Photo by Ron Sinfelt
When planning on fishing a place for the first time, I ask several questions of those who have fished it, including what kind of fish should I expect and what type of cover will I encounter. Once I have fished a place, I continue to ask questions, but I now focus on more specific inquiries, such as what trends are anglers seeing on the lake and how people usually go about fishing its waters. For lakes like Gibson County Lake and Davy Crockett, my plans were no different before I bass fished them, and I’m still asking questions after I’ve fished them. But I know how you’re going to catch fish on these two quite different lakes without asking any more questions at all. And it’s not going to be a very difficult thing to do.
GIBSON COUNTY LAKE
Gibson County Lake came to my attention when I was actually researching Glen Springs Lake in West Tennessee. TWRA fisheries biologist Dave Rizzuto gave me a breakdown of the lake, one of my favorite bass lakes, in fact, and answered every inquiry I had. When we were finished, though, he added a simple, but thought-provoking question: “Is that the only place you’re bass fishing?”
“Why?” I asked.
“Right now there’s a lake even better than that,” he said.
“Gibson County Lake,” he said, and I needed no further pushing in that direction.
When arriving at this TWRA family fishing lake, which was originally stocked with 3- to 4-inch bass fingerlings in 2001 and opened for fishing in April of 2003, the first thing anglers will notice is the large diversity of cover at the lake. When I fished the lake for the initial time on a Saturday, I was one of at least 30 bass boats on the 560-acre midsized reservoir. Usually in this situation, I leave and seek shelter elsewhere. However, I had a good feeling that I could get away from boaters. Moreover, I had already heard very good reviews on the lake.
Gibson County Lake has already given up a bass weighing 12 pounds, 8 ounces. And that fish came in the third year after the lake opened.
In the fall of 2006, Rizzuto commented that in a 30-minute time span, biologists electro-fished a number of other bass between 7 and 8 pounds.
Originally stocked with a 50/50 combination of Florida bass and a northern strain of largemouth, the lake definitely boasts the potential to be one of the best big bass waters in the state.
Creel limits have been set at five bass, a slot between 14 to 18 inches, with only one allowed over 18 inches, in an attempt by the TWRA to put in place a method of leaving a number of emerging big bass in the lake to feed on the surplus of bluegills (which were also stocked for its bass fishery). Threadfin shad were also recently added to help with the booming bass population, a population that is growing faster than Rizzuto ever expected.
“Plus,” he said, “the lake’s not getting as much pressure as we thought it would.”
Originally built as a recreation/ fishing lake, the lake’s level is still low for most of the year. But this also allows anglers to see the structure available to fish at Gibson County, and there’s plenty of structure to see.
Take a left out of the boat ramp and you are looking at a long, dog-legging cove that was originally crop land, and there is very little change in water depth as far as you can see. The large expanse of open water in front of the ramp extends to the levee and was formerly cow pasture. It contains a number of edges and breaks that should be located by avid anglers with a depthfinder: Here those anglers will find summer’s deep largemouths. To the right of the ramp is where a forest had been located, which is quite evident due to the large amount of exposed cover that is seen.
So, the lake offers a host of inviting choices concerning where to fish. From shallow, tapered banks to heavy, wooded areas, Gibson County has just about everything you could want to fish.
Along with the already mentioned contours, the levee is rock-lined and there are numerous coves near the levee that, when the water finally gets up, create a series of humps and little “lost” lakes that fish like small ponds. Also, in that area are some of the lake’s deepest dropoffs, where the water is nearly 30 feet deep.
If you’re interested in fishing manmade structures, TWRA has placed a number of fish finders, at least 10, throughout the lake. They aren’t hard to find, since they have been marked with buoys. Simply stated, you’ll never run out of fishy looking water. But where should you go first?
I think that answer is pretty simple — any direction. If you’re going to go left, start burning with shallow-running, white and bluegill-colored crankbaits. I make it a point to fish my fair share of trebled lures first, and then look to fish a shad-colored fluke in these waters and hook it weedless. Don’t fish slow until you feel you have to, and use this lure if you do. Matching forage as well as providing a maximum amount of action will give you the naturalness you’re looking for. Allow the fluke to work below the water with rapid wrist twitches while also reeling in. I like to Texas-rig these in order to keep them weedless, because if I’m going to fish with a single point hookup and it’s not a spinnerbait, I want that hook to be hidden.
I have attacked the dropoffs with deep-diving crankbaits and, to be very honest, haven’t found as many fish toward the levee as I have in the left and right coves. But if I wanted to get hard-headed and find those fish, I’d continue to work these dropoffs with forage-colored crankbaits while also slow-rolling spinnerbaits off the big contour edges near the creek that runs adjacent to the dropoffs after I had worked the left and right coves first.
When fishing the timber to the right of the boat ramp, have confidence in yourself to fish a couple of lures quickly before forcing yourself to go to soft plastics. Work your crankbaits (I prefer a 4- to 6-foot running Bandit) and allow the lures to run through, over and under trees, pausing with each one that you come across in order to free the lure and give it a yo-yo action. But don’t become slowed down with the timber. Fish it quickly at first, paying attention to your depth changes and where you’re finding your fish.
The first day I was there, I was working a bank bei
ng pounded by the wind, and I knew there would be fish roaming the tree-lined side. Were the fish there? No, on most of the lake, they were not, or at least I couldn’t find them. But when I rounded the corner and saw a heron chasing baitfish in a rock- and tree-covered cove, I wised up, matched the hatch, and the boat ran off about eight fish in about 10 minutes.
If the wind is too stiff for safety, or bank-fishing is how you’re starting from the get-go, you never have to leave the woody coves. Work these areas with single- and tandem-bladed white spinnerbaits right under the water. If your first cast comes back clean, allow your lure to go a bit deeper, and continue to do the same. With this, you will work an area from top to bottom. Create a line with the spots you are fishing, forcing yourself to put your spinnerbaits down these lines in order to fish the countless small points that infest this wonderfully complex, but fun, lake to fish.
Lastly, if I were going to bank-fish Gibson County, I wouldn’t spend too much time with crankbaits until I learned its obstacles, for as much cover as you see on top of the water, there’s a much larger amount under the water. Don’t lose a lure if you don’t have to.
The main thing to remember with Gibson County Lake is that there is plenty of fish-catching water available even with a multitude of boats on the lake. And don’t work single areas. With as many trees that fill that lake, and as many spots that look good, the fish are going to be somewhere. Start with my suggestions above and, combined with your imagination and your depthfinder, envision what the area looked like before it flooded.
DAVY CROCKETT LAKE
Davy Crockett Lake, on the other hand, is an older body of water that does not have a reputation for being a bass lake.
But I think I can change that.
When looking at 87-acre Crockett, head straight across from the boat ramp and begin fishing to the right of the major point directly across from the dam. This is one of the lake’s deep-water areas and you should fish it with 6- to 8-foot diving crankbaits by making casts within inches of the shore and pulling the lures off the sudden dropoff right next to the bank. Get precise with these casts and you’ll quickly see your fish numbers increase.
When I’ve fished it, the bass have held close, and we have caught several on crawfish and white. On that same side, I’ve seen bass over 6 pounds come off that ledge next to the shallow water. The shallow water becomes more prevalent as you get closer to the upper end of the lake, but don’t become too caught up in this water. Fish a 20-yard stretch of this back cove and see if the fish are in the ankle-high water. If not, quickly get out of there. For it’s the one place that has plenty of exposed trees and flooded timber, but it’s also the one place you can spend a lot of time fishing very shallow and, when I have fished it, very dead water.
At this lake, it’s not a matter of whether you’ll catch fish: You will. The lake, with its 10-bass-a-day creel, has a large number of small bass that swim its waters. The trick is to find a nice fish.
But one advantage you have in fishing this lake has to do with its reputation for small bass: The lake is mainly seen as a catfish and bluegill lake, so considering this is a public lake, you have a much better chance than usual of being the only bass angler on the water.
That’s one difference between Davy Crockett and Gibson County lakes. One is going to have pressure, and one is not. Another difference is that one is going to be technically challenging, and one is not. With Crockett, you’ll have a manageable lake that will show its trends and it gives shallow timber to fish, as well as deep dropoffs with more than 30 feet of water to work toward the levee.
Plus, there are a number of stumps and artificial tree attractors that are marked by buoys. However, don’t spend all day fishing these, either. It’s like this: If you can see them to fish, don’t you think everyone else is fishing them, too? They are good cover, so go ahead and make a pass, but then find some subtler locations.
The one spot I would spend my time on, however, is the shallow water, covered in riprap, along the levee.
I’ve fished these riprap areas from two angles, from the boat and from the bank. I went to the lake’s levee one time after getting blown off the lake and began working it extremely quickly, catching fish that were running in and out of the rocks lining its form. Instead of a spinnerbait like I fished at Gibson County, I fished crankbaits here. Outside of bouncing off the rocks under the water, my casts were relatively snag-free.
Make your first cast to your left as you fish the levee from its boat ramp side. A 20-foot cast will work in an area roughly a foot off the bank. If you want to fish right next to the rocks, that’s easy, too. Switch to a white or chartreuse spinnerbait and begin reeling back as soon as the lure hits the water. Fan these casts out until you’ve fished about halfway across the dial, not making long casts into unproductive water but instead focusing on keeping your lures close to the bank.
Repeat this procedure all the way down the levee, making it a point to stop to fish the areas a bit more thoroughly that produce fish.
Most of my bass usually came within 50 yards of the overflow on the far end of the lake, though of course, your mileage may vary.
Now, once you find your fish, because this is the type of strategy that might lend you 30 bass by yourself, catch every one that is filing itself into that area. Then move down 30 yards, and try to do the same thing, and then come back to the exact same place again within the next 15 minutes, giving these fish enough time to get back in the original spot you found them. If you’re fortunate, and I have to say I’ve been very fortunate, the fish will keep being there.
When fishing Davy Crockett and Gibson County, you’re going to fish two different types of water: one new and eye-grabbing the entire time. Davy Crockett is not established as a traditional big-bass fishery, but it has big-bass potential as well as plenty of overall fish potential.
If you haven’t fished either one of them, spend half a day at Crockett first. I think the lake is overlooked as a bass fishery and provides many anglers one vital thing that any angler needs once in a while: the likelihood of catching a large number of fish.
Gibson County, on the other hand, provides something just as special: the chance at fishing a lake at the beginning of its prime and that presents you with the opportunity to hook a fish that will make a serious effort to break your rod in.
Earlier, I mentioned that the lake has already produced a 12-pound, 8-ounce largemouth; the state record is just over 14 pounds. Given that Gibson County Lake has just started to enter its most productive years, it has a chance of producing double-digit bass for some time to com
“Gibson County is my pick as one of the best bass lakes in West Tennessee. Right now it exceeds all our expectations,” Rizzuto said.
But there’s also one other question you have to ask yourself: If you could go to a lake and catch between 20 and 50 bass in a day, with six to 10 fish being above 12 inches and one fish weighing over 5 pounds, would you fish it regularly? If the answer is yes, then your other hotspot is Davy Crockett.
Find more about Tennessee fishing and hunting at: TennesseeSportsmanMag.com