Keri Schemer, of Cumming, is a dedicated and proficient angler. She has spent the last few years competing in tournaments at both the local and national level, and her results speak for themselves. Keri has won the Georgia Peaches Bass Club championship for two years running, and in 2007 she took home the co-angler title as the national champion on the Women’s Bassmasters Tour. A pretty impressive record to say the least.
We shouldn’t be surprised; Keri has fishing in her blood. She and her twin sister Teri began fishing together near their Traverse City, Mich., home when they were just kids and have been at it ever since. But they obviously came by their fondness for the sport naturally. Their grandfather, Charles Burke, was the founder of Burke Flexo Products; a well known lure manufacturer that produced plastic baits in the 60s.
In the early 90s Keri moved to Georgia and got involved in the local tournament scene. She has been been actively fishing most of our local lakes over the last 15 or so years.
We asked Keri to take us out on Lake Allatoona, one of her local favorites, and show us how she would approach the lake during March and April.
I met Keri at the Red Top Mountain ramp on a cool morning in mid-February. Keri fired up the big Skeeter and headed for Cooper Branch on the other side of the lake basin near the dam.
“I prefer to fish the lower end of the lake, especially this time of year,” said Keri. “There is plenty of deep water near rocky points and flats. That gives the fish a lot of flexibility with the changeable weather conditions.”
Keri was concerned that we may have a tough day of it. The surface temperatures were still in the low to middle 40s, and a front had passed through the previous day leaving a big high pres- sure system over the area. Keri does a lot of research before she gets out on the water, and she pays attention to weather conditions, lunar phases, even the almanac.
“I use every tool I can to help me be successful,” said Keri. “And my experience is that factors like barometric pressure and moon phase can make a big difference.”
Keri drove us to one of the first rocky points in Cooper Branch and shut down the big outboard. Lowering the trolling motor into the water, Keri began casting a medium-diving crankbait up against the rocky point and dragging it back to the boat. Her bait of choice was a Rapala DT6 in a parrot color combination.
“The rocky point extends out a long way toward the boat at a depth of 5 to 7 feet,” said Keri. “This bait dives to about 6 feet, so it will stay in contact with the bottom most of the way back to the boat.”
Keri said the puffs of silt stirred up by the bait as it hits the bottom are important for attracting fish to strike. Keri chose the area because the long, relatively shallow point has deep water of more than 20 feet on both sides, and she felt that spotted bass suspended in the deeper water were likely to move up on the point as the bright sun warmed the water a couple of degrees. Within about 10 minutes, a chunky spot proved her to be correct when it inhaled the crankbait as it bumped along the bottom. After a brief fight, Keri lifted a chunky spot of about 14 inches over the side.
Keri said crankbaits such as the DT6 or the lipless Rat-L-Trap are excellent baits to use on Allatoona dur- ing the prespawn period.
They provide a lot of flash and vibration and can be fished relatively fast allowing the angler cover a lot of water in a hurry. She generally fishes these baits on casting tackle spooled with 10-lb. test monofilament line.
With our first fish in the boat, Keri began to describe how she would approach the lake starting in early March.
“At the first of the month, surface temps should still be pretty cool and the water level low,” said Keri.
Most of the fish should be concentrated on main-lake and secondary points and in the ditches staging in preparation for the spawn.”
She said that some of the bass may be starting to transition into the spawning areas but not until later in the month, unless we have a long string of unseasonably warm days. And Keri says that the almanac calls for seasonal to slightly cooler temperatures for the month of March.
To find fish, Keri will depend on her electronics and look for balls of bait in an area. As the water temps begin to warm, the shad will school up and move into the creeks from the main lake, and the bass will follow.
If you are over a likely looking point or flat and are not graphing bait, Keri recommends you move on and not waste your time working the area.
“A good rocky point with balls of bait over it is almost a sure thing with water temperatures in the low 50s, said Keri. As the surface temp moves into the mid 50s, the fish will become very active in preparation for the spawn. Crankbaits dragged through the bait ball can be productive, particularly if you see arches of active fish beneath the bait. A Shad Rap is a great option for fishing these bait schools. Keri recommends a natural-shad color and that you match the size of the Shad Rap to the size of the bait in the area as closely as possible. If the bait is relatively stationery, a vertical approach also is good. Drop a jigging spoon or a drop-shot rig into the school, and work the baits vertically with a jigging motion. Be sure to keep your eye on your graph so you don’t lose contact with the bait.
Keri said that during this prespawn transition period it is important to be flexible in your approach. In the early spring, wide swings in weather conditions can occur in just a day or two. The fish will move up and down in the water column with these changes in weather. A few warm days and they will move up on the shallow points to feed, and following a cold snap they will move out and go deeper.
A couple of degrees of difference in water temperature can make a big difference in the location and aggressiveness of the fish. Keep an eye on your surface temp gauge. If you find water even a degree or two higher than the surrounding area, look for bait and work the warmer water thoroughly.
“Target sunny banks instead of shady banks,” said Keri. “They tend to be warmer and draw actively feeding fish.”
Docks and brushpiles in deeper water near spawning areas are also good targets during the prespawn. Keri fishes the outer edges of the docks and pays close attention to where she gets her strikes.
“Often a pattern will emerge, like the right corner, for example,” said Keri. “If I get bit a couple of times at the same location on different docks I’ll stick with that location on other docks I fish. That saves time and eliminates unproductive water.”
For the docks and brushpiles she uses jigs and Texas-rigged worms.
The water temp and the moon phase will dictate the start of the spawn. Bass tend to spawn around the first full moon after the water temperature reaches about 60 degrees. Keri said that the full moon in March is scheduled to be on March 11, and that will probably be too early for a spawn as water temperatures are still likely to be too cold.
“I look for the bass to go on the spawn in early April this year,” Keri said. “The full moon will be on April 9, and by that time the water temps should be warm enough to support spawning activity.”
The largemouths will usually spawn first, but the spots won’t be far behind. When fishing for spawning largemouths, Keri focuses on the backs of creeks with sandy bottoms where there is little current. There also needs to be cover on the bottom like stumps or blowdowns to make the bass feel secure.
Keri fishes these areas by flipping Texas-rigged worm or jigs around the wood cover and working the bait slow.
Her jigs of choice include a 3/8-oz. Tru-Tungsten or Skinny Bear jig in natural colors like brown or green pumpkin. Keri fishes the jigs on casting tackle spooled with at least 15-lb. test fluorocarbon line.
She dresses the jigs with a Zoom twin-tail trailer and always dips the tips of the trailer in chartreuse J.J.’s Magic.
“I think the extra flash of color attracts strikes, and I love all that garlic,” she said.
The Tru-Tungsten jigs come with a rattle built in, but the Skinny Bear doesn’t, so she adds one for a little sound.
Keri fishes a Texas-rigged green pumpkin or brown finesse or black Trick Worm with a 1/4- or 3/8-oz. Tru-Tungsten weight around the shallow stumps as well. The worm is presented on a 2/0 to 3/0 hook, depending on the size of the bait, tied to spinning tackle spooled with 10-lb. test line. Again she tips the end of the worm with chartreuse J.J.’s Magic for added attraction.
The largemouths will usually spawn in as little as 1 to 2 feet of water, and often are visible in Allatoona, so finding them on the beds can be pretty easy. When fishing for bedding bass Keri advises you to be patient and make continued casts to a visible fish. Often, after a bedding fish has ignored the bait several times, the bass will get aggravated enough to strike, so don’t give up easily.
Spots generally spawn later than the largemouths and prefer clay or rock bottoms in 5 to 10 feet of water. While bedding spots, like the large- mouths, can be caught on the jig or worm, it can be difficult to locate the fish with those baits since they are in deeper water and generally not visible. So instead, Keri usually works the suspected spot bedding areas with crankbaits like the DT6 mentioned ear- lier or Lucky Craft DDR in a ghost minnow color.
Keri typically fishes the lower end of the lake from about Victoria Landing to the dam. Her favorite creeks include Cooper Branch, Stamp, McKaskey, Kellogg and smaller creeks around the big curve. But she says that most of the creeks will hold good numbers of fish in the spring.
In addition to her pro-tour schedule on the Women’s Bassmaster Tournament trail this year, Keri has signed up to fish GON’s Skeeter Eliminator Series starting on Lake Sinclair this month. When asked about competing against the men, Keri said, “I must admit that it makes me a little nervous, but I have always liked getting out of my comfort zone. I think it makes me lift my game and be a better competitor.”
Well, Keri is definitely going to need to be ready. In Round 1 she has drawn last year’s winner, Aaron Batson. But she has a little added incentive. If she beats Aaron in the first round, she’ll receive a $250 bonus for dethroning the past champion. We’ll keep you posted on Keri’s progress and all of the competitors on the Eliminator tour.
If you would like to learn more about Keri and her sister Teri, visit their website at <www.fishing-twins.com>. You’ll learn more about her history and accomplishments and be able to follow her progress on the WBT championship tour.
And get out to Allatoona this month. The action, like the temperatures, will be warming up.