Go End to End for Coosa River Bass in Alabama
June 28, 2017
The Coosa River runs through Alabama for quite a ways, providing great bass fishing throughout its course, especially on the ends.
By Eileen Ann Davis
The Coosa River is known as a bass fishing destination, offering anglers opportunities to fish for quality largemouth and spotted bass.
In fact, because of its fertility, the Coosa ranks as one of the most productive chain of lakes in Alabama, with growth rates for spots often equal to largemouth in their first five years.
And summer provides some of the most consistent patterns for catching bass, as shown by competitors on the Alabama Bass Trail, which hit both ends of the Coosa chain last June.
WINNING ON WEISS LAKE
Weiss Lake is the first of six Alabama Power Company reservoirs on the Coosa River, stretching for 39 miles from Georgia to the Weiss Dam Powerhouse in Cherokee County. This dam is separate from Weiss Dam, which is upstream from the powerhouse pool. In addition to the Coosa, the dams control waters from the Chattooga and Little rivers, as well as many creeks.
Covering 30,200 acres, Weiss contains abundant shallow-water flats and submerged timber, bridges, roads, home foundations, snags and stake beds. These features offer anglers willing to fish offshore plenty of opportunities to find largemouth and spotted bass not pressured by others.
Brian Shook and his partner Randy Tolbert, Jr., won the first Alabama Bass Trail team tournament on Weiss, producing 23.25 pounds with the big fish of the day weighing 7.31 pounds. Both second and third places weighed in more than 21 pounds each.
Shook takes the challenge of offshore cover, currents and structure seriously, and wins tournaments by doing his homework.
"When learning to fish offshore," said Shook, "resist the urge to just fish. It's best to leave the rods in the locker and log seat time learning the lake by reading your electronic maps and watching your sonar. Plan to ride half a day and fish the other half. While learning new lakes, we may only make a few dozen casts in a day."
As good as down and side-scan imaging is at showing underwater features, it does not compare to seeing how they relate to each other without water. Shook found the place that produced the biggest fish of the June tournament by riding his four-wheeler on the dry lakebed during the extreme drought of 2001. He took photos and made a scrapbook, which has become invaluable. This allowed Shook and Tolbert to cull 11 fish weighing more than 3 pounds on tournament day.
Shook's ideal offshore spot is where the river channel meets a shallow flat that holds cover or some type of structure that forms a current break.
"The most important factor is cover or structure," said Shook. "Largemouth and spotted bass on Weiss relate to structure, which are stumps, docks, grass or submerged roadbeds. We focus on anything in the immediate area where flats drop off into creek and river channels.
When searching for a place to fish, Shook says the size of the cover or structure is unimportant. During the tournament, a single stump produced several fish. He doesn't look for bass on cover, but he does look for baitfish.
"Having baitfish on the spots helps tremendously," Shook said. "However, you don't always need them, as a strong current will pull the baitfish into these places."
Sidebar: Don't Overlook Weiss Lake Crappie
Like other crappie fisheries in the state, Weiss Lake has experienced its highs and lows. Fortunately, anglers and biologists agree Weiss' fishery is currently riding high with excellent fishing. Biologists report a very successful year-class in 2010 and again in 2014. These year-classes offer both big fish and good numbers of fish.
To find and catch limits of crappie during summer, target flats with brush piles, stumps, stake beds and rock piles 12 to 14 feet deep near the main river channel of the lower half of the lake. These obstructions offer crappie relief from current as they wait for passing schools of baitfish. Large current breaks often provide the best fishing.
Look for current breaks within 50 feet of the main channel by maneuvering down the edge of the drop off while watching the sonar. After finding a promising spot, use the trolling motor to work around its edges. Then, use a long rod to fish deep within the cover. If there is a current, find crappie holding tight to the current break. Minnows are the best bait for catching crappie in the summer on Weiss. — Eileen Davis
Current makes bass more aggressive and hold tighter to cover, which makes them easier to catch if the exact location of cover is known. A lack of current makes bass scatter and suspend, and more difficult to catch.
Shook and Tolbert's lures for offshore fishing on Weiss are crankbaits and football jigs. Typically, they use a 1/2-ounce jig, but weights are commensurate with the current. Their crankbait selection depends on the depth of the bottom.
"The key to fishing a crankbait," said Shook, "is to use a crankbait that runs deeper than the bottom. To fish a bottom 15 feet deep, do not throw a lure for that depth. Instead, use a crankbait rated for 22 feet that will bump the bottom consistently and create a reaction strike."
Shook also recommends dragging the bottom with jigs. If that doesn't work, he says to stroke the jig.
Tolbert's confidence jig is Dr. Dave's Bass Candy Football Jig by Black Angel Lures. Shook's is a brown and green pumpkin Weiss Special by Shooky Jigs (404-597-8652). Both dress their jigs with Strike King Rage Craws.
When fishing this offshore pattern, Shook says spotted bass strike first.
"Coosa spots are the most aggressive fish on the lake, so expect the first strikes to come from them. As you continue to fish the same area, the largemouth will bite."
Shook recommends anglers use side-scan sonar to search the river and creek channels from Little River Marina to Cowan and Spring creeks. He says this pattern is effective from May through August.
Video: Bass pro John Murray shares a great fishing tip
LAKE JORDAN SUMMER PATTERNS
In its four seasons, the Alabama Bass Trail has visited Lake Jordan the last three. Brent Crow and his partner Rex Chambers finished in the money every time. Last June, they finished in second place with 18.01 pounds, just .36 pounds out of first place. Their big fish weighed 4.62 pounds.
Crow, a guide (northalabamabass.com) on north Alabama lakes, says they fished two productive patterns for the June tournament on Jordan. The patterns are effective on offshore points on the lower section of the lake and on visible points and pockets on the upper riverine section.
"On the first practice day," said Crow, "we had planned to arrive early and fish shoreline grass. Instead, we arrived mid-morning to find gin-clear water. The grass failed to produce a strike the first 30 minutes, so my partner started fishing a shaky-head jig in water 18 to 20 feet deep as I continued to work the grass. We moved over a little point and he caught a 4-pound largemouth. At next little point, he caught a 3 3/4-pound largemouth."
Some anglers might have considered the two fish a fluke, but not Crow and Chambers. At that point the pair searched their map for similar points to develop a workable pattern. The next point produced a 3-pounder; they didn't fish the grass again.
Covering 6,700 acres, Jordan Lake is less than a quarter the size of Weiss. It has 188 miles of shoreline, which includes flooded backwater creeks on the lower section from the dam upstream to Blackwell Slough. The remainder of the lake, upstream to the Mitchell Dam, is riverine. Like Weiss, it has two dams. The second dam, known as the Walter Bouldin Dam, is unique and creates a large pool with an excellent population of bass at the end of the canal leading to the dam.
The team's late arrival had them quickly abandon their strategy to fish grass and adapt to a more reliable offshore pattern. According to Crow, the sun had driven the bass he had expected to catch shallow to the nearest deep-water points.
"The remainder of the practice day on Thursday and all day on Friday," said Crow, "we looked for the same type of places. We got bites on the majority of them. Then on Saturday, we went back and fished them. We had an awesome three days, and we had these places to ourselves."
Crow says they found points in every creek on the lower section of the lake. Main lake points produced spotted bass, while obscure secondary points held largemouth. They caught fish at depths between 12 and 20 feet deep, but the key was having some type of cover on the point.
"You had to have either brush or rocks, which is not a problem on Jordan," Crow said. "A smooth, flat point would not hold fish. If you could drag your lure over the point and hit the cover, then that is where the fish would strike. Occasionally, one point would produce as many as three fish."
To trigger strikes from offshore bass, Crow used either a 3/4-ounce football jig rigged with a green-pumpkin Strike King Rage Craw or a Strike King Bull worm on a 3/4-ounce shaky head.
"With the lack of current," he explained, "the fish were not active. We did not hop the lures. When the lure hit cover, we would sometimes give it a little shake."
Surprisingly, on tournament day, the team decided to start by fishing jerk baits and topwater lures for spotted bass on the riverine section of the lake.
"We knew the offshore fish would bite anytime during the day," said Crow, "so we decided to catch some bonus fish by going up the river to fish points and pockets. The lake is clear enough that it is perfect for fishing topwater.
Crow's go-to topwater lure is a cigar-shaped walk-the-dog, because its quick action and sudden changes trigger reaction strikes from great distances in clear water. It allows the guide to cover water quickly. The decision paid off, as the pair quickly had a pair of 3-pounders.
Spotted bass prefer the swift water along Jordan's steep banks. They use the current breaks formed by the small points and pockets to wait for shad to pass in the swirling water.
"There are probably a hundred places to fish going up the river," said Crow, "and you never know when you will hook a big fish."