Whether spring rains flood the shoreline or not, these expert tips from a veteran guide will help you catch bass at Jordan. (April 2010)
Although many climatologists claim the United States remains in a period of higher-than-normal temperatures, global warming apparently ended during late 2008 in the central portion of North Carolina. Since then, the Tar Heel State has seen plenty of rainfall during two winters and springs.
Jamie Olive, a veteran guide at Jordan, hoists a hawg largemouth.
–ª Photo by Craig Holt.
On Jordan, spring rains mean flooded rocky, stump-covered points and shorelines -- prime areas to find spawning largemouths. Because of that, during April, Jordan Lake is one of the favorite impoundments for Triangle-based bass chasers. Anglers await late March and April because that's when fish leave deep water to create spawning beds in the shallows.
"A lot (of spring bass fishing success) depends on the water level," said Jamie Olive, 40, of New Hill, an EMT with the town of Cary and a guide at Jordan. "If we've had normal rain in the spring and the water gets up in the bushes, that's when we really can have fun."
Olive (Haulin' Bass Guide Service, www.haulinbass.com, 919-625-0707) grew up at an Apex family farm, three miles east of the river bottomland in Chatham County that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers scoured out in the late 1970s to create the lakebed. Fortunately for bass anglers during that time, the Corps listened to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission's fisheries biologists and left vast shoreline areas of stumps and rock fields that draw spawn-happy largemouths like magnets each spring. That's good news because it's easier to put a lure in front of bass in shallow water rather than when they're deep during summer and winter.
Because of his youth spent buzzing across the dry lakebed on an ATV, Olive knows the location of nearly every piece of bass-attracting structure at Jordan. More importantly, he recalls locations of prime rock and stump fields.
"We used to ride four-wheelers all over when (the Corps) cleared the land," he said. "I was lucky because not many people know the bottom like I do."
Olive has several areas where he pursues largemouths at Jordan each spring. One of his favorites isn't a spawning flat, but during the early days of April, it's a staging area adjacent to the Ebenezer Church Road Access, a popular boat launch area.
"In early April it's a good idea on sunny days to put in (your boat) and never start the big engine but just put down the trolling motor and fish at the riprap on both sides of the causeway at the Ebenezer bridge," he said. "Some days I never get out of sight of the (boat) ramp; I've won tournaments there."
Casting shallow-diving crankbaits, spinnerbaits and small green jigs, Olive uses the trolling motor mounted on the bow of his Skeeter bass boat to cruise parallel to the causeway, casts a few feet off the rocks and bumps lures off the rocky bottom all the way to the back corners on both sides of the causeway.
"If it's sunny, rocks warm up first each day and that attracts baitfish, so that's also where you're likely to find bass in spring," he said.
Another hot spot with fish-holding riprap is the U.S. 64 causeway that crosses the lake from the Pittsboro side toward Raleigh. It's about a mile north of Ebenezer.
"I caught my best Jordan bass, an 11-pound, 4-ounce fish, one spring off the riprap at the 64 bridge," he said. "I was throwing a Rat-L-Trap. I actually thought I'd got hung up on the rocks and was trying to get the lure free when (the bass) started moving off."
Olive caught that lunker during late March, when Jordan's pre-spawn period starts. The pre-spawn sets up the April spawn as bass stage in water from 8 to 10 feet deep just before they move to the shallows to lay eggs.
"When the water temperature gets to 48 to 49 degrees, that's when the bass first move on the riprap," Olive said. "When it hits 50 degrees, they'll be all over the riprap, then when it gets to the mid-50s, the big females will go to the shallows and start working beds."
Jordan Lake is different from nearby Falls Lake, however, because there's almost no sight-fishing during the spring -- Jordan's water is too stained. Nutrients flowing downstream in Haw River and New Hope Creek keep the lake's color a uniform green and visibility is limited to 6 inches to 1 foot beneath the surface almost year 'round.
"There's almost no sight-fishing at the lake, but through experience, we've learned what temperatures cause bass to move to certain areas in the lake," Olive said. "So we know when it's in the mid-50s, the bass will be in the bushes, but again, only if the water level is high."
The key to shallow-water spawn fishing at Jordan is the Corps' water-release schedule.
"You never know what the Corps will do as far as letting water go through the dam each spring," Olive said. "When they continually let water out, it'll drop the lake's level, but it takes a while to do that. If they drop water several days in a row, bass will just move back off the bushes and spawning flats -- but they'll still be near those places, just backed off at little."
Dennis Reedy, a well-known local tournament bass angler, fished Jordan in early April a few years ago during a high-water period and caught 15 bass during a half-day trip with sizes ranging from 5 pounds to 9 pounds, 8 ounces. He used a blue-black jig-and-pig flipped at willow bushes near Bush Creek.
"The willow bushes can be a great pattern in April if the (lake level) is right," Olive said. "You can get a hot day and catch 15 or 20 bass, if the water's high."
Although the day Reedy caught his fish the air temperature was 27 degrees (first week of April), the previous week a warm snap had elevated the water temperature to 56 degrees and sow bass had moved into the bushes.
"Even if the air temperature drops down, the big sow females won't move back deep because once they move shallow, they're gonna stay there until they spawn," Reedy said at the time. "The only thing that'll make 'em move (deeper) will be if the Corps pulls water."
The same types of shallow structure (willow bushes) exists in the backs of Big Beaver and Little Beaver creeks on the east side of the Ebenezer Church Road bridge. Olive often visits that shoreline as his second stop during April.
"There's some big spawning flats back there, too," he said.
Olive said when the water creeps around the bases of the lake's shoreline willow trees, he uses a selection of soft-plastic lures.
"First, I'll split my time fishing with Texas-rigged lizards or jigs," he said. "A crawfish-imitator jig is also a good choice."
Olive often starts by flipping or pitching a jig-and-pig into flooded timber.
"(Jigs) are supposed to imitate crawfish," Olive said. "I'll choose colors (of lures) based on (water) clarity. If the water's not real stained, I'll use green or green-pumpkin. If it's a little stained, I'll go with brown. If the water's muddier, I'll throw black and blue."
With bass oriented in bushes in a little deeper water or on rocky or stump-filled spawning areas, Olive prefers a Deep Creek Shake Rag crawfish in chartreuse with pepper flake or green pumpkin. "It's got garlic scent imbedded in these crawfish trailers and I think that attracts bass," he said. "Deep Creek soft baits also are made of all plastic and they won't dry out like some other lures when you take them out of water.
"Early in the morning, you also can have a good topwater bite if the conditions are right, and if it's cloudy it'll last a little longer," Olive said. "That's when it's a good time to use a buzzbait or spinnerbait."
No one has yet figured out why bass hit buzzbaits, other than their clacking blades enrage bass. Spinnerbaits, anglers believe, resemble shad. Sometimes when Jordan's water level floods shoreline trees, bass want bigger lures, and that's when Olive turns to spinnerbaits.
"What type and color I use will be based on the water color," he said. "The water color determines the type of blade I'll use. If it's only kind of murky, which is Jordan 's usual color, I'll stick with willowleaf blades; if it's really muddy, I'll go with a big Colorado thumper blade."
If the water's not high enough to cover shoreline structure, Olive said he still fishes near traditional spawning areas and casts lipless crankbaits and spinnerbaits that run 3 to 6 feet deep.
An effective spring color for hard baits includes anything that resembles a crayfish's tint. Anglers call those shades "aggressor" colors.
"I like to throw stuff with red and orange," Olive said. "Once bass get around the beds, they start to feed on bluegills (which are notorious eaters of bass eggs). Generally, it's a good idea from February to May to throw baits that are crawdad imitators.
"SPRO (lures) makes a really good small, shallow-diving crankbait, the Little John, and you can get it in orange. They also make one that's dark red with black crawdad lines on the sides. It runs about 2 to 3 feet deep. It's not a bait a lot of people know about at Jordan, and I think that might make bass bite it better because it's something they haven't seen a lot."
An older lure Olive also employs is a Rapala crawdad-colored Shad Rap.
"I usually throw a No. 7 Shad Rap," he said. "It's 2 3/4 inches long and I only throw it with a spinning rod. Bass will really crush that bait in spring. I've seen some 10- and 11-pounders come out of Jordan in the spring on an orange Shad Rap."
During April, bass may be preparing to spawn or already moved to the shallows and making beds. In either case, Olive said they'll be hungry and likely to whack just about any type of lure.
"Once (Jordan) bass are in the pre-spawn and start moving toward shallow water, it really doesn't matter what type of bait you throw," Olive said. "I've found they'll hit just about anything; it doesn't matter. The main thing is during the pre-spawn before they actually start bedding, just go to the backs of the creeks, especially during high water and throw something; they'll hit it."
Sting The Low-Water Wild Card At Jordan
Bass anglers who have seen central North Carolina receive spring rains the last two years know lake levels fluctuate.
At Jordan Lake, that can turn off a great shallow-water largemouth bite faster than Nancy Pelosi voting against a tax cut. But guide Jamie Olive has a few tricks up his sleeve to catch bass when the Corps of Engineers leaves anglers' hopes high and dry.
"Jordan's water level is really finicky in spring," he said. "If we've had a lot of rain, and the Corps starts pulling water and it makes the fish retreat from the bushes, they'll be 10 to 12 feet deep -- and hard to catch."
Olive's solution is to station his Skeeter bass rig just offshore from spawning areas and "yo-yo" (jig) a Rat-L-Trap or crankbait off the bottom. If he wants to cover more water, he'll slow-roll a spinnerbait. These days Olive said he almost never misses a hookup by slow-rolling spinnerbaits.
"I used to have a problem with short strikes on my spinnerbaits," he said. "I missed a lot of fish. But instead of one of those long-shanked stinger hooks on my spinnerbaits, I starting using treble hook (trailers)."
Olive said he found a solution to short strikes even before lure companies invented stinger hooks for blades.
Olive began experimenting with smaller single hooks and found they worked a little better but not great. Then he read a story about king mackerel fishing, discovered small treble hooks and adapted them as spinnerbait stingers.
"I took a No. 4 treble hook and used a piece of (surgical) tubing (around a dropper line) to hold it in place (on the back of a spinnerbait's main hook shank)," he said. "I also clipped off the treble that was pointing down and now I had two trebles pointing up. It's more compact (than a regular trailer hook) and doesn't hang like a stinger hook, and I can make it as short or long as I want and hide it in the skirt."
Olive said he's been using his treble stingers for 15 years to catch bass. He said now when a largemouth looks sideways at one of his spinnerbaits, "it'll get him."
"I don't mind giving up the secret," he said. "There's really no secrets out there anymore."