West Point Lake Hybrid Run To Franklin
Anchor up and use cutbait, livebait or artificials - the bottom line is that the hybrids are up the river this month and will bite.
The green flag has dropped, and the race is on. The hybrids in Lake West Point have just completed their voyage north up the Chattahoochee River to the Franklin Shoals area. West Point hybrids make a yearly run up the river to search out swift current – it’s their attempt to spawn. Although a hybrid bass can’t reproduce, they’ll stay upriver for about a month trying, and while they’re there, they will provide many anglers with some awesome rod-bending action. For West Point guide Paul Parsons, who runs Paul Parsons Guide Service, this is his time to shine. Collecting a mess of hybrids for his clients is what he does year-round, but he admits that this spring run is the easiest time of year to load the boat with a limit. Paul’s been guiding for hybrids on West Point for 10 years, and nobody is more qualified to share information with you on finding and catching these explosive fish.
I met with Paul on March 14, and we caught 16 hybrids trolling curly tails and Sassy Shads in front of the dam. Most years, by early March, the hybrids are already up the river. “Things just seem to be about a month behind this year, because we had such a cold winter,” said Paul.
We ran up the river later that same day to look around and we saw a few boats scattered about, but the bite wasn’t really happening yet. However, as of March 19 Paul reports that the hybrids are now up the river. “I took a client out today and we caught about 30 hybrids anchored up in the first bend of the river just below the Franklin bridge,” said Paul. “They’ll probably stay up river for about four weeks.”
During the hybrid run, Paul’s day starts very early. “I’m usually on the boat everyday at 5:00 a.m. to catch plenty of live shad,” said Paul. “Whether I’m fishing livebait or cutbait, it pays to have a bait tank full of shad this time of year.”
Paul throws an 8-foot castnet around the marina dock lights at Highland Marina, and he usually has no problem catching a day’s worth of threadfin or gizzard shad. “Some mornings I’ll only catch four or five in one cast and other days I’ll catch 100 in a single throw,” said Paul. “Look for the bait to be anywhere from on the surface down to 14 feet. You’ll need a bait tank with a good filter system on it. Often times you’ll be fishing most of the day, and if you’re fishing live bait you’ll want that bait to look good.”
If you’re launching your boat somewhere other than Highland, you can find baitfish hanging around most places that have a good concentration of lights. Look at Southern Harbor Marina, ramps and well-lit boat docks. Bait stores don’t sell live bait, because unlike blueback herring, threadfins are very delicate and hard to keep alive. It is illegal to fish with bluebacks in West Point.
You can purchase frozen shad, chicken livers, fresh mullet and shrimp – all good baits for hybrids.
After filling his bait tank, Paul meets his clients on the gas docks at Highland and heads north. “As a general rule you can expect the best catches to occur on the Chattahoochee between the mouth of Potato Creek and the shoals above the bridge in Franklin,” said Paul.
It’s a pretty long run from Highland up to this area, so you may want to consider launching your boat elsewhere. Paul is very familiar with carefully maneuvering up the river, but conditions can be very dangerous to unfamiliar boaters. When we ran up the river after a heavy rain on March 14, it seemed like half the trees in Atlanta were floating downriver into West Point. A few other ramps you may want to launch at to shorten your run are the Georgia Access at Hwy 219, Ringer Access, Brush Creek Park, Snake Creek Access and for small boats only you can launch at the Hwy 27 bridge in Franklin.
“Once I get up the river, I’m looking for areas out of the current,” said Paul. “You can find hybrids stacked up in the mouths of the creeks, behind rocks and boulders, the sides of sandbars and in any bend in the river.”
Since we fished before the spring run was really wide-open, the only hybrid we saw caught up the river was at the mouth of Glover’s Creek, a popular place where the hybrids rest from the river’s current.
“There’s several creeks that come in up there and if the water is up, there’s a few sloughs that will be holding fish,” said Paul.
Paul says that you’ll be able to catch these hybrids on cutbait, livebait and artificial baits, but he prefers using either cutbait or livebait, depending on water conditions.
“If the water is muddy, I’ll use cutbait, usually threadfin shad,” said Paul. “You can use either the head or the tail section, and I’ll hook them with a No. 2 hook. Fish it Carolina-style with a 1-oz. sinker on a 2-foot leader.”
“If the water is clear I’ll fish livebait, and I prefer threadfins but a small- or medium-sized gizzard shad will also work. You’ll want to hook the threadfin with a No. 2 hook through the nose. Fish all livebait with a 1-oz. sinker and a 3-foot leader. If you’re using medium-sized gizzard shad use a No. 1 hook. If you don’t want to mess with livebait, then throw a Sassy Shad, white for clear conditions and chartreuse for muddy.
“Another artificial option for sunny days when the water is clear is a chrome Rat-L-Trap. If it’s muddy and sunny, then throw a gold one, and if conditions are muddy and cloudy try a chartreuse one. Just look in the same areas you would if you were fishing livebait – anywhere there is little or no current.”
Paul uses Abu Garcia baitcaster reels, both in the 5500 and 6500 models. In clear water he’ll use 12- to 14-lb. test and when the water is muddy he fishes 17- to 20-lb. line. “When I pull up to an area where I think some fish are holding, I’ll anchor up,” said Paul. “You’ll need a strong anchor because sometimes you’ll be anchored in the current and casting to the slack-water areas. Just get an anchor that can effectively hold the boat in one position.”
When it comes to weather conditions, Paul’s trips run rain or shine, so he’s the right man to tell you when to expect the best bite. “When it’s muddy and cloudy they’ll usually bite all day long,” said Paul. “Also, if it’s raining or a front is about to come through, you can expect to get bit. Sunny days with clear water are usually the worst. It’s sometimes hard to get bit during the middle of the day, so on these days, look for the best bite early and late.
“Some wind is helpful. It helps keep the water churned and seems to make the fish more active, but a wind blowing from the south is bad news. It wants to blow you upstream but the current wants to pull you down. It makes it hard for my boat to sit anchored in one spot. I look for a north or northwest wind.”
As an added bonus to a trip up the river you’ve got an outside chance to tangle with a big striper. Paul heard of a 33-lb. striper caught in the river just a few weeks ago.
“You’ll catch a striper every now and then, but mostly you’ll be hooking up with hybrids,” said Paul. “You can also expect to catch some white bass if you downsize to a No. 4 hook and use smaller pieces of cutbait or smaller threadfins if you’re fishing with livebait.”
If you don’t own a boat, you still have plenty of bank-fishing opportunities available to you. A popular place to park is at the Franklin bridge and fish south, on the western bank along the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land. When I was in Franklin a few weeks ago, Paul pointed out some good slack-water areas along this bank.
“If a person wanted to they could walk this bank all the way to Brush Creek,” said Michael Treherne, assistant operations manager for the corps. A few other places to try are Brush and Snake Creek and where the Hwy 27 bridge crosses the New River.
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