Dennis Hudson says he used to carry tons of fishing tackle when he went fishing, and most of it he never used. These days, when he heads out on a fishing trip, he is likely to have four rods rigged with just the things that catch fish.
On March 18, Dennis and I eased away from the Idle Hour ramp at Bartletts Ferry in the fog on a marginal fishing day to try to preview April bassin’. I thought we might be lucky to catch four or five bass, but we would end the day with a lot more bass than that.
Dennis lives in Fortson and has been fishing Bartletts Ferry for 30 years. For the past 10 years he has run a pot tournament out of The Landings ramp on the first Tuesday of every month from April through the summer. He is also on the bass-tournament trail. This year as co-angler he won the Bassmaster Series on Lake Martin and placed fourth the day before in the BFL on the same lake. He is fishing both the Bulldog and the Dixie divisions of the BFL this year. The tactics he uses at Bartletts Ferry are where he starts when tournament fishing a new lake.
We started our day on a rock-bluff point on the Georgia side.
“These points and pockets along the river are my home territory,” said Dennis.
He began by throwing a black/red jig ’n pig — one of his four primary baits at Bartletts. I followed throwing a Shad Rap.
We had only been fishing a few minutes when something slammed Dennis’s jig. Something big.
“This has got to be a hybrid,” he said, as the fish powered under the boat. It was a hybrid, a fat one that weighed six or seven pounds.
Dennis throws a 7/16-oz. Stan Sloan’s jig made by Zorro Bait Co.
“A 1/2-oz. jig is a little too heavy, and a 3/8-oz. is not enough,” he said.
In Dennis’s book there are three colors of jigs: black/red, black/blue and green pumpkin
“I usually throw black/blue in clear water,” he said. “In stained water I like the red. It seems to get their attention.”
He dresses the jig with a Zoom Big Chunk. He fishes the jig slowly, pitching it to the bank, then letting it flutter down following the contour of the bank.
“Usually you will pick up the fish on the first drop,” he says.
On the second rock-bluff point, Dennis felt a fish pick up the jig and this time when he set the hook the fish was a keeper largemouth. I pulled a 1-lb. bass off the same point with the crankbait.
As the fog lifted, we crossed to the Alabama side to another rock point. The current was flowing strongly across the point. Moving water seems to improve fishing, he says.
“Just beyond this point, it drops off into 30 feet of water,” said Dennis. He threw the jig across the point and set the hook on another 1 1/2-lb. largemouth.
“The fish are right where they ought to be,” he said.
These are good crankin’ points, too, and Dennis’s favorite is a Bagley’s Small Fry Shad in an out-of-production color called fire-glow — a black back, with orange-and-yellow sides. A Deep Little N is also a productive crankbait on the river bluffs, he says, and, as everywhere, a Shad Rap is a perennial favorite that catches fish.
The main-lake points near deep water are likely used this time of year as staging areas for bass moving up out of deep water ahead of the spawn, but Dennis shrugs off the staging notion as the reason the bass are there.
“You can catch fish on these rock-bluff points year round,” he said, “But in April I won’t spend as much time out here because most of the bigger fish will be back in the sloughs spawning.”
You can also catch hybrids at Bartletts. Try a jig ’n pig. A few casts later Dennis set the hook on another hybrid that weighed three or four pounds.
“I don’t get it,” he said as he unhooked the fat fish and dropped it back in the lake. “You aren’t supposed to catch hybrids on a jig.”
In April, the bass at Bartletts are spawning in full-swing. There will be bass in the prespawn, spawn and postspawn stage all at once. Seawalls and docks back in the sloughs are where Dennis catches many of his fish in April, and a Finesse worm, a Senko and the Bagley crankbait are the other primary baits for catching fish.
The Finesse worm he fishes on a Mojo rig. The Mojo weight is a small-diameter, cylindrical weight that slides on the line ahead of the hook and is pegged in place. The rig is similar to a split-shot rig, “But I don’t like a split-shot,” said Dennis. “I don’t want anything to crimp my line.”
He uses a 1/16-oz. Mojo weight most days; a 1/8-oz. on breezier days to keep the worm down.
“The Mojo rig got me to the BFL All-American twice,” said Dennis. “I caught a couple of fish on it in every tournament.”
Green pumpkin or junebug are his primary worm colors on the Mojo rig.
A Senko is the third bait he will have tied on in April.
“A lot of people skip Trick Worms under the docks,” he said. “And a black Trick Worm is hard to beat for that. I just like the Senko better.”
The Senko is a big, extremely soft worm imitation.
“Have you seen how the tail moves when it sinks?” Dennis asked. “It just shimmers. The bass can’t stand it.”
He fishes the Senko on a 3/0 or 4/0 extra-wide-gap hook to ensure that he gets a good hook set when using the meaty worm.
From the rock bluffs on the river we pulled into a long slough on the Alabama side just upriver of Osanippa Creek to try our luck on docks and seawalls. Dennis picked up a jig again. I went with a chartreuse/white spinnerbait. On the first brush we came to, I ran the spinnerbait in one side of the sticks and pulled a 2 1⁄2-lb. largemouth out the other side. Dennis caught a 1 1/2-lb. bass from the same spot. As we moved a little deeper into the slough we came to a seawall.
“Seawalls are good structure to fish during the spawn,” said Dennis. “Any seawall with three feet of water or more can be good. Generally it helps if there is some deeper water nearby.”
The bass weren’t all the way back in the slough yet, and we caught only one short bass off the seawall.
We ended the afternoon in the back of a couple of coves on the Georgia side across from the mouth of Halawakee Creek. As we approached one big dock, Dennis picked up a Senko.
“What you want to do is skip the Senko under the dock and just let it sink,” he said. “Then you just sit back and scratch you head, and wait as long as you can. Usually the fish will hit it as it settles, or they will pick it up off the bottom. I don’t usually catch anything working it back to the boat.
“The fish just like to hold onto a Senko,” he said. “Most of the time you will just feel them holding it. They aren’t moving off because they are already where they want to be.”
Dennis works at getting the Senko into the tough spots. At one dock he eased the front of the boat in, leaned out and cast over the top of a jet ski and skipped the worm under a section of dock behind the jet ski.
“It helps if you can get to places most people can’t fish,” he said.
Our 12th fish picked up Dennis’s Senko deep under a dock. Ditto for No. 13 — a fat bass that would weigh about 2 3/4-pounds.
Dennis’s basics-baits approach works at Bartletts. We ended up with 14 bass (and two hybrids), and the water temperature was only 51 to 53. More bass will move back into the sloughs, and the bite will improve sharply when the temperature rises above 55 — and by the time you read this, Bartletts bass should be on the seawalls and docks in big numbers.