The Mobile Delta's Early Bass
September 28, 2010
A deep south location in the Cotton State makes these tidal waters great for bassin' early in the year. Here's how the local anglers find and catch fish this month.
After a long, hard hunting season, sportsmen on the Alabama coast don't have much time to shift gears from hunting to fishing mode. However, moving from January to February and the great bass fishing that is available on the Mobile Delta can be a very rewarding transition.
February can be one of the coldest months of the year, but being located on the coast offers more mild weather than harsh conditions. This weather pattern means that Delta bass have reproductive urges that occur much sooner in the year than their north Alabama counterparts.
The Mobile Delta is a tidal influenced estuary with a diverse lineup of inhabitants. Throughout the year, the Delta can be home to both freshwater and saltwater fish species. During the early part of the year, the area experiences its annual winter flush. This is when rainfall from all parts of the state flows southward through the Delta and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico. Immediately after the flush, the Delta becomes a murky, yet still productive bass fishery.
Starting at the first of February, sleek bass boats can be seen traversing the Mobile Delta in search of largemouths that are making the move to spawning mode. Anglers with extensive experience on the local waters try to track the movements of Delta bass, in hopes of determining just how far along in the reproductive ritual the fish have progressed.
One such angler with decades of knowledge fishing the Delta is Jerry Casey of Saraland. Casey is a 56-year-old angler who has been fishing local bass tournaments in the area since 1972. All along those years of tournament angling, Casey and his brother Randy have picked up a true appreciation for what the fishery has to offer.
"My brother and I get real motivated early in February, because we know the bigger bass will be getting ready to spawn. Your bigger bass will be the first to head to the shallows of the bays or the head of creeks to start bedding," Casey said. "When I say bigger bass, I'm referring to fish that are 2 1/2 to 5 pounds. While that might not be a big bass in most places, that's a big bass for the Delta."
Experience has taught Casey that if conditions are not right for bedding early, then the fish stage in the adjacent creeks and channels until things get right.
"Sometimes, when the weather is a little cooler than normal, the bass will have to hold back on heading to the shallows. When this occurs, you can find fish at the mouths of creeks leading into shallow waters. This is when throwing plastics, like worms, tube baits or lizards can be effective. Often the fish will be stacked up at these bottlenecks, offering great fishing," Casey described.
When a strong cold front blows through the Delta, the water levels can drop dramatically, pushed out by the north winds. When this occurs, it can sometimes be a bonus, as the low water exposes structure not seen on a normal water level.
"After the water gets blown out on a cold front, the bass will retreat to the creeks. They will then hold on any structure in those creeks. This is when we like to fish shallow-running crankbaits near the structure," Casey explained. "We use a lot of bream-colored crankbaits in this situation. We also like crankbaits with black backs and silver sides or crawfish colors during this period."
Finding out what is most effective while using crankbaits for Delta bass is basically a trial-and-error procedure. A few casts usually let you know the pattern for the day.
"You have to vary your retrieve around the structure to see what speed the fish want the bait at. Every day is different. Sometimes they want it real, real slow. And sometimes you can crank it real fast and stop it right next to the log or stick, which will trigger strikes," Casey instructed.
Once the weather warms up, usually in the middle of the month, bass start seeking out the shallows. Air temperature is important to move the spawning season along, but Casey believes that water temperature in the shallow areas holds the key.
"When the water temperature creeps into the high 50s to low 60s it's time to start thinking shallow. I believe the 'magic' range is actually between 59 to 62 degrees for spawning to be triggered," Casey noted.
Once the bass head to the shallows, especially in the bays of the lower Delta, there will be plenty of anglers right behind them. While most will be content to drift along any grassy areas they encounter, Casey homes in on particular areas to catch some of the bigger bass.
"When the bass 'turn the corner' into the bays from the creeks I will be concentrating on obvious structure, such as logs, stumps or duck blinds. I will then toss some sort of topwater bait around the structure," Casey said. "Some of my favorites are Bang O Lures, Lunker Lures or big plastic frogs. I like the black Sizmic Frog best. It is several inches long and the bass love it!"
During a warm February there is the potential to have high number trips on bass in the lower Delta. Casey is usually hunting tournament grade fish, so size is important. Looking for the best stringer fish puts him in contact with plenty of fish along the way.
"When we have an early warm-up, the fish can stack up in the bays of the Delta. Any place with a little grass will be holding fish. It is not unusual to catch and release 25 to 35 bass on a trip between two anglers. A lot of those fish will be small males, but still a lot of fun," Casey remarked.
Besides the bays, Casey will seek out clear water in the heads of creeks. It is there where some of the bigger bass will construct a bed to spawn in.
"If we have dingy water in the bays. I will look for clear water in the heads of the creeks. With the clear water you can actually see some of the beds with fish on them," Casey said. "When you find them, it's best to back off as far as you can and wait for the female to move right on top of the bed. Then you should try and cast your bait right in front of her nose to aggravate her into striking. I use a watermelon-colored tube bait with a 1/8-ounce weight that works great in this situation. The slow fall of the bait is key in your presentation." Casey said.
When things warm up early on the Delta, it brings out a lot of activity. This includes anglers who wait for the time to pull out their favorite spinnerbaits and start slinging them. Lee Minto of Mobile is well known in the area as a "Delta Rat." Minto
considers the area a great playground for sportsmen, and he spends a considerable portion of the year enjoying it.
"Right after duck season my mind goes straight to thinking about spinnerbait fishing in the Delta's shallow bays. I make mental notes as to where the grassbeds I have encountered chasing ducks during hunting season are. As soon as things warm up in February, I'll be out there casting spinnerbaits looking for bass," explained Minto.
As mentioned several times, the lower Delta consists of many shallow water bays. These areas are tidal influenced, causing the water levels to fluctuate. If the tide is low, some areas can be unfishable. Anglers must wait for the tide to rise and cover the grassbeds to be able to work their spinnerbaits properly, without constantly being fouled with grass.
"I like to fish the bays with an incoming tide. I prefer the water to be 6 inches over the grass. If the water is just rising enough to cover the grass I will toss my baits in the holes of patchy grassbeds till the water comes up," Minto said "If I can't find any holes, I will work the edges with my baits. It's a little tougher, but sometimes can pay off."
The ideal conditions would be for you to be able to let the wind push you over the grassbeds on the Delta. The perfect wind would be a south wind. In addition to locomotion of your boat, a south wind also assists with bringing up water levels on an incoming tide.
"A good south wind will bring the water up in the Delta. That's a good thing, because it allows you to drift over the grass without having to use a trolling motor.
"However, sometimes the winds can get a little strong, pushing your boat too fast," Minto cautioned. "That's when I pull out my drift sock. A drift sock is a bag pulled behind the boat on a rope that fills with water and slows your drift. This allows you to cover water at a more leisurely pace."
When it comes to bait, Minto goes with an old Delta favorite. The in-line spinnerbait known as a Snagless Sally is always tied on Minto's line in spring.
"When you catch fish consistently for over 40 years with the same thing, I see no reason to change. Delta bass love a Snagless Sally. I use several different color combos, but all my baits are rigged with a trailer," Minto said. "I like to use an Uncle Josh pork frog with a little special twist. I take an Exacto knife and split the two legs, causing them to look like four legs. This extra action is meant to imitate the swimming legs of a small crab. Delta bass feed heavily on crabs."
Favorite baits differ from angler to angler, but there are several lures that produce in the Delta that you will want to have in your tackle box.
Shallow-running crankbaits are very productive in the area. Bandit 200 series lures are popular with Delta anglers. Rebel crankbaits are also productive. Popular colors include red, chrome, white and chartreuse.
Some of the more popular plastic baits are Zoom lizards and worms. Best colors seem to be black, purple or blue with red flake. Berkley PowerBaits are effective too. Try darker colors for fishing this option.
Lower Delta anglers are hardcore spinnerbait lovers. The Snagless Sally has been producing limits for years. Some of the best-selling color combinations are yellow and black, yellow, red and brown, or purple, black or blue. Most anglers will employ a twin trailer -- usually white -- along with a trailer-hook to catch short-striking bass. Where grass is sparse, Bush Hog spinnerbaits can be effective as well.
Places To Try
For those who have never fished the Mobile Delta, particularly the lower Delta, it can be intimidating. Horror stories abound of boats running aground on the many mud bars and sandbars. However, those using proper caution will do just fine.
One of the first places to start producing fish this month will be Bay Minette Basin. It is a shallow bay on the east side of the Delta. The basin normally will have grass early in the year and it stays clearer than most of the other bays due to its tucked-away location.
Choccalotta Bay is one of the most popular spots. A traditional spot for springtime bass, Choccalotta is another bay that will harbor grass and largemouths. One of the largest bays, Choccalotta is capable of supporting lots of anglers. It is also a very popular spot with duck hunters, so the many duck blinds can be magnets for fish.
Delvan Bay is another spot popular with duck hunters. The many duck blinds and grass patches make this bay attractive to bass anglers. It is located off the Spanish River. Delvan is one of the deeper bays, making it a low-water destination
Chuckfee Bay is located north of the Raft River on the lower Delta. This is another tucked-away place that stays pretty clear despite muddy rivers. Chuckfee is shallow, so fishing this spot will require some higher water.
State of Alabama has an improved public ramp located in the middle of Battleship Causeway. Officially known as U.S. Highway 90, the causeway cuts across the lower end of the Delta. This is a free launch facility capable of handling up to 24-foot boats.
Scott's Landing is located at the east end of Battleship Causeway. This is a commercial bait camp that offers bait, ice, maps and tackle. These folks can also dispense fishing a