Your Summertime Itinerary For The Oconee River’s Cooler-Water Bass Bite

When the fish turn sluggish on the lake, action awaits up the river.

July is here, and bass fishing is going to get tougher and tougher until the cooler fall temperatures arrive. Dragging a Carolina rig or running big crankbaits on deep points can be productive on Georgia lakes, but there’s a lot of water to cover, and the slow days are going to outnumber the good ones.

Here’s a tip. Instead of slogging it out for sluggish deep-water fish on Lake Oconee, head to the Oconee River just above the lake in July and August. The water is cooler, the fish are fat, and the action can be as hot as the weather. You might even run into a bonus, as a batch of hybrids and stripers could blow up around the boat at any moment to spice up your day. Over the years, my buddies and I have had some great days on this pattern that deviates from normal bass fishing in high summer.

As for boat requirements, you won’t need anything big and fancy for this trip, although you will see crafts of all kinds on the Oconee River. A jonboat with a small gas motor and a good trolling motor will do the trick as well as anything else and is arguably better because of the shallow water and obstructions you will encounter.

When you head out on this trip, make sure to get in the water at first light in order to take advantage of the topwater opportunities. For an hour or two after first light, you can catch largemouth bass on top, and those hybrids and stripers are prowling around, as well. I prefer the original Lunker Lure buzzbait with a chartreuse skirt, but these fish will hit a variety of topwater lures.

For the most efficient use of shade and time, follow this outline of one of our typical trips. Most of the best topwater spots are downstream from the boat ramp at Dyar Pasture Waterfowl Area in Greene County, and that action only lasts until the sun hits the water. Here is an Itinerary that should make for a successful dog-days bass trip on the Oconee River. Race the sun for explosive action on top, and then work your way back up the river flipping cover with soft plastics.

Racing The Sun

No. 1: Go upstream about 300 yards from the ramp to a point on the left side of the river. There is a big cut to the left of the point that backs up to a dam to create a pond for waterfowl. Start fishing your buzzbait on that point, and fish upstream along the flat that extends for about 100 yards. The flat is full of stumps and structure and is a prime location for marauding largemouths. Later in the day, you can come back to this spot and fish a Texas-rigged worm or plastic crawfish-style bait — but more on that later.

No. 2: Once you have worked that area thoroughly, turn back downstream. Move straight across the river from where you were fishing, and work back downstream until you are directly across from the boat ramp. There’s lots of cover here, so stick with the buzzbait while you still have low light.

No. 3: About 500 yards downstream you will see a log jam at the end of a small island where the river looks like it splits. The river channel veers to the right, but buzz the log jam from all angles. There’s lots of stuff down there, and the water is shallow — a perfect spot for lurking lunkers. Once you have finished there, go to the other end of that small island and work your topwater lure. There is a big stump on that end that is close to a drop, and it consistently holds fish. (You may or may not be able to see the stump depending on the water level).

No. 4: After you have fished that spot to your satisfaction, continue downriver (remember the channel is to the right of that log jam). Go through the next bend and down a long straightaway until you come to the next bend. The river will turn left at that juncture, but you can continue with your topwater efforts by fishing down the right-hand bank where there are several log jams and a couple of sloughs that will often hold early morning feeding bass (and hybrids).

No. 5: The next spot to head for is downriver about a third of a mile where you will see a long line of shallow log jams on your right. This cover has washed in over the years and always holds bass with the cooler river temperatures and excellent cover.

Slow Down With Soft Plastics

Once you have fished all these places, you are going to notice the river channel becomes harder to find. The silting effect over the years makes it unadvisable to go any farther downstream than the huge patch of grass at the end of the last set of log jams. Also, by now the sun is probably on that bank, and it is time to change over to Texas-rigged worms and crawdad-style plastic baits.

As you change tactics, here are a few things that may be helpful. River current conditions are subject to change, but there will always be some current to contend with. You are going to want to get your bait to the bottom and then let it wash under and around the logs, stumps and other structure you will encounter. In order to do this, it will take a minimum 3/16-oz. lead., and most likely it will take a little more. So be sure to have some 1/4- and 3/8-oz. lead in the tackle box.

As for worm colors, the Culprit black shad has been productive as has the Zoom moccasin-blue lizard or worm (although the worms are hard to find now). Berkley has a chigger-craw color that looks to be a good choice, too. Also, any of these colors in a crawfish-style plastic bait are good options.

A lot of what you will be doing from this point on is flipping rather than casting. Although a stiff baitcasting outfit is the standard tool for this job, a spinning rig with heavy line will do the job as well, if that’s what you’re accustomed to using. Broken line is a common problem while fishing in such heavy cover, but you can reduce your problems by using a little heavier line than normal. The absolute minimum is 12-lb. test, and 16 is probably better. Some of the pros even opt for braided line in 30-lb. test and heavier when flipping these kinds of blowdowns and log jams.

As I take you through the next series of places to fish, just remember to maneuver the boat 15 or 20 feet off the bank, and then get your bait on the upstream side of cover for the best results. Hop the bait slowly up and down so it can wash over, around and under the structure. When you get a strike, remember you’re fishing heavy cover and set the hook quickly. Even with a timely set, you will still encounter hook-ups when fish have gone under logs and brush. Keep a tight line, and get the boat over the spot, and you may still be able to pull him out.

Going Back The Way You Came

Now let’s head back up-river.

No. 1: Begin by fishing the long straightaway on the right all the way to the next big bend. There’s plenty of structure to pitch your plastics to in this stretch. The water gets progressively deeper as you go, and there’s just enough current to make it a likely place for fish to hold.

No. 2: As you get to that next big bend, change over to the left side of the river, and fish the log jams you buzzed earlier. Only this time flip your baits deep into the cover.

No. 3: Next, run back to the log jam at the end of the island that is in sight of the boat ramp. You can actually fish both ends of the island and the little bend in between them. Take your time, and remember the fish have a lot of places to hide in these jams. Don’t throw it in a couple of times and move on. Give it a thorough going over.

No. 4: Once you have finished at this spot, run past the dock, and worm the same point where you started the day. Concentrate on the drop at the end of the point where the water goes from about 3 feet to 12 or 13 feet.

No. 5: From here you need to run about a half-mile upstream to the first big cut on the right. Fish the opening as well as the areas on both sides of the opening all the way to a single bush that is out in the river.

No. 6: Head to the next cut on the right, and fish the stretch about 100 yards before you get to the cut and 100 yards past the mouth of the cut. The area past the cut is a place where it’s better to back off, throw to the bank and then work the worm off the ledge that is there.

No. 7: To get to the next spot, continue upriver and go past an encampment on the left. Continue on about 500 yards, and you will see a big tree hanging 50 feet out over the river. Start fishing just on the other side of that tree, and continue all the way to a small feeder creek on the same side.

No. 8: For your last stop, go past the next bend until you see a pasture-like area on the left with big granite rocks on the bank. Just past that point in the next bend is a red-bank area that is another productive fishing area.

Big Fish and an Added Bonus

On our latest trip to the Oconee River, I went with local fishing sage Steve Cisson. Steve has fished this river for many years and the information I have given you today is the result of his lifetime of experience there.

We were able to catch a few nice fish, and you can bet on the bite being one to remember as the water levels begin dropping in the summer heat.

To verify that statement, Steve took Dennis Sitzmann, of Madison, to the river the day following our trip. Dennis boated a 6-lb. largemouth, as well as three other fish on the early topwater bite. The fish struck a Heddon Spittin’ Image topwater plug, so running a buzzbait certainly is not the only strategy that will work. If you follow the plan laid out here you can count on a trip that will break the monotony of summertime bass fishing in the reservoirs and bring you back year after year.

Now I mentioned a possible hybrid or striper bonus earlier in the article, and it just so happened that on our trip we ran into a bunch of these fine fellows also up in the river escaping the rising temperatures on the reservoir. We were still in the buzzbait mode on our first pass downriver and came up on spot No. 4 as listed in the topwater section of your itinerary.

We noticed some shad schooling around this area, and back in a little slough we heard fish breaking. Because we had heard carp sloshing around all morning, we weren’t sure what it was. But once we got the boat where we could see, it was obvious the hybrids and stripers had found those shad and were cutting them up.

We hustled into position, and for about 30 minutes had a blast hauling them in. We boated a dozen fish with the biggest being about 6 pounds and half of the dozen between 3 and 5 pounds. I had my buzzbait tied on and didn’t want to change, so I threw it into the fray and was surprised to get an immediate hook up. I’ve never caught a hybrid like that, but by the time the action cooled off I had a new lineside technique to pass along.

Steve and Dennis went back the next day and caught five more hybrids in the same area, the largest weighing about 4 pounds. Cisson caught his on a No. 4 Mepps spinner. The moral of the story is to be prepared in case some of these hybrids or stripers show up on your trip to the river.

If you need more information, don’t hesitate to e-mail me at <dar8589@bellsouth.net>. I’m always glad to oblige a fellow fisherman.

Directions To The River

To get to the boat ramp at the Dyar Pasture Waterfowl Area in Greene County from Madison, take Highway 278 (toward Greensboro), cross the Apalachee River and continue 1.5 miles to Farmington Road. Take a left and go 0.6 of a mile, and turn right on C.M. Copelan Road. From there drive 2.2 miles to the entrance of Dyar Pasture on your right.

If coming from the east, go to Greensboro and get on Highway 278 west toward Madison until you get to Farmington Road in Greshamville. Turn right, and follow the same directions from there as given above. The boat ramp is in good condition, and launching most any kind of boat is not a problem if you are careful. There is a daily use fee of $3.

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