From a planning point of view everything had been going just fine. The assignment seemed to be straightforward enough. Head down to Lake Juliette just north of Macon and do an article on fall bass fishing. I had always wanted to fish Juliette. This 3,600-acre reservoir has a good reputation for largemouth, with quite a few 10-lb. plus fish boated over the years. And the big cooling towers of the Scherer power plant dominating the landscape added some interest to the trip.
An enthusiastic expert had been identified. Thomas Burkett of Thomaston is a Juliette regular and a member of the Lil’ Water Bassin’ jonboat trail that often holds tournaments on this and other area lakes. Thomas and his partner Dan Skipper are consistent high finishers on the jonboat trail, and he obviously had a plan for fishing Juliette. The weather forecast was excellent, and we had every reason to believe that we were going to have a great day on the water. That is until “Murphy” came aboard, unsolicited.
I’m sure you are familiar with Murphy. You know, the “whatever can go wrong will go wrong” guy. He seems to jump up when you least expect him and has an excellent way of ruining just about anything he touches. Yeah, that Murphy.
Thomas and I had agreed that we would meet at the Waffle House in Forsyth at 6 a.m. on a Monday in mid September. Our plan was to have a quick breakfast, discuss logistics and be on the water by sunrise.
At about 5:45, I was heading down I-75 and getting pretty close to Forsyth when I noticed a pickup in the far right lane, pulling a small boat, with its flashers on and moving more slowly than the rest of the traffic. The thought went through my mind, I wonder… but I quickly dismissed the idea that this might be my partner for the day. A few minutes later I called Thomas on his cell phone to tell him I was approaching Forsyth, and he told me he’d be a little late because he was moving slowly in the right lane with his flashers on. His right rear trailer wheel was warped and kicking up quite a vibration. He told me he’d see me at the Waffle House, then we’d proceed to the ramp with some caution. Little did we know it but by that time Ol’ Murphy was well positioned in the jonboat for the day. From that point on, the best thing that happened to us was the hearty breakfast at Waffle House.
Leaving the Waffle House after breakfast, we headed to the nearest ramp on the lake, Holly Grove Access. This wasn’t Thomas’ first choice, but he was afraid that we wouldn’t make it to the Dames Ferry Ramp about 10 miles farther down the road. It was still pretty dark, and I was following along in my truck as a safety precaution. About half way to the ramp I saw a flash of dust and something going airborne from the right side of the trailer. Thomas and I both pulled over to assess the damage. The right-side trailer fender was GONE. I guess the wheel had vibrated enough that it made contact with the fender frame and WHAM, off it went. Strangely enough, the tire hadn’t blown and was intact.
Fortunately we were not far from the ramp and proceeded slowly to reach our destination. Just as we got to the ramp the tire finally blew. Undaunted, we backed the boat into the water and planned to go in my truck after fishing to get a new wheel and tire. We couldn’t let a little thing like a blown trailer tire spoil a good day of fishing. Once we had the boat in the water, we left the ramp and headed down lake to the area Thomas planned to fish. His preferred spots are on the lower end of the lake, and that is why he normally puts in at the Dames Ferry ramp. At the upper end Juliette is filled with standing timber. There is actually a channel marking the path through a big stand of the stuff just down from the Holly Grove Ramp.
Thomas goosed the 25 hp outboard and put the small bass boat up on a plane. We were no more than 30 seconds from the ramp, just entering the channel in the timber, and BANG!!!, the outboard slammed into something and literally went AIRBORNE. That’s right; the motor flew off the transom and went skyward with the prop spinning at full speed. Fortunately our momentum carried the boat forward and the motor splashed harmlessly into the water and coughed to silence. Thomas and I looked at each other with wide eyes, soaked but otherwise unscathed. The transom didn’t appear to be damaged, and the motor was hanging below the surface at the stern held up by the steering cables and fuel hose. After a few moments we gathered our senses, pulled the motor aboard and refastened it to the transom. The outboard was full of water and wouldn’t turn over. So we had nothing to do but put the trolling motor over the side and head back upstream. We decided to fish the standing timber for a while and see if we could land something for a picture. But we were way out of Thomas’s territory and weren’t having any luck. After about an hour of this we discovered that the outboard would turn over and with a little work we got it started. Maybe our luck was changing. We could have done a pretty good commercial for Mercury when the motor sprang to life.
Feeling much better we headed through the channel in the timber once again this time SLOWLY. We made it through without further incident and headed for Thomas’s spots on the lower end. We were about three hours behind our original planning, and the sun was well up and shining brightly.
The upper and lower ends of Juliette are very different. As you now know the upper end is full of timber and the water is cloudy to downright muddy in some spots. The lower end is almost void of standing timber, and the water is crystal clear. Grassbeds dominate the shorelines and reach well out into the lake just below the surface along main-lake points.
Those grassbeds were the focus of our attention and the area that Thomas works regularly in the fall.
“From late summer until the water temperature gets pretty cold, I have a lot of success fishing the grass along main-lake points,” said Thomas.
“There are several types of grass in the lake, but I like the long thin blades that grow in as much as 10 to 12 feet of water and top out just below the surface.”
Thomas works those grassbeds in the early morning with topwater baits like the Pop-R and buzzbaits for the first hour or so of daylight looking for actively feeding fish. Once the sun gets up a bit he changes to small, shallow-running crankbaits, running them just over the top of the grass.
By the time we pulled up along a point in Davis Cove, the morning topwater bite was a thing of the past. Ol’ Murphy had seen to that.
As Thomas rigged the small crankbaits on casting outfits, I could see the thick grass carpeting the bottom under us and topping out just about a foot under the surface. The water was almost colorless, and with polarized glasses you could see grass 20 or 30 feet from the boat.
Line selection is important in the clear water. “I use 17-lb. test Spiderwire for my crankbaits,” said Thomas. “The line has good abrasion resistance and breaking strength but is about the diameter of 10-lb. test in conventional line.”
That smaller diameter is much harder for the fish to see, and Thomas is sure that it improves his strike rate in the clear water. His favorite crankbaits include the Thin N by Bill Norman and the Yo-Zuri Shallow Rattlin’ Vibe. Both are most effective in Juliette in natural or chrome color combinations.
“Fishing the crankbaits in the grass can be a real hassle until you get the hang of it,” said Thomas. “If you get the bait just a little too deep it will grab the grass, and you might as well speed up your retrieve and get the bait back to the boat.”
The grass pulls up easily from the bottom, and if the bait so much as touches the grass you’ll bring a gob back to the boat. But a bait retrieved at the proper rate just over the top of the grass will draw bass up from the thatch and induce aggressive strikes.
Thomas set the small boat up for our pass along the point, and we began throwing the crankbaits and working the grass. After about a dozen casts Thomas got the first hit and a feisty largemouth churned the surface trying to throw the bait. And when Thomas got the fish within about 10 feet of the boat it did just that. Within five minutes I connected with a chunky largemouth that inhaled the Yo-Zuri. This was a good fish that looked to be between three and four pounds. Right next to the boat it made a last run and pulled free from the crankbait. Maybe we hadn’t shaken Murphy after all.
After a few more casts we headed to a small group of islands on the other side of the lake. The grass was thick in this area and stretched out for long distances all around the island.
Thomas switched to a finesse worm rigged Carolina style, and I stuck with the crankbait. The worm rig consists of a thin four-inch finesse worm on a light 1/0 to 2/0 hook and a short leader of about 18 inches below a barrel swivel. The rig is completed with one or two crimp-on 1/16-oz. weights above the swivel.
“I add just enough weight to allow me to make a decent cast and get the bait to sink slowly into the grass,” said Thomas.
He prefers to fish the worm on 10-lb. test Spiderwire on a casting reel. When the fish aren’t aggressive enough to take the crankbaits, the more subtle action of the worm will often do the trick. Dark, natural-looking colors are the best bet, according to Thomas.
Thomas fishes the worm by making long casts across the grass and allowing the worm to sink down a few feet before beginning the retrieve. The retrieve is the most important aspect of fishing the worm, and it can be difficult to fish the bait effectively in the thick vegetation.
“It is important to move the bait slowly and be patient,” said Thomas. “If you move the bait too fast it will grab the grass, and you’ll bring a nest of the stuff back to the boat.”
Let the bait fall into the grass, not all the way to the bottom, and begin moving it back to the boat with short sweeps of the rod. If you feel grass on the line, pump the bait slightly to pull it free from the grass and continue the retrieve. Fishing the worm in the grass can be aggravating at times, but Thomas assures us that once you get the feel of the technique it can be very effective on Juliette.
The worm didn’t produce on our trip. We had two more fish take the crankbaits. Would you believe it — both threw the hooks at the boat. Four nice fish hooked and none in the boat. Well it just wasn’t our day.
Even though we didn’t touch a fish scale, it was clear that the grassbed pattern on the lower end of Juliette was effective at producing strikes. There are plenty of fish in the grass in the fall and more should be moving in during October and November.
As far as locations are concerned, most of the points on the lower end have grass. And as small as the lake is, you can cover most of it in a good day of fishing. The crankbait can be fished at a pretty good tempo and will allow you to cover a great deal of water in a short time. Fish the wind blown banks, keep the boat moving, and make lots of casts. Thomas and I would make several passes on a spot before moving on to the next one.
This fall Juliette will provide you with a good alternative to the larger reservoirs as the largemouth move up into the grass and begin to feed in preparation for winter. It is a scenic lake and one where a small boat is quite sufficient. Maximum allowed hp is 25 on Juliette. You can launch your big rig if you want but can’t use the outboard if it is more than 25 hp.
One piece of advice if you are around the standing timber is to be careful.
While there are marked channels through the trees, often the floating markers become detached and float away, and the path through the trees can be confusing. There are plenty of stumps and logs beneath the surface, and we have first-hand evidence that they can make a mess of your trip. Most of all, watch out for Murphy, if he is aboard you might just want to head back to the house.