There’s a largely overlooked 1,750-acre treasure in middle Georgia that few bass anglers take advantage of. At first glance, it’s not a particularly “sexy” fishery—you won’t find an abundance of river ledges, huge brushpiles or underwater rock piles. In fact, if you’re not a local, you’ll probably find yourself struggling to simply pronounce its name correctly. Despite its small size and modest bass habitat, Lake Tobesofkee is one of, if not the best, wintertime fishery in Georgia.
If you’re anything like me, when you think of wintertime bass fishing, visions of bone-numbing temperatures and ultra-slow fishing make you think twice before getting on the water. But when I spoke with Tobesofkee guide and Ranger Boats pro Clayton Batts, it sounded too good to be true. Every four years when the lake is drawn for dock and seawall repairs, the shallow-water bass fishing catches fire. He wasn’t talking about catching a bunch of 2- and 3-pounders, either. According to Clayton, the draw-down is a perfect time to hook into some bona fide giants.
Just as I was beginning to get excited about our trip together, the weather took a turn for the worst. After weeks of 70-degree spring-like temperatures, a brutal cold front blew through middle Georgia and left behind 20-degree lows, which usually spells big trouble for bass anglers. Skeptical of whether or not the big ones would still bite, I called Clayton to discuss rescheduling the trip. His answer was both surprising and reassuring.
“Come on down buddy,” Clayton said. “The colder the weather, the better the bite is. The big ones will be eating, I promise.”
Trusting the FLW Everstart pro, I packed my bags. Upon meeting Clayton at the Claystone Park boat ramp, I was greeted with a sly grin, almost as if he knew what the day would hold. As we idled out of the buoys and discussed our game plan, Clayton sought to reassure me a final time for good measure.
“You’d think we’d be fishing deep being as cold as it is, but something about this draw-down gets the giants in dirt-shallow water,” Clayton said. “We’re going to catch ’em. I hope you’re ready!”
Following a short run to the northern end of the small lake, we pulled up to a flat, clay bank littered with scattered rocks. Inspecting the rods on his front deck, I noticed nothing but hard reaction baits. Due to the post-frontal conditions, bluebird skies and high barometric pressure, I was a little surprised. Such conditions generally call for slow presentations and subtle soft-plastic baits, but Clayton wasn’t messing around. He was going to make the bass eat whether they liked it or not.
Before I had time to untangle my cluster of rods and make my first cast, I heard his line hissing through the water. After a short fight and a few laughs, Clayton swung a chunky 2-pounder into the boat. There I was, not even out of my seat yet, and this dude is already laying the smack down on them. I liked where this was going.
“He’s just a little guy,” Clayton said. “We’re just getting warmed up!”
As we continued working down the rocky bank, Clayton kept his trolling motor on its maximum speed while paralleling the bank with a chrome blue-colored 1/2-oz. Spro Aruku Shad 65. During the draw-down, big Tobesofkee bass move into the shallows to sun themselves, making it necessary to use a high-quality reaction bait with the ability to run shallow.
“For whatever reason, these huge bass will roam around shallow flats in less than a foot of water during the draw-down,” Clayton said. “They’re notoriously hard to pattern, so I chunk an Aruku Shad right next to the bank in order to efficiently cover water and get my bait in front of as many big ones as I possibly can.”
Just as he finished explaining his approach, Clayton’s rod doubled over. After a powerful, sweeping hookset, a 5-plus pound fish swirled just beneath the surface. Just as he started gaining ground on the beast, it pulled off, leaving only a large cheek scale on the Gamakatsu treble hook. While many anglers would lose their cool after a heartbreaking loss, Clayton simply shrugged it off and kept casting.
“You can’t do anything about it,” Clayton said. “They’ll still bite when it’s post-frontal like this, but it’s tough to make them really eat it sometimes. It won’t be the last big one we get around today.”
After a 15-minute lull without any bites, I noticed Clayton getting excited. We were approaching a large stump flat in 3 feet of water, but it wasn’t necessarily the stumps that made him giddy. On the edge of the flat, the water depth dropped to 8 feet. Although it may seem like a fairly diminutive depth change, a depth difference of less than one foot is often all that’s needed to attract big bass.
With a smile on his face, Clayton kindly offered me the first cast toward the stump flat. I bombed a Stanford Lures Old School SSR at the stumps, and after just two cranks of the reel, my rod loaded up and the fight was on. The fish didn’t seem big at first, as I promptly declared it a “peckerhead,” but when Clayton saw the bass come to the surface, he quickly jumped for the net. After chasing the fish in circles around the boat, we were thrilled to see a beautiful 4-pounder rise to the surface. A few laughs and a celebratory high-five later, we regained our composure and went back to work.
“I’m telling you man, we’re going to have a really good day out here,” Clayton said. “If they’re eating this well so early in the day with 58-degree water, imagine how good it’ll be around lunchtime when the water gets to 60 degrees.”
After a quick run to a nearby short pocket off the main lake, Clayton really began zeroing in on his game plan. With only a couple of short strikes to show, he made up his mind to focus solely on main-lake banks for the rest of the day.
“I’m not seeing the bait in these pockets,” Clayton said. “Bait is essential to this technique, and you’ve got to keep running until you see it. We’ve seen bait on nearly every main-lake bank we’ve fished, so I’m going ‘all in’ on it.”
For the next couple of hours, we zigzagged Tobesofkee so much I didn’t know which way was north or south. Because the big bass become so scattered during the draw-down, covering water is key to catching a bass in the 5-lb. class. Clayton had a strong hankering for a giant that day, and his up-tempo, run-and-gun pattern made it quite evident. While most of us would be thrilled to catch upward of 20 2-pounders before lunch like Clayton did, he wasn’t satisfied.
Switching gears, Clayton decided to flip a couple of docks to take advantage of the abundant sunshine. The plan made a lot of sense, as bass often seek shade underneath structure in sunny weather, making them less apt to actively chase bait. To prepare for the sudden change of course, he pulled out his best two flipping rigs that continuously prove effective on Tobo—a 3/8-oz. Fish Catchin’ Fool tungsten weight with a hematoma-colored Big Bite Baits Fighting Frog and a black-and-blue 3/8-oz. Picasso jig with a green-pumpkin Big Bite Baits chunk, all on 17-lb. Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line.
As we idled around the northern end of the lake, Clayton kept a close eye out for any docks that still had water on them. During the Tobo draw-down, a dock post only needs a few inches of water to hold a giant bass.
“When the water is down, it can be pretty tough to find structure that actually warrants a flip or two,” Clayton said. “We’ll still be fishing shallow, but I’m looking for any structure with just a little bit of water on it. The fish are there, but we’ve just got to make them eat.”
Clayton caught a few more 2- and 3-pounders flipping but couldn’t quite cure his insatiable appetite for a big bite. Shortly after lunch, he made a key decision that proved to be invaluable—he went back to his original shallow cranking plan, but this time focused solely on wood cover.
“We could catch small fish all day, but I think we need to keep cranking wood to force some reaction bites,” Clayton said.
We pulled up to an area adorned by three laydowns in roughly 3 feet of water—a key depth that had proved most effective throughout the day. It had been a while since he had fished it, but it had produced numerous big fish for him in the past. Now throwing a 1/2-oz. Spro Little John crankbait in Spring Craw color, Clayton fired a cast parallel to the bank. Just as he brought the crankbait over a limb, he got his wish. A Tobo giant had grabbed it.
“Giant,” Clayton said. “Get the net buddy!”
Crouching down to hinder the bass from jumping, he delicately played the fish as he fed it line from his Ardent Edge Pro casting reel. As the 12-lb. Gamma Copolymer line screamed through the water, I took a chance and swooped in with the net. As he removed the hooks from the 6-pounder, he didn’t really have much to say. Instead, his smile was worth a thousand words. After working all day to crack the code, Clayton had expertly solved the big-bass puzzle.
I probably wouldn’t believe this next part unless I was there, but hear me out and take my word for it—on his very next cast to an adjacent blowdown, his 7-foot, medium-action Kistler Micro Helium LTA Cranking Rod bowed up when a 5-plus pounder crushed his Little John.
“No way,” Clayton said. “Um, I’m going to need the net again.”
With his Kistler rod making short business of the huge bass, I scooped the giant out of the water for him. I couldn’t believe it—in a matter of roughly four minutes, Clayton turned a great day on the water into one I won’t soon forget.
Both of us simply smiled and looked at each other in disbelief. After sitting down for a couple of minutes to regain composure, Clayton decided to try one last flat, rocky point before we called it quits. Before you read on, if you didn’t believe the last 5-pounder, you’re probably not going to believe this either.
Just to “try something different,” he cast a Stanford Lures Old School SSR—the same thing I caught my 4-pounder on—across the point. As sure as the sky is blue, Mr. Tobesofkee ticked the crankbait off of an isolated piece of chunk rock and hung into another big fish. After a few quick surges toward deep water, I netted another 5-pounder. In 15 minutes, Clayton caught three fish, all over 5 pounds. Even more amazing, each bass came from less than 3 feet of water.
“The big ones always stay shallow during the Tobesofkee draw-down,” Clayton said. “You just have to keep pounding away and cover a ton of water until a little feeding window opens up. When they start eating, be prepared to capitalize on it. Nine times out of 10, your big fish will come in spurts just like these did.”
Do yourself a favor, and head to Lake Tobesofkee while the water is still down. It won’t be at full pool until the end of February, so hurry up and take advantage of some absolutely killer bass fishing this month.
If you’re looking for an awesome day on the water, head over to ClaytonBatts.com and book a trip. This guy can flat-out catch ’em and will make you a better angler.