Weiss in February Means It’s Jerkbait Time
The water may be cold, but the fishing can really be hot as spotted bass stage for the spawn.
Warren Barnes has been a contributor to GON’s fishing reports for a number of years. A few months ago, Warren called our office.
“I’m going to let y’all in on a good one,” he said.
We’re in the business of sharing hot fishing information with our readers, so we were all ears. Warren shared with us that he’d spend the last few winters loading the boat with piles of magnum spotted bass at Lake Weiss while throwing jerkbaits. Warren said he was ready to go public with the information and put a GON writer in the boat. And here it is! Read on for one of the hottest, quietest secrets for February spotted bass fishing on Weiss.
Weiss, near the Georgia/Alabama border at the town of Cedar Grove, is a well-known reservoir on the Coosa River. Recognized for decades as an excellent crappie fishery, Weiss also boasts a fine population of largemouth and spotted bass. The lake is relatively shallow as reservoirs go, and the bottom is littered with rocks and stumps. This structure provides great fish habitat, and anglers visit Weiss from all over the eastern United States to experience the excellent angling opportunities it offers.
Warren is a Weiss regular who has been fishing the lake for about 15 years. Warren is a serious bass angler, and he considers Weiss his home lake and one he loves to fish.
“I have been fishing Weiss for about 15 years, and I think it is one of the best spotted bass fisheries around,” said Warren.
And Warren sees a lot of lakes. A tournament angler, Warren started fishing pot and local tournaments on Lake Allatoona in his mid 20s. Over the years he has expanded his expertise and range and has fished the Bassmaster Weekend Series, ABA and BFL events. Warren is now sponsored by Skeeter Boats, Yamaha Outboards and others and will be fishing the Bassmaster Southern Open Series this year.
“February is one of my favorite months to fish Weiss for spots,” said Warren. “When the water temperature gets up to the middle 40s, the bait starts moving into the creeks, and the bass follow.”
Typically, spotted bass start spawning a little earlier than their largemouth cousins, and by February they are beginning to transition into the creeks in preparation.
I met Warren at the Weiss Mart Marina on Highway 9 in Cedar Bluff on a brisk morning in early January. Warren told me we would be too early for the prespawn action, but we might get lucky and pick up a few fish. We headed upstream to a creek just south of Yellow Creek, which is one of Warren’s favorite prespawn locations.
Two factors are extremely important for this prespawn action, according to Warren: bottom composition and contour and the presence of bait.
“I depend heavily on my electronics this time of year,” said Warren. “Not only is it important to be in the right spot, but if there isn’t any bait in the area, you are probably wasting your time.”
Warren set the boat over the creek channel near a spot where the channel made a sharp bend around an exposed hump. The lake level was down about 6 feet below full pool and 2 feet of the hump was exposed.
“Notice the pea gravel on the hump,” said Warren. “That is ideal bottom structure for spawning spots.”
Warren said just prior to the beginning of the spawn the spotted bass will stack up in locations like this feeding on shad.
The bass are likely to be hanging close to the bottom in the channel near a sharp bend or intersection of two channels. The spots will stick close to the bottom and remain pretty much inactive, but with the slightest bit of current, either wind driven or from generation, they’ll move up and start to feed.
Warren’s go-to bait under these conditions is Jackall Squirrel jerkbait in size 79 or 76 depending on the water depth. According to the Jackall website, the 79mm model will suspend at about the 8-foot mark, while the 76mm suspends at 4 feet.
“I really like to fish a jerkbait when the fish are stacked up like that,” said Warren. “I don’t know of too many anglers who use them on Weiss in the winter, but I get great results with them.”
Once the jerkbait digs down, it will suspend at that certain depth. The type of line you use can cause the bait to rise or fall slightly. Warren said he uses that variation in the way he fishes the bait.
“On calm days I want the bait to sink to the fish, so I fish it on 14-lb. fluorocarbon,” said Warren.
Fluorocarbon has no natural buoyancy, so it will cause the bait to sink slightly from its normal suspension depth. Monofilament, however, has a small amount of buoyancy, so the line will naturally cause the bait to rise slightly. Warren chooses mono on windy or high current days when the fish are active and off the bottom. While the high or low current condition is a general guideline for line selection, Warren recommends you experiment a little to see what is effective on any given day and as conditions change throughout the day.
Warren recommends you always fish the windblown side of the channel and cast into the wind to cause your bait to approach the fish with the current. This is the direction the natural bait will be approaching. If you fish from another direction, your bait won’t appear natural to the fish. Also, Warren said don’t be surprised if your first fish is a striper.
“The stripers and spots will both be feeding on the schools of shad, and the stripers are more aggressive,” said Warren. “I catch a striper as my first fish often under these conditions.”
There was plenty of bait in the area we were fishing. We could see huge clouds of them on the graph and their tails flicking on the surface. We made long casts into the slight breeze and worked the jerkbaits back with a regular three-jerk motion. Warren varies the retrieve from time to time, but he generally uses three good jerks, about a second apart, followed by a pause. Often the fish grab the bait during the pause and you won’t feel them until you make the next jerk. Under extremely windy conditions, Warren makes hard jerks with the rod.
“It is sometimes best when the bait actually digs into the bottom on the jerk, kicking up clouds of silt,” said Warren.
We worked that area and several others without much action. Warren caught a couple of nice largemouths, but the spots had obviously not moved in yet as Warren had predicted.
While the jerkbait pattern is Warren’s first choice in February, he has a couple of back-up baits he uses regularly. He fishes a lipless crankbait in the same areas he fishes the squirrel jerkbait.
“Sometimes the spots seem to relate to a more active bait, and a lipless crankbait can be very effective,” said Warren. “The Jackall TN70 is a lipless crankbait with a titanium weight in the nose which causes it to run head down and keep the hooks up off the bottom. This helps minimize hang-ups on the stumps that are plentiful on Weiss.”
Warren fishes the TN70 on 14-lb. mono and this also helps the bait rise over stumps without hanging up. He makes long casts into the wind and rips the bait back to the boat quickly with the current. Strikes can be vicious, so hold tight to the rod or you might be fishing for it.
Warren will also keep a spinnerbait tied on in case he sees bass chasing bait on the surface. He makes a long cast past the feeding school and rips the spinnerbait back through the frenzy at high speed. His choice of bait is a Tackle Doctor 3/8-oz. double willow leaf “Dr. Spot” model.
In areas where the bottom is more slanted, like slanted rip-rap along a bridge next to a creek channel, Warren switches to a Soul Shad by Jackall. This bait is a combination jerkbait/crankbait and can either be twitched like a jerkbait or cranked. The bait suspends at about 8 feet and is fished on 10-lb. fluorocarbon.
And if things are really slow and tough, the shaky-head worm is always a good choice. Warren fishes it on a 3/8-oz. jig head and works it very slowly and smoothly across the bottom.
“I don’t shake the worm at all,” said Warren. “I just pull it along slowly with the rod tip and take up the slack with the reel. If I hit a rock or stump, I lift the rod to pull the worm over the cover, and that is when many of the strikes occur.”
On all of the baits except the shaky head, Warren uses a Norman Speed Clip to attach the lure to the line.
“I think the clip gives the bait more freedom to move in the water in the way it was designed,” said Warren. “That little bit of extra action can make a big difference in my view, and it makes changing lures or colors quick and easy.”
Warren’s color selection depends on water clarity. In cloudy or muddy conditions, he sticks with greens and chartreuse as his primary colors. In clear-water conditions, he uses more natural flat colors like Tennessee shad. In either case, he feels that two contrasting colors on a bait (like black with chartreuse) help the fish see the bait. And he advises to switch colors often if the fish are not hitting your baits.
Warren said when the water temperature reaches the magic 47-degree mark on Weiss, the spots should be stacking up, and this pattern will begin to be very effective. Remember to concentrate on locations where there is plenty of bait and the bottom contour and composition fits the characteristics we discussed. The spots should stage in creek channels near humps with pea gravel on them. The presence of rocks or stumps in the area, to provide ambush points, is always a plus. Work the windblown side of the channel near a tight bend or intersection, and you should hit pay dirt. Cast into the wind, and make your retrieve with the current.
While we targeted the area near Yellow Creek, Warren says there are literally hundreds of locations all over the lake that fit the bill.
“It is less important which specific area of the lake you are fishing than the characteristics of the location you choose,” said Warren. “And be sure to look for the presence of bait in the area.”
Warren almost never fishes any deeper than 10 feet this time of year. His experience is the spots will be in that much water, or less, right through the spawn. Spotted bass, especially the Coosa spots, tend to school in large numbers, and Warren said that under the right conditions, you can load the boat with 3- to 5-lb. fish in February. This pattern should last through the month and well into March until the surface temperature reaches 65 degrees.
A word of caution is in order. Weiss is an extremely shallow lake overall and even more so this time of year with the levels down. You can be in 15 feet of water one minute and less than a foot the next. So be careful, watch your graph while traveling to ensure you stay in the channel, and go slowly if you are unsure of yourself.
Most of the hard baits Warren uses are from Jackall lures and are relatively new to the area. Warren said they are available online at <www.jackall-lures.com>.
And be sure to follow Warren on the Bassmaster Southern Open Trail at <www.warrenbarnes.net>. He just finished the Harris Chain event and is now preparing for the April tournament at Lake Norman.
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