"This little pocket coming up looks good," Charles Redding told me. "We’ll get a good one out of here."
We were way back in Cowan Creek on Lake Weiss, so far back that the clouds of mud stirred up by the trolling motor left a trail that went out of sight behind us. Charles eyed the shallow dip in the shoreline, lined with green grass, in front of which was a slender alley of open water, then a band of submerged grass, not yet green. Charles chunked his spinnerbait into the alley of open water and had barely begun to wind it back when he leaned back and set the hook. A chunky 3-pounder wallowed out of the alley and through the submerged grass, straight into the net.
Charles held her up for inspection, looking at the lower tail fin.
"She’s been sweeping just a little bit, and she’s fat. I believe she’s just starting to bed."
The 3-pounder was our eighth bass of the day, caught at 9:40 a.m. We were fishing grassbeds on spawning flats, and we were finding fish in many stages of the spawn. Some fish, like this 3-pounder, were clearly bedding. Some were in a pre-spawn mode on the outer edges of the grassbeds, and a few, Charles felt, were already done spawning. The early warm weather in March got them started, but renewed cold and a huge slug of rainwater moving down the Coosa River in early April put a hold on the action. The best of it is yet to come, Charles said, and the hottest spinnerbait bite won’t happen until the submerged grass turns green and thickens up this month. It was still dead and brown when we fished on April 17, but that is changing as you read this issue of GON.
As I mentioned earlier, Charles made the call on the 3-pounder, predicting the catch just by glancing at the grass-filled pocket. He did that several times on the day I fished with him, and it was obvious he knows Weiss and its grassbeds. He also swears by a spinnerbait.
"Day in, day out, a spinnerbait will beat anything else on this lake," said Charles. "Now and then it may get tough and something different will work a little better, but most of the time that spinnerbait will prevail if you’ll leave it in the water."
Charles Redding’s tournament accolades span 30 years of competitive bass fishing, beginning in 1970 when he started a 4-year road-trip on the pro circuit of a new organization known as B.A.S.S. Charles competed on lakes in Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, and at home in Georgia on Lake Eufaula. Then, the fast boats in the tournaments were the ones with 90 hp motors. Quality electronics also were a thing of the future.
"We fished those channel drops on Eufaula just like they do today," said Charles. "But we didn’t have all the technology that we have now. I’ve seen boys dropping window weights on ropes to feel around for those channel ledges."
Raising two young boys and keeping up a family life wasn’t easy to do while fishing the pro circuit, so in 1974 Charles left the circuit and joined South Cobb Bassmasters, so that his tournament fishing was closer to home. He was a top fisherman in the club, winning Angler of the Year multiple times, among other honors. At the Federation level, Charles finished in the top-10 individual anglers in the Top-6 in several years.
Lately, Charles and his wife Diane fish the Cartersville Marine Couples trail and place in the money on a regular basis. Charles is also a Triton boats representative for Cartersville Marine.
In 1993 Charles came in fifth place in the Federation Top-Six on Lake Sinclair, and if you guessed that he did it fishing spinnerbaits in Sinclair’s ample grassbeds, you’re a fast learner. Weiss isn’t the only lake where Charles chunks a spinnerbait.
"I love to run that old spinnerbait," he told me.
On Weiss in the spring, he targets the shallow, submerged grass in the very backs of creeks and coves. That’s where the fish are, but it’s usually where the fishermen aren’t. Most anglers, Charles said, turn their boat around as soon as the first mud boils up under the trolling motor. They head for Weiss’s famous docks, ledges or deeper points and pockets – which also produce bass. But to get back to the grassy spawning flats that Charles fishes, you can expect to spend the day in shallow water. There were few moments during the day I spent with Charles that we were not stirring mud.
There are submerged grassbeds on Weiss that are located on deeper banks, but they don’t hold as many bass. Those long, shallow flats in the backs of creeks, many of them with sandy bottoms, are extremely attractive to spawning bass – and to baitfish.
Access can be tricky, though. Charles and I launched at Pruett’s, next to Cowan Creek Grocery where Charles is a co-owner, and headed back into Cowan Creek. Near the back, just before the creek channel forks right up against Hwy 411, we fished the large, flat pocket on the west side of the channel, but Charles idled over the channel for several hundred yards to get there. We were in two to three feet of water, and there were stumps.
"I’ve seen people come in here on plane, but I wouldn’t do it, and I know this creek pretty good," said Charles.
As we first began to fish the large pocket, I saw a thick growth of green vegetation lining the bank, growing part on the bank and part in the water. I thought that was our target when Charles spoke of "grass," but Charles kept the boat far from the bank and began making long casts that fell short of the thick grass clumps. Then I saw what he was talking about: the grassbeds we were fishing were a few inches under the water, growing up to 60 or 70 feet out from the bank, and were dead and brown. They were difficult to see in the stained water of the creek, except in the few places where sprigs rose above the surface.
Charles’s method for fishing these grassbeds is to cast to the bank and bring the spinnerbait back through any open water behind the beds, any pockets of open water in the beds, and over the grass itself. He runs the spinnerbait fast and steady, keeping it over the grass.
"I like to run it up close enough to the surface that I can see it most of the time," Charles said.
A standard spinnerbait for Charles is a custom-made bait he calls an "Aggravator," and he keeps a few for sale at Cowan Creek Grocery. He likes them with two Colorado blades in copper, a No. 5 and a smaller blade.
"I throw copper simply because you can’t hardly buy it over the counter," Charles said. "Stop and think how many times you’ve seen copper blades on a spinnerbait in Wal-Mart. I just don’t think the bass see it as much."
The extra thump of the Colorado blades helps bass locate the lure in stained water, as does the chartreuse color that Charles often uses. As a back-up, Charles keeps a rod on deck rigged with a white-skirted spinnerbait and double, white Indiana blades, a blade with a slimmer profile than a Colorado blade. He picks this up in clear water, and he also throws it now and then for variety when the chartreuse or white/chartreuse combination stops getting bit.
To all of his spinnerbaits Charles adds a Burke trailer bait, the split-tail variety with red-tipped tails, or Charles dips them to add the red himself.
Before the grassbeds green up, they can be hard to spot, and even after they do much of the grass on the outer edges of the bed will be submerged. Look closely for this grass in the stained water so that you don’t miss it. On the day we fished, Charles pointed out another bass boat pulled in close to the bank so that the angler could cast parallel to the shoreline.
"He’s got his boat sitting right about where he needs to be throwing," Charles said.
We boated 19 bass by 3 p.m., and the majority came out of the grass to hit the spinnerbait closer to the boat than to the bank. Several hits came only a few feet from the boat.
Look for grassbeds that are isolated or surrounding small islands of high ground, away from the main shoreline. These are especially good, and an example of such a location is in the back of Three-Mile Creek, just upriver from Spring Creek. County Road 22 is the farthest a boat can travel back into Three-Mile, and there are a lot of isolated grassbeds on the big flat in front of the roadbed.
"I like that scattered grass more so than I do going down a bank," Charles said. "Out in these isolated beds you’ll get your arm broke for sure."
The water temperature in Cowan Creek was 66 degrees near the ramp and 67 in the back of the creek. Spawning was definitely taking place in Cowan Creek, as it was in Three-Mile, even though the water in Three-Mile was cooler at 64 degrees. Of course, this approach will still produce fish into summer: Charles has caught spinnerbait bass when the water in the grassbeds was in the 90s.
Another suggestion Charles gave for those who want to try spinnerbait bass this month: be persistent. Don’t quit on the spinnerbait if you go awhile without a bite – we didn’t catch a fish for two hours from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and then the bites started again. From 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. we caught seven bass, including the big fish of the day. Don’t hit a grassy bank quickly and move on; work each grassbed thoroughly and slowly. And don’t fish a good-looking grassbed once and go looking for another creek. When the grass disappeared at the far side of the large, grassy pocket where we started the day in Cowan Creek, Charles turned the boat and we worked it back in the other direction. Later in the morning, before leaving Cowan Creek, we worked the pocket a third time. Each time we caught fish.
"I don’t do run-and-gun," Charles said. "There is a good school of fish in every creek, you just have to work to find them."
Other locations to try beside the ones that I fished with Charles include the many pockets and grassy banks in the back of Spring Creek. Again, be cautious. As I looked at Spring Creek on my lake map, Charles said, "See those stumps indicated in the back of Spring Creek? Every one of them’s there, I promise you."
The narrow, finger-like sloughs off of the horseshoe near Godfrey’s are full of shallow grass, as well as the larger coves off the southern bend of the horseshoe. There is also an unnamed, shallow creek running from the west near the river channel east toward the horseshoe, but is separated from the horseshoe by a road bed. Fish the grassbeds that will be found lining both sides of this channel.
South of Cedar Bluff is a large island adjacent to Cherokee Campsite. The sloughs jutting into the island as well as the coves and pockets between the island and shoreline are good locations to look for grassbeds.
At the south end of the causeway running from Cedar Bluff, Ala. across the lake toward Centre, Ala. (Hwy 9) is a small island with a ramp. There are good grassbeds around this island as well as near the main shoreline and along the causeway.
If you fish any of these areas you’ll have a good idea of likely places to find spawning flats and shallow grass. If you still need more ideas, try up the Chattooga River arm in the flats off the river channel.
At 3 p.m., Charles pointed to a grassy pocket in a slough off Three-Mile Creek and said, "Let’s fish that pocket and then we’ll quit." He made one more cast to the bank we had been working, and set the hook hard.
"You might ought to get the net on this one," he said.
It was the best fish of the day, a solid 4-pounder with a big belly and a bloody tail-fin – no doubt she had been working a bed. She had all but swallowed the chartreuse/white spinnerbait.
We had 19 fish for the day, but Charles says that the grassbed bite has only just begun. If you’re thinking of giving Weiss a try, now is a good time, and you can’t go wrong with a spinnerbait.