Run-and-gun West Point’s Red-Clay Banks in March

Mike Squires has been fishing West Point for 25 years. In March, he keys on red-clay banks with rock and wood.

A quarter of a century spent on a body of water will teach a man a few things. Mike Squires, who has been fishing on West Point since 1982, has figured out a few sure-fire ways to catch bass on the reservoir.

Mike, who grew up in Riverdale, moved to Newnan a few years ago and spends plenty of time on West Point, his home lake. Mike does engineering and construction for Piedmont Hospital, and his schedule allows him to fish a good bit.

Mike and his tournament partner Bill Joyce have been an extremely successful duo on the lake, placing high in many of the Highland Team Trail Tournaments. Mike has been in the top 10 of the trail for three straight years. The pair teamed up for a nice finish on Lake Sinclair in an HD Marine event in late January, and they finished in fourth place in the 2007 Georgia State Championship. To qualify for the State Championship, a team must finish in the top five of a tournament with more than 20 boats, a feat Mike and Bill achieve on a regular basis.

“I had been fishing tournaments with a guy for a few years, but he got out of tournament fishing a few years ago,” Mike said. “I was doing some electrical work for Bill when he built a new house. We got to talking bass fishing, and we started fishing tournaments together.”

Mike began tournament fishing at 12 or 13 years of age with his father. He admits he wasn’t really serious about it until about five years ago, however. Some of the major trails were coming to West Point, and Mike knew he had a golden opportunity to make some hay.

“You get into any tournament trail and the local guys can throw a heavy sack of fish a lot of times when everybody else is struggling to find a pattern,” Mike said. “I felt like I knew West Point well enough to finish high when Everstart, Stren and BFL were coming here for events.”

During that time Mike started spending as much time scouting as he did fishing, and during that time period he picked up a lot of important information about West Point.

“I got to where I was doing more riding and looking,” Mike said. “I spent about 40 hours that winter just looking at places to catch fish, to figure out not just where fish would be but why they were there.”

Mike said the severe drought that has kept Georgia’s lakes far below normal levels for so long has given him even more insight into his home lake.

“Those guys who were out there fishing when the lake level was down have probably seen a lot of things they never noticed when the water was up,” Mike said.

Mike will be ready to catch loads of largemouth and spotted bass this month using some tactics he has honed over the years. Mike, an admitted power-fishing addict, will have a ball on West Point in March, throwing fast-moving baits around certain types of structure to target bass in all stages of the spawn.

“In March there are prespawn bass, some on the bed, and later in the month, some fish moving back out,” Mike told me as we headed to the boat ramp. “It has to do with water temperatures, moon phases and a variety of other factors, but I think this year’s spawn is going to be an awesome time to fish.”

When Mike hits the lake this month, he will likely stick with four main baits to catch a limit of fish. By working certain types of structure and by covering the water methodically, any angler can go to West Point with Mike’s pattern in mind and probably have a pretty successful day on the water.

“This month, I’m going to fish red-clay banks with rock or wood on them all day long,” Mike said. “In March, I’m looking for the brightest red clay I can find.”

Mike said the angler who will enjoy the most success on West Point in March is the one who is willing to move the boat. He says any clay banks on the lake are okay, and he says plenty of bass can be caught between Highland Marina the Hwy 109 bridge.

“All those red banks in that stretch of the lake should hold fish,” Mike said.

However, Mike cautioned against getting stuck on one good-looking spot while ignoring others.

“You can’t just sit in one spot,” Mike said. “You have to be willing to run-and-gun a little, and you have to stay on the trolling motor to cover water.”

You can bet Mike’s baits will be covering plenty of water as well. As Mike approaches a point, he’ll fish it in a certain manner to optimize his time on the water and his chances at catching bass.

The spotted bass will be staging and bedding a little farther off the bank, and the largemouths are likely to be shallow, but Mike’s choices in lures will allow him to cover all the water where both black-bass species will be lurking.

On the outside of the points, especially if one side looks deeper, Mike will be digging clay with a crankbait. He will throw medium-diving baits even when his casts are landing in a couple of feet of water. He uses several different models of crankbaits, but he counts a Rapala No. 7 or No. 9 Shad Rap or a Bandit 200 Series in crawfish or shad patterns among his favorites.

“You want a bait that gets down there and kicks up some clay because when the crawfish are moving around a lot, they kick up little mud trails,” Mike said. “I have lots of confidence in the reds and browns, but the shad colors work well, too.”

Mike throws both colors until he finds what the bass are keying on that day. One way Mike determines which color selection works better on a given day is by observing the fish he catches. All anglers have likely seen a caught fish spitting up a certain type of bait, and if a bass spits up shad in the boat, you’ll know what they’re feeding on. But what if you aren’t sure?

“When the bass are eating crawfish, the insides of their mouths and down in their throats will be red a lot of times,” Mike said.

Another of Mike’s go-to baits in March will be a Rat-L-Trap. He keeps a variety of the popular plugs in his Ranger boat, but his color patterns again will mimic either shad or crawfish.

Mike will throw a 1/2- or 1-oz. Rat-L-Trap around the same areas he fishes his traditional crankbaits and on flatter points, too. Mike makes plenty of casts and reels his baits with a steady retrieve. Whether he’s reeling fast or slow depends on how warm a day it is and how the fish are reacting. He tries several speeds until he starts catching bass.

As Mike rounds a point and heads back into potential spawning pockets, he picks up his favorite lure, a spinnerbait.

“You can catch bass every month of the year on a spinnerbait, and this time of year it is my lure of choice,” Mike said.

Mike sticks almost exclusively with 3/8- to 1/2-oz. War Eagle spinnerbaits with double willowleaf blades in silver and gold. His color choices are simple.

“Always white or white and chartreuse,” he said. “Like a lot of guys, I have a couple hundred spinnerbaits, but I only throw a handful of them.”

Mike throws his spinnerbait around any wood cover. All stumps, blowdowns and brushpiles are targets. And if you know your way around the points, you may know of some brushpiles that aren’t visible. Mike says that in early March the presentation of his spinnerbaits will be slow but will speed up considerably as the month goes along and the weather moderates.

“Early in the month you may have to slow-roll it, but as it gets warmer you can speed up,” Mike advised.

Mike says sunny, windy days are the best for fishing his March pattern. One time when you want some stillness is when you get back in the pockets and find some fish getting ready to spawn.

Under such conditions Mike goes to a jig. Bass will be drawn to wood cover this month as they move back into shallow water and look for places to bed. When Mike finds these fish, he’ll throw a white jig to them.

“I like white because you can see it, and you can see if the fish pick it up, you’ll know,” Mike said.

Mike said to pay attention to what bass are doing on a point to get a feel for where they are in the spawning process.

“If you catch a good fish on one of these points, there’s a good chance that some other big fish are pulled up shallow,” he said.

As we all know, March is a fickle month weather wise. What you get one day can be drastically different by the time the sun comes up the next day. While it’s a safe bet that March will be warmer overall than February, there will be some times when cold weather sets in. That’s when Mike says a change in tactics is often necessary and can change a slow day into a day of unhooking bass.

“The patterns we talked about will be good in March, but you can bet there’ll be some cold days when the fish don’t want to cooperate so you’ll have to be willing to change things up a bit,” Mike cautioned.

On moderate days after cold nights, hit the rip-rap banks with crankbaits or jerkbaits to catch fish trying to find a little warm water near the rocks. Or tie on a drop-shot rig, and find some offshore fish to help keep you warm.

The day Mike and I fished was a perfect example. During a week of warm weather, the one cold, windy day was the only time Mike and I could head to West Point. And though the bass were already on his March pattern in a few places, we had to resort to much slower tactics. Nonetheless, Mike boated nine keeper-sized bass on a drop-shot rig on deep structure.

“I try to learn a new tactic each year,” Mike said. “I just tried this recently, and though I hate to fish slow, on occasion it works.

“You have to learn to be versatile,” Mike added. “I’m pumped about the next couple of months. The fishing this year is going to be awesome.”

Head to West Point. Try Mike Squires’ tactics, and you’re likely to have some of the best bass action of the whole year.

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