As bass fishermen, we all have a picture of the perfect lake engraved in our minds.
For some anglers, the perfect bass lake is dotted with cypress trees with sprawling roots and draped with Spanish moss.
Others bass anglers prefer fields of stumps and fallen timber. And, of course there’s the crowd who loves to fish lily pads, coontails and the thickest grass they can find.
Banks Lake, located just outside the small town of Lakeland in extreme south Georgia, has all of the above.
To top it off, Banks Lake has some of the prettiest, dark, black bass you are ever going to see.
And then let’s just put the icing on the cake—you won’t have to fight with 100 other anglers to find a place to fish or have to deal with jet skis and water-skiing knuckleheads. Most days on Banks, you will see more alligators than fishermen—that’s right I did say gators.
For those who aren’t familiar with this south Georgia gem, Banks is a black-water, swampy-looking lake that harbors a vast multitude of fish and animals, and most importantly some big bucketmouth bass.
With somewhere around 1,000 acres of surface area, Banks Lake offers no shortage of prime bass habitat, or breath-taking scenery for that matter.
As with any good thing in life, Banks Lake does have its negatives. I will even admit that when I made my first trip there more than 10 years ago, I actually zeroed. A lot of fishermen see the lake for the first time and assume there’s a bass under every lily pad, but as fishy as it looks, it does require a little know-how to fish this lake properly. With the use of a few simple techniques we’ll discuss in this article, March is a prime time to fish Banks Lake with good success.
During a trip to Banks Lake this March, you will almost certainly be fishing for a combination of spawn and postspawn bass. Rapidly warming temperatures will send fish onto the bed, and then they’ll move off again rather quickly.
Also, take into account that Banks is a rather shallow lake, averaging 5 to 7 feet deep in most places. This translates into a lot of Banks Lake bass either being in super shallow weed cover or positioned tightly around cypress trees.
My strategy when fishing the lake in March is to look for the shallow early spawning bite first. Odds are you won’t catch as many fish this way, but you will likely have a chance to tangle with one of the many better than 5-lb. bass that Banks Lake is known to produce.
I generally start my search by idling from the boat ramp to the shoreline grass. Key word here for Banks Lake is “idle.” I have seen many anglers speeding across the lake’s many stump fields, and all I can reason is they either have really good insurance or a really big banking account. Take your time until you know the lake well.
Once I get to the shoreline grass, I rarely let my trolling motor down, as typically it can’t cut through the ferocious grass anyway. This is where I like to use a good old-fashioned push pole to maneuver through the grass.
My lure of choice for fishing in this jungle of greenery is a Bruiser Baits Kickin Frog in either the Houdini or Okeechobee craw color. I like a 7-foot, 4-inch heavy-action Vexan Rod with 40-lb. Goat Rope braid. The Vexan bass rod is comprised of 70 percent graphite and gives you the power to pull monster bass away from grass and pads quickly.
Before I make the first cast of the day, I like to spray my frog and line down with Java Reelsnot. The Reelsnot is both a scent attractant for lures and a line conditioner all in one.
I like to use the Kickin Frog as a search bait, making long casts and retrieving it just fast enough to keep it on top of the water. If I’m in an area with heavy pads, I like to occasionally pause it on top of a pad, and then I resume the retrieve after a few seconds. It definitely pays to make numerous casts from different angles at any submerged wood in the weeds.
If the frog isn’t producing many looks from the bass, I like to punch through the heavy grass using a 2-oz. Flat Out tungsten weight and a green-pumpkin Bruiser Crazy Craw on a heavy 5/0 hook. The thinner profile of the tungsten will help to cut through the grass with ease. I use the same Vexan rod for flipping the craw as I do for throwing the frog.
The key with punching grass on Banks Lake is to be ready. Most of the time a bass will hit the craw right after it penetrates the grass, making it extremely important to pay attention to your line. When in super shallow pads, I also like to pitch a Bass Addiction Gear Trickster worm. Rig the Trickster worm weightless, and pitch it to holes in the grass. The subtle fall often draws ferocious strikes.
When the grass bite slows, it’s time to head to one of the hundreds of cypress trees located in the lake. The key when fishing around the trees is patience. Most anglers tend to make a cast or two at most, and then they move to the next tree. This fails to tempt bass that are holding tight to the roots. Fishing too quickly results in fewer bites when Banks Lake bass are tight to the trees. I like to make between 10 and 15 casts to each cypress trees. I work slowly and methodically to ensure I don’t miss out on any bass that are buried up in the cypress roots and knees.
For fishing around the trees, I like to use a 7-foot heavy-medium action Vexan rod with 17-lb. test fluorocarbon line.
I like to pitch a Bass Addiction Gear Fatso Stick rigged weightless to the base of the trees. Like with the frog, I also spray the Fatso with Reelsnot Java. I feel like the coffee scent helps the fish to hold that extra half second, giving me time to slam the hook home. I favor the Fatso worm in junebug, and I really like it due to its larger profile than typical stick-type worms.
Make a cast right up next to the tree trunk, and allow the bait to fall slowly toward the bottom. If there are no takers on the drop, give it a quick twitch, and then reel it in and repeat. Be sure to watch your line carefully because bass suspended in the roots often inhale the bait and don’t move.
Isolated cypress trees that stand alone, away from other large patches of trees, tend to be particularly good and often hold at least one hungry bass.
Another lure I have had great success with, especially this year, is a Bruiser Baits Rad Shad. It’s a lot like a fluke except it has notches cut in the sides that give it a great swimming action that mimics a dying baitfish. Summer craw, baby bass and moonlight are all Rad Shad colors that have produced well for me on Banks Lake. Thread it on a 4/0 hook, and make multiple casts around the tree using a twitch-twitch-pause retrieve.
The Rad Shad is also a great lure to fish after a late March cold front that we sometimes encounter. When faced with these post-frontal conditions, cast up to the tree, and allow the bait to fall with no movement of your rod. If there are no takers, reel her up and cast again. Even sluggish bass have trouble resisting such an easy meal when you fish with this subtle, finesse style of dead-sticking.
Toward the end of March, expect the majority of Banks Lake bass to be in a postspawn mode. After the spawn, faster-moving lures start to get the nod. Though you won’t encounter as many large fish willing to bite during the postspawn, there are plenty of 2-pounders ready to send a quick-moving lure in the other direction. A small black buzzbait fished by making long casts with a steady retrieve works great especially on cloudy days.
A flat-sided, square-bill crankbait also works well, especially when fished around the lake’s fallen and submerged timber. I like any kind of square bill as long as it’s chartreuse and has a good, tight wobble. The key to having success cranking is to throw it right up into the fallen timber and let it bang its way out of there. About 99 percent of strikes will occur right after it deflects off wood. For that reason, when I hang it up, I will give it a hard jerk and rip the lure from the structure, which often produces a strike if there’s a bass hanging in that blowdown or standing timber.
The last technique I like to use on Banks Lake is when nothing else will produce. When the Banks Lake bass are shut down, I break out a light-action Vexan spinning rod spooled with 8-lb. test monofilament. I use a Bruiser Diamond Tail worm in either plum, knockout or sweet-treat colors. I fish it weightless either Texas rigged or with a weedless wacky-rig hook. The key is to pitch the worm up to cover and simply wait patiently. Sometimes I will wait a full minute before giving the worm the first slight twitch. I know it’s a boring way to fish, but on a slow day this will almost always produce some bites from otherwise inactive bass.
Banks Lake is located within the Banks Lake National Wildlife Refuge and is managed and operated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Banks Lake is located off Highway 122 about 2 miles west of Lakeland and is open seven days a week.
There is a small store, operated as a partnership of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Lanier County, that carries basic supplies and handles rentals for kayaks, canoes and small boats for reasonable fees. Store information is available by calling (229) 569-0147 or online by searching Facebook for Banks Lake Outdoors.
Banks Lake truly is a bass fisherman’s paradise in a unique and beautiful setting. Hopefully, you will be able to set aside a day—or three for that matter—to check out Banks Lake this month to sample the March bass fishing. It will definitely be worth the trip, and you might just catch one of the big, dark largemouth that Banks Lake is known to produce.
If you have any questions about the techniques or products I mentioned, feel free to give me a call at (912) 282-3838.