Last March I was working on a turkey-hunting article when a fax was tossed on my desk. It was the H.D. Marine results for the March 16 bass tournament on West Point. Since a top-10 list from a good bass tournament ranks up there with the NASCAR results around this office, I snatched the list and began to read. The numbers were shocking.
The top-five teams each had sacks of five fish that weighed over 21 pounds! In fact, it took almost 16 pounds to make the top-10.
Scanning down the page, I read that the fifth-place team of Charlie and Chris Baldwin, who had 21.18 pounds, had a kicker fish that went 10.04 pounds. A 10-pounder in a tournament — that doesn’t happen every day. It seemed that Charlie and Chris would be taking home some big-fish money along with their fifth-place check. Wouldn’t they?
“I about fell off the bleachers I was sitting on when the tournament director told Chris we didn’t have big fish,” said Charlie.
Two 10-pounders in one tournament is just about unheard of in Georgia tournaments, but it happened in this one. The second-place team of Randy Greene and Mike Random had a 10.16-pounder. WOW!
Many anglers gripe about having to fish a tournament on a lake with very few docks, but March on West Point can be about as dynamite as it gets — and that’s the bottom line.
I was so impressed with these H.D. results that I hooked up with one of the hottest West Point fishermen I’ve ever heard of — Charlie Baldwin of Fairburn.
Charlie fishes mostly with his son Chris, who, he says, is the best partner he’s ever had. If you’ve spent some time around the weigh-in stage you’ve probably seen this pair with some heavy stringers. In the last four H.D. Marine tournaments on West Point they’ve finished fifth, had a pair of fourth-place finishes and in 2001 they were first and took home a new bass boat. These tournaments all fell in March, and I got Charlie to tell me how he’s going to be fishing this month.
“In March I’ll fish main-lake blowdowns, because that’s where the fish will pull into first as the water temperature comes up,” said Charlie.
When I fished with Charlie on February 9 the temperature was a cold 43 degrees in the morning and by late afternoon it had risen to 45 degrees.
In January I fished Sinclair, and the temperature was already in the high 40s. After talking with my tournament buddies this month, the fish on Sinclair have been caught half-way back in the spawning coves within the last few weeks. West Point is a much different lake. While I was there, most of the fish were still out deep.
Although West Point doesn’t sit any farther north than Sinclair, it’s a deeper lake, meaning it’s a colder lake and very often those bass will be at least a month behind on their spawning schedules. For this reason, Charlie concentrates his March pattern on main-lake blowdowns with deep water nearby. He says these areas are where he’s finding his best stringers.
“My first toss to a blowdown is going to be with a spinnerbait,” said Charlie. “If the fish are real aggressive, they’ll hit it on instinct. I’ll often follow up with a Thunder Shad crankbait. If I’m fishing with Chris, he’ll often fish behind me with an Ol Nelle jig.”
Charlie fishes a 3/8-oz. Ol Nelle spinnerbait with No. 5 Colorado and No. 4 Indiana blades. He uses gold blades, and the bait usually has a white/chartreuse skirt.
“One of the hottest baits on the market right now is that Thunder Shad crankbait made by Awesome Baits,” said Charlie. “It’s a wood bait — not plastic. It’s got good buoyancy. If you bump a limb, let off and it’ll float up. It just comes through blowdowns real good.”
Fish main-lake blowdowns and catch big stringers. It sounds really easy, but if it were just that simple everybody would have a 20-lb. sack when they spent a day chunking at blowdowns. Although Charlie has plenty of West Point fishing experience under his belt, I knew he had to be doing at least something different from the average angler to be so rock-solidly consistent over the years.
“A lot of people fish blowdowns too quick — that’s their main mistake,” said Charlie. “A lot of these guys will throw down each side, make one cast out front and they’re gone. I might make 20 casts into one blowdown, and I’m throwing as far up in there as I can. I’ll get hung some, but if you’re not getting hung, you’re not throwing it where you’re supposed to. What I look for is thicker blowdowns with lots of limbs. The limb forks provide good ambush points for bass.”
Look for the blowdown bite in one- to eight-feet of water. Charlie said if the Corps of Engineers is pulling water, expect the fish to bite deeper, on the ends of the blowdowns. During non-generation hours, Charlie throws for shallow bites inside the blowdown.
It was fun to watch Charlie work dozens of different brushpiles, and I bet we cranked the motor 50 times in eight hours of fishing. We fished from just above Highland all the way down to Bird Creek. Charlie said some of the lake’s best blowdowns are from Highland to the dam. Where he fishes will depend on the lake conditions. He’s looking for water temperature above 45 degrees, and the heavier stained water he can find, the better.
“Muddy water is a mental thing with a lot of fishermen, but I really like muddy water because the fish aren’t as spooky and this water warms up quicker,” said Charlie. “Sometimes if it’s real muddy, I’ll use a size larger Indiana blade for more thump.”
When I fished with Charlie, the water at the 109 bridge was much cleaner looking than at the railroad trestle, so we spent most of our day fishing north of the railroad trestle.
We got our first bite at the 219 bridge rip-rap throwing small crankbaits at 2 p.m. They were small keepers, but we were happy to have them. Moving down the lake we pulled up to a blowdown, and he set the hook on a fish that was buried way up in a blowdown that went nearly three pounds. I threw in there and got hung, so Charlie pulled the boat into the brushpile, and I retrieved my lure. We pulled back out, Charlie chunked his blade right back in there and a 2-pounder blasted the bait. I guess having some heavy stain in the water does help.
After leaving the lake I couldn’t help but wonder why so many anglers would rather spend their days fishing docks. After all, on a cold day when the fishing wasn’t even supposed to be good yet, we put four in the boat and missed a few more.
“Today, fishermen are more dock-oriented,” said Charlie. “The guys at Sinclair and Oconee are more dock oriented because that’s where they catch their fish. If I want a big stringer of fish, I’ll go to West Point, and I’ll hear some argument on that. People will say there are bigger stringers at Sinclair. Overall, there’s not.”
Charlie puts Lake Jackson as No. 1 for Georgia’s best big-bass lake, and West Point is a close second.
West Point was rocking for big bass last year, and for you dock fishermen, Charlie said March is probably the best time of the year to convince you that West Point is one of Georgia’s top lunker lakes. If you’re not doing anything tomorrow, you might want to go.
“I heard the water temperature came up to 47 this past weekend (February 15),” said Charlie. “If I went to West Point today, I’d expect to catch an 8-pounder. The fish are getting ready.”