Only minutes before, Steve Marchant had his first bite of the day, but the bass shook loose Steve’s crankbait about halfway to the boat. Now we were fishing a rockpile, the top of which was visible just below the surface of the water of Antioch Lake at Rocky Mountain PF A in Floyd County. Steve and I were working over brushpiles and rockpiles with crankbaits and worms, a pattern Steve said is dynamite, not just this month, but during the dead of summer when the water is hot and fish are hard to catch.
As we fished, Steve explained how lakes Antioch and Heath served as emergency water supplies for Oglethorpe Power, which generates electricity by pumping water up a mountain in the middle of the night, and releasing it downhill to power turbines during peak hours.
Shortly after I made a cast and began dragging my worm through the rocks, Steve pointed out the power-generating station.
“There’s a lake on top of that mountain, and when they release the water, it goes through there and creates electricity,” Steve said.
I was looking at the side of the mountain at the same time a bass decided to take the worm. As I turned my head back to the task of catching a fish, I saw my line cutting to the left. I simultaneously cranked down on the reel and swung the rod tip violently upward and toward me, my hands meeting my chest just below the collarbone. I felt the weight of the fish for a split second before the line went slack.
“You missed him?” Steve asked. “Oh well, it’ s good that we know they’ ll bite the worm.”
It wasn’t to be. Not on this day. Steve and I fished several locations on the west part of Antioch with a variety of lures, but to no avail. For whatever reason, the bass had lockjaw. However, April is the month to head to this beautiful area in the Texas Valley, an area of Appalachian foothills between Rome and Summerville.
Steve, a WRD Fisheries technician for Region I, has fished the lake since he moved to Summerville from Richmond Hill a few years ago, so he understands some things that make it unique. Steve says Antioch, especially the western part, has a wide variety of fish- holding cover such as brushpiles and rockpiles. Steve fishes the lake often, and you aren’t likely to find anyone more knowledgeable than him on Antioch, because the lake is one that he works on regularly.
Heath is known as the trophy lake at Rocky Mountain PFA, but Steve said anglers shouldn’t be lulled into the belief that there aren’t big bass cruising the waters of Antioch as well.
“There have been some really nice bass taken out of this lake,” Steve told me.
His own personal best, a hawg that tipped the scales at more than 11 pounds came out of Antioch. The following Sunday, Steve had a day on the lake most bass fishermen dream of.
“I caught two fish that went over 8 pounds in four casts off one of these brushpiles,” Steve said.
Steve said what makes the brushpiles and rockpiles he targets in April so attractive to bass is that they are near deep water, and provide easy access to large, shallow spawning areas. They are also offshore, so they don’t get near the fishing pressure that other, more obvious cover gets from anglers. Still, Steve said the spots he picks, even the ones in the center of the lake, are like fishing close to the bank.
“These are places with 6 to 10 feet of water,” Steve related.
Much of the rock was left in the lake when Oglethorpe Power was digging the reservoirs. More rock and plenty of Christmas-tree brushpiles have been added as part of an intensive habitat-enhancement program started by WRD in 2001.
Many of the new rockpiles are built out of core samples, cylinders of rock augered out of the ground for testing when something is going to be built on a site.
“They had thousands of those core samples in wooden crates in a warehouse, so we brought them out and piled them up,” Steve said.
“The Christmas trees are donated by Home Depot, Lowes and the county, and we put them in here. Also, most winters, we cut some shoreline trees, leave them laying in the water, and cable them off so they don’t slide into the water.”
Before you start going all over Antioch looking for places to fish, keep in mind that WRD Fisheries personnel placed fish-attracting cover in spots that make it optimal to bass.
“Typically we look for flats near channels and place the structure near ledges,” Steve said. “This time of year, the bass come up from the deep water to feed, and when it warms up, they are going to be on these big flats, staging for the spawn.”
When Steve starts fishing at Antioch, he casts a deep-diving crankbait, especially a suspending model. He follows that up with an offering of soft plastic for fish holding tight to cover.
“I like the crankbait because you can pick off the aggressive fish around structure, and then you can slow down and catch the ones that are hanging really close,” Steve advised.
“You need something that will get down there 10 feet or so,” Steve said. “If you have a suspending model, you can keep it right in front of the fish.”
He will crank the lure down until it gets to its depth, and then he reels slowly until he makes contact with the brushpile or rockpile. As soon as Steve feels the lure contact something solid, he stops it, lets it sit for a few seconds, then pops the rod tip as if he were fishing a jerkbait.
“When you pop it out of that brush and just sort of jerk-and-stop it back to the boat, they’ll hit it a lot of times,” Steve said.
Steve demonstrated at the first brushpile we hit, a pile across the lake from the parking area, near a rip-rap bank. He made long casts, reeling his lure and feeling for the brushpile. Once the crankbait hit wood, Steve started an erratic retrieve, reeling, twitching the rod tip, letting the bait pause and starting again. Though the crankbait drew no strikes at our first stop, it did get bit a couple of times during the day.
If Steve fishes the crankbait around a brush or rockpile without success, he slows things down by switching to a plastic worm. I asked Steve if he preferred the Carolina rig or the Texas rig for catching bass in Antioch.
“The Carolina rig is good for numbers, but I feel like the Texas rig catches better-quality fish,” Steve said.
As I tied a Carolina rig to drag a watermelon-red Zoom Finesse Worm, Steve picked up a rod with a white Zoom lizard on the end and started casting to the same places he had just been fishing with his crankbait.
“You can get the worm down in the brush and really work over the entire thing, picking up bass that weren’t going to chase the crankbait,” Steve said.
Like at any other lake, when bass are biting a slowly fished bait after a cold front, they will often inhale it and sit in the same spot, so you feel no movement on the line, only a heavy feeling.
After two such experiences, I told Steve I was going to set the hook on every mushy feeling I felt, just to be sure I wasn’t missing bass. I was casting to the bank and dragging my worm back through a brushpile, keeping the line tight so I could feel any hint of a fish eating. On about my third cast, I felt the weight ticking through branch after branch in a brushpile. I let the worm lay for a second with my rod tip up, and right before I prepared to start my retrieve, I felt the line move a little, so I set the hook hard enough to turn a bass inside out. All it did for me was get me hung up in the wood.
Soon, Steve idled us to a new spot, so as he worked his crankbait down a stretch of rip-rap, I threw a 3/8-oz. white/chartreuse spinnerbait with a gold willowleaf blade behind a chrome Colorado blade. The wind was blowing hard across the lake, right into the rocky bank, so Steve and I worked fast, trying to draw a reaction strike from a lurking bass. We were still having trouble putting fish in the boat.
“These fish can get really finicky,” Steve said. “They have tons of forage in this lake, including threadfins, gizzard shad, and sunfish, so they have plenty to eat.”
The stretch of bank Steve and I were fishing is an electro-fishing survey station, meaning when Fisheries is doing a study of the lake, they shock certain stretches of water to get a snap-shot of the entire lake.
“Along this bank right here, from this rip-rap, over to that dock and along that steep bluff, we shock up tons of bass,” Steve said. “Lots of two and three pounders, and plenty of fish bigger than that.”
Still, even a Fisheries technician is not always privy to where the fish are holding, so Steve and I began searching other areas for bass. Steve pointed out that Rocky Mountain offers good bank access, including short fishing piers — essentially earthen points surrounded by rock — that can be reached on foot, and are handicap accessible.
If nobody is standing on the bank fishing, Steve will hit these areas as well.
“If you were standing on the bank, there are fish attractors at 10, 12 and 2 o’clock,” Steve said. “Keep your boat a long cast off the bank, and work your lure around every bit of cover up there.”
Two fishing piers provided zeroes, so Steve and I did something most bass fishermen do: we started beating the fool out of every stump, stickup, rock and blowdown in shallow water.
I would throw the spinnerbait at the outside edges of a blowdown, casting it a little deeper into the cover until it was time to move on. I would burn the spinnerbait back to the boat, let it sink and slow-roll it, yo-yo it, and let it drop after every branch it hit. Steve had done the same with a crankbait, and both of us had moved to soft plastics, trying our best to put a fish in the boat.
Steve said his crankbaits-and-worms-pattern, while not hot the day we fished, will be on fire during April, providing plenty of bass-fishing fun. It will also be the best way to fish during the hottest part of the summer.
If your boat has electronics, you will have a distinct advantage when it comes to finding the brush and rock- piles Steve likes to fish in April.
“This lake definitely taught me to watch my depthfinder while I’m motoring along,” Steve said. “It helps you find features you didn’t know were there.”
Steve said the reason his brush- and- rock bite holds up so well is simple.
“This lake stratifies seriously during the summer, and there won’t be any dissolved oxygen below 10 feet, so the fish will be holding just a few feet under the surface, and they’ll usually be near cover,” Steve said. “Crankbaits and worms will work now, and when it gets really hot, you can go back to the same spots, throw the same lures, and catch fish.”
Steve and I had to give up on the fish at some point, but we talked plenty during the day about what makes a trip to Rocky Mountain PFA so much fun.
“You can come here and catch largemouth bass, redear sunfish (shell- crackers), bluegills, crappie, channel catfish, brown bullheads and hybrids,” Steve said.
Steve said the shellcracker fishing should be fantastic around the April full moon, and the bluegills should start to bust loose around May, and the crappie fishing should still be good. The facilities at Rocky Mountain PFA are top notch, including a beach and campground. The area is beautiful. And parking your car only costs $3 a day. Heath Lake is only open the first 10 days of every month, but Antioch is open every day from sunrise to sunset. You may launch any size boat, but gas motors can only be run at idle speed.
Though we never caught a bass on our trip, Steve and I had a great time, and if you are the type of angler who likes a pretty view with your bass angling, Rocky Mountain PFA won’t disappoint.