brushpile or other structure he can find.

“Sometimes during the first part of the month, if the temperature drops slightly, or a front comes through, the bass will back off and bury down in the nearest cover,” said Clayton. “When that happens, I change to soft plastic or a jig to work the brush.”

Clayton chooses Texas-rigged lizards or worms to probe the brush, mostly using dark colors. He suggests when fishing structure, the bait should be moved slowly and kept in contact  with the brush as long as possible. He uses Big Bite Bio-Bait lizards and worms in dark colors like sour grape, junebug and green pumpkin. He fishes the baits on as light a weight as possible for a natural action.

By the middle of the month, many of the bass should be on the bed. The key is an increase in water temperature that is sustained over a few days.

“Once the water temp reaches the mid 60s, some of the bass in the pockets should have moved onto the beds,” said Clayton. “Look for sandy flats in 5 feet of water or less, and you are likely to find the big females sitting on a hollowed-out spot and guarding the nest.”

If the water is clear, the bass and beds should be easy to spot, but in cloudy water things become a lot more difficult. Clayton said when the water is cloudy he just follows his instincts and thoroughly fishes areas that he knows typically hold bedding fish.

When the water is clear, however, the game changes, and the angler becomes more of a stalker. Clayton cruises the shallow flats slowly with the trolling motor searching for the beds. When he finds one, he casts his bait beyond the bed and works it slowly back until it is sitting right in the bed. He pays close attention to how a bass acts when the bait is in the bed.

“If the big female swims well off from the bed, she is very spooky and not likely to return and strike the bait,” said Clayton. “If that happens, it is best to move on and come back to the bed later when the fish has settled down. Chasing a spooky bass can waste a lot of time.”

If, however, the bass circles the bed and stays near it even when the bait is sitting there, she is very likely to come back and attack the bait in order to get it out of the bed, according to Clayton.

He suggests you leave the bait perfectly still until the bass gets back to the bed, and then twitch it slightly to coax the strike. While this type of fishing requires a great deal of patience, it can be very exciting and productive when done properly.

For his bed-fishing arsenal, Clayton chooses a 3/8-oz. Picasso jig in white if the water is clear, or a black- blue combination when the water is cloudy. The jigs are tipped with a matching Big Bite YoMamma trailer. Another favorite is a Lucky Craft Pointer suspending jerkbait. The jerk- bait is worked to the bed just like the jig and then allowed to suspend over the bed until the big female returns. At that point usually a slight twitch or two is all that is required to draw a strike. Texas-rigged lizards in the same color combinations are also often effective. Clayton fishes them with a very light bullet weight (as small as 1/32-oz.) to allow a light, fluid presentation. If things really get tough and the bass just won’t cooperate, he says that a small tube will often work when other baits won’t.

When the fish are on the bed, Clayton switches tactics and baits. He slows down with lizards, jigs and tubes. When pulled into a bed, these baits can drive a big female crazy and cause her to strike to defend her territory. Clayton said a suspending jerkbait like a Lucky Craft Pointer is also very effective on bedding fish.

Clayton said the action will be pretty strong all through the month of April. Not all bass go on the bed at the same time, and by the middle to latter half of the month prespawn, postspawn and bedding fish should be in the areas near the flats.

Water temperature is one of the most important factors affecting bass behavior in the spring.

“Temperature differences as small as a degree or two can make a difference,” said Clayton.

He recommends you pay close attention to your temperature gauge, especially early in the month, and look for the warmest water you can find.

Don’t forget to move out a little to deeper structure when a front comes through or the surface temperature drops significantly after cool nights.

As far as locations are concerned, Clayton said almost any pocket with shallow, sandy flats should produce in April. He likes the upper end of the lake better than the lower end due to generally better water clarity, but the lake is small enough that you can try locations on both ends during the course of a day’s angling.

One of Clayton’s favorite areas is the pocket, a rather large one, under the first Mosely-Dixon Bridge on the upper end of the lake.

“This pocket has everything the bass need, and they always bed in this area,” said Clayton.

There are deep channels that give the fish easy access to the flats, and there are lots of sandy bottoms for bedding. If you try this pocket in April, you are almost certain to find prespawn and bedding fish.

There are three good parks with ramp access at Tobesofkee — Arrowhead, Sandy Beach and Claystone. There is also a full-service marina on the lake. The parks are equipped with picnic facilities, restrooms and camping areas. Call (478) 474-8770 for more information on entrance and ramp fees at the parks.

This lesser-known body of water offers some excellent bass fishing in April, and now’s a great time to fish Toby before the boating hordes invade the lake when it warms up.

Unless he is off fishing a tournament, you are likely to see Clayton stalking the pockets of Lake Tobesofkee this April.

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