By this time of year, the lakes are getting cold, and bass are not feeding as well as they did earlier in the fall. Colder water means they are less active and more likely to be holding in deep- er water. However, a few warm winter days can turn the bass on, and you can have some excellent fishing when the weather is not harsh.
Some lakes seem to be better now, and Bartletts Ferry on the Chattahoochee River below West Point is one of them. Also called Lake Harding, the water level stays fairly consistent because it is a small lake at 5,850 acres, and generation at West Point helps keeps it relatively full. The level can change a couple of feet each day, but you will seldom see it more than 3 feet low.
Bartletts Ferry started producing power in 1926. It was bought by Georgia Power Co. in 1930, and it is still owned and operated by them. The shoreline is mostly rocky, steep banks in the lower end of the lake, and there are some creeks offering different kinds of structure up and down the lake. The river above Halawakee Creek has steep out- side bends and mud flats. Almost all the shore is lined with cabins and docks.
For a long time Bartletts Ferry was known for its largemouths, but spotted bass have come on strong there. In the Georgia Bass Chapter Federation Creel Census Report in 1996, about 63 per- cent of bass were largemouths, but by 2005 that was down to 48 percent. The population of spots is probably even higher than indicated, since spots are often culled for largemouths in tournaments. You can catch a lot of bass at Bartletts Ferry, but they will mostly be smaller spots.
Now is a great time for numbers of bass on Bartletts, and you can bring in some quality largemouths if you fish it right. The winter is also great because there is little of the boat traffic that plagues the lake during warmer months, and you can fish in peace. Add to that the varied structure and cover, and Bartletts Ferry is a good choice for this time of year.
Access to the lake is fair with a public ramp on the Georgia side at Idlehour and a public ramp on the Alabama side at Long Bridge. There are other ramps, but these two are open year-round and have a decent amount of parking. There are a good number of bass-club tournaments on the lake, and a weekly pot tournament goes out of Long Bridge ramp.
Tommy Gunn lives about 10 minutes west of Bartletts Ferry in Cusseta. He started fishing Bartletts Ferry in the mid 1980s with his cousin, and over the years they fished — and still fish — many of the pot tournaments there. Tommy also fishes the Bassmaster Weekend Series. He placed seventh overall in the Alabama South division in 2007.
Tommy agrees the size of the fish has gone down in the past 10 years. His best tournament catch ever was a seven-fish limit weighing 28 pounds in the mid 1990s, but his best catches for the past few years in the tournaments has been five-fish limits weighing 17 to 18 pounds. He landed a 9 1/4-lb. large- mouth in the 1990s, his best from Bartletts Ferry, but he has not seen many over 8 pounds recently.
In addition to fishing as often as possible, Tommy also makes Jawbreaker Jigs. He got started making them so he could have the colors that were hard to find. His jigs are sold in many stores in the area around Bartletts Ferry, and he makes both skirted jigs and plain jigs for jig-head worm fishing.
“I like to fish shallow — there are almost always some fish in shallow water here,” Tommy said.
As long as the water is above 55 degrees, he is confident he will have a good catch in shallow water this time of year, and he sticks with it until the water gets below 50 degrees. Then it is time to go deeper.
Since he is fishing tournaments, Tommy is looking for five good bites. For numbers of fish, he would go deep- er and catch mostly spots, but he wants largemouths for weigh-in. You can catch fish both ways now at Bartletts Ferry, and a couple of simple patterns will put you on fish.
For shallow fishing, Tommy concentrates on docks. There are hundreds to choose from on Bartletts Ferry, and many of them hold quality largemouths and some good spots this time of year. Tommy will flip and pitch a jig ’n pig to docks for bigger fish and throw a crankbait between docks as he moves from one to another.
Some docks are better than others. Tommy likes older docks with wooden posts and some brush or rocks under them. The best ones this time of year are at the mouths of pockets and sloughs. They must be near deep water to hold good fish, and that is the most important factor. If there is not 7 feet of water just off the end of the dock and much deeper water nearby, it will not be as good.
Most of his dock fishing is done with a 3/8-oz. Jawbreaker Jig in warmer water and a 1/4-oz. jig in cold-
er water. On both size jigs, he likes a black/blue/purple or black/blue/brown combination with a green-pumpkin Zoom Super Chunk. Tommy tries to put his jig as far back under docks as possible in places that are hard to get to and that are missed by other fishermen.
If the bite is tough, Tommy will throw a green-pumpkin Trick Worm on a 3/16-oz. head around the docks. It tends to catch more fish, and they’ll be smaller, but a Trick Worm will some- times get hit when bigger baits are ignored.
In deeper water, Tommy likes a point or hump that drops off steeply into the old river or creek channel. He will throw crankbaits across them, then back off and fish them with a Carolina rig or a jig-head worm. He will start fairly shallow on the structure and work deeper until he finds fish. Rocks or brush on the structure help hold the bass in specific areas.
If the water is 15 feet deep or deeper where he is fishing, Tommy will also jig a spoon. Sometimes you have to jig a spoon in their face, repeatedly moving it up and down, before a bass will hit. If you spot fish on your depthfinder, drop a 1/2-oz. spoon straight down to them.
You can pick docks to fish by starting at the mouth of every slough on the lake and hitting them. Choose older docks with posts and trash, and you will do better. For deeper fish, the following 10 spots all hold bass this time of year and are some of Tommy’s favorites.
No.1: N 32° 41.259–W 85° 09.095 — Put in at Long Bridge, and go under the bridge. Ahead of you, an island sits off the right bank. Out to the left of the island, a hump comes up to within 18 feet on top and has brush on it. The creek channel swings by it, and it drops fast on that side. It is an excel- lent place to jig a spoon or drag a Carolina rig right now.
Go up toward the island, and watch behind you. A long, narrow point runs off the left bank going upstream just above the bridge, and you want to line up the end of it with the first bridge piling on that side. When you get even with the island, you will see the hump come up. It helps to drop a marker out to stay on it.
Fish all around the hump from different directions. If there is any current, it will help, and you want to sit down- stream of the hump and throw back up across it and fish with the current. Probe for the brush and fish it carefully when you hit some.
No. 2: N 32° 41.446–W 85° 09.401 — Upstream of the island there is a point and a cove behind it. This point leads to a ridge that runs parallel to the bank on that side. Go upstream, staying way off the bank and about even with the point behind the island. Watch for a gray house with two small lighthouses that are to the left of the house when facing it. Start going back and forth out off the bank from those lighthouses, and watch your depthfinder. You will see it come up quickly on the back side, topping out at about 9 feet deep, then it slopes off.
Set up to fish across the ridge, bringing your Carolina rig, jig-head worm or jig ’n pig up the sharp drop. Work the ridge by casting over it from both sides. Also watch for bass holding on the side, and watch for brush on the sloping side. Jig a spoon around any fish or cover you see.
There is one sweet spot on this ridge right out in front of the gray house, according to Tommy. For some reason fish often concentrate in one small area of this long ridge, and you have to fish it to find them. If you catch one bass, fish that spot hard, there should be more on it.
No. 3: N 32° 41.286–W 85° 09.974 — Head up toward the old railroad trestle. Where the lake narrows down look to your left and you will see the last pocket on that side before the trestle. The downstream point of this pocket runs way out, angling upstream, and is covered with rock. There is a good drop on the inside of this point where the channel from the small creek hits the point and turns.
This is a good spot to throw a Carolina-rigged Baby Brush Hog or a finesse worm. Spots love this point, and those baits will catch them here. Tommy likes a green-pumpkin bait on cloudy days and in stained water, and he likes a watermelon-red bait on clear days and in clear water. He will dye the tails of either color with chartreuse JJ’s Magic. Spots seem to really like a chartreuse tail.
Fish across this point from both sides, and work it way out. When you get out on the end, make some casts from the deep end up toward the bank, and fish down the point on both sides. Also throw a crankbait in the shallow part of the point.
No. 4: N 32° 41.234 – W 85° 10.416 — Go under the trestle, and you will see a big pocket open up to your right. About 75 yards off the right point of the trestle, a hump comes up to with- in 6 feet of the surface. If you start from the point at the trestle (it’s on the right going upstream) and idle toward the far upstream point of the cove on your right, you should cross the hump. The far point has two swift birdhouses on it, one with gourds on crossarms and the other a condo-style on a post.
When you find the top of the hump, stop and cast all around, working your Carolina rig, jig ’n pig and jig- head worm from deep to shallow. There is some brush here, and the channel swings by the outside of the hump, making a good drop on that side. Fish all around this spot.
No. 5: N 32° 41.484–W 85° 07.631 — Head down the creek under both bridges and past the ramp. When the creek makes a turn to your left, you will see powerlines crossing the lake from a point on your right where the creek turns back right. Go under the powerlines, and watch to your left. You will see a rocky point running upstream at the mouth of the big cove on that side. There is no house on the point, but the point has been cleared of brush under the big pine trees growing on it.
Tommy says this is an excellent point because the creek channel swings in on the outside, and the ditch on the inside is deep, making that side drop fast. There is brush and there are rocks all around this point. Start by throwing a crankbait, working around the point. Then back off and fish a jig ’n pig, jig- head worm or Carolina rig down the slope. Watch and feel for brush, and hit it thoroughly when you find it.
Wind often blows in on this point and makes it better. Wind blowing across any of these spots will help, as it does when blowing in on a dock. As long as you can control the boat, wind makes a spot even better.
No. 6: N 32° 41.528–W 85° 06.773 — Head downstream to the mouth of the river, and go on the upstream side of the first small island that has a house on it. Ahead you will see a big island with a red-clay, bluff bank on the downstream point. That downstream point forms a flat that drops off into the river channel on the far side of the island. There is an old state brushpile out on this point that no longer has a buoy marking it.
Work all around this flat and point, fishing a Carolina rig, jig ’n pig and jig-head worm. Throw a crank bait and jig ’n pig in the blowdowns on the west side of the island, too. Watch your depthfinder, and drop a spoon or other bait down to any brush you see. The point will top out at about 10-feet deep way off the bank, then drop fast and that is where the old state brushpiles are located.
No. 7: N 32° 41.645 – W 85° 06.541 — Go across toward the Georgia side of the river, and you will see an opening a little to your left. The downstream point of this opening is actually the upstream point of a big island. There is trash all over the top of this point. Throw a crankbait across it, then work your other baits deeper. Try a jigging spoon in the deeper areas.
Current coming down the river will rush right by this point and make it much better. Tommy likes to stay on the river side of the drop and fish from shallow to deep, especially when current is moving. Wind will often blow across this point making it better, too.
No. 8: N 32° 40.986 – W 85° 06.194 — Run down to Kudzu Island, the island that has a standing chimney on it on your left as you head down- stream. If you look right on the edge of the water out in front of that chimney, with it lined up with the tree that is out from the others, you will see the old foundation of some kind of structure. A small point runs out from this old foundation and there is more cover on it. Stay out from the point and fish all around it with all your baits. This point drops fast and is not very big, but it holds fish. Current coming down the river often stacks fish up on it.
No. 9: N 32° 40.733 – W 85° 06.177 — Across the river on the Alabama side there is a big island in the mouth of a pocket. The outside bank of the island drops straight off into the old river channel. You will be in 60 feet of water two boat lengths off the bank. There are rocks on the drop and lots of logs and blowdowns. Tommy says this is an excellent bank to fish after a cold front and during the winter. Bass hold in the cover and can move deeper quickly. Fish a crankbait around the cover. Then work a jig ’n pig through the branches of the blowdowns and be ready to set the hook and reel hard to pull a big bass out of them.
No. 10: N 32° 41.192 – W 85° 05.443 — Go back across the lake, and head into the big creek on that side. It does not have a name on the map, but Boat Club Road runs out on a point in it. Across from the point with Boat Club Road watch for a point with a dead pine on your left going upstream. Just past it is a little cove with a house in it that has a turret-like room on the front. The dock in the pocket has a Coke sign on it. There were two flags on this boathouse when we were there in mid November, one a solid yellow and the other a gray-and-white cross flag.
There is a hump that comes up to 22-feet deep on top on the point just past the cove with the dock and flags. Find it and fish all around it with different baits you can fish that deep. A spoon is good here most of the winter. Try the top of the hump and sides as it drops off.
These are the spots Tommy hits in tournaments this time of year. Try docks all over the lake if the water is still warmer than 50 degrees for bigger largemouths then hit these deeper places for numbers, mostly spots. You can find more similar areas all over the lake, and they will hold bass now.
Go to www.freewebs.com/jawbreakerjig to get info on Jawbreaker Jigs or call Tommy at (334) 756-2407.
For information on the weekly pot tournaments on Bartletts Ferry, call Dennis Hudson at (706) 256-1034.