As the October weather cools, largemouths in the southern part of the state become more active. Here are some tactics and locations for challenging these largemouths.
Mark Miller of Mobile uses Texas-rigged worms to coax bass from the clear fall waters of Big Creek Lake.
Photo by Stephen E. Davis
With the passing of the fall equinox in September, our nights are now longer than our days. This gradual shift in light is a welcome change of season for anglers across the state. Initially, the result is relief from summer heat, but as fall progresses and water temperatures moderate, bass also become increasingly active.
Anglers in the southern part of the state are last to experience fall fishing. Often, summer patterns prevail until late October or even into November depending on the number and strength of cold fronts.
Typically on manmade reservoirs, late summer patterns focus on main channel dropoffs. Then as water temperatures decline, they move to creek points, and finally the shallows. This well-known progression of patterns is due to shad seeking plankton blooms occurring in warmer water. Plankton reach optimum growth in water temperatures ranging from 68 to 72 degrees.
This set of late-summer to fall patterns works for Claiborne Lake and partially on Coffeeville, but they are not effective on Big Creek, Gantt or Point A. Anglers on these lakes do not have the luxury or certainty of a shad migration due to smaller populations. The smaller watersheds lack the fertility of the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers flowing into Claiborne and Coffeeville, respectively.
Claiborne Lake is the last reservoir in a chain of impoundments on the Alabama River. The lock and dam, which is located about 15 miles northwest of Monroeville, controls water flows and allows navigation on the 5,930-acre lake. The dam, though, did little to change the look of the Alabama, as it failed to flood the river's steep banks.
Since each of these five waters is unique, here is a look at how savvy anglers pattern fish on each of these lakes as the light fades into late October.
"In a lot of ways," said Tom Kelly of Mexia, "Claiborne is an untapped fishery -- and we like it that way. It doesn't get the fishing pressure like Millers Ferry above us, nor the Delta below."
Kelly, a five-time Angler of the Year for the Monroe County Bass Anglers and a winning competitor on the state level at BASS Federation tournaments, reports that fishing in October on Claiborne starts out slow on a summer river pattern.
"It's either feast or famine," he said. "If you can find a pattern that works, you can duplicate that pattern elsewhere on the river and fishing is good. My primary pattern is to flip to wood structure, mostly blowdowns, in flowing water on the main river. Wood is a premium cover that time of the year for largemouth and spotted bass. And the farther north you go on the Claiborne pool, the more flowing water becomes a factor.
"My secondary patterns are casting spinnerbaits to the wood in the early morning and casting crankbaits to bluff walls and ledges later in the day."
Kelly describes an ideal bluff wall as one that has stair-step ledges dropping from 6 to 20 feet. It is also littered with chunk rock and is adjacent to the main river channel.
"When the weather cools," Kelly explained, "fishing greatly improves as the bass follow shad into major creeks, like Bear, Isaac and Sliver creeks. During this migration, any type of wood structure or secondary point is going to hold fish because they offer concealment to bass waiting to ambush passing shad."
Kelly targets aggressive bass by offering them an opportunity to ambush shad-imitating baits in the form of spinnerbaits and crankbaits. If the fishing slows, he switches to a soft-plastic jerkbait.
On a good day of fall fishing, anglers may catch between 20 and 35 bass and it may take a 3-pound average to win a tournament here.
From the many public ramps maintained by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kelly recommends launching at either Haines Island or Isaac Creek to fish the lower lake. Access to the upper lake is available from ramps at Cobbs Landing, Clifton or Holleys Ferry.
For information on current fishing conditions on Claiborne Lake, visit Hall's Tackle Box on state Highway 21 just south of U.S. Highway 84 near Monroeville. Their telephone number is (251) 575-4354.
"Last October," Jerry Roberts of Gilbertown reported, "the Share the Gospel Tournament Trail had an event on Coffeeville and the winner caught five fish weighing 18 pounds. That's an extremely good catch and occurred after a rain during a period of high water. Usually, 14 pounds will win -- that's what mine weighed, but I finished in third place."
Located near the community of Coffeeville and 43 miles west of Claiborne, Coffeeville is the last lock and dam on the Tombigbee. At 8,800 acres and 97 miles long, the reservoir is the second-largest lake on the Black Warrior and Tombigbee River systems.
Coffeeville's habitat is similar to Claiborne's. It is mostly riverine, except for the lower section that includes 4,000 acres in the Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge. Unlike Claiborne, Coffeeville experiences heavy boating traffic in October. According to Roberts, many owners move their boats south for winter and their wakes make the water too muddy for fishing.
Since Roberts is unable to catch bass on the main lake, he fishes the protected backwaters of the lower part of the impoundment.
"If the water is still warm," Roberts advised, "fish the water hyacinth in Okatuppa Creek by pitching jigs and lizards. The bass hold on the inside edge waiting to attack baitfish as they swim by. Pitch to the open holes in the hyacinth with a 1/4-ounce jig or a Texas-rigged, 6-inch lizard.
"That's the pattern we fished in the tournament last October, but it had only produced one fish, so we moved to a slough that was about 4 feet deep and had shad showing on the depthfinder. As soon as we saw the shad, we began casting away from the hyacinth to scattered stickups and stumps. The bass were stacked under the shad. Normally, this pattern works later in the month after the water has cooled, but occurred early due to the rains."
Instead of switching overnight from a late summer pattern to a fully developed fall pattern, as the water first cools, Roberts expects to find the shad and bass at the
mouths of creeks coming off the river. Then as temperatures decline farther, follow the fish to the entrance to the sloughs and finally into shallow backwaters.
"Just keep going in deeper and deeper into the backwater as the water cools," Roberts said. "We don't fish any shallower than 2 feet. And the cooler the weather, the more aggressive the bite."
Roberts targets aggressive fall fish using crankbaits that run 6 to 10 feet deep or Rat-L-Traps.
For current fishing or tournament information on Coffeeville, call Jerry Roberts at the Gilbertown Bass Club at (251) 843-5531, or the Rev. Howard Gaston at the Share the Gospel Tournament Trail at (251) 847-3502.
BIG CREEK LAKE
While Claiborne and Coffeeville are very similar, Big Creek is entirely different. Clear and deep, it's fed by six springs and two feeder creeks, which bear very little sediment. Located in Mobile County, it is not unusual to see the bottom in 10 to 15 feet of water. The Mobile Water Service says it's the easiest water in the state to treat for drinking.
Unfortunately, local anglers accustomed to fishing the Delta find the 3,600 acres of clear water difficult to fish. Many only fish the lake once, never to return. Fortunately, though, some anglers have persevered to unlock Big Creek's secrets.
Mark Miller of Mobile has a strong background of winning tournaments on the lake and has caught good numbers of bass weighing 4 to 5 pounds. His biggest weighed 8 pounds, 9 ounces. Miller, who fishes the lake at least three times a week, expects an afternoon of fall fishing to produce 10 to 15 fish with good numbers of 3- to 4-pounders.
Miller succeeds where others fail because he targets bass suspended on grassy dropoffs, and he covers a lot of water. In October, he starts fishing by trolling a crankbait -- to keep it simple he only trolls one lure -- along the edges of main lake flats that drop into 12 feet of water.
"This pattern produces best," Miller said, "if you have a wind blowing into the dropoff, and you find shad working along the edge.
"As you try to establish a pattern, watch your depthfinder so you can duplicate the same conditions if you catch a fish. Trolling is the most effective method for locating suspended bass. When you get a bite, throw a marker buoy and work the area by casting.
"During October, the bass hold under the shad at an average depth of 10 feet, though you may have to change depths depending on weather conditions. You will also find shad and bass on dropoffs at the ends of long points. Points produce good numbers, but the bass are smaller. If you catch a few small fish, move to another location."
Miller uses his electric motor to troll crankbaits that dive to a depth of 7 feet. If he finds a drop that deserves more attention, he positions his boat upwind and casts his bait onto the flat and nearly parallel with the dropoff.
He prefers to drag either a Carolina- or Texas-rigged worm off the grass-covered ledges. The soft-plastic lures tricked all of his big fish into biting.
Big Creek's only boat ramp is located at the end of Howell's Ferry Road, and daily permits cost $5 at the ramp. Maps are available from Keith Map Service in Mobile by calling (251) 633-5588 or (800) 342-6722.
For current fishing information, visit Quint's Hardware & Sporting Goods in Saraland, or give them a call at (251) 679-1300.
CONECUH RIVER LAKES
Point A Lake
"If you find bass in a fall pattern on Point A," said Lowe Dillard of Andalusia, "the fishing is phenomenal. The numbers of fish you can catch are very high. Until you see it, it's unbelievable."
Dillard, who has fished the twin impoundments of Point A and Gantt on the Conecuh River for nearly 30 years, has experienced the ups and downs of Point A, which is located four miles northwest of Andalusia and downstream from Gantt. In recent years, this 700-acre reservoir has produced great fishing for skilled anglers.
Before the water cools, Dillard's primary pattern is fishing the grass edges along creek channels using a spinnerbait to quickly search for bass. Once he has connected, the angler switches to a soft-plastic jerkbait and thoroughly fishes the area.
"Use a 1/2-ounce spinnerbait," Dillard advised, "so you can use a fast retrieve and keep the bait about a foot below the surface. Also use a white bait, as one with color will increase the strikes you get from chain pickerel to 50 percent."
Two creeks that Dillard enjoys fishing in early October are those leading into the recreational park and the RV park. He said the grass edges there are 2 to 5 feet deep.
"When water temperatures decline," Dillard noted, "bass often school at the mouths of the creeks on the dropoff. The dropoff will fall from 6 to 8 feet into 12 to 15 feet of water. There are plenty of places like this on the lake.
"Nearly every point on the creeks where they drop off into the river will hold good numbers of fish. When you find them, it's not unusual to catch 25 fish from one spot in about as many minutes," he continued.
"If you watch your depthfinder, you'll see tight balls of shad, which shows that the bass are working them. These shad are small -- less than 2 inches."
Dillard completes this fall pattern by casting deep-diving crankbaits along the edge of the drop. He uses green and chartreuse colors if the water is muddy, if not, he selects a lure color that resembles a shad.
"Once in a while the bass will drive the shad to the surface," Dillard offered. "When they do, you must be prepared and have a topwater stickbait tied on, ready to fish. Cast to the breaking fish immediately, and in about two cranks of the reel, you will have one on."
Dillard reported that most of the fish he caught last year from Point A weighed between 1 and 3 pounds, with his largest tipping the scales at 7 pounds.
The best access to the reservoir is at Point A Park on County Road 59.
Located adjacent to and upstream from Point A, Gantt covers 2,747 acres. Piers and boathouses along its highly developed shoreline represent a large percentage of available cover. They also form the foundation of Dillard's primary late summer pattern on the lake.
"Many anglers fish boat docks," Dillard observed, "but they often fail to fish the brushpiles that dock owners sink to attract fish. If you are fishing boat docks and not catching fish, just move out from the dock 10 to 20 feet. About 60 percent of the docks on Gantt have brushpiles, and they are productive.
"Windblown boat docks definitely offer the best fishing. Use a 6-inch Texas-rigged worm with a 1/4-ounce sinker to fish the docks and the brushpiles. Red shad with green glitter is a good color for this pattern."
Dillard also said the docks receive a lot of fishing pressure, and adds
that the fish he catches weighs 1 to 3 pounds. Since Gantt has nearly as many skiers as it has boat docks -- or so it seems to anglers -- the best time to fish is early in the morning or late in day.
When the water cools, Dillard shifts his focus to dropoffs at the ends of main-lake points and those at the ends of docks.
"Look for boat docks built on a flat that end on the edge of a dropoff," he advised. "Fish the front of them like you would any dropoff. At times you will find them stacked up. It's a good way to win a tournament."
To find productive main-lake points, Dillard recommends maneuvering your boat in a crisscross pattern and watching your depthfinder to locate the dropoff. These are points that you can see originating on the shoreline. A 5-foot drop is enough to attract fish, as Gantt is shallow.
"After mapping the first point," he said, "map another and then return to fish the first one. In the fall, if the shad are there, you are not going to run the bass off. Seeing shad is the key to this pattern.
"Most of the fish you catch weigh between 1 and 3 pounds; however, my biggest fish weighed 7 1/2 pounds."
Dillard caught his big fish in the fall on a crankbait. He uses the same color patterns as on Point A.
Free boating access is available on Gantt in the Clearview Community on Alabama Highway 29.
Topographic maps of Gantt and Point A lakes are available from the Andalusia Chamber of Commerce. For current fishing conditions or tournament information on these reservoirs, visit Carolyn Morris at Stokes Sporting Goods on East Watson Street in Andalusia, or call her at (334) 222-1225.