Two Martins for Yellowhammer Bass
September 28, 2010
These two similarly named lakes have very little in common, except for great spring bass fishing. Join the author in discovering how they differ.
By Mike Handley
That so many bass tournaments are held on Alabama's Logan Martin and Martin lakes is a testament to the outstanding fisheries in these two very different reservoirs. Logan Martin, sandwiched between Neely Henry and Lay lakes on the Coosa River, has been the site of multiple BASS Masters Classics, and it routinely yields record catches. Lake Martin, the deep, clear Tallapoosa River impoundment, used to be one of the favorite stops along the Red Man tournament trail, and it has helped launch the careers of numerous pro anglers.
Why do these lakes attract even more competitive fishermen than bass factories like Guntersville and Eufaula? In both cases, chalk it up to the likelihood that you're going to catch a limit of black bass - be they largemouths or spotted bass - on any given day, regardless of the season. Yet the springtime can yield the most impressive stringers for both quantity and quality of fish.
On Logan Martin, the current might dictate when the bass are biting in the spring. On Martin, it's the water's level, not its pace. Let's take a look at some of the many techniques that will produce fish when the dogwoods are blooming.
LOGAN MARTIN Gary Klein of Weatherford, Texas, one of professional bass fishing's hottest anglers, has said that the BASS Masters Classic does more to educate local fishermen than any amount of trial and error. He wasn't saying that those who fish the sport's "World Series" are better anglers, though many of them are. He simply meant that so many different tactics are employed successfully to catch bass that the resulting publicity surrounding a big-money tourney tells fishermen just what to do or not to do.
"When we leave here, there will be no more secrets," said Klein, preparing to fish the first Classic ever to be held on Alabama's Logan Martin Lake, a 15,263-acre impoundment to the east of Birmingham.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
That pretty much says it all, at least for fishermen interested in wetting their lines in August, the traditional setting for professional bassin's main event. But will the same techniques that produce winning creels on Logan Martin during late summer work in the spring?
There was a reason for the Classic being held on Logan Martin, and it wasn't one of convenience. It was based on access and the great fishing.
Local bass fishermen have always known what to expect on that stretch of the Coosa. But ever since Bob Hamilton of Brandon, Miss., brought the Classic's then third-largest three-day haul of 59 pounds, 6 ounces to the scales in 1992, the rest of the world has known, too. Even more recently, during the 1997 Classic, the 40 competitors managed to catch 94 limits during the three days - breaking the existing Classic record for five-fish creels by a whopping 33. Logan Martin, incidentally, had also held the old record!
If those tallies aren't enough to convince you of the lake's potential, results from numerous other tournaments offer even more proof. In the latest Bass Anglers Information Team (B.A.I.T.) report, for example, Logan Martin was at the top in the "bass per angler day" column. The Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries release the B.A.I.T. report annually. Aside from handing chambers of commerce bragging rights, the report is a tool frequently used by bass clubs to pick tournament sites.
Several techniques and lures can produce limits of both spotted and largemouth bass on this fish-filled reservoir. Bob Hamilton used a bunch of varied tactics and baits in his summertime win in '92, and the same tricks work today.
The Mississippi angler, who is a former Birmingham resident, used his depthfinder to locate humps in deep water, mainly between Stemley Bridge on State Route 34 and the Logan Martin Dam. The mounds were typically 15 to 18 feet deep, had clay bottoms with brush nearby, and were surrounded by water 20 to 25 feet deep.
In fishing the humps, Hamilton left nothing to chance - even if it meant spending a little extra time. After arriving at a spot, he dropped a couple of floating buoys overboard, then backed off and began casting crankbaits between them. The deep-divers had orange bellies, green sides with black spots, and dark-colored backs.
On the final day, Hamilton threw a chrome-colored lipless lure with a black back. This technique produced four bass from two previously fished spots in the final hour that meant the difference between a $13,000 second-place payday and the $50,000 winning payoff.
Before leaving each hump, he would also throw a big chartreuse spinnerbait with Colorado blades or a jig sprayed with fish attractant. Hamilton said the bass were not interested in the spinnerbait when it was fished conventionally. Instead, he ripped the bait off the bottom, then let it fall.
Hamilton also had a fourth pattern that proved to be very effective during practice, especially on overcast days. Not only did it produce fish, but it also worked particularly well with big largemouths. This tactic targeted wooden docks - not boathouses - and he was pitching a 5-inch Texas-rigged chartreuse-pumpkinseed worm, from which he'd pinched about an inch off the bait's top end.
Pitching the worm next to one of the poles, he pulled out a 5-pounder. The dock was in 18 feet of water, a magic depth for Hamilton.
In 1993, David Fritts of Lexington, N.C., won the BASS Masters event with big crankbaits, which netted him 34 pounds, 6 ounces in three days. But four years later, a much smaller lure would catch the beefiest creel.
Dion Hibdon of Stover, Mo., winner of the 1997 Classic, caught his fish using an entirely different technique. He plucked 34 pounds, 13 ounces of spotted bass from under boat docks to beat Alabama's own Dalton Bobo by a mere ounce. Hibdon pitched and skipped a homemade Hula-type grub on a 1/4-ounce jighead under the docks.
Stephen Browning of Hot Springs, Ark., proved that when push comes to shove a lead-headed jig and grub can be a ticket to catching bass on this reservoir. Browning stayed within sight of the launch area during the final day of a BASS Masters Top 150 tournament held at Logan Martin, threw a red-speckled, smoke-colored grub and reeled in a dozen beefy bass. His best five included a 6-pound, 6-ounce hawg, the largest to reach the scales that day.
In all, the angler's last-day limit of fish tipped the scales at 18 pounds, 4 ounces -
handing him first place.
The runner-up, Columbiana's Don Hogue, was a distant 9 pounds out of the lead, with a second-place creel taken on a 1/2-ounce jig with a green skirt and a green-pumpkin trailer.
To be accurate, however, it should be pointed out that Browning's accomplishment could not solely be attributed to the 1/8-ounce grub. To make the final cut after three days on the water, he fished a spinnerbait with a gold Colorado blade and a nickel-colored willow leaf blade. It was only after he'd landed in the top 10 for the tourney that he switched tactics. The fact that the spinnerbait had yielded but one fish by lunchtime also influenced that move.
During that same Top 150 tournament, James Otwell of Gadsden earned the top spot in the amateur division by fishing spinnerbaits on main-lake points and in pockets. His best fish was a 5-pound, 8-ounce largemouth.
LAKE MARTIN Like its cousin on the Coosa, Lake Martin is also teeming with both spotted and largemouth bass. Tournament fishermen often have a hard time deciding whether to target fat spotted bass first - to ensure a limit catch - or to try for one or two largemouths to anchor their stringer before switching to techniques better suited for the spots.
Unlike Logan Martin, however, the bass in this Tallapoosa River reservoir are not as dependent on the current to trigger their appetites. Yet in April, the water level is all important. If it's rising or, better yet, at full pool by late in the month, the fishing is fantastic. But it has sometimes taken until mid-June for the lake to peak, which means much of the cover that attracts and holds the bass is out of the water in April.
"Bass invade the shallow wood cover, rockpiles, boulders and even irregular bottom features as the spawn takes place," says longtime fishing guide Reed Montgomery. "Even a small ditch underwater can be a traveling route to the spawning flats and hold sizable numbers of both male and female bass.
"Some of Lake Martin's biggest largemouths are taken each spring during the first week or two of the lake's return to full pool," he added, "and most are found in some very shallow water."
A casual glance inside any bass angler's boat on Lake Martin during the spring and summer usually confirms that one of the hottest fish-catching tools on this picturesque impoundment is a Carolina rig. The actual lure will range from a 4-inch plastic worm or lizard to a "centipede" that might be more at home in a child's toy chest. Regardless of the terminal bait, the rigging is the same.
They're all tied to a lightweight leader attached to a swivel. Above the swivel, a substantial weight slides freely on the main line. This Carolina rig is mostly used to seduce spotted bass, the smaller and feistier cousin of the largemouth. In Lake Martin, bassers and biologists alike agree that spots, or Kentuckies as they are sometimes called, outnumber largemouths by more than a 2-to-1 margin.
The heavy concentration of spotted bass in the massive 40,000-acre reservoir is largely responsible for the lake's favorable showings in the most recent Bass Anglers Information Team (B.A.I.T.) report. Among the 23 lakes listed, it ranked No. 5 in both the "percent success" and "bass per angler-day" columns. Martin routinely is head and shoulders above other deep and clear lakes known for their spotted bass fisheries.
Although finding big fish can be a challenge, tournament bassers seem to love Lake Martin.
Trip Weldon of Wetumpka, once the assistant tournament director for B.A.S.S. Inc., has earned close to $100,000 from bass tournaments on Lake Martin. He's done well competing in Red Man and Shriners tourneys, as well as numerous smaller contests on his favorite lake.
Weldon's biggest single stringer of bass there weighed 22 pounds, 13 ounces, and all were largemouths.
"It was one of those perfect days when everything was clicking," he said. "I caught all but one on a jig."
A jig, however, is not his first choice of lures in April, a transitional month for the bass swimming in Lake Martin.
"The key is to begin fishing with floating worms and jerkbaits for late spawners in shallow water," he said. "If you don't find any fish, work your way to deeper water. The bass that have spawned usually stop on the docks for a while before moving to deeper water, so you can catch them at all stops in between. After covering the docks, start fishing the points with worms."
Lighter shades are best for plastic baits.
"Green pumpkin is hard to beat on this lake," Weldon noted. "If the water is stained, go with pumpkin and chartreuse.
"In the mornings and evenings, you catch some fish on topwater lures, too," he added. "If you get a bunch of bites on a buzzbait, most of those fish have spawned. It all depends on the kind of weather you get in April."
Felton Langley of Lafayette considers Lake Martin his "home lake." Sam Moody of Athens also ranks Martin as one of his favorite bass fishing destinations. Both fished the Red Man All American championship when it was last held in Alabama.
"You don't catch the size fish you do in other lakes, but it's pretty and clean. And you can catch numbers of fish over there, especially in the fall and spring," Langley said.
For Martin's spotted bass, he prefers using a Carolina rig in the Blue Creek area. When he needs to add some largemouths to his livewell during a tournament, he motors north of the U.S. Highway 280 bridge, following the original river channel.
He likes Martin for reasons that are different than those of most anglers. Part of his love for the lake is rooted in sentimentality. The rest is Martin's elusive largemouths.
Sam Moody also won a springtime Shriners tournament on Martin a few years back with a hefty bag of bass weighing more than 21 pounds, eclipsing the weights posted by those with stringers of spotted bass. His fish were largemouths.
"There are some really nice largemouths on Martin," he explained. "You just have to know how to catch them."
Bill Etheredge of Columbiana, one of the few Alabamians ever to fish in the BASS Masters Classic (1995), targets largemouths whenever he visits Lake Martin. That is not surprising since he considers himself a shallow-water fisherman.
"I'm a bank-beater, like most folks from Alabama," he said. "I've tried fishing crankbaits. I have them in my box, and they're all still shiny.
"I've gone out on the lake, planning to use nothing else. I've thrown them for two or three hours until my arm was sore and not caught a fish, only to pick up a jig and catch one on the first cast," he continued.
On Martin, Etheredge prefers to flip a 1/2-ounce jig whenever the water is high and muddy in Elkahatchee and Wind creeks, which it is most often in the early spring.
"If the water's up, you have to put it in the logjams or any piece of structure to get the largemouths to bite," the angler noted. "You can flip a jig in those logjams and get a 5- to 6-pounder."
He also likes to slowly retrieve a 3/8-ounce spinnerbait through the brush for bigmouths.
"Slow-rolling a big spinnerbait will produce one 5- to 7-pound largemouth a day, maybe two or three," Etheredge said.
If the largemouths have lockjaw, he shakes a 4-inch finesse worm or fishes a gold- or shad-colored medium-diving crankbait to catch spotted bass. These baits sometimes help him catch 40 or 50 Kentuckies in a day.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION To find out about the latest fishing conditions or to book a day of guided bass fishing on Lake Martin, call Reed Montgomery at (205) 787-5133 or check out his Web site, at www.fishingalabama.com.
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