Down in the southwest corner of the state is a lake revered by locals and worth the drive for bass anglers statewide. Aptly named after the original inhabitants of the area, Lake Seminole is a three-fingered maze of standing timber and aquatic vegetation made at the joining of the Flint River, the Chattahoochee River and Spring Creek.
True channels wind in and out of the woods and cut paths marked by green and red indicators. It’s a minefield teeming with alligators and anglers throughout most of the year but was desolate of a soul — reptilian or human — as we set out on a blisteringly cold day in December.
I was in the boat with Big Green Egg pro J Todd Tucker, an area local who cut his teeth fishing the lake before making his way onto the professional fishing scene. He now lives near the upper end of the Flint River, and he keeps Seminole close by in case he ever wants to revisit his roots.
And so was the case as we set out to see what the lake would offer amid a light drizzle that was doing its best not to become a light snow. With the water temp in the low 60s, it would have possibly been a more comfortably spent day wading the flats still loaded with grass as opposed to standing atop the windswept deck of J Todd’s Phoenix boat.
The day started up on the flats in Spring Creek attempting to trigger strikes on lipless crankbaits and swimbaits. J Todd recommended I look for light spots in the wind-tossed shallow water where the grass had begun to break up. These were the type areas where the bass would be lying in wait for some type of forage to come along.
The forage typical of Lake Seminole is primarily shad related. Both threadfin and gizzard shad populate the lake, and lipless crankbaits and large-bodied swimbaits do a good job of imitating the two respectively. Try as we might, the fish just didn’t seem to be on the flats as hoped, and after only a little while we ventured closer to the creek channel.
“Seminole is kind of backward,” J Todd yelled through the howling wind. I moved to the front of the boat and listened as he explained that, on most lakes, stumps and standing timber are an indicator you are nearing shallower water. On Lake Seminole, the channels are full of trees, and the flats, for the most part, are barren of wood.
This changes a lot about how you perceive a lake. For one, any long line of timber perpendicular to the bank is a sign there is deeper water, like a ditch perhaps, coming in toward the bank as opposed to a shallower point running out from the bank. So any bend in the treeline is a place where the channel swings out away from the bank, and any sway where the trees draw near to the bank is a channel swing where the deeper water hangs tighter to the shore.
Upon scanning the surrounding area, I was able to point out a few places where the treeline gave away points and troughs. J Todd agreed that I had learned my lesson and went on to show me on the graph just how defined the treeline was. As the trolling motor neared the stumps sticking up just a foot or 2 above the surface, he asked me how deep the back depthfinder was reading.
“Six feet,” I answered.
He said, “I’m in 12.”
Looking down, I could see through the crystal clear water that there was a definite drop blanketed in hydrilla and scattered pepper grass.
“These fish usually hang right inside this treeline,” J Todd said as we began to make our way down the underwater hedgerow. We continued to throw lipless crankbaits mixing in the occasional swimbait and crankbait.
Pointing at the middle of the creek, J Todd said, “That’s the channel.”
It took me a minute to locate “the channel” amid the acres of standing timber. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees, so to speak, until the boat got in line with a section of the channel. Then I could see where there was about 20 feet of running room between green and red poles.
J Todd explained the true creek channel ran in and out of the marked creek channel. The same approach had been used to make the creek channel as is to make the highways. The trees had been cut as straight as possible to make a runnable channel. The trick to finding fish is to find the actual creek channel, according to J Todd.
“This time of year you want to concentrate on the inside and outside bends of the creek channels,” he explained as the clouds finally began to part, and the rough weather started to lift. “The reason is the current actually keeps the silt washed away from those drops and exposes the rocks and the root systems of those trees along the edge of the channel.”
We began to work the edge of the creek channel with deep-diving crankbaits, and it wasn’t long before J Todd hooked up with a quality largemouth. He had been explaining that there was a rockpile along the edge of the channel that he was trying to hit and had just located it seconds prior to the 3-pounder locating his Bill Norman DD22.
It took me several casts to locate the rock with my Jackall Muscle 15+, but once I made contact with the rock a few times, I found the line screaming from my reel as well. As I fought the fish in, we discussed the ferocity that these fish have. As I lifted our second 3-lb. bass into the boat, we both commented on the healthiness of the fish.
“You can tell these bass live in a grass lake,” J Todd remarked, saying it is obvious the bass are able to sit in the grass and wait for food to come to them throughout most of the year instead of having to chase bait in an open-water situation. This is often indicated solely by the girth-to-length ratio of the bass. A bass in a grass lake will be short and fat, whereas a bass in an open-water lake dominated by herring, for instance, will be long and lean.
We pounded the rockpile for a few more minutes without any more luck and began to round out the bend in the channel, continuing to throw our crankbaits along the sides.
“It’s important to throw out into the channel and bring the crankbaits up the slope,” J Todd said.
He explained that if you stay out in the deeper water and throw up to the shallows, like you would on some lakes, the baits just bog down in grass and do not make contact with the bottom. Contact is key, as we had noticed on the rockpile, so you therefore had to get inside the treeline and throw out to the deepest part of the channel in 20 to 25 feet. Once you start up the slope, you can feel the harder bottom and the roots, and that was when you were likely to get bit.
Just around the bend, J Todd noticed something on his graph.
“We just passed a fish,” he said while turning to fire behind the boat.
About the time his crankbait had reached its maximum depth, his rod ticked and he swung and missed. Before he could utter an excuse for the irregularity, his rod ticked again and loaded up this time.
As the fish neared the boat, he exclaimed, “I’ve got two, no there’s another one with it.”
I fired near his flailing 4-pounder in an attempt to attract the second fish, and J Todd promptly unhooked the one and went back for the other as well, but neither of us could tempt the twin up again. However, attention to his graph definitely resulted in one fish, and it wasn’t just happenstance.
Since the channel often swings in and out of what is actually marked, your graph can be your best friend on Seminole in the winter. Paying attention can not only reveal the occasional passed up fish but can also shed sonic light on the contours and bottom densities. If you can locate a rockpile or a stack of deeper stumps, deep-running crankbaits can pull the fish up.
Confident there were more fish in the area, J Todd doubled back to the rockpile where I was able to line up a little quicker and pull in another 3-pounder within just a few casts. J Todd caught a 2 1/2-pounder on the adjacent point of the channel bend and decided to look for new water.
Moving to another place where the true creek channel meandered away from the marked channel, we continued to chunk and wind the crankbaits.
“As the water temp drops, the fish school up a lot tighter and will actually be easier to catch,” J Todd said, explaining why we had wandered around on the previous location for two hours and were only able to pick one off here and there.
“Once the water moves into the 50s, the fish will group up and get closer to the bottom,” he said. “Then you can actually target the school on your graph and catch them with a drop shot, jigging spoon and a Carolina rig.”
He said pitching a drop shot along the treelines is a great way to cover water and catch some of the more lethargic bass on into January. The fish will hold tight to the trees and vary in depth from day to day. Some days they will hit the bait as soon as it starts to fall. On others, the bait will nearly hit the bottom in 15 to 20 feet of water.
Last but not least, we made our way into a little area that started to deepen but was off the obvious trail of the channel. He explained that we were in the edge of one of the many springs that Spring Creek gets its name from. These springs pop up all along the creek and are the reason the water is so much clearer than the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers.
Making our way around the treeline surrounding the spring, J Todd told me how, in the dead of winter, the springs can really congregate the fish. Bass, being cold-blooded creatures, have an activity level dictated by their surrounding environment. The colder the water, the less active they are. The less active they are, the less they need to eat. These underground springs spilling into the creek will result in water temperatures slightly warmer than the rest of the creek and can really concentrate the fish.
Locating these springs is no easy task, however. The best bet is to look for what appears to be a creek channel with no creek running in from the shore. Since these springs were basically creeks before the lake was dammed, there should be some indicator in the tree line to where they are.
If you decide to venture out onto Lake Seminole in the winter, don’t get distracted by a slow start or overly confident if you hit the payload right off the bat. There aren’t as many fish per acre in Seminole as there are in some lakes, but the ones you do run into will typically be quality fish. And in January they won’t likely be alone.
Target fish along the tree lines in the channel bends from the inside, and focus on the springs if you are fortunate enough to know where they are. If the water has already reached the mid 50s, don’t waste too much time with fast-moving reaction baits like crankbaits. Rely more on the slower, more finesse-style baits like the drop shots, spoons and Carolina rigs. With a little luck and some diligent work in frigid conditions, you can enjoy a great day on the water with a lot less competition.