West Point’s Winter Bass Jigging Spoon Magic
Ronnie Ray shows us how to catch January bass on West Point Lake.
It seems to me that the jigging spoon must be some sort of a miracle. How else could a flat piece of metal that looks as if it has been summarily beaten by a ball-peen hammer produce so many fish? But the fact is, miracle or not, these little flat pieces of metal can load your livewell this time of year and using them is surprisingly easy.
A great place to try your luck with the spoon during the winter months is West Point Lake on the Chatt-ahoochee River at the Georgia-Alabama border near LaGrange. I went to West Point the second week of Dec-ember to fish with Ronnie Ray of Phenix City, Ala. and see if we could tempt some of the lake’s big largemouths into the boat.
Ronnie has an impressive set of credentials including being a regular on several of the national pro bass tours, a member of the Triton pro fishing team, and a guide on West Point and other area lakes.
“I love to take customers out this time of year and show them how to use the jigging spoon,” Ronnie said. “The fact is that it is an extremely easy bait to master and the customers generally catch a mess of fish.”
On a good day Ronnie tells us that a party of a couple of fishermen can land 50 bass or more using the spoon.
We left the Southern Harbor Marina at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning last month and headed down the lake toward the dam.
“There is an old pond dam or two in this area of the lake that have been holding some fish,” said Ronnie. “We’ll make that our first stop.”
When we pulled up on the spot, Ronnie watched his electronics carefully and dropped a buoy over the side. “Looks like they’re here,” he said. “Drop a jig over the side, and let’s give it a try.”
It didn’t take very long to connect. Within about three minutes we both had fish on and were cranking them back to the boat. Both were small hybrids.
“Don’t be surprised what you might catch out here,” said Ronnie. “These spoons will produce largemouth, spots, hybrids, catfish, crappie, and even the occasional monster bream from the same location.”
The hybrids were thick on the spot, and I lost count of how many we caught and released before we moved on to another location.
The key to success with the spoon has more to do with locating the fish than using the bait in any special way. Of course you do need to get the bait into the strike zone to be productive, but it really isn’t all that difficult to entice the fish to strike. We’ll get to the method of presenting the bait a bit later, but first let’s discuss finding fish.
“There are three very important ingredients to locating fish on West Point during the winter,” says Ronnie. “Start with a good topographical map, add to that a good set of electronics, preferably an LCD graph, and you’ll need a floating marker for reference.”
Ronnie starts his search for fish before he even leaves the ramp.
“Most of the fish are going to be over humps and roadbeds in water between 22- and 30-feet deep,” says Ronnie. “They move into these spots when the water drops below about 60 degrees and will tend to stay in the area until it begins to warm again in the late winter or early spring.”
The day we were out the surface temperature was a frigid 48.6 degrees. Ronnie says that you should look for flat spots that have deeper water nearby, so that the fish can move up to feed easily and back into the deeper water between feeding spells. Some excellent typical locations include old pond dams, humps on the main lake, or old submerged roadbeds. All of these types of structure are generally clean of debris on the top and fall off rapidly on either side to deeper water.
“Roadbeds are generally very good because they not only drop off on either side but also usually have standing timber in the deep water to provide cover for the bass when they aren’t feeding.”
Ronnie believes that bass prefer to feed in relatively shallow areas that don’t have much cover on them because they tend not to chase bait in the cold water. The clear bottom areas make it easier for the bass to locate schools of shad and swim through them to feed without having to chase the small fish through cover.
That brings us to our second key factor in locating fish in the winter. Once you have spotted a likely area on your map, Ronnie recommends that you approach it slowly and watch your electronics for the presence of bait. The shad will often appear as large gray clouds on the LCD because they bunch up this time of year in the thousands.
“If you don’t see any bait in an area, don’t waste your time,” said Ronnie. “Bass will be where the bait are, so no bait, no bass.”
Once you find bait on an area, Ronnie recommends that you mark the spot with a weighted float and back off from the larger pods of bait on the trolling motor.
“You don’t want to spook the bait, so get off the big outboard and move around slowly with the trolling motor.”
Ronnie says that he doesn’t usually drop his spoon into the large bait pods, but instead moves out to the fringes and looks for smaller groups of shad.
“I get more strikes when fishing around smaller concentrations of bait,” Ronnie said. “I believe that these smaller pods are often the result of feeding bass breaking them off from the main group and are an indication of actively feeding fish in the area. I also think it is easier for the bass to see the spoon in a smaller grouping of bait than it is in a large thick cloud of shad.”
Once you mark the location holding shad and have positioned the boat, drop the spoon over the side and let it sink to the bottom. No cast is required. In fact, since you will be fishing vertically, a cast is generally just wasted energy and time. When the spoon has hit the bottom, engage the reel and rip the spoon up from the bottom about two or three feet and let it sink down again. According to Ronnie, one of the most common errors jigging-spoon novices make is that they don’t stay in contact with the bait as it falls.
“Follow the bait down with your rod tip and keep the line fairly tight,” says Ronnie. “Strikes will almost always occur as the bait falls, and if the line has too much slack in it, you’ll never feel the fish hit.”
As far as technique is concerned, that is about the sum of it. Drop the bait to the bottom, rip it up a couple of feet with the rod tip, stay in contact while following it back down to the bottom, and hold on. Oh, you may adjust your tempo or pull the bait up more quickly, or slowly, to add some variation at times. Ronnie says that he even pulls the bait up and just suspends it off the bottom, sometimes letting the spoon spin if the fish aren’t hitting the bait on the traditional rip and fall. But generally speaking, you’ll catch fish on the fall, and you’ll catch them right away if they are in the area and feeding.
Ronnie modifies the spoon just slightly for best results.
“I like to put a bigger split ring on the front of the spoon where it ties to the line,” Ronnie said. “It gives the bait better action as it flutters back down to the bottom.”
Ronnie also changes out the treble hooks on the back of the bait. He opts for a 1/0 or 2/0 size treble as he feels that the bigger hooks give him a better strike-to-hook-up ratio.
Ronnie generally fishes the spoon on a six-foot, six-inch, medium-heavy rod equipped with a casting reel and spooled with 15-lb. test line. He doesn’t tie on a swivel but attaches the spoon directly to the line. He feels that this arrangement gives the bait the best possible action.
Our next stop was back at the place we started. Ronnie pulled us right back into the marina basin at Southern Harbor.
“There have been some big largemouth holding over the old state line roadbed where it runs through the marina,” he said.
The electronics showed the tell-tale shad in the area, and soon we had the marker out and were jigging away. Again it didn’t take long to connect. Fish were on quickly and this time, per Ronnie’s prediction, we landed some nice largemouths. We caught several good fish on the spot topped off by a fat 4-pounder before moving up the lake.
Next we pulled into Stroud Creek and headed to a roadbed in about 25 feet of water near the SC2 buoy. As we approached the roadbed, Ronnie pointed out a couple of loons gliding across the surface and diving periodically.
“Now that’s a good sign,” said Ronnie. “These loons are here because there is shad in the area, you can count on it. Remember they locate shad for a living.”
Sure enough, the electronics showed big clouds of shad all over the roadbed. But even though we worked the area hard, we couldn’t get a strike in Stroud Creek or farther up the lake where we tried a hump in Wilson Creek.
“I’m sure there are fish in all of these creeks,” said Ronnie. “The water is pretty cloudy up here compared to the lower end of the lake and the fish may just be having trouble seeing the bait.”
Jigging spoons rely on flash to work well, so cloudy water can impair their performance.
After trying a couple of more locations up the lake we headed back to the dam to see if the hybrids were still on. A front was approaching, and we thought that maybe a change in pressure had shut the fish down.
Pulling up on the pond dam where we started the morning, we immediately saw shad on the graph and dropped our spoons over the side. The hits were almost immediate and we began pulling up small hybrids just like we had a few hours earlier. Maybe the cloudy water was the problem up the lake.
All in all I estimate that we caught and released well over 50 fish in a little over a half day of fishing. We boated hybrids, largemouths and spots, but we didn’t venture out of the bass category. I kept hoping for that monster bream, but to no avail.
One thing is for sure, catching West Point bass on a jigging spoon proved to be both relatively easy and a great deal of fun.
“It is a great way to get someone interested in fishing,” said Ronnie. “Even a novice or young kid can catch fish right alongside the pros.”
So if you want some hot action on a cold winter morning, head down to West Point with that little miracle device called the jigging spoon. You may just catch more fish on a single outing than you have in any other five days using more sophisticated baits.
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