Topwater Time On Seminole With Jack Wingate

This shallow, weed-infested lake is topwater heaven in the spring.

Les Ager | March 30, 1989

“Man, I love to catch them ole fish on topwater. You know the old timers didn’t fish with any of this underwater business. Except for a Hawaiian Wiggler, all they used were topwater baits. When you heard one of them say he ‘got a rise,’ that’s exactly what he meant. The fish had to rise up to get it.”

As he spoke, I could visualize the action as a big largemouth eased up behind an old cedar topwater plug and then, quick as a wasp, inhaled the plug with the bucketful of water and weeds, turned, and headed down into the weeds to devour the fake offering.

The speaker was none other than Jack Wingate himself. And as he worked the topwater bait and discussed his favorite kind of bass fishing, there was much excitement in his voice. If anybody knows about topwater bassin’ on Seminole, Jack is the one.

Jack was born and raised in the area that is now Lake Seminole. When the lake was impounded, fishing and working combined naturally with Jack, who operates Wingate’s Lunker Lodge on its shore.

Seminole is a much shallower lake than most other Georgia reservoirs, and this is no doubt part of the reason it can be such a topwater hotspot. The aquatic weeds that are so widespread offer bass plenty of cover in the shallow water where they are susceptible to topwater baits.

Although you’re subject to catching bass on topwater almost year-round on this south Georgia lake, spring is the peak season of topwater activity. Bass are not only active and feeding in shallow water then, but spawning males will often attack a topwater plug in an effort to defend their nest or a tightly packed school of young bass fry.

The areas where spawning activity is under way are not difficult to spot in many areas of the lake. The sandy-bottomed areas with little or no underwater vegetation attracts spawning bass. Those areas really stand out in the otherwise green expanses of weeds. Some of these spots may be no larger than a few feet in diameter, while others may be several acres. They are often in water shallower than much of the surrounding vegetated areas. Often, the zone from the shoreline out to a depth of 2 feet or so is devoid of weeds, and if the bottom is sandy, it will attract bass in the spring.

While an accurately cast worm is the preferred bait for bedding bass, when conditions make it difficult to spot the beds, a topwater bait is ideal. In the early morning, before the sun has risen high enough to make spotting individual beds possible, it is obviously an ideal time for a topwater bait. But on days when the sun doesn’t appear at all, or when the wind chop reduces visibility, a topwater bait can still produce when the worm fishing is really inefficient.

Jack says the key during this early spring period is to position your boat over the weeds and work your topwater bait along the edges and through the centers of these sandbars. Not only will bedding bass be found there, but bass cruise these areas when they’re not bedding, looking around the edges for an easy meal or perhaps anticipating spawning later in the spring.

“Right now most of the bedding activity is occurring away from the rivers on the flats of Spring Creek and the sloughs, “Jack explained. “One of my favorite spots is the area within the Waterfowl Refuge. It’s west of a spot called Mule Lot, sometimes called the Fire Break. They got these names before the lake was impounded. The flats here between Spring Creek and the Flint River have sandbars scattered all over.”

The topwater action around these spawning areas can certainly be good, but if you can believe it, this isn’t the best time. The best action actually occurs later in the spring after most spawning is completed. This is an in-between time on Seminole. Spawning activity is over, but the water hasn’t really reached the undesirable hot temperatures that will occur later in the summer.

And the vast expanses of almost impenetrable weeds have not reached their full growth. The weeds provide cover and cool shade in the shallow water where the bass can hide in the ambush for unsuspecting prey.

These areas are easy to find. Jack suggests looking for shallow flats that border deep water. The weedlines along these flats will hold fish the best, but bass are likely to be caught almost anywhere weeds meet open water.

“From about the first of May right on through the summer, the Indian Mound is about the best for topwater action,” said Jack, talking about the point between the junction of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers. “There’s plenty of deep water nearby, and the big flats there have a lot of sandbars interspersed with weeds. One of the weeds there is called pepperweed. That stuff really attracts. the bass, and if you can find some, even just a little patch, keep going back, and you’ll find that it produces bass every day.”

Most of the weeds in Seminole are hydrilla, an non-invasive plant that has choked much of the lake with extremely dense growth during the summer months. The pepperweed that he described is a native plant, much less abundant, with fewer, broader leaves and not nearly so dense.

Jack Wingate with a Seminole bass caught the old-fashioned way—on a topwater bait twitched over the weed beds.

“My favorite topwater bait is Bang-O-Lure by Bagley,” Jack continued. “I like a 5 1/4-inch one with a spinner on the back, but some days the fish just won’t come up for the one with the spinner. Then I fish the next smaller size, a 4 1/2-inch, without a spinner. Before Bagley came out with the Bang-O-Lure, a broke-back Rebel was the standard bait.”

Jack fishes topwater baits on a 6-foot casting outfit spooled with 12-lb. test. That’s a little light for some of Seminole’s big largemouths, especially when they bore in the thick weeds, but the lighter line is an aid to casting the relatively lightweight topwater baits he prefers.

While I don’t think I’ve ever met a bass fisherman who didn’t enjoy catching bass on a topwater lure more than on any other plug, most of them spend little time fishing it because they think it’s not a productive bait most of the time. But Seminole is just the place for some long-overdue topwater action.

As Jack put it, “I stock more than 20 different brands of topwater baits at my place, and it’s because the bass want them.”


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