Bladin' for Delta Bass

In the spring, the shallow waters of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta attract hordes of spawning bass. And these largemouths are suckers for bladed baits!

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Mike Thompson

Ask anglers who travel through south Alabama using either Interstate 10 or 65 just what captures their attention most, and the majority are likely to mention the Mobile/Tensaw River Delta. This vast wetland is a system of waterways of many different types. From large lakes to the multitude of winding creeks and shallow-water bays, the delta is the prime ecosystem of coastal Bama for a variety of wildlife and myriad species of fish.

There is no disputing the beauty and raw splendor that this area offers. Whether crossing the high hump bridge on I-65 or the relatively low expanse of the I-10 crossing Mobile Bay, the dominant theme is water, and lots of it. For anglers in particular, the area also shouts largemouth bass!

If you are an angler lucky enough to be within driving distance of the delta, you already know how productive the area can be. If you happen to be a visitor, you quickly find out that the Mobile/Tensaw Delta lives up to the hype.

Like any other body of water, the delta has certain times or seasons that are more productive than others. Probably the best time for delta bassin' is in the spring, when the annual spawning ritual is taking place. Females eager to put on weight before the spawn and aggressive male bass make spring fishing almost easy.

After a typical winter, the delta waters are cold and muddy from annual rains. Warming rays from the sun in spring help to raise the temperature and jump-start the growth of delta grasses. These same grasses act as filters, clearing the muddy waters with each passing spring day.

With water temperatures in the mid to high 50s, delta bass start staging in the deep creeks near shallow-water bays. It is not unusual to pick up nice limits of bass on these "highways" to the spawning grounds.

A typical hotspot is any structure in the deep creek, such as downed trees, snags or sudden dropoffs. Working these places with plastic worms or jig-and-pig combinations can yield optimum catches for those willing to work the baits slowly and methodically.

Finding such places can be hit-or-miss during the pre-spawn season. As the days get longer and water temperatures begin to rise, anglers should seek out the northern ends of shallow grassy bays for the first signs of spawning activity.

When the water temperatures start climbing into the mid-60s, it's time to hit the shallow, grass-filled bays for the best action of the year.

With just a little coaching, even novice fishermen can catch their share of bass using the delta's most reliable fishing lure - a spinnerbait. When the bite is on in spring, aggressive fish attack bladed baits with authority!

While it is puzzling to some as to why spinnerbaits are so effective in the delta, to others the puzzle has been solved. One such angler is Lee Grandquest of Semmes.

Grandquest has honed his skills with spinnerbaits well enough to earn local and regional fame. Among the accomplishments he has achieved are Mobile City Bass Championships in 1997 and 2001, two top-10 finishes in FLWOutdoors/Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League events, and qualifying for the BFL Regionals in 2002 and 2003.

As you can tell, spinnerbaits have been very good to Grandquest. Even though success has come as a result of spinnerbaits, Grandquest had relied on plastic worms as a go-to bait until he sought out the advice of some seasoned delta anglers.

"When I started tournament fishing in the mid-'80s, I sought knowledge from the old-timers. All the older guys told me that in spring on the delta there was no better bait than the Hildebrandt Snagless Sally. They even narrowed it down to one color combination - yellow with a green pork frog trailer. I used it, and it worked great," said Grandquest.

"Later I tried other colors and combinations of the Sally and discovered a few more deadly versions. The yellow-and-black, crawfish (yellow/brown/red) color, and bruiser (purple/ black and blue) colors are my favorites. For trailers I prefer a green-and-white pork frog for the yellow-and-black and crawfish colors. I use a white twin-tailed trailer with the bruiser Sally.

"I choose the color of my blades depending on two things," Grandquest continued. "First is water clarity. If the water is stained to muddy, I use gold blades. If the water is clear, I use silver. The same train of thought goes with weather conditions. With cloudy or overcast skies, I use gold blades. And with clear sunny skies, I prefer silver."

Even though Grandquest relies heavily on the in-line spinnerbaits, he does have another brand that has started building impressive catch rates in spring.

"I picked up on the War Eagle spinnerbaits a couple of years ago. I tried them because of the color options they offered. I've been experimenting with different colors and trailer combinations. So far I've been impressed at how much the bass like this bait," Grandquest said.

There have always been theories as to why spinnerbaits work so well in the spring. These lures are normally used in shallow water, which is where bass spawn in spring. Sounds simple enough.

Grandquest has his own theory as to why spinnerbaits are so effective in the delta in spring. Actually, he had a little help in coming to the conclusion.

"Auburn University recently completed a study on the feeding habits of bass in the Mobile/Tensaw Delta. It turns out that the top two feeding choices of delta bass are small crabs and shrimp. This should come as no surprise in the brackish-water environment," Grandquest offered.

"I, along with other delta anglers, feel that the fluttering motion of the spinnerbait trailers closely resembles a small crab swimming just below the surface. In fact, the trailer legs look like the claws of a small crab as it hesitates along its journey."

During the spring, the massive amount of water and choices of places in the delta to fish can be a little overwhelming. Knowing what to look for can cut down on unproductive casting. Grandquest suggested concentrating on the shallow bays. Look for the clearest water you can find and start casting.

"I first look for clear water and next I try to find some grass," he added. "Bass will be buried in the thick stuff on sunny days, but will be on the edges when it's cloudy.

"I check for water surface temperature when I first enter an area in spring. I want to find something in the mid-60s or low 70s. This is the temperature when the bass are most aggressive. It's also the time when they fight the hardest!"

Grass is not the only thing to key on for delta bass in spring. Other types of structure, such as cypress trees, downed trees or old duck blinds, hold bass as well. If grass is not present, try those bits of cover before you leave the area.

An obvious but often overlooked structure that holds bass is the pilings that support both interstate highway bridges. These pilings can hold plenty of fish in spring, particularly after a cold front has dropped the water level in the delta.

"It surprises me just how many anglers bypass fishing the pilings of the interstate bridges that cross over the delta," Grandquest said. "Both interstates 65 and 10 have excellent fishing around the pilings.

"When a strong cold front pushes water out of the delta, the bass fall back into the sanctuary of deeper water. The bridges provide that sanctuary till waters come back up," Grandquest explained.

While most bass anglers prefer to attack the pilings with a worm or jig-and-pig combination, Grandquest sticks to his "money" bait.

"You can catch just as many bass off the pilings with a spinnerbait as with any other lure. When I fish the pilings, I just slow down my presentation a little. I also use a larger bladed spinnerbait as well. This allows me to slow-roll the bait and pause it occasionally. This pause causes that fluttering effect, imitating a crab," he theorized.

There are numerous places to try in spring for delta bass. Some of the more popular locations are Bay Minette Basin, Justins Bay, Johns Bend, Choccalotta Bay, Bay Delvan, Grand Bay and Chuckfee Bay. All of these places have annual grass growth. Some start to clear up sooner in the spring, providing the initial bass action.

For some reason, the bays on the eastern side of the delta hold bass the earliest. The first reports of delta bass seem to come from Bay Minette Basin and Justins Bay. It could be because the bays are sheltered from winds or maybe their location away from the heavy flow of muddy Tensaw River waters. Either way, these two places should be on your first-stop list.

For the bass fishing to be at its best in spring, you have to have several things. Water clarity is one of the most important factors. If the bass can't see the bait, chances are your success will be minimal. Wind and weather are also important to the spring bass fishing equation.

When asked for his favorite spring spinnerbait conditions, Grandquest does not hesitate.

"I like for the skies to be overcast," he stated. "This moves the bass on the edges of the cover. I also like for there to be a little breeze. I want just enough wind to make small ripples on the surface. In my book, that's ideal conditions for the lower delta."

Although Grandquest concedes that you can catch delta bass on spring mornings, he prefers the afternoons.

"You need the water to be over the grass for the best action," the angler noted. "Typically the tides are rising during the day in spring. Some places that are only a couple of feet deep can increase to as much as 4 feet deep by late afternoon. Places the bass couldn't get to in morning are now accessible to the fish and, more importantly, to you and your boat."

Since the delta is a tidally influenced area, planning for the water fluctuations is very important. This information is easily obtained from local newspapers, television weather reports, and online at numerous weather sites.

By learning the nuances of tidal movements, you can plan your fishing day accordingly. Start out by fishing the deepest areas first while waiting for the tides to rise before hitting the shallower areas.

One advantage to fishing during the lower tides is that it exposes some of the underwater channels in the bays. All of these bodies of water have several channels that the bass use as highways. Find these and you may hit pay dirt!

Tackle used for spinnerbait fishing is pretty standard. A medium-action rod with a matching reel covers most situations. With the bass running an average of 1 to 2 1/2 pounds, light tackle is just fine. That is, of course, unless you tournament-fish like Grandquest.

"I like a medium- to heavy-action casting rod. It has the backbone you need to keep a bass from burying up in the grass. For a reel, I like the 5-to-1 gear ratio. With spawning bass, you don't want to pull it by them too fast.

"I also like to up my line size to 15-pound monofilament," he added. "The brackish water allows the growth of barnacles that can cut through smaller lines. I'm kind of old-fashioned, so I've stayed away from the new superlines."

Covering a lot of area is the name of the game in spring. Having a well-charged battery system for your trolling motor is vital for success. Be sure to give your trolling motor batteries a good charge the night before your next fishing trip.

Since one of the more successful tactics for catching shallow-bay bass is drifting, the use of a drift anchor (sometimes called a drift sock) helps to slow down your boat drift, should breezy spring winds stir up. This keeps you from moving over an area too fast.

Speaking of drifting, be sure to carry along some marker buoys that you can toss over when you find bass while drifting. It's not suggested that you anchor on such a spot, but rather use the buoys as a point of reference for your next drift.

You can make your own buoys by using 20-ounce soda bottles painted glow orange. Simply tie a nylon string around the neck of the bottle and attach a lead weight to the string to serve as an anchor to hold it in place. You can see the buoys from a distance and the cost won't bust your wallet.

If all this talk about fishing the lower delta has you curious, you're not alone. Lots of folks trailer down to South Alabama to take advantage of the great spring fishing.

Your best bet for reliable information is from one of the fish camp operators or sporting goods stores in the area. These guys talk to fishermen every day and know what's going on. Develop a relationship with one of these folks and your success rate is bound to climb.

The great fishery of the Mobile Delta was a largely untapped secret until about five years ago. Now there are numerous bass tournament trails that have held their events here or intend to hold their events here in the future.

Despite the increase in fishing pressure, the delta still holds large numbers of fish. If you are looking for great fishing and beautiful scenery, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better combination. Give it a try!

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