It was a brutally cold day last February. Bass-tournament angler Mike York wanted to go fishing real bad, but he decided to wait until about 10:30 a.m. to leave his Jackson house and head to the ramp.
“I went straight to the powerlines,” said Mike.
The powerline area is a local favorite for many at Jackson. These lines cross the Alcovy River above the South River and below Berry’s Boat Dock. Just below the powerline is a sandbar with a sharp drop that holds wintertime fish.
“I already knew the fish were there,” said Mike. “The fish I had been catching weighed anywhere from 1 1/2 pounds to 2 3/4 pounds.”
Mike arrived at the powerline and grabbed a spinning rod rigged with his favorite wintertime bait for Jackson bass — a Mann’s Little George.
“That first fish was a good one, 6-lbs., 2-ozs.,” said Mike.
A few minutes later, Mike put a 6-lb., 4-oz. bass in the boat, according to scales he uses to cull fish in bass tournaments.
“A school of bigger fish had moved in,” said Mike. “On that particular day, I didn’t even look at 2-pounders. I just chunked them back because all these big fish had pulled in there.”
Mike was fishing a sandbar just below the powerline that topped out at 6 feet and very quickly dropped into deep water.
“We had had some extremely cold weather, and the fish had backed out a little bit deeper from that bar,” said Mike. “They were in 18 to 20 feet of water, and my boat was in 22 or 23 feet.”
Mike’s Little George was getting a work out. The flat metal bait has a tailspinner on the back that imitates a dying or injured baitfish. It’s a great offshore bait for when bass gang up tight on Jackson’s isolated sandbars and long, quick-dropping points in January and February.
“I wish I could remember the exact number of bass I caught, but it was a bunch of them,” said Mike. “They were not hard to catch. They had just pulled in there. I’d throw that Little George out there, and let it fall. I’d lift it, let it drop and feel that little thump and just pull back on it, and there they were.
“The fish were bunched up in one small area. If you got very far one side or the other you just wouldn’t get a bite. Once I figured out just where I need to hold my boat they were very easy to catch.”
Mike’s best 10 bass weighed 47-lbs., 12-ozs. — not bad for the few short hours he fished. He called a buddy to meet him at the ramp for a few photos before releasing all the bass alive.
After Mike told me about this incredible day on the water, I just had to get in the boat with him. We met at the dam with plans to find some deep-water fish. The weather was cold, but with November’s record high temperatures, we weren’t sure the big wave of fish would be offshore just yet.
Our first deep-water stop was on an isolated sandbar in Tussahaw Creek. When you come under Barnetts Bridge, continue west. You’ll see a cove straight ahead, just below where the creek channel makes a 90-degree turn and heads north. Go just inside this cove, and look for a yellow house with blue shutters on the left-hand side. There’s a big Rebel flag there, too. In front of this dock, running nearly north to south, is a long, narrow bar that’s a great place to work a Little George.
“It tops out at about 15 feet and drops into 23 to 24 feet of water on the bridge side,” said Mike. “There are a few scattered stumps and rocks on it.”
By 9:30 a.m., Mike was slowly working a Little George down the bar.
“I just lift my rod up, and let it fall back to the bottom,” said Mike. “I like to lift it about a foot and a half off the bottom and let it fall right back. I keep my line tight the whole time because 99 percent of the time they’ll hit it when it’s falling back to the bottom.”
When Mike works a bar or point, he likes to start his bait shallow and pull down the drop.
“Pulling it down the drop allows me to move the bait slower, and the bait can drop as depth increases,” said Mike. “If you’re pulling up a drop, you’re pulling right into your structure; your bait won’t be able to fall.”
Mike was pulling a 1/2-oz. Little George in a blue/white color combination, but he says a green/white bait works just as well. When Mike buys a Little George, he’ll add a small split ring and a No. 6 Gamakatsu treble hook to it.
“I use a 6-foot, 6-inch, medium-action spinning rod with 10-lb. test Spiderwire Stealth braided line,” said Mike. “It’s got no stretch, and it’s a lot more sensitive for fishing that kind of bait. The lightest little tap, and you can feel it.”
The braided line, instead of using a stretchy monofilament line, also increases Mike’s hook-up rate.
“When you’re fishing in water that deep, using a line without stretch seems to work better for me,” said Mike. “I don’t have to set the hook as hard. I just give it a good pull and start winding, and they should be hooked.”
By mid-morning we were just below Barnetts Bridge in the first cove on the south side. Known locally as “Gazebo Cove” or “Earnhardt’s Cove,” this deep-water cove is a great place for a January bite. We fished a point on the right about halfway back. Look for a white house with a green roof and a red deck.
“It’s got a hard, clay-and-sand bottom, and it has rocks and a few stumps on it,” said Mike. “At times I do real well here. You’ll be casting in 8 to 10 feet of water, and your boat will be in 22 feet. This entire pocket seems to have a lot of shad in it in the winter.”
Mike started working the point with his Little George while I was slinging a Carolina rig.
“I catch some big fish with a Carolina rig,” said Mike.
Mike rigged me up with a green-pumpkin Zoom Finesse worm on 12-lb. Berkley Trilene Big Game line.
“I like double beads for its extra noise,” said Mike. “I use a 2 1/2- or 3-foot leader and a 3/4-oz. sinker.”
The rig had a 1/0 Gamakatsu offset-shank hook.
“This light-wire hook has less weight, and it allows the worm to move a little better and fall a whole lot slower,” said Mike. “In cold water, this can make a difference.”
Mike said to fish the western point at the mouth of the Gazebo Cove. The long, sandy point has a good drop on both sides.
By 11 o’clock we were sitting underneath the powerlines where Mike caught his 47-lb., 12-oz. sack last February.
“This bar actually comes off the (western) bank and curves. It forms a half moon, or a bowl,” said Mike.
Mike kept lining up on the western powerline balls to position his boat so we could cast onto the 6-foot-deep sandbar before lightly bouncing his Little George into 18 and 20 feet of water.
If you’ve never been there, you’ll see three sets of powerlines that cross the lake. Mike puts his boat just under the middle line and casts between the second ball on the lower line and the third ball on the middle line. With your boat in 22 to 23 feet of water, at full pool, the 6-foot sandbar is within casting distance.
On his first cast, Mike brought a 2-pounder to the boat that hit the Little George.
“I was just hopping it right down the drop,” said Mike. “He hit it on about the third pull.”
He continued to work his Little George down the bar as steady winds made holding the boat a little difficult.
“I don’t mind a little wind, but this is too much,” said Mike. “With calmer conditions, I’m able to work the bait slower. It also allows me just to lift the bait and easily drop it right back to the bottom. I like to stay in constant contact with the bait since most of the time they’ll hit it on the fall.”
Mike and I ran up the Alcovy and under the Hwy 212 bridge. From the bridge we headed a short way up the river to where the river channel heads north. Motor over to the left-hand bank, and you’ll see a blue sliding board pointed into the water. Below that, in a small cove, a long point runs way out.
“It’s a sandbar that drops to a hard clay-and-gravel bottom,” said Mike. “It’s 6 feet on top and drops to 12 and 14 feet on both sides. I caught 17 here the other day. My biggest was 3-lbs., 14-ozs.”
Mike keeps a few other baits tied on for a January fishing trip to Jackson.
“I like a 3/8-oz. black/blue jig with a blue Ultravibe Chunk trailer,” said Mike. “I’ll use this when I’m fishing drops with a lot of brush. It’s too hard to work a Little George in brush.”
He’ll rig the jig on 15-lb. Big Game line.
“A drop shot will help you fill a limit,” said Mike. “I like Zoom Finesse worms in green pumpkin, green pumpkin with purple flake or watermelon candy.”
Even with a few other baits on the deck, the Little George is Mike’s favorite when the shad and bass get bunched up on deep bars and points.
“It’s a small-profile bait that simulates a dying shad, which you have a lot of times during cold weather.”
We didn’t find but a handful of fish on deep drops on our early December trip, but the cold weather we’ve had should have the fish starting to bunch up deep.
For big Jackson bass in January and February, tie on a Little George and go fishing.