Weiss Bass on the Fall Flats
Michael Carter shares his late-summer, low-water bass tactics.
It was 5:30 a.m., and the mercury was still hovering around 80 degrees. The forecast for later that day called for triple-digit temperatures again. That would make five days in a row of sweltering 100-degree heat. It was mid August, and we were in the firm grip of one of the worst sustained heat waves on record for the Southeast, and there was no end in sight.
Nonetheless, we were aboard Michael Carter’s bass rig, pushing off from the ramp at the Weiss Mart Marina, near Cedar Bluff, and we were ready to give it a try.
Despite the heat, Michael had been catching some impressive sacks of Weiss bass. The extended drought this summer meant that the water level at already-shallow Lake Weiss was 5 feet below full pool, and the bass were stacking up on the ledges.
Admittedly we had an advantage. Michael, of Ider, Ala., is a full-time guide who spends a great deal of time on the water, and he knows what the bass are doing in most any condition. Even though Michael considers Guntersville his home lake, he lives about midway between Guntersville and Weiss, so he guides a lot of trips on Weiss and has been fishing the lake for most of his life.
We made a short run downstream from the ramp to a spot near the mouth of Little River.
“With the water as warm as it is (the surface-temperature gauge read 86 degrees), the fish won’t chase a bait, so we’ll need to fish slowly with baits that we can work along the bottom,” Michael said.
With the lake pulled down about 5 feet below full pool, we could see plenty of exposed cover, and many of the shallow flats and points were high and dry. Michael shut the big motor down, and we coasted to a stop in an area that he described as “The Shortcut.” It is a deep channel — or relatively deep for Weiss — that provides access to the Driftwood Campground. The channel is 7 to 10 feet deep in spots, depending on the lake level, and there are stump and rock-laden flats along the length of both sides of it.
“This is a great spot for bass year-round, but especially so in the fall,” said Michael. “We’ll start out on the tops of the ledges early, but as the sun comes up we’ll need to move closer to the edge of the drop and fish a little deeper.”
We started by making long casts over a point into water only a foot or two deep and working back toward the deeper water near the boat. Michael fished a rubber-skirted jig, and he gave me a rod rigged with a 1/2-oz. spinnerbait with a willowleaf blade. Michael cautioned to work the bait very slowly, more of a crawl than a slow roll.
After working both those baits for a while with no results, we switched to 10-inch Texas-rigged worms and fished the same areas again. The results changed almost immediately, and within a few minutes we had our first keeper in the boat. Throughout the morning we continued to get strikes and caught a couple more good fish on the worm. Not bad for fishing in a sauna.
In the first part of September, most of the bass will still be relating to the channel ledges, especially if the lake is still low. But Michael said later in September, when the air and water begin to cool off, the fishing conditions will change radically.
“The fish will move up and become a lot more aggressive and predictable during the fall,” says Michael.
With the water surface temperatures in the mid to upper 70s, the action can be fast and furious in the same spot that we were fishing on that hot August day. When that happens, Michael changes to fast-moving baits and works the points, flats and drops with a quick retrieve to find active bass.
First thing in the morning to attract surface-feeding fish, he works the top with baits like the Pop-R, an Excalibur Jimmy (similar to a Spook or Sammy) or a buzzbait. The topwater pattern is usually good for the first half-hour or so and even longer on overcast days, but once the sun is up, the topwater action will be sporadic at best.
Later in the morning Michael changes to baits he can fish down in the water column, and he fan casts the flats to locate fish.
“One of the best baits for finding bass on the shallow flats is the Rat-L Trap,” says Michael. He prefers the 1/2-oz. model in either a chrome with blue back or the Royal Shad pattern. Michael makes long casts over the points or flats and cranks the bait back to the boat with the rod tip held high to keep the bait from getting down into the stumps and rocks. If he gets a hit or two in an area, he changes to a lipped crankbait and slows the retrieve down a little, working the area more carefully. His favorite crankbait on Weiss is the Rapala DT10 in one of the natural-shad patterns. He will occasionally switch to a DT16 crankbait in areas that are slightly deeper.
Michael recommends that you crank the plug down and then work it back to the boat with a slow, steady retrieve. If you hit a stump or rock, and you will because there are literally thousands of them on the flats and points you should be fishing, stop the retrieve momentarily and let the bait suspend or rise slowly for a moment or two. Often that is when the strikes will occur — or just after you start moving the bait again.
Michael likes the Rat-L-Trap, crankbait combination because bass tend to school up and feast on bunches of shad in the fall. So if you are just fishing the relatively slow-moving crankbait, you might not find a school of fish that are concentrated and feeding on a ball of baitfish. With the Rat-L-Trap, you can cover a lot of water and maximize your chances of finding fish. Once you have found the bass, the slower-moving crankbait tends to produce more strikes on average than does a faster-moving bait. It is not unusual to catch spotted bass weighing 3 to 4 pounds in the fall. Often entire schools of fish will be of similar size and range in the 3-lb. range on average, according to Michael.
By the middle of the day, Michael will often move out to the edges of the channel.
“Sometimes during the heat of the day, the bass will move off the shallow flats and into the deeper, cooler water of the channel,” says Michael. “When they do, I like to cast a drop-shot rig just over the channel edge and work it like I would a Carolina rig.”
Michael prefers the drop-shot rig because he feels that the bait suspended 18 inches to 2 feet above the sinker, which is resting on the bottom, is more attractive than a bait that is right on the bottom. Michael baits the drop-shot rig with 4-inch soft plastics like a finesse worm or lizard. While fishing the drop shot, Michael keeps his eye on the electronics to make sure he is staying right on the channel ledge, and he also looks for balls of baitfish. Bass are strongly oriented to the movements of baitfish in the fall.
“If you don’t see any bait in the area, you are unlikely to find bass,” according to Michael.
In addition to the Little River area described above, Michael said that the log jams and blowdowns in the Chattooga River are also great spots for bassing action in the fall. While spotted bass are generally the most likely species in the spot we fished on our trip, Michael says that the wood cover in the Chattooga arm is great largemouth habitat. Michael recommends that you fish buzzbaits around the wood cover in the early morning, then try spinnerbaits close to the cover later in the day. It is not unusual to land largemouth of 5 pounds or better in that section of the lake.
As far as gear is concerned, Michael does most of his fishing with baitcasting reels mounted on 6 1/2- to 7-foot graphite rods. He chooses medium-heavy action rods for everything except the cranking rig, where he drops back to a medium-action rod for more flexibility. Everything, and I mean everything, is spooled with 40-lb. test braided line. And that includes the light spinning outfits that he uses to fish the drop-shot rig.
“With all of the cover in this lake, monofilament line tends to get chewed up pretty quickly,” says Michael. “With the tougher braided line, I don’t have to re-tie as often and can still be comfortable that my clients won’t break off fish due to line failures.”
Even at 40-lb. test, the braid is extremely thin, and in the typically dingy water of Weiss, visibility doesn’t seem to be a problem.
While the action on our trip was a little slow, we managed to catch a few keeper fish even during the worst spell of “dog days” that most of us can remember. If you follow Michael’s advice, you could experience some exciting and productive fishing on Weiss during the cooler fall months. The bass should be aggressive and gorging themselves on the baitfish in preparation for the lean winter months. So why not get out the crankin’ rod and give it a try.
A word of caution. Weiss is a very shallow lake, and there is lot’s of stuff on the shallow bottom that is sure to produce a fair amount of grief for those who don’t know where they are going. There are so many stumps and rocks that it would be impossible to mark enough of them to make a difference. So move slowly and be careful, or you might just loose a lower unit and have a long and expensive day on the lake.
If you are not familiar with the lake, I highly recommend that you go with someone who knows it well the first outing or two.
Michael Carter couples a familiarity of the lake with a great deal of bass-fishing knowledge and experience.
If you are looking to get out on the water at Weiss this month, call Michael at (423) 802-1362, or visit his Web site at <www.anglingadventuresmjc.com>.
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