Heart of Dixie October Bass Options

With the cooler temperatures of autumn, the action for bass should be picking up. Let's see if this holds true on these North Alabama reservoirs.

By Eileen Davis

Without question, temperature is the environmental factor that most consistently influences bass behavior. It regulates their metabolism, feeding and distribution. In other words, water temperature is a sure way to determine the elements of a bass pattern - location, depth and presentation.

This is especially true in October, as the water is still warm at this time but cooling from longer nights. The biological reaction of the bass to cooling water is to feed voraciously for the approaching winter. Through spring is four to five months away, bass also need to store fat for egg development.

Falling water also affects bass behavior. In October, water levels on lakes R.L. Harris, Inland and Weiss are historically midway to their lower pools, and as every veteran bass angler knows, falling water can be unsettling to bass. Fortunately, since October is normally our driest month, orderly drawdowns do not impact fishing.

Whether it's largemouth or spotted bass, these lakes in the Heart of Dixie offer anglers unparalleled excitement as bass recklessly prey on forage.

R.L. HARRIS RESERVOIR

For the past five years, Shirrell Hendon of Ashland and his partner have won October tournaments on Harris. In that time, Hendon has seen winning tournament weights double from 10 to 20 pounds for a five-fish limit.

"The lake is on an up trend," he said. "We don't have a shad population like they do on the Coosa River, but schools of shad on Harris have increased greatly in the past five years. Accordingly, our fish are growing to a larger size."

Dan Catchings, District II fisheries supervisor for the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, confirms Hendon's observations and says it's time to consider opening the slot limit, which began in 1993, so anglers may harvest one or two fish measuring in the 13- to 16-inch slot.

Though the largemouths in Harris Reservoir are few in number, when you find one there it is likely to be a hefty specimen. Photo by Stephen E. Davis

"When we established the slot limit on Harris," Catchings said, "our electro-fishing samples produced a high population of yearling bass each year, with very few measuring more than 14 or 15 inches. We had slow growth and a fairly high mortality; many of those fish were not living past the first or second year.

"That's what happens when there is not enough forage for high numbers of young bass. We needed to reduce that population so there is more forage for the remaining bass to grow into and then hopefully out of the slot.

"In the past four or five years, anglers have gotten much better at harvesting fish below the slot. As a result, we have seen a big difference in those numbers. The combined numbers of largemouth and spotted bass below 13 inches are falling, which is very good. We have also seen a definite increase in the numbers of fish in the slot.

"However, we are not seeing enough fish growing out of the slot to a larger size, which was the goal of the slot limit," the biologist continued. "Once we analyze recently collected data, it is possible that we may open the slot to one or two fish. This will thin that population, and allow more fish to grow out of the slot."

Located on the upper Tallapoosa River in Clay, Cleburne and Randolph counties, Harris covers 10,660 acres, has a maximum depth of 130 feet and is 27 miles long. The clear, deep water is bounded by thousands of rocky points and sloughs that create picture-perfect spotted bass habitat.

According to Catchings, spots outnumber largemouths 2-to-1. Nevertheless, Hendon starts every tournament by fishing for the heavier largemouths.

"Start your fishing day," Hendon advised, "fishing topwater lures on the sides of brushy points on the upper lake. Look for main-lake points that fall off fairly steep. For example, an excellent point would end at the river channel and not contain many rocks but would have an abundance of dead brush in shallow water.

"Fish the Zara Spook by walking the dog. If you get a strike and they miss, don't pause or stop the lure. Keep walking the dog, and the bass will hit three to five times until they are hooked."

Under clear skies, Hendon said, the bass move deeper on the points once the sun is shining bright, thus ending the early-morning topwater pattern.

"Next, move to the shoals at the head of the lake to fish stumprows in eddies next to the bank," Hendon said. "In October, the lake is down six to eight feet, so you see stumps above the water and just below the surface."

Hendon went on to explain that bass are attracted to the shoals because of an abundance of shad.

"Bass numbers are directly proportional to shad numbers," he pointed out, "and the more shad you find, the more aggressive they will be."

Since Hendon enjoys targeting aggressive fish, he prefers to work stumps using a spinnerbait. If that fails, he switches to a 7-inch Texas-rigged worm with a 5/0 hook.

"We catch a lot of largemouths weighing 6 to 9 pounds," he explained, "so you need a big hook."

To catch spotted bass, Hendon starts his day fishing points just as with largemouths, except he moves to the lower lake.

"Look for points with foot-sized rocks," he said. "Position your boat on the side of the point in 20 feet of water, then cast your topwater lure into the shallows. Early morning, spots hold in 2 feet of water. As the day progresses, fish the same points, only deeper. Spots in October may hold as deep as 10 feet."

Hendon added that a 4- to 6-inch worm rigged on a slider head can catch large numbers of spotted bass.

Harris has five public ramps, and all are accessible during periods of low water. Hendon recommends launching at the State Route 48 bridge so you can travel downlake for spots or upstream for largemouths.

For current fishing information, visit Pop's Landing on U.S. Highway 431, or call (256) 363-2977.

INLAND LAKE

Last October, Jason Redding, lake manager for Inland Lake, caught a largemouth weighing nearly 8 pounds. That same month, his wife, Ann, caught

a spot that weighed 6 3/4 pounds. According to Redding, her spotted bass is now the lake record.

Redding, who has fished the lake for 35 years, said Inland produces big bass as water temperatures decline.

"We have many 6- to 7 1/2-pound largemouths caught in October," he said, "with some weighing up to 9 pounds. Throughout the month, anglers also catch big spots weighing between 4 and 5 pounds. On a good day, though, expect to catch 18 spots from 2 to 3 1/2 pounds."

Redding does not describe the largemouth fishery in numbers, as spots dominate the lake.

"We encourage anglers to return all big bass," he said. "Especially largemouths. We don't have many, but what we do have are nice."

Impounded 65 years ago as a water supply for Birmingham, Inland Lake lies in the valley between Blount and Sand Mountains, which is nine miles southeast of Oneonta. It covers 1,536 surface acres over a length of 7 1/2 miles.

"In some respects," Dan Catchings noted, "it's like a miniature Smith Lake. Inland Lake is very clear and deep, with a maximum depth of 171 feet and a mean depth of 77 feet. The lake is narrow but has a lot of shoreline due to its many sloughs."

If you have never fished a clear deep-water lake, Redding strongly advises you to fish much deeper than usual.

"Unsuccessful anglers do not fish deep enough," he cautioned. "Concentrate on working structure 10 to 35 feet deep."

Bluffs are the first structure Redding recommends targeting if you want to catch spotted bass.

"Just below the dock," he said, "fish the bluffs on the right hand side of the 'S' curve. Bluffs with big rocks and blowdowns always hold fish."

Additionally, Catchings said his electro-fishing samples show the potential for great fishing at the bluffs near Box Creek, which are a half-mile below the curve.

To fish bluffs, Redding positions his boat to cast parallel with the wall using a deep-diving crankbait.

"It's difficult to know how deep to fish," he said, "as spots love deep water. During October, they normally hold 20 to 30 feet deep."

Since spots often strike when the crankbait stops, Redding reels his bait down to its running depth and pauses. Then like a baitfish that moves a few feet and stops, he works the lure back to the boat. Unless, of course, a hungry spot slams it.

Rocky points provide the next pattern Redding recommended; it is the one that produced the trophy spot for his wife. The one that gave up her fish is typical of many points on Inland that produce quality spotted bass. It is located across the lake from Box Creek. The point - long with a plateau at 15 feet, dropping into 30 feet - has an abundance of midsized rocks. According to Redding, the rocks offer protection to one of the spots' favorite meals: dark-green crawfish with orange pincers.

Ann Redding was fishing on the bottom with a small June-bug-colored worm, rigged weedless on a jighead. The big spot took the bait the first time she hopped it off the bottom.

Redding recommended fishing 15 to 20 feet deep on the points, and if that fails, moving into water 25 to 30 feet deep.

While spotted bass are Inland's main attraction, the lake does produce big largemouths in October. Redding said largemouths move into shallow water to hold close to stumps or blowdowns.

"To target largemouths," he advised, "fish in the backs of sloughs located in Woodward Creek, Needham and Wade hollows. Early and late, fish buzzbaits, Zara Spooks or flukes near woody structure."

Redding caught his big largemouth last October in Needham Hollow.

After the morning topwater bite, you find fish holding on stump-covered points in the same areas. He fishes the stumps with spinnerbaits and plastic worms.

To reach the lake's only boat ramp, take State Route 75 to Allgood, turn east at the Inland Lake sign onto Boat Landing Road, and drive 4.5 miles to the ramp. The launch fee is $5, or you may rent boats and motors there.

For more information, call Jason Redding at (205) 625-6090.

WEISS LAKE

Unlike Harris and Inland lakes, but not far in miles from either, Weiss has more largemouths than spotted bass. In fact, this fertile shallow reservoir consistently produces some of the best largemouth fishing in the state.

According to Catchings, both tournament anglers and science affirm the lake's standing. Bass Anglers Information Team reports often rank Weiss near or at the top in overall quality, while analysis of electro-fishing samples show bass are thriving.

"In all classes," Catchings reported, "their relative weight exceeded our statewide 75th percentile value, which is really good. That shows there is plenty of food for the bass and that they are fat and healthy. It also reflects in their growth rates, which were exceptional for ages 1 through 5."

Located in northeast Alabama with an arm reaching into Georgia, Weiss gains its fertility from the Coosa, Chattooga and Little rivers and the many creeks along its banks. The lake covers 30,200 acres and has 447 miles of shoreline at full pool. Approximately 2,000 of those acres are in Georgia and not covered by a reciprocal licensing agreement.

Known for its extensive flooded stumpfields, which have destroyed many props and lower units, the lake has numerous boat docks, secondary channels, riprap areas and grass-lined shores that offer plenty of structure for October patterns.

With so much shallow-water structure available, lure selection and presentation possibilities abound. Nothing, however, beats a bass attack on the whirling, clacking blade of a buzzbait. And a buzzbait is a very productive lure in the hands of an experienced angler.

Last October, Elton Beason of Cedar Bluff won the Weiss Lake Bassmasters club tournament using a buzzbait. It is his favorite lure. Beason uses the lure from May though summer and into late fall. Contrary to the way many anglers use topwater baits, however, he does not limit its use to low-light conditions. The lure's strike zone is his primary consideration.

"Buzzbaits will not pull a fish more than three feet on Weiss," he stated. "For example, if you are fishing in five feet of water with stumps three feet below the surface, you might get a strike, but anything deeper than that is not likely to produce."

To maximize the time his buzzbait spends in the strike zone, Beason uses high-speed reels with 6.3:1 gear ratios.

"A fast re

trieve allows you to quickly reach the spot you want to fish," he said, "and then once you are past the area, quickly finish the retrieve to make another cast. Sometimes, though, I don't change speed but rather just twitch the lure as it reaches the target.

"If you make three casts to the same spot and do not get a bite, move to the next target. If it's a good stump where you've caught fish before, switch to a crankbait before moving."

Beason, who fishes six days a week, begins his trips in October by fishing shoreline vegetation, but he says riprap, boat docks and seawalls also hold bass.

"Fish parallel to the bank," he said. "It's one of the reasons I do so well in our club."

Beason won four of their 12 tournaments last year.

To fish shoreline structure effectively, Beason keeps rods rigged with both left- and right-running buzzbaits.

"When fishing on the right side of the boat," he advises, "use a bait with a left-turning blade, which pushes the lure to the right. If you use a left-running bait, it will move away from shore. You want to control the bait so it runs either close to a seawall, for example, or bumps it. Having baits that turn one direction limits the structure you can effectively fish."

"When a bass strikes," he said, "the bass is trying to stun the lure so that he can return to see if it's something he would like to eat."

The second pattern Beason fishes in October is stumps on channel drop-offs. Because water levels are down, by using polarized sunglasses you can see stumps not normally visible. Search both main and secondary channels for stumps in water 2 to 8 feet deep.

If the stumps are not within his buzzbait's strike zone or the bait is not drawing strikes, Beason switches to a shallow-diving crankbait.

Using these techniques, Beason catches 25 bass per year weighing 5 to 7 pounds. Many of his 6- and 7-pounders are taken in the fall.

For current fishing conditions at Weiss Lake, visit J.R.'s Marina on Little River or call (256) 779-6461. Also check out their Web site, at www.jrsmarina.com.



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