Two Bama Lakes For Fall Bass

About the only thing that Lewis Smith and George Andrews lakes have in common is that they are in the same state and both produce good fall fishing. Join the author in exploring these varied bass waters.

By Eileen Davis

After the long, stifling days of summer, anglers look forward to October and nature's breath of fresh, cool air. Fall finds the lakes in our state calm as attention is diverted to hunting, work or school. When temperatures reverse, the change energizes bass to feed for the coming winter with a renewed vigor not seen in other seasons.

The decrease in fishing pressure combined with the predator's instinct to attack schools of shad at every opportunity makes bass fishing fun. As bass become more aggressive, they eagerly chase faster lures. And nothing offers as much excitement as seeing bass strike a buzzbait or sub-surface spinnerbait.

At opposite ends of the state, Lake Andrews and Smith Lake have little in common. Nevertheless, they both provide great fall bass fishing, as well as a study in how to catch fish under very different conditions. Whether you're fishing aquarium-clear water upstate or nut-brown water in the Wiregrass, discover how our expert anglers apply the hottest patterns and techniques to these unique fisheries.

Craig Daniel's business card says "Spot Specialist." Daniel, a Smith Lake guide and tournament angler from Cullman, established the validity of his expertise by winning many high-dollar tournaments on the lake with heavy stringers filled with spotted bass. Furthermore, his career winnings from local, regional and national tournaments total nearly $300,000.

Having begun his study of Smith's spots 22 years ago, Daniel reports that the best times to catch these scrappy fighters during fall is from mid-October through mid-November. Cooler water temperatures and declining daylight cause shad to move out of deep water and form into tight balls.

"Beginning in October," Daniel noted, "spots feed heavily on shad for the approaching winter. It's a great time because anglers can catch fish using a variety of lures and methods. It offers excitement, especially to young or novice anglers, as they can watch spots rise from the depths to strike a topwater lure."

If spots racing through clear water to grab your lure aren't excitement enough, the possibility of catching high numbers of fish adds to the allure.

Targeting woody cover along the shore at Andrews is the key to catching largemouths. Photo by Stephen E. Davis

"Given the right conditions," Daniel said, "anglers can easily catch 50 fish per day. The spots will have an average weight of 1 1/2 pounds, with bigger fish weighing 3 to 4 pounds. Anglers, though, will not catch many big fish on Smith. I have caught 10 spotted bass weighing more than 6 pounds, but not in October. I think they remain deep until it turns cold."

According to J. Chris Greene, district fisheries biologist, spotted bass have increased in size since the implementation of a 13- to 16-inch slot limit in 1995.

"Our catch rates (electrofishing samples) of spotted bass less than 13 inches have decreased," he said, "while our catch rates of fish above 16 inches have more than doubled. It takes just over three years for a spotted bass to reach 13 inches and 4 1/2 to 4 3/4 years for it to reach 16 inches.

"Though it's good to see these fish grow out of the slot, we would achieve better results if we could convince anglers to remove the smaller fish from the lake. This would reduce the population of those fish, which are abundant, so larger fish can grow out of the slot."

Greene reports that Smith's nutrient-poor water supports a limited forage supply that has too many fish competing for too few meals. This results in slow growth rates. To increase the amount of food available per fish, Greene says anglers must harvest the smaller spots.

"Catch-and-release is simply not the answer for the management of Smith's spotted bass," he argued.

Instead of a wide expanse of water, Smith's 21,200 acres form a series of river and creek arms stretching across Cullman, Walker and Winston counties. The distinctive forks of the Sipsey River and Rock and Ryan creeks define the lake's contour and with their tributaries create 500 miles of shoreline.

But it's the water's clarity and great depth that really set this reservoir apart from other lakes in our state. Typically, water visibility ranges between 10 and 12 feet. During periods of heavy rain, Ryan Creek, on the east side of the lake, experiences the most agricultural run-off; even then, the lower two-thirds of the lake remains clear. Depth readings at the dam exceed 300 feet.

Of the lake's three fingers, Daniel reports that competitors win 90 percent of all tournaments fishing Rock Creek.

"It's a big creek with excellent structure for holding spots," he explained, "and during fall months, bass relate to its points, visible wood and rock bluffs."

Daniel said with regard to the three types of cover, in October his primary pattern targets points.

"It doesn't matter what kind of point," he said. "Long shallow, short deep, rocky or sandy - the key to finding fish and establishing a pattern is to try the different types, eliminating unproductive water.

"Start fishing in shallow water, working parallel to the point and casting across to the deeper water. Continue to fish the point out to a depth of 35 feet and then move to another point if you don't find fish. After fishing five different points, you should have established a pattern of where they are holding and lure presentation.

"My favorite two lures in this situation are a spinnerbait and a Fluke. Work both just below the surface. The spinnerbait allows for a long cast, especially against the wind, but the soft-plastic Fluke will produce more strikes. This increase is due to its attraction to smaller fish."

Depending on wind velocity, Daniel's spinnerbaits range between 3/8 and 3/4 ounce with No. 2 or 3 Colorado blades. The weight and small blades provide maximum casting distance for fishing the clear water.

"Cast the spinnerbait as far as possible," advised Daniel, "then reel it as fast as you can to keep it just below the surface. Basically, it's a topwater bite that's unbelievable. Being able to see the fish strike will take your breath away."

Daniel's other favorite lure for fis

hing points is a forked-tail soft-plastic jerkbait rigged weightless on a 5/0 wide-gap hook.

"I work my lure fast to keep it on top and to trigger more strikes," he said. "About the same speed as walking the dog, but much more erratic. I highly recommend this lure for inexperienced anglers."

In the unlikely event that Daniel does not find actively feeding spots on points, he moves to woody cover.

"Any piece of visible wood or brush may hold fish," he stated. "Water depth is not important."

Daniel also recommended using the spinnerbait or soft-plastic jerkbait to establish a pattern on woody cover.

If he doesn't connect with spots on points or brush, it's time to move to ledges.

"In October, use your depthfinder to locate ledges in 15 feet of water," Daniel recommended, "then position your boat so you can work the lure down to and off the ledge. At times fish hold on top of the ledge, but often you find them holding five to 10 feet from the ledge, even with the dropoff. Position your boat so you can swim your lure out to those fish."

Without question, Daniel pointed out, the best lure for fishing ledges is a 4 3/4-inch finesse worm rigged on a 1/8- or 1/4-ounce round jighead. His favorite color is green pumpkin, and he fishes the lure on spinning gear spooled with 6- or 8-pound-test line.

"The jighead is one lure on Smith that will catch spots day in and day out," he assured. "It's my confidence bait."

Instead of dragging the finesse worm and jighead combination across the rocks, Daniel raises his rod to pull the lure six inches off the bottom. Then he shakes his rod tip and lets the jig fall back. Since bass usually take the lure on the fall, it's important to detect the fish before it exhales the lure.

To book a day of guided bass fishing on Lewis Smith Lake, contact Craig Daniel, the spot specialist, at (256) 737-9021. For current fishing information, call Bob Alexander at the Smith Lake Trade Center and Tackle Box at (256) 734-7484.

Popular boat ramps are at Smith Lake Park (256-739-2916) and Speegle Marina and Campground (256-734-0698). Both are located on Ryan Creek near Cullman.

When David Partridge, the Georgia fisheries biologist responsible for the lower Chattahoochee, was new to the job, he asked his Alabama counterparts if they monitored Lake Andrews, which straddles the state border. Their confused looks turned to laughter as they asked, "You mean you have a name for that part of the river?"

No matter what you call it, this water is home to plenty of big bass. According to Ernie Calande of Ozark, who has fished that part of the river for 20 years, Lake Andrews offers Southeast Alabama anglers their best opportunity to catch a 10-pound bass. He has caught more than 35 largemouths weighing more than 7 pounds each from the lake, with one weighing more than 10 and another more than 12.

Partridge, who conducted the last electro-fishing survey in fall, confirmed Calande's assessment.

"Our most recent survey," Partridge reported, "produced an unusually high number of bass from 4 to 6 pounds. We didn't see any difference between the upper and lower parts of the river, except in the tailrace. You don't see a lot of bass there, but the ones you see are huge.

"The most important thing about Andrews is that catch rates can be a little higher because the fish are not as pressured. Generally, the bass fishery has a low to moderate density of numbers, but judging by the size structure of the population that we saw, angler harvest is probably pretty low. Don't expect to catch many 8- to 12-inch bass like the reservoirs that have an excess number of bass surviving to that size."

Sandwiched between the Walter F. George Lock and Dam upstream and the George Andrews Lock and Dam downstream, Lake Andrews covers more than 1,500 surface acres and has more than 60 miles of shoreline. Of the two dams, only Walter F. George generates electricity.

Andrews is riverine with gray marl vertical banks, sandbars and very little backwater. Blowdowns create cover and offer fish relief from flowing water, although very few exist in the upper stretch due to the strong current. Below the water's surface, the old river channel creates a series of shelves and dropoffs as it shifts from bank to bank.

Other than its river appearance, Andrew's most defining feature is its current. Since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tries to maintain the pool at 102 feet above mean sea level, the water released from Walter F. George quickly passes through the lower dam. As water is released from the generators, the spillway gates or both, the water level can rise six feet in an hour, and the leading edge of the water reaches the Andrew's dam in less than two hours.

Fortunately, the height of released water decreases as it covers the 29 miles to the lower dam. Accordingly, this results in more blowdowns and logjams on the lake's lower section.

When the dams release water, anglers must use river patterns and techniques to find and catch bass. Conversely, when the dams close, this narrow ribbon of water becomes a lake. But since current forces bass to hold close to classic river structure, the best time to fish is when the water is moving.

Calande starts nearly every fishing trip where the big bass make a living - the harsh environment of the tailwaters. His knows the river, its swirling currents and how the bass react to its ever-changing conditions.

"To catch trophy fish between the dam and Franklin Landing," said Calande, "work every current break. Every little point and every pocket has potential. The points create eddies where the swimming is easy. The pockets are bowl-shaped holes eroded in the vertical banks and bottom that offer bass protection from the current. Those big lazy fish avoid current and hold tight to these spots.

"Anglers may catch as many as five quality fish from one point or pocket."

For this upper stretch of the river, Calande prefers to fish at night and uses a deep-diving crankbait, a black jig-and-pig or a black 10-inch plastic worm.

"These fish do not strike small baits," he cautioned, "as it's common to find them feeding on 1-pound crappie and large bream. Big baits disturb a lot of water. If I pitch a 1/2-ounce jig-and-pig into a pocket next to a bass, I'm going to catch that bass."

When Calande fishes the river below Franklin Landing, he switches to a simple pattern and a presentation that's exciting.

"I love October fishing," he said. "Bass are gorging on shad, and top-water fishing is excellent. Whether or not there's a current, I move to the shady side of the bank and cast a

buzzbait to trash piles, blowdowns and points. As you move downstream, you find more and more blowdowns and logs wedged against the shore. The cover attracts shad and bass."

If the bass want a slower lure, Calande switches to noisy chugger, a stickbait or a topwater lure. If the bass strikes and misses, he immediately casts a plastic worm to the spot and swims it back to the boat.

"Start with a topwater presentation, then work deeper and slower. One lure that has produced many big fish for me is a 1 1/2- or 2-ounce chartreuse spinnerbait with No. 7 willow-leaf blades. The heavy weight is needed for the current, while the blades match the shad. This lure is very effective slow-rolled around and through trash piles."

Public access to Lake Andrews is available near each dam and midway at Abbie Creek. Of these, Franklin Landing, which is located just below the Walter George Dam off State Highway 10, offers boaters the safest access during periods of low water. The Corps' fee is $2 per day, or $25 for an annual permit that expires on Dec. 31. Annual permits are available at the Walter F. George/George W. Andrews Natural Resources Site Office, located on State Highway 39 north of Fort Gaines, Ga.

Midway to Columbia, the Corps maintains Abbie Creek as a day-use park without fees. The ramp is on the south bank of Abbie Creek and is east of Haleburg off County Road 97.

South of Columbia off State Highway 95, Omussee Creek Park has a double ramp and good parking. Omussee Creek flows into the lake a short distance above the Andrews Dam.

For current fishing information, call or visit Rhett Taylor at Taylor Citgo in Abbeville (334-585-5197). The generating schedule for Walter F. George is available by calling (912) 768-2424. Alabama and Georgia recognize the licenses of both states; however, the agreement does not cover the creeks that flow into the Chattahoochee River.

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