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The Whaley Way For Russell Bass In February

Trad Whaley marks a map and sets the pattern for numbers of spotted bass and a largemouth kicker.

Ronnie Garrison | January 28, 2020

If you are looking for an uncrowded lake with lots of spots feeding on rocks and drops, plus a good largemouth bite after a rain, head to Lake Russell. Spotted bass at Russell bite good no matter how cold it is, and if you want to keep some to eat, the lake is overrun with small spots that biologists say need to be removed.

Dammed in 1983, Lake Russell is our newest Corps of Engineers lake. Its 27,000 acres of water are on the Savannah River between Hartwell and Clarks Hill. Shoreline development is restricted, so the lake is pristine, and it’s not crowded with pleasure boaters at any time of the year,

Trad Whaley lives in Abbeville, South Carolina and has fished Russell since its beginning. He has not been fishing a lot of tournaments lately because his time is spent helping kids on fishing teams, but Trad is respected in the area on the trails. His father Danny is also a well-known tournament fisherman and taught Trad a lot. When Trad was just 8 years old, he started fishing team tournaments with his father. Trad has won two BFLs on Hartwell and placed seventh in an FLW tournament there. He’s also won many local tournaments over the years.

The past 10 years Trad has been concentrating on helping kids learn to catch bass. He is one of the coaches for the Abbeville High School Team. His nephew, Carter McNeil, was one of the 12 students on the 2015 BASS High School All American Team and fishes for Bethel University. Trad’s daughter Daelyn is a top bass angler, too. She is now fishing on the Emanuel College team. Right now Trad is coaching and the captain for Lilly Smith and Anna Russel on the high school team.

Even though working with the kids has taken most of his time, Trad entered two Palmetto Boating Center tournaments this past year. He won the Russell tournament and placed third at Hartwell.

“In February there are two good patterns at Russell,” Trad said.

Spotted bass have all but taken over at Lake Russell, but there are still some good largemouth like this wintertime fish that hit Trad Whaley’s shallow crankbait.

He said good numbers of spotted bass are easy to catch on rocky drops, points and channel banks back in the creeks. For largemouth, he said some rain to warm the water and stain it up a little back in the drains sets up a good pattern.

“You can catch bass on just about any bait you want to throw,” Trad said.

Fish will hit an underspin, A-rig, crankbait, rattlebait, wobble head, jerkbait, spinnerbait, as well as a jig, shaky head and drop shot. Trad may use any of those baits based on conditions, but his go-to baits are the underspin, A-rig, spinnerbait and crankbait. You can fish those baits all day in February and cover most conditions.

Trad showed me the following 10 spots on New Years Eve. There were spotted bass on most of them, and there had been enough rain to stain up the drains and make the largemouth feed, even that early.

In February the pattern is much stronger, but it works all winter.

No. 1: N 34º 08.055 – W 82º 43.426 — Going up the Savannah River, Van Creek goes off to the left on the downstream side of Coldwater Park. As you go into the mouth of it, a smaller creek is to your left, running straight south. Trad called it “Dry Fork.” There is a boat ramp on the left at the mouth that is a good place to put in to fish this area of the lake.

Across the mouth of Dry Fork, inside Van Creek, a small double ditch enters the lake. It is a good example of the kind of “drain” Trad fishes this time of year. The left arm going in, the longer one, has a flow of water after a rain and will stain up, and the water is deep enough to hold some bass year-round.

Trad will idle around both forks, looking for bait in the 20-foot depth range. He says bait is the key. If bait is present, either blueback herring or shad, the bass will be in the area.

If he sees bait, Trad goes to the left bank going into the main arm to where it is 20 feet deep a short cast off the bank. This steep channel-swing bank is the type place he likes to catch both spots and largemouth.

This 100-yard-long bank has everything—rocks, blowdowns, stumps and hard clay—that make it good right now. Trad keeps his boat out 20 feet deep and casts a 3/8-oz. Blade Runner underspin with a white or shimmer-blue fluke-type trailer right to the bank. He slow-rolls the bait right off the bottom back to 15 feet deep, letting it bump bottom every few feet.

Bass, both spots and largemouth, will hold on these steep drops and feed on shad and herring this time of year.  An A-rig is another good bait to use to cover these places quickly and get bites from feeding fish.

No. 2: N 34º 08.531 – W 82º 43.437 — Some spots live on main creek humps and channel drops year-round, even spawning on them. A good combination of hump and drop is in the mouth of Van Creek at green channel marker 3. It is off the left bank going up the creek. The white markers to the channel side of it are markers for a rowing course.

The creek channel swings in on the upstream side of the marker, and the bottom rises from 30 plus feet to 8. An old roadbed runs across it, too. Spots hold off the hump, suspending over deep water, and then they run in and feed. Some wind blowing in on the hump makes them feed better.

Stay off the marker on the channel side, the steep side, in 30 feet of water, and cast your underspin or A-rig up to 8 feet deep, slow-rolling them down the drop. Watch your electronics. If you see a school of fish on the drop at the old roadbed, or holding on brush or rocks here, try a drop shot on them. You can also work a shaky head down the drop to catch spots here.

No. 3: N 34º 09.503 – W 82º 41.651 ­— Across the Savannah River and a little downstream of the mouth of Van Creek, English Creek runs back and has several arms that are good. Go into the second long, narrow arm to the left. It runs straight north. Head back until points on both sides narrow the creek down to about 50 yards wide. Trad says pinch points like this are always a good place to start fishing back in these drains.

The water in the middle here is about 30 feet deep, and there is brush along the channel that may hold bass. Check it with your electronics. Then fish the steeper channel banks on both sides of the creek.

Trad says some bass live back in these places all year and more move in this month to get ready to spawn. You can catch resident as well as transitional fish on the deep brush and steeper banks in February.

No. 4: N 34º 09.591 – W 82º 40.919 — Go to the back of the main channel of English Creek, stopping when you hit 10 feet of water maximum depth. This is the pattern Trad likes after a rain, especially a warm rain that not only stains the water but warms it some. When we fished, the water was 5 degrees warmer here than out on the main channel, a big difference.

When you get back in the drain, start fishing the channel swing banks on either side, including those going into side ditches. Look for wood or rock cover on them, that is the key. The one on your right where the water is 10 feet deep is the one where Trad caught a 3 1/2-lb. largemouth and missed another good one the day we fished.

Keep your boat out from the bank and make angled casts right to the edge of the water. Bump the bottom with a crankbait, slow-roll a spinnerbait or  a light A-rig, and crawl an underspin. Trad used all four lures but caught his largemouth on a 1.5 shad-colored squarebill, bumping off some rocks.

Trad also caught two or three spots back in here. When I hooked a two-inch-long shad on my crankbait, and we saw others jumping when our lures hit the water, we knew why this drain was holding fish.

No. 5: N 34º 09.212 – W 82º 41.673 — Going back out of English Creek, on the downstream point of the arm with hole 3 back in it, a roadbed runs out and crosses the creek. It holds a lot of fish in February, both resident and those moving back and staging here for the spawn.

You can see the roadbed coming off the bank in a little pocket between two points. Stop out in the mouth of the cove and fan cast all around it, from point to point, since fish will hold on the roadbed and both sides of it. Cast your underspin, jig, shaky head and A-rig here. Cover both points of the little pocket, too.

No. 6: N 34º 09.043 – W 82º 43.973 ­— Go back into Van Creek and stay to the right. A boat ramp with a nice dock is on a point. It is where the rowing events are held. Stop out from the ramp and fish it and the point upstream of it. Trad says he can catch a spot around the ramp and rip-rap on it almost every time he fishes it.

The creek channel swings in by this point and then runs down the bank. There are rocks on the point and on the bank downstream of it, and much of the bank is hard clay. This bank and point are very good prespawn areas this month for spotted bass. Trad will cast a crankbait or spinnerbait to this bank, especially when wind is blowing in on it, working it as long as he is catching fish.

No. 7: N 34º 09.110 – W 82º 44.506 — Rip-rap is always good, and the Harps Ferry Road bridge causes a pinch point at the mouth of the creek running to the left off Van Creek. Fish moving from the main lake up the creek to spawn will congregate on the bridge rip-rap and pilings and feed as they transition.

Trad fishes the rocks on both sides and the piling with an underspin and A-rig, as well as his other baits. He got a nice keeper spot off one of the pilings on the A-rig when we fished, and he said that was pretty automatic, especially if you were the first one to fish it that day.

Trad throws a light homemade A-rig, but he says a Flash Mob Jr. is very similar to it. He runs it with Berkley Swimmers in the 2.8 or 3.8 size and uses light jig heads so he can fish it better in shallow water.

No. 8: N 34º 08.879 – W 82º 45.239 — Above the bridge, the creek splits into two forks above a small “S” turn. The right bank just below this split is a good channel-swing bank with cover that holds bass this time of year.

Stop on the upstream point on the right just before the split, and fish back downstream. Trad likes to cover water fairly fast, making quick casts to the cover and little points of the ditches on the bank. He is usually looking for active, feeding fish. But he will slow down and pitch a jig into wood cover like beaver lodges on the bank if the bites on the moving baits are tough to get.

No. 9: N 34º 07.806 – W 82º 43.053 — Trad shared a different pattern he fishes in February when he is looking for a big kicker fish. He fishes flats with standing timber back in creeks, specifically the one in the Dry Fork Creek. He goes into the creek past the ramp, and then idles since there is standing timber all in the creek.

Go back past the ramp, past the first two small coves on the left, and then stop out on the point between the third and fourth cove. Keep your boat way off the bank and make long casts with a 3/4-oz. spinnerbait. Slow-roll it, trying to hit submerged timber.

Trad says this used to be a great pattern when you could spot the thickest timber. Now you have to work harder, blind casting to find it, but you can catch some of the biggest largemouth in the lake doing this. It helps to wear good sunglasses to spot the underwater wood, too.

No. 10: N 34º 07.230 – W 82º 43.092 — Idle all the way to the back of this creek, past the poles with signs marking the end of the timber. Fish the channel-turn banks here, especially after a rain stains it up. The best one is the right side of the middle point between the two channels in the back. It has good wood cover, a beaver lodge and some rocks. Trad hooked a good fish here. Fish your baits on all the cover back in here.

Sun on these banks helps warm the stained water a little more and makes them better than shady banks at times. A little wind blowing back into these places also moves warm surface water back in them, warming them even more.

Trad offers three patterns on Russell for February—one for spots, one for both largemouth and spots, and a very specific pattern for big largemouth. Give them a try, and then explore beautiful Lake Russell for other good February fishing techniques and areas.

Do you find these Map of the Month articles helpful? If so visit http://fishing-about.com/keys-to-catching-georgia-bass-ebook-series/ to get an eBook or CD with an article for each month of the year on Clarks Hill and Lanier.

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