Jack Tibbs never tires of promoting Lake Eufaula.
The mayor of the city of Eufaula, Ala., a lure company owner and a tournament angler, Jack works tirelessly in all of his pursuits. But he still likes nothing better than slipping away from the routine for a few hours of bass fishing on the lake.
For Jack, May on Eufaula is one of those explosive months when he might just spend more than a few hours pursuing the largemouth population.
Jack and I had planned a trip in mid-March as he practiced for a tournament. His previous outings leading up to the trip had been productive. He had won a tournament the previous week, his catch highlighted by a 7-pounder.
An abrupt change in the weather, however, had moved his fish, and Jack wanted to check more spots in advance of the tournament to see where they had moved. The change was so drastic that the water temperature, which had risen to the high 60s and prompted spawning activity in February, registered 53 degrees as we started our trip. The morning low on the day prior dropped to 26 degrees in the area.
“It’s definitely had some effect on the fish,” Jack said. “I fished a little while yesterday and caught a few fish up shallow, but they don’t seem to be up there like they were earlier. We may have to explore a little bit to find where they went.”
Jack and I met at the launch area of Lakepoint State Park, the starting point for most major tournaments on Eufaula. He arrived towing a Phoenix/Mercury rig accessorized with Humminbird electronics and twin PowerPoles, shallow-water anchors that matched his blue boat.
We started the trip with an eye-watering, cheek-reddening run up Cowikee Creek, the winding tributary on which Lakepoint is situated. We ran for several miles before Jack slid his boat through a narrow gap into a backwater area where fish typically spawn.
“These little areas off the main channel, sort of oxbow-type locations, are usually a good bit warmer than the main channel and one of the first places that I find spawning fish,” Jack said. “The water temperature might be 53 degrees in the creek and 58 or even close to 60 in the oxbows.”
The setting looked like an artist had drawn perfect spawning habitat—hard sandy bottom interrupted by stretches of small rock, overhanging willow limbs, bigger laydowns and a diverse mixture of grasses.
“A bass really has everything it needs to live here, either in the oxbow or right out there on the main channel,” Jack said. “When the water warms up in here later on, there is 25 to 28 feet of water out there (in the channel).”
Jack skipped a swim jig under a willow, and a fish rolled on the lure on the first cast. A few moments later, he ran a squarebill crankbait down the trunk of a big laydown and stuck a much better fish, although it quickly came off, thrashed on the surface and created a huge boil.
“I would like to catch that one tomorrow,” Jack said.
The action continued a few moments later. I had tied on one of the lures produced by Jack’s company, Strikezone Lure Co. The Master Blaster spinnerbait had a white/chartreuse skirt and hammered willowleaf blades, a perfect combination for the heavily stained water.
I made a long cast to another laydown, and a good fish slammed the spinnerbait as I rolled it over a big limb. Thankfully, the bass swam out of the wood structure on its own and curved around the boat before Jack lipped it for me. The bass was a 3-lb. male, and we immediately debated if it might have been guarding fry hatched during the warm weather of February.
The catch was the final action in the oxbow, and Jack began checking various spots in Cowikee as we made our way back out to the main river. We picked up a few small fish, but the bite proved sporadic.
Most of the areas were shallow and grass-filled, but Jack pointed out the rip-rap around the Highway 431 bridge and also around the ramp and marina areas at Lakepoint as likely locations.
“Those rocks warm up and hold heat,” Jack pointed out. “You can almost always get bit somewhere around them. There are also a lot of release fish in the area from the many tournaments staged out of here.”
Like most of the stops on the day of practice, Jack didn’t stay long around the rocks, although the area did produce the best fish of the day. Jack tossed one of his Strikezone squarebills, every one of them hand-painted, parallel to the rocks outside the marina and hooked a good fish when he bounced the crankbait off the rocks.
The bass easily weighed 4 pounds and proved to be the last quality fish of the trip. The fish looked healthy and showed no signs of spawning, either having spawned out weeks ago or waiting to move up to bedding areas.
“It’s not the biggest fish that I would like to catch in a tournament, but it’s a good one on what has proved to be a tough day,” Jack said.
As Jack continued to check several other locations, including some deeper offshore spots likely to hold staging bass, we picked up the occasional small fish on the squarebill and also on Texas-rigged plastics. The bite on swim jigs and frogs, which Jack had relied on in previous weeks, had disappeared, and he also flipped heavier cover without success.
Despite the tough fishing, Jack provided a much more optimistic outlook for the months ahead on Eufaula. In fact, he said the many options available in May make it one of the more enjoyable months to fish there.
He said to anticipate a shallow bite continuing all during May with bass gorging during the shad spawn or on bluegill as they bed around the new and full moons.
The shad spawn occurs at least through the early part of the month. On a sunny day, the action might last only 30 minutes after the sun rises, but the short window can be intense.
“Be out there at daylight, and look for those (blue herons),” Jack said. “Check out what they are checking out. Normally if the birds are there, there’s going to be bait in the grass. If there is bait in the grass, there is going to be bass there, also.
“Another way to find fish, especially in late May when the shad spawn is winding down, is to look at your moon phase and see when your bream should be spawning. You’re also looking for mayflies. If you find mayflies, then you are usually going to find bream around feeding on the mayflies.”
Both situations generally call for a three-lure lineup.
“It’s a great time to fish a swim jig, a swimbait and a frog,” Jack said.
Jack favors his own swim jig, a Strikezone Swim-Tastic, in a variety of weights from 1/4- to 1/2-oz. He throws a white or shad-colored jig during the shad spawn, and a darker version around bluegill beds. He trails the jig with a matching Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Craw or a Strike King Rage Craw.
For his frog fishing, Jack favors either a Strikezone Pro Series Popp’n Frog or a more traditional Spro model. He generally trims one of the legs on the frog about 1/4-inch, which he said produces a better swimming action.
“You can get bit with any frog on the surface, but when that thing is doing something really rhythmic, it’s like they respond to it a lot better,” Jack said. “It’s almost like a Spook, but it’s coming through the vegetation.”
He fishes both the swim jig and the frog on similar heavy- or extra-heavy action baitcasting gear with 50- or 65-lb. braid. Almost all of the strikes occur in and around the grass, and braid is mandatory. The rod needs “at least a little tip” in order to get the best action out of the lures.
“Hesitate on the hookset,” Jack said, “and then get them on out of there. Get the head turned and moving. I’ve had 7-, 8- or 9-pounders on, and if they get down in that vegetation, the weakest link is their mouth. If they get down in there, they will jerk the bait right out of their mouth. But it’s a fun way to fish.”
An alternative is the swimbait, a choice not always associated with fishing heavy grass. Jack swims his own plastic, usually a 4 1/2-inch Zombie Fish model in shad or natural colors, paired with a Strikezone Swim Mate hook, which he says improves his hook-up ratio because the point is “above the line tie when skin hooked.” Jack further explained that the line tie doesn’t get in the way of the hookset, and the point of the hook penetrates better as a result.
Jack uses basically the same tackle as with the swimbait and the frog but said a slightly lighter rod will create better action with the swimbait.
“You’re going to find resident fish in the grass year-round,” Jack said. “Fishing the vegetation is never a bad option on Eufaula regardless of what you choose to throw.”
Just about any type of vegetation will potentially hold fish, although the bass tend to acclimate to certain varieties from time to time. Large amounts of hyacinth, hydrilla, primrose, reeds, lily pads and water willow are found in shallow areas on the main river and also in just about all of the bigger tributaries.
In addition to the shallow bite, May is one of the first months when a heavy concentration of fish move to offshore areas. Ledge opportunities abound, especially on the lower end of Eufaula. Another popular tactic is to target bass around brushpiles planted on deep points and on top of the ledges.
“They may not be extremely deep in May,” Jack said. “It probably has more to do with water clarity, but they will be out to 15 to 18 feet. Technology can find those places pretty easily.”
Jack relies on his Humminbird units once the fish move deeper in late spring.
“The MEGA Side Imaging is just unbelievable,” he said. “It’s almost cheating. If you come to a strange lake, if you don’t have brushpiles, you just start idling and you will find enough to fish a tournament. You can see beds. You can see fish. We just saw a (sunken) boat a few minutes ago.”
Jack usually relies on two approaches when fishing deeper in May. He starts with a Strike King crankbait; the 6XD or 10XD usually are good, although some of the deeper-diving models might be necessary. For a slower approach, he drags a Strikezone Perfect Jig Football Series with a Perfect Jig Chunk in green pumpkin. He normally throws a 1/2-oz. jig, although a 3/4-oz. model comes into play when the current is moving.
“They must be good because we sell a ton of them in the bluegill color,” Jack said.
Regardless of the choice, shallow or deep, Eufaula offers variety this month. Visitors to the area will be greeted by a fishing-friendly community.
“Eufaula recognizes fishing as an industry,” Jack said. “It does so much for our small businesses in this region of Alabama and Georgia. We just love to see people come and catch fish.
“It’s a great bass lake, but it’s also a great panfish and catfish lake, as well. You can catch a lot of different species here.
“We have a lot of assets with several different campgrounds; all of them are really nice. Lakepoint State Park is a major asset and just a great, world-class facility—great lodging, food, tournament and ramp facilities. I would put it up against any in the country.”
To see a full line of products offered by Jack’s company, visit www.strikezonelures.com.