Cotton State Southwest Bassin'
September 28, 2010
This part of Alabama provides some good prospects for largemouths in early summer. This month, try your hand at these three bass venues! (June 2007)
Dwayne Sixbury of Semmes displays the kind of largemouths that have become easier to catch on Big Creek Lake.
Photo by Stephen E. Davis.
June is a transitional month for bass in southwest Alabama. The fish have recovered from the physical demands of spawning and are now feeding aggressively on the abundance of forage from the spawning activity of bream and shad.
As we move into the month and the water warms, the bass gradually shift to deeper water and by the end of the month may occupy their summer haunts. During each day of this transition, fishing may vary greatly, with bass moving in and out of feeding areas.
Big Creek, Claiborne and Coffeeville lakes have a reputation for being difficult to fish. But anglers who know the patterns and techniques that work in early summer catch some of their biggest fish of the year from these waters.
BIG CREEK LAKE
If you haven't fished Big Creek Lake since the Mobile Area Water and Sewer Service (MAWSS) lowered the reservoir for dam maintenance, you will find both the shoreline and the tactics for catching largemouth greatly changed. The wide, shallow grass flats surrounding the shore are dry. Once concealed, sandy points and stumpfields now lie exposed far from the water's edge for all to see.
Known for being difficult, Big Creek's bass had to adapt to their new habitat. Before, grass provided an abundance of ambush cover, and the clear water offered unlimited visibility to examine an angler's lure. Now, bass rely on channels and wood cover to maneuver and catch their prey. Adding to the changing conditions, the harvest of timber on land bordering the lake's eastern shore increased the amount of sediment in the water when it rains.
According to MAWSS, ongoing maintenance requires water levels to remain below normal through early summer.
Dwayne Sixbury of Semmes has fished the lake for more than 18 years. He spent years learning to fish Big Creek's extremely clear and deep waters.
"All the patterns that produced fish," he admitted, "I had to throw out the window. The lake has changed dramatically in the last 18 months with water levels down on average between five and nine feet. Also, the grass cover in the lake has decreased by about 70 percent.
"This has not hurt fishing. In fact, I've caught more big fish and quality fish this year than I have in the past eight years."
Sixbury credits the lack of grass and a smaller lake for his success and that of other anglers. The smaller lake concentrated the fish, while the reduction in grass eliminated large feeding areas.
"At full pool," Sixbury recalled, "a winning angler would need 7 1/2 to 9 pounds in June. Now, it takes between 11 and 13. All of the 3-, 4-, and 5-pounders that were living in the grass are now easier to catch.
"In June, it's not unusual to catch eight to 12 bass weighing between 1 1/2 and 4 pounds. My biggest fish last June weighed 5 1/2 pounds and my son, Tyler, caught one weighing 5 3/4 pounds."
Sixbury begins his fishing day by casting topwater lures to the bank. He recommended arriving early, as the surface action ends on clear days when the sun hits the water. Overcast skies or wind helps to keep bass feeding shallow, but these conditions are rare in June.
"The topwater bite is good through June and produces big fish," he noted. "It's how Tyler caught his big fish."
To find bass willing to attack a surface plug, Sixbury focuses his efforts about midway into a cove. He said depth is not critical, but believes the location is important because it holds baitfish.
"Ninety percent of the time it's not water depth," Sixbury revealed, "but it's the distance into a pocket where the bass are holding. Often, if you start fishing at the mouth of a pocket, the first strike will not occur until you are 100 yards in. Then, five casts may produce three fish.
"If you move directly across the pocket, usually, you will pick up another fish. I have not caught a fish in the back of a pocket."
Sixbury moves into sloughs by following the creek channel. He says each slough has a channel, and the bank closest to the channel holds the most fish.
Once in position, he casts either a Devil's Horse or a Zara Spook to the bank. The former has props on each end, so Sixbury uses a stop-and-go retrieve; the latter is a stickbait that he retrieves with a walk-the-dog rhythm. He always works the plugs all the way back to the boat, as he's had many strikes occur when the lure is a few feet from his rod tip.
When the topwater bite ends, Sixbury transitions to the pattern he works for the remainder of the day: fishing that stretch of creek channel running between 8 to 15 feet deep with a 6-inch Zoom lizard. He said baitfish use the creek channel to migrate to and from the sloughs. So Sixbury's transition is as easy as switching rods and casting in a different direction as he departs the slough.
"Keep your boat on either side of the channel," he advised, "and cast across the channel so the lure covers the shallow water and dropoffs on both sides, and the deep water in between. This will allow you to develop a pattern regardless of where the fish are holding."
The only boat ramp on the reservoir is located at the end of Howell's Ferry Road, and daily permits cost $5 at the ramp. There's about 15 feet of limestone spanning the distance from the end of the ramp to the low water.
Claiborne Lake is the last down-stream reservoir in the chain of lakes on the Alabama River. The lock and dam, which is about 15 miles northwest of Monroeville, controls water levels and allows navigation on the 5,930-acre lake. The dam, which does not generate electricity, did little to change the look of the great river, as it failed to flood the river's steep banks.
The upstream powerhouse at Millers Ferry Dam controls routine water flows through Claiborne. As a result, bass are programmed to feed in the current, and anglers take advantage of this behavior.
"I always call for the generation schedule at Camden and use it to plan my fishing day," says Clay Morris of Jackson.
Morris is President of the Monroe County Bass Anglers and a two-time angle
r-of-the-year. He also owns CHAMP Lures.
"Usually," he continued, "the turbines start between mid-morning and mid-afternoon in June. This gives you plenty of time to fish topwater lures in the shallow backwater, then switch to flipping treetops in the creeks while waiting for the current to arrive. Once the turbines start, it takes 60 to 90 minutes for the current to reach the lower part of the river. If you are not catching fish in the creeks, move to the river to fish treetops and structure."
Whether or not Morris is fishing a tournament, he is always eager to start his angling day in Claiborne's backwater areas, which are limited and lie on the lower stretch of the lake in Monroe County. He observed that the alligator grass growing in the shallows often holds big fish in early morning.
"Look for large matted clumps of grass that have grown together and are much thicker than the surrounding grass," Morris explained. "The thick cover holds the big fish, especially if the grass is growing over a stump. The perfect situation is to have high water -- a foot higher than normal -- because it allows you to maneuver between the clumps and work deeper into the shallows."
Morris targets the thick grass using frogs. He tosses both the Stanley Ribbit and the Scum Frog, but the latter is his favorite. The hollow-bodied Scum Frog floats at rest in the open holes of the grass, whereas the Ribbit sinks.
"Sixty-pound-test Spiderwire Stealth is critical when fishing with frog lures," Morris cautioned. "Monofilament stretches so much you cannot set the hook, while the braided line has zero stretch. Plus, braided line cuts through the grass when fighting the fish."
Like a rattlesnake at a picnic, sun shining on Claiborne's matted clumps of grass kills the fun of splashing frogs over the surface. When this happens, Morris leaves the shallows for the connecting creeks to flip treetops.
"Look for banks close to the creek channel with large treetops," Morris recommended. "This combination allows the fish to use cover while changing depths.
"Fish every part of the tree until you find a pattern. Flip or pitch into the nastiest, deepest, darkest, tangled places. Once you've caught a few fish and established a pattern -- whether they are holding tight to the trunk or on the ends of the treetops -- often that pattern will hold throughout the lake."
Morris chooses a 7-foot rod with 30-pound braided line to flip 3/8-ounce CHAMP jigs dressed with soft-plastic Paca Craw baits into the treetops.
If Morris is catching fish when the current arrives, he does not abandon the creeks to look for bass that may or may not bite. But on those other days, he moves into the main lake to fish treetops, rock piles, and river ledges. All those are places that redirect flowing water to offer bass predictable feeding stations.
Approaching from downstream, Morris fishes treetops with jigs, picking them apart until he develops a pattern. The only change from fishing the creeks is the weight of his jigs, which are commensurate with the force of the current.
Unfortunately, submerged rockpiles are not easily found, but for the same reason are productive. Morris said on sunny days you can sometimes see them in water five to six feet deep.
Because spaces in the rocks trap jigheads and sinkers, Morris recommended bumping this structure with a 1/2-ounce spinnerbait or a shallow-to-middepth crankbait.
River ledges abound at Claiborne. "If you can find a ledge with wood debris to break the current and that fish can stack up behind," Morris explained, "that's what I call a sweet spot. It may not be as big as your pickup truck bed."
Morris fishes these hotspots with either a middepth crankbait or a Carolina-rigged Baby Paca Craw on a 2 1/2-foot leader below a 1/2-ounce sinker.
On a good day, Morris said, these patterns may produce as many as 20 bass weighing between 1 1/2 to 2 pounds.
For current fishing conditions on Claiborne Lake, call Hall's Tackle Box on State Route 21 just south of U.S. Highway 84 near Monroeville. Their telephone number is (251) 575-4354.
From the many public ramps maintained by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Morris recommended launching at either Haines Island or Isaac Creek to fish the lower lake. Access to the upper lake is available from ramps at Cobbs Landing, Clifton or Holleys Ferry.
Located near the community of Coffeeville and 43 miles west of Claiborne, Coffeeville Lake is formed by the last lock and dam on the Tombigbee River. At 8,800 acres in area and 97 miles in length, it's the second-largest lake on the Black Warrior and Tombigbee River systems.
Coffeeville's habitat is similar to Claiborne's. It's mostly riverine, except for the lower section that includes 4,000 acres in the Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge. Approximately 1/2 of the refuge is composed of creeks, sloughs, lakes, and backwaters. Unlike Claiborne, Coffeeville experiences heavy yacht traffic in June, which makes fishing the main lake difficult.
Anthony Skinner of Silas has fished Coffeeville for 18 years and continues to fish there about three days a week. In this time, he has perfected June patterns for largemouth bass.
"When June arrives," Skinner explained, "the spawn is over, and the bass are in transition as they move out of the shallows into a little deeper water. The fish are aggressive, and you can catch them using your favorite lures.
"During the first part of the month, you find the best fishing in the lakes, and the fishing will last all day. Mid-month, fish the lakes early and then move to the creeks. Toward the end of the month if it's overcast, fishing the lakes is possible, but the best fishing occurs in the creeks."
Skinner said that anglers can expect to catch between 15 to 20 bass a day in June. "You will not catch any 8-pound monsters," he added, "but the possibility of catching a 5-pounder is pretty good."
In early June, Skinner works a 1/2-ounce Hydrilla Gorilla buzzbait along the edge of the floating mats of hyacinth in the backwater lakes. He said on overcast days, the bait draws strikes from aggressive fish throughout the day. His baits are black when it's sunny and white when it's cloudy.
"Usually, the fish are chasing shad on the outskirts of the grass," he pointed out. "The strikes are ferocious; it's very exciting."
Skinner also uses a 3/8-ounce spinnerbait to fish hyacinth.
"My biggest fish last June weighed 6 pounds, 4 ounces," he recalled. "It hit a War Eagle spinnerbait early in the morning next to the grass. You can always catch fish on Coffeeville with a spinnerbait."
When he's using buzzbaits or spinnerbaits, Skinner bumps them on any wood near the floating weeds. The strikes occur when the lure stops.
If a fish swirls on his buzzbait, Skinner follows by casting a spinnerbait to the spot. If a fish strikes either lure and misses, then he casts a Texas-rigged, 6-inch lizard.
"In the middle of June," Skinner resumed, "go to the lake early and fish buzzbaits and spinnerbaits. Then move into the creeks to fish the deeper holes. The creeks are narrow and the holes are easy to find by watching your depthfinder. Stop and fish any wood in the area where the bottom drops from 6 to 12 or 14 feet.
"Also, when there's a current moving through the creeks, fish any eddy or current break. Once, my father and I fished a current break and caught 22 fish in 45 minutes. The biggest weighed 3 1/2 pounds."
Skinner added that the creeks hold a number of blow-downs that catch hyacinth as it floats in the current. The drift piles enhance the treetop by creating shade, and attract big fish.
"Work the edges first," he explained, "then move up and flip into it. Flip the back of the drift pile and get down inside the tree where the big fish hold. It's where I caught the 6-pounder."
For creek fishing, Skinner's lures are a Series 200 Bandit crankbait or a Texas-rigged lizard. To fish drift piles, he also uses a Texas-rigged lizard, but with a 1/2-ounce sinker pegged to bust through the vegetation.
Skinner recommended fishing Turkey and Okatuppa creeks. The former has a reputation for producing big fish. He also said 30-Acre Lake at Lenoir Landing has good fishing.
For current fishing information, visit Anthony Skinner at A&D Sporting Goods off SR 17 in Gilbertown, or call him at (251) 843-5885. Skinner recommends launching at Lenoir Landing east of Womack Hill or at the Service Park off U.S. 84. Lenoir is just upstream of the national wildlife refuge, and the Service Park is near the dam.
Find more about Alabama fishing and hunting at: AlabamaGameandFish.com